Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Tonight I am snug in my bed, working from my laptop, as my son watches tv with me. My daughter is munching on toast and my dog is desperately trying to catch the crumbs. My husband is adjusting our new tv set in the front room, rejoicing in the fact that I finally got around to purchasing the gift that we've sworn we would buy for the last two years.

I am prone to be a "glass half empty" type of person. I have always struggled with anxiety and depression, and I believe this automatically programs me to look at things from a pessimistic viewpoint. It's what comes naturally to me. Besides, if you already expect the worst, you can't be disappointed, right?

Wrong. One of the biggest life lessons I've learned is that curve balls can be thrown in every direction, in ways that you never imagined. There's no sense in trying to predict the future when you can't. It's impossible.

Today I finished my official work in my interim position, and felt tremendous relief to have that potentially finalized. I say potentially because there is the possibility that there will still not be another person hired to fill that spot when we begin back in January. But for now, things are good. My work looks good, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished.

My son and daughter are both here, ready for Christmas with their dad and me. We've made Christmas cookies and seen lights and gone shopping and wrapped presents and decorated the tree. We've enjoyed each other's company. Gabi is happy and finally flealess, which is a cause for celebration in and of itself.

My family is anxiously awaiting our visit in a few days, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to see them. It will be a time to spend together, building memories and bonding again. My friends are close and healthy. My husband's foot is healing and his mood is good.

Today I went out and did something completely out of character--I purchased a brand new LCD HDTV. A smaller, economical model, but still, a new TV. I worried about the purchase the whole way home and then, after my husband hooked it up, we all rejoiced in a beautiful picture. And I wished my family Merry Christmas, and my husband Happy Birthday, and both of us Happy Anniversary...all of the occasions we have been planning this purchase and never followed through.

My cup is half full, like most people's. But I'm blessed. And I am determined, as I continue on this journey called my life, to recognize the half-full blessing of the glass God has given me more often. I am blessed, and so thankful.

God bless us, every one.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Christ in Me

Like many people, the holidays are a bittersweet time for me. Some days I am immensely grateful for all that I have, and others I feel overwhelmed and burdened. Today was a day that seemed difficult to feel grateful. I recognized the depression and vowed to pull myself out of it. So, mustering as much excitement as I possibly could, I roused my children and we decorated the tree. Hubby put on his version of christmas music (cue Cartman of South Park trying to sing O Holy Night!) and we hung our ornaments. After, my daughter and I decided to take a ride to look at Christmas lights. I had found a CD of christmas music I purchased last year that hadn't been opened, so we opened it up and sang along as we drove and admired the lights.

We were nearly home when one of my favorites, "Breath of Heaven" recorded by Amy Grant, came on. I'm not a huge fan of Amy Grant by any means, but this particular song strikes me every time I listen to it. The fear, the humility, the need that Mary feels to live up to God's expectation of her is extraordinarily captured in the lyrics of the song. As we listened, my daughter commented, "This is so pretty, Mom."

Tonight, for the first time, I came to understand this song in a new way. Here are a portion of the lyrics (again, so I'm not infringing on copyright, this is from Breath of Heaven recorded by Amy Grant)

I am waiting
In a silent prayer
I am frightened
By the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?

As I listened to these words, I began to cry. These words so describe my experiences with my own son. The responsibility that I bear in caring for him, in worrying that I will not be able to fulfill God's desires for him. That I will fail him, and fail God. And in that moment I suddenly realized that we all are carrying a bit of Christ within us. The part that we view as our role in this world, our responsibility to God, is the Christ within us. We can all relate to Mary and her frightening, painful journey.

Do you wonder
As you watch my face
If a wiser one
Should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong
Help me be
Help me.

The prayer I have whispered so many nights over the last nine years. Certainly my child is no Christ child. But he IS God's child. And I worry desperately that I will fail him. That I will flounder and fall and come short on God's yardstick.

Mary prayed to God for strength. For hope. She relied on God to hold things together when it got rough. She trusted that He hadn't created this miracle for nothing. That despite the pain and stigma it was bound to cause her, she would be protected, "mother of all mothers". And it occurs to me, if Mary could trust God with her son, why can't I trust Him with mine?

Certainly my son is not the only bit of Christ I carry with me. There are many other things that I nurse inside my heart, that I feel God is guiding if I let Him. Letting someone else take the wheel? Well that's the hard part, isn't it?

Many years ago I attended a Unity church. Every Sunday when it was time to greet our neighbors, we would say, "The Christ in me greets the Christ in you and we work together for the glory of God." Tonight, for the first time, I think I truly, truly understand what that means.

Who or what is your Christ child? And do you trust God enough to lean on Him for strength to bring His plan to fruition, or do you flounder like me? Trust is hard. But in a season of miracles, maybe it's possible.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The man with the bag

Anyone who has been following this blog knows by now that I don't deal well with stress. They also know that I have a ton of it in my daily life. Unfortunately, one of the worst parts of stress at this time of year is feeling like the holidays are just passing me by. I have to force myself to find time to do things that should be fun! I remember when celebration and expectation of Christmas began right after Thanksgiving. Now I can barely look up a few days before in order to trim the tree and have everything ready. It seems like a huge rush. I worry that my kids will grow up without the magic and wonder that I enjoyed so much as a child.

So with all that in mind, here is MY letter to Santa this year. Enjoy.

Dear Santa,
Well, it's that time of year again. I wonder if you ever get tired of people making demands on you? I sure do. Maybe that could be my Christmas present this year--24 hours with no demands! Could you make that happen?

Remember the year that I figured out you had the same handwriting as my dad? I was about four years old. That was the same year I didn't get a Baby Alive. God how I wanted that doll! I wanted that doll SO much that I almost added it to my daughter's list last year. Unfortunately, Baby Alive's don't go over as well with the nine year old set as they do with the five year old set. But hey, that's how sweet dear daughter got that lite-brite, remember? You and I worked together to make that one happen. Another toy lost from my childhood but revisited upon my own child! I love how that works.

Santa, I know you get a lot of requests this time of year. The lucky kids ask for things like electronics or games or even stuffed animals. The kids who have struggles ask for mommy and daddy to love each other, for Grandma to get better, for a sister or a brother to have enough food. And we grownups ask for the truly impossible--we add things to your list like charity, kindness, peace. Can you really carry peace around in your bag?

When I think of you, Santa, I think of the magic you bring to Christmas. The joy and wonder of the impulsive kindness that people can do for one another. How capable we are of sharing, even in difficult times. Of the gentle nature that lies within so many of us when we are touched, when we are reminded of the magic of Christmas. I know you're a secular guy, but you still bring forth some amazingly reverent actions in people. And because of that, you live on, don't you?

So this year, Santa, I'm giving a gift to you. I'm going to purposely carry on good works with the magical spirit of you. So that another child can believe in you for a little longer, so that one more mother or father can afford to keep your spirit alive for their family. Don't ask me how I will do my work, as I keep secrets much like you! But suffice it to say that I have a plan, just as you do, to bring joy to people I don't know but for a momentary crossing, much as this letter.

Thanks, Santa, for being such a great guy. Thanks for the great gifts you gave me as a kid and for the thoughtful (ahem) gifts you continue to give my children now. But most of all, thanks for being around to give us something magical to believe in. You rock.

Much love,
P.S.--I know there's just GOT to be a way to fit a new TV through the chimney!!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Faith in the Face of Cystic Fibrosis

Several years ago, I got a job teaching preschool at the local YMCA. I was thrilled, because at the time the Y paid a higher rate for preschool teachers than most local centers. I was an afternoon teacher at the time (read: not very skilled!) and teamed with a mother and daughter who taught mornings. It was a two-year old classroom, and there were close to twenty children. I had never encountered anything like it. These women had organization down to a science. The children knew exactly what they were supposed to do and when. These teachers spent the majority of the day laughing and enjoying their work. Frustration with children wasn't really an option--if a child got off task or was having a difficult day, the teachers worked hard to help the child get back on track, and knew that a sense of humor was vital for a successful classroom. This was such a new concept for me! Over the five years I worked in that position, I learned more than I could have imagined. I became extremely close with both women. Eventually I moved into the morning spot with the daughter. She and I became close friends, and I still consider her mother to be one of the wisest people I've ever met. I had no idea when I took that position that it would literally change my life, but it did.

The daughter--her name is Christy--always treated me like an equal in the classroom. Our friendship became extremely close. She had a toddler at that time, a beautiful little girl that I'll call Hannah. As Christy and I spent more time together, I got to know Hannah well also. She was a beautiful child and loved her parents. Blonde hair often in pigtails, she would hop all over the building with a contagious laugh. After a bit of time our classroom was split into two, and Hannah was one of the children in my class. I'll never forget the day that little two-year old Hannah climbed into my teacher's chair when my back was turned. Looking at her mother across the room, she whispered "Shh!" as she began to explore the desk. That was about the time I turned around and caught her. Fighting the urge to laugh, I redirected her back to appropriate activities.

