Thursday, February 28, 2013
1. food has a soul
2. being strong and being scared aren't mutually exclusive
3. everyone is an artist
4. we were a long time coming, we'll be a long time gone -- treat the planet accordingly
5. you can choose your path, but you can't predict your journey
Sunday, February 10, 2013
For the past three weeks, the flu has marched through our house with a relentlessness unequaled by tide or time. By the fifth day, all of us were coughing and I could tell who was up and who was down based on the tenor of those throaty explosions. In the middle of the madness, I breathed a sigh of relief: The only crisis we're facing right this moment is whether to be vertical or horizontal. It felt so normal, like I imagine other families feel on a regular basis.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
So, I set out to write another blog. The theme was, essentially, we're not your typical family and the title was going to be "Another Color," short for, "In a black and white world, we're a family of another color." Again, I was going to attempt to write about my experiences parenting three extraordinary children.
[Let's take a moment here to state what I believe is the obvious: Each child, each person, is extraordinary. It is only our societal and somewhat agreed upon definition of "ordinary" or "normal" or "typical" that somehow elevate a chosen few out of what must then be considered the quagmire.]
But, every single variant of "Another Color" had already been taken as a blogspot URL and I discovered that this blog was still live (as opposed to first-blog wunschmachen which chronicled the starry eyed path I took to family, the masterwork zarfing sunshine which I retired after my consumed-with-anger-at-adoption phase ended, or changing ocean tides which somewhat pulled me back from the brink -- all available as full-color PDFs) and that this site's title, sentiment, and direction were exactly what I had been looking for … in another color.
So, I'm back. Back to talk about unmet expectations and the gifts that not meeting them has unearthed. Back to muse on how far we need to go as a culture and a race (not caucasian, human) to understand difference. Back to an in-the-trenches look at what I've decided is not a war but a lifestyle. Back to wondering how on earth I entered this community of outlier, misfit, rebel families that see progress in terms of vanished paint flakes not painted pictures (I'll explain that, honest). Back to being the mom to three kids who don't quite fit the mold, never will, and who have to live in this world anyway. Back.
Thanks for having me.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Four weeks into school we've finally settled into a rhythm, give or take a few parent/teacher conferences and much-needed IEP meetings. The kids love their teachers, and so do Mr. D and I. Services are being provided to both blondes per written instruction. Progress is being made. That silence you hear is the sound of relief: After two years of struggling with services and challenges and personalities and worries, we have finally found our groove.
Which brings me to a few dangling conversations from this blog.
1. Why did my first mom carry me for nine months if she didn't want to be my mother?
The easiest answer to this is the most honest: We don't know. We may never know. What we do know is that a decision was made to not parent a baby who did nothing wrong and who hadn't yet shown them who s/he is. It wasn't personal, it just was. Angry and sad and scared and worried and confused and frustrated and anything else are all healthy emotions to feel in your position. Sometimes all at once. Sometimes one so strong that you want to scream. And that's why we're here to love you no matter what you do, say, feel or are.
2. Is it Aspergers?
No. It's not.
This summer, I had the chance to meet the Director of Special Ed for a local District. (Not ours. We know ours all too well.) What we decided is that every child should be receiving a special education and every child should have a complete social-emotional and speech/pragmatics assessment before they hit third grade. Every single one. The information gathered during Big Brother's testing will be invaluable to him, his family, and his teachers. As an individual, BB should have greater insight into what makes him the beautiful, unique person he is. As a family, we have a path to take to move forward. As a family/school team, we will be able to more clearly highlight BB's strengths and support him as he works through challenges.
3. For what it's worth
It's not about the cello. Never was. And, after the blow up and the things which needed to be said were said and the continued conversations, it didn't become about the cello. Until the email came telling me that it was going to be about the cello. Even then, it's not about the cello. It's about coming to terms with my family, learning how to relate to them and not lose me in the process.
It's knowing that the cello sits in my den waiting for me to play it every day. Because, as suspected, the cello was given to me and she is beautiful and every time I play her I can just see my grandmother covering her ears with her hands because I'm that bad. But, I'm getting better. My favorite string is G. It's soulful and rich and, when played correctly, stirs my soul and relieves me of minor migraines. For weeks, the endpin wasn't long enough and I had to hug the cello with my legs to play. When I looked closely, I realized it was made about the same time I was. We are a pair, in a relationship that will have highs and lows and some truly sour notes.
