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.