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One More

The kids are back in school. Seniors. Their last year of compulsory education has begun, and honestly I don’t know how to feel about it. On a abstract level, I understand that they are nine months away from graduation, a year from 18, from having to really decide in what direction they want to go. As for actually knowing what that will look like, or how it will impact me, I’m clueless. I can only hope I’ve given them enough information, skills and direction to make the best decisions they can.

This transition from summer to the school year feels the same as every other. One day the boys are here, all the time, no real responsibilities, sleeping in, hanging out with friends. The next morning the house takes on a strange stillness. This year, the puppy is taking up some of the slack, and all of my free time, but I’ve still noticed an altered energy. Something is clearly missing, again.

I can’t help but think of myself at their age, my last year of high school in front of me. It seems forever ago and almost like it just happened. I can clearly remember many things that I did, wanted to do, experienced. My kids are different. School is different. They will have a completely different experience than mine, which is just as it should be.

But just like mine, the school year will pass, it will be over before they know it.

If I’m being honest (and I try to be), I’m looking forward to the time when it is just Sheryl and me, alone again. I know how amazing it is to have the empty nest, and while I will always welcome my kids home, I’m excited for the places Sheryl and I will go, as well as the quiet nights when it is just the two of us.

The anticipation is killing me. The possibilities are exciting to ponder.

Anyway, here are a few pictures of the lads, the traditional first day of school photos. destry.jpg

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The headless dog photobomb is my favorite.

 

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Through the Years

It has been a while since I’ve talked about my boys. In the summer of 2007, Dylan and Destry were placed with us through the foster care system. They’d just had their 7th birthday. Nine months later, we officially adopted them into our family.

They are juniors at Herriman High School now. I feel the way most parents do- One day they were little boys, and the next day they’d become young men. I am grateful for the good people they are, regardless of the strange parenting they receive. They both have huge hearts.

What follows is a year by year photo essay, starting with their first weekend in our home up to last Friday, when they attended a school dance.

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August 2007-Onion Days Parade and picnic, Payson Utah. Seven years old and not quite sure what to think of their current situation. They did get some swell MetLife swag.

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Summer 2008- We went to Liberty Park in Salt Lake City for a play-date with some friends. We arrived early (or were the friends late?). Here, Destry (left) and Dylan (right) ponder the pros and cons of swinging.

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On the year anniversary of their adoption, we took them to Timpanogos Cave. Dylan is on the left.

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October 2010- Halloween morning in our kitchen (our Sugarhouse, Utah home). I’m not sure what Dylan is supposed to be, but I’m assuming Destry is dressed as a tourist.

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June 2011 Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. One of our favorite places to vacation. I like to make the boys stand next to random statues (I have quite the collection). It likely makes me a bad parent (joking), but they are always good sports about it. Well, they used to be.

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Outside Smith and Edwards Country Store in Ogden, Spring 2012- A bad hair period? Perhaps, but we’ve always let them wear whatever clothes they liked and have their hair as long, short, sloppy as they wanted.

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Cancun, Mexico Spring 2013- We’d been at the resort less than five hours and both of them already had their summer tans going. Cancun is both boys favorite vacation destination. img_3787

October, 2014. Back in Cancun. Both boys look much older than the previous Spring. Here, they are posing with a kid from England they met while swimming about. They were inseparable for five days. I’m not sure they’ve spoken since.

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The lads and me, Fall 2015 in our South Jordan, Utah kitchen. Dylan is sporting the rhino look, while Destry and I model a less severe style.

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Track season, Spring 2016. Orem, Utah at Grandma Kempton’s house. While this photo is clearly posed, I am stunned at the difference 8 months can make. These are no longer boys, but young men.

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Outside our South Jordan, Utah home- Last weekend, February, 2017. They had a grand time at the dance, and by all accounts, were perfect gentlemen.

It is funny, I feel I haven’t aged all that much. Yet somehow, in what feels very much like overnight, my family has changed from this-

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To this-DSC_0092.JPG

It may have happened quickly, but if I stop and think, the years, events, vacations, good and bad days are floating about for me to remember. I am grateful for each and every day being their father. I’m a lucky guy.

Beginnings

I always liked telling stories. I still do.

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When I was little, I used to sing stories to my parents. I composed an epic tale about a man going to the store to get some skis, only to realize upon returning home, he’d forgotten poles. Oh, the horror. Luckily, a return trip to the ski store solved the dilemma. Poles were acquired, skiing commenced.

In my fractured memory, once I learned how to write, I began writing stories. It never mattered if they were any good, or if I had any talent, I just loved putting words on paper, creating narratives.

