Sunday, July 26, 2015

Grief



For months I was numb. I drove six kids to and from school and day care. I went to work and tried to maintain business as usual. Half a dozen kids were picked up and shuttled to extracurricular activities. Dinner was prepared. Homework was completed and checked, baths happened, stories were read, kids were kissed and tucked into bed. Laundry was washed and folded. Lunches for the next day were packed. Work projects were completed. And, at the end of the day, I fell into bed, too tired to think or feel.

The next day, we got up and did it all over again. Repeatedly I was asked how I was holding it all together. I didn't know the answer but somehow it happened.

Survival.

However, over time, the numbness waned and I began to feel again. I found myself sobbing at night after all of the kids were tucked into bed, over what I wasn't always sure but, once the flood gates opened, they were hard to close. I forced myself to push down the lump in my throat when a client asked about my husband, not caring to tell a stranger that I didn't have a husband anymore but also not wanting to cry in front of someone I'd just met. I'd sit and stare at old family photos, unsure where exactly in our house to put them to honor our memories but not upset the kids- engagement photos, wedding albums, pictures of us holding our newborn daughter, photos of us expecting our fifth child, photos of family vacations, so many photos documenting the life we'd built together. I'd sit and hold a crying child, both of us sobbing together, trying to make sense of the senseless.

Grief.

Grief is a strange and complex emotion. One minute you're fine and the next you are completely engulfed. One scent, a lingering memory or a casual comment can trigger it. And, try as you might, you can't completely push it away or avoid it.

A friend whose husband died very unexpectedly shared the following quote: "Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve." - Earl Grollman

I never expected to experience such grief at the end of my marriage. After all, it wasn't really like I'd had a choice about the divorce. He left, refused to attend counseling and moved out of state. However, I know that grief stems from how wholeheartedly I poured myself into my husband and our growing family, how committed and loyal I was to my spouse, how I would have stood by him through any trial or any storm.

If I hadn't grieved, it would have meant that I hadn't loved.

Working through our own grief is difficult. Helping our children work through theirs is excruciatingly painful. I have had my heart ripped out and crushed repeatedly these past seven months. For the first time in their young lives, my kids have experienced hurt that I can't fix. They have experienced loss that I can't rationalize. All I can do is hold them, cry with them and reassure them that they are so incredibly special, so very loved and that I will never, ever leave them.

Grief.

While the kids and I continue to work through our grief, we have started to rebuild. We have new dreams for ourselves and for our family. The sad days are fewer and ever-increasing joy, laughter and happy memories are filling that space. We look forward to the future. Every day gets a little bit easier.

Healing.




Sunday, July 12, 2015

Death, Taxes and The Question



There are only three certainties in life. Death, taxes and, if you are a woman of childbearing age, THE QUESTION.

It seems as if, from the moment the pregnancy test shows positive, that our kids do a phenomenal job of robbing us of every bit of modesty that we ever had. Coming from someone who is naturally immodest, that says a lot. Topics that were previously only discussed with our partners or very closest girlfriends are suddenly free game. Body parts that had previously only been viewed by a few people get examined, swabbed and measured. Spaces that were sacred become communal. And secrets? You can forget about having or keeping any secrets for at least the next 18 years.

A perfect example of this loss of modesty that comes with motherhood is THE QUESTION.
It is almost a guarantee that THE QUESTION will be asked at most prenatal visits and at every single post-partum visit and probably at every annual exam from age 18 until menopause.

"What is your birth control plan?"

Now, I have talked with my girlfriends and it has been confirmed that you WILL get asked THE QUESTION even if you assure the doctor that you are a lesbian, that your husband is deployed, that you have infertility issues, that you are a nun, that you are newly divorced, permanently single…it doesn’t matter. 

You better have a plan and it better be a good one.

The first time I was asked this question was when I was expecting my first child. I was somewhat surprised and taken aback. I mean, after all, I still had many, many months before it would even be physically possible to conceive another baby since I was still incubating the first one. I mumbled some answer and my OB gave me a pass...until my next visit.

Well, that pesky question re-emerged after delivery. No lie, my child hadn't been out of the womb for two hours and a resident came and asked me about my birth control plan!
I laughed out loud.
I told him not to worry, that I certainly wouldn't be making whoopie in the postpartum unit of the hospital. He gave me a stern look and said that it's the same people who laugh who come back pregnant at their first post-natal checkup. And, just in case I thought he was kidding, I was asked the question at least five more times before we were discharged from the hospital.

Seriously. People talk about these things just like the weather.

And, as if the actual birthing and post-partum days aren't intrusive enough, somehow our children manage to worm their way into our business and personal matters for the rest of their lives. That moment when you're trying on an outfit in the fitting room and, just as you undress, one child decides to crawl out of the room under the door? In a mild state of panic and in underwear only, you have to make the decision to either dress quickly (but risk losing your child forever) or just throw all caution to the wind and chase your child through the fitting room in your underwear. Awesome.

The time when your son announces in the waiting room of the dentist office that he was cut out through your belly via C section, that his sister was born the same way, that his little brother was born through your vagina and that another brother and another sister were adopted so that means that they were born from someone else's vagina? 
 Not much that you can say to recover from that. 
 Hey, at least my kids are well-educated about anatomy and birth.

When your preschoolers unpack your purse, remove sanitary napkins and stick them to the floor of the dance studio? There are no words.

It has been months since I've taken a bath without a pair of little eyes watching me, inquiring about the size and shape of my body parts or the amount of hair that happens to be (or not be) on any particular area.

Few things in life are certain but I can guarantee one thing- your children will strip you of EVERY BIT OF MODESTY THAT YOU EVER HAD.

And it starts with THE QUESTION.

Expecting my sixth child, I'm sure that I've made the repeat offender, VIP list for those who really need to get asked "And what, exactly, is your birth control plan?" So, when it comes up again this time at my prenatal visit, I am not surprised.

On any given night up to four of my children can be found sleeping in my bed. There are more sets of little eyes and ears on me than on a foreign spy. And anything that happens inside the doors of our home, heck, even inside the doors of my bathroom, might as well be considered common knowledge. 

I think for a minute about my answer as my youngest child sits on the floor of the doctor's office and pulls credit cards and business cards out of my wallet, including a card for the dermatologist I consulted about laser therapy for the spider veins in my legs and a card for the rep who sells my skincare products (specifically designed to target wrinkles). 

Right now, a very permanent fix sounds like a VERY good option. Unless, of course, I want to subject myself to yet another set of curious eyes and probing questions, another little privacy grubber and at least another round of 18 more years of sharing every detail of mommy's life with the ENTIRE rest of the world.

** Note: This is the piece that I read for the 2015 Listen To Your Mother: Albuquerque show. Videos of all of the readings are now available and can be found on YouTube here:


And here is the link to the You Tube video of my reading:

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Mom of Five Kids, Pregnant and Divorced Club


When I was two months pregnant with my sixth child, my husband casually informed me that he didn't think that he loved me anymore. He wasn't sure but he needed to think about it. He said it would take him a few days and that he'd let me know what he decided. He said it like he was talking about whether or not he liked mushrooms on his pizza. Our children overheard the conversation. At that moment, I knew that my life, and the life of my children, would never be the same.

Like most women, when I said my marriage vows, I intended to be married once in my lifetime. However, over the course of our nine years of marriage, it became clear that this path was not going to be an easy one. I tried to justify it, telling myself that marriage isn't supposed to be easy (and, truly, maybe it isn't).

All the while, I assumed that preserving the marriage was what was best for our children. Two and a half years earlier, my husband had said the same thing, that he didn't love me. The kids overheard that incident too. That time, I asked him to please consider staying and urged couples counseling. I desperately grasped at tiny threads of hope that something, anything, could save our marriage and the unity of our family. I told myself that, even if I didn't feel loved and even if my marriage was unfulfilling that we were providing a stable, two parent home for our children. Right?

About six months ago, my seven year old daughter walked in to the bathroom while I was getting ready and said "Mommy, you are really beautiful." Before I could thank her, she continued on "I hope that someday you find a  husband who tells you how beautiful you are and how much he loves you." In that moment I realized that I wasn't doing my children, especially my daughters who will someday choose their own partners based on the examples I set for them, any favors by staying in a loveless marriage.

