the one about the tree housE

I have debated with myself about whether or not to share this part of our lives, but I tend to be a sharer. Probably an over-sharer. And when something so big and crazy is consuming my daily thoughts, I have to put pen to to keyboard, and process everything in the best way I know how. Through writing.

Let me start from the beginning.

When my husband and his brothers were younger and still living with their parents, they would help an older man who lived down the road take care of his property. This property, in its entirety, is 55 acres of classified forest with a sprawling ranch home built in 1942 sitting somewhere in the middle of it. 

Luke would plant daffodils in a giant field for this man and help repair or build new rock walls around flower beds, among other things. Over the course of the years that Luke worked on this property, he fell in love with it.

Fast forward many years later, when Luke is in medical school and then residency...that same older man who owned the property began planting the seed that Luke should buy this property from him and raise our family there. 

My first answer was absolutely not.

My second answer was over my dead body.

My third answer was Hell no.

You catch my drift? I didn't want to live there. I am not the most outdoorsy gal. I don't enjoy extreme temperatures. I don't like bugs, snakes, spiders, etc. I can appreciate nature and all its glory, but I don't necessarily need to live out in the middle of a forest. Not to mention the home on the property was 70+ years old. Outdated. Too small for our family. Not our style. 

I don't know what happens in our marriage, but it seems that most of the time, Luke is able to convince me of just about anything. What starts as a very firm no somehow becomes an, "If it makes you happy." I guess that is what marriage is supposed to be about. 

I was pregnant with Shiloh, sitting in a hotel lobby in Nashville, Tennesee, when Luke first called to tell me that he had gone out to speak with "Doc" (that's the name I will use here since that is what we call him and he is a retired doctor) about the property and how much he would charge us to buy it. 

I remember laughing out loud, thinking there was no way that we could ever afford it or that we would ever want to spend that kind of money on a bunch of trees and a house that would surely need a complete and total gutting. 

That was two years ago.

We tabled the discussion until after I had given birth to Shiloh. I was finally able to make a visit to the house and the property, and I guess, somehow, I fell in love with it, too.

The sound of silence is an incredible thing when you live in a world of chaos. The way you feel so small standing among the giant trees that have been there for years and years. I could picture my children playing in the woods, running in the field of daffodils their papa planted. I knew then that Luke's dream had become my own, and that we had to make this happen somehow for us and for our girls.

It's not that we hadn't been looking for homes in other parts of Delaware County. We certainly had been. We would spend our Sundays going on drives and spotting houses, coffee in hand, wondering if we could see ourselves starting our forever there. We cruised neighborhoods, country roads, and everything in between. We found plenty of beautiful homes, but nothing was our style. 

There was one home, however, that was our "dream home." A home we said we had to at least go in and walk through if it ever came up for sale. Luke excitedly texted me one day in April of 2015 that the home was for sale. It was miles out of our price range, but we decided to take a look anyway. As we walked through this stunning home, we realized that even if we could make the money work, we still didn't feel attached to the overall style of the home and thus couldn't see ourselves living there. The realtor did tell us who the builder was and said how his homes were wonderful and we should look him up if we ever think of building. We logged this builder's name into memory and walked away from that home, knowing what we really wanted to do.

In May of 2015, Luke signed an agreement with Doc, naming the price of the land and when we would be able to purchase it. We spent that entire winter visiting the property while Doc was at his second home in Florida. He gave us the keys so we could take contractors in and do measurements and think if ideas of how we would make this house work for us. We spent hours out there with our girls, with our family members, and eventually, with that contractor who came so highly recommended. 

We began our relationship with this person in January of 2016. He was excited to do our project. His eyes grew wide when he set foot on the property, and he expressed how much he always wanted to live on a property like this. He said he was tired of building the same type of home, and that he was ready to show Muncie something different. He gave us an estimated start date, which was October of 2016. He met us at his office. He met us out at the house. He took measurements. He recommended we get an architect on board so that we could have the house we truly wanted. So, in March of 2016, we hired our architect, Cynthia. We were thrilled to have her knowledge and expertise, and she was also excited about our project.

More meetings. More discussions. More emails. 

All the while, we felt good about having some key pieces of the puzzle in place. Contractor. Architect. And as of August of 2016, the process of buying the property began. Doc was "ready" to part with it and downsize to a condo. I use the term "ready" loosely, because he is deeply attached to the property and would probably stay there forever, but he is also excited for our family to love it for the next 50 years like he has.

We decided a while back that we did not want all 55 acres. Or maybe I should say, we did not want to pay for all 55 acres. The idea of owning 55 acres of land sounds amazing, but for the price tag, we thought we should stick to 40 acres and the house. We would be building basically a new house in the place of the old one, so we needed every last penny to go toward our actual living space, not just more trees. 

