Dear California

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dear California,

I've been dreading writing this letter for some time now. But, here I am, alone on a plane flight home to you, and so I'm cornered with my thoughts (if only in effort to ignore the loud talking woman a couple rows up from me). Sigh.

California. You mean so much to me. You hold so much, so many memories, so many dreams that I watched and lived and breathed and loved. Ours is a romance never to be forgotten.

When I was in fourth grade, I remember looking up at the stars and thinking that it must be the most magical job in the universe to touch stars and see them up close. It must be the most magnificent job to be an astronaut then, I thought. But, I didn't want to be an astronaut. Not really. I did, however, want to be magnificent in some way. I thought about it for a while and decided that the best way to be an astronaut AND be anything else I ever wanted to try was to become an actress. After all, actors get to pretend to be all kinds of things, even astronauts! So that way I would get to be everything- and what's more magnificent than to be everything? So that was it. I wanted to be an actress, and to really do that, I would need to move to Hollywood and live in California. It was decided then, in my Kansas farm girl mind...I was meant to live in California.

If you know anything about me, then you know that once I get an idea in my head it doesn't die easily. So, then, this dream of you, California, forged on in the years to come. Maybe you didn't know I originally wanted to be a Hollywood starlet, and maybe you didn't know that that dream emerged due to my obsession with all things space related...but I did, and I was, and so there you go.

California, you've always welcomed me with open arms. Being raised in the middle of Kansas, I had preconceptions that you were full of wealthy and beautiful people who all lived on the beach and wore white bathing suits and sunglasses and went to Disneyland on lunch breaks. I supposed you had sunshine daily and everyone was busy and popular all the time and nobody really cared who was who until you were somebody worth knowing. Not all these stereotypes repulsed me, and certainly not all of them were found to be true. But, all in all, I can say that my adventures in and around you, California, have exceeded all my expectations.

California, you hold real, genuine, deeply thoughtful and poignant souls. You contain people who have shaped and molded not only my heart, but my spirit and mind as well. And I'm the better for it, no doubt. You will forever be the location where my favorite people in the universe were all born- the birthplace of my husband and my children.

California, your oceans and mountains and cities have brought a me such joys. My babies left footprints in your sand. My feet have sunk into the grains of your beauty, and yet you are the one leaving an impression on me. I've felt your earthquakes and experienced the fear and relief of your California fires. You remind me that you are a dangerous beauty, risky and seductive all the same. It should be no surprise you provide the world with so much mischief, drama, and entertainment.

California, you inspire me. My time here makes me look back in awe of how much God can bring about in such a raindrop's worth of time. How many people have invested in my life. How many prayers of others have provided direction and strength. How many changes that happened here have transformed me into the person I'm striving to become.

I may have been born and raised in Kansas; but clearly, I grew up in California. 
California, my time here has been challenging, lovely, intentional, joyful, and too short. If those are the same words I use when I look back at the end of my life and reflect upon my journey, I'll die a happy woman.

I will always love you, California. Please keep my dear ones here happy and safe. Please continue to provide worthwhile inspiration for those farm kids out there who are scared to enter into your mischief. Please don't drift off into the ocean (I still want to visit!)

Jesus loves you, California, and so do I. Maybe I was born in Kansas. Maybe I'll die someday in Tennessee. But, let it be known and never forgotten: I lived in California.

Thank you, my California. Don't forget me.


Toddlers on the Move

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Today is my girls' last full day in California.  Ugh.  While on one hand they are excited to get to their "new home" and see what all this packing fuss has been about, they are also in a weird flux of sadness and discomfort.  It's hard enough for me to process all that is happening right now, so I can only imagine how this drama is interpreted through the lens of toddler-goggles.

I'm no expert in raising children.  I can't tell you what will work best for your child in these circumstances.  But, in talking with other moms and doing a bit of research and learning a LOT through prayer, trial, and error, I have come to find out a lot about living through this massive change with two toddlers.  I've decided to share this experience here as tips on how I've gone about this - in hopes that maybe it will help you come up with your own ideas for how to intentionally go about introducing big changes to your own child - whether that's trying a new vegetable or packing up all their toys and moving 2,000 miles.  For what it's worth, here's how I've handled the last several weeks with my girls.

1. Information.
My daughters are 3 and a half and 22 months, so most of these regard Matilda, my eldest daughter who is just old enough to take in what's happening.  However, both of my girls do best when they are prepped with more information rather than not enough.  In other words, while some parents can sneak out of the house on a date night and their youngster swimmingly adapts to the babysitter's girls would wage World War III.  They do much, much better if I spend the whole day prepping them with info on how the night will pan out.

