"Tell me about a favorite time when you felt happy." I prompted. He chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully, as we sat in the car with our ice cream cones. A lightbulb brightened, "When we were in Duluth! It just felt like, ya know, it was just us up there and we were doing good stuff together."
"Any certain part of it?"
"Mm-mm." He shakes his head no. "The rocks were cool! But all of it. The hotel and breakfast and when the snow made the lake look all white."
His answer isn't what I'd expected. My oldest foster son, nearing his teenage years, does this to me. Just when I least expect it he offers up wisdom beyond his years. He is sweet and tender beyond words. Kind. Unendingly kind.
Isn't it friends and video games and movies that provoke the most happiness in pre-teens? (In their perspective, anyway). I often have talks like this with him. In fact, we spend a lot of time in our family talking about our feelings. It's crucial for us as parents to observe and pray over the ever changing canvass of their emotions. Six kids, and we refuse to let any one of them to go unseen.
So, in the midst of a mild winter, and many more life events than I can write about - we packed up our van and headed to Duluth. It wasn't a preplanned vacation, but it felt necessary. To remove ourselves from the snow surrounded home and routine schedules, and journey to these northern shores. That was March. We eight all shared a hotel room. We swam (indoors) until wrinkles overtook our fingers and toes. When we missed the time for tours at the nearby historical mansion, we found unexpected and simple joy scouring the beach banks for wave-smoothed rocks. We listened to unexpected plunks of said rocks in trapped pools of water that peeked out from cracked ice.
When I asked the oldest boy in April when he'd felt most happy, he answered: Duluth. These simple, family adventures where he was allowed to watch rocks for as far as he could throw them. Where we all had no agenda except for to be with one another.
In July, after more months of this unpredictable foster care journey, we knew it was time to return. Once more, we filled our van and drove off. That evening we found ourselves on a now warm boardwalk, walking in loose formation along Lake Superior. Only a handful of months had passed, but already so much of our path had changed. But I've found to be true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
One child wandered from the wooden path, onto the bank of rocks, and soon the rest of us followed. We must have stood there for an hour, Josh and I, paying attention to the ways that these rocks entertained each of the children. They all picked a favorite to tuck in their pocket to take home. They looked so beautiful standing in silhouette atop the rocks.
The beauty and survival of our family is in these simple graces. Grand gestures are grand, but we win together in the ordinary moments that bind us. Breakfasts for dinner, strawberry picking, and walks in the wild.