What we talk about when we talk about family

November 22 is National Adoption Day. Did you know that? Before this time last year, I wouldn’t have.

But life,  I continue to learn, is full of surprises. No plot twist is too farfetched to be true. The story of my nephew, Waylon (aka “Spud,” as we affectionately called him in his potato-faced pre-adoption days, when we couldn’t use his real name), is one of those farfetched-but-true ones.

November 22, 2013

November 22, 2013

The folklore has been repeated over and over again the last two years, usually ending in a response of disbelief and declaration that he is a “miracle baby.” I first met Spud on Christmas Eve 2012. At that point he was barely past his due date, though he’d already been alive since August. Weighing just 19 ounces, born to a family who couldn’t take care of him (a lot of those details have to remain vague—but this is the Ozarks; you can probably venture a guess), he spent his first four months in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit—this acronym another bit of trivia I didn’t know until I had to) at Mercy Hospital, where my sister-in-law is a nurse.

Baby's first Christmas Eve

Baby’s first Christmas Eve

Daniel and Lindsey had only been engaged since September at this point—another kind of too-perfect story, ps: My brother proposed in Central Park, one year to the day after they met…at a wedding. (I won’t cut it out! I won’t!) They had discussed the possibility of this kind of adoption, maybe years and years down the road, since stories like Spud’s are sadly more common than they ought to be. But none of us anticipated this sort of timeline.

Our family was fast-forwarding at an unheard-of speed, but still the whole process felt unbelievably normal. It felt normal to accept this little guy into our lives. It felt normal just a few months later, when we found out they were having a baby of their own (Spud’s “Big Brother” onesie temporarily stumping Mom & Dad: “Like the TV show?!”).

Surprise!!

Surprise!!

It felt normal when I officiated their wedding that June, outside on the farm where my mom grew up, on my brother’s birthday, on an abnormally mild and perfectly sunny June day. And it felt normal one year ago today, when I sat in the courtroom and heard the name “Waylon Lee Jenkins” spoken for the first time. (Daniel Lee and Lindsey Lee and Wayon Lee, ps—I won’t cut it out!) I remember the judge said something about being pleased to witness such a happy ending—I imagine his days are too often filled with kids who aren’t so lucky.

Aunt Sarah

Aunt Sarah, willfully holding a baby. Do not adjust your screens.

So here we are, a year later. Waylon and his sister, Jolene (yep. We’re well on our way to a honky-tonk Brady Bunch at this point), are healthy, happy, dare-I-say just unreasonably adorable kids.  They bring joy to so many people just by being alive…and they both still poop in diapers. Imagine what they’ll be capable of once they’re potty trained, y’all!

Too often, life’s unpredictability adds up to more curse than blessing. But then sometimes it all makes sense.

For the Rest of Us

Hung out with an old friend for the first time in a while. One of those people whom I only see a handful of times a year (shameful, as we live in the same city for crying out loud), but still, no matter how long it’s been, when we finally get together we inevitably end up giggling like middle school girls at a sleepover.

Tonight, he introduced me to the magical land of Tinder—the “swipe left” / “swipe right” dating app phenomenon that has led to millions of hookups and, who knows, maybe a couple of actual meaningful relationships?

(For the record: I didn’t join.)

I’ve never been ballsy enough to try online dating. No matter how desperate I may have felt between boyfriends, I just couldn’t make myself follow through with signing up. Besides, it seems to me that online dating works for people who either want to get married tomorrow or get laid, like yesterday.  And I’m hovering somewhere in between.

Got me wondering: Why isn’t there a dating site for the rest of us?

Instead of doing what dating sites normally do, allowing you to put your best face forward, The Dating Site For The Rest Of Us would cut through the bullshit and get down to brass tacks.

(I’m 31 over here. Momma doesn’t have time to waste.)

No more well-lit selfies or slimming side-view photographs. On TDSFTROS, your profile picture is an honest “I woke up like this” mug shot. Bed hair, makeup smudges and all. Because, if everything goes according to plan, that’s the version of you they’ll be seeing anyway.

We forego all the niceties like, “My favorite film is Casablanca” or “I consider myself outdoorsy,” and instead tell the cold, hard truth. Like “My favorite movie is actually Stick It” or “I’m outdoorsy…by which I mean I don’t wear deodorant or own a car.”

(Wouldn’t that be helpful? You hang out in the dating world for the better part of a decade, and it’s time to get real.)

Your personality profile includes all the shit you keep carefully concealed in the early stages of courtship. Such as:

I’m afraid of commitment.

I’m reaaaaaally into cats.

Whoops! I’m gay!

I enjoy The Big Bang Theory.

But it also contains all the good stuff that you keep hidden at first. All those idiosyncrasies that truly endear you to someone when the timing is right.

Your shameful binge-watching habits.

Your shared secret prejudices.

Your favorite 2:00 a.m. snacks.

The jig is up. We all have our faults. Wouldn’t it be nice to finally own up to them, and find a special someone who can actually handle them, rather than pretending to be normal for months, only to have it all unravel once the truth comes out?

Once upon a time, I was an idealist. I have watched a lot of Meg Ryan movies. And in spite of personal evidence to the contrary, I still love the idea of love.

Meg Ryan You've Got Mail

“What will NY152 say today? I wonder.”

But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to get real. The truth hurts, but the truth also helps. (Cheez-its. My 2:00 a.m. snack is Cheez-its.)

Fall Forward

This morning. It happened. I felt it happen.

FALL.

Lying in bed, awake at 7:00 a.m. for no good reason on a Saturday (Sorry, friends with kids. We all make our choices. I may die alone eventually, but by god, right now I’ll sleep in if I want to!), I took a conscious moment to soak up the early morning sunshine and sink deeper into my covers while I could feel the less-than-50 chilliness outside.

In other words, I put my phone down and just was. This felt good. Unfortunately, it also felt a little unusual. Like revisiting a forgotten landmark from childhood. “Stillness,” my weary brain rejoiced, “Oh yeah! This is what that feels like.”

FALL.

For many reasons, my favorite time of year. Sweaters. Pumpkin donuts. Candles. Leaves changing. Fall festivals. Halloween. Crisp air. Cider. The start of a new TV season. So many things.

Spring is a time of natural renewal, but fall also feels that way to me too. This year especially, I feel restless for change. I want to put down my bad habits once and for all, and pick up the aspirations that I so want to do but so carefully avoid.

To quote the super-catchy summer anthem: I wanna get better.

FALL.

My favorite time of year, but also a time I dread. Because shorter days signal almost inevitable oncoming gloom. I recognize how melodramatic that sounds, but seasonal sadness can turn me into a hot, hot mess. Lack of sunlight and general cold-weather lethargy can make my private tendency toward melancholy moods more dire.

It’s scary, frankly. To live in your own haunted house.

But this year I wonder whether things could be different. Maybe it works like childhood fear of the dark. If you walk up to your inner darkness and say, “I’m not afraid of you!” does the darkness start to feel less scary? More friendly? Just another part of life, like the light.

It’s worth a try, at least.

I’m reminded of a quote I saw on Pinterest somewhere (which, try though I might, I can’t find attributed to anyone besides a multitude of tumblr pages). It’s probably from some angsty YA novel, but I don’t care:

If they can move on after summer, so can I

So here’s to a better fall, my friends. When life gives you gloom, make gloom-onade. (I fully expect to see that quote on Pinterest someday.)