4. You should write a book.
OK, I will. Many, if I can manage it. One about my experiences becoming the parent I am today, a series for children about living with difference, and an homage to my great-great aunt (in at least two parts).
Until then, I won't be writing here. It's time (again).
Saturday, July 30, 2011
The truth is there hadn't been much joy in my parenting for the past year or so, a trajectory I watched nosedive since we adopted Big Brother. He's a great kid and a phenomenal person, and I'm the same woman I was before we met, and still I had been wading closer and closer to the vortex of depression. Soon after BB joined our family I wrote to close friends that his silences did me in. In my emotional history, silence equaled disapproval. Silence meant lies.
So, Big Brother. He's gifted. Perfect scores in math on his STAR tests, reading at grade level two years into his Americanization, assistant to the school's art teacher. He's creative: L EGO buildings and mazes and spaceships, detailed drawings of buildings he's seen once or twice, poetry that speaks to the soul. He's also locked inside.
And, The Boy, the beautiful boy. He is hurt, traumatized, and sweetly loving. His sadness at (for example) the temporary absence of his grandmother leads to great things. Not necessarily good things, but great and powerful actions and words. He is the most likely to be upset when plans change or when furniture is moved. He is our Poet-Child.
Then, The Blonde. She's beautiful inside and out with a steely determination and a musical bent. If she doesn't control her world, things go very bad. People leave. She is our little enforcer, consistently reminding the boys of their familial duties. Her strong voice and heartfelt conviction frequently make these conversations grating (at best). At our calmest moments we call it "self advocating."
It's easiest for me to manage the loud people in my life, the ones who make their presence, needs, and opinions known. Easier for me to package them neatly so I can be prepared to take cover when they threaten. This comes in conflict with my needs and wants as a parent. My children, bless 'em, cannot be packaged.
In the 30 months that BB has been home I gained right about 30 pounds. I stopped exercising. I watched more and more on the little screen. For eight of the past twelve months I was convinced I had cancer and that a tumor of some size was growing in my abdomen. Frequent trips to the doctor for chest pains and stomach cramps failed to reveal any illness beyond declining health.
About three weeks ago, I hit rock bottom. The scale (both in pounds and body fat percentage) told me that I wasn't just testing the overweight waters, I was drowning in them. Clothes which were increasingly tight didn't fit at all any more. Migraines? Every day. Every. Day.
And then, I flipped a switch. Whether it was the conversation with our family therapist in which I admitted that I hated my kids sometimes or weighing the last pound I swore I wouldn't gain or the sight of multiple candy wrappers hidden in my office trash, I don't know. But, something inside me moved and I didn't want the candy or the depression or the struggle.
I do know that it was a relief to me when a psychologist mentioned Aspergers in evaluating Big Brother. Completing the Aspergers checklist, I wondered how the authors had been able to so clearly describe my child without ever meeting him. Much of it I could explain away noting his visual disability or family placement history. Some questions stopped me cold in their precision, their complete independence from anything I know about our son's history and challenges.
More than 80% of people diagnosed with Aspergers end marriage in divorce. There is a higher rate of depression in parents and partners of people with Aspergers. If they do a study about weight gain, I'd be happy to contribute. Knowing that I can't be alone in this buffet line helps.
That must have been the package I needed, the one that would keep me safe from Big Brother's silences. (I'm just figuring this out now, as I write.) Sad and loud I understand. Sad and silent, not so much.
Whether it's Aspergers or trauma or visual disability or any combination of the above, what's clear to me now is that this silence is a part of my child that will not be erased or eased with therapy or time. He is introverted, private, quiet. And, I get to learn how to live with that joyfully.
The same with the little kids: The Boy is highly sensitive, the girl beautifully extroverted. Whether or not they learn to coexist with their sadness and fears will not mean a sea change in their personalities. And, thank goodness.
This summer has been a relief for me: Diminishing use of calories as anti-depressants and much less fear of my kids. Less fear that they'll spend this life angry and alone, afraid and unable to love. The four of us spent this summer exploring our local world, usually ending trips to The Mystery Spot or Exploratorium with some fabulous local-made ice cream (the junior scoop is my new best friend). We've read the first Harry Potter and the first Little House book together. Living without all the pressures of IEPs and special-education attorneys and school timelines has given me a second sight. Now it's easier for me to see my children as beautifully human, imperfectly whole.