Christy became pregnant with her second child around that time. She was excited, as every new mother should be, but not everyone shared her excitement. You see, Hannah had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects breathing and digestion. The chances were small that this new baby would also have CF, but some people felt they were chances that shouldn't have been risked at all. One of the things I understood about Christy was that she refuse to live her life in fear. She had, and still has, a tremendous faith in God. She refers to fear as darkness, and was determined to live her life in the light. That included believing that whatever happened with this new baby, God would have his finger on it. Everything would be okay.

When Elizabeth was born, she was a complete momma's girl! She was also very particular about a LOT of things--if you held her, you had to keep moving, or she would cry. She also preferred alternative rock music. Any other kind of music would bring about an immediate onslaught of crying. Elizabeth also had CF.

Over the years, Christy experienced life the same way most of us do--wonderful gifts mixed in with moments of pain. I helped her through a painful divorce. She listened as I struggled with as a new mother with my children. If ever I have a soul sister, it is Christy. She knows me better than just about anyone on this planet. Our friendship is one of those rare gifts where we can pick up where we left off, whenever that is. I have beautiful memories of taking her daughters to theme parks, to the pool, even to my house for fun afternoons at the beach. Christy visited my in my hometown a few years ago and got to meet my children. I remember at one point, my daughter was having a particularly rough time and Christy told her she understood her. "I've got one at home just like you," she responded. She won my daughter over with a few yoga moves and her cheerful laugh.

As hard as it is to believe, Hannah is now seventeen and Elizabeth, fourteen. Over the last year or so, Hannah has had increasing complications with her lung functions as a result of CF. A month ago, after visiting with specialists, Hannah and Christy were told that Hannah is in need of a double lung transplant. Without one, she has limited time left. It's a cruel reminder of how life is not fair, how nothing is guaranteed.

As a parent, my immediate response was fear and sadness for my friend and for the little girl I remember so fondly. I cannot imagine being in the position that Christy is now facing so bravely, nor Hannah, who understands the doctor's prognosis. Christy continued telling me what Hannah had told her, though, and it shed tremendous light on this phenomenal mother. Hannah told her mother, "Just think, Momma, I'll be able to dance and exercise and do all the things I couldn't do before. And if I die, it will be okay, because my life won't end there."

I don't know if Hannah is afraid of what her future holds. But she believes her mother. She believes the principles her mother has taught her and has lived by for Hannah's entire life. She knows her mother is there for her and will continue to hold her hand through this journey. I know my friend is in pain but her faith continues to be one that amazes me. In so many ways she is my hero. Even if the face of losing her child, she continues to believe that God is working in her life. And because of her unyielding faith, her daughter has grown up to believe the same, and to be comforted in the face of such tremendous pain.

I often think of how naive I was when I accepted that job so many years ago. I cannot imagine my life without being impacted by Christy and her family. She has shaped who I am as much as my own family has. I often wonder if Hannah remembers any of the same memories I do, if she knows how much she and her sister are loved by someone across the country. I believe, though, that Hannah knows how precious she is, because she has been raised by someone who rejoices in life and refuses to live in the darkness that so many of us are susceptible to. Christy and Hannah and Elizabeth remind me of the purpose of life--of its joy and beauty and wonder even in the face of horrible possibilities. And because of them, I learned that God had a finger on my life as well...and He still does.

Monday, December 14, 2009

LOCI: My Christmas gift to me :-)

Sometimes in a blog, you just have to lighten the mood a little bit. So tonight, I shall once again pay homage to my favorite show, Law and Order Criminal Intent. If you feel you can no longer read any more of my ramblings about my deep fascination with this show, feel free to exit NOW.

A year or so ago, one of my wonderful preschool families gifted me with an AMEX gift card. As I mentioned in one of my recent blog posts, I am so tightfisted with money that I will gladly walk around with holes in my socks so that I can buy something cool for one of my kids. Screwy, I know. But I finally decided, ENOUGH! I was going to have Criminal Intent, Season 3. So I used my year-old AMEX card to buy it. (Now would be the logical time to question why I didn't buy boots with it, but that's another story.)

Season Three arrived and I was thrilled! I examined the box, read every description, handled it as though it were made of china. I'm a nut, I know. After I read all the synopses, I realized none of my favorite episodes occur in season three! How was that possible??? I mean, I was well acquainted with all of the episodes, and I liked them all fine, but none of them were my favorites! Probably because half of the season features Samantha Buck in place of Kathryn Erbe, since Erbe was pregnant at the time in real life. Now the best thing about Samantha Buck is her hair. And I'm a woman, so that says something about her acting ability. I don't know how she got that role. Casting couch? Who knows? Does that count as slander? At any rate, she does have some very pretty red hair. If I was a redhead, I would like to have that red hair. But I'm not. And seven episodes of a red haired, snotty twenty-something who doesn't know how to carry a scene with Bobby Goren is MORE than enough. In her next to last episode, Goren frustratedly tosses a ball of paper at Eames' empty chair, then turns to Buck's character and announces the reason the perp is committing crimes is yearning--he's missing his partner. By that point, weren't we all? God Bless the fact that pregnancies inevitably end, and Kathryn Erbe came back. Alex Eames rocks. As much as I love D'Onofrio, he can't carry the show himself. Erbe's balance and chemistry with him makes for great TV.

So a week or so ago, I decided to use another gift card I had been given to complete my collection. Season Four was released on November 24th and shockingly, I had denied myself. Well NO MORE! Rebel that I am, I used my other gift card to purchase season four. (Again, why not boots? Mainly because Best Buy doesn't carry them!)

Oh. My. God. Season four has about all my favorite episodes EVER. I cannot WAIT to dig into it over the holidays. See, I can't do it YET because I have to work my way through season three. There must be a method to the madness! DVDs must be watched in a particular order. If that doesn't make sense to you, you're probably a reasonable person. Not me.

With the end of Criminal Intent arriving this spring--or the end in my mind, anyway, because what's the point of a series continuing when the stars of the show are no longer on it?--I think I can rest easily. Four seasons of amazingly brilliant acting, clever dialogue, intriguing plotlines are at my fingertips. I have been reading blogs that are keeping up with current projects of D'Onofrio and Erbe, and I'm pleased that the actors are clearly moving on and pursuing projects that are fulfilling to them. And quite honestly, as much as I will miss the magic these two actors brought to the screen together, nothing quite captured the spirit of Criminal Intent the way the first four seasons did. No brutally horrible soap opera-esque happenings in detectives' lives. No bopping between two teams of detectives and having to muddle through one set of detectives so that you can be treated to Team A the next week. No trying to rein in Goren's character, or making Eames pathetically stoic. Just two detectives working the job. Clever and unique and dark. Irony and sarcasm and psychopathology. That's what I love about the soul of that show.

Happy Holidays to myself. I can't wait to sit wearing my new boots and watching Goren and Eames bust yet one more idiot. Simple pleasures for sure.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


What a lovely day yesterday!

I'm known around my own house for being an eternally pitiful martyr. Everyone comes before I do. If I have five bucks left in my pocket, it will go for something for the kids or the dog before me. I can be running around with holes in my shoes but that last five bucks will buy my daughter a scarf or my son a hot chocolate. My husband gets frustrated with me--so much so, that two years ago he bought me an ipod because I never spend money on myself. I was thrilled, of course, but it didn't change my ways. For Mother's Day, he often buys my presents from the drug store. He'll buy things like Neutrogena body wash or Pantene shampoo, because I won't spend the money on those small pleasures for myself, unless I get a super excellent deal somehow. I get regular scoldings from my sweet husband and my mother, and even my kids have started to notice and make comments about how I "deserve" certain things. But I'm always worried about making sure everyone else has what they need, which often means I go without.

For the last year and a half, I have wanted some boots. I have priced probably four hundred pairs of boots; compared leather to suede to manmade materials; figured out shipping prices and what would go with which outfits and the best colors for the majority of clothing I wear. I have turned boot shopping into a serious intellectual exercise. But last week was the final straw. It was so cold outside that I couldn't take my class out to play for most of the week. We had highs of 30 degrees. Luckily I had invested in a wool coat last year but my feet--along with my head and neck--were freezing, due to no boots, no scarf, and no hat. Even I had to face the reality that at my age it was time to make some concessions. I HAD to buy some boots.

And yesterday, I did. A beautiful pair of casual tan short boots, lined with fleece, nice and cozy and just what I need. Even better, they were originally sixty-five dollars. I paid twenty.

Feeling like a rock star, I continued on to another store to try on some clothing. I wear a larger size so I have to shop in specialty stores. I intended to buy some warmer tops, which I certainly need, and was heading toward the dressing room when the shoe display caught my eye. Chocolate brown skechers were on the shelf, and my heart skipped three beats.