So this time after the declaration of not being in love, my husband moved out, we filed for divorce,  and he interviewed for and accepted a job out of state in what felt like a nightmarish whirlwind. Suddenly I became an involuntary member of the Mom of Five Kids, Pregnant and Divorced Club. {I kid. Actually, as one friend pointed out, people with six kids really don't ever get divorced. They raise a bunch of kids, fall into bed exhausted yet fulfilled at night, watch their kids grow up and then get rewarded with a house full of grand kids}. It is definitely a hard and strange place to find yourself.

There were so many unknowns. I had no idea how I would support five kids (with a baby on the way). I didn't know if we'd be able to keep the house that we'd bought only five months prior. I thought about the heartache that my kids would face if I had to withdraw them from their beloved school. I wondered how I would continue to run my business that I'd started only 11 months prior. The only thing I knew is that the sun would come up the next day and that, somehow, we were going to be okay. That has became our mantra and, any time the kids and I are struggling, we'll say to each other "The sun will come up again tomorrow. It's a new day with new graces."

I never thought that I'd get a divorce and have a baby in the same year. I never thought that my kids would grow up with a single mom and an out of state father. I never imagined that I'd give birth to any of my children without my husband by my side. At times it has been messy, ugly and raw. In the beginning there were many nights where I'd get the last child to bed and, having held back tears all day, the flood gates would open, only to realize that someone had awoken and was watching my pity party. There have been moments that were almost comical. I had a lengthy, detailed conversation with another single mom about the best type of mouse traps for clean, effective extermination and easy carcass removal. Men think that divorced women sit around and talk about them. Actually, we talk about dead mice.

I hate that divorce has stolen a part of my kids' innocence. I hate that they won't grow up in a two parent home. I hate that they'll have to call their dad when they've reached a new milestone or when they have big news to share. It hurts that they draw family photos that include a mom (with a big belly), five kids, three dogs, two cats, six chickens, a lizard and no dad.

However, I hope that they have learned some lifelong lessons that they will carry with them and that someday, maybe when they're adults, will make sense.  I hope that they'll realize that anyone who makes us feel unimportant, unloved or unworthy has no place in our circle of trust. I hope they have learned that we all deserve a partner who adores and cherishes us. And I hope that they have learned that that, as hard as it can be, sometimes we have to change pieces of our lives to ensure a better future.  I also hope that my daughters and sons have realized that women don't need a man in our life (just as men don't necessarily need a woman in theirs). We may want a man in our life- a caring, kind, intelligent and equally strong man. However, if they don't make us feel loved, valued and cherished, we can be content without them. 

It has been four months, a third of a year, and we're making it. The kids and I have learned that we can get through anything. And hopefully we'll come out stronger, loving harder and living more fully on the other side.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Listen To Your Mother Show: Albuquerque

I'm so excited to share a project that I've been working on for the past several months. It's called Listen To Your Mother and it's an amazing series of shows happening in 39 cities across the country this spring in celebration of Mother's Day. This year we are honored to host a show here in Albuquerque!

What is Listen To Your Mother, you may ask? Well, here you go! {Borrowed from the main Listen To Your Mother FAQ page}:

What is LTYM?
LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER features live readings by local writers on the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood, in celebration of Mother’s Day.
Born of the creative work of mothers who publish on-line, each production is directed, produced, and performed by local communities, for local communities.

Do I have to be a mother to participate?
NO. Write about your mother, write about a grandparent or another person who raised you. Write about your desire or difficulties becoming a mother. Write about single-fatherhood. Whatever you write, as long as it’s your authentic story and a tribute to mothering, it should be appropriate for auditions.

Do I have to be a professional actor or writer?
Absolutely not. Everyone has a story, and LTYM wants to hear yours.  

Is LTYM an open mic?
No. Each LTYM is audition, directed, produced, and rehearsed with professional production values, creating a well-crafted and memorable theatrical experience.

