Blog on the blog…

(Tyler again)

According to Eric Schmidt, “The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand.”

I know that was true for us. We started this blog March of last year to document our adoption and life after. We did so because we wanted a record to look back on, and we wanted others that are walking down the same adoption road to be able to look at it, learn through our problems, and draw encouragement through our successes. We thought a hand-full of people would read it, and that would be it.

We did not have any idea that a year later, we would have readers in 74 countries! We had no idea we would be having several hundred hits a day. Last night, I pulled up our statistics page, and I saw we had 76 hits from Russia alone!

I got to admit, that one made me a little nervous, not because I’m xenophobic or have anything against Russia or her people… I’m just a bit concerned about so much of my information about myself, my family, and our lives out there. We have identity theft protection that we pay for monthly, and we keep our important records safe, but it does make one nervous to think that so many people around the globe know so much about us.

While I doubt anyone is going to take out a credit card in my kids’ name (except for one of my co-workers, but only because he joked about it after I shared my kids birthday information with him right after I found out), I did want to be a tad cautious moving forward. Further, if people are blessed and encouraged by the information being shared, I didn’t want to just delete the blog either…

So, for the past seven hours, I went through and re-read every post, deleting kids’ names, last names, and specific information about where we live, what we do, etc… the specifics. (For you guys that plan big from the start, we understand why you refer to specific people in your lives with epithets like “Warrior Princess” or simply by initials now!). I may have missed a few, but we will be combing back through over the next few days to get them all.

Don’t worry; we are still Beth and Tyler, we live in Texas and we have five kids (to which we refer to as “big sister”, “our oldest”, or “Darth”… some generic identifier in the blog). For those of you that know us, you know the specifics. For those of you that don’t, I think the reason you visited isn’t tarnished in any way by removing the specifics.

We do thank you all for reading and silently supporting us and our family from a distance. We also thank Al Gore for making all this possible!

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Normal…

Man! Do you guys ever think Beth is gonna blog again?

Over the course of parenthood, I have been struggling with something that I haven’t found the words to articulate until a few weeks ago. When I did find the words it seemed so painfully simple, I wonder how I could have missed it. My struggle is with “normal”. To be fair, normal is something that I’ve wrestled with all my life; I’m just now seeing the symptoms of “normal” in the way I raise and view my kids.

What is Normal? Normal is an imagined sense of what everyone else is that we are not. Normal is a standard that we strive for because it makes us comfortable with our place within our culture. It gives us a sense of “ought-ness”. This is how life “ought” to be. If we fall outside this neat little box that our norms define, the discomfort compels us to steer whatever component lies outside back in.

Sometimes, when we sense that “normal” is unattainable, we redefine or caveat it with things like “What’s normal for an adoptive kid?” or “What’s normal for a family of seven?”

On the other hand, normal gives a sense of success and perhaps complacency when we have achieved beyond what normal is. This happens all the time in my spiritual walk. Christians that are very good with the mechanics of their faith (like myself) may think “God, I’m tithing and going to church every Sunday, and that’s way more than a lot of Christians… I think I’m giving you enough.” When said aloud, it seems so much more blatant and biting then when I say it in the back of my mind quickly where no one can hear, but it is true. If I’m doing better than average or “normal”, complacency sets in, and I justify giving God less. However, this is a topic for another blog…

When we first started on this adoption road, I asked one of the family counselors at the Pathways training the following question: “I know that adoptive kids will need special attention, but how long should I expect before they behave, act, and feel like normal healthy kids?” Her answer: “Would you be OK if the answer is never?” Out loud I said, “….hmmmm…..maybe” and walked away slowly. Inside, I said “no”.

At first, the idea of not ever being “normal” was something I had a hard time accepting for my future kids. I wanted to be OK with that, but in my mind’s eye, each one, with enough love, would grow up, do well in school, marry a nice spouse, be a contributing member of society, and continue the cycle. If that was normal, I didn’t want to accept anything less. In the back of my mind, this was also going to be my measuring stick for “How well did I do as a parent?” when I evaluate in the winter of my life.

That was over a year ago. After, 8 months of on-the-job training at the parenting gig, I’ve noticed that I’m so busy taking care of my kids, I sometimes forget to look around to re-calibrate my “normal” compass. However, the few times I do, I began to question the paradigm. I know what life is like for us. I see what life is like for others. However, when I overlay the two, I still see the misalignment, but I’ve begun to question the wisdom of realigning.

As I’ve been thinking about it, I am finding that normal causes us to do some things that are so un-natural and un-healthy that we destroy the very thing we are trying to normalize.

I hear about men, in an attempt to give their family the best (normal), working at a career so hard and with so much attention that their family takes a back seat and suffers for it.

