7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 42)

July 17, 2009 | 35 comments

— 1 —

I’m having one of those days where I feel like I’m failing in every possible way; that, as I said on Twitter, God probably tried to call me to be a desert hermit back in my early 20’s but I wasn’t listening and now I’ve screwed it all up by trying to interact with other human beings. For whatever reason I continue to have an irrational preoccupation with the worry that our Kidsave child Rita isn’t HAVING FUN, and on days like today when everyone is overtired and it seems like one of the kids is screaming at all times and I just don’t have the energy to deal well, I project all sorts of “oh man this place sucks” thoughts onto Rita.

I think that a big part of it is that when someone lives with you, there’s no way you can keep up a facade for too long. It’s painful when you get to that point where the last shreds of the image of you that you’d like for others to have of you gets washed away, and you’re left standing there with only the real you — flaws and everything — to offer. Every day Rita sees more and more that I’m terrible about keeping up with laundry, there are often still lunch dishes sitting out at dinner time, I’m inconsistent with discipline with the kids and all too often I’m still on the computer 30 minutes after I opened my laptop to “just spend a couple minutes on email.” Though overall we’re a happy family, there are plenty of moments where my son is talking back and the baby is crying and my two toddler girls are in a screeching argument over some toy where it seems like we’re anything but. Rita is seeing — and I’m seeing as I look at our life through her eyes — that our family is far from perfect. As I said last week, there are a lot of days where truly the only thing I can offer her is love.

— 2 —

On a brighter note, I love these Hip in a Hurry decals I got at Target for the wall in Rita’s room.

They’re removable vinyl decorations that look like they’re painted on. (This is a bad picture — in real life you don’t see that glare that the flash caused.) It was a wonderfully quick way to add a bit of cheer to the blank white wall in her room.

— 3 —

A fantastic professional photographer named Kevin Gourley came to the house earlier this week to do a free portrait of Rita to support the Kidsave mission. While he was here I hired him to go ahead and take my portrait as well since I often need a headshot for articles and other media stuff. I decided to go for the intellectual look and have him take the shot with my wooden bookshelves in the background. You know, that way everyone would see how studious and smart I am.

When he sent me the proofs later that day, I saw that the most prominent book, right behind my head, was a bright yellow “DUMMIES” book. A little lesson from God on trying to seem smart.

— 4 —

One of the challenges I’ve faced with Rita here is simply adjusting to the Colombian way of eating. In Colombia, they always have big lunches and only eat a few bites for dinner. In our house it’s just the opposite — lunch is usually just a glorified snack, and dinner is the big meal of the day.

I found out the hard way that if they don’t eat much of a lunch, Colombians won’t make up for it at dinner since they can’t sleep well if they’ve had a big meal (i.e. your guests GO TO BED HUNGRY and you feel like disorganized slacker for not getting them a proper lunch). For some reason I manage to be caught off guard by this every single day, remembering at the last minute that Rita would like a big lunch, preferably with a cooked meat as the main course. Luckily she is very sweet and patient and has taken it in stride that lunch often consists of me throwing some Cheetos sloppy PBJ’s on the table while bouncing the baby on my hip.

— 5 —

I love how much we’ve learned about another culture through this experience. In particular, we’ve learned that we really like Colombian food. I was surprised at how completely dissimilar it is from Mexican food: Colombian food is almost never spicy (the Kidsave girls and chaperone don’t like the local Tex-Mex cuisine at all) and involves lots of starches like rice and corn and potatoes.

Also, I’ve discovered an excellent quick and tasty Saint-Diet-friendly Colombian recipe: scrambled eggs with rice. I just make some rice in the rice cooker, scramble a few eggs and throw the rice in at the last few seconds of cooking. Simple and delicious!

— 6 —

Wednesday morning we had to be at the Kidsave coordinator’s house at 5:45 AM for an interview for the local news. Reporter Heidi Zhou and her camera man could not have been nicer, even giving the kids tours of the news van after the interview. The interviews involved walking a fine line since we host families wanted to advocate for the kids, but we’re not supposed to talk about the possibility of adoption in front of them (so that they don’t get their hopes up in case they don’t find families). I think that Heidi handled it all really well.

Oh, and here’s a tip: When the host is looking at the camera and talking to a producer at the station and then suddenly goes quiet, that is NOT your cue to get bored and start making silly faces at the camera for the producer. The host has stopped talking because you’re LIVE ON THE AIR and she’s waiting while the anchor announces your segment. A little lesson learned the hard way.

— 7 —

A lot of people have asked if we have any leads on finding a “forever family” for Rita yet. Due to privacy concerns I can’t give any details, but I will say that we still need a lot of prayers in that department.