Here we sit, over 1 year past our initial agreement on price and intent to purchase, and 2 years past that initial conversation about buying the property in the first place....and we still barely have anything to show for it except for some paperwork that is working its way through the mortgage approval system. We are hoping to close on the house in September.

But, we felt confident in the people we chose to be a part of this project.

That is until yesterday.

Remember that contractor? The one who came so highly recommended? The one who was excited about this house, about doing something different, about building on property he had always wanted himself? The one who put us on his calendar back in the spring for an October start date and verified this date as little as three weeks ago?

Well, he completely backed out on us yesterday.

He called us to his office for a meeting that we thought was to hash out the bid on the project. How much he would charge us, what our next steps would be, and how to get this whole process going for October. 

We made small talk and shot the breeze about fishing and Luke's Canada trip, and then he basically said he didn't have the time to do our project...not now, not in the future, not ever. He didn't have the manpower. It wouldn't fit our budget. And that our project would end up "being a disaster."

After 8 months of communicating with this person, and being told up to three weeks ago that he was still on board and set to start in October, he drops us like we were nothing.

Now, if you know me personally, you know that I can't hold my emotions in. I cry when I am mad. I don't hide "my face" well. I speak my mind. 

And I did all of those things yesterday in that office with a man who showed the professionalism of a litter box. 

So what's the big deal? Well, the big deal is that because of this "timeline" he gave us of starting in October, we built our house purchase around that as well. Do you think we would be purchasing a house that we weren't ready to do anything with for 6 months? No. We planned to purchase the house right now because we were told the project would be starting this Fall. 

Who loves the idea of paying a mortgage on a house that will be sitting unoccupied and not under construction while we still own the house we currently live in? I don't know about you, but flushing money down the toilet isn't one of my favorite pastimes.

But who am I most angry with? 

Honestly? It's us. I am most angry with us.

We were naive. We were taking far too human of an approach with this process. We trusted this person when we had no reason to actually trust him. We believed what he told us, but we had nothing on paper. We didn't start a relationship with another builder because we were wanting to preserve the relationship we had with him. We didn't want him to puff out his chest and get defensive if we told him that we had actually been working with another contractor at the same time and decided to go with the other guy instead.

We didn't want to waste his time.

Isn't that funny? We were so concerned with wasting this person's time that we ended up just wasting our own.

So Friends, that's what you get for trying to be a good person. For trying to be honest. For trying to trust that the person who has been working with you for 3/4 of a year would not lead you down the wrong path.

We don't know what our next step will be. We have a list of other contractors we will be calling, but there is a very good chance that no one will want to take on this project this late into the year. There's an even better chance that this project will not start until Spring of 2017 and won't be finished until long past a year from now. There's also a really, really great chance that this person will find a flaming bag of poopy diapers on his front door mat, but you didn't hear that from me.

So, for now, my children will still sleep 3 to a bedroom, which they love. Our living room is still too small for a big party of people, but we make it work. We don't have 40 acres of woods to adventure through, but we have a yard and a swing set. I don't have a folding table in my laundry room, but I hate folding laundry anyway. My kitchen isn't state of the art, but I can still feed my family

In the midst of the tornado damage in Kokomo and the flooding in Louisiana and the numerous tragedies all over the world, I must remind myself of these luxuries that I still have, even in a house that I am eager to leave behind. 

Luke's brother built a home on 30+ acres of land, and they call it The Field HousE (uppercase E on the end for Ernstberger).

I'm calling ours The Tree HousE.

I cherish these photos we took in May of 2015 (taken at The Tree HousE by Kira Childers), right after we agreed to purchase this property "someday." Before all the heartache and letdown and hurry up and wait. 

I plan to continue to share our progress on the house and how this story unfolds. I hope you'll stay tuned.

The one about sticks and stones

Um, hi. I am just looking for a cool new bumper sticker.

I want it to say, "My child is an honor student pulled a stick today."

How many other parents would be interested in purchasing one?

It was inevitable. I knew it would happen sooner or later. No child is perfect, and my years in the classroom taught me that even the best and brightest will slip up and "pull a stick," "flip a card," "clip a strip," "clip down," "lose a star," or any other cute way to say, "You slipped up."

When my eyes met Noelle's after school today, she was already fighting back the tears.

"I pulled a stick today," she sputtered.

I threw my arms around her and pressed her cheek into my heart. My first thought was not anger or frustration or defensiveness.

I honestly felt relief.

You see, on the first night of school, when I was reviewing the classroom procedures packet that her teacher sent home, I felt a twinge of anxiety. It's not that I disagree with the idea. I used a similar system with both my 4th graders and my preschoolers. I just knew that my sweet, perfectionist, sensitive 6 year old would want to "end on green" each day of this school year, which is a pretty steep  goal. When, not if, she would fall short, she would surely be devastated.