I still love that as well.

My father was a writer, wrote stories, (not in any professional setting, but that really doesn’t matter), and I wanted to be like him. It was a common theme in my early years- Following after my father. I always felt encouraged by him, and he often had time for reading my tales of adventure and science fiction. I even recall him commenting on my dialogue, saying something like “that sounds like something a space ship captain would say.”

Simple kindnesses often mean the most.

That sort of encouragement was crucial to my writing development. If he had been overly critical of my work, or dismissive, I may have stopped altogether. His enthusiasm and positive attitude inspired me. I have my father to thank for my love of writing, my desire to improve and learn.

Who was there for you at the beginning (of whatever, not necessarily writing)? Who was it said the right things, gave the correct advice, or offered that little incentive you needed to keep going? Have you thanked them? I know I don’t say it enough, those thank yous. I need to do better.

 

 

 

 

Impossible to Understand

Sometimes, when I think about who I was as a teenager, I shake my head. That was one weird dude. He was likable enough, had good hair and great friends. I think he even managed to do some pretty amazing things at times. Still, teen aged Ryan spent a great deal of time being afraid. He was afraid of other people, places he was unfamiliar with. He was very afraid of his future, and did his best not to think about it much. Then again, he laughed more than he cried, which means he had more good days than bad ones. In the end, he was raised by good parents who let him be his own person.

teenThat’s me there, on the left. The handsome rogue on the right is one of my best friends, (still, to this day. How cool is that?) Joel Reynolds. This photo was taken just before we graduated from West Jordan High School. I remember feeling so damn grown up, like I had finally arrived. Funny, the things we think we understand. 

I am not the kind of person to swim in regret, and though I made my fair share of mistakes, all of them (along with my successes) brought me to this place, this me. I like this me. Then again, whose to say I wouldn’t like a different version of myself, one who made different decisions?

I wasted most of my educational opportunities in high school, choosing to be content with mediocrity. Because of that, I found my options significantly limited when I decided a university education was something I desired. I could attend the local community college, or nothing. I ended up really loving my community college experience, but I wish I had been able to choose between several options, rather than have one forced upon me. I think it set in my mind that I would always have limited options. That sort of thinking allowed me to believe I had to take the first jobs offered to me. When it came time to look for other sorts of work, I could never see myself as qualified for positions I really wanted. I worked blue collar jobs (which I don’t regret, they taught me valuable skills), because I thought no office would hire me. If Sheryl hadn’t convinced me to apply for the library job, I certainly would have missed out on that opportunity.

I watch my own children as they try to navigate through early adolescence. They tend to treat school the same way I did. Their grades are currently a great deal better than mine ever were, but they are below what they are capable of doing. Like everyone I have ever known, they exist under the same misguided belief. They cannot see beyond the current place they find themselves. Where they are, who they are, what they are doing, will always be this way. There is no future, just now. Sure, we all vaguely understand the concept of tomorrow. We may even think we know that years from now, things will be different than they are today, that we will all be older, changed, but I’m not convinced we really believe it.

If I could do one thing for my 15 year old self, it would be to give him a tiny glimpse of how temporary any particular moment really is. I like to believe if I could let him feel, even for ten seconds, how different he would be in a few short years, he might understand his present better.

Sometimes, I find myself talking to my boys, trying to convince them of this very thing. I tell them to not limit their opportunities by not giving their best efforts now. So much of their adult lives depend on the decisions they make today. They nod like they understand, but in their hearts, they believe tomorrow will be just like today. I don’t doubt they know what my words mean, but there are some things that only time teaches. I am certain my 65 year old self will look back at this blog, this moment and say, “If only you could take your own advice.”

I wish I could too.

Without Realizing

I have always been a sucker for nostalgia. Few things make me more happily morose than going through old photos, yearbooks, letters, papers and letting my mind wander. Sometimes that feeling gets a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I feel the need to write about it.

We adopted the boys in July of 2008, but there was nearly a year before that when they lived with us. During that time, we wanted them to feel comfortable and safe so rather than make them call us mom and dad, we encouraged them to call us whatever they wanted to-Ryan, Sheryl, Mom or dad, and my personal favorite, awesome dudes.

I was surprisingly uncomfortable being called dad. Hearing their little voices calling me by name felt much more natural.

After the adoption (maybe because then I finally wanted to feel like one), I began to insist on being called dad. Now when they jokingly call me by name, I feel that same discomfort. Funny how things change.

When you live with children, it is easy to not notice them growing. Since we missed out on the first seven years of their lives, they have always seemed fully formed to me. It is with amazement that today, I go through some older photos and realize just how much they have grown, how those little boys are long gone and these almost teens now inhabit my home.

