Ever look at your kids and wonder if you’re getting this parenting thing right? I do it all the time. Most days I go to bed wondering if I haven’t screwed my kids up even more than they were.

Then I stop and look closely at my kids.

Melody is 22 and no longer lives at home. She holds a job and goes to college full-time and is also pursuing a summer internship with a Cleveland museum. She lights up a room when she enters and you can’t help but bask in her energy and the joy she exudes over her delight in being able to live freely and discover who she is. She desires to live at peace with her world, but still holds standards as to how she will allow others to treat her. She has taken a very hurtful past and used it as a gateway to a better world.

Artie turned 18 last fall and will graduate from high school next month. He’s an honor student who holds down a job and is saving money for his first car — he’s only a few weeks away from realizing that dream. He’s a big guy — well over six feet tall — and his looks intimidate those who do not know him, but Artie is a teddy bear. He has a huge heart and is loving and generous and forgiving to a fault — if those things could ever be considered a fault, that is. In our home, I know if I ask generally for help, Artie is the first one who will step up and give it. I understand sometimes he doesn’t really feel like it, and I admire him for his giving spirit.

Vader is 16. He set academic goals this year, which was encouraging to me, because the previous two years we were all healing and struggling to figure out life and the goals for school were just to get passing grades. I saw Vader achieve Merit Roll this year and I was bursting with pride. I watch Vader struggle with his self-image and always I pray for God to show him the way. Vader displays a very gruff persona, but he’s got such a tender heart it brings me to tears. He is so easily hurt, but also so willing to show compassion. With his younger siblings, he’s a loving and caring big brother. He lives by the belief that a man keeps his word, and I applaud that.

Fourteen is a tough age for Jedi. He’s too young to do things with the older siblings, but he’s too old to hang with the younger ones. I see him caught in the middle of boyhood and manhood and he’s still running from one to the other. He wants to choose maturity only when it gets him what he wants, and he’s frustrated that people don’t take him very seriously when he’s choosing a day of maturity. So he figures, why bother? He, too, has a big heart and I’ve watched him completely embrace his step-father. Jedi is so glad to have two parents — and to have a dad who is kind and spends so much time with them. He’s done the same with his step-siblings. My older kids have sort of a loving, but stand-offish approach to their step-family, but Jedi is so glad to have everyone in this great big, crazy family. He doesn’t qualify who he loves by blood, but by who is there.

My little Sprout turns 8 tomorrow. Over the last year I’ve watched him develop an amazing sense of humor. He doesn’t remember his father, thankfully, and looks at Atticus as his dad. As he grows, he’s testing the waters — that means lots of mischief. But he’s a good-hearted boy and his trouble making is more of the ants-in-his-pants variety — he has too much energy for that skinny little body to contain. He’s also maintained honor roll all year — a first for him, as he started kindergarten very behind and it took him two full school years to catch up with his classmates. This year he seems to be taking the lead. Currently his life revolves around imaginary sword fights, video games, and Magic The Gathering card games with the guys in the family. Night before last he insisted on tucking in the little ones and I witnessed his expertise. He’s just realizing that he, too, is a big brother…not just a little kid.

Jem is 4 and feels no real need to learn. We are trying to teach him his numbers and letters, but he doesn’t grasp them yet. That tells me he’s not ready, so we encourage other things. A few days ago Atticus showed the little ones how to do a jigsaw puzzle. Now Jem asks every day for a puzzle. He loves watching anything the older boys do — especially if they are playing video games. He’s a sweetheart, my Jem.

Scout is an amazing little girl. She’s 3, but sometimes acts older. She’s willing to learn anything and try anything. I’m amazed at how many songs she knows from the radio. My very favorite song she sings is Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody when she belts out, “Gotta Moose? Gotta Moose?” Sweetest thing ever. To Scout, I’m her world. She’s independent and head-strong, but don’t remove mommy from the equation. When I leave her, she’s always at the front door to welcome me home with huge hugs and kisses and a description of how much she ‘misseded’ me. She isn’t a picky eater because she’s always been willing to try what everyone else is eating. My girl is very adventurous.

I look at these wonderful children of mine and I know that no matter whether they are who they are because of me or despite me, it’s because I was there. It’s because I showed them an example of what to be or what not to be. Yes, I screw up. Nope, sometimes I’m not a great example. But it’s taught them to discern what behavior they want and what they don’t want. All-in-all I see seven wonderful people in various stages of their lives. I know they have struggles, and that life isn’t easy, but I believe who they are becoming will get them through those bad times.

It’s such a privilege to know and love these people. The fact that they are my own children makes me burst with love and pride — for them.


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