Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Never Enough Time

Twice since Katie and Craig have been home for Christmas, I have dreamed stopwatches. The other day, huge red digital numbers flashed against a black background, ticking down the seconds. Early this morning, a black second hand clicked off against a white clock face.

The kids are heading back to their home today, back to Minnesota. I've just pulled the last load of their laundry from the dryer, checked the house for stray bits and pieces that haven't made it into their luggage yet. In the still-dark morning, with the Christmas lights glowing, it's strangely peaceful and pleasant.

We had the best time last night, the only evening we've had for just the three of us. We had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. They taught me to play Guitar Hero. We taught Craig to play Yahtzee. The iPod pumped music into the house. I danced around, singing and embarrassing Katie to death. It was all so good.

They'll be up any minute and soon after, they'll pull out the drive and head back to their own lives. I'll cry for a while and then settle into gratitude again. I am truly so grateful for the time we've had, the way we are together.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Katie and Craig wanted to see "Marley and Me" while they are here. At dinner on Sunday night, N mentioned she had read the book and was looking forward to the movie. Yesterday I suggested we invite N and her family to join us at the movie.

Katie finds being the center of everyone's attention exhausting. Her first two encounters with N were five- and six-hour marathons of questions and stories—understandable attempts to compress 21 lost years into the time available. She is very happy for the opportunities and enjoys the time, but it wears her out. I thought it would be a good idea for them to do something normal together—something not centered on Katie—so they can start building a relationship built on common interests and shared activity.

I am not, however, generous enough to sacrifice much of our precious time together, which led to the movie idea. When I casually mentioned inviting N, Katie kind of brushed it off. An hour or so later, she brought it up and said maybe it would be a good idea. She made the call. N eagerly accepted, and we all agreed to meet at a theater half-way between our homes.

Katie and N sat next to each other and shared Kleenex at the end. Afterward, we had something to talk about other than Katie, which she appreciated.

A baby step, to be sure, but still a step toward a new normal for us all.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Bite of the Family Tree

Katie and Craig and I had dinner at Ns last night. It was absolutely lovely.

Craig and I dropped Katie off at 4:30 and went off to run some errands and give Ns parents some privacy for meeting her. We walked into the house an hour or so later, and I felt as though we had known these people for years. Ns mother and father hugged me like an old friend as we introduced ourselves. Her husband welcomed us with open arms.

After dinner, we sat around the table and told stories for almost six hours. Her family told stories of Ns love for animals, her need to plan, her love for music, and I recognized pieces of my daughter. We told stories of Katie's life, which they drank in like hot chocolate on a snow day.

We parted the same way we started—with hugs and tears. It was as easy as meeting new friends. It was also unbearably difficult.

Ns teeth are the same size and shape as Katie's. Those small white squares were the only thing in the room for a moment as I recognized another link between my daughter and the woman who gave her life. The lovely china cabinet, the sparkling red crystal, the Christmas china, the people—colors and shapes swirled and disappeared. For a split second, only those teeth remained: N's and Katie's. They hung in the air like the grins of Cheshire cats singing "Na, na, na boo boo." Before my eyelashes separated from a hard blink, the room righted itself and Katie continued her story about losing a hamster in our house.

I can only imagine that stories of Katie's childhood are the grins of Cheshire cats for N. She wants to hear, she wants to know our daughter, but the childhood she missed lingers in the air after the words fade.

My guess is that we both wish our stories were different. If I were the Great Editor in the Sky, my daughter, this particular being of the human nature, would have been born to me and no one with prior claims would enter our lives, now or ever. I'm pretty sure N would request a complete rewrite on the chapter involving Katie's birth.

Neither of us have that sort of editorial power, so we're reconciling ourselves to the story as written. That means short, square teeth will catch me off guard and stories of Katie's childhood will pierce N's heart, and we will gather our strength and our courage and move forward into this unknown world, guided by our common intention to live out a happy ending for our daughter.

There is no other real choice.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Good News/Bad News

Katie and Craig are on their way here, even as I type. She's tired and a bit sore from all the retching, but doing well. I am so thankful. More soon.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Good News/Bad News

It's been a good news/bad news kind of day. The good news is that Katie and her boyfriend handled a difficult situation well, that Craig is a kind and responsible young man, that Katie did not have to stay in the hospital. The bad news is that instead of driving here today, Katie spent most of the day in the emergency room getting IV fluids and drugs to help balance her blood sugar during a terrible bout with a stomach bug. The flu is no fun for anyone. For a Type I diabetic, it can be quite dangerous.

Katie and Craig monitored her blood sugar throughout the night and called the clinic when things started getting out of hand. Following the nurse's advice, Craig drove her to the hospital early this morning and stayed with her as she was rehydrated and monitored. When she was finally released, he drove her home and took care of her.

We don't yet know if they'll be able to come tomorrow. If not, I'll drive up to Minneapolis to be with her. In the end, only the good news is of any lasting consequence: We will have many more Christmases together.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The View from Under the Jeep

Yesterday was one of those days when the weather doesn't know whether. At various times, we had rain, snow, sleet, and freezing rain.

The day started with a conversation about the turtle and the fence post—whether things that happen are messages from God. A friend interpreted an event as God saying, "I want you to believe I have heard your prayers." I wasn't sure.

Mom and I both needed to run some errands, so we braved it together. Our second stop was Bed Bath & Beyond for a Magic Bullet, a blender sort of thing Katie wants. As I was paying, a woman produced a $5 coupon and offered it to me, then exclaimed, "Oh! Wait! I have a better one. Here's one for 20% off!" The unexpected kindness brought tears to my eyes.

We moved on to Costco, where I dropped Mom off at the door and went to park the Jeep. A spot near the front door was open, but I let an older gentleman take it and ended up parked at the back of the lot, next to a traffic island surrounded by snow banks. When I went back to get the car later, the precipitation had turned to a hard rain. I slipped on the snow bank, fell like a sack of wet cement, and ended up UNDER the Jeep. When I crawled out and up, I slid back again, over and over. Eventually, I laid under the Jeep in a puddle of freezing water and laughed til I could barely breathe. Finally, I managed to pull myself up the icy lump and scramble to my feet. Miraculously, nothing was damaged but my dignity. (I've got some mighty impressive bruises, though.)

Next, I dropped Mom off in front of the grocery store. Unbelievably, the first thing I saw when I got in the door was the elderly gentleman from the Costco parking lot. He recognized me, said hello, leaned heavily on his cane and walked away.

When we got home, it took 30 minutes to carry in all the groceries and packages. Wet and cold, I sat down near the fireplace to check email. The first one was a contract request for a terrific freelance writing assignment, one I'd almost given up on.

The question is whether events are signs from God or simply natural events we interpret as signs. Turns out, it's not an either/or question. The answer is Yes. Whether we recognize it or not, all creation is God saying, "I want you to believe I hear your prayers."

Merry Christmas to all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Turning Toward the LIght


The longest night of the year has come and gone. Now the nights are getting shorter and the days longer. Incrementally, it's true, but steadily.

As always, I wrote my deepest fear on a piece of paper, burned it and blew it into the sky last night. Given all that's happened lately, you might think my deepest fear is that I will lose my place in my children's lives or that my parents will die. It is not. My deepest fear is much broader: it is that I will let fear stop me from living as I should.

Although I'm doing much better in recent days, my fear of losing the kids' love and loyalty tempts me to be selfish, to close my heart and mind. Giving into that temptation would hurt my children and, ultimately, me.

Fear for my parents tempts me to ignore realities, to pretend everything is the same as it's always been and that it always will be. Doing that cheats me of the chance to help them in all possible ways through this transition.

In these terrible economic times, I am afraid I won't be able to continue making a living as a writer. I work longer and longer hours at paying jobs and spend less and less time on my personal writing, reasoning that I can't afford to waste time and no one is publishing right now, anyway. It's certainly true that publishing is in a dire state, but it's not impossible unless I make it so by giving up on myself.

So I wrote my fear of fear in permanent marker and set it ablaze in a 9-inch metal pie pan. The letters were still visible after the paper burned, but the force of my breath scattered them, leaving no permanent mark on the starry sky over Independence, Missouri.

Afterward, I lit candles and watched their flames flicker. No cursing the darkness this year. I'm going to light the candles and get to work, with an open heart, an open mind, and love. Always with love.

My Solstice prayer for you all:

May only good come to you.
May only good come from you.
May you live in the Light of Love.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Mom and I worked in the sewing room yesterday afternoon, but it wasn't as much fun as usual. Mom's sister and brother have gone to Texas for the winter, and they did not invite Mom and Dad to join them. Mom has pretty well come to terms with the fact that Dad shouldn't drive the motor home anymore. She doesn't actually want to go to Texas, but she wants to be asked.

Dad reheated some pizza at dinner time, and we ate it in front of the TV—definitely not a typical dinner at their house, which usually involves a tablecloth and cloth napkins. And vegetables.

The local weather report warned of sub-zero temperatures overnight, the coldest weather here in nearly 20 years. Suddenly, I couldn't remember disconnecting the hose again after using it during a warm spell a few weeks ago. (My Minnesota friends probably can't imagine this, but the hose bibs here don't have shut off valves inside the house.) Anyway, I beat feet home to make sure.

10 degrees, dark, patches of snow on the ground. I used a flashlight to find my way down the side of the house and discovered that I had, indeed, left the hose connected. Tried to wrestle it off with no success. Tromped back to the house for a pair of pliers and some gloves. Dad called and offered to come help. He's 77. He has COPD and just got over pneumonia. I told him I could handle it and would let him know when I got it resolved.

Managed to get the hose off and discovered ice inside the bib. Tromped back to the house for an extension cord and a hair dryer. With a flashlight in one hand and a hair dryer in the other, I warmed the brass bib til water ran out. Closed everything up neat and tidy, dragged my junk back inside and called Dad.

"Oh, good," he said. "I was just heading out the door. Thought you must be having trouble." Relief and sadness sang a background duet in his voice.

You hear people talk, sometimes in romantic terms, about the "autumn of life." No one mentions winter, when a man realizes he's no longer strong enough to hold up the sky for his wife or his daughters. That's when it really gets cold.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Yes and No

Saw Jim Carrey's new movie, "Yes Man" last night, a decent movie that got me thinking.

Saying Yes to Life often means saying No. (Yes, I AM stuck on that "everything contains its opposite" thing right now. Thanks for noticing.)

Seriously, if you say yes to everything asked of you, you're wasting time and precious resources. Making yourself a hostage to others is not the same thing as having an open heart and mind. It always comes back to balance.

Damn, I hate that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thinking with my Fingers

It's creeping toward 1:00am, and I can't sleep. Just now the silence in the house gathered into a big furry creature and took a seat on my head, threatening to suffocate me. When the dark behind my eyelids divided itself into a hundred miniature checkerboards, I gave up on sleep and came here to think with my fingers.

An article on my home page yesterday suggested keyboards will be relics by 2015. Lord, I hope not. My fingers often know what I think before I do. Who knows how it happens, but stuff shows up on the screen that I have no conscious memory of thinking. I'd hate to lose that. Plus, for what did Mrs. Dewhirst teach me to type if not for this?

Trellis Dewhirst was a formidable woman, tall and square and stern. Her sister, Una Ellison, taught American History. Miss Ellison was a less substantial person somehow—thinner and slighter, with a higher voice and less imposing manner. Miss Ellison brought in a television every fall and let her classes watch the World Series. Yes, Virginia. When I was in high school, World Series games were played in the daytime. I'm pretty sure most fields had lights, but the world had not yet started to revolve around prime-time programming.

Anyway, Mrs. Dewhirst taught us to type and Miss Ellison taught us to appreciate Bob Gibson, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals who struck out 17 Detroit Tigers in one 1968 WS game. His record stood for nearly 40 years and may still, for all I know.

I googled around, trying to find the spelling of Mrs. Dewhirst's first name. Came across her obituary and was stunned to find she died only last year, at 93. That means she was 54--the same age I am now--when she taught me to pound out The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Oh, the arrogance of youth. We thought she was ancient.

There's a comfy thought to keep me company in the silence.

No Gift Before Its Time

Katie and her boyfriend have already given each other their Christmas presents. (One has already been exchanged.) Katie has her big present from her father and me, too—help buying a new MacBook. She doesn't care about packages to unwrap under the tree. She prefers to know that she's getting what she wants or needs.

Me, I want no gift before its time. I'm a sucker for the Big Moment when everyone's sitting around the sparkling tree, carols in the background and all. Strange, then, that one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received involved no tree or carols. Not even a living room.

Years ago, one of the great loves of my life gave me an early Christmas present I'll never forget.

In early summer I mentioned that I'd been to "visit my pearls," meaning I'd gone to Dayton's semi-annual pearl sale intending to buy a string and had, once again, talked myself out of it. We laughed and the conversation moved on. Six months later, great hubbub surrounded his selection of my Christmas gifts. The kids went shopping with him several times. Three friends reported having been consulted. Colleagues teased about his preoccupation with the mystery gift.

Two weeks before Christmas, we took all four kids to see "Annie" at the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul. Steven drove to Wisconsin that afternoon to pick up his oldest daughter from college. His 17-year-old daughter had dinner with the kids and me and we all headed off to meet at the Ordway. Steven was a reluctant user of cell phones, but he called from the road to ask what I was wearing that night.

"Um...not a turtleneck, okay?" he said. "Less is more at the neckline." We hadn't seen each other all week and I laughed it off as suggestiveness.

Our arrival at the theatre was a flurry of getting the car parked and the kids organized. All three seemed pretty wound up, but that wasn't unusual. Steven and Shannon arrived just in time for us to find our seats before the curtain went up. They seemed more flustered than usual, too.

At intermission, Steven led me to a bench in the hall. The kids gathered around us and he produced a beautiful box from his jacket pocket. Inside was not just a pearl necklace, but the pearl necklace. With the help of my children and friends and his colleagues, he found the precise size, length, and color I wanted. It had been one off-hand comment so long ago, I had no idea he remembered at all. As I cried, the kids clapped and cheered. Strangers smiled and joined the applause.

As much as I loved the pearls (and still do), the true gift was that he listened and remembered the conversation, that he went to such great lengths to discover what I wanted and find it. I guess it's always the right time for that.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We Are Family

We all gather at Mom and Dad's on Tuesday nights to work on quilts and other sewing projects. Heather (my youngest niece) made the dinner last night. Her minestrone was delightful on a cold, snowy day.

Brendan (my nephew) stopped in for a short rest. He has several commercial contracts to snowplow parking lots and expected to work all night. He stripped down to his long underwear and we threw his wet clothes in the dryer. Mom had baked his favorite treat (homemade bread filled with chunks of salami and mozzarella), so he ate a bunch and then curled up on the sofa to take a little nap.

Jim (my brother-in-law) came through on his way to his Tuesday night poker game. He munched down a cookie and hit the trail.

Individually we are quite crazy, and collectively, we are plenty dysfunctional. We irritate, aggravate and confuse one another on a daily basis, but we are one another's touch stones, the most fundamental of bottom lines.

When Dad's sister was here over the weekend, we all gathered in the sewing room. I was making flannel pajamas for my niece and telling Dad and uncle Bill some silly story. My sister was struggling with the computer that's supposed to drive Mom's embroidery machine. Mom was working on a blanket she's quilting as a favor to a woman who works for my brother-in-law. The dogs were aflutter, barking at everything that moved outside.

Aunt Gail's eyes filled with tears, over and over. She quietly wiped her eyes and carried on. Her only daughter died of a brain aneurysm more than 10 years ago, and she would give anything for our irritation and aggravation and confusion.

The only thing worse than family is not having one.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Complexities


Via email and one (anonymous) comment, several people asked why I put up a tree if I "purely hate" doing it.

Simple: I love having the tree more than I hate putting it up. Every year, I get over the funk of assembling it alone and fall under the spell of its twinkling lights and sparkling glass. I blow up an airbed and sleep in the living room beside it most nights it's up. (Not til the second night, though. I'm usually in full funk on the first.)

To my very bones, I believe in magic and miracles and happy endings. A Christmas tree is a symbol of one miracle that sparked millions more. I appreciate the reminder.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sandwiched

Evan needs me to pay his college tuition.

Katie wants me to edit a term paper.

Dad is waiting for me to put up the Christmas tree.

Mom is crying in frustration over her computer.


Like millions of women across this country, I'm sandwiched between my children and my parents, being nibbled to death.

As usual, I stopped in at Mom and Dad's Friday morning and ended up down in the sewing room with Mom for a bit. When I came up, my nephew had just brought up the Christmas tree for Dad. Dad saw me with my keys and said, "Oh, are you going already?"

I knew what he wanted but pretended not to notice his puppy-dog eyes so I could escape to my busy day, which included putting up my own tree. Evan came over as I was hauling up a 6-ft, 30-lb. plastic box from the basement. He stood in the foyer watching me struggle, wearing an air of Could you hurry up? I wrote the tuition check, he went on his not-so-merry way and I completed the dreaded task.

I purely hate putting up the tree. Bill left home in the middle of November and putting up the tree alone that first time was one of the saddest, loneliest things I have ever done. A lot of bright and beautiful has passed since that day, but every time I pull out the ornaments, I land back in that darkness and fear for a little while. Very Zen about it, though: I feel the grief but don't dwell in it. A couple of glasses of wine, a box or two of Kleenex, a couple of therapy sessions and I'm back on track.

No rest for the wicked and the righteous don't need it, my mom says. When I checked on Mom and Dad Saturday afternoon, their tree was still in a box sitting in the corner of the living room. Mom stopped dealing with the tree many years ago. Dad did it alone for a long time, but in the last few years, the ghosts of our childhoods lingering in the boxes of ornaments overwhelm him.

Mom and Dad went out to get a sandwich while I put up the tree and decorated it. What else could I do? They brought back a sandwich for the dog. I had a handful of tortilla chips.

The worst movies in the world are made about Christmas. They all have the same plot: an uptight, corrupt, or just-plain-mean person gets saved through the miraculous love and joy of Christmas. I watch them all. The smarmier, the better. Whoopi Goldberg as a little girl who blames Santa for her father's death in Viet Nam? Bring it on. Meredith Baxter dealing with the death of her son? Set the DVR. Starting in November, I watch every stupid moment of every stupid Christmas movie that comes on. Passes the time as I wait for my own miracle to find me.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. You can't wait for a miracle, you've got to BE the miracle. But first I've got to wash the mustard off my face. This sandwich gig gets ugly.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Disparity

Now I've heard it all. Did you know it's possible to perm your eyelashes? Well, it is. And I don't mean to insult anyone who does this, but WTF?

Whiling away some sleepless hours during my snake freakout the other night, I wandered through some of the Reuters best photos for the year. The living conditions of much of the world are stunning, even to someone who has traveled a bit and studied the world a lot. Those of us who live with clean running water should give thanks every day for this enormous grace. Don't EVEN get me started on heating and cooling. And toilets.

Dear God: thank you for the toilets in my home. One person doesn't need three toilets, but I thank you for them.

Millions of children without places to wash their faces and we're out perming our eyelashes.

I owned a salon and day spa for more than four years. I know how much our appearance impacts our spirits. I believe in the healing powers of manicures and pedicures, even if I don't practice them much. (I'd post a picture of my toes right now, but I'm just not that brave.) But guys---there's a line between self care and narcissism, and I'm drawing it at my stick-straight eyelashes.

And yes, I do realize everyone else is free to draw their own lines wherever they want. Or not to have lines at all. Whatever. I'd rant a little more but I've got to pluck the hairs off my chin before I go get my eyebrows threaded.

Et tu, Brutus?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Just Wild About Harry

The voice of God spoke to me last night, straight from the pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Really.

If you haven't read the book or you're waiting to see the movie, stop reading right now. I'm about to give away the ending.

The part where Dumbledore explains it all to Harry simply knocked me out. From the discussion of Harry's mother sacrificing her life to save Harry to the explanation that by surrendering to it, Harry transcended death—the voice of God echoed through the darkness of my bedroom, illuminating far more than by Itty Bitty Book Light could manage.

As my children seek reunion with their birth mothers, I fear the death of my role as their mother. Those may or may not be realistic fears, but they haunt me and running from them does not help. Surrender is the only answer. (I hear you snickering, B.)

Harry helped me grasp the paradox. Releasing my children to their own stories will help me transcend separation from them. Dumbledore confirmed what my dear friend and counselor Sandy taught me: Everything contains its opposite.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Moving in Mysterious Ways

Remember the other day when I had that whole cobra thing going on? Well, it was perfectly strange, how clear the image of a snake rising in my chest was. I could feel that hood spread, feel the texture of the snake's skin. Can't say I've ever felt anything like that, and it creeped me out. Totally.

The next morning, I laughed at myself but good when I realized I'd been reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows just before the snake images got rolling. You know, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and Nagini and all--no wonder I had snakes on the brain. Don't bother with medications for me—sugar pills will surely do. Can you say "suggestible"?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Two Steps Forward, One Cobra Back

N emailed on Sunday to invite Katie and her boyfriend and me to dinner the weekend after Christmas. When I called to accept, we laughed and cried together. When she mentioned something about the future, I told her we are going to be fabulous grandmas someday.

Today I picked up a "University of Minnesota Mom" coffee mug Katie gave me her first year at the U. As I put it in the cupboard, it struck me how much a mug like that would mean to N and made a mental note to suggest it to Katie.

Katie forwarded an email she received from N this evening, pictures of some lovely cakes N baked and decorated. Katie is a big fan of Ace of Cakes (and all things Food Network), so she was quite impressed with the cakes and called to make sure I'd seen them. After we hung up, I noticed Ns note to Katie, which ended by saying that she looked forward to baking together soon.

Something hot and fierce rose in my chest, spreading its hood like a cobra ready to spit venom. I had to get a drink of water from the frig and take Cassie for a quick walk in the cold night air before I could really breathe again.

"Get a grip, Jerri. They will share special things. Of course they will. They will do things together. That's what developing a relationship means. You know that.

Apparently I can be generous when I'm dictating the terms—acknowledge N as a grandmother and a U mother as long as it's abstract or printed on a ceramic mug. But let butter and flour and sugar enter the picture (in HER kitchen, no less), and it's all cobras and mongooses inside my chest.

The problem is not N or cakes or pictures. It is me, clutching, grasping, clinging to what I wish for rather than accepting what is. I go along in pretty good shape for a while and then my equanimity gets shattered by the smallest thing and the cobra rises up and spreads its hood of jealousy, lured out of its basket by the flute of irrational fear.

Seriously that creepy seen-a-snake feeling was so strong after I went to bed I had to turn on the lights and look around.

*sigh*

So many miles to go, I may never sleep.

Long Time Gone

Been away too long, I know. I'll write something real later today, but I'm off like a flash this morning.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Evan called in a panic when his Jeep broke down on the freeway Sunday night. We (read I) had it towed to a local mechanic and waited for Monday morning with a rock in the pit of my stomach. What would THIS cost?

Come Monday, the lovely, lovely man who owns the repair shop called to say that he'd isolated the problem, a main sensor chip, and checked on it with Chrysler. It was within warranty by...twelve days. 12 days. He said he could replace it, but if we had the car towed to a Chrysler dealership, they'd do it free. (Turned out that even the tow to the dealership was free.)

This guy easily could have said nothing and pocketed the profit on the part and the labor costs. He did not do that. Instead, he researched and reported his findings. Maybe that shouldn't seem like a small miracle, but it does.

We picked up the Jeep yesterday, running fine and dandy. No charge. Nada.

So, if you're ever in the Blue Springs, Missouri, area and need a mechanic—go see Dave at Dave's Auto on Wood's Chapel Road. He's not only smart, he's honest, the kind of good man that's hard to find.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Making Memories


14 or 15 years ago, I volunteered to bring a group of Katie's class to our house for a holiday activity. The kids were seven or eight years old, and I think we had six or eight in our group. We baked stained glass cookies—sugar cookies with colored cutouts made from crushed Lifesavers. We had a great time—lots of laughter and silliness, especially with a little boy Katie had a crush on who'd never baked cookies before.

Katie called yesterday to ask for the recipe. I'd all but forgotten about them. Truthfully, the cookies looked better than they tasted and we never made them again. Still, she remembers the cookies fondly and wants to make them for friends.

Every day brings opportunities to make lasting memories. Do something today you'll smile about 15 years from now. (Something involving cookies and kids always works.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Earth Did Not Move

Katie had a wonderful time with N yesterday and plans to see her again at Christmas. She called me before and after their meeting. We talked about all the same things we always do—her boyfriend and friends, how things are going at her job, what she needs to work on for school, when she's coming for Christmas.

No tectonic shifts, far as I can tell. Unlike Pangea, we remain connected.

With any luck, the continental drift (if it does occur) will happen in geological time: too slowly to perceive or worry about. Especially because I can do exactly as much about it as I can about the evolution of the planet: not a damned thing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Sleep Well at Night

The big day is finally here. It's cold and gray, but I'm strangely at peace.

Although I fought the idea at first, as the adoptive mother I am pretty well powerless. Surrendering to that has advantages.

When I was a kid, we had a book of bedtime stories, morality tales, all. My favorite still intrigues me. It's set in a farming community. A stranger arrives at a farm, looking for a job. When asked for his qualifications, all he says is, "I sleep well at night." No one understands that, but they need help and he looks strong.

The young man turns out to be a hard worker and quite pleasant. The spring planting season passes and summer comes on. Late in the summer, a terrible storm blows up. The farmer's family and all the other farmhands wake in the night and run all around, checking their haystacks and making sure everything is covered and secured the best ways possible. Only the young stranger remains in bed.

The next day, the farmer asks why he didn't get up with the others. "I told you when I came here," he says. "I sleep well at night. I work very hard to do things right the first time so I don't have to worry, no matter what happens." When they went out to check how the farm had weathered the storm, they found all this young man's haystacks in tact, all his areas of the barn still ship-shape.

I've already built my haystacks. The only thing left to do is try to sleep well at night.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Compost


As the minutes tick by until Katie meets N on Sunday, I needed some wood to chop. My brother and his wife invited me down to their hobby farm for the weekend.

This morning Jeff and I fired up the tractors and maneuvered the chipper and dump trailer into position. Wearing hearing protection and safety glasses and gloves, we fed branches from downed trees and garden detritus into the chipper's maw and watched it spit mulched bits between the screen walls of the trailer.

The hickory trees produced thousands of nuts before a storm destroyed them. The okra that produced stunning blossoms and bags and bags of produce now nothing but dried stalks. Tomato and tomatillo and basil, once brilliant and flavorful, now dead and gone.

It's noisy, messy work and strangely sad.

At the end, we dumped the trailer onto the compost pile, and suddenly, everything looked different. Even though their initial seasons have passed, care and attention and time will transform what remains into fertile soil in which something new will grow.

Sounds good to me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Two doors opened for me yesterday.

The day started with coffee at my mom's house. Mom and my sister and I were organizing ourselves for Thanksgiving dinner and talking about the holiday. Talk to turned to Katie and her planned meeting (the first) with N. this weekend. Mom's face tightened with disapproval.

And then a miracle occurred.

Rather than absorbing her disapproval and doubting myself, I spoke up. Quietly. Calmly. Simply. "Mom, I know you don't like the way I'm handling this, but I'm doing what I believe is best for Katie and best for me."

Mom shook her head and murmured that I might be right about not going to Minneapolis this weekend to "protect my territory," but it was too much that I've invited N and her husband and her parents to brunch at Christmas.

"They're welcome in our home anytime," I said. "I want Katie to see there's room for everyone. And it may be selfish, but I want N and her family to see that we are and always will be a family. I want them to see the art projects from 3rd grade on the bookshelves and the framed drawing from junior high in the hall. I want them to see the photographs everywhere."

Mom shook her head. "Well, that's all right. But I know you. You'll give them copies of those pictures and share the art projects."

I looked her right in the eye. "Yes, I will. I've had all the joy. How could it hurt me to give them paper copies of things I've gotten to live? If they want a picture of her wearing the dress my sister hand-smocked for her first birthday, they're welcome to it. I got to help her blow out the candle. And every picture is a reminder she has a loving family, a history that can't be replaced. I hope they want them. "

Faced with calm, irrefutable logic, Mom backed down. "Maybe you're right."

I heard angels singing. Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, I believe.

Recounting the event to Bryan later, something he said opened another door. I suddenly understood that I am the voice in my daughter's head, just as my mother is the voice in mine. The voice in my head says things like, "Who do you think you are?" and "Don't get on your high horse." and "Never enough."

The voice in my daughter's head says, "You can do this." and "Keep trying. " and "I believe in you." (I know this to be true. I've asked.)

To be fair, Mom's messages to me were a good deal kinder than the ones she received from her mother. Mine to Katie were kinder still. It's a process. The real point here is that genetics is vital and knowing N gives Katie access to her heritage, but it does not and cannot replace her history.

We will not settle the age-old questions of nature/nurture. We don't need to. As my dear friend and counselor Sandy always said, "And both are true."

Dawn hasn't quite broken, but I'm ready to start cooking and I'm already giving thanks. I am grateful to everyone who has commented, emailed or called through these last weeks. You can't fully know what your loving support means, but I hope you know how grateful I am.

Blessings to you and those you love. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Title?

How about I write a book: Tales of a Real Mother: A View from the Not-So-Cheap Seats.

Too on the nose?

My aunt Connie told me "mother" was a bad word when I was 12 or 13. She said if a boy said it, I should slap his face and tell him not to talk like that around a lady. It was a long time before I got the difference between you mother and my mother. Kind of like dam and damn.
(sigh)
Life was so simple then.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Count Your Marabous Before They Hatch


Caution: wild mood swings ahead.

So there I was, wearing my I WIN hat, getting ready to stitch some marabou feathers onto a pair of spanking-new pink rubber gloves. (BTW: who decided to use the feathers of the hideous creature above to make things prettier? Now, that's some vision, there.)

Mid-stitch, Katie called. We were chatting about what her boyfriend will eat (he's coming with her for Christmas), when she blurted, "I'll call you back," and hung up.

You know that feeling of dread that fills your body—the one that drips from your forehead to your feet, chilling you and filling you with knowledge you do not want to possess? I knew N was on the other line. I tried to convince myself I was overreacting, but I knew.

45 long minutes passed before Katie finally called back. As casual as can be, I said, "Everything ok? You hung up so suddenly."

Bless her heart, she was honest. "Oh yeah, It's just that Nancy called."

Crushed is the only word for it. Well, there are others, but they're even more melodramatic and absurd. After all, I am not a hopeful suitor and N is not a rival for her hand. She may be, however, a rival for her loyalties. I had so hoped N and I would become friends, that we would work together (at least a little) to help Katie with all this. Apparently, she has a different plan in mind.

I have not heard a word from N since she left my house that first day. I've sent two short, casual-friendly emails but received no reply. I fear that just as I needed to ignore her existence to get what I wanted in the early years, she now needs to ignore mine. Karma's a bitch.

Face it: I'm a shabby old skin-horse and there's a new bunny in town.

It hurts like hell, but in reality, this is simply one more step along my daughter's path, her life independent of me. Motherhood is the only job on earth where the task from day one is to make yourself redundant. That was easy to understand and fairly easy to practice until the path opened so wide, so fast.

After talking to a dear, dear friend last night, I realized the skin-horse probably didn't sit on the shelf waiting to be noticed. He was patient and all that, but I'll bet he took his tattered old butt out to green pastures for a few adventures of his own. Makes the time pass faster.

I've got to get out of my head and into some fun. Stay tuned. It's going to take a hell of a fairy to make this mother real.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

True Confessions OR Potty Time at the I'm OK, You're OK Corral

I am a petty woman. It's terrible, really, the smallness of mind I exhibit given half a chance.

Yesterday—in crisis with a clogged toilet—Katie called for advice and guidance.

Lest anyone miss the salient point of this story--SHE DID NOT CALL HER FATHER, who lives less than 10 miles from her and considers himself the handyman for the ages.

She did not call her grandfather, who IS the handyman for the ages.

She also did not call her boyfriend or his mother or his father, her best friend or her best friend's boyfriend, her upstairs neighbors or her landlord, any of whom would have come to her rescue.

She is this mother's daughter: she took care of it herself.

And...um... she called me to hold her virtual hand. She trusted me to know what to do and to understand how revolting it is to touch a toilet with anything other than her rosy cheeks or a scrub brush.

I am SO buying that girl some rubber gloves for Christmas. Pink ones. I'll attach some maribou feathers to the cuffs, maybe glue on a gem or two.

Might even wear my I WIN hat while I work.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Night and Day

Although Katie figures in many of my posts, Evan does not, mostly because the challenges he faces are his stories to tell, not mine. At 26, he has not found his way. He's smart but won't apply himself to anything unless there's a girl involved. If he's got a nickel, he spends a dime. Angry is his standard operating mode.

Have I mentioned how fiercely I love him?

He is my first child, the treasure at the end of a long, hard road. He was an easy infant, a sunny, delightful toddler, a fabulously fun little boy. By 5 or 6 he'd become occasionally difficult. After a traumatic head injury in a car accident when he was 10, he developed epilepsy and serious emotional and behavioral problems. His teenage years were torture for us all.

During the dark years, his weapon of last resort was, "You're not my mother. You're just some woman I live with."

He once threw a battery from a school bus window and broke the windshield of a passing car. I made him pay for the replacement and insisted he deliver both the money and an apology in person. Driving through a bitterly cold Minnesota night to meet the car owner was one of the most painful half hours of my life. "You can't make me do this. You can't make me do anything. You're not my mother."

"I may not be the mother you want but I am the mother you have, and I am the mother responsible for helping you grow up. I can't make you do anything but you will not get back in this car until you apologize and shake this man's hand."

On and on it went. The Explorer was a missile of misery screaming down the freeway. The lights of the suburbs glowed warm and cozy in the distance. They taunted me, those lights. They whispered stories* of happy, unbroken families gathered around dinner tables with sweet smiles on their faces and linen napkins on their laps.

"You're not my mother. You're not Katie's mother, either. You don't have anybody."

It was—it IS—my deepest fear. Then. Now. Always.

As the kids reunite with their birth families, memories haunt me. With Katie, it is the sweet moments I fear will be brushed aside and lost. With Evan, it is the painful ones, the many times he so clearly longed for something—for someone—I could not be. Now he's searching, and I am afraid what he finds will not be what he wants.

Actually, I know it won't because what he wants is someone to take away all his pain, a common hope among adopted kids. It never happens. It can't. Not for any of us.

The day he started the search, Evan said, "I've always hoped my real mother lives in Europe."

Yeah, I'll bet. In a big tower with a moat and everything. But haven't we all wished for a better family? Remember Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess? I spent years hoping my real family—or at least a little monkey—would show up at my bedroom window.** Photographs of my mom pregnant with me dashed those hopes. I was only and exactly who I seemed to be, and so was my family.

That will turn out to be true for Evan, too, in its way. I pray he can come to peace with his truth. And I pray that truth will always and forever include me.


* Even that night, I knew the stories whispered by those lights weren't true. Every family has its moments, even in beautiful houses with warm glowing lights.
**I can't be alone in this. A Little Princess was first published in 1905. 103 years later,
eleven different editions of the story are available on Amazon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Too Much Information

The best thing that's ever happened to my writing is some editing I've been doing lately. The writers are fairly new to the business and boy, does it show. Master's degrees, judge's robes, television careers--these folks have street cred, but they never use four words when 12 will do.

They "that" me to death. In fact, I'm considering a petition to remove the words "that" and "will" from the dictionary. No one ever "needs" something, they "will need." And good points may lurk under those tangled skeins of prepositional phrases, but damned if I can find them.

"There are." Do NOT get me started on "there are."

It's the writing equivalent of "What Not to Wear." Every twisted sentence reminds me to write tighter. I've seen Robin Hood's barn. Where's the Promised Land?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shayla

Yesterday was Mom's 75th birthday. Mid-afternoon, I went to the grocery store in preparation for her birthday dinner. The clerk who checked me out was purely fascinating: an African American woman in her mid-20s, I'd say. Let's call her Shayla (we might as well--her nametag did).

Shayla augments her own hair with hair manufactured from resources lying deep within the earth, the stuff we fight wars over. How she attached the petrochemical-based hair is a mystery because it appeared to originate in about 5 different places. The effect was quite unstructured (think windblown model) except at the crown of her head, where she had constructed a poof engineers should study. A headband lay delicately atop the creation: two narrow bands of plastic flocked with black velvet, accented with tiny rhinestones and a black velvet bow. 

Her black plastic glasses were accented with more rhinestones. What was behind the glasses was truly extraordinary: two separate lines of eyeliner, one black and one white, curled at the outer corners of her eyes in dramatic upward swoops. The eyeliner drew attention, but the false eyelashes brought it home. 

Shayla wore a black t-shirt over bright pink pants; shiny patent heels at least 3 inches high. A cellphone bejeweled with pink rhinestones dangled from her waist. Her fingernails were long and square, and the tips were decorated with black, white and pink lines accented with rhinestones. Every finger was adorned with a silver ring, two teeth adorned with gold.

I laid zucchini and grits and onions on the belt and cards on the table.  "How long does it take you to get ready?" 
 
This young woman has two children. She gets up and dressed, then wakes the kids and gets them ready, too. The process adds two hours to her day, which must already be long given that she stands on high heels behind a cash register for eight hours of it. 

"What gives you the energy to do that every day?"
"I go to bed early."

Like all of us, Shayla must have her challenges, but she meets them with a smile on her face and a bow in her hair. I admire that kind of optimism and determination.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Roar


Yesterday was a tough day.

*My son decided to search for his birth mother.

*A neighbor stopped by mid-afternoon to scold me for leaving my garage door open. "It was open when I went for a walk. And it's been open all afternoon, every time I checked," he said. This man is 70ish. He has the puffy nose and ruddy complexion of a drinker and his ears give proof to the idea that certain body parts never stop growing. He was quite agitated over my garage door. "You shouldn't do that!" Long pauses and trailing sentences told he how badly he wanted to scold me for the sad state of affairs inside my garage, too, but he restrained himself.

Me? I apologized. Several times. I thanked him for his concern for my safety (which clearly had no part in his indignation) and agreed that I should not leave the door open. Every time he restated the magnitude of my offense, I apologized and said I hadn't realized my mistake. I even waved and thanked him again as he waited on my driveway to make sure I closed the door.

*My mother called. Her response to the news about Evan was this: "It won't that bad if you don't make it worse, Jerri." I agreed, telling her over and over how fine I am and how well everything is going to work out.

*My cell phone suffered a mysterious and untimely death. I was in the Sprint store for an hour and a half. The conversations there don't bear repeating except to note that I was entirely docile while being TOTALLY SCREWED by a company I've been handing piles of money to for over 15 years.

WTF?

I tell myself to find my Buddha-nature, to see these people as my teachers, to rise above. But maybe the lesson is not tolerance and forbearance, but boundaries. Maybe the point is to learn to say "Shut the *&$# up!" Maybe this stuff will keep happening until I give voice to the roar building inside me. Lord knows my doormat impersonation has not led to peace or happiness. Maybe a few well timed roars would do the trick.

I recommend ear plugs if you come over here today to point out any of my more glaring flaws.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Had to Happen

Evan came over this morning and I told him Katie found her birth mother. We hadn't said anything to him. I guess I just wanted to put it off as long as possible. We've never heard from his birth mother at all and based on the letters she sent with him when he came to us, the story is not likely to be as positive. She did not tell his father of the pregnancy.

His first words: "How? I've always wanted to find my real mother."

It felt like he slapped me, even though I know that's not how he meant it. I held myself together long enough to put a package together like the one I made for Katie. All he has to do now is write a letter to her and drop it in.

However you pray, please join me in praying for my son. He acts tough, but he is so fragile. All I ask is that God be gentle with him.
A news story burrowed into my brain this morning. Authorities identified the remains of a woman who disappeared seven years ago. She wandered away during a layover at the Dallas airport and was never seen alive again. Not by anyone who knew her, anyway. It must have been terrible for her husband and daughter, for her family and friends. They have my sincere sympathies.

You know who else has my sympathy? The porter. He's assigned to take two elderly people from a plane to a gate, the same kind of thing he does many times a day. This time he takes the wheelchair-bound husband to the restroom and asks the wife to wait for them at the gate. It is a critical decision. Life will forever be divided into before and after he said, "Please wait right here." The before was whatever it was, but the after is filled with police and reporters and attorneys and death. And questions. Oh, the questions that man must have been asked in these seven years. Best not to consider the ones he's probably asked himself.

We all make a thousand choices every day. Squeak through that yellow light? One more before you go? Call mom tomorrow? We're tired and we're stressed and we rely on a razor-thin margin of safety that doesn't exist. If you've taken elderly people to gates without incident for six months or six years or six decades, how can you know that this time the person you ask to wait will wander off, lost in the fog of Alzheimer's, and meet death beside a muddy lake?

Every moment could be the last one before an after we can't imagine. We can't carry that awareness constantly—the weight of if would crush us. So we muddle on toward God-only-knows-what. We choose. We decide. We turn left or right or stay where we are. We say, "Wait right here," or we call for help. Then we deal with the consequences. There is no other way.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lost Weekend

It's 4:30am Monday morning. I woke up on the living room sofa a few minutes ago and realized I haven't slept in my bed for three nights. Maybe four. I haven't showered or changed clothes since Friday, but I'm pretty sure I brushed my teeth on Saturday. Can't remember my last meal. If alcohol or drugs were involved, this would be a bender. Since they are not, it can only be depression.

Time to snap out of it.

It hasn't been a pity party exactly. More like a guilty party with me as the guest of honor. But this morning I realize the book that sent me over the edge is based on one woman's theory. No body of evidence, no double-blind, scientific studies. A considered opinion.

And it's partially true. After all, everyone has a wound. Some people can point to a cause, such as adoption. Others of us are left to wonder. Reminds me of a song we used to sing at St. Joan's, Anthem by Leonard Cohen.

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.


More later. Right now, I've got a shower to take, some tea and toast to make. Soon as day breaks, I'm going to take my cracks outside where the light can reach them.

ps: I'm getting rid of all those books. Not going to read, listen to, or watch anything but FUNNY for a while. All suggestions welcome. Bring on the funny.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Heavy Heart

It's a down day here on the roller coaster of my life. Not one of the steep plunges, but a pretty-good-sized dip.

Here's the thing: W's sperm was zapped by radiation following cancer. He was 28. I was 25. We'd been trying to have kids since the minister pronounced us "man and wife." (I was too naive to ask for the equality of "husband and wife." Not that it would have mattered much.)

W got well. We signed up for adoption and began waiting. I filled the time by having every test or procedure known to medical science. I charted my temperature before raising my head from the pillow every morning, took fertility drugs, had my insides reamed out with rotary blades. Had artificial insemination. 

Whatever I might have imagined about conceiving a child, it was not that. No love. No joy. No warmth. Especially no warmth. For one January cycle, my own beloved doctor was out of town, but the temperature chart said it was time so one of his colleagues was doing the honors. I was lying on the exam table covered by a paper sheet, feet in stirrups, legs spread wide. The doctor came in, looked out the windows, turned around and walked back out. The nurses followed.

For 45 minutes I laid there like a Thanksgiving turkey waiting to be stuffed, splayed naked and covered with goosepimples. The doctor returned and got to work without a word. When he reached into my insides, I recoiled. His hands inside me were the single coldest thing I have ever felt. The nurse grabbed my arm to keep me from falling off the table.

"Sorry," he said. "When I came in before, I saw that one of my tires was flat. It's 20 below out there. Darn cold day to be changing a tire, I tell you."

Writing this, I feel like the Saturday Night Live skit--Really? You left me there like that to change a tire? Really? Really? And I didn't walk out or at least protest? Really?

But I was 26 years old and alone in that place, negotiating the rapids 500 miles from my family with a husband whose ego was too fragile to acknowledge the rough waters, let alone help me steer the raft.

I got pregnant that cycle but miscarried a little more than three months later. Three days after the loss, even before the D&C that was required, W came home from work and found me crying. He stormed out ("You act like you're the only person this ever happened to, Jerri!") and did not come home for two days. I never cried about it in front of him again.

Evan arrived three years later and then Katie after five more: my dreams come true. And all this time I have believed them to be the children God intended for me all along. The signs seemed unmistakable: Evan was born on my birthday and Katie on her grandmother's, the one for whom she is named.

Now, reading books on adoption and reunion, I am told over and over that one mother cannot replace another, just as adopted children cannot fill the void of infertility. I did not set out to replace a mother, simply to be a mother. But according to a book often referred to as the "bible on adoption," separation from one's natural mother—even in early infancy—creates a wound that can never be healed.
 
My children were relinquished before I knew of their existence. I had no hand in separating them from their families of origin. Or, so I have always believed. Now I'm finding many who believe that by participating in the adoption system, infertile couples drive a demand, create a market for babies.

Perhaps for once, the answer is to stop reading. I cannot change history, cannot make us anything other than what we are—imperfect human beings, doing the imperfect best we can.

I'm trying to believe—just this once—that my best will be good enough. It has to be. It's all I've got.

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Breed

Last night Katie emailed some puppy photos and we got on another jag of phone calls and email through crazy laughter. I'm not going to repeat the things we said because most of it was highly inappropriate.

Let me just say that if ever I bring home a Jack Russell/Shih Tzu mix puppy, its name will be Don't Know.

Seriously, you could damage internal organs laughing like that.

* * *
Four or five years ago, several colleagues and I were talking about the word bitch, and the way its use and acceptance has changed, especially among younger generations. Time was, we opined, when people were offended by its use but now had become sadly numb to it.

"Heck," said one younger colleague, "I call my husband a bitch all the time. He doesn't mind. Like, I walk in the house at night and say, 'Hey. Where's my dinner, bitch?'"

We older ones gasped collectively. "Does he get mad?"

"Nah. He just says, 'At the drive-thru where you left it, bitch.'"

Her flat delivery and off-hand manner struck us all as hilarious. We laughed to tears and good-naturedly (and quietly) called one another bitches throughout the rest of the day.

I believe Katie called during one of the fits of laughter surrounding this. I'd like to think so, anyway. But for whatever reason—perhaps just plain-old-fashioned inappropriateness—I told her the story that night at dinner. For days we hardly uttered a sentence to one another that did not end in the word bitch. We laughed like maniacs at every "clever" new use we came up with.

Part of it was the shock value. She was 17 or so and although I'm sure she said a lot of things with friends, she had never sworn in front of me (still doesn't), nor I in front of her. But once we got started, we couldn't stop, and it set us off every single time. Still does.

Once or twice during tense moments surrounding Katie's search for and reunion with her birth mother, times of over-the-top drama or great fear for one of us, the other has broken the moment with, "Hey. Where's my dinner, bitch?"

Gets us every time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Getting Juggy with It

The morning after my calendar freak out, Katie calls before heading out to take a big test. She's been studying practically non-stop for this thing, and she's frantic.

"Sweetie, you've worked very hard, done everything you can. Now you have to trust yourself and let go," I say. "If you're freaked, you can't find the right answers even when they're right there in your head."

A weird thing happens: I hear my own voice echoing inside my head, kind of like an auditory mirror. "…done everything. . .trust yourself. . .let go. . . ."

Which do you want to be, Jerri? The pot or the kettle?


When the test should be over, I call to tell Katie I transferred a little money to her account so she and and her boyfriend can treat themselves to a night out.

She's standing in front of a puppy display, a Jack Russell/Pug mix called a Jug. (Sensing her distress, Craig picked her up after class and took her to a pet store, her favorite medicine.) We trade smart-mouthed comments.

You have to get two. Then you can say, "My jugs are perky today."

Or, "My jugs are just out of control."

Or, "My jugs are really getting big."


Vintage Mom and Katie silliness. Throughout the evening she calls half-a-dozen more times:
. . . to tell me where they went to dinner and what they ate.
. . . to tell me what movie they saw.
. . ..to ask what I thought of Taylor Swift's performance at the CMA awards.
. . . to say she loves Carrie Underwood but hates the black dress.

We laugh over something or another (My jugs bounce when we run.) every time.

Letting go was an excellent suggestion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Plucked from a House Fly's Back

This is incredible. Not just the fact that he can, but the reasons he does.



Found a link to this on Stacy's blog. Thanks, Stacy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Did You Hear That?

That was the sound of my heart breaking in two.

I got out the duct tape because you can fix ANYTHING with duct tape. Right?

One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was a calendar Katie made when she was 15 or 16. The months alternated pictures of Katie and Evan. This was before calendar-making software. She had the idea and took photos to a print shop to get help putting it together. It was a magnificent, three hankie gift.

Katie just asked me to scan some photos and send files so she can make a calendar for N for Christmas.

It is a thoughtful, lovely idea, and I'm proud of her for coming up with it. I maintained my composure as she asked if it was okay with me. I said all the right things. AND I will scan the cutest photos I can find and send anything she needs or wants.

It is only here in the darkest corner of cyberspace that I can or will even whisper the truth: It breaks my heart.

Mars and Venus (and Arkansas)

The differences between men and women are clearly illustrated by the drama playing out in our lives. You know how emotional Katie and N and I have been. The men involved? Not so much.

Katie told her dad she'd found her birth mother. He said, "That's nice. How tall is she?"

N couldn't reach her mother the afternoon the agency first called to let her know Katie wanted contact. She finally got through to her dad. Her father said, "Well that's nice, Honey. I'm happy for you. I'll tell your mom you called."

Katie reports that her first conversation with her birth father went something like this: "I always hoped we meet some day. But you know, only when you're cool with it. I live near a lake and I work at. . .OMG! Two ducks are mating out on the lake! Wow, I've never seen that before! Oh, yeah. Where were we. . .N is a great lady. You'll like her."

Nothing wrong with the men's reactions. They're just different. Maybe our heightened emotional reactions push them into more neutral roles. If everyone was as cranked up as I've been, we'd spin right off the planet.


Yesterday I made a list of stories surrounding this. One is about the day Katie mailed the letter to her birth mother. It wasn't until I started reviewing my notes that I realized it was the same day I ended up alone in the scary B&B in Arkansas.

At 3:00 in the afternoon I asked Katie, "What are you afraid of, Honey?" as she stood at a mailbox sobbing.

At 9:00 that night I asked myself the exact same question, alone in a hundred-year-old house in a dying town in the middle of nowhere.

The Universe is handing me one hell of a story. I'm trying SO DAMN HARD to rise to the occasion. I'll post this one as soon as I get it finished. It's a doozy. I hope I can do it justice.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Not Quite a Party In My Pants

Katie talked to her birth father on the phone for the first time yesterday. When she called me later, we googled him. The picture we found—her first glimpse of the man who gave her life—showed him in a Halloween costume. The tag said something like, "A Party in My Pants."

"Isn't that great?" Katie asked. "That's what I'm going to be next year."

The irony totally escaped her. After she hung up, I laughed so hard I had to get up and go pee before I had something far less pleasant than a party in my pants.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Loaves and Fishes

Spent 5 hours with N this afternoon. Unbelievable day, really. Much to tell, but I need some time to process first.