Now, you have to understand that I have wanted a pair of Skechers for three years. It's hard to find them in a wider size, much less a price I can afford, especially with us down to one income currently. I also adore chocolate brown as a color. So when I saw the Skechers, I heard them calling my name and I was compelled, like children following the Pied Piper of Hamlin, to follow.

Skechers in chocolate brown, check. Skechers in MY size, check. Skechers on SALE, check! My pulse was racing. I had a coupon for fifteen dollars off, bringing the price down to an I-can't-possibly-turn-this-down twenty dollars. Ten minutes later I had no sweater but was the proud owner of a brand new pair of beautiful chocolate brown skechers.

Damn, it felt good to indulge myself. And it felt good to have new, comfortable, stylish shoes!

So my only question now is, which pair do I wear tomorrow?

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I am feeling incredibly melancholy this afternoon. Why? I have a million reasons why. It's cold outside. The dog's eyes are itchy. My son is closed up in his room. Some kid gave my daughter a dry erase board and now I feel indebted. I have a ton of work to get done, and I don't feel like working. Those are all of the minor reasons. You know, the little things that just seem to push you over the edge when you're already teetering. Oh, and did I mention Gabi's butt stinks?

A month ago I made a decision not to pursue my interim position as a permanent one. I know I made the right choice for me and my family. I want to pursue my Ph.D. and have time for my family, and there's no way I could do those things with the amount of responsibility this job would entail. But now the hiring committee is closing in; they've narrowed it down to two candidates. I will meet both of them next week, and one will become my new supervisor. The person they hire will have complete control over defining my position, the way things are run at my school, the atmosphere and the setting. As much as I wish I was an eternal optimist, I'm not; I'm an eternal worrier. I've been at this job for ten years and I know it and I'm comfortable with it and I think I've mentioned it before--I. DON'T. LIKE. CHANGE.

My husband still has a fractured foot and we are down to one income right now. In addition, some of his school loans have come due. Not only were we strapped before this, now we have an additional hefty amount due each month that we simply cannot afford. I realize that nearly half of the country is in the same situation we are in--falling short on their payments, scraping to make ends meet. We need new cars (they're ten years old), new clothes (I'm freezing to death because I have one--yes, one--sweater), new furniture (the couch has a collapsed cushion and rips throughout the back of it). Our TVs are older than our children. Now of course one doesn't need a TV, a couch, or even a new car to have a quality life. But I'd certainly prefer not to be in DEBT when I don't even have those things! It's not like we're in debt because we went out and bought a new Mercedes. Or even a decent size house. Cripes!

All of these worries add up and weigh heavily on me. A person I greatly respect recently told me that I needed to make a decision not to think about those things. Just STOP thinking. It's such a foreign concept to me that I can't even begin to imagine what my life would be like if I just refused to think about anything worrisome. I'm sure it would be much more productive. Much happier. But I don't know how to live that way.

Today was also the last day of the semester for my littlest class in school. I teach two preschool classes, and my youngest ones finished the semester today. They have made tremendous progress developmentally throughout the semester. Some parents are so absolutely kind that it never ceases to amaze me. As beautiful and thoughtful as the presents are (and don't get me wrong because I love presents as much as the next gal!), the cards are what bring tears to my eyes. To have people say how much they appreciate and love you, how their children love you, is such an incredible feeling. What I can never convey adequately is that I feel incredibly blessed to work with these families. These children bring smiles and laughter to my life every day. To be a part of their developmental processes is nothing short of amazing.

Many of my undergraduate students are leaving too. Graduation is a bittersweet moment. I get to walk with some amazing people for a short while as they begin their journeys in teaching. Now is the time that most of our paths will separate. I come to care for my students deeply--their professional development and growth means so much to me. I watch these young adults enter our program with high hopes, simplistic attitudes, and unwavering enthusiasm. I watch them leave as sophisticated, aware, skilled beginning teachers who are ready to take on the world. Teachers who, for the most part, believe that children are valuable and unique and should be honored as such. Teachers who understand that the process of teaching and learning intermingles, is a reciprocal relationship. And when they tell me that I have impacted upon them, helped them figure out who they are and where they are going, there is no greater reward.

So in this long post of melancholy, my regrets are these. That I cannot control the world around me and guarantee that things will go as I wish. That my time with people I grow to care about deeply is meant to end. That the control I wish I could exercise upon my world isn't meant to be. And that my faith--in both myself and God--is miserably slight at the moment. I don't know the answer to changing that. But I am hoping with the dust settles that my regrets will be few and the contentment I feel, much greater.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Home is such a lovely place.

We live in a suburban area and rent our house. It's probably less than a thousand square feet for the four of us and our dog, so it's a tight fit. Two tweens and two adults in a small space can often lead to conflict! None of us are terrifically organized, so the house tends to stay in some level of disarray most of the time. The pictures need to be dusted, the mail constantly clutters the top of a bookshelf, and there's always someone's shoes or coat on the floor in the front room. Our house is probably thirty or forty years old. We need new EVERYTHING--my husband just finished school recently and our budget has been tight. We need a new couch, a new bed, new bath accessories.

I'm sure other people would walk into our home and think, "Thank GOD I don't live here!" But to me, it's home. It's comfy. I like the feeling I have when I come home. It's one of belonging. My things are here, my family is here. It's where I belong.

My son came home four days ago. Without tears, without overwhelming excitement. Instead, he has said several times, "I missed this place." I know that feeling. Every year, twice a year, I go visit my family fourteen hundred miles away. We stay for extended visits and I love every minute of it. I am very close to my parents and cherish every minute I get to spend with them. Their home overlooks the water, and is beautiful. I would describe it as elegant but lived-in. The kind of place where you are struck with the beauty of it but it's not so beautiful you're afraid to put your feet up and relax. I love those visits and I think they do too--we all get the opportunity to relax in a beautiful atmosphere with things we don't have at home. The big screen TV, the nice car, the lovely accents on the walls. But when I get home after every visit, there's something inside of me that sighs, like my son, and thinks, "I missed this place."

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy had the opportunity to stay in the Emerald City, a land of beauty and pampering. Instead, she chose to return to Kansas, with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, with the old farmhouse and the mean old lady on the bicycle, stealing away dogs. Why? Well, as she said, "There's no place like home."

Now that my son is back our home is changing. I'm acutely aware of his presence and how it has been missing for the last several months. How wonderful it feels to see the familiar persistence to tasks he brings; to hear his explanations to his little sister about how to play a game or make something work; to give him a hug or even a smile. And I'm aware of how difficult it has been for him to be away from his home--his anchor--for the last several months. I know with his illness, it is quite likely he will return to a residential facility in the future. But for now, I'm so glad he's home. Because there's no place like it in the world.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Tomorrow's the big day.

Tomorrow I bring my son home. He's excited, nervous, worried, and relieved. My feelings echo his. He has spent eight of the eleven months of this year living in other places. His homecoming is greatly anticipated but frightening as well. What if he can't sustain? What if the old behavior returns? What if he struggles and I can't help him?

Yesterday I found out that the day treatment program we had planned to send him to did not have an opening for him. Moreover, the person I spoke with was extremely rude to me, which triggered my internal Mama Bear. If you don't have one, you can't begin to know what it's like to have that come into play, and you probably don't want to! Mama Bear is instinctive and doesn't react to logic. She reacts to feeling, to emotion, in a raw way that only a parent can relate to. After speaking to the day treatment program and feeling my Mama Bear rise, I hung up the phone and began to cry. And boy, did I cry. I cried off and on for three hours. I bawled into my pillow in my office couch (how embarrassing) until I decided that my pity party wasn't going to get me anywhere. Then I decided to put on my big girl panties and go register my son at the neighborhood school.

I was shocked and startled by my emotional response. At no point had I expected to burst into tears, to dread my son's return, to feel such anger and frustration and sadness! Then the guilt followed. What mother dreads her own son's return? Only a mother who has lived with this disorder can understand the complexity of loving a child who can flip between an angel and a demon at the drop of a dime.

And thus I feel my own fragility. Delicately balancing between my unconditional love for my child and my own human limits, I am straddling a line that I can hardly admit to. I hate the idea of being so precariously situated. Of having my strength and my determination, my love and connection to this child challenged. But it will be. It is the nature of attachment disorder.

So often we see fragility as a weakness. But tonight, as we are entering the holiday season, I am trying to remember the beauty that often comes with that which is fragile. The delicate ornaments we hang on our tree, the tiny lights that together create beautiful glows, even the fragile little baby that God gifted to us remind us that fragility is not something to despise, but something to revere.

The fragility of my son's soul is something that I aim to cultivate, to nurture, to cherish. And although this journey is difficult, I hope that I can begin to see my own fragility as something that is valuable and precious, rather than a weakness to rid myself of. Our fragile selves, our parts most vulnerable, are those which make us most human. And perhaps those parts are the ones that deserve the most protection.