The Boy shares my musical loves, the songs I cling to when I need help finding my way back to the shallows. Cat Stevens is a favorite; The Boy requests "I Think I See The Light," "I Wish, I Wish," and "Don't Be Shy." I throw in a repeat of "Ooh Child" (Five Stairsteps), "The Middle" (Jimmy Eats World), and "Move On Up" (Curtis Mayfield) to keep the party hoppin'. The Blonde still lets me sing "You Are So Beautiful" to her every night. Both blondes love dancing around the kitchen with their crazy mama. They are shining stars, no matter who or what they are.
So shine Big Brother, shine Poet-Child, shine beautiful Blonde, and shine on you crazy mama.
Shine, shine, shine.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Mei Ling questioned it here and probably numerous other places as well.
And, I'll write about our experience with it
Big Brother was the first of our three children that we saw, and the last we adopted. When we decided to adopt from China, in the fall of 2005, I started blogging and reading blogs. The first on my list was by a woman pen named The One And Only G. She was volunteering at a small orphanage in Beijing and regularly posted photos of the kids. They were all cute (they always are) but one stood out from the crowd: A beautiful, dimpled, blonde boy. I looked for him in every photo, stalked her blog for references to him. Then we were introduced to the file of The Boy and G stopped blogging and we went on with our lives.
Fast forward to our adoption of The Blonde. She had been with a foster family and in a small orphanage run by an American NGO based in China. When that NGO sent us photos of her from the time she entered their care a double photo was included, two photos photoshopped into one frame. In it, our future daughter is first being held by an adult then holding a tank.
Fairly quickly after she was home, we realized that the tank holder was not our daughter. Emails to the NGO confirmed: Nope, that's a boy living in Beijing in one of our foster homes. It wasn't until we received his batch of photos from the NGO that I realized that Tank Boy was G's boy was soon to be our Big Brother.
At the time we received his file, Big Brother had been living with his foster family for three years. He loved them, as was clear from the photos, as he loved all of the brothers he had grown up with since toddlerhood. (We have first-hand accounts of him dating back to when he was 18-months old.) He was, we were told, going to be the first child adopted out of the Beijing foster homes, the first of 40 living there in small families. It struck us then that we might have the option to keep him with his foster family and financially support the NGO so they could continue to provide homes to all of the children. Mr. D and I discussed it at length. I was leaning in that direction even though it was in opposition to the philosophy of the NGO (which wanted to find permanent homes for as many of the kids as possible).
A few months before we traveled to China, the NGO was "bought out" by another American NGO. This new NGO wanted nothing to do with the kids in Beijing (nor the foster families and care homes in The Blonde's home province) and discontinued financing them almost immediately. There followed a few months of complete (from our POV) chaos. Would the Beijing kids be sent back to their province orphanage? Maybe. Could we guarantee that any money we donated would be used to continue the housing and education of all 40 kids? Not likely. Will the boy we now had submitted a Letter of Intent for be sent back to the province orphanage before we traveled to adopt? No way to tell. What will happen to the kids when they turn 14 and are no longer able to be adopted? When they turn 18? No answers.
In our hearts, this child was our son. In fact, he was "our son" when we inquired about ongoing funding to stay with his foster family. We would not have thought down that path if we didn't already have this specific child's best interests at heart, and the best interest for any child is as few primary family transitions as possible. The bottom line is we loved him and wanted him to be happy. From everything we were told, if we did not adopt him there would be no guarantee that he would remain with his foster family.
This was the crucial moment in our decision process, the moment at which we made another person's life our personal business. We decided to go ahead with the adoption.
When we talk about it now, I tend to cringe when phrases like, "he has better opportunities here" are spoken. There is nothing innately better about living in our family in America, just different. There are more American opportunities here, but far fewer Chinese options. He is loved uncontrollably on both continents.
As a person with albinism, he is less likely to be discriminated against here.
As a person with a visual impairment he will likely have a wider range of career opportunities in the west, not to mention easier access to technology.
As a son of the universe he would have been happy, healthy, and strong in either place.
The situation in his Beijing home has stabilized somewhat and a new NGO has taken on the kids who live there (and their foster parents). The stated vision of this NGO leans most heavily towards hospice care of the abandoned children in their homes. That they continue to care for the older, stronger kids in Beijing is a testament to relationships rather than to focus or philosophy.