I hear about parents who want to give their child every advantage and experience they can (normal), that the busyness of their life becomes so barren (if I may loosely quote Socrates).

And just like a Greek tragedy, in an attempt to avoid our fate, we hasten it.

Why is that? Well, I am beginning to understand that the underlying problem with normal is it causes us to ask the wrong question. We ask “what is normal?” and we stop asking “What is the best for my family?”

So that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been asking “What is best for our family?” Here are the answers we’ve come up with over the past few months.

  1. Going to church at least three times a week, reading the Bible every night, and praying before every meal and bed so our kids understand that God is a priority in our lives.
  2. Spending time with each other and not sitting in front of the TV.
  3. Being out of debt.
  4. Giving our children added comfort and an added skill (when they are older) by becoming a truly bilingual family.
  5. Driving a truck that is six years old and a van that is seven years old because they both run fine and are paid off.
  6. Sharing everything.
  7. Always having a light on at night.
  8. Teaching our kids that their past was hard with problems that most kids don’t have to deal with, but it does not define their future. Further, it is never to be used as a crutch or excuse for doing less than their best either.
  9. Taking baths three at a time.
  10. Spending about two hours a night, immediately after school working on homework in another language.
  11. Eating as a family, at the table, all at one time.
  12. Living in a tiny house (see previous blog post).
  13. Beth sometimes mowing the lawn and me sometimes doing the dishes when the other needs help.
  14. Having term life and disability insurance to protect our children if anything were to happen to us.
  15. Apologizing to our kids when we, the adults, mess up.
  16. Not having video games, iPads, etc…
  17. Integrity. I want my word and my family name to be sacred. If the Nichols’ say something, they do it. If the Nichols’ commit to something, they follow through.
  18. Only having about $5 to $10 of “just for Tyler” money in my pocket… which usually gets spent on the kids anyway.
  19. Working hard to not let our feelings dictate our actions (for the adults and the kids both).
  20. Learning to have fun without spending money… This weekend, if the weather holds, will be camping in the back yard.
  21. Severely limiting choices for our children because it is too overwhelming for them and hard logistically for us.
  22. Having an attitude of gratitude (Thanks Upward soccer!).
  23. Always moving forward, whether that be learning to use the potty or being elected senator of our state. We are always reaching for that next rung.
  24. Working hard to make every act of discipline a teachable moment.

What is normal? I don’t even care anymore. I don’t want to live that scripted life.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Team Familia…

Tyler blog – It’s a little long, but I’ll try to keep it interesting.

Vignette 1:

A few weeks ago, Beth said “I think it would be good idea if our oldest played soccer on the Upward Sports League at church.” What I heard was “I think it would be a good idea if we spend extra money, waste a lot of gas going into Mansfield, and spend lots of time we don’t have being a translator/coaching a team.” I begrudgingly agreed, and all of my predictions came true.

We asked him if he wanted to play soccer on a real team, not in our back yard… Does a bear poop in the forest? I wonder why we even asked. Afterwards we did explain to the other kids that they were a little too young, but in a few years they would get a chance too. It wasn’t because we liked our oldest any more than the rest of them. I’m sure every family has to manage perceptions, but it’s still very important for us and our young family.

Now back to the “I told you so” part…

  1. It wasn’t as much money as some leagues, and the church does a good job to keep the cost down, but after we signed up, we needed to find cleats, shin-guards, and a few other things. Beth did a good job of bargain shopping and finding everything we needed, but I still felt it was more important to pay off the kids before we start accessorizing them.
  2. My truck has a 20 gallon tank that allows me to go about 350 miles before the low fuel light starts. 350 miles gets me to work five to six times a week with maybe one or two small trips extra. With my $70 a week allowance for gas, I usually have about $5 or $10 bucks left over for a vending machine run during my strenuous mouse-clicking days at work. Add two trips to Mansfield each week, and suddenly my snack money goes in my tank (the other one).
  3. Our coach, Coach Rudd, does an excellent job with the kids, is patient, never raises his voice, etc… everything you want in a coach. The problem is, he is coaching two teams at the same time. I saw where this was going. Even though I have read the book “Boundaries” by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend, I can’t stand to see a need with no one stepping up to fill it. I became an assistant coach.

So we have had two weeks of practice, and today was the big game. It’s 1st grade soccer, so my expectations were pretty low. I remember when I played soccer at that age that they used to hang different colored towels over the goals so we knew which one was ours. Expectations were further lowered when four out of our six-member team couldn’t make it to the game. I passed up two weeks of Ms. Freshley’s chocolate cupcakes for this?!?

Our team. No really. That's our team. That's all of it.

Our team. No really. That’s our team. That’s all of it.

After finding a couple of ringers to at least field four men, we began to play, and we were awful  The other team was murdering us, but since it was Upward, we know that they were murdering us with a Christian attitude and the love of Jesus. Goal after unanswered goal. It was hard to watch.