Just a thought.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Open Letter to my Son

My beautiful boy,

In two more days you will be coming back into our home. The last five months have been a mixture of emotions for everyone. Some days we have cried and ached from missing you; other days we have thought fondly of what we would tell you about; still others, I have sighed deep relief knowing that you were in a safe place away from our home with people who could help you more than I. In two days I will bring you back to your home, your friends, your room, your things, and your family. I will rejoice in welcoming you back to where I have always wanted you. In two days you will be back.

I sometimes wonder if you understand the nature of your illness. If you understand you have an illness and how it affects you; if you understand that there are other children out there who struggle just as you do; if you use that knowledge as a comfort or as an excuse. I wonder what you want for yourself, and if you'll ever feel you've achieved it. Are your goals for yourself the same as my goals for you? Do you want to feel happy? Or do you just want love and acceptance from your birth mother--the one person who can probably never meet your expectations?

I remember the first night I brought you home. It was a four hour drive from the courthouse in another part of the state. We reached our small apartment in the early evening. Your uncle--"dad"--came out to meet us and we carried you inside, small and sleepy and scared, and snuggled you down on your new pullout bed. We didn't have the resources to provide you with a real bed at the time, but the pullout bed was good enough. Over the next few weeks, I learned how eager you were to make us happy, and how adept you were at meeting your own needs at the very young age of three. I had to teach you to wait for dinner, as you would make it for yourself; to let me care for you; that it was okay not to be perfect and nobody would hurt you if you made mistakes.

The agony you felt from your memories was very real and haunted you furiously that first year. Every night, bedtime was met with tears and a retelling of the police removing you from your birth mother's care. I held you and comforted you. I tried to reason with you that you were safe and everything would be okay. I didn't understand that for you, it really wasn't okay. Nothing could fix the memories that haunted you. That your psychological safety had been encroached upon and compromised in ways I couldn't fathom. And I felt helpless...helpless to comfort and remove your pain.

Over the last five months you have begun to address the pain that you have lived with most of your young life. Sometimes you have approached the task bravely and willingly talked about the pain and the feelings you have had over time; other times, you have shied away from the reality and even created your own alternate endings. Sometimes I don't know what you believe to be true and what you don't. I have run the gamut of emotions with you--anger, fear, sorrow, joy, and happiness--and yet I still don't know that anything has been resolved. I still don't know why you think the way you do and why you feel the way you do and if there is or has been anything more I could have done. The doctors and therapists tell me I have done all I can; that without the stability your dad and I have provided, you would be profoundly more affected by this illness. But as the mother who raises you, who loves you, I can't help but wonder if I had done something different, what would have happened.

I have come to understand more recently that the healing you will experience will not be a "fixing" kind of healing. I believe most parents want to "fix" anything wrong with their children, much as a doctor would set a bone. Unfortunately, there is no resetting of the neurological issues you have. Instead, as you heal, you will learn strategies to help you manage your illness. To help you function in a regular setting as a regular old kid. As much as it hurts my heart not to be able to fix things, I am starting to accept that fixing is not your path. Healing does not always mean "good as new". One of my favorite songs has a lyric in it--"All these scars are mine"--that reminds me of the good things that come out of our injuries. We become stronger, more complex people. Our paths are different than they might have been, but we are better suited for where we are going. My faith in you is that you will be well-suited for whatever plan God has made for you. He will give you what you need for that plan.

In two days, you will be back in our home, eating dinner with your sister, playing with our dog, sleeping in your bed. But it will not be as though you never left. You have left, and you have returned, and you have learned things on your journey. I will continue to walk with you on this path, and we will learn it together. Little boy to young teenager, I have held your hand and will not let go until you're ready. I love you dearly.

All my love,

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giving of Thanks

Two days ago, my husband, daughter, and I celebrated Thanksgiving together. For most people, Thanksgiving is a huge family gathering. For us, it's the one holiday that I consider sacred for only our immediate family. It's a day that we spend cooking and hanging together. This year, our son was not with us and my husband had a broken foot, so he was limited in his ability to move around. So I decided we'd go easy--we roasted a turkey but let Bob Evans supply us with the mashed potatoes. Everything else was prepared by me and my daughter, with the exception of the unusual dessert, Key Lime Pie. Edwards makes the BEST key lime pie, and on sale with a double coupon, it was a no-brainer.

So what were we thankful for this year? Here is, in part, my list:
*each member of my family, from my husband to my children to my dog, who enrich my life daily and keep me going
*a job that is steady employment in a field I enjoy
*a home that is warm and comfortable
*cars that work in an economy that isn't
*my parents, who continue to support and love me every way they can
*my wonderful friends who mean the world to me
*the release of Season Four of Criminal Intent (I have an appointment scheduled with my favorite detective!)
*terrific CVS and Walgreens deals that give me stuff for FREE
Before you think it's tacky to put family and friends in the same list with a tv series and CVS extrabucks, let me just say this: I think it's critical to be able to focus on the little things in our lives that enrich us, feed us, distract us, or just give us a bit of pleasure. I am thankful this Thanksgiving that despite one of us being unable to work, we are able to share a beautiful meal together. I am thankful that my son will be rejoining our family in our home in a few days. I am thankful for the opportunity to continue to work in a job that feeds my soul. And I really, REALLY do like those extra bucks!

But not as much as I like my favorite detectives. :-)

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Well, it's here. Our son is coming home on Wednesday, a week from yesterday. He doesn't know it yet, which may be for the best, because he's unhappy with the idea that he will be attending a day treatment program and not traveling over the holidays. He's pulled out all the stops--threatening misbehavior and the like if he doesn't get his way--but we're standing firm. I know this is what is best for him. He needs the structure to function and to do well. Not only at home, but in life.

I can't begin to describe my emotions right now. You name it, I'm feeling it. A mixture of fear, anger, sadness, love, hope, and sweet, sweet joy. My son is coming home. In my fantasy, he will rejoin our family willingly, participating in activities and fun and accept the limits we have set for him. He will let me mother him without fear or resentment, allow me to care for him and support him in all the ways a mother should. He'll work to continue to build a healthy relationship with his father and his sister. He will dedicate himself to treatment and do the best of his ability to be cooperative and follow the plan in place for him. He will do these things with the hope and understanding and trust that they are what is best for him, his opportunity to learn life skills that will allow him to function as a full and healthy human being.

That is my fantasy. My reality is full of fear that I am trying desperately to balance out with hope and good wishes. I don't know how he will do. I know he misses us desperately and I hope that is enough to help him to begin on the right path.

He was home this weekend for an overnight pass. We had some good conversations on that pass and he was cooperative and sweet. I remember thinking, "If all else fails, at least I have had this day with him to hold on remember who he is and can be, and to rejoice in it." I intend to savor that moment, to love it, to embrace it when things inevitably get rough or go downhill. Those moments that prove my child has the ability to be all the things I desperately cling to--loving, content, functional. That we can connect on a parent/child level. Those wishes and moments keep me going.

I don't know how he will do once he is home. No one knows. But I will hope and pray with every ounce of my being for his healing. I'm just one mom on a path of dreams for my child, that he can find the things that come so easily to other kids. And I won't give up the fight.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Devil in an Orange Jumpsuit

Shaniya Davis.

I don't want to forget that name.

Eleven days ago, five-year old Shaniya was sold into prostitution by her mother, then subsequently raped and strangled by the man who, I presume, bought her. Her father had been caring for her for several years while her mother was in jail. Once her mother had been released and found a job and a home, he decided to let the child live with her mother. It's a decision that will cost him for the rest of his life.

I can't begin to understand what would have to go wrong in a person's brain to cause them to sell their own child into prostitution. Obviously there are severe mental illness issues going on for this woman. Honestly, though, I don't care. I am not a supporter of the death penalty, but my gut reaction to this crime would be a slow, torturous hell for the mother. I cannot begin to understand how or why things like this happen. I look at my own children and find the crime not only repugnant but incomprehensible. At what point does one stop looking at a child--their own child--as a human being and start looking at her as a commodity? How does that happen? Moreover, what in the world made this father think that it was a good idea to let his five year old child live with a woman who had proven herself so unreliable in the recent past? As a person who has the responsibility of caring for someone else's birth children, it is hard for me to fathom arriving at that decision. Although I don't believe the father should be held accountable legally for allowing his daughter to live with her mother, it is clear that he will--and should--hold himself accountable indefinitely. He has lost his child, but he is not a victim. His poor decision making, naivete, whatever you want to call it, has left him childless.