Sharing what you have subtracts nothing, only multiplies. When I feel the fear rising, I say to myself, "Loaves and fishes, Jerri. Loaves and fishes."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

In the Nick of Time

Thursday: Spent some time thinking about animal totems and decided to learn more about bluebird as totem. No particular reason, I just felt drawn to it. Downloaded some bluebird photos and packed up my paints and pastels to take along to visit my brother this weekend.

Friday: On the phone talking business with a new client. Katie beeped in, but I ignored the signal. She emailed, asking me to call. I shot back--"On the phone. You okay?"

Moments later, she beeped in again and I excused myself, telling the client, "My daughter needs me. She wouldn't interrupt if it weren't important."

Returned Katie's call and heard sobs first, and then, "Mom, they found my birth mother."

We cried together and talked for half an hour. She wasn't sure what to do next. I encouraged her to call N, imagining how eager N must be for something to happen next. Katie decided she would and said she'd call me back as soon as she finished talking to N.

More than an hour later, I was pacing, crying, and feeling so alone. Against my better judgment, I tried to call Katie and got no answer. Ugly voices in my head whispered, "Of course she didn't answer, she's still on the phone with her real mother."

Desolation is the only word for what I felt. Another hour passed before Katie called back. We talked and laughed and cried. As I posted yesterday, I called N and we laughed and cried together.

That post didn't mention that as N and I talked, I was driving to southern Missouri. It also didn't mention that I cried so hard afterward that I had to pull off the highway to get control of myself or that I missed a turn and had to drive 50 miles out of my way after I realized I how far afield I'd drifted.

Saturday: No water to be carried, but did we ever "Chop Wood."


Then we made horseradish.


Then we gathered walnuts.


Then we drank wine on the patio. A bluebird landed in the tree beside me. An honest-to-God, state-bird-of-Missouri, almost-died-off-but-being-repopulated bluebird. I have not seen one in more than a decade. Maybe two decades.

Care to guess the lesson of the bluebird totem?
"When bluebird flies into your life it serves as a reminder to allow others to grow in their own way and time."

Um....yeah. Like that.

Bluebird. I'm SO going to need his lessons.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Adding to Our Family

Katie was indeed talking with her birth mother at the very moments I was writing yesterday's post. She called me right afterward, full of amazement about their similar tastes and interests. She kept saying, "She's so normal, Mom. And so nice."

At Katie's suggestion, I then called N. We talked for almost an hour, and indeed she IS so normal and so nice. We both cried a great deal, but we also laughed together at the wonder of the daughter we share. I thanked for the unbelievable gift she gave me and assured her that Katie had grown up believing in Ns love for her, believing that placing her for adoption was a choice made out of love, not convenience. We made a plan to have lunch or tea or something next week so I can share some pictures and some Katie stories.

We agreed that Katie gets to set the pace of this, to lead the way for all of us. We agreed that whatever she needs and wants is what we will try to provide. I believe N wants only the best for our girl, no matter what that may be. Me, too.

At the end of our conversation, N told me it was the best day of her life. She said she had imagined this day a million times, had rehearsed what she would say and envisioned how it would all go. But nothing she ever imagined, she said, came close to the wonder of what actually happened.

When she settles down a bit, N may come to see the yin and yang of it, as I do. Because yes, she is reuniting with her child, but she is also being made more aware of all she has missed.

There is yin and yang for me, too. It is hard to give over, even a little, my place at the head of the mother table. There is the feeling of threat and danger. But on the other hand, my daughter's joy spills over to me, and I can only be glad to have a larger circle of people who love her. And who could ever have guessed that we'd live in the same town, so far from where we started? In some great cosmic shuffle, N and her husband moved here two months before I did. I've always believed we'd find her some day. I never imagined it would be in my back yard.

God is good and I am grateful, today and always.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I'd be surprised if anyone in the history of the world ever wished more fervently to believe in prayers of petition than I do at this moment.

I believe in prayer, in the power of prayer. I do not believe in God-as-Gepetto, in One who will pull the right strings to provide what I request.

If only I did, I would pray for my daughter to be safe from all harm. Then I would pray for her to love me best, want me only, be close to my heart forever. (Very mature, no?)

Katie found her birth mother. They are probably on the phone together at this very moment.

And, wonder of wonders, she lives in the Kansas City area. Moved here within months of the time I did.

And so my prayers are this: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Guide my tongue and my actions. Lead my heart in the ways I should go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Miracles of Modern Dentistry

Stayed at my folks house last night so they could take me to the dentist early this morning.

9:00 pm: take one Valium. Wait for calm to settle in. Set phone alarm for morning. Check for arrival of calm. Sleep an hour. Look for calm. Sleep another hour. Check again. Repeat until morning.

6:00 am: take a lorazapam and two pills with unrecognizable names. Fall asleep for an hour.

8:00 am: arrive at dentist's office. A woman is spralled on sofa, snoring. She got better drugs. I am alarmingly alert.

8:05 am: Dental assistant slides a nosepiece and cozy earphones onto my head. Air rushes into my nose and Norah Jones croons, "Come away with me in the night." I close my eyes and nestle into the darkness behind their lids.

8:10 am: "A little sting here" the dentist says. I feel the needle enter my gums but do not care. It's so pleasant in my world, here in the dark with Norah. We float above the hated chair, in the scene but not of it. We are beyond needles, beyond pain, beyond concern about petty things like dental drills and silver picks.

Who Cares am: The dentist asks me to bite down and tap. I do. And again. His instructions travel down a long string, emerging into a tin can covering my ear. I understand their meaning and comply. I do not open my eyes, don't even think about leaving the cozy space Norah and I have built in back of my brain.

Half Past Who Gives a Damn am: Dentist's voice travels down the string again. "You still with us? We're finished."

Half my face is numb; the size of my tongue makes Jewish grandmothers think of sandwiches; Mom pushes me to the car in a wheelchair.

When next I attend to the world, I am in bed at my mom's house, wrapped in a favorite quilt. The world calls, but I don't answer. The deed is done, the cavities filled. All I have to do now is rest in the dark. The headphones may be gone, but Norah remains. We roll through a starry sky together. And our teeth feel good.

If you have problems with dentists, Sedation Dentistry is the way to go.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Heart On Stony Ground


Writing to a very talented young writer this morning, I typed, "Believe in yourself as I believe in you," and stopped with a gasp.

It felt like the voice of God was speaking to me as well as to my friend. God believes in us and wants us to believe in ourselves: without judgement but not without awareness; without limits but not without boundaries; without fear. Without. Fear.

I took this picture in the stream bed of the Buffalo River Sunday afternoon. Seems the world is filled cairns like this if we look for them. This morning I found the meaning I'm assigning to it. "Believe in yourself as I believe in you."

That's for you, Katherine. And it's for me. And for everyone else who needs to hear it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No harm done?

The people of the Ozarks can be as gracious as the rise and fall of those old mountains.

Two middle-aged couples set up chairs near the finish line of the Outhouse Races and went to buy lemonade. When they returned, two older women and two young women were sitting in their chairs. The younger women stood and walked away and the middle-aged women sat down. The older women started to rise, and one of the men called out, "Tell her to sit down."

One older woman stood and turned to face him, "I only wanted to rest a minute," she said. "I didn't mean no harm."

"None done," he replied. "You sit yourself down. I'm fine where I am." He turned to his companion and said, "I'd crawl across this square naked before I'd ask an old lady to stand up so I could sit down."


They also can be as unyielding as the rock that forms the mountains.

"The hay bales are there for your protection," the announcer blared from his position on a flatbed truck parked at the edge of the raceway, dead center of a blocked-off street. "These outhouses don't have no brakes and some of the drivers are of the female persuasion. Do not sit on the hay bales."

Pause.

"Young woman in the orange, I'm talking specifically to you. Get off that hay bale."

9,999 people turned to see who was defying the big voice from the sky.

"What's a matter? Don't you speak A-merican?" he blasted.

The girl, 10 or 12 I'd guess, rose slowly. Her father picked up the purple plastic stool she was sitting on and waved it toward the announcer and then around at the crowd. He put it back on the ground and the scarlet-faced girl sat back down— behind the hay bale—where she'd been all along. From half a block away, I could see the glisten of tears on her cheeks. She mopped them up with her long, blonde ponytail.

Silence from the big man on the back of the big black truck. No acknowledgment. No apology. Just on to the next order of business.


One of the outhouses had a political theme, "The Race to the White Out House." In the parade, it was pushed by a man wearing a rubber John McCain mask and another wearing an Obama mask. The rubber Obama face was the only black face in the entire town and it did not match the white hands extending from the suit sleeves.

Come race time, "Obama" was driving the outhouse, which suddenly had a flat tire. The pushers did not even run, and it lost its heat by half the length of the raceway to the loudest applause of the day.