And we continue to ponder ways in which our son can be more connected to his foster family, ways to make ours a more open adoption. The layers (the kids, in hospice or in group homes are all wards of China, temporarily on leave from their home orphanage) make future planning from the US beyond difficult. Do we move the family to China in the summer so all three kids can go to school there while I teach English at the group homes? Can we have one of Big Brother's foster siblings come here on a student visa? Do we offer our son the opportunity to live with his foster family, either on a part-time or permanent basis?
So, to answer Mei Ling: Yes, we did look at our "other" woman in this process. It was her stated wish that our son be adopted. We considered alternatives and chose the one that would guarantee the most consistent family placement.
As for the other "other" woman, our son's first mother, we consider her too. Our children had been in state care for two to eight years before we met them, and no family member ever came forward (even as a orphanage volunteer or foster parent) to claim them. In the absence of blood relations, we sponsor a school-aged girl through Moving Mountains China. Perhaps the best we can do is help provide an education to a Chinese girl who might otherwise not see the inside of a school past third grade. Hopefully, she'll learn that she has worth and some spectrum of choice.
Each day we have with our children is a gift, and we are grateful for every one. Is our relationship neat and tidy, free of all varieties of possible disturbance? No. None are. Knowing that we were not our children's first option for family, and understanding that even best choices are made on transient information, has helped me honor the totality of our children. For me, it would be impossible to consider the alternative.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
It all started with a cello. Or, it started with a house in Santa Monica. Or it started when my grandparents were dating. Or before that. Or before even that. What it became was an argument with my father, in front of my kids, about my entire childhood. Then it became an awakening. Then, a mirror.
In early May, my paternal grandmother passed leaving her three children a large house, the entire contents, and a vast collection of musical instruments and memorabilia including three cellos. To my cousin, she left a fourth cello. She had taught him to play as a child and he plays to this day. To me, she left three dozen or so signed photographs of the celebrities she played for in Las Vegas during the mid 1970s. Mills Brothers, Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne. Every one personalized to my grandmother. The set includes a photo of her in a large stage orchestra backing Tony Orlando and Dawn. Don't laugh. My grandmother played and taught cello for more then 80 years and was much sought after.
When I was born, my grandparents were no longer together. Occasionally, we'd get a call from my grandfather, or a letter without a return address enclosing a check with no printed personalization. I learned not to ask. But, I'd hear stories. Like the one about my great-grandmother being a sour, German bee with an itch or the one about my young grandfather making his future bride wait in the car while he visited with his parents. By the time I was old enough to notice, the story had been fleshed out: Around the time my parents started dating, my grandfather began an affair. As my parents married, my grandfather left my grandmother with three kids (two in high school) a house in Santa Monica and a small collection of musical instruments and memorabilia. He moved south and went into hiding to avoid paying alimony.
But that's not the point of the story.
The point of the story is that their son raised me. Again, when I was young enough not to notice, my dad was the one who took me to the beach or fixed things around the house. When I began to notice, my parents were already tense and I was wondering why special time with dad meant working in his office during the summer. Eventually, the tension and marginalization got the best of my mom and they permanently separated.
My father, left without a wife and child, continued to focus on what pleased him most: Money and numbers. Or, more accurately, the play of numbers and money, the flow, the manipulation. Legerdemain. In his own way, he was creative with it. And when membership cards arrived in the mail from, say, the Petroleum Workers' Union he'd explain, "Health benefits. For the family."
When I turned 18, he began to use my majority as another path for his money flow. I would own a policy or deed, and he would pay me to pay the bills. Once I graduated from college, various amounts of money would come my way with a note: "You didn't cost as much as I expected." This stopped some time ago, perhaps because he finally spent through my college budget, but the shifting ownership of policies and deeds remains.
I'm 45 now, and my parents have been separated for 30 years. "You've always been good with your dad," says my mom. "I know he loves me," I reply, "he just doesn't know how to show it."
My own life as a parent has had some low moments, and there are days I feel caught in a tide that draws me closer and closer to depression. Folks, both professional and personal, have encouraged me to take up something just for myself: Yoga, music, meditation. It dawned on me that I could play the cello. It's a beautiful instrument, runs in the family, and we have cellos on which to play. So, I told my dad: I'd like one of gram's cellos.
In early June, I packed the kids in the car and we drove south to Disneyland and Santa Monica. (It's difficult to fly with a box of 32 framed celebrity photos, let alone a cello.) After two days at The Happiest Place on Earth, the kids and I took a break and visited my father at my grandmother's house. There my cousin played the available cellos for us. One was beautiful with a sound so soulful I cried listening. "That's the one," he said,"that's the one you'll want to practice on and hand down to your kids."