I look at the pictures of Shaniya's sweet face and I see the preschoolers I teach every day. I can so easily imagine her laughing, playing, building, reading, painting. Singing songs from Disney movies, playing dress up with her friends, riding her bike. She has been robbed of the rest of her life. But as I reflect on the story that struck me so heavily eleven days ago, I am reminded that we all have been robbed. This child was as important as my child, as your child, as any other child who is snuggling with her parents or cooking in the kitchen or playing soccer with her friends tonight. We were robbed as a society of a bright, potentially beautiful, light.

I don't know how we correct things so heinous. I do know that situations like this don't arise out of nothing. Mental illness is a tremendous weight upon millions in our country. And it's easy to write it off until there's a Shaniya Davis to remind us of the cost. Only eleven days later, we have moved on and forgotten the little girl from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Forgotten the crime that should mar our souls as human beings. But it won't. Because there are other things to focus on, other ways to spend our tax dollars and other events that touch our everyday lives more directly than the horrendous death of a five year old a thousand miles away. So we will bury her, and bury the loss, and forget.

Until there's another Shaniya.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Alter Ego

My life as of late has surpassed human expectations for manageable stress. Without getting into details, suffice it to say that things continue to spiral crazily around this place. I'm a horrific model of how to manage stress and I've been telling myself for the last week that I MUST renew my YMCA membership. I've got to find a healthy outlet for some of this!

Of course, one of my favorite outlets is cop shows. I've been so excited that lately the reruns of Criminal Intent have been from the first few seasons. In those first few seasons, the show was more raw, less refined. Bobby Goren was all over the place--in people's faces and spaces, being quirky and nutty and everything that is so gloriously, geniusly Bobby. And Alex was along for the ride, trying to make sense of her partner, delivering the necessary information on the case, connecting the dots for anyone who's a little...well, the TV audience.

I'm always amused by people who get so up in arms with the character of Bobby Goren. I remember reading one time a post from some guy who was criticizing Goren's investigative techniques, claiming that any detective who did that kind of stuff would be fired. Really? It's not okay to stick your hands in open wounds on corpses? To sniff dead bodies so you can identify the last thing a person consumed? To stick your head in trash cans to identify the smell of vomit? To pull out a potential suitcase bomb and open it up without a bomb squad? Relax,'s called fiction.

I put my Criminal Intent DVD's up shortly after my son went into treatment. I haven't had the time nor the inclination to revisit them. But having the pleasure of watching those early episodes again on TV has reminded me why I'm absolutely crazy about that show. I want the kind of job that I don't have to follow the rules! That I can be as nutty and unique as I want to be without consequence. I want to be able to wave my arms and hands around while explaining myself, put my face in other people's and have them confess their demons at the drop of a dime. I want to have a partner who puts up with my crazy antics because he or she believes that ultimately I'm some kind of freaking genius. Dammit, I want to be Detective Goren!!!

I guess if I had to, though, I'd settle for Alex Eames. At least she gets to hang around the dorky genius. Just don't make me carry his water. ;-)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All the Right Answers

Tonight I'm a very proud momma.

I picked up my daughter from school today at noon. She had an appointment and was waiting for me in the office. She was working doggedly on some math, and followed me out of the office with a sly smile on her face. I asked her, "What's up?" She grinned and said, "I'll tell you in the car."

So we got in the car and she took a deep breath. "Well, it's some good news and some bad news, but mainly good," she said, then handed me a piece of paper. "From now on, I'm going to be doing sixth grade math!" The tone in her voice radiated pride and I was thrilled for her. "Really?" I asked. "What's the bad part?" She responded, "Nothing really...I'm just scared the other kids will think I'm smart and won't like me if I get an answer wrong."

Well, we all get answers wrong. Shoot, how many wrong answers am I allowed in a day? Because some days I think I truly exceed any reasonable limit in wrong answers! And sometimes people really DON'T like me when the answer is wrong. But such is life, and we discussed those things on the way to her appointment. We both were proud of this milestone.

But alas, the excitement was not over. After my daughter's appointment, my phone rang. It was the school counselor, calling to tell me that my daughter had been chosen as Student of the Month. The reason she was chosen was because of her "enthusiasm for learning". She will be honored at an assembly and have her picture published in the local paper.

My daughter has struggled over the last two years, as we all have, with the pain of watching her brother's emotional and mental health decline. She has been victim of his tantrums, seen his out of control behavior, and felt the fear and helplessness that accompanies those moments. And yet she is thriving. She is truly an amazing child.

Tonight I don't have a lot of words to express how I feel about her. I love her heart and her soul; I admire her tenacity. Again, I am reminded of how much she is my teacher, my hero, my inspiration. I am so proud to be able to say I know this little girl, and even prouder to be able to call her "daughter".

Hooray for the people who push through despite adversity. Hooray for the accomplishments those people achieve. Hooray for those who grab life and all its nuances and make the best of it. Hooray for little girls who take lemons and turn them into fancy, ice-cold lemonade with cherry flavoring on top. Hooray!

And thanks for the reminder that the rest of us can do the same!

Monday, November 2, 2009

A blog about nothing

Do you ever take the time during your day to think about all the little things that struck you as odd, funny, or amusing in the moment?

I'm sitting here thinking about my day. Over the last week I've had a lot of back pain and really not been in the best of moods. Heck, I think that statement describes almost all of my blogs! I suddenly thought, what a cool challenge to think of all the things that happened today that made me laugh. I bet there's more than a couple... now let's see...

First and foremost would be the incident during preschool this morning. One of my youngest children had a birthday. Her older sister has been greatly anticipating the day and wanted me to sing Happy Birthday to the younger one on Friday. Well, we waited until today, and I brought out our class mascot, an alligator puppet who goes by the incredibly clever name "Mr. Alligator". Mr. Alligator launched into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday for this child, who proceeded to bounce up and down on her knees as though I had bestowed the best. Present. EVER. Her older sister sat there laughing hysterically, slapping her leg, shaking her head, and saying, "Oh, you're hilarious! You're so hilarious!"

Funny moment number two: I decided to stop at KFC to pick up some chicken for dinner. Right now we have no groceries and KFC has a special of fourteen pieces for ten dollars. Okay, I think, awesome...we'll be set! So I order my bucket of chicken. The guy asks if I want it mixed. I said yes and he asked what two kinds I wanted. I said, "Well, can't you just throw in a mix of whatever you've got?" knowing that they probably have a bit of each of three kinds--grilled, extra crispy, and original. He responded, "Well, it's just easier if we can put them in two by two." Apparently it's an extremely complicated ordeal to put five of two types in a bucket and add four of the third. Or however you would do it. By this time I'm trying really hard not to laugh. He came back on the speaker and said, "Okay, we can do it. Is there anything else?" Knowing that in the next couple of hours I'm going to be really REALLY wanting a diet Dr. Pepper, I added that to my order. Without skipping a beat, Chicken Man replies, "Well, that's some dinner you've ordered for yourself!"

Yes, Chicken Man. Me, my fourteen pieces of chicken and a diet Dr. Pepper. I figured the diet part makes up for some of the grease!

Funny bone three: I had to perform a real, live fire drill at work today for the first time by myself. My biggest fear is forgetting to notify the authorities and accidentally having fifteen fire trucks pull up at our school with no fire. Well, I remembered to notify the authorities. I even remembered how to pull the alarm. I just forgot the order in how to turn it all off! And we ended up with a high pitched squeal for twenty minutes until somebody could come by and reset the system.

A girl's gotta laugh..otherwise you'd cry, right?

I never was a big Seinfeld fan, but if I was, I would imagine this blog entry would be somewhat akin to a Seinfeld episode. Much ado about nothing! But aren't the "nothing" moments the ones that make up the majority of our lives? Aren't they the ones we should be rejoicing in, holding dear, embracing?

If not, at least I can laugh my butt off about it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Teachers and Learners

Tonight officially marks the start of the Halloween season in our town.

Ever since people decided ten or fifteen years ago that traditional trick or treating was "too dangerous" for children, it seems that every group known to mankind (at least in our area) has begun to sponsor its own festival. Fall festivals, pumpkin festivals, Halloween festivals, Howl-o ween festivals (that's for dogs and their owners), even something called "Trunk or Treat" held in church parking lots (you go car trunk to car trunk to trick or treat)--there's something for everyone, on every night, from now until November 1st. After a very stressful week I had decided to surprise my daughter with a visit to the local YMCA's festival tonight.

Her costume wasn't complete but neither of us cared. We hopped in the car and got there right at the start of the action. Being ten, she's one of the older kids who goes to these types of things, but it doesn't seem to bother her at all. I love Halloween and was looking forward to spending some time with her.

She wore a four-dollar black cape to the festival and made her way around to the various games and activities. Some she played once, others she skipped. Some she went back to over and over again. She collected her candy prizes and trinkets, placing them in the jack o' lantern bag supplied by the Y. She grinned as she tossed the football through the hoops and tried repeatedly to hit the dart board with the dart until she made it. But her favorite game was the ring toss.