I thought it would be fun to share some images of these fine lads.

This photo was taken the first day they came to live with us. Like most boys, they loved video games and thought our Xbox was the coolest thing ever.

These haircuts have to be the worst. They never fit, were always counter to their personalities. I think we went almost a full year before cutting it again.

When I look at this picture, I try to imagine how they must have felt-another home that wasn’t with their mother. New people to care for them. Would anything ever be permanent again. These closed mouth smiles tell the story.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAJust about to leave for a trip to Disneyland. Destry has a tooth just waiting to fall out. I love this photo for several reasons. One-UTES.

Two-huge smile on Dylan’s face. Someone told him his teeth (which had been capped) were unattractive and he should never smile with his mouth open.

Three-look at my awesome bookshelf.

The giddy anticipation is evident. I had to force them to pose for one more photo before we left.

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Dylan’s huge smile. The same trip.

I think this is taken at Bubba Gump Shrimp. I love the happiness on his face. Too much of their lives had been spent wondering things that small children shouldn’t have to wonder. I like to think that this trip was filled with none of that thinking. Everything was happy and both boys felt completely accepted and loved.

 

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERATwo years later, the boys and I went back to Disney. What a change! Destry has grown almost four inches and Dylan looks like the suave and sly little devil he is becoming. He still has a long way to go when it comes to fashion sense. With his Christmas combination color combination, he is melting hearts and taking names.

It is during this time when they started pressing out, challenging boundaries. One thing we learned in our parenting class, when t kids start arguing with you, they feel safe. Funny to think about being happy when your kids argue, but it was one of the happiest days of my parenting life.

IMG_0559Tough and rugged on their last day of elementary school. Dylan has a bit of a little boy haircut. They usually refuse to dress the same as they don’t like the attention it brings.

In this situation, they both came upstairs and looked at the other saying, “serious, the dark blue shirt and dark pants?”

At least Destry changed to the gray slacks.

When they first came to live with us, they were in second grade. You sort of start thinking they will never really grow out of that phase. Then suddenly, without realizing it, they are about to start middle school, share their opinions about things they never cared about before.  They no longer need movies and books explained to them, they get most of the jokes.

 

IMG_1101Since I am the best dad, I took the boys to the priesthood session of general conference (and no, lightening didn’t come through the roof and slay me).

This photo really lets the mischievous nature of these lads show through. You can almost see plots forming, plans taking shape, deeds being pondered. What will they do? Who will fall victim to their shenanigans?

Most likely me.

They do clean up nice.

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Christmas morning, and what two boys don’t get excited for new sweat pants?

Harder and harder to get a picture of them when they want to be close to each other. For twins, they sure don’t seem to share many interests. Still, they are amazing boys, honest to almost excess, willing to do most anything.

I am lucky to be their father, which I am, regardless of genetics.  It took me a while, several years in fact, before I began to really feel like one. I used to imagine myself as a substitute, standing in until they were grown. Someone making sure they survived, learned and grew, but someone who was temporary, a person who they would always be grateful for, look back on fondly, but someone they had lost contact with.

Fortunately for me, my boys don’t let that kind of attitude last. They grow older, wiser and better looking. They let me in on that process, share everything with me, glow at my approval and smile when I am proud of them. Somehow they have grown up, almost without me noticing.  I am glad I stopped to pay attention today.

 

 

Such a Mean Old Man

Sorry for stealing more lyrics…they fit.

I was raised by parents who had very different parenting styles. My mother’s parents were authoritarian, very much concerned with behavior and appearance, while my Father was raised by parents who at times could seem distant and uninterested.

My mother determined to be a different parent than hers, but she still raised us with a set of rules and expectations, while  my father decided to be as laid back as possible.

Sometimes the two styles would clash and I am certain I was not the only of my siblings to take advantage of my fathers willingness to allow most things asking him first, when I knew my mother would not approve or allow something.

I always feel I have more of my father’s traits than my mother’s. Imagine my surprise when after becoming a parent, I am much more like her.

I demand a great deal from my children. They will do better in high school than I, getting excellent grades. Education was important in my home and I never doubted my parents wanted me to get good grades. I am just more determined to make sure my kids accomplish it.

I am surprised by the behavior I refuse to tolerate, what noises bother me, what punishments I invent for certain situations. I am actually pretty hardcore, it seems. Sheryl tells me that the boys are sometimes afraid to ask me for things, which makes me laugh and saddens me at the same time. I would never hit my kids, but apparently, my disappointed voice and my bothered expression are enough to inspire fear.