So, I was relieved that we hadn't built a 174 day streak that would be broken by an ill-timed giggle or forgotten end-of-year assignment. Just shy of two weeks into 1st grade, and we are starting over tomorrow.

Of course, my heart broke for Noelle. I didn't delight in her pain, and a part of me had to fight back the Mama Bear that was trying to come out. This is uncharted territory for us. Noelle provides a lot of challenges to us as her parents, but in school she is typically 100% golden. I didn't exactly know the best way to handle this situation, and with Luke on a camping trip in Canada until next week, I was left to handle it on my own.

The offense -- talking to a friend when she wasn't supposed to be -- was minor. And not surprising. Girlfriend loves to talk! In fact, she has been struggling with passing her 1-minute math fact quizzes because she likes to stop after every problem and chat with herself about how she got the answer or admire the way she writes each digit. Getting dinged for talking was bound to happen sooner or later.

Just because I wasn't surprised doesn't mean I wasn't disappointed. Was I thrilled that she wasn't being a model student? No. Was I annoyed that she allowed something so easy to control to interrupt an otherwise fantastic start to the new school year? You bet. On the drive home, I lost myself somewhere between wanting to bring on additional consequences at home or buy her a puppy to make her feel better.

I settled on having her write a letter of apology to her teacher with a promise to do better, and a strong warning that if she pulls a stick again, she will lose TV privileges.

We went about our night the same we always do. I helped her with her homework, which included studying her spelling words and reading to me. I made dinner while the girls damn near killed each other played sweetly together. I got them to bed at a decent time (and by decent, I mean an hour earlier than normal because the Law of Mondays and Out-of-Town Husbands prevailed).

After the house was quiet, I reflected on the day's events and truly began to understand my role in all of this. As my children continue to learn and grow, they will continue to make mistakes. They will talk when they shouldn't. They will laugh when it's inappropriate. They will say bad words, tell a mean joke, and realize that many times it is simply easier to do "the wrong thing." And it will cost them. Cost them sticks. Cost them recess. Cost them TV and iPads.

It is not my job as their mama to protect them from these mistakes. It is not my job to fight their battles or question their teachers' every move, either. It is, however, my job to be there. To steadfastly be there. In all weather. In all seasons. In all triumphs and tragedies. To be consistent. To be predictable. To be firm when necessary, tough when it's called for, and maybe just a little bit rough in spots. To be cool when they run a little too hot and to be warm in the palm of their hands.

Like a stone.

Some days I am granite, all pulled-together and polished, and other days I am gravel, just a shitstorm of clutter on someone's driveway, but I am always their stone. And it will always be that way, no matter how many sticks they pull.

the one about how she couldn't

Another school year is upon us, and I am pinching myself as I realize that it was one year ago when I was dropping my oldest child off for her first day of Kindergarten. I remember trying to swallow down the lump in my throat to the point that it physically hurt. Tears burned my eyes as I put on a brave face and smiled and waved and blew kisses and wished her well.

First Day of Kindergarten

An entire school year, and an entire summer later, and here we are....about to do this whole thing again. We have spent the past few weeks preparing for this day. Shopping for school supplies, picking out to new shoes, ordering new uniforms, and filling out paperwork...the process has been mostly enjoyable as I see how excited Noelle is to return to her beloved school.

Last Day of Kindergarten

But tonight, as I was packing the first of many, many lunches for this year, I thought to myself, "I should put a note in her lunchbox."

I didn't do this last year because...well...she couldn't read. Every now and then I might slip a post-it with a smiley face or an I Love you, but I never did a note because I knew she couldn't read.

But now she can. Now she reads.

So, with tears in my eyes, I folded up a card and tucked into her pink and purple leopard print lunch box with a sequined tie-dye heart (as you might imagine this was not the one I wanted her to pick, but I'm rollin' with it...).

It struck me just how much she couldn't do last school year, but now she can.

She couldn't write her last name, but now she's got all 11 letters of that sucker down pat.

She couldn't tie her shoes, but now she's a pro.

She couldn't remember her address or her phone number (and by that I mean my cell phone number because...home line? what's that?)...but now she recites them to a peppy little tune she created herself.

She couldn't put her head (or chin for that matter) under water in the swimming pool, and now she jumps off the diving board.

The list could just go on and on and on and on.

Children are just amazing. They learn despite the circumstances. They succeed despite the failures. They run despite the fatigue. They smile despite the fear.

We have so much to learn from our children if we would just let them teach us.

And honestly? It scares me a little to think of what she can't do right now, but will be able to do by the end of this year.

But it's a happy kind of scared. A proud kind of scared. An excited kind of scared.

I have always said that we aren't raising children, but we are raising adults, and heading off to school is just one step in that process.

So here's to Noelle, and to your child, too....and all their couldn'ts.