The ring toss was set up with individual bottles of Powerade. The first time she played it, she missed every time. The lady working the game took pity on her and gave her a bottle of the drink anyway. By the time my kiddo made it back over there, the volunteers had wised up to the fact that if they gave a bottle to every child who came through every time, there would be no bottles left pretty quickly. So the rules had changed--you had to ring a bottle to win it.

She tried a second time and missed. After playing a few more games, we decided it was almost time to leave and that she had time to try one more game. Of course, back to the ring toss we went. This time she got it on the first try. Delighted, she chose an orange bottle. I told her it was time to go. She turned to me, excited, and said, "Please? One more time?" There was only one child in front of her. So I told her to go ahead.

The child in front of her was maybe four years old. He tried three times to toss the ring over the bottle neck and missed every time. The volunteer told him he could try again after my daughter, but he shook his head no and a slow pout came over his face. His mother tried to tell him he had to get back in line, but again he refused. The mother then asked the volunteer to give him another turn. Not knowing what else to do, the volunteer handed the child the rings--all six of them, despite three being the standard limit.

My mother and teacher bloods were boiling. One of the life lessons I have always tried to teach my children is that we don't always get what we want. We also don't always get what's fair. In addition, respect for everyone is important. This means you wait your turn, and you move on after it. I truly believe children need these limits and must be taught them to function effectively in society. Those are key core values I hold. And here was this kid--and his mother!--hogging up turn after turn while my daughter stood waiting patiently. Finally, after multiple extra attempts, the child had no more rings. He still had not won a bottle but at least moved out of my child's way.

Excited, she approached the ring toss game and nailed the bottle on the first toss. She giggled and jumped up and down before tossing the second ring, then the third. The third ring caught itself around the neck of another bottle. "Look Mom!" she cried. "I won two!" The volunteer handed her one bottle and my child happily skipped around the line away from me.

That's when I lost her for a moment. I am not a big crowd person, and for a second I found myself feeling annoyed. Where had she gone to? She knew I had said no more games. She knew it was time to go. And suddenly, I saw the black cape flutter around her, arm outstretched, bottle in hand.

She was handing it to the child who had missed his tosses.

In that moment, my first reaction was puzzlement and frustration. Why would you reward someone for taking extra turns? For taking YOUR turn? For wasting your time and being selfish? I watched her skip back over to me, watched the child's smile and that of his mother's. My ten year old said, "Okay, we can go now. I already won a couple and he hadn't. He needed it."

He needed it.

In those moments when you realize your children have internalized a lesson you want them to know, and they've internalized it better than you have, you're humbled. I thought about what my daughter said, thought about what she did, and realized that I have taught her well. But even more, she is teaching me.

What do I really need? Do I need an extra bottle of whatever? Do I need one more? Can I give it to someone who needs it more than I do? In my life I try to be charitable and kind. But clearly, this child has a gift of generosity of heart, of soul. I like to think I have impacted upon that but I also believe some of it is her spirit. It's who she is. It's the empathy and compassion she possesses, separate from me or her father. And my job is not only to teach her. It's to learn from her as well.

I hope I never forget that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


. . .and then the day came when the risk to remain tight inside a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
Anais Nin

I'm at a crossroads.

Over the last few months, I have assumed a temporary position at work. A position that made me nervous, that I originally questioned my skills at. Since taking the position, I have found that I am more able and capable than I thought. I've been pushed in new directions and learned a lot of things, and quickly. Some days I find it thrilling, to learn new things about myself and my abilities that I haven't known. I feel pride, satisfaction, ownership in a good thing. I feel that I am making a difference in this world.

And then I have a day like today.

Actually, my day started last night, when I had trouble falling asleep. I tossed and turned before finally falling asleep an hour later. I awoke at three this morning, with my hand in vomit. Yes, vomit. Gabi, my sweet dog, had thrown up on the bed. Thrown up, more specifically, on me. In typical form, Gabi was just fine. I was the one who spent twenty minutes in the bathroom, first trying to figure out if i could have possibly thrown up myself and not known it. Once I ruled that out, then it was on to cleaning up myself, and the mess.

When my alarm went off, I realized I had slept through three snoozes and had about ten minutes to get ready for work.

My printer and email were down at work; I had new students starting; the floors were not clean; my plans were fuzzy and my head hurt and my nose was running and I was feeling like crap. The day turned unseasonably warm and I was sweating, the kids were sweating, the teachers were sweating. By the time I left work to take my daughter to an appointment, I was thoroughly on my way to a terrible, horrible, no-good, VERY bad day.

Once home, I took some ibuprofen for my head and buried myself under the covers. The thoughts and pain from Sunday's visit with my son came back as I lay there, trying to figure out what in the hell I was doing. What was I doing in bed? What was I doing as a mother? As a wife? As a person? What the hell was I doing with my life?

I've become painfully aware in the last month that I am an extremely passive person. Almost everything that exists in my life has come into place by accident. Things happen TO me; I don't make conscious choices to make them happen. I stumbled into motherhood; I stumbled into my current position. And I've been trying to figure out when and how I'm going to stop stumbling.

It is critical to me to make a difference in this world. It is also critical to me to be a good mother to my children. Trying to find a balance between those two leaves me feeling as though I walk an unending tightrope, and that I never fulfill either role to the best of my ability. So what to do? Actively pursue the opportunity to stay in the position I'm in? Or step back into the old, comfortable zone and recommit my energy to my family? Do I take this chance to further my education, my career, both, or neither? What DO I want?

When I opened up my email today and read the quote above by Anais Nin, it struck me heavily. At some point, stepping into my light has got to become less scary the staying out of it. At some point, I have to be willing to become what I'm supposed to be. As Nelson Mandela once said, it is not our darkness that frightens us; it is the thought of become more brilliant than our wildest dreams. I want to come into my own. I want to blossom and be brilliant and be whoever it is that I'm meant to be. The problem is that I still haven't figured it out yet. In the words of Bono--who sang it so beautifully at the concert I attended Sunday night--I still haven't found what I'm looking for. And sometimes I wonder if I ever will.

So if you've seen it, could you send it over this way?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mothers and daughters

Today, as I opened up my email, the first one to appear was from my mom. It was something she had forwarded to me, in her usual fashion, to remind me that she's thinking of me and loves me. She knows the last several months have been very difficult for me. She has listened to me talk over and over again about my kids, my husband, my job. She's offered advice that usually falls in the realm of, "I'm worried about you," and "Take care of yourself." She's a terrific mom.

She wasn't always that way, though. I remember as a child that she was very tightly wound. A teacher herself, she always warned me, "Don't ever go into teaching!" My mother was a perfectionist in every aspect of her life, one of those moms who went through the early treacherous waters of trying to balance a career and a family. Her career was very important to her. Not that she enjoy it, mind you, but that she was good at it. That she got everything done and done well. We had family dinners every night, extracurricular activities, and a relatively spotless (compared to mine, anyway!) house. What we didn't have was strong connections. I knew my parents loved me, in a logical kind of "well, of course they love their children because that's what parents do" way. But I often didn't feel it.

My mom grew up as an only child of two parents who also balanced work and family. She was frequently left to care for the house and cook dinner at an early age so that her parents could run the family business. Her parents were not affectionate, whereas my mother was a child who desperately needed affection. It's my own speculation, but I believe this combination led her to develop an extremely strong work ethic along with an intense sense of loneliness. She often commented as I grew up about how she never wanted me to be an only child. And I wasn't--I have one brother, two years younger.

It was critically important to my mother that she do more for us than was done for her as a child. And she tried to be more nurturing, more loving. Before the days where books on parenting were a dime a dozen, she ventured into uncharted territory and worked hard to make changes. But like so many things in life, we often fall back to the patterns of what we know. I would describe my own childhood as lonely and isolated; of one filled with feelings of misunderstanding and depression. There were traumatic events of which I didn't feel that I could disclose to my parents, which only led to more separation. It was hard on me and I know it had to be hard on my mother. She had envisioned such a different connection with me, her only daughter. I know this now because of being a mother myself. But as a child, I could have never understood it, never understood her fear and desperation and want for something different for both of us.

As we grow into adults, the gift of perspective is one that reconnects us with our parents and rejoins that which was once tentative. I can't point to a specific time when I came to realize my mother was a person, just trying her best, like me. I can recall, however, many points in the last several years where I have been taught lessons in humility in my own life, moments where I have made mistakes that I would have so quickly called my mother on. But now, instead of calling my mother on her mistakes, I call her to discuss MY mistakes. And always the question I ask is, "How do I live with myself when I make these mistakes?"

I don't believe that age necessarily brings wisdom. Instead, I believe that reflections over our own experiences makes us more wise, more worldly. My mother left teaching many years ago to find her own calling--that of a social worker. I was a teenager when she took the courageous step to leave a career she excelled in to follow the path she had always longed for. And she excels now. Her work is a tremendous source of satisfaction and pride for her. And I am proud of her, likewise. Her wisdom is not a logical, grounded one. Instead, it is one that calls from the heart, the soul. A wisdom that I truly believe is uniquely hers, and I am blessed to receive it and connect with it.