But, there was a problem. There is a value to the cello as part of the estate. My father, wanting everything to be equal, informed us that if he were to give me the cello, the estate would have to give my cousin (my grandmother's only other grandchild) goods or cash in equal amount. Insanity, said my cousin, "she wants to learn the cello and this is her grandmother's cello and she should have it." She can, explained my father, as long as you will also take $2500 to be fair. "No. I don't need that." "How generous of you." With sanity in the air the cello, the photos, and a lamp I was to deliver to my uncle were loaded in the car for the trip back to Anaheim that night, and the trip north the following day.
The next morning, while waiting in line for the Casey Jr. Circus Train, I called my dad. "I was just going to call you. You have to bring the cello back. It's not worth $2500, more like twelve thousand and you can't have it until it's appraised and we can balance the estate."
We moved on to Pirates of the Caribbean where I knew it was dark enough that folks wouldn't see me crying. And, that's what I did. Dead men may tell no tales, but hurt daughters cry themselves dry.
What became clear for me was that I hadn't been honest with my dad. Sure, I was "good with him," but not honest. For more than 35 years. So, I worked the speech out in my head: "I am not now nor have I ever been a business transaction. I apologize for ever communicating that it was acceptable to me. It's not." And, back we drove to Santa Monica.
The conversation didn't go well. My speech was met with a blank stare. Then, he started to lash out. He's done it before, many times, and this time it was no less personal. Luckily, though the kids heard me shouting "Why have mom and I always been given the shaft by this family?" and my father replying that this was business, not family, they did not hear him start down the path of racism or elitism or whatever -ism in him that wants so badly to feel badly. Because that's when I ended the conversation, when I put the kids into the car and drove away.
An eight hour drive does wonders for the troubled soul. Three kids engrossed in Pixar movies and one mama watching the blur of the highway, wondering how on earth she'd arrived at this place.
We were home a day before I found the words to explain it to my kids, to explain why I was so upset and why their grandfather has never and will never come to see them, in this city, this neighborhood, this home that we've fought so hard to make.
"A long time ago," I offered, "Granddad was hurt by love. Whether he didn't have it when he wanted or it went away, I don't know. All I know is that he made the decision when he was very young that love hurt and he shouldn't feel it. So, every time he gets close to someone, loves someone, he has to push them away. He uses words and actions. He loves me, but doesn't know what to do with that love. So, he turns his love into money. I've always known that my father's offers of money were his only offers of love. For most of my life, that's been OK with me. And, I regret making that decision.
"When I asked him for one of gram's cellos, I came to him from a place of love and family. But, granddad doesn't do that, he does money and numbers. What he heard me ask for was numbers, money from grandma's estate. And, because love is money he's made the price of that cello a number, money from the estate. And when I didn't accept that answer, he started to push me. Granddad can be, and has been, mean when he starts to feel love."
The kids were attentive, not a lot of fidgeting and fairly wide eyes. So I asked them, "Does that sound familiar at all? Wanting to push love away because sometimes feeling it is just to painful? Because sometimes it goes away? Because sometimes you don't know what happened to it?"
Three nodding heads.
When I see my kids scared of love, I think of my father and what 60+ years of emotional isolation has done for him. When I watch my kids act from trauma and grief, I think of their future partners and children, and wonder if love will ever be part of their relationship. Or will numbers (or LEGO or knights or music or drawing or engineering or … ) be the formula they use to relate? This is why my kids see psychologists and specialists more often than their primary doctor. This is why we have dedicated time and money to emotional therapy, both professional and home based. This is why I challenge myself to give love, truly give love, even when it's received with caution, put in a space of storage until my kids can figure out what to do with all this emotion (if they ever do). This is why we acknowledge an honor their feelings about adoption and loss.
One child's therapist said to me, "I've never seen a child fight this hard to heal. It's beautiful, really."
Grief, acceptance. Trauma, love. Wounding, healing. It's all I can do to step out of myself when I watch my kids struggle roughly in between. I've lived in that neighborhood, stepped into that hole before. As much as I want my children to be free of the pain, I know that we all live somewhere on the spectrum. Tools and support and unconditional love, I give everything and hope that they will live something louder than lives of quiet desperation.
And I hope my dad knows how much I love him, and that I can love him without his consent. It took almost 40 years, but now I know it's the only way for me to be honest and whole.