That being said, when I first started telling friends about our big move to Nashville, I caught myself constantly talking past my children.  I would whisper in conversation with friends or avoid eye contact with Matilda as I told others of our plans.  I feared introducing the subject too soon might be too confusing or cause undue drama too far in advance.  But, soon I started to see that she was very contemplative and starting to shut down if I "talked around her" too much.  She was left out, and she knew it.  She didn't know what she was being left out of, she only knew that she didn't like the feeling, and I began to sense a wall being put up.  Nobody likes being talked around, even a toddler.  And maybe I wasn't giving her enough credit.  So, we decided to tell her early.

Here's my tip:  Talk early, talk often, talk calmly.  Just because there may be a lot of emotions tied to a change doesn't mean you have to deal with all those emotions at once.  Telling Matilda about the move weeks in advance gave us time to answer her questions (again and again and again) and talk about it positively and thoroughly long before boxes and duct tape scattered our living room.  Erring on the side of too much information also allowed me the time to process how she was understanding everything.  I would hear her relay the information to her sister and then began to see how she was taking it all in and interpreting it.

2.  Process
Figuring out how to get my toddler to process all this new information was another story.  I prayed and prayed to know how to explain to a three-year-old that she would say goodbye to the only home she's ever known, all her friends here, and yet her family would remain intact and there would be safe and familiar things to surround her on this new adventure.  How would she understand that some things stay and some things go?  How would she feel secure and adapt?  How could I make this inevitably difficult experience as manageable as possible?

Then, one night, I got the idea (thank you, Lord) to make a photo book in story form for her that would explain the entire journey.  The plan for our move is that I will fly out with the girls and take them to my parents house in Kansas.  Then, after a couple days of familiarizing them there, I will fly back to California alone, and help my husband pack up the moving truck and forge ahead via road trip!  We will meet up with the girls in Kansas, pick them up, and continue another day and a half on to Nashville.  Whew!  (You can see why I value your prayers so much!)

This is a LOT to understand for a little brain!  So, I wanted a consistent story.  Something that she could see visually and hear again and again until it stuck.  Luckily, God created toddlers with an incredible ability to soak up information in this way!  I gathered photos off Facebook and the internet, wrote a short story of our exact journey from here to Nashville, and even included photos of the outside of our new home.  Yes, it may seem a bit extreme.  Yes, it took a few hours to throw together.  But, after reading it again and again, I can tell you it has been totally worthwhile.  Now, Matilda reads it to Daphne and can tell you how the whole journey is laid out ahead of her.

We will find out for sure in the next few days just how well she has absorbed that information.  I know that there will still be questions about where her toys and friends are for weeks to come.  I know that she will have confusion no matter what.  I know that I can't buffer everything so that it makes perfect sense to her.  I know that she is a toddler.  :)  But, my goal isn't to downplay what is happening or avoid tears or questions.  My goal is to help her understand and help her feel understood.

3. Closure
Finally, tomorrow as we pack the remainder of their little belongings into a suitcase and blow kisses into the California sun, I hope to bring my girls a tiny sense of closure for the chapter in their lives they spent here.  I want them to not only say goodbye to their friends, but their rooms and their little yard too.  Sadness is okay.  Sadness is allowed.  Sadness is a perfectly normal response to change, and I want them to witness it in me and see that it is something honest and human and expressible.  You don't have to be sad or cry necessarily, but it's not an emotion that needs to be suppressed either, and I just want them (yes, even at this very young age) to feel the security of knowing sadness is okay.

One reason I think this is important is that it allows them the ability to recognize the best thing about sadness:  that it is temporary.  There is incredible security in learning that while sad things are inevitable in life, hope exists.  It is very sad to leave California, but with that change comes much excitement and anticipation of joy in things to come.  Closure is sort of an impossible thing to actually discuss with a toddler, but not impossible to demonstrate.  My girls watch and imitate me to a frightening degree, and so it's important for me to have them witness my own process in taking the time to say goodbye, be sad, and then be excited and hopeful and happy again.  I have complete confidence that God will use this experience in all our lives to remind us of how He protects and provides for our family.

I'm amazed at the resiliency of children.  I love their wild questions and hopeful courage.  I love that they hug without abandon and wholeheartedly just feel.  As usual, I often learn more from them than I think they gain from me, and that is always an awesome and unexpected blessing.

It's gonna be a tricky journey.  I don't know if there is any easy way to force adaptation on a person, no matter how welcome the change may be.  We're in transition, and all I can be is trusting in my faithful God who continues to lavish grace on my life.  Thank you, Jesus, for leading us in this crazy life!

Now, if only they made bubble-wrap for the heart.
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