During the breaks in between periods/quarters/innings (I’m not sure – there were six of them), I told our oldest, “You are a team. The only way you will have a chance is if you work together.” I have to confess, I ripped that line off of Russell Crow in “Gladiator”, but it is absolutely true. “You have to pass. You have to spread out. You have to get in good spots for your team-mates to find you” It wasn’t all at once, but little-by-little, our little team began to show signs of life. Then we got a goal! The next thing I know, my boy scored not once but twice!

"What you do in this life echos for eternity..."

“What you do in this life echos for eternity…”

I don’t remember what the final score was since Upward doesn’t keep score. I was planning on keeping score myself, but after how the first half of the game was going, I thought keeping score would simply be an exercise in quantifying how bad we were (We suck this many). However, the second half they played together, and it paid off. They were competitive, and that made my happy. Our oldest was super proud, not just that he did good but because he was on a team that needed him. I had to take back some of my negative attitude and concede that my beautiful wife might know what she’s talking about… sometimes. (Hold that thought – not about me being wrong – the one before it.)

Vignette 2:

Tonight, I was on the computer, and I wanted to listen to music and our oldest wanted to talk about soccer, since the game was fresh on his mind. I thought an excellent compromise was watching the official music video to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, “Waka Waka” by Shakira. One by one, the other kids floated in, drawn to the computer by the dulcet tones of another Colombian native singing in their own tongue. Our oldest daughter once again speaks for the group.

Translated to English for those reading:

Her: Who is she?

Me: That’s Shakira. She’s a Colombian too.

Her: Just like us?

Me: Yes.

Her: She’s really beautiful. (long pause staring at the screen) She’s a good dancer. (long pause staring at the screen) She sings really pretty. Guys, look. This lady is a Colombian just like us! (long pause) She’s really pretty!

Me: Yeah. Her hips don’t lie.

They were mesmerized!  It was super cool for them to discover how amazing somebody from their country was, and look at themselves with a new sense of pride. Suddenly they had a renewed passion for their culture and people. They were proud of their Colombian heritage. Their team.

I was just going to talk about this, but I didn't know that Beth captured Shakira's captive audience.

I was just going to talk about this, but I didn’t know that Beth captured Shakira’s captive audience.

(FYI… I haven’t told them about John Leguizamo yet.)

When it was over, they all wanted to watch it again. (Hold this thought too)

Vignette 3:

Rewind a few weeks ago. Beth and I have been working our butts off around the house for these kids, and it has just about killed us. We had a management meeting and discussed distributing some of the work load to the children for our own sanity. It wasn’t anything major- just a few folded clothes here and there, a vacuum run every so often, and turd patrol (for the dogs, not Darth). It’s been wonderful. We realized we have fourteen hands between us, and for the small time investment in teaching them what to do, it is already paying big dividends.

Case in point: lawn care. Yesterday, I needed to get the yard mowed and cleaned up because we have had a ton of rain, and it was starting to look pretty ragged. For the average person, this takes about an hour and a half. For me it takes closer to two hours because I’m anal. When I got home, everyone was in their work clothes, and we were done in an hour! Amazing! (Here’s the last thought to hold).

Don't worry. It's not lice. He's showing Oscar how to look nice for the ladies.

Don’t worry. It’s not lice. He’s showing Oscar how to look nice for the ladies.

God is teaching me a lot. Being orphans, I think the idea of “family” is a little foreign sometimes to our kids. However, almost every kid understands what a team is. We’ve told our kids that our family is a team. When we put on that last name, we wear it proudly. We bring honor to it, and we do the best job we can. We work together, and when we do, we accomplish more than what we could individually. We help out each other. We share in successes. We comfort each other in defeat. We are a part of something that is bigger than ourselves, and each one of us plays a vital role. We love each other. Isn’t that what a family is anyway?

Team Extended-Nichols learning the team pose at Easter. Even sweet Caroline got it!

Team Extended-Familia learning the team pose at Easter. Even our baby niece got it!

Beyond earthly families, there is another one we need to think about.

I Corintians 12:12-27

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I hear all the time that “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Yes. All you need is to accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ to be a Christian. However, if you are a Christian, you’re a part of a team, and your team needs you! You need your team. Tomorrow is Sunday. GAMEDAY.

I love sports. I’ve come to appreciate them over the past ten years as the best unscripted dramas to unfold. They are the ultimate in reality entertainment. I’m excited that my son wants to participate in them and play. However it pains me when I see more unbridled passion over a football or baseball game over hollow man-made victories than I do for the God of the universe that allows us to be on his team fighting the armies of darkness.

Please suit up. Please play. Your team needs you.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty