Thursday, December 16, 2010

Somebody Needs a Band Aid

 I'm feeling particularly snarky tonight--I think the overwhelmingness of this overwhelming season has, well, begun to overwhelm me.  So with all the bitterness and Bad Santa I can muster, here's my dissection of the worst, most creepy and disturbing Christmas anthem ever recorded:


It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid 
  • OK. Right off the bat I have a problem with this song.  The people who usually say, "There's no need to be afraid" are usually people who are about to mug you or hurt you in some way.  Of course we have no reason to be afraid!  Its Christmas!  And that's all you've said so far! What's scary about that?  Are you referring to the death gongs we're hearing in the background?
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade 
  • So, not to be critical, or anything.  But has anyone ever said, "Oh its Christmas time--let's make sure we banish shade!"  I'm mean, what did shade ever do?
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time 

  • Boy George, I have no problem with you. Yes, let's.
But say a prayer - pray for the other ones 
  • Yes, we should say a prayer.  Thank you for reminding us, George Michael.  What "other ones" are you referring to?  And are they in some way connected with a creepy guy named Ben?
At Christmas time
it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window 

  • For a minute here I feel like I'm gonna like this song.
And it's a world of dreaded fear 
  • And here's where the song starts to go downhill for me.  And its not that I disagree that a large part of the world lives in fear.  Its just so First World of this song to make it seem that the whole world--except us--is living in dreaded fear.  Yes, there are some parts of the world, even today--many years after this song was recorded (!) where people are living in extreme poverty.  And I believe our lives, if we have any means at all, should be spent working towards eliminating that poverty.  But to paint the picture that everyone in Africa is miserable and only with money and power can you find the true meaning of Christmas, seems to be the underlying message of the song.
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears 
  • Aww! Sting sang the word "sting"!
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom 
  • What?????? Clanging chimes of doom??? "Sorry, you impoverished, suffering person.  You may think those lovely Christmas bells are meant to represent the hope and promise of Jesus' birth.  But actually they are signaling your doom.  Just wanted to let you know."
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you 
  • OH. MY. GOD!  What??!!! What is THAT supposed to mean????!!  I'm sure whenever Bono hears that he wants to throw up just a little.
And there won't be snow in Africa this christmas time 
  • There's NEVER snow in Africa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (except for the Atlas Mountains in Morocco).  Is this supposed to imply that because many countries in Africa are suffering economically God changed the weather on them?  Just to drive the nail in a little further??
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows

No rain or rivers flow 

  • Nothing? Nothing ever grows?  No rain? Ever?  The picture being painted here is less an accurate.  It seems like they are trying to say that everyone on the continent of Africa is lucky to be alive and all the land is a barren wasteland suffering drought.  I mean, the suffering in parts of Africa is beyond our ability to even imagine.  But if I were an African hearing this song I would be offended. Can anyone say Broad Generalization?
Do they know it's Christmas time at all? 
  •  Well, 47% of Africa is Muslim, so I'm pretty sure they don't care if its Christmas. 
Here's to you
Raise your glass for everyone 

Here's to them
Underneath that burning sun

  • All right.  So let's say I'm moved by this song.  I've realized that I've been taking my abundance for granted and I'm ready to do something that will make a difference.  "What should I do, oh 80's pop stars?"  Their answer: Have a drink.  Cheers, "other ones"!
Do they know it's Christmas time at all? 
  • Once again, just saying. Only 40% of the continent is Christian.

Feed the world

Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it's christmas time and
Feed the world

  • Hey, Bob Geldof is OK in my book.  He did a really cool thing and has spent a lot of his life trying to do SOMETHING for the poor and that's more than most can say.  ( Bob, please tell me the money DID go to the poor.  Some say it went to buy weapons for Ethopian rebels.  Oh whew!  The BBC retracts that claim! So to his cause and his idea I give an A+++++.  To the lyrics of this particular song, D-.

Wow.  I feel so much better.  Thanks Band Aid.  I now will pour myself some wine and raise a glass to you!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Marathon Ready

December is a marathon and Christmas is the finish line.  To gear up, I decided that I need a better fuel than Diet Coke.  That has been my go to energy source for the past 3 years, and honestly, I think I'm starting to flatline.  I guess my body has built up a tolerance, because it doesn't seem to work quite as well as it used to.

One day, three years ago, I was sitting around a conference table at a lunch meeting and I was about to open my mouth to say, "Yawn, I'm soooo tired!" when I stopped myself and instead started a conversation with myself (yes, it was out loud).  It went something like this: "Oh, shut up Renee.  You're always complaining about how tired you are. " "Yeah...I am!  Why is that?  I don't hear my coworkers complaining about how tired they are all the time!"  Then I looked around the table and realized that everyone at the table had either a Diet Coke or a cup of coffee in front of them.  And I had an aha moment!  Caffeine is the answer to all my problems!

Before that day I rarely ingested caffeine.  I didn't drink soda, had never had a cup of coffee in my life, and only sometimes drank tea.  And I was always tired.

So I started drinking Diet Coke and seriously, I felt so much more focused and energized.  And then I adopted Rahul and my Diet Coke intake tripled.  I know it sounds awful, but I really don't think I could have made it through without it.  I'm down to 1-2 cans per day, but I know its evil and rotting my stomach lining and giving me all kinds of diseases.  And please don't tell me how horrible it is for me unless you want to hear my rant about all the things I abstain from in life and how this is truly my one and only vice and you're prepared to lay all your vices out on the table, because that's the kind of conversation it would be.  I'm very defensive.

Then the other night I was thinking about December.  I've got a lot to do this month.  Lots of work, lots of holiday stuff.  And that on top of an already full life/schedule.  And my financial situation is such that one bout of illness could wipe me out completely--I can't miss a day of work.  So it occurred to me to get a better plan than Diet Coke.  So here's my plan: 1. Go to bed earlier.  2. Get up earlier and work out in the morning (its about time I incorporate that into my routine).  3. Drink lots more water.   4. Eat more fruits and vegetables. 5. Drink less Diet Coke.

Pretty good, right?

I've actually done it for two days now and both days have been insanely full from morning to night.  But I've had energy to get through the day and I haven't felt the urge to take a nap while I'm driving or anything.  So I guess its working so far!

Wish me luck:)
Rahul and my sister after running an actual race last week

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Great Turkey Debacle of '95

It all started with the turkey.

The restaurant where I was working when I was, like, 24 years old gave us all free, frozen turkeys as a Thanksgiving present.  So my roommate, Kara, and I decided to make a night out of setting each another up on dates, eating said turkey in the context of a fancy dinner, then going out to Lincoln Center for a concert.  I had always wanted to attend a Handel's Messiah concert, so we got tickets and we got dates.  Then our friend Mike (and neighbor--he lived one floor above us in our apt bldg) heard about our plan and wanted to join us.  He got his own date.

My job was going to be preparing the turkey/stuffing.  Kara (who was a vegetarian, BTW) was going to make soup--a family recipe.  That left Mike in charge of dessert.  Kara and I were unsure of Mike's comfort level with baking, so we looked up a few recipes and offered suggestions.  We thought something light and fruity would be appropriate pre-concert.

He chose to make a Betty Crocker chocolate cake.

The day of our event I woke up and went to the freezer to take my turkey out.  That's right. I hadn't thawed it.  It was frozen solid.  And our guests were coming over in about 8 hours.  In a panic, I read the packaging on the turkey and it said something about a "quick thaw" method that involved soaking it in a cold water bath.  Whew! I thought. Crisis averted!  I put the turkey in a cold water bath, then left to go on an audition.  When I came back 2 hours later, the turkey was still frozen solid.  I chipped ice off it and tried to scrape the gizzards out of the cavity, but my fingers were getting frostbitten.  I was beginning to think the turkey miiiiiight not be ready to serve in 6 hours.  So I called Kara at work to alert her.  She worked in a wall street office and offered to go around to the executives and pilfer bits of fruit and crackers from the Harry and David gift baskets they had all gotten from their clients for Christmas.  Then she told me she would have to work late and would only be getting home in time for the dinner.  Uh, what?  What about your soup, Kara?  No problem, she assured me.  She said all the ingredients were in a grocery bag and all I had to do was open all the packages and dump them in a pot on the stove.  I said, Uh, Kara?  I can't cook. (Obviously.)  So when you say, open the packages and dump it in a pot, that is LITERALLY what I am going to do.  I don't have any method of discerning if I should perhaps add some water or some other soupy ingredient.  I'll try not to burn it, but at this point, that's all I can promise.  She was OK with those odds and said goodbye, leaving me again to my turkey dilemma.  I set up another cold bath for the little guy and went about preparing the table.  I had place cards, floral arrangements, china...table setting was my strength and really, I should have just stuck with that.