I tell them all the time what I want for them. I want them to know what they think matters. I want them to  learn, experience things, make their own decisions. At the same time, I expect more from them because of that freedom. If they make mistakes, I let them know. I don’t hold them over their heads like weights, but it is important to me they see their errors, accept them and learn to be better.

If that means they are a bit frightened of me, or worry about letting me down, I guess I can accept that, mean old man that I am…

 

Selfishly I Cling to My Selfishness

That should really read shellfishly, right? Or maybe I should have gone the humble route and titled it “selflessly, I cling to my selfishness”. It is selfless of me to cling to it. Who else would sacrifice for my poor selfishness? Only one as selfless as me.

I am the oldest of five siblings. The first to be married, first to graduate college, fist to start balding, going grey, getting fat. All these firsts, yet I was not the first to have children. I married Sheryl on August 20, 1993. We knew before deciding to marry that having our own biological children was not possible and while there was some disappointment, we figured that sooner or later we would adopt a child, maybe two.

Honestly, I was sort of relieved we would not be having children anytime soon. I liked having the freedom to do most of the things I wanted to do. We were both very young, both still in school, trying to figure out this whole adult thing and our places in the universe. No one is ever really ready to be a parent (though many of us think we know everything there is to know about raising children, whether we have any or not), but I felt particularly unprepared and unwilling.

Mostly, I was selfishly content with my life. I worked part time while going to school and spent most of my weekends and free time with my wife and extended family. We could take vacations at a whim, never really worrying about much of anything. We talked from time to time about adoption, but our inquiries revealed the expense of such things and often that was a huge deterrent. We were happy most of the time, just the two of us, doing our thing and as the years went by, I started to be more convinced that we were never going to have any children. We were thrilled to be the awesome aunt and uncle that always had time for our siblings children, bringing gifts for birthdays and Christmas, always getting what the kids wanted. It was a fun time.

Sometime around 2006 the both of us started getting the itch, a feeling that we needed more in terms of our family. We were much better off financially then we had been ten years previous and the adoption costs seemed much more reasonable and affordable. Sheryl started looking at adoption sites. We decided that neither of us wanted to adopt an infant. That was work we didn’t want. Sleepless nights and diapers did not make either of us excited. We were also determined to adopt only one child, see how that went, then pursue another adoption if it felt right.

Our research and conversations led is to the Utah Foster Care Foundation, and the foster-to- adopt program. We took parenting classes ( I recommend them for any parent, foster, adoptive, biological), that really opened our eyes to what some children have to deal with. They prepared us for the worst of the worst situations-massive physical and emotional abuse, attachment disorders, emotional outbursts, all kinds of scenarios. More than that, they taught us how kids think, how they react and respond, how they might view the world.

We were foster certified in the spring of 2007 and waited patiently and fearfully for a placement. Just after we took our last vacation alone (to San Francisco), we received a phone call. Twin boys, age 7 were being moved from one form of foster care to a more permanent placement. We weren’t sure we were ready for two but it felt right and we decided to go for it.

Dylan and Destry were placed with us and though there was still a strong possibility they would be reunited with their birth mother, we were ready to have them join our family. We adopted them on July 9, 2008

But I am rambling and telling such a long story when what I wanted to get at was my reaction to those buster boys.

While I instantly had affection for them, I had been married and basically living on my own for 14 years. I had no one to worry about by myself. My stuff was my stuff, and the few things Sheryl and I had in common were easily shared. When it came to those boys, it was very hard to share anything. The TV was mine. The video game console was mine. The movies were mine. The house was mine. All of it.

Those 14 years had taken their toll in terms of my nature. It was the hardest thing in the world to allow my boys access to things that I felt were mine alone. I would buy things from the store and hide them away. It was actually quite ridiculous and looking back I shake my head and can’t help but laugh at myself.

Strange enough, it was only time that made sharing those things easier, not the act of sharing. As they acquired their own possessions, the need to share mine diminished. I did learn to be less controlling with the television and with some other things. I still have my own video game console and they have theirs. They even have their own dvd player and TV. I rarely hide treats from them anymore and we have found our own family balance between privacy and openness. It’s not perfect, but no family is.

One thing I try to not be selfish with is my attention and time. My parents always had time for me and my questions, and while I am often silly and sarcastic with them, I take what my boys say and think very seriously.

I still miss being able to take off for a week with Sheryl, just the two of us. I guess unlike many couples, we know what living alone together is like. I know what we are missing and can’t wait to experience that all again. It will not be the same, though. The boys will always be in the back of my mind. They are all wound up in everything and though it’s different, it is good.