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  1. Genny

    Sorry you've had a rough week. Hang in there. Offering her love is MORE than enough! No mom, no family, and no child is perfect, but love is. 🙂

    The scrambled eggs and rice sounds good!

  2. Elizabeth Mahlou


    Re your concerns about Rita, I think there is a significant difference between having fun and being happy. Sometimes these two things coincide, but if I could have only one of them, I would choose happiness, not fun. Wouldn't you? It certainly sounds from your previous posts that Rita is happy, so maybe it is not all that important that she have fun. My daughter, Lizzie, spent the better part of a year in the Soviet Union when she was Rita's age. She had to learn the language, deal with differences in school expectations, babysit the preschool daughter of a friend, and avoid saying the wrong thing around the KGB, who did turn up in her life at one point. She took hours to complete her school homework, which was difficult because her Russian skills were just developing. She put up with a lot of snow, very cold weather, domineering parents (of her friends; I hope I was not that way although she claims I have two sides: American and Russian mother), and shopping conditions in which one had to stand in three different lines (each of them 15 minutes long) just to buy one item. She learned many new rules of behavior and bit her tongue when people who thought that Americans were the enemy called her less-than-flattering names. I don't think she would ever say that she "had fun" in the USSR. However, she *was* happy there. How do I know? Because on her college entrance essay, she chose that experience as the one that was the most significant in her life, the one that contributed most to her growth, the one that she was "happiest" to have. I bet Rita will have a similar reaction. No matter what the little, daily, imperfections might be, she will have an experience that will saturate her memory for a lifetime. Moreover, she will know that someone loved her. How can she not be happy, whether or not her daily activities are fun?

    Just a thought…


  3. Laura

    I've always thought the same way about having a foreign exchange student. I was always afraid to host one for fear it would be too boring to just hang with us for the summer as we can't afford to do a lot of traveling. I do, however, think you are being too hard on yourself! She sounds like a lovely girl and it sounds like she really likes you. Enjoy! the rest of your time.
    God Bless.

  4. Anonymous

    Just a comment on #1 – these things you're talking about: dismay that Rita may not be having a good time and how not-perfect you must seem – these feelings come from pride. At her age, I certainly wouldn't have noticed the things that you're worried about – the laundry not getting done and the house being a bit noisy throughout the day. I'm sure she's loving the opportunity to be part of a large family. Bless you for taking her into your home!

  5. Tami Boesiger

    It sounds like your family is pretty normal. Don't run yourself down. Every family has its own beat, right?

    LOVE the photo story. I bet God had a good chuckle about that one.

    Have a great Friday, Jennifer.

  6. Mary DeTurris Poust

    Sorry about the duplicate link. The second one is right. It's the direct link to Quick Takes. It's been a long day — already. I was experiencing all sorts of problems with blogger for some reason. Thanks.

  7. Frances

    Oh, Jen. Your description of family life- generally happy but with seemingly endless squabbles, screaming fits, and spilled milk (or juice) resonated so much with me. So often I think, 'We want to radiate God's love to the world but how can we do that when no one even hear me over the cacophany?'

    You're not alone, sister. You're not alone, and I've been surprised at how much love can make it through the noise.

  8. Dawn Farias

    Bless your heart. I sometimes think you are me, only I'm without Rita. You will have lots of advice given to you today, I'm sure, so I won't add any (I'd learn my own lesson in trying to appear smart!) Enjoy your weekend. ((hugs))

  9. Christina

    You haven't, perchance, prayed the Prayer of Humility lately have you?

    It's amazing what good (and simple) dishes you can learn from other ethnic groups. I have a Vietnamese friend who taught me a similar rice and egg dish, only she used a hard boiled egg and added soy sauce, lettuce and cucumber (and called it a "salad").

  10. TwoSquareMeals

    In all of my cross-cultural experiences, the one thing I have learned is that serving in love speaks volumes across cultural barriers. Rita is bound to think many things about living with your family are strange, chaos or not, just by virtue of the fact that she is in a new culture. All of the kids in the program are experiencing the same thing. BUT they expect things to be weird in a new culture. You are loving and serving her, and that makes all the difference.

  11. Rebecca

    re #1: I think that it is a good thing to let someone see your imperfections. It would be doing her a disservice to let her think that it is all easy. After all, God willing, this is a little girl who will one day have a family of her own and she, too, will have her moments… it would be nice for her to reflect on her past and realise that having "moments" is normal.

    I hope that made sense.

    #3: That is a funny story about the bookshelf.

    #4: I've been trying to figure out a way to transition lunch to being the big meal of the deal because I seem to be a big fat grump the way we normally eat, but it really does seem impossible in this culture, especially with kids who are used to a large supper.