How can I read in an LTYM production?
2015 LTYM productions are slated for 39 cities across the country (and, yes, Albuquerque is one of them!!!). Auditions in Albuquerque will occur later this month. More details can be found here: http://listentoyourmothershow.com/albuquerque/2015/01/14/its-time-to-sign-up-for-auditions/

We’re so excited that New Mexicans will get to share our wonderful stories about and honoring motherhood!

Want to be a part of it? Women AND MEN of all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds and ages are welcome to audition! Start working on those written pieces and sign up for an audition time on the link above. Want to attend the show? Save the date for May 3, 2015. We’d love to have you join us. Ticket information will be coming soon.

Jump on and join us on what is sure to be a wonderful ride!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Helping Children Find the Magic of the Holidays


Every year as the holiday season creeps closer, we parents begin to feel the pressure to make the season "magical" for our children. With the influences of social media and overwhelming commercialism, the message seems to be that we need to do more, decorate more, buy more, craft more, bake more. If we just keep doing more and in bigger and better and more impressive ways, surely the holidays will be magical for everyone involved...right?

I'm here to tell you that you don't have to do any of that to make the holidays special. Not one single thing.

You see, holidays are inherently magic for kids. Even if you don't put up decorations, even if you don't bake a single cookie, even if you never bought an Elf for your shelf, even if you don't decorate gingerbread houses, your kids will probably, somehow, find the magic.

Remember, children are imaginative and easily impressed. As a child, I was sure that I heard reindeer hooves stamping on the roof of our house. I pictured baby Jesus being born in a manger and wondered what it was like on that day. Some of the gifts that I enjoyed the very most were those in my stocking. They were often the smallest, least expensive gifts but they were fun and whimsical. I usually received a box of Andes mints and those were a special Christmas treat. I loved sitting by the decorated and lit Christmas tree and listening to holiday music while reading books. I recall taking a nap under the tree later in the afternoon on Christmas day after all the presents were opened. I remember eating leftover pie for breakfast with my dad.

Christmas magic is the parent who spends hours scouring thrift stores for that perfect bicycle that their child has been wanting but that is not within the budget brand new. It is the grandma who teaches her grandchildren to make traditional family recipes. Magic is sitting at home by a warm fire with grown children who are home from college. Magic is watching young children make homemade gifts for each other and carefully wrap them and place them under the tree. Magic is that single mom struggling to feed her family who finds a basket of food on her front porch.

Now, this is not to say that you are doing anything wrong if you spend time baking dozens of homemade cookies or moving an elf with a little smirk on his face around your house or sprinkling "reindeer food" on your front lawn or hand-sewing all of your children a new Christmas outfit every year. The point here is that, if somehow you don't have a Pinterest-worthy holiday, if you don't have the time or the money or the ability to pour into all things we hope will make an occasion "magic" for our child, there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty. The magic is already here. Your only job is to help them find it.

This past weekend we went to a Christmas party with four other families. Before our meal, we stood in a circle, held hands and, in one word, named something that we were grateful for this year. People listed friends, family, health, home, presents and food. Then we got to my son Ty. He said "Bretty" (meaning his brother Brett). Ty was adopted about 3 years ago and he and Brett are almost exactly the same age. Initially they were mortal enemies. However, over the course of the years, they have become inseparable buddies. And, of all of the things he could have listed that he is grateful for, he listed his brother.

A few days ago, another one of my children walked up to me. "Mommy, I don't have much money to buy anything for you for Christmas but I wanted to write you a note to tell you how I feel." She handed me this slip of paper.


Not only do kids have a way of finding magic in the everyday and ordinary but they help us adults to find it too. We do not need to create magic around the holidays. We just need to prepare our minds and hearts and those of our children to be able to recognize the magic that surrounds us.




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why You Live There {A Message For My Canadian Friends}

To all of my Canadian friends,

Lately I have seen innumerable posts and tweets from all of you asking "Why in the world do we live here?"
Photo credit- National Post


What? You mean you don't like -40 degree weather? Well, I guess that's understandable.

In all honesty, during the five years that we lived in Canada, I often asked my husband (usually after spending several hours outside working on a cold winter day) "Why in the world does anyone choose to live here?" At one point, I even took it back several generations and asked "Why did anyone ever immigrate here? It must have been summer when they settled or they never would have stayed!"

