The Unabridged FamiLee Holiday Letter

Dear Fam,

We cheaped out on the Christmas holiday letter, reserving only a few lines on the glamour card for an update, so I thought I would harness the economy of this world wide interweb for the purpose of updating you on the FamiLee goings-on here at fiscal year-end. Do you like how I just referred to our family unit like it’s a limited liability corporation? Do you think we should probably get a tax cut? Do you think I can write off my blog for these purposes? I have questions.

But before Kanye grabs the mic from me, I want to first say very emphatically that the best album of the year was Lady Gaga’s Joanne (Deluxe)” Buy. Listen. Love. For best books, I’m putting Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy as my favorites. The latter I have not yet read but I ninja-dropped it into my dad’s basket when he was buying Christmas gifts, so I’m sure I’ll love it. For movies, pssh. I paid to see “The Emoji Movie” so you should for no reason be taking film notes from me.

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Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the news.

In the early part of the summer, we joined John’s family in Vancouver to see his grandma who is 90 years young. If you want the curated version, see my Instagram feed. If you want what really happened, you can consult my Google searches during that time. They include:

“MY+KOREAN+IN-LAWS+ARE+DISAPPOINTED+MY+KID+WON’T+EAT+RICE+AND+WHAT+TO+DO+ABOUT+IT.”

“I+JUST+REALIZED+I’M+A+DIVA+IN+CANADA+I’M+SAD+NEAREST+SUPPORT+GROUP.”

“DIRECT+FLIGHTS+VANCOUVER+TO+CHATTANOOGA+THIS+AFTERNOON.”

After we returned to Tennessee from the trip, the kids spent two weeks at their grandparents’ homes in Ohio. It was epic! We missed them terribly but are so grateful for Grandparents Camp because it allowed John and me to pack up our earthly possessions for the big move.

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That is probably the biggest news bulletin–not in the world obviously because North Korea is up to somethin’ and obviously Chip and Joanna Gaines are in their last season so the world might actually end any second now–but in our world, moving back to Boston has been the biggest news.

Especially since it doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense. Why would we leave Tennessee where we both had great jobs that we loved, where the kids were in a great school, and where we didn’t even need to own a snow shovel? Well, my friends. Like Al Gore gesticulating the ebbing of global climate change, the Lord moves in mysterious ways. We moved back to the same street we used to live on, not far from the house we had to short-sell because we thought we were going to be in Tennessee until the Lord returned or until “Fixer Upper” stopped releasing new episodes. So here we are back in a city that we adore, where we get to show the kids things we’ve already done with them, of which they have no memory of doing the first time. It’s like that part in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” where they keep circling Big Ben except our kids are legitimately impressed to see Big Ben again. We found an apartment in the Athleisure Capital of the World. Even the yoga pants are fancy here. It is exciting to go from renting in ruralburbia to renting an apartment just steps away from Dunkin’ Donuts. John’s working as a counselor at a boarding academy for which people seem really interested to know the tuition. I guess that is more important than whether or not he’s happy. Ohh! Burrrrn! The answer to tuition and happiness, though, is the same. A Lot. I’m doing the freelance thing. Mostly putting the “free” into freelance but having fun as I write with my calligraphy pens or this here laptop.

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As for the kids, they are mostly amazing and teaching us about resilience through this transition. We lost a hamster just as school started, and the kids showed us that we had not failed entirely as parents, so we were grateful for that outcome even if we the kids miss Doris something fierce. RIP Dodo.

Madigan, 9, is still the delightful optimist you remember, now with tween mood swings! She has not had an easy adjustment to school. Going from a small Christian school where she knew everyone to a much larger public school has been overwhelming at times. We think this to be true, but obviously, she is a tween so she only answers in one-word answers like “cool”and “good” and “maybe.” We are proud of the way she is staying on top of her studies and making kind friends, too. She started guitar lessons this past fall and she has better musical timing than I could hope to have. Again, I paid to see “The Emoji Movie” so my artistic opinion is null and void but really, she is good.

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Tatum, 7, is still the goofball you recall, now with a whole suite of fresh dance moves. He is crushing the first grade and is taking karate. He has a vast knowledge of YouTube Gamers, so if you were ever wondering what kind of hypothetical Minecraft moves you could make over the course of the next seven lifetimes, just give our boy a call.