  12. Chere

    I think you've done more for Rita than you will ever know–she's finding that REAL families aren't perfect, don't always get along, don't always have houses that look like those in magazines, etc. What they DO have is the constant commitment to keep loving each other and trying their best. Rita will be so much better prepared to be in a REAL family from her experience with yours–even if it's chaotic, I'm sure she loves being involved in all of it!

  13. Laura

    I see in your writing how God is trying to speak through your own insecurities to you daily — and affirm the good you're doing with having Rita in your home. Good job of listening — and not letting yourself get in the way (too much). That is hard!
    I can relate with not keeping up the facade while having (an extended) visitor. We had a friend from college, who is now a professor (single, without kids) come and visit, and she "taught" them lessons — about all the things they loved. I felt like she was the shining star, and me a crabby, grump who just cared about the laundry and getting meals on the table. When she left and we got back to homeschooling, the kids whined that she was a much better teacher than me, and much more fun! I wish I could say that I humbly accepted it as 'something to work on', but you should have seen the steam coming out my ears!

  14. Kingdom Mama

    Jen, try not to worry about Rita. Although I know the feeling you are describing because I have "extra" kids in my house everyday. Only mine are more spoiled American than sweet Columbian, and I'm pretty sure they're letting the whole town know about MY laundry pile!;)

  15. Jess

    Your family is "perfect", it just isn't the unrealistic stylized Hallmark version that we all think we are supposed to achieve. At least that is what I tell myself about my own family! I've found that when I read blogs like Soule Mama or Pioneer Woman I don't feel inspired, I just feel insufficient, like I am doing something wrong that we don't have that calm, crafty, whole-food, natural lifestyle. Sigh. I don't think they do either, they just publish that lifestyle and leave the messy stuff out.

    I like reading about your "messy"!

  16. Jess

    I just reread what I commented and… ugh.

    My point was that I don't believe that the standard most mothers/wives set for themselves and their families are realistic and are based on the partial reality other families offer for public consumption. Not that those other families aren't cool and full of fun but there is always a bit of "messy" even if they don't discuss it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the two blogs I listed, they just choose to publish all good all the time. I like reading about realistic family situations – and you have 4 little kids all under 5 and now a Kidsave child for the summer – laundry can wait!

    I'm sure Rita is happy and just soaking everything in. Sometimes not being busy and just being happy and enjoying the moment is more fulfilling long term. She will have great memories of living for a short while with a family full of life, love and spiritual closeness with God. What a gift you are giving her!

    Have a great weekend.

  17. Elena

    From all the diet stuff I've been reading lately, the way Rita eats (big meal in the middle of the day, smaller meal at night) is supposed to actually be better on the body! Go figure?

  18. Amy

    I might start doing your Quick Takes on Fridays. Are there any rules, or just 7 random things from the week?

    I love #3 so much! When God shows his sense of humor it's pretty fun.

  19. Dawn Farias

    Oh – and we have PB&J with Cheetos all.the.time, too.

  20. Stephanie

    I didn't read all the comments – just the first couple and last one. Can I just say I totally agree with Elizabeth Mahlou and Jess? I don't really know what to add, except that being transparent is very, very scary. But God will give you the grace to handle even that!

  21. Weird Unsocialized Mom

    Oh, my goodness! I'll definitely keep the tip in #6 in mind if I'm ever in a position to be interviewed. lol

    Praying about Rita's forever family.

  22. ohhowhappy

    GRACE. His is sufficient for you, for your children, for Rita. How precious are His promises reagarding grace and how life-changing for Rita to see every day examples of people in need of grace and it being offered freely to each other through Christ.

    And, grace doesn't make us happy or help us have fun, but it does give us JOY.

    And, lest you think I'm not practical as well–big cardboard boxes, sheets, blankets and a flashlight=an entire afternoon of fun for the whole family!

    Jen (mom of 4 under age 7)

  23. newguy40

    I think that a big part of it is that when someone lives with you, there's no way you can keep up a facade for too long. It's painful when you get to that point where the last shreds of the image of you that you'd like for others to have of you gets washed away, and you're left standing there with only the real you — flaws and everything — to offer.

    You mentioned this above here in #1.

    This is a very very important lesson. You will find this same feeling and situation as your own childred mature in to teens. Teens can spot insincerity and "controll" a mile away. As your children become adults the challenge only becomes greater.

  24. gin

    hope you don't mind me joining up for your 7 quick takes! i am looking forward to reading more from your blog when i have some time. have a wonderful day 🙂

  25. comingoutcatholic

    Next month my fiance and I are going back home to visit his parents, and even after two years together, his mother still drives me crazy over-planning our trips so that we're sure to be "doing something" and "having fun" at all moments. Let me tell you, she may appreciate some down time, especially if she's the shy quiet type. If she's stoic about her appreciation of the downtime, it's probably only out of politeness because really, how do you politely tell someone you'd rather just stay home and hang out for awhile, as fun as the alternatives may be?