I get it. Cold sucks. It's hard to get motivated to do anything when it's snowing and freezing outside and all you want to do is stay in bed or sit next to a fireplace. It's a pain bundling up every inch of every child to prevent frostbite. It's a hassle to scrape the snow off your car. It gets old removing your snow covered boots every time you go into a home or office. It's even hard to leave Canada when you do decide to take a break from the snow because they have to first de-ice the plane.

But I know why you stay there. I know why you endure a 9 month winter over and over every single year. I know why you don't just pack your bags and buy a one-way ticket to the Bahamas.

The healthcare. Overall, Canadians have really good healthcare. For EVERYONE. Yes, you may pay higher taxes but EVERYONE is covered and you don't have expensive insurance premiums or those pesky co-pays. You get to choose your own doctor and, if it is urgent, you will get seen as quickly as anywhere else in the world. Your doctors are intelligent and well-trained. Your hospitals are modern. You have one of the longest lifespans of any country. And no one in Canada ever loses their home because of a medical crisis that they cannot afford.

The safety. Canada, you're the safest country in North America. Your citizens own guns just like your neighbors to the south but somehow people don't die from gun violence nearly as often. Violent crime rates are also low. Kids still play out in the street and doors remain unlocked in many neighborhoods. Most people die from farm accidents and car wrecks and natural disease and things that our grandparents died of- not shootings, gang violence and drug overdoses.

The scenery. It's breathtaking. Anyone who has seen Lake Louise, the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the coast of British Columbia, the skyline of Toronto or the rocky beaches of Peggy's Cove is going to fall in love and want more.
Photo credit- Huffington Post Canada


The people. The first time I visited Canada with my now-husband, what immediately grabbed my attention (after noticing how damn cold it felt) was how nice you are. You Canadians know how to laugh and you know how to let loose. You seem to have mastered the philosophy of "Work hard, play hard!". You're a jovial bunch and you make life a whole lot of fun.

Tim Hortons. You don't realize how good Tim Hortons is until you move someplace that doesn't have them. Your Timmies is like a supercharged Dunkin' Donuts. They have some of the best food and some of the best TV commercials. They are community-minded and support youth sports and other programs. And you can buy an entire meal for the $4.50 you'd spend at, ahem, some other coffee chains.
Image credit- Tim Hortons

Hockey. If you asked the residents of many countries what they consider to be the national sport, you might get a dozen different answers. Maybe football or basketball or baseball or soccer. Maybe tennis or badminton or rugby. But in Canada, there is no doubt. It's hockey. And, from my hockey-obsessed husband, I have learned that it is not just a sport. It's a national pastime. It's a bonding tool. It's part of your culture and it's in your blood. True story, when my husband and I were dating, I bought a hockey package on the sports channel so he could watch as much hockey as he wanted, anytime (we weren't living in Canada then so televised hockey was hard to find). I'm pretty sure that was the hook, line and sinker for deciding that I was marriage material.
Photo credit- thrivesports.com

Acceptance. You helped write the book in tolerance and, in most places, people of different ethnicity, skin colors, religions and sexual orientations are more than just tolerated, they are accepted. New immigrants from all around the world choose to call your country home and they are welcomed and celebrated. Diversity is more than just a fancy tag line for your company's PR department, it is a part of everyday life.

Summer. As difficult as your winters are, the few short weeks of reprieve that you call "summer" are absolutely glorious. Those of us closer to the equator are envious of your long summer days and the warm, but not usually scorching hot, temperatures. And, grateful that the snow has finally melted and that the sun is shining, everyone moves outdoors. Parks, swimming pools, lakes and mountain trails teem with humanity as an entire nation seeks exercise, Vitamin D and the companionship of friends and neighbors you probably haven't seen as often during the cold winter months. Summer is filled with barbecues, wonderful gardens that are carefully tended, games of neighborhood street hockey, camping trips and bonfires. It renews your will to live and makes you believe that you can do it all over again next year.
 Photo credit- Huffington Post Canada

My friends living in places where it is -40 (seriously, do thermometers even measure that low?), my thoughts are with you. If they can get your plane de-iced, you are more than welcome to come visit us in the south.