As we settle in to Boston Life the Remix, we miss our Tennessee church most of all. We are a part of a body here in Boston and we are trying to find on-ramps for involvement, but it is not the same. We are grateful for the experience we had as part of a healthy church family and are using that experience to help us believe better things are to come. I think this is a sound reminder of the way our Savior came to earth: vulnerable and with parents in transition, cloaked in beauty and filling us with hope. We remember Jesus who came and saw and loved and conquered and we are encouraged to do the same.

Wherever this holiday finds you, in a place of landing or a season of transition, we pray that peace will reside within you, and wish an abundance cookies, covfefe and good cheer to you and yours.

Love,
Kendra…and John, Madigan, and Tatum

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Six Years a Southerner

“Looks like Michelangelo is getting a bath,” said the dad, bending over the grate where his offspring had wedged an action figure into a ground sewage stream. “Do y’all understand how this happened?”

One of the funniest scenes during our time in the South played out within the first month of our arrival, some six years ago. Loverpants and I still laugh when we walk by this spot in front of the Tennessee Aquarium, a destination that is the heart of Chattanooga’s renaissance as a Southern city. We think how the aquarium houses pods and plants and all manner of sea and river creatures. It also the little-known bathhouse of ninja turtles.

My own immersion into the South was almost as abrupt as Michelangelo’s. We arrived to our rented ranch house on three acres and felt the distinct awe of our new rural-burbia life, waking up to the sounds of cows mooing when only days prior, we had known only tinkering shopping carts rattling down city blocks, the siren cry of ambulances so familiar we barely noticed. We were soon introduced as newcomers to my workplace. We were awkward and unwieldy. Baby Girl couldn’t find her sleep groove for weeks. I couldn’t find time to lesson plan. Loverpants couldn’t find an office space to lease. Little Man couldn’t find his walking feet.

But then we did. We found ourselves doing life in the South as people who worked and churched and bought Aretha Frankenstein pancake mix to make at home on Sunday mornings. The difference, I think, is that finding a rhythm is not the same as finding a fit, which is how I would classify my time in the South. Just because Michelangelo is placed in the gutter and he stays there doesn’t mean he belongs there.

I have not found belonging in the South. This is not a criticism of the South, just a witness to my experience. Mercifully, though, I have found pockets of being known and that has been the great treasure of my life here.

Belonging in the South, specifically in a more junior city, specifically in a conservative religious community, requires a certain extroversion that eludes me. Small talk is currency in this environment where one mills in small concentric circles of interconnected folks. I am allergic to small talk so I am most likely to enter into conversation with, “I cannot freaking believe I am buying sex ed talk books for my kid already,” rather than preferred pleasantries about the weather. There is also a pervasive lack of directness that is borne of the aforementioned interconnected network. If good fences make good neighbors, then a lack of fencing can lead to a superficial neighborliness. Being authentic, after all, is a liability. And being authentic in one social circle where any misdeeds in one patch might bleed into another can leave us defenseless. The need to “play nice” at the expense of addressing conflict or wrong behavior is something I’ve observed too often. My natural bent is to be as direct as possible, even if it is hard. So whenever I have found others willing to join me to climb the chutes and slide down the ladders of directness, I have desired to call those people my kin.

There are a whole host of other aspects that I have found so foreign about the South (The expression “might could.” The frequent use of styrofoam in restaurants. The lack of sprinkler parks in spite of the heat much of the year). But if I dwell on these things then I fail to see the good and to celebrate the great things about the American Southeast (Publix Grocery Stores, hallelujah! The lushness of spring. Savannah/Tybee Island. Charleston. Birmingham. Nashville. Memphis. Crepe Myrtles. Sitting in the bleachers for Used Car Night at a minor league baseball game in the fall). There is so much to adore about this region that has been our home for six years, this city that has, at turns confused and enchanted us.

We will return to the Northeast from whence we came, with children six years older, with wisdom poured like a fine wine aged six years. And we will be glad for the friends we have made, the places we have served, the houses where we have worshiped.  We will count it all a blessing to not only have gotten wet but to have been fully immersed like Michelangelo in the sewer, with passersby asking if y’all knew how it happened.

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