    Reassure yourself with this knowledge also, she's had a hard life and though she's seeing first hand all the ways your family is not perfect, her measuring rod for "perfection" is very different than yours. I'm sure other moms might look at your pile of laundry and commiserate with you on the inability to keep up with it. But Rita is going to look at that pile and see a mom who's present, who cares enough to spend time with her, and to make room for her in your life for a little while. I guarantee you she doesn't care one bit about your imperfections.

  26. Bonnie

    Maybe I have no clue what I'm talking about, but I'll say it anyway.

    First, if Rita wants a family then she's gonna get all the things you're doing "wrong" – backed up laundry and dishes and lulls in the day. Maybe she's actually loving it because of how real it is – how homey it is. I feel like some friends you pick up the house for, some friends you can fold your laundry in front of, and some friends you can fold your underwear in front of. My best friends fall in teh last catergory.

    Also, I totally agree with the comment about happy vs. fun. And maybe you're a bit too "American" to think that giving her love isn't enough. I hope you know what I mean by that.

  27. Kelly

    My computer addiction tip for avoiding the ol' "5 minutes turned into 30" scenario. Set a timer. But set it for 10, because you can't really get what you want done in 5.

  28. Dorian Speed

    Nothing new to add, just that I really benefit from your posts. You give me a lot to think about and I think you and your family are providing Rita with everything she needs. I am praying for all of you.

  29. Josephene

    Hello, Jennifer,

    Have you asked Rita how she's feeling?

  30. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    I deeply appreciate you, Jen….
    God shines through all our cracks… (and oh, how we are all broken and cracked)…
    and in His light, Rita finds warmth.

    Keep letting Him radiate…

    All's grace,

  31. Shannon

    Jen, re: the big meal at lunch time–it's summer. Why not try it as a summer experiment? Or have breakfast at dinner time?

  32. Anonymous

    A little tough love talk for you …

    Another Anonymous said: " … these feelings come from pride … "

    Yepper. Just who is it you are performing for? 'Cause you speak about it as though it is a performance. Whose standards are you trying to meet and why?

    This child came from a foreign orphanage and you're worried that she (or someone else?) is judging you on your laundry? Are you nuts?

    You are giving her true love, not superficial "fun" experiences. Fun is OK, but love is more important. Oh, and by the way, when you see a child who is energetically engaged in some activity — they're not necessarily having fun or enjoying themselves. It's not at all the same thing. So when you see all those warehoused kids at "daycamps," don't assume that it's all wonderful warm experiences for them. 'Cause it ain't.

    You are doing the right thing and you are doing it the right way — the real way, in a real family, in real life.

    I'm wondering who is poisoning your confidence about this and why you are letting them do that?

  33. J.C.

    Jen, does Rita know you're Catholic? Because Rita probably is, and Catholicism may be one of very few familiar things she's found in midst of this massive culture shock. This is such a great opportunity to impart, not only Christ's love through your affection, but also the teachings of His Church. Catholicism is largely cultural in Latin America, and evangelicalism is rapidly gaining influence and converts. While we can't know the specifics of God's plan for Rita (tow-truck driver :)), as long as you continue to prayerfully consider the long-range happiness of her immortal soul, you can't fail….even if she isn't adopted, painful as that would be. I plan to start a novena to St. Philomena for that intention. My mother is Colombian, and I have an adopted brother and sister from Latin America. I don't know how much your readers know about third world Latin America, but I assure you, a few cute squabbling kids are the least of her worries. You did say she lived in an orphanage, didn't you? I'm a blond blue-eyed American whose childhood summers in Colombia were the diametrical opposite of Rita's life in all likelihood–chauffeurs, cooks, uniformed maids and nannies, little boys in white shorts to run after our tennis balls on the clay courts at the country club. Someone like Rita, unless she has an opportunity for higher education, would probably consider herself lucky to have any stable version of these jobs. As privileged Americans, we often forget the circumstances in which most of the world lives. God has a plan for each of those souls, regardless of their material circumstances. Those circumstances are largely "accidents" of geography and not proof of God's love or compassion. I love reading your blog as you arrive at this conclusion over and over again in your own life. The outward circumstances of our lives are largely irrelevant; what marks our lives is how we cooperate with God's grace. Regardless of how Rita's ChildSave time with you ends, I am sure the love, the example and the prayers you are better equipping her to fulfill God's plan in her life. Thank you for allowing us to share in so many of your experiences.

  34. aileen

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  35. Shylock

    Hahaha, I love the one about the "Dummies" book behind you. I laughed out loud. God definitely has a sense of humour and knows just how to make us smirk at ourselves!

    Thanks for sharing!

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