Then there was a knock on the door and it was Mike, stopping by to show me that he had purchased his Betty Crocker cake mix and was heading home to bake.  Uh, Mike, don't bother me.  I'm thawing a turkey.  After he left I went back into the kitchen and searched through my cookbooks looking for some miracle cure for the chunk of ice and flesh taking a bath in my sink.  Then I saw it.  At the bottom of the page in one of my cookbooks it read:  Questions about cooking your turkey?  Call the TURKEY HOTLINE!  It listed a 1-800 number and I ran to the phone to call it.  Unfortunately the lady who answered my call was moving at a non-New York City pace.  I think she was from, like, Alabama.  Even the way she said hello was slow: Heeeelllllllllloooooooooo-oooooooooo?????  Before she even got to the lll's I had screamed hello!!!! In about 2.7 seconds I detailed my crisis to her and awaited instructions.  She paused.  For a long time.  Then she said, Sooooooooooo.  Yyyoooooouuuuu'rrrrrrreee ffffrrrrrooooooooommmmmm  NNNNNeeeeewwwww YYYYYooooorrrrkkkkk CCCCCCiiiitttttyyyyyyyyyy????????  Another long pause.  I edited what came to my mind so that what came to my mouth was, Yes.  And I really need some help.  RIGHT NOW!  Then Super Slow Turkey Hotline Lady came through and told me that I could actually cook the turkey while its still frozen, I would just have to add a half hour of cooking time for every pound.  I quickly did some math in my head and realized that if I put the turkey in the oven right then, it would be ready at 10:30 pm, just about the time we would be getting back from the concert.  I was elated!! I thanked SSTHL and got off the phone.

Then there was another knock on my door.  It was Mike again.  Renee, do you have a bowl I can borrow?  I was about to criticize him for not having a bowl when he was making a cake, then I remembered that my turkey was still solid as a rock.  Sure, Mike.  Let me get you a bowl.

I put the turkey in the oven and called Kara again to check in when there was another knock and the door.  It was Mike again.  Do you have a measuring cup I could borrow?  Ran through my own cooking failure in my head again and edited my comment to, Sure Mike, Let me get you a measuring cup.

Then I set about finishing up the cleaning and opening all the packages for Kara's soup, when there was another knock at the door.  Mike.  2 eggs?  Oil?  I gave him a look that said everything my brain was thinking and after I silently passed him the eggs and oil I slammed the door in his face.

Our guests were about to arrive, so I went in the bathroom to get ready and Kara came home from work just in time to greet them with her pears and crackers.  She stopped in at the bathroom to see how I was doing and I was just sitting in a heap crying.  I was so stressed out and felt like such a failure. She talked me through it, gave me a hug and got me on my feet again.  I asked, Did the soup come out OK?  She averted my eyes and said, No, it hadn't, and quickly exited.  A few minutes later she came back in the bathroom.  She had tears in her eyes and she was holding back a huge laugh as she asked me to come out into the kitchen.  I followed her out and greeted all our guests, who were pretending to like their Harry and David castoffs.  And when I got to the kitchen, she gestured to Mike's "cake", which was sitting on the counter.  Actually, it was kind of sliding off.  He had attempted a layer cake.  And I'm pretty sure he was waiting at the oven door for the cake to finish baking with a spatula full of frosting.  Because the cake was still steaming hot and the frosting had turned to "icing/liquid" and was running down our counter.  The top layer of the cake had slid off and was at a 45 degree angle.  And cake was on a cheap Kmart plate.  I loved it.  I laughed so hard that I had to sit down on the floor.  Our elegant dinner was such a flop and we were all losers in the kitchen, but it really was starting to strike me as incredibly hysterical.

After our hors d'Oveures we set off for the concert, with the plan that after the concert we would come back and sit down for our "feast".  The turkey remained in the oven, causing approximately 7 fire hazards.

The concert was very nice.  But I have a bit of a sensitivity to people making noise around me in theaters.  I can hear someone sucking on a hard candy across a room full of 300 people.  And unfortunately, the women behind me had just purchased some fascinating opera glasses at the gift shop.  And unfortunately, they were wrapped in what sounded like 13 layers of crinkly, plastic wrap.  And UNFORTUNATELY, they chose the very quiet, sad, alto solo, "He Was Despised", about Jesus' crucifixion, to unwrap their new goggles and chat all about them loudly right in my ear.  Kind of wrecked it for me.

Anyway, after the concert we went back to my place, where the turkey STILL was not cooked.  It was now late and we were all cranky and starving, so we decided to eat the only piece of food in the house.  The cake.  We sat down at the fancy table I had set up and set the "cake" in the center.  Then we all grabbed our forks and just started hacking away at it.  It was too lopsided and slippery to actually cut, and we were too tired to try anyway.  So we just ate like pigs in fancy clothes.

Then Mike left to take his date home.  And my date went home.  Then Kara said goodbye to her date and went to bed.  At 2:30 am Mike returned.  He was hungry and the turkey was finally done.

So we carved it up and the two of us ate, what I swear to this day, was the most delicious turkey I've ever eaten.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Green Monster

Rahul on The Green Monster
Four years ago I bought my dream car.  Ever since I was little and I would see the neighbor's yellow jeep whizzing down Thrall Road I loved Jeep Wranglers.  And when I bought it I had just said goodbye to my very boring Ford Something-or-Other car.  Does anyone else (besides my family) name their cars?  I've had a "Chuckie", named after the Chuckie movies, because that car was a little possessed.  Then of course I had the famous "Putt-putt".  I bought that car for $100 from a friend and it was a 20 year old Audi that had no working air/radio/odometer/radiator.  It made the putt-putt noise whenever I drove it.  That boring Ford was named Bruce.  I don't know why--it just seemed like a Bruce.   (Sorry to Libby who's Bruce is nothing close to boring!  If I'd known him then I would have name my car something else.  Like Bob.)  

When Bruce died I was in a bit of a pickle because my job at Aveda required me to drive to salons every day and I was suddenly renting cars and taking long bus rides to the Hamptons to do my job.  I had a boss at the time who was, like, oh, How can I describe him?  Totally incompetent.  I tried to explain to him that when I had been hired, owning a car was not in my job description; over time I had inherited some accounts that I was able to take because I happened to have a car.  I was trying to argue that Aveda couldn't force me to buy a car and instead should rent me a car twice a week.   He didn't buy it.  He told me to go buy a Jetta.

Instead, I decided to buy a car that would make me happy.  

I named it The Green Monster.  I was on a bit of a Red Sox kick at the time.  (My nephew Jack, who was 3 at the time and is a premium member of the Red Sox Nation was a bit scared of my car because it was a "monster", but imagining the Green Monster running over Yankees in New York made him feel more comfortable around it.)  The Green Monster really makes me happy.  I LOVE driving it and my hearts swells every time I see it.  I paid it off before I adopted Rahul and when times have been lean I've thought of selling it, but I could never bring myself to do it.  And I was juuuuust saying 2 weeks ago that it has never given me a day of trouble. 

Then it suddenly developed 5 separate and expensive problems, and it has spent the last week in the shop.  The repairs cost a large chunk of dough, but thanks to Don Glo Auto (if you need a mechanic in NYC, I highly recommend them) it was a much smaller chunk of dough than the first place was going to charge me.  When Rahul and I went to pick up TGM last night, I hugged the car when I saw it on the street and when I got in I scolded it and told it to never do that to me again.  I was so busy last week and my business revolves completely around my car (I'm a mobile hairdresser).  Sans car I was lugging about 30 pounds of hair stuff all over creation, and although I didn't miss one appointment I was late for about 75% of them.  I was late coming home every night and I missed 3 church services.  And I was pooped.

This morning I had to take Rahul to the doctor, and although the office is right in our neighborhood, we usually drive there.  As we walked past the car, Rahul asked why we weren't driving.  I told him I had learned the value of walking last week.  And I told him he needed to train for a race he's running.  But I realized that in actuality I had some unresolved feelings toward TGM that were making me reluctant to drive it.  So this afternoon I took it for a spin and we made up.  It runs so much better now.

And I know its really sorry for inconveniencing me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Unsolicited Advice

When I first considered adopting, I had a "pro" list and a "con" list about becoming a mom.  One of the biggest "cons" was that I dreaded having to be in the "Mommy club".  You know, those moms who know it all and are always trying to out-do one another with the best kid; and who always made the uninitiated (non-mothers) feel less-than.  I never had to deal with these women in any other way than to perhaps wait on them in a restaurant or cut their hair.  Becoming a mom meant I would have to deal with them daily.

Well, the pros won out against the cons, and now that I'm a mom I see its really not that bad.  I live in a neighborhood where there are only a handful of these types of moms and most of them don't send their kids to my son's school.  And in my business now, most (95%?) of my clients are moms and I can't think of a single one of them that are in the Mommy Club.  I think I was blowing it all out of proportion. 

But every once in a while I get knocked out by some unsolicited advice from one of these types and its all I can do to hold my tongue.  Actually, its funny, but one of the biggest congregations of the Church of Perfect Parents is this listserv I belong to that is all parents of older adopted children.  I only look at it now when I need a laugh.  Its so insane.  Here's what its like.  When I first adopted Rahul I joined the group and they were in the middle of this bizarre discussion about bathing children from Asian countries and what type of soap worked best on their children's skin.  My first problem with their discussion was that it seemed that none of them had ever MET and Asian person before they adopted one, they were so completely shocked and disturbed by the fact that people who aren't white or Japanese don't bath every day because their skin can get dry.  Deal with it white people! People who have a different color skin than you may need to care for it in a different way than you do! Ai yai yai.  (I didn't even want to think about what was happening with their Black children's hair!)  My other problem with this discussion was the immense length of it! I mean parents were writing pages and pages of blah, blah, blah and I was like, This is at best a 2 sentence conversation. (Q: My child's skin is dry, what do I do? A:Bathe less and moisturize.)  I didn't get (a) how they had so much time to write all this stuff and (b) how they had so much to say about it. I mean, really, people!  Start a blog!

There were a couple of times, though, that I posed a question to the group, when I was really desperate for information.  One time I was looking for a children's book that addressed money (spending, saving), but would be sensitive to children who had grown up in poverty.  Well, I never did get a book recommendation, but I sure did get lots and lots of stories from people about anything having to do with money, poverty, or children.  Another time I asked whether anyone had expereinced thier sons being violent.  I gave no details (nor will I now), but asked that anyone who had that experience contact me offline.  Well I did get a bunch of emails with assumptions (but no actual questions) about what was going on with my son and I got a whole lot of stories about their own heroic journeys with violent children, but no actual helpful connection was made.

And that's my problem with unsolicited advice.  It never does address an actual problem you are having and because its always out of context, it only serves to cut you down, not build you up.  And I guess that's the motivation behind it anyways.  Like my neighbor who didn't like seeing my son walk the dog by himself and told me about how her teenage son wasn't allowed to leave the house alone until he was 13 and then he had to call home when he got to school (literally ONE block from our building).  I smiled and nodded and told her how responsible Rahul is, but what could I say that wouldn't just be more unsolicited advice right back at her?

One thing I know for sure is that we as parents need all the help we can get.  But I think the best help comes in the form of listening and telling each other that we're doing a good job.  We tell ourselves all day how terrible we are as parents and lots of times our kids tell us too.  The last thing we need is another parent telling us the same thing.  I do make it a point to tell my clients who are moms what a great job they're doing.  And I find at least one strength in their parenting that I can encourage them about and take with me to use with Rahul.  And they are so generous to me, always giving me presents or offering encouragement.  And, you know what? It really makes my day.

This is what unsolicited advice looks like--oh, no! It just my son in his Halloween costume.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Deep Thoughts, by Jack Salvin

My nephew Jack is what I call a deep thinker.  He's 7 and ever since he started talking he's been astounding me with his sensitivity and profundity.

When he first learned to talk, he would come up to me or any other family member and draw you away from the crowd into another room where you could have a heart to heart talk.  He was mostly speaking nonsense words, but he would draw up next to you in a chair and it was like he was telling you his deepest secrets.

Then when he learned to REALLY talk he would go on and on forever about what it was like in my sister's womb before he was born and at first it was kind of cute and charming.  Then it kinda got creepy.  He sounded so all knowing and he would go on forever that it was like he wasn't making it up.  And finally my sister would have to demand that he stop talking about it!

When he lost his first tooth he called to tell me and after giving me the basic details he went on to ask me (unprompted) about my recent move into a new apartment and what it looked like, how I was doing, etc.  I mean, we as adults have a hard time getting over ourselves long enough to ask how our friends are doing when we have big news. How did this 5 year old get it?

One of my favorite conversations with him took place about 6 months before Rahul came home with me.  Jack was 5 and he and I went for a walk.  And after a while he invited me to sit down for some deep conversation.  He wanted to talk about my adopting Rahul and after a few minutes he said," I want to badopt a child someday.  Because sometimes parents can't take care of their children anymore and then I could take care of them instead."  And he went on and on about the service work he wanted to do for people in need and I sat there floored.  In all the conversations I have ever had about adoption no one has ever so succinctly summed up my own motivation for adopting.

So this weekend when he came to my son's birthday party (YAY Rahul turned 10!!!) we played this game where I made up little clues about each guest and they had to guess who it was.  Jack's was one of the first to be read, and most of the kids didn't know him.  But when the first line of the clue read, "I am a deep thinker..." I could see from Jack's face that he knew the clue described him. Later in the evening he and I were chatting and he had me read him his clue again. And then he told me that he's pretty sure that he gets his deep thinking from me.  Now, his parents clearly have passed this gene to him--they are highly intelligent and very sensitive people.  But I'm glad he sees that we have kindred spirits! 

And all day I have been striving to think the deepest thoughts possible.

Jack and moi

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Top 10 Favorite Lines From When Harry Met Sally

I don't know when it started, but many years back I started accumulated a series of "holiday" movies that I loved watching each year.  They were so special to me that I only wanted to watch them once a year, so I could savor them and anticipate them.  And I have to see them in a certain order. (Oh My God, I just realized that that's a little OCD.  Uh-oh.)

The first one I watch each year is When Harry Met Sally.  I watch it whenever I feel like its really Autumn.  And my film series culminates in my absolute favorite movie of all time, Its a Wonderful Life (please see the title of my blog for proof), which I watch right before Christmas.

So yesterday I watched When Harry Met Sally and remembered all over again how much I love that movie.  And here's why:

10.  "Oh, I've been looking for a red, suede pump!" The perfect excuse to pull over a girlfriend and vent/gossip/discuss while you look like you are perusing the shoe display.
9.  "No one I know would call at this hour." How Bruno Kirby answers the phone in the morning.
8.  "...this stupid, Roy Rogers, garage sale, wagon wheel coffee table!!" Sometimes when I go off on a rant I end with this line, just to get my point across.
7.  "Pecan Piiiie." I can't see pecans or pie without quoting Billy Crystal and his weird accent.
6.  "People were always crossing rooms to talk to Maxine."  Aha! Obscure WHMS reference, n'est pas?  Its my favorite line from the vignettes where the couples tell how they met.  I can relate, as I've had a lot of friends that people crossed rooms for.
5.  "Tell me I never have to be out there again." "You will NEVER have to be out there again." Someday someone will say this to me.
4.   "At least you can say you were married." This is how people really think. Its said in response to Sally's friend suggesting she marry a dying man.
3.  "And I'm going to be 40!" "...In 8 years!" I don't think turning 40 is a big deal, but I love this line because I have been there before.
2.  "Sally, please report to me." Right before H and S sing karaoke Surrey With The Fringe On Top, which is the rendition I hear in my head anytime I see Oklahoma.
1.  "Oh, and Baby Fish Mouth is sweeping the nation." Well, my dog is named Baby Fish Mouth, if you didn't know, and my "cool test" when I meet new people is to tell them my dog's name and see if they get the reference.
Baby Fish Mouth (taking a bath)

Friday, October 1, 2010

They Are Special

Today was the 4th Grade "Get Aquainted" day at Rahul's school.  That's the PS 24 version of an Open House--each teacher prepares a short presentation for the parents of their students outlining curriculum and expectations for the year.  For the last two years Rahul has been in General Ed classes with students of some of the most dynamic and involved parents in the school.  Every time parents were invited into his class for an event the room was packed with parents, grandparents, and tons of food!  And I have tried to learn from them what it means to be an "involved parent".

This year I moved Rahul to a Special Ed class and it has so far seemed to be a great move.  I was really looking forward to this morning's meeting, so I could get to know his teacher a little better and see where Rahul sits.  He told me the other day that the class had all written notes to their parents and they were going to leave them on their desks for us to read today.  I love that stuff!

So this morning, I trudged (2 blocks) through the wind and rain to the meeting, and when I walked into the classroom only one other parent was there.  The class is small, there are only 13 students, but I couldn't believe we were the only two people there!  The notes the kids had written to us were laid out on their desks, along with a guide from the teacher and a bookmark she had made up for us.  We waited for a few minutes to see if anyone else was coming, but finally Ms. Vedevino began her presentation.  She opened by reading the poem that was printed on the bookmark, called "Unity" (Author Unknown).

I dreamed I stood in a studio
And watched two sculptors there.
The clay they used was a young child's mind.
And they finished it with care.

One was a teacher; the tools he used
Were books and music and art.
One a parent with a guiding hand
And a gentle and loving heart.

Day after day the teacher toiled
With a touch that was deft and sure,
While the parent labored by his side
And polished and smoothed it over.

And when at last their task was done
They were proud of what they had wrought,
For the thing they had molded into the child
Could neither be sold or bought.

And each agreed he would have failed
If he had worked alone.
From behind the parent stood the school
And behind the teacher, the home.

By the time she finished reading the poem I was choking back a major crying situation because my heart just ACHED for the kids who's parents weren't able to be there.  Of all the kids in the school, these kids need their parents there.  But many of them don't speak English, or don't live nearby, or have to work, and maybe some of them just don't care.  Or believe that they could make any difference.  But as I looked around the room at all the notes these kids had written with the expectation that their parents would be sitting in their seats and learning about their class, and looked up at the presentation Ms. Vedovino had prepared for us, I just wanted to weep.  I wanted to go around and read all the kids' notes and write them a little one back, like I did for Rahul.  I wanted to go to all their homes and talk with their parents and learn what had kept them away today.  I wanted to invite them all over for a playdate.  Except Jose, who Rahul gave a wedgie to yesterday because he was bullying him...oh, OK, Jose, too!

I have already experienced the second rate attention parents of ESL students and Special Ed students receive from the school.  I know we are the quiet wheel and without a little squeak we won't get anything we want for our kids.  And I know that without the unity of parent and teacher described in the poem, our kids won't make it.  I feel prepared to fight the crusade (because if Special Ed in public schools is not a crusade, I don't know what is) and I hope I can drag a few others along with me.  I have become BFF with Manny, the vice-principal in charge of Special Ed, have emailed the PTA presidents, cozied up with the looney school psychologist, I do the ESL teacher's hair (and her daughters')...I'm trying to engage a strong team of people to help my son get through this year.

And I also volunteered to be the room mother. 
Rahul with his grandparents in his class last year

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Our Dr. Jane

One of the easiest decisions I ever made was which pediatrician Rahul would go to when he first came home with me.  To choose Dr. Jane Aronson was a complete no-brainer.  She is known as The Orphan Doctor ( and is a pediatrician who specializes in treating children who have been adopted and have crossed cultures in doing so.  She has made it her business to deeply understand conditions for orphans around the world so as to better treat them here.  (She also founded WWO,, to improve lives for children in orphanages around the world.)

So when Rahul arrived on US soil (4/08), one of the first things I did for him was to make an appointment with Dr. Jane.  It seemed that he had received good medical care in India, but I needed to make sure his immunizations were up to date and that he was as healthy as he seemed on paper. 

The day of our appointment was Rahul's first field trip at school, and I really wanted him to be able to go to the Bronx Zoo with rest of his class (he had just started school a few days earlier).  So I met him there and after we had lunch with his class and rode the monorail, we headed out.  Now, at this point, Rahul and I did not speak a common language, so we had only a few words--and a whole lot of gestures--that we used to communicate.  I didn't know the Hindi word for "doctor" and I certainly was NOT going to do the "putting a shot in my arm" gesture to explain where we were going, so I said, "dost", which means "friend".  That's where we're going.  To our friend's house.  Where she is then going to stick big needles in your arm.  Can't wait.

So we arrived and I parked my car in a garage one block from Dr. Jane's office.  Then Rahul refused to get out of the car.  After a few minutes of prodding, followed by a few minutes of threatening, followed by a quick experiment to see if I could lift Rahul out of the backseat (I could NOT), I called my parents.  They were 7 hours away, but they were also the only people in the world that Rahul seemed to like at that time, and I thought they might have some luck convincing him to get out of the car.  So Grammy and Grandpop worked their magic and Rahul got out of the car.  So then we took a few steps along the sidewalk and Rahul sat down on the curb and refused to budge.  Again I tried the prodding, the threatening, the lifting -- nothing.  This kid was going nowhere.  So I called Dr. Jane's office.  Her receptionist was really sweet and smiley and I thought if I could convince her to walk over to where we were, Rahul would feel more comfortable and be inclined to get off the curb and into the office.  She immediately understood what I was asking her to do and why and was happy to come over.  So a minute later, not only does Bubbly Receptionist come walking up the block, but Dr. Jane herself, flanked by two other doctors she was training that day.  Now Dr. Jane is a striking woman, with white, curly hair and brightly colored glasses, and as she led her team across the street to where we were, she had a huge smile on her face and was shouting "Hi, Rahul!" as she walked.  Of course, he immediately stood up and smiled and was happy to go with this fun group wherever they were going, and as we started walking towards her office Dr. Jane sidled up next to me and said, "Is he driving you crazy yet?"  She is an adoptive mom as well and has more experience with the trauma that occurs when an orphan crosses cultures and enters a family than anyone, and I was comforted to know that she didn't judge me--or HIM--because of our behavior that day.

We stepped into the office suite and Dr. Jane started her examination right in the bright, cheery waiting room.  But after a few minutes it was time to move into her office.   She weighed and measured him, checked his pulse (it was racing, he was so scared!), and interviewed me about his habits.  Then it was time for the needles.  She had to draw a lot of blood for testing, and once Rahul realized that's what was coming next he flipped out.  He kicked, screamed, bit, flailed his arms, and ran out of the office and down the hall.  A large, male doctor grabbed him as he ran by and Dr. Jane yelled out, "Papoose him!"  Another person grabbed a contraption that looked like a straight jacket attached to a wooden sled and it took five adults to strap Rahul into it.  Rahul was terrified and called out for me, and I held his head so he wouldn't bite Dr. Jane.  She drew the blood, vial after vial.  And then she was done.  She unstrapped him from his straight jacket and let him run out of the room to be alone and cry in a little heap at the end of the hall.  Then when he was done, he came to Dr. Jane and got a sticker and a hug. 

And then she reminded me that Dylan's Candy Bar was right around the corner from her office.

So off we went to the greatest candy store in the world.  And I was so relieved and strung out that I gave Rahul carte blanche to get whatever he wanted.

I have the receipt from that visit in his scrapbook.

75 dollars.

On candy.

Rahul with his $75 worth of candy

Monday, September 27, 2010


I can remember being 16 years old and sitting in a hotel room with 3 younger girls at a dance conference and they were going on and on about how they noticed that I didn't curse and how strange that was.  And until then, I guess I didn't realize how unusual I was!  (Well, I knew I was unusual, just not for my wording!)  And as they dared me to say words and I refused, I realized that I didn't really know where that particular conviction had come from. When I was growing up my parents swore, my pastors swore, my friends swore.  I don't remember anyone telling me it was bad or wrong.  I think it was just always a personal choice based on my own feeling of ickiness when I heard "bad language".  Words are powerful and I believe in choosing them carefully.

I have strong convictions about things, but I'm not someone to go around demanding that the people around me adhere to the same convictions.  I have never asked someone to change their word choices in my presence just because I was offended.  But I did come really close once.

After Rahul was home with me for a few months I started the proceedings to finalize his adoption.  Children who are adopted internationally are usually adopted in their home country, then re-adopted in the US.  I understood it to be a simple process that would take a matter of weeks to complete.  I had been through the extreme document-craziness that is international adoption already, so I was not intimidated by a short list of papers I had to produce.  However, Rahul's finalization dragged on FOREVER.  My lawyer started the proceedings in Manhattan, then realized 3 months later that I lived in the Bronx and therefore had to start the whole process over.  Then I lost a good 2 months because the Bronx lost my fingerprints and I had to do them over (for now the 4th time since starting the adoption.  I never committed a crime, people! How many times do I have to prove it! ) Then to top it all off, once they got all my paperwork filed, the Bronx court wanted to send a clerk to visit me before they would give me a date in court.  I was incredulous that someone ELSE would have to come to my home and verify that I was a fit parent.  I mean, I understood why a social worker (who is trained and qualified to make a judgement on my parenting) would come to visit--and she gave me a raving review 4 out of 4 times!  Now a clerk--someone qualified to file papers, handle legal documents, manage a judge's schedule--- was coming to my home to make sure...what?  What are you going to discover and discern, Oh, Clerk, that no one else has realized before?  That stack of papers six inches thick is not enough information for you?  I was beyond furious. But I had no choice and had to invite her into my home with a smile on my face and let her make her uninformed judgements on me.

From the moment she entered my home it was a disastrous meeting.  She swooped in and the first thing out of her mouth was an incorrect statement about Rahul's birth parents--something that would have been shocking to him if he had understood what she said.  I hushed her and corrected her, but she proceeded to talk to Rahul, asking him if he was happy here.  When he answered (I told him that question was coming and that he could be honest in answering it) that sometimes he was and sometimes he wasn't because he missed his friends in India, she scolded him and told him he should be grateful that he was lucky enough to be adopted.  I wanted to vomit, and in fact could not hold food down for days after her visit, it upset me so.  (After she left I gave Rahul a big speech about how he never had to feel "lucky" that he was adopted and told him what an idiot that woman was.)  Then she wanted to talk about why Rahul ran away sometimes.  (He went through a stage during the first few months of being adopted where he would run away--and I would run with him--when he was upset.)  I explained to her that he had moved past that very normal phase and that he had never been out of my sight when he ran off.  Then she started instructing me how to parent based on her personal experience (in a two-parent family with a daughter she gave birth to).  But it wasn't until she started cursing that my blood really began to boil.  She started using language that is NEVER used in my home and I suddenly realized how extremely offensive that language is when it is used in my personal domain.  I think my friends and family must really tone their language down when they're around me because I had never noticed anyone cursing in my home before--nor have I since!  But this woman's language was peppered with words that NO ONE should use in a professional setting.  I have no idea what she said after that (except for something about how my kitchen sink was too small--uh, what?) because my brain was full of this very loud inner voice saying, "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!" over and over again. It took all my strength to not say that out loud.  

I considered throwing her under the bus afterwards by writing a detailed letter of my experience, but honestly, I was so relieved to have the whole crazy process over with that once I got Rahul's Adoption Certificate in my hands I washed those hands of the whole ordeal. 

Rahul has not really learned to curse yet (although he makes up his own words that sometimes are hilarious versions of curse words, like "shot" and "dannit") and I don't know whether he will have the same conviction about words that I do.  But I am happy that for now I can tell him that there is nothing that comes out of my mouth that he is not allowed to say. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Paul and Rosalind on their wedding day
Today I have been thinking of my friend Paul.  He died nearly 3 years ago and he was one of those people who really stays with you.  He dramatically impacted every life he touched because he lived big.  He was full of life, and even in his death somehow, there has been newness and revelation.

His widow is one of my dearest friends in the world.  To me, she is a kindred spirit.  We speak the same language and have an easy relationship.  She has been left with the enormous task of raising their three children, all of whom reflect Paul's generosity and liveliness!  And she is doing an astounding job--full of courage and honesty.  I know Paul is proud.

One of my favorite things about Paul was his commitment to his friends.  I came into his life as a friend of his wife and he immediately embraced me as his friend, too.  Like me, his wife Roz (Rosalind) is not too good about returning phone calls.  Its one of the things that I love about her, since I share the same fault.  But whenever I left her a message, Paul would call me back!  When I would walk into their home he would inevitably draw me into deep conversation within the first few minutes I was there, probing my mind about whatever topic was fresh on his.  Mostly, though, he asked me about my dating life.  He REALLY wanted me to get married. 

One day, early in out friendship, I was hanging out at their house, and in response to, like, thirty questions he fired at me about my love life I launched into this story about a co-worker of mine.  She had gone shopping with her husband and bought these high heeled shoes, even though her husband didn't want her to since he was shorter then she.  Something about that really peeved me because, to me, a marraige is about doing what you can to please one another.  And I hadn't had a lot of that type of love in my life, so maybe I didn't know what I'm talking about, but I felt like if I was lucky enough to have some amazing guy love me that way I would want to please him.  You know, dress in a way that he liked, etc.  Since I'd been single for so long I had been able to do and think and dress however I wanted, but I didn't think (and I still don't) that it would be that hard for me to change because  I would be so grateful that someone cared!  To me there is a really clear line between a man ordering you around and one who is requesting that you make choices that make him happy.  Anyway, when I started on this rant Paul was lying down on the couch and by the end of my shpeel he was sitting up staring at me with his mouth hanging open! He was totally amazed that I would think this way.  He thought of me as tough and independent and self-sufficiant and something about this story showed him another side of me.  In a way, I felt that his heart went out to me and he understood me on a deeper level than most people I knew. 

The last time I saw Paul was a few days before he passed.  He was in hospice care and I knew I going there to say goodbye to him.  I went into his room feeling like I was going to break in half, I was so sad.  But in talking to him my spirits were lifted more than I could have thought possible.  Paul had that power.  He was talking about heaven and was clearly ready to move on.  At the end of our visit I told him that I would see him again in heaven and he smiled and closed his eyes.  I walked to the door and he shouted after me,

"And bring your husband!"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The 39 Steps

This week I turned 39.  Whenever I write a birthday card to someone I say a prayer for something specific I wish for them in their new year.  I think for myself, I wish more of the same!  Life is good and I am incredibly blessed.  The past year has held some monumental challenges and moments of utter despair, but I am full of faith right now and am seeing good things all around me.

This morning I happened to read one of my favorite parables that struck a particular chord.  It speaks of building a foundation for your life that is deep and rests of rock, so that when floods and torrents "burst against" it you are not shaken because your life is well built.  And last night I read another parable to my son, "The Hare and the Tortoise".  When we finished the story, Rahul said, "Yeah, but that would never happen, right?"  And I said, "Honey, it happens every day."  And I feel like I am living proof that building one's "house" on the rock gives you the support and foundation to survive the roughest storms.  And I have definitely become much more "tortoise" than "hare".  When I was young I was full of hope and arrogance and absolutely sure of success.  But as one dream after another was withheld from me, I began to see the value in humility and patience.  There were years of my life I spent wondering what was going on and why I had not found the success I thought I should have.  But now, at age 39, I look back and see how God ordered my steps precisely to prepare me for some of the things He has blessed me with now.  Most especially, my son. 

When Rahul first came home with me he was angry and confused and clearly did not want me to be his mom.  He said so all the time, saying he had wanted a mom and a dad, wanted to live in the country, etc.  And I often wondered in those first few months if he would have done better in that type of family.  But as the months have turned into years I am 100% convinced that I am the perfect, hand-picked family for him.  All of the qualities God spent years honing my character, the life lessons that dragged on over decades, the work I did in years of therapy,  the 20+ years I have spent walking with God through all kinds of crazy situations, a lifetime spent in the bosom of a loving, stable family--all these things have shaped me into a Rahul-sized mom and prepared me to handle a type of parenting that is beyond description or explanation.

And I know there is a lot more work to do and challenges and joys I cannot even imagine.  But right at this moment I am filled to the brim with contentment and faith.  And I trust that the Rock that carried me 39 years already can be trusted to carry me as long as I am needed here.

Monday, July 19, 2010


When I was a kid I remember learning about the title "Ms." and I believe it was explained to me by my father as a title for women who and not married and are ashamed to not be a Mrs. and are too old to be called Miss any longer.  (Thanks for that one, Buzz.)  I remember having a distinct image in my mind of what this "Ms." looked like: tall, gawky, horn-rimmed glasses, leopard-print wrap dress (wah?), and eyes that were too shy/ashamed to meet your gaze.  And I remember deciding immediately that I would never be a Ms.

Today I was filling out an online subscription and when it gave me the drop-down menu for "title" I proudly chose "Ms." Somewhere along the journey of my life I decided to change my definition of what it meant to be a Ms. and I'm darn proud to be one now!  Anyway, I'm short, sassy, don't wear glasses and always look people directly in the eye.  (I could totally get down with the leopard-print wrap dress, though! ) "Ms." is just who I am!  I think I stopped being a "Miss" about 20 years ago and although the secretaries at Rahul's school and some of his friends like to call me "Mrs. Smith", that's my mom, not me.  "Ms." means power and freedom and wisdom and experience.  It means confidence and mystery.  I love that it looks the most like "Mr." of all the choices for women, but it retains the feminine "S".  I love that it has the "zz" sound -- I think that's where the leopard print dress image came from all the those years ago!  I like being not just Renee, but Ms. Smith.  It reminds me that I deserve respect and that I am a grown-up, even if I don't feel like one all the time!

But as much as I love being Ms. Smith, you can call me Miss Jackson if you're nasty.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rahul Growing

So in all the hubbub last week, Rahul quit Tae Kwon Do.  It broke my heart because he has been working so hard at it and I thought he was doing very well.  But for several reasons, most of them a little foggy to me, he suddenly was done with it.  And I supported his decision.  But it meant that he would now be home with me 24/7 and I began to fantasize about jumping over a cliff. ( Mommy needs quiet time every once in a while!)

So I suddenly had an inspired idea: we recently joined The Botanical Garden and have been spending a lot of time there, since its close to our house and Rahul's so into gardening right now, and they have a summer program for kids, and VOILA (or "wahlas", as Rahul likes to say)!!  A Plan!

The program is only 2 1/2 hours long, twice a week (great for Rahul) and its very gentle socially (also a big plus for Rahul) and this morning was his first session.  And it went GREAT.  When I picked him up Rahul stepped off the tram with a huge armful of greens for us to eat and he chatted away about the carrots he planted and the recipe they made and the broccoli he's going to pick for us when its ripe.  And the best part of it for me was that, not only did I get to fit some work in while he was there, but I arrived to pick him up almost an hour early.  So I found a little spot in the Conifer Garden (my favorite part of the park) and just sat there staring at the trees.  My brain began to stop whirling around and as the muscles in my body unclenched I was moved nearly to tears at the serenity around me and within me.  You better believe I'm getting there early every day from now on!

So let's just cross our fingers that Rahul can actually dig his roots in and stick it out for the rest of the summer!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

This is my mantra when Rahul takes a turn for the dark side: 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back.  Since we met he has had this pattern (his doctors call it "cycling") where he will be happy and flexible for several months, then he will be unhappy and immovable for a few.  Early in 2010 I had an appointment with our family therapist and Rahul had been doing really well.  In fact, I was positively giddy, thinking that our bad times had past and we could just focus on moving forward.  Guess what Bob said.  "Renee, don't forget, with Rahul its always 2 steps forward, 1 step back."

I was really glad he said that one week later when Rahul entered one of the darkest periods we have ever experienced.

Then a few months ( and 4 new doctors later) he took a sudden turn for the better.  It is hard to describe how happy I was to see Rahul able to enjoy life.  In fact, the first day he spent in his happy place, I watched him try many new things with my mouth hanging open, waiting for the other shoe to drop. At the end of that day we went to a park in our neighborhood, and as he was running around with a friend tears just streamed down my face, I was so joyful to see him having fun like every other kid there. 

The 2 Steps Forward phase is super fun.  Rahul is able to do so much more and I try to really push him to his limit, knowing that our time in this phase is limited.  In fact, it is now over and we have officially entered the 1 Step Back phase.  And this phase is not fun at all.

Rahul had a rough week this week, but it didn't dawn on me that we had left the happy cycle until yesterday.  My two cherished plants that I  just wrote about in my last blog post were destroyed in a rage.  Rahul gave them to me as a gift for our first Mother's Day and when he is upset he destroys things that I love as a way to get me to share in the pain he is feeling and also to take his pain out on someone he trusts will not leave him.  And as I stood at the window crying over all that those plants that I nurtured from seedlings to huge thriving specimens represent to me, I heard Bob's voice reassuring me, 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back.

And I dug in my heels to wait for those 2 steps.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Old Dog

If you would have asked me 2 years ago what my biggest weaknesses were I would definitely included these in the list:

1. I'm a terrible athlete.  I have no desire to be a good one! I just generally suck at all sports.  I don't follow any teams.

I don't even work out.

2. I have killed every plant I have ever owned or taken care of.  I once had to hand over a whole tray of plants I was "babysitting" for a neighbor and they were all dead.  Once my aunt gave me a gift of some Paper White bulbs. They came in a kit with a pot, soil and directions.

I planted them upside down.

Enter Rahul, who is an amazing athlete and has the greenest thumb I've ever seen!

Its really quite astounding how much time I spend these days in some kind of sporting activity, either watching Rahul, coaching him (as if I know!) or playing with some kind of ball/frisbee/bike/etc.  I really believe in letting boys wrestle and "play fight" and since I am both mom and dad I feel its important to try to do these things.  But it is quite a hilarious sight.  I am either tickling Rahul (my one and only defensive tactic) or squealing and ducking my head.

I've been a little more successful at the gardening.  Rahul gave me 3 plants for Mother's Day last year and 2 of them are still alive! And they've multiplied! We have something like 12 plants in our house right now, all of which are thriving! We have a membership at the Botanical Gardens.  And we even located several mulberry trees in our neighborhood and made pies with the berries we picked!

I feel stretched daily as I try to meet the demands of motherhood.  Its nice to know some of that stretching has taught me some new tricks!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Life Marrow

This morning my son and I slept until almost 9:30.  

I cannot even remember a time when either of us slept that late.  For us, 6:30 is sleeping in!  What's more, we are at my parents' house for a Fourth of July visit and it is near to impossible to get much sleep here.  My parents are both early risers and my bedroom is right next to the kitchen.  My dog sleeps like a log here, until anyone walks by our door, then he barks as if there is a sudden state of emergency and it lies on his shoulders to protect the nation.  But, by far, the biggest impediment to sleeping in is my dad.  Once he's awake, he wants everybody else up too.  So he talks extra loud, bangs pots and pans, turns on the radio.  There's no point in even TRYING to sleep through that.

So it was a major miracle that we ALL slept in today.  When Rahul woke up, he was disappointed that he had missed so much of the day.  And it struck me that he really does like to suck the marrow out of life.  Which is really inspiring.  And exhausting.  Today from the moment we all finally arose, we have been active non-stop.  As there are 3 adults here, we try to spell one another so we can each catch our breath in turn.  But Rahul just keeps ticking.

Rahul didn't even change out of the clothes he slept in (he doesn't like pajamas) when he saw how clear Lake Ontario was this morning.  He jumped right in before my eyes were fully open.  Then we had a big breakfast, then jumped in the car to go take a plane ride with Grandpop.  My dad got his pilot's license 2 years ago and has a plane at a nearby airfield, but I have never had the chance to go flying with him.  Rahul absolutely loves flying, so off we went this morning.  Then we came home and barely slowed the car down enough for Grammy to jump in and went off to pick cherries at a nearby farm.  They have a fun kids' park there and Rahul ran from one thing to another, in the blazing hot sun, having a great time.  They just added pony rides to the menu there, so he rode his first horse today.  Then we had hot dogs and ice cream and came back home.  Then it was time for another swim.  Then we planted a garden--Rahul's summer project here, ate dinner and swam again!  At this point I pulled a chair up to the edge of the water and fell asleep.  Sometimes you just have to grab it when you can get it!  Then we made a bonfire and roasted marshmallows.  I just put Rahul to bed at 10:50pm tonight with 2 teeth he pulled out of his own mouth under his pillow. 

And the whole day, Rahul keeps talking.  He's got ideas and thoughts just bursting out of his head.  He has so many things he's interested in and he is always making plans for his future--declaring a new career he will pursue, hobby he will take on, etc.  Before Rahul came here he had not thought of his future at all.  That is not a topic discussed in orphanages much.  Rahul had no sense of time--days of the week, holidays--he didn't even know how old he was.  It took me a year and a half and lots of corroborating evidence for him to believe me when I told him how old he was.  And children without parents in India do not have a happy future to look forward to.  When many of my friends met Rahul for the first time they asked him the standard "kid" questions, to which they got no response:

"How old are you?" He was 7, but he thought he was 6.

"When's your birthday?" He had no idea, and still doesn't remember.

"What do you like to do?"  He didn't know what that meant because orphanage life doesn't give you choices.  You all do the same activities whether you like them or not, so you don't develop a sense of what's unique about you.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" This was a question I'm sure no one had ever asked him in his entire life.  And it was something I'm sure he never thought of.