Politics aside, it was a great day and a grand adventure. More (and prettier) stories to come.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oh, Dear


I do so wish I'd learn to ask questions before making a plan.

When I came to Arkansas over Labor Day, I was ever so slightly uncomfortable at the hotel where I stayed. When I first went to my room, the door (which opened to the outside rather than a hallway) was ajar. It was rather late at night and it didn't seem like a good idea to walk into an unlocked room alone. I recruited a manager, who accompanied me. We both felt sure the cleaning staff had simply not closed the door all the way, but I ended up dozing through the night with one ear tuned to the metal steps outside my door.

I did not want to stay in the same place on this trip. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to stay in a B&B. You know: hosts, a small number of other guests, kind of homey. Comfortable circumstances for a woman traveling alone.

When I arrived this afternoon, one of the owners was here, a lovely woman named Sandy. She showed me the house with great pride and satisfaction in the work she and her husband have done to it. So far, so good. Until she mentioned that I'm the only guest tonight AND she and her husband do not live here.

Next I walked around the tiny town a little and discovered it's practically empty. Boarded up. Shuttered. Out of several dozen buildings, only the bank, two cafes and a small grocery store are occupied.

Having dinner at the cafe later, I was uncomfortably aware that everyone in the place took note of the stranger eating alone. One wild eyed, wild haired, wild bearded man watched every trip of fork to mouth. He looked like someone with a story and I really wanted to strike up a conversation with him, but something about his seriously dirty face, hair, and clothing stopped me.

Now I'm alone in a two-story, hundred-year-old, unfamiliar house. Boards creak and groan. Windows rattle in the wind. The heat cries as it wanders through the old pipes.

Walking up the stairs I bumped into a wall and my little digital voice recorder turned on somehow. Nearly jumped out of my skin until I realized that the strange fuzzy noise was coming from my purse.

If this were a scary movie, I'd be screaming at the screen, "Run, you idiot. Get out of there now!"

But this is not a movie. It's my life. And I'm sure I'll be fine. I'm also sure that the next time I get the itch to go adventuring, I'll do something equally foolish.

Right now, I just want to get the chance.

EDITED TO ADD: alive and well this morning. Off to the Races. Stories later. OH, the stories for later.!

Off on Adventure

Packing up to go to Arkansas this morning. Will take lots of pictures and post them when I catch a signal.

Happy weekend to you all.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Home Again


Listened to Away by Amy Bloom as I drove home yesterday. It's an incredible tale told incredibly well. I'm looking forward to the drive to Arkansas tomorrow so I can hear the end.

This is now the second book I've listened to that I simply must also read. Not for the story, of course, I've heard that. But to roll around in her language and see how she put those marvelous sentences together. Her voice is so strong, so distinct that I want to see it on the page. Odd, but to properly appreciate a writer's voice, I've got to see rather than hear it.

Could be I read more than I listen. Wow. That's something to think about, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Details

I did talk with J. He told me some of the details of the way things unfolded. Simply incredible.

She did get help. I'd say more but don't feel that's my story to tell, as it doesn't involve me. I lived the whole "lying about MS" chapter, so I don't feel quite as reticent about it.

Anyway, I'm taking my little act on the road again. Headed to KC this morning. It's gray and gloomy, but I have a new audiobook (Away by Amy Bloom), so it should be an easy trip.

See you on the other side!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unexpected Encounter


Another coffee shop morning while Katie sleeps. But today, I ran into a central character from one of the stranger chapters in my (admittedly) strange life. J was once married to D, who was once one of my closest friends.

D coached my Katie's soccer team. She was bright and funny and tremendous fun to be around. We became good friends when I called to apologize for a hurtful thing my former husband had said about her in the hearing of her daughter. She laughed and said, "Honey, you're divorced. You're not in the business of apologizing for that ass anymore."

We were friends from that moment on. When she told me she'd been diagnosed with MS, I dived right in to help in anyway possible. For five years, I cooked and cleaned and chauffered her kids. I hung Christmas lights on her house. I sat in her car at soccer games when it was too hot for her to be outside. I drove her to doctor's appointments.

Her speech was sometimes slurred. She was sometimes unsteady on her feet. She sometimes drifted off to sleep at inappropriate moments.

After five years, I discovered she did not have MS. It was an elaborate cover for the fact that she abused prescription drugs. Her family and I found out at the same time through situations involving huge drama, including an overdose that the hospital deemed an attempted suicide.

D landed in a treatment facility. When she completed the program, she called me to come pick her up. I told her I couldn't step back into the role of caretaker without having some questions answered, and she hung up on me.

We never spoke again. Did not even know for sure what happened to her until this morning, more than five years later, when her (now former) husband walked into coffee shop where I was sitting.

What a morning it has been.

Monday, October 20, 2008

To Infinity and Beyond

Sitting in a Minneapolis coffee shop two blocks from Katie's apartment right now, happy as a clam. Drove here yesterday and expect to stay until Wednesday.

My first appointment with the sedation dentist is Thursday. All he's going to do is talk to me about the whole "knock you senseless" thing and make the REAL appointment. Feel pretty sure I can handle that.

And THEN, on Friday, I'm heading to Mountain View, Arkansas, to attend the Outhouse Races and Bean Festival.

This is what it looks like down there:
I have reservations in a lovely B&B in a little town called Leslie. My goal for the weekend is to soak myself in color. I'm taking my paints and pastels, my canvases and Conte crayons. Also taking prints of some gorgeous photos Prema introduced us to a couple weeks ago, some Rigid Wrap and some Plaster of Paris. The good Lord only knows what I'll come home with, but it will be colorful. Of that I am sure.

Sure of a couple other things, too: Paula's top will be down and my spirits will be up.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Crying for Color


Felt the need to cry yesterday, so I went to see Nights in Rodanthe.

I know. I know. But one thing you can count on from Nicholas Sparks is the jerking of tears, and I needed to spill a few over something and someone not related to my own life.

I watched. I cried. I laughed at myself. But most of all, I realized how deeply I've been longing for color. The movie is shot mostly inside an incredible old house on the Carolina shore. Azures and reds and mustards and greens. Strong, deep colors that pull you into their presence, into beauty.

Left the movie and went straight to the fabric store. Bought yards and yards of fabric in the colors that spoke to me so loudly from the movie. I was already working on a quilt about "yes," but its colors were so "maybe." Changed my plans a bit, and now it's heading toward bold and vibrant and daring.

The quilt is based on these words from Haven Kimmel's The Solace of Leaving Early:

"We are lured toward truth, beauty, and goodness. . .the lure is pulling at our hearts like some lucid joy inside every actual occasion and all we have to do is…

Say yes."


I'm saying yes. Do you hear me, Universe? I'm saying yes. Sewing yes, too.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

She Got Up Off the Chair*

I went to the dentist.

I did not stay.

Settled into the chair. They strapped on the black rubber pig nose for nitrus and brought out the instruments. As the dentist and his assistant gathered round me and prepared to shove their hands into my mouth, I panicked. At first, I asked for a moment to gather myself, and then I knew. I knew I could not stay there.

The dentist was kind. He said sedation dentistry exists for a reason and referred me to someone who will knock me insensate before invading my personal space with power tools. I took that out and ran with it.

I felt like a prize-winning, blue-ribbon-at-the-state-fair, tickertape-parade-earning idiot. But I also felt that treating myself kindly, being patient with my weaknesses for once, might not be the end of the world.

I cried. I shook. I got up off the chair and went home.

Next stop in the dental saga: total oblivion. That, I think I can handle. Details to follow.

*If you haven't read Haven Kimmel's She Got Up Off the Couch, treat yourself to it. It's simply terrific.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dentist Day

We who are about to cry salute you.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Through a Glass Darkly

I have lived alone for one thousand, two hundred and twelve days now, but I am only beginning to recognize the fact of that aloneness.

Lately, it feels as if two realities are at play, and every once in a while I get a glimpse through the veil. On one side of the nylon netting, I live in a darling little house facing a pond. There is me. There is my dog. We are alone here (if you don't count the occasional invasion of mice) but do not often recognize a void in that state of being.

On the other side of a gossamer dream lies a great waiting, an opening that wants to be filled. It's hard to explain, but I just walked from the laundry room back to my bedroom and found myself surprised no one was there. Not as though I actually expected a person to be present, but as though I'd somehow accidentally seen the hole where someone could be, over there between the bookshelves and the big wooden chair.

Always just a flash. I blink it away the way a man might glimpse the top of a woman's silk stocking and then convince himself he's imagining things because women don't wear silk stockings and garters anymore. Although I am not given to referencing the Bible, with every one of these flashes, this verse from 1 Corinthians hangs in the air:

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

There is nothing I want more than to know and be known. I do so hope these flashes are pointing the way.