On a recent visit with my mom and dad, she made a statement to me that gave me great pause. She told me I was her best friend. Part of me was afraid; it's a huge undertaking to be someone's best friend, much less your own mother's! But part of me was tremendously honored and humbled. I spent the first twenty years of my life finding faults in my mom, and the last twenty growing to understand her. She's a complex human being. She is different than me in so many ways. But at the end of the day, she is a nurturing, loving woman who cares for her daughter in a way that so many people never experience. As my mom has grown in her capacity of a mother, I have grown in my capacity as a person, and thus in my appreciation of her. Her heart is one of the biggest I've ever known. She has taught me to love and to trust and to believe in and nurture myself and others. And if she's this great of a mom now, just think how fabulous she'll be in another ten years!

My goal as a mom myself is to have the kind of relationship with my children that I have with my mother now. Even if I'm halfway successful, they'll be far better off than most. When I think of my relationship with my mom, I'm reminded of the phrase, "Life is a journey, not a destination." My, what a journey it has been, and how lucky I have been to take it with you.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Days and Fire Safety

Well, after mulling over yesterday's depression, I realized that it's time to make some efforts to get back into the swing of life. It's almost fall break here (we get a fall break--we NEVER got one when I was a kid!) and my daughter will go to work with me on Thursday to hang out with my class. She will love that--she loves being in the role of teacher's assistant (though she'd be happy to assume the role of a teacher!)--and we should have a terrific time. On Friday, we'll see my son, and then we'll head off to a pumpkin patch for the afternoon. My daughter is at that in-between age where pumpkin patches are almost not fun but still just a bit interesting. So we'll go one more year.

As much as I dreaded the onslaught of Monday, today was a very productive day. It's damp and chilly here, but my preschoolers were ready for learning and fun, and that's what we had. We spent the morning engaging in a million different activities and read a great book together. We sang songs and talked about how some of our teachers were moving on to new schools (we have student teachers who rotate through). We talked about the visit from a firefighter we'll be having on Wednesday. The children were excited to hear that one of our dads will be bringing his firefighter gear and telling us all about it.

A year ago, our school had new fire alarms installed. The regular, loud, high-pitched noise was replaced with an inhuman screeching frequency that I swear makes my ears bleed internally. I've never heard a noise as painful as that one. Of course, the reaction to a noise like that for most kids is to run the other way--and quite frequently, that doesn't mean OUT of the building.

We have specifics that we follow for fire safety. When you hear the bell, you get a teacher's hand, and you walk out a specific set of doors. We walk a safe distance, then the lead teacher calls the roll to ensure every child is present. Obviously, there are some things we have to watch out for--the kid covered in paint who wants to take of his smock, the little one on the toilet when the alarm goes off, the child who wants to grab a coat because it's cold/wet/whatever outside. Generally, though, we make it through unscathed.

Our first fire drill this year occurred a few weeks ago. Instead of ringing the inhuman, ear-bleeding bell, I decided I wanted the children to remain unscarred a little longer. We rang a small hand-sized bell and practiced going outside together and calling roll. We talked about why we practice going outside in case there is a fire, and that if there really was a fire a very loud bell would go off. But knowing I had some children in tears just from this minute practice session, I decided we needed some help.

Enter our prize firefighter. This dad is awesome and has volunteered to help every year. He brings his gear, goes over stop drop and roll, talks about fire safety, and then he suits up. One thing research has shown us is that for children who are in frightening situations such as fires, being familiar with what a firefighter in uniform looks like can be lifesaving. If you've never seen a firefighter fully geared up, with his or her oxygen tank on, it looks like a space alien and sounds like Darth Vadar. If I were a kid, I'd be hiding under my bed too. It's critical for kids to know that the nightmare they're facing isn't the guy in the scary suit making the weird sucking noise--it's what will happen if they hide from him.

Our firefighter dad will invite the children to touch his gear and listen to the sounds it makes. He'll help them understand that firefighters are just grown ups trying to help, and it's okay to go to them. If you happen to be reading this and your child hasn't had the experience of seeing a firefighter geared up, it's something I highly recommend doing for any child over two.

Work is a safe escape for me. Despite the pressure and sadness the weekend sometimes brings, I can honestly say I enjoy my work tremendously. I enjoy learning as much as I do teaching, and I learn something new every day. Sometimes I learn from my college students and sometimes I learn from my preschool children; sometimes I learn from my colleagues and sometimes I learn from the children's families. But I can't ever complain that my job is boring. And God willing, none of my students can complain that my classroom sucks, either.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


It's been a season of change so far.

I started a new position in August, and while I'm still working out of the same office and building, still teaching the same courses, this new position requires me to make use of skills I didn't even know I had. I've been stretched in some new, uncomfortable, scary, yet exciting ways. I worry that I will inherently fail, and that when decisions are made about the permanency of this position in the new year, I'll be passed over for it. I also worry that I'm getting myself in too deep, that this isn't what I want.

My husband passed the bar exam after the first try. I never doubted his intelligence, although I think at times we have both doubted his drive. He has now been sworn in as an official attorney. He is currently maintaining his old job but beginning to look for new ones. I am tremendously proud of him. He has overcome numerous obstacles and achieved a goal that was once just a dream for him.

After much debate, our daughter started therapy to help her deal with all of the confusion she feels surrounding her brother and her biological family. It has been a hard fall; her nightmares plague her so frequently that we are both pressed for sleep. Often, she escapes to her room after the school day to catch up on the sleep she is missing at night. Nights come with sounds and fears and worries, but afternoons are warm and lovely and cozy under covers, knowing the light is still near, and so are her mom and dad.

And then there is my son.

A mix of contradictions, this young adolescent--a boy who misses me as much as I miss him; who needs the comfort of knowing exactly who will be coming and when and what time he will be talking to me and what I will bring him and who will make sure that he has what he needs and yet strives to be separate and independent from us. This fall has shown the tip of the iceberg in treatment. So thick is the armour of an attachment-disordered child that after four months he is just developing kinks in it. He has shown a pinch of the anger underneath the surface; the storytelling that makes no sense and has no focus; the manipulation of breaking the rules that always follows the pattern of safety in numbers. The tossing of his hands over his face as he exclaims through tears, "I give up! You just never understand!"

No I don't. I don't understand why you are like this. I don't understand why the doctors can't figure it out and give us a magic fix for you. I don't understand why my love has never been enough and never will be. I don't understand--at least in my heart--why adults choose to victimize children while they're in utero; why parents can't or won't put a baby ahead of everything else. And I can't explain it to you. I know all of the logic behind it and I understand the studies and the research and I can even read statistics and data analysis. But none of that fixes anything, does it?

I find myself struggling this fall to maintain outwardly. I want to curl up inside, like my daughter, cozy and snug in my blanket and away from all of the nightmare. To let the outside world move past me while I sleep, snug until some figurative springtime arrives and I have the sun and the warmth and the hope of the living again. But I have to go back to work on Mondays; there are appointments to be kept and chores to be done and lives to maintain.

The dark has always been my friend, my comforter. The same dark that frightens my child has removed my fear and comforted me. It is the day, the light, that arouses fear. The light that from which I cannot hide because I have to continue, one foot after the other, to make sense of the nonsensical and find peace where there is none. The light that brings with it commitments and obligations I cannot escape from. The day that brings with it the inevitable fact that I am struggling with a life so different from what I had always planned.

Did I mention I don't do well with change?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Story of Gabi

When I began writing this blog, I wanted to relieve some of the inner turmoil that I feel as well as get back in touch with my desire to write. As a child, I wrote frequently--poetry, fiction, journaling--to express myself and to release my feelings. I view this blog as an opportunity to express my feelings about a wide variety of subjects in a relatively safe forum. And for several days I've felt the need to tell a story. And in my mind, I call it the story of Gabi.

You see, I had always assumed I would grow up to be a mom. I had plans, too. I was going to get married at 25 (practically ancient and extremely mature when you're a teenager) and have one (yes, count 'em, one) baby at age thirty, after which my happy little family would be complete.

I met my husband at age 27. I was running late on the timeline, but that was okay, because I still had time to have children--we could just speed everything else up, right? We married three weeks after my 30th birthday and became "parents" fifteen months later when our sweet baby boy arrived--at age three and a half. Two months after that, we were parents again, this time of a beautiful 22 month old girl. Did I mention the move halfway across the country right before the children? And the new jobs? Needless to say, it was a stressful time.

During that time, I clung to the one constant in my life, the one who had been there for fourteen years--my mixed-breed dog, Amanda. Ten years before, my brother had brought Amanda home from the shelter on the day before she was to be put to sleep. After about a year, he decided he no longer wanted her, but it was too late; I was in love. Amanda was my companion from that time until the day she died.