Now however, I DARE you to ask him what he wants to be when he grows up.  Every day he has a different idea about what he wants to do.  Two days ago he announced he wanted to be a rich farmer.  Then it was a pearl farmer.  Then it was an underwater explorer.  Today he told us that when he turns fifteen he wants to buy a horse and become a Mennonite.

I love hearing him talk about his future.  And I love that he lives his life to the full. And I love that he is sleeping soundly right now.

Because now I can count on a good 6 hours before we start it all over again.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Karate Kid

Rahul and I went to see The Karate Kid right after school yesterday with some friends.  It was really good and he was inspired by it.  Rahul recently started studying Tae Kwon Do and has loved it, so he came home from the movie wanting to train hard.  (This will only make sense if you've seen the movie, but he made me hold a little brass bell high up in the air while he aimed to kick it...) As the evening progressed he began to grow a bit more frantic in his training.  It was bedtime and I knew he was tired, but he was fighting it by throwing his energy all over the place.  Finally, I took him by the shoulders and told him he needed to calm down.  He said his heart was racing and I explained to him how we can control our heart rate by slowing down our breathing.  He tried to follow my instruction to breathe deeply and let the air out slowly ( one of our "wellness" exercises when I worked for Aveda) and he was really struggling with it.  I was firm with him, though, and made him continue to try, even as tears started to come to his eyes.  He doesn't really cry that often and it surprised me that this exercise would make him sad or mad, so I asked him why he was crying and what he was feeling.  He just whimpered and I was confused.  Normally he is very articulate about his emotions and can tell me what he's feeling or why, but this time he seemed baffled as well.  I saw that he was determined to slow down his breathing, though, so I continued holding his shoulders while he took a few deep breaths.  Then I suggested we sit down, cross our legs and hum, Eastern meditation style.  He followed me and as he hummed he burst out in full tears and I suddenly understood what was happening.

Many moons ago, when I was in college studying music, a famous Broadway singer came to give a master class.  One of the students who got up to perform and be coached by her was particularly bad.  I remember he was singing, "On the Street Where You Live" and it sounded awful.  He was super tense and stiff and he was barely hitting the notes or keeping rhythm. The teacher stopped him and explained to him that he was holding a tremendous amount of tension in his body and she wanted to help him let go of that while he tried the song again.  She told him that she was going to touch him on the shoulder while he was singing and when he felt her hand he should try to focus on relaxing that muscle.  So he began the song again and it still sucked.  Then she placed her hand warmly on his shoulder and he closed his eyes and began immediately to relax.  His shoulders moved down to their normal position and suddenly tears began streaming down his face.  He continued to sing and his voice was like night and day: completely lyrical, warm, rich--it was beautiful!  When he finished the song the entire class was sitting in complete awe at what we had just witnessed.  That day we learned that the body holds onto emotion.  And when we can release the tension (through music, in this case, and coaching) the emotion comes to the surface and is released as well.

I thought of that boy in my singing class last night as I watched Rahul's dormant emotions bubble to the surface through practicing Tae Kwon Do and practicing mediation.  I told him that what was happening was that his body had been holding on to sadness from his past (God knows he's got a lifetime of it) and that his body was now trying to let it go.  I couldn't believe it, but Rahul listened to me and bravely continued to breathe and relax as the emotion came pouring out of him.  I just sat by him and told him how brave he was being. And a few moments later he was done. 

Rahul is the bravest person I have ever met.  I cannot even relate the amount of courage he has shown in his life.  Maybe someday I will grow up to be like him.

If you want to help our family, I've set up a website explaining some financial needs we have relating to upcoming medical tests.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ill Stand By You

When I was in college--long before I became a mother--I started nannying for a great family in NYC.  My charge, Justine, was just 10 months old when I started watching her, and we became very close over the few years I saw her almost daily.  In fact, she and her mom both wrote letters of recommendation for my India dossier when I adopted Rahul. (And Justine is just finishing her freshman year in COLLEGE!)

Anyway, one day when Justine was about 3 or 4 years old, I took her to the playground.  And as I sat watching her climb the monkey bars, I noticed another little girl eyeing Justine's hand.  It was right where she wanted to step and instead of asking Justine to move her hand I saw her make the decision to step right on the offending hand!  Her eyes narrowed as she put all of her weight on her foot and twisted it back and forth, smushing my little friend's hand.  Justine turned her head toward me and her eyes filled with tears and before I knew it I had leapt off the bench and was snatching Justine off the playground, scolding the hand smusher and racing out of the park.  I had no idea what had just taken over my body, but it was a strange, strong force I have come to know as Maternal Protection.

Of course, I have experienced it many times with my son, and I have often been frightened at its strength.  It completely take over your body and you feel as though you could actually cause major damage to someone.  I suppose it is an instinct placed in our bodies to protect our young.  And on Mother's Day this year I found myself really moved to understand that God, as our mother (as well as our father) feels this same fierce Maternal Protection over us.  There is something extremely comforting and profound in that for me--making me feel both safe and humbled that I get to share in this divine quality.

So I'm giving you fair warning.  Do not mess with my kid.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hard Day

How can I describe this day?  I spent the day talking with doctors about my son.  Hallelujah, I finally found a psychiatrist who would see us urgently and who understands the particular issues we are dealing with.  It is harrowing to encapsulate my son's life and experiences into a one hour session.  I'm so grateful I met with our therapist first.  He has been working with us (and I mean--In The Trenches) for 1 1/2 years and I didn't have much good news to tell him today. The last 2 months have been really bad.  I really can't go into details and also I don't want to.  Its too private and too painful.  But believe me, it has been a struggle in just about every way you can imagine.  Prayerfully, this dr. I met with today will have some new solutions for us.  At the end of our very difficult session today, Bob, my therapist, told me something that stopped me in my tracks for a moment.  He has lots of experience in adoption issues and is an adoptive father himself so I feel like he really knows of what he speaks.  And he always has nice, encouraging words to me at the end our our session, and today as he was encouraging me, he said he didn't think most families in our situation would have made it as far (meaning lasted as long) as ours.  In other words, most people in my situation would have disrupted the adoption or put their child in a facility.  Most people outside of the world of adoption probably think of those solutions as heartless, but to many of us, they are sometimes the best option for the child and the family at large.  I personally have never considered disruption (that's when you work with your agency to "send the child back" to their orphanage or to a foster family) but I have no judgement for those that do (in a loving, careful way--not flying them back to Russia with a note).  Traumatized children are challenging in ways you literally cannot imagine.  And as a single mom, I bear the weight alone.  And man its heavy.  I'm exhausted.

But always hopeful.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Little by Little

I had a dream last night that I was having a conversation with my tax preparer.  (If you've been following my blog, you know that I had been really disappointed by the way my last preparer handled a major tax credit I am eligible for.  Well, I switched to a highly recommended CPA and am confident that she knows what she is doing, but found out yesterday that I will still owe the government a little money.  So much for the large tax refund I was counting on!)  I haven't actually met her in real life; because I came to her so late in the season, I had to just drop off my papers and we've spoken on the phone a couple of times.  Anyway, in my dream, she was asking me why, since clearly I had been beaten up my life so much lately, I didn't take that as a sign that I should move out of NYC.  And I was really taken aback that she would step into my life so objectively and ask the question which I have been asking myself so often as of late.  Why, when I am getting nowhere with doctors, money or Rahul's education do I continue to stay here?  Is God really directing me to leave New York and move in with my parents until I can get my family on a better track? In my dream I answered her emphatically, NO.  I am sure that I should stay here.  I told her that there is a big difference between God shutting doors (which to me signifies that its time to move on and change direction) and a person falling down over and over and being called to rise up again.

I woke up and lay in bed pondering this idea.  Actually, I marveled at my unconscious self's wisdom!  I can't tell you how, exactly, but there is a definite difference between a door being closed and stumbling through trials.  And I know I am meant to press on in my present circumstance.  There are just enough positive signs to keep me fighting.  Every Wednesday morning I get to talk and pray with my dear friend Jenny, who calls me without fail at 6am.  I told her about my dream and as I did, I thought of a phrase that I've seen in the Bible, "little by little".  I told her that I really believe that my blessings will increase little by little.  I am not going to get a big tax refund this year that will cover all my outstanding bills.  I will continue to work and grow my business (which is growing quickly!) and earn the money to pay things off, little by little.  Rahul will learn to read little by little.  We will find mental health solutions and adoptive family resources little by little.  Something about that idea really comforts me.