But if you are seriously questioning why you live there, remember that your beautiful country has a lot going for it. Go grab a Timmies, turn on a hockey game and hunker down. Even with your bitter temperatures, some of us still have a little bit of secret Canada envy.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

Three Years In

It has been over three years since we added two children to our family through international adoption.  It is hard to believe how much our children have grown and changed during that time. We've certainly faced challenges and experienced growing pains along the way but we have also made great progress bonding as a family.  As parents, we've had to adjust our expectations, learn when to be flexible and when to hold firm and wisely select which battles to fight and which to sit out.

In the beginning, when we were newbie adoptive parents and when our kids were freshly grafted into our family, we repeatedly got the question "How are you doing?" It was hard to answer. Well, we're functioning. We've gone from 2 kids to 4 but we're feeding them, educating them, loving on them and most days we have more smiles than tears.

Now that that we're more seasoned adoptive parents and since the "new" factor is long gone, the "How are you doing?" questions have ceased. I take that as a good sign. If people don't ask how we're doing and don't call Child Protective Services on us, we must look like we're doing okay. All six (yes, we've added more children since our adoptions) kids are appropriately clothed, fed, happy and healthy the majority of the time so we must be doing something right.

In many ways it seems like just yesterday that we were completing paperwork, awaiting a court date, arranging travel plans, hugging our new children for the first time and starting those first few honeymoon months together as a family. At the same time, in many ways it feels like they have always been with us. Our younger children cannot remember a time before their siblings were a part of our family. We have a sense of "normal" again. We laugh often and have fun together. As any adoptive family knows, these are BIG milestones.

But there certainly have been and continue to be many challenges. I won't go into details of our kids' lives because I wouldn't be too happy if my husband and kids blogged about all of my weaknesses and struggles and I owe my family the same respect. At the same time, I feel like it's important to honestly share how far we've come and how far we still have to go because adoption is such a two steps forward and one step back kind of process, an ebb and flow of trust and caution, a delicate balance of rawhide rope and velvet mixture.

Both of our kids perform at grade level in regular ed classrooms. They are happy and social, well-liked by friends and teachers. We have found schools where they feel safe and happy.

One of our kids is tightly bonded to us. Our other is a work in progress and it has been challenging and slow. We see baby steps and just have to remind ourselves that Rome wasn't built in a day. Most of the things that were challenging for us in the beginning- food insecurity, untruthfulness/lack of trust, whining and other negative attention seeking behaviors and sibling jealousy have all but subsided.

Current challenges include when to be a therapeutic parent versus when to let natural consequences play out. If a child forgets their jacket for the third time in a week, is it somehow going to help our bond if I show that I'm there to meet their needs and to deliver the coat to school? Or am I failing to allow my child to learn the lesson of natural consequences which, quite possibly, might help them remember not to forget it again?

Another challenge lies in trying to establish reasonable expectations for our children and to ensure that they are reasonable goals for THEM, not compared to other kids their age, not compared to siblings, not based upon some fictitious image of our children or who we hope they may someday become.

Knowing when to grant a bit more freedom and when to keep their world small is also an ongoing struggle. Life in America can be overstimulating for anyone.  Add a challenging past, attachment concerns, food insecurities and other factors into the mix and daily life can be very overwhelming. At the same time, if we aim to prepare our kids to function in society some day, we need to allow them some freedoms and responsibilities (as scary as that can be)!

The other day I was asked to share about the single most challenging aspect of adoption. It's realizing our shortcomings as a parent, whether it be a lack of patience, inability to find the right words or feelings of being completely overwhelmed. It's knowing when to be a therapeutic parent and when to lower the boom. It's finding the right balance between safety and allowing our child to explore the world around them. It's taking that first step to show love even in the moments when we're not feeling it. It's watching our children struggle because they came from a very different background than many of their classmates. It's working slowly, so very slowly, to build trust and not giving up.

It's all hard.

But it's all worth it and it does get easier for everyone involved!

Three years in! We're making it. I think we're going to be just fine.
 Photo courtesy of Jayme Parker