Amanda saw me through a lot of changes when I moved. New jobs, new family, new houses. She would wag her tail and lick my hand and curl up with me on the bed. She was gentle with the kids and a great companion. She instinctively knew when I needed her and could sense my emotions. Without that dog, I don't know if I could have adjusted to all the changes going on in my life. She was, in the truest and most honest form, a loving friend, and I adored her.

When her kidneys began to fail at the age of sixteen, I was devastated but not surprised. I let a vet who worked for a large company convince me to keep her alive on all sorts of medication, even though in my heart I knew she was suffering. It's my one regret, that I let that sweet animal suffer longer than need be. As her kidneys worsened, I finally took her to a small, local vet who was honest with me. My companion of seventeen years was dying. She was in pain. It hurt her to be touched and some days she could barely stand. The vet compassionately explained to me that he had owned a dog in the same condition and his biggest regret was letting his dog suffer too long. And I knew the time had come. I was there when he put her to sleep, and I know her last moments were peaceful and comforting as I held her body until she was no longer breathing.

Losing a loved one is a process that can't be explained. Trying to explain the loss of a pet to a person who has never felt a connection to an animal is next to impossible. The emptiness inside was overwhelming. I cried for days, randomly calling friends and family for comfort. I knew I couldn't replace Amanda, nor did I want to. But after a month, it became clear we needed a dog.

First, it was the mice. Never in our entire time in this house have we had a problem with mice. Never, that is, until Amanda died. Then the little critters seemed to invade from every angle. As much as I hate mice, my husband despises them even more. Traps were set all over the house; everyone wore shoes day and night; and one morning I heard one of the little devils run through the hallway, under my door, and under my bed. The very thought made my skin crawl.

But of course, the final straw in getting a new dog was I needed one. I missed having a pet. I missed the companionship of an animal. So my husband and I discussed it and decided upon the following criteria: the dog would be small; it would be housetrained; it would be female; and it would be short haired.

So off I went to the local pound. As I scouted around, my heart ached for every animal, and none fit our criteria. In addition, I began to have additional concerns--how would I have a guarantee this dog wouldn't hurt one of my children?

My second visit took me to a no-kill rescue shelter in our town. I described the kind of dog I was looking for to the volunteer at the desk, and she quickly paired me with a small female poodle who looked kind of like a big attack rat. I sat and played with her (or attempted to) for several minutes as my heart sank. What was I doing here? My connection to Amanda had been so easy, so natural. This dog looked at me like I was a speck of dust in her world, and it was time for a swiffer. I decided it was time to go. My disappointment hung heavily in my heart. I had really thought I would be coming home with a dog that day. I thanked the volunteer at the desk and turned to leave. That's when another volunteer stepped out of the back.

In her hands--I can't even say arms, because the creature was so tiny--was a curly, black-haired puppy that had just been transferred to the shelter from a local pound. She had arrived that day, a mop-haired mess, with eyes so black they blended right into her coat. Her chin sported a white goatee. She was quite likely poodle, although it was hard to say under all of the shaggy hair that covered her body. She hardly met our criteria--furry fuzzy and in no way housebroken--but suddenly that didn't seem to matter. It didn't matter at all.

She was, in fact, perfect. And at that moment I fell in love. Again.

The volunteer explained to me that the puppy hadn't been medically evaluated yet so I couldn't take her home. I said that was okay, I could wait. She stated that it may take a few days for her to be cleared, to be spayed and receive her shots and that the shelter didn't put holds on dogs. I said that was fine too. I had a phone and I could call each day to check on her. However long it took. Because that puppy was supposed to be with me.

So that's what I did. I called that shelter every day for a week until they knew me by voice and knew the time I was coming to get her and called me when another young lady expressed an interest in the dog so I could get there before her. My daughter and I arrived five minutes before the other woman and were ushered into a back room to complete paperwork. It was somewhat like a spy mission! As I completed the paperwork, the volunteer handed the puppy over to my daughter, who got the first kiss. Then there were three of us in love.

When I had told the kids about this puppy, I hadn't made up my mind about a name. I was torn between two that I really loved--Sophie and Gabriella. Since I have never had a biological child of my own, I had never had the opportunity to name a child. I hadn't even gotten to name my last dog--my brother had named her after a girl he had liked in high school. In the end, I left the decision to my children, and they decided on Gabriela. It only took a day for us to begin to call her Gabi.

She was five months old, had kennel cough, worms, and weighed four pounds. She had been found on the street, a stray, and picked up by the pound in a neighboring town. The volunteers at the no-kill shelter had then taken her and brought her to their shelter. And now she was ours.

It took several months to get Gabi healthy. In the meantime she came to work with me every day. She went to the dog park to learn to play with other dogs and spent a lot of time interacting with our family. We found out she is smart, outgoing, loves other animals, and all people. She loves to play and squeaky toys are her absolute favorite. She's in so many ways the complete antithesis of Amanda, who never liked to play--when given a squeaky toy, she would politely shake it once in her mouth, then put it down and go back to sleep.

I still miss Amanda at times. My son mentioned her the other day and we reminisced on her sweetness and loyalty. But I have faith in God that Amanda's sweet and loyal nature has not gone unrewarded. And our blessing in the meantime has been a tiny, eight pound feisty girl who lightens up each day in our house. The story of Gabi is, to me, one about life and love, about faith and healing. Gabi is a living, breathing reminder of the fact that we are all inextricably linked to one another, and that somehow what we need will find us when we need it, if we are open to it, if we believe. That no door is ever shut without the opening of a window. That if we let ourselves, our hands will be held even in the darkest of moments.

Or our face will be licked by a tiny toy poodle mix, answering to the name of Gabi.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I just got back from visiting my son.

He's currently in a residential facility that focuses on anger management. His outbursts at home created a situation that made it impossible for him to stay with us. Without getting in to details, the best option for him--and for our family--was a residential treatment center.

He's twelve.

When he was first hospitalized, the days were a blur to me...getting paperwork finished, making sure he had everything he needed, filling my waking moments with everything that had to be done. And in between, tears. But once things settled into a routine, the guilt came. In huge waves, it would crash over me, haunting me. Why was I not enough for him? Could his birth mother have met his needs had he stayed with her? Was the bond he needed from her greater than the neglect he suffered at her hands? Had I put my faith in the wrong therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers? I'm an educated person. Why didn't I see this coming?

After his hospitalization, he did come home for a short time. He tried so hard to be able to live a normal "kid" life. He tried to be successful and to do what he needed to do, to avoid confrontation, to use some of the skills he had learned. But it was too much for him. Two months of intervention cannot undo a lifetime of illness, of thinking gone wrong, of ideas of victimization and powerlessness. And so we made a difficult choice. We placed him into a residential facility where he could receive around the clock intervention and begin to learn to lean on someone other than me--to lean on himself.

Most days I carry on my life like any other parent. I feed my dog, dress for work, take my younger one to school. I work a full day and dedicated myself fully to my job. I spend my off time with my daughter and husband, or playing with my dog, or cleaning my house, or watching a little TV. But lately, I'm distinctly aware of the emptiness in my gut. The emptiness of missing my oldest child, the one to whom my presence has been as necessary as air itself to survive.

So I sat with him today in the visiting room. You have to be eighteen to visit, so his sister can't. He brought me a couple of coloring pages he had done for her and I promised I would pass them on. He presented me with a beautiful sketch of a heart surrounded by angel wings. I praised his artistic ability (one of his many talents) and thanked him for the gift. He perused the collector's cards he had asked me to bring him and thanked me for them. And then we made small talk--about the weather, work, my husband's schedule, the dog.

Small talk moments are the ones I hate the most. I found myself sitting there, uncomfortable, not knowing what to say to my own child. What I want to say and can say are two different things. I have a responsibility to this child not to add to his burden. Not to create more worry, more stress. But what I wanted to say was this: I love you. I miss you every moment. Even when I am not consciously aware of the ache in my heart it is there, always, missing you and your spirit. I grieve for you. I want to take every wound upon myself and heal it, or live with it, so that you don't have to. I want to hold you in my arms and tell you everything will be all right. I want to desperately, desperately believe that, despite statistics and research and stories that tell me otherwise. I want to give you the life that you deserved from the moment of your conception. I want to erase all of the pain and dysfunction and disability and illness, so only your soul shines through. So you are free to be the person I glimpse inside this tortured boy.

But I didn't. I bought him a Dr. Pepper and a candy bar, chatted about weather and his collector cards, assured him I was only tired when he said I looked sad. I promised I would be back tomorrow for family therapy and that I would pass his love on to his sister, father, and the dog. And I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.

Then I went back to being a regular mom, picking up groceries and running my errands and typing this blog.