I was curious what the context of the phrase "little by little" was, Biblically, so I looked it up.  In one instance it refers to Israel's conquest of the promised land.  God told them He would drive out their enemies little by little, rather than all at once, because otherwise the wild animals would multiply around them (Deut. 7:22).  In another context God states that "he who gathers money little by little makes it grow" (Prov.13:11)  Something about that principal makes sense to me.  Maybe we value things more when we work for them.  Maybe we God differently when He aids us in helping ourselves, rather than pouring blessings in our lap.  Not sure exactly, but I think I'm about to find out!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bang Your Head

Today I sat for a few hours in a mental health clinic in the Bronx.  And when I say, the Bronx, I don't mean Riverdale, where I live, which is very middle class and almost suburban.  I mean The Bronx--the way most people picture all of the Bronx to be.  And it really made me examine myself.

I was there as another leg in a long journey to get my son the mental health assistance he needs.  I never imagined it would be so difficult to find decent doctors and counselors that help children with mental health issues.  I've been holding on to our psychiatrist for dear life for one and a half years, even though he sucks and never calls me back, simply because I cannot find anyone else!  I have called pages and pages of doctors, met with some that made me want to run out the door screaming, and gotten nowhere.  Finally, last week, one called me back.  And they take my insurance.  And they scheduled an appointment with me.  Already they're 3 points ahead of everybody else. 

I realized what type of clinic it was, but I didn't think too much of it.  I was just grateful someone was willing to help me.  Honestly, I am a person who is pretty comfortable in almost any neighborhood.  People are people.  And the people I spent the morning with probably have more in common with me than the families in my neighborhood.  I am poor.  I am a single mom.  I am dealing with mental health issues in my home.  These are the things that bound me to my fellow patients today.  Most of the people registering for services today were referred through the court or through Child Services and didn't necessarily want to be there--they had to be there.  They were agitated, talking to themselves, mumbling obscenities, and I had several moments where I thought--really, is this the best care I can get for us?  And I had to check myself.  Because I don't really know anything about the care there yet.  I just registered today. I didn't meet with a doctor or discuss a plan of action for my child.  The facility was clean and looked new and the staff was friendly and helpful.  My moments of doubt were based only on the other patients there and their socio-economic status.  I had to remind myself that just because I was not sitting in a beautiful, private waiting room in a non-descript office building in Manhattan with several other well dressed mid to upper class people who were waiting quietly reading The Economist did not mean I didn't belong there just as much as everyone else.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Not a Creature is Stirring...

Friends are great.  I love being able to just spill my guts to my friends and its so empowering to me to just have them share in my sadness, embarrassment, joy, etc.  I would say that over the past couple of years there are friends who have literally kept me sane and been an absolute lifeline.  Its so great to just have someone listen and empathize. I don't feel like I always need them to actually SOLVE my problems, just be by my side as I go through the challenges. 

But every once in a while I long for someone to swoop into my life and just magically make my problems disappear.

About a month ago, I interrupted a mouse who was speeding into my room on his way somewhere, and began the Plague of Mice (appropriate for Passover, no?).  Apparently they began fumigating the garbage room, which is right below our apartment, and all the mice were desperately seeking shelter, so they began eating through all our walls and making their homes in my stove, my closets, my couch, even my bed.  I desperately tried to wage war with caulk and steel wool, but every time I thought I had closed up the last hole another mouse sauntered by me.  I was daily tearing apart my closets and furniture on a hunt to find where they were coming from and clean up their messes.  I am desperately afraid of mice and began to constantly feel sick to my stomach and was so jumpy that everywhere I went I thought I saw mice (in my car, in my clients' homes, on the street...).  Finally, I realized I was going to have to bump up to the next level of attack and borrow someone's cat to send a message to my invaders.  And as I thought through all of the cats I know, I had a revelation.  I wanted a cat of my own.

I have been longing to adopt another child, and that reality is several years and several thousand dollars away from happening.  So the idea of having another member of our family really appealed to me.  Also, I have met the most amazing cats lately at my clients' homes, and it has made me realize how cool cats can be.  But really what I wanted--what I NEEDED--was an ally.  Someone to swoop in and solve my problem.

Sport came to live with us a little over a week ago, and since he arrived I have not seen any mice or evidence of mice in our home.  Problem solved.  And he's really cool. He's black (my suggestion for his name was Spooky Mulder, but Rahul's "Sport" won out) and has an amazing personality, somehow meeting all our needs in the household.  For me he's a mouser, for Rahul he's a playmate, and for Baby Fish Mouth, he's a buddy.

Just somebody please tell me if I start to smell like a cat.

Monday, March 29, 2010

One Of Those Weeks

Sometimes I have these weeks that are just so insane that I can't even tell anyone everything because I really don't think they will believe me.  And I pride myself on maintaining balance despite having a lot on my plate.  I have pretty strict boundaries and guard my time with Rahul, but sometimes life just gets nutty.  So baseline, I've got single motherhood and my own business.  Add to that the new business that I'm trying to start and the fact that I have less than zero money.  All of that I can handle.

Problem #1. When you adopt internationally (and under some other conditions, too...) you are eligible for a large tax credit in the year the adoption is finalized.  I couldn't get Rahul's adoption finalized until a year after he had been here (due to crazy things like my lawyer filing in the wrong county and New York State losing my fingerprints) so I have had to wait a really long time to qualify for this tax credit.  I have tons of outstanding bills and I need seed money for my new business, so I have been LONGING for tax time so I can get this money.  Long story short, I found out last Thursday that I don't qualify for this money.  The way my tax preparer broke the news to me was by just kind of slipping it into conversation, as if I wouldn't notice. Uh, I did notice.  According to her calculations, not only was I not getting this huge chunk of money that I have spent 10 time over, I OWED money to the government!  Needless to say, I did not take her word for it, but I still haven't found the answer to the question of how I file for this credit and I'm now looking for a new tax preparer!

Problem #2. Mice. I have lived in my apartment for 2 years and have never seen one mouse or evidence of mice, until one just sauntered into my room a month ago. I don't do well with mice.  They creep me out to a very large degree.  I had the exterminator in my apartment the very next day but have literally been bombarded by mice for the past month.  They've gotten into my couch, every closet, my bathroom, mat kitchen, they're everywhere.  Every time I see one, or see where one has been, I become like a crazy person and get out the caulk gun and the steel wool and the plaster and seal up every crack and crevice I can find.  And just when I think I've seen the last of them and there can't possibly be any other way for them to get into my apartment, one goes running past me!  And its usually just as I'm putting Rahul to bed.  Luckily, he's not afraid of them, so he's been a big help to me.  But I realized last week that I think my son is going to be in therapy someday talking about how his mom was always crawling around on the floor with plaster all over her hands and vaccumming the living daylights out of every cushion and closet.  I try to make it fun--"It's like we're detectives!  Mice always leave us clues as to where they've been!"--but come on, there's nothing fun about watching mommy crying in a heap on the floor because the mice chewed through the bag of dog food. 

Problem #3. Dr. Hertz.  He's a psychiatrist and his name is Dr. Hertz--I guess I should have been warned.  My son needs medication for some severe mental health issues, and I need this doctor to moniter his health and prescribe the medication.  It is dangerous for him to be off this medicine, so its imperritive that I have good communication with the doctor.  But he never calls me back.  I will text and voice mail him 20 times for every 1 call back.  So I hear you, you're saying, Hey! Get another doctor, lady!  And I say to you that it is EXTREMELY hard to find a child psychiatrist who will call me back.  I have called probably 50 places and gotten exactly nowhere.  Anyway, Rahul has been having a rough time lately, emotionally, and he was about to go on vacation, so I needed to meet with Dr. Hertz and get a refill for his medication.  I know the drill, so I started texting and calling him a month ago.  Finally, he texted back saying he had an appointment for us at 6pm last Friday.  I took it and cancelled our other plans so we could be there.  Don't you know he stood us up.  And Rahul was supposed to go out of town the next morning for a week with no medicine.  So I texted him every five minutes, called him, called his collegues and ratted him out, and finally, as I'm driving Rahul to my parents' house, I get a 3 word text back from him "called in script".  No apology, no explanation.  Ugh.  I started the search for a new doctor this morning. Wish me luck.

Anyway, life goes on.   I am leaning on Jesus for my strength, and all is well.  I'm very focused on finding solutions for these problems.  I've put in calls and emails to tons of doctors and tax experts.

And I got a cat.