Thursday, February 27, 2014

A compass wildly spinning

 The past few weeks have left me reeling. I know I'm not the only one.

What should look like this:

Is looking and feeling like this:

I am falling, and trying like hell to get back up again. Until the next gutpunch.

"Mercury is in retrograde" people say, as if that would really explain the hellfire and damnation that has rained down.

When you are just taking one hit after another - when everything seems to pile up and pile on and spill over - all of the OTHER stuff, the regular day to day stuff, and the things you committed to forever ago, and the things that are important to you, or to people you love, suddenly become part of the burden. And that can make a girl ornery.

I learned this lesson recently, when people were asking me perfectly legitimate questions at a time when I was feeling physically, spiritually and emotionally overwhelmed. Instead of just answering their damn questions, or simply saying "I honestly don't know" I had to spend a great deal of time talking myself down from responding to their laundry list of woes, with a list of my own.

Tit for tat. (Says the girl with the tat on her tit.)

Deep breath.
Right. They're busy. Or at least, they think they are busy. Maybe they are busy in relation to their  normal life of navel gazing.
My point is this:
Everyone is busy.
Everyone's life sucks at some point.
Everyone is over-committed, under-funded and out of time.

"Until you've walked a mile in my shoes, you can't judge me."

Well, I'm calling bullshit on that. Because unless you are wearing some really hot shoes in a size 10 1/2 (which is practically impossible to find, BTW) I have no interest in wearing your shoes.

Never mind walking a mile in them.

Stop with the excuses already. Put on your own damn shoes, and start walking.

And if you are assuming that you are busier or more stressed out or more heartbroken or somehow more important than the next guy, well. You would be wrong. To behave as though you deserve priority, that you are above the rules or somehow excused from following them......that just makes it easier for people to dismiss you as a self-centered ass. Even if you are currently the ass featured in your own private game of pin the tail on the donkey.

I am watching families come undone, and slowly finding a way to come back together again. A new kind of together, they hold their compass facing north and the compass swings wildly, as their North Star suddenly heads due South. And all I can think, as the waves of remembering lead to a terrible, painful, breathless sadness, is keep your eye on the horizon.

And even with that life and death reality slapping me repeatedly in the face, I am looking around and seeing more examples of pain - different, but just as terrible - all around. And I am realizing.

Life is full of hard lessons and painful experiences and NO ONE will be spared.

So. Lesson learned, and lets move forward acknowledging that everyone's reality may be different in the details, but the load is equally hard to bear at times.

Buck up, Buttercup. We're in this together.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Valentine's Day with a broken heart.

Earlier this week, I had a full blown temper tantrum. Like, a toddler sized meltdown. I was the almost 40 year old woman crying and stamping her feet.
Because my family did not acknowledge my birthday.

Other than a little note left by my bedside as my husband snuck off to work, there were no cards or presents or dinner reservations. Not even a take-out pizza. My kids never bothered to say Happy Birthday. My family forgot to call. The lovely texts and Facebook messages were drowned out by the silence in my own home. For all of my "I don't care about birthdays, I don't need a present!" bravado, it still hurt that no one at my house seemed to think my birthday was worth celebrating. I mean, couldn't someone have stuck a candle in a fucking Twinkie? Would that have been so hard? Lucy makes cards to give to perfect strangers - surely she had made one for me in her fully-stocked art room.

But I was mistaken.

So at the end of the day, after realizing that no, there were no dinner plans, and yes, I was going to have to figure out what to feed the kids after all, and no, there wasn't so much as a birthday Oreo coming my way, I lost my shit a little. I was tired, and overwhelmed, and my feelings were hurt.

I declared the next day a do-over. I made dinner plans. My boss gave me a cake. WITH candles. I read birthday messages on Facebook. Max apologized for not saying Happy Birthday. That night at my favorite sushi place, I had a cocktail. We got home around 8. Had cake. Got the kids in bed. It had been a good day, even if it was a day late and I *had* been forced to plan it myself. As I rocked the baby to sleep, my cellphone rang. It was late by then. Too late to get a phone call for any good reason.

And that was when I found out that Harlan had died.

As I climbed in the car barefoot clutching my phone and a charger and very little else, and drove down the mountain in the dark towards my friend, the one who had called when she found her self, suddenly, a widow with two kids and a mortgage to  take care of, I had no idea what had happened. It didn't matter, of course. All that matters is that he was here - a man with a grin permanently taking up his entire face, eyes that crinkled and a booming laugh - and then he was not.

When I opened the door and walked into a living room so full of grief it was impossible to take a breath, the reality hit me right in the chest. I steadied myself.

I am still steadying myself. When I am struck by another wave of knowing, the double overhead that towers over you for that brief terrifying moment before you are swallowed up, those few seconds when down is up and your ears are filled with a roaring, and you cannot breathe, I just hang on for dear life until I find my way to the surface again.

Valentine's Day was full of love and hugs and friends and family. We passed the baby (who was clearly brought into my life in order to help all of us through the weeks ahead) and ate boxes of chocolates, and consumed entire pies in one sitting. An endless pot of coffee in the kitchen and a steady stream of people coming and going.

But one very important person was not there. And each of us, in our own way, celebrated that crazy day of Hallmark love with a broken heart.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

You say it's your birth day. It's my birthday too.

It's my birthday this week. Usually I wake up late, roll over and go back to sleep on my birthday. This year that will not be an option.

Ella is here. She just experienced her own birth day, and she is a bit of a night owl, as you can see.

We have been fostering for 10 years now, and every time I hold a new baby, all of the other stories and all of the other children kind of fade away. And I direct all of my energy towards my family, with an extra dose of love for the little person asleep in my arms.

Everything changes, over night. With no notice. One day we have 2 kids who make their own meals and get themselves dressed, and know not to wake me up before 8am unless the house is on fire or someone is bleeding. The next day those two kids are still plugging along, but I am now lying catatonic on the couch after being awake all night long, clutching a newborn and weakly asking them if they could just pour me a little more coffee before I get dressed.

It happens Just. Like. That.
I go from no baby at all, to all baby all the time. I go from having 9th row seats for Dave Chappelle's sold out performance, to standing in the lobby straining to hear his act over the laughter in the auditorium while I rock slowly back and forth wearing a Baby Bjorn.

I go from 2 jobs and 2 kids and a solid 8 hours of sleep, to 2 jobs, 3 kids and 0 sleep. That math does not work. Even with a fancy calculator. Believe me, I HAVE TRIED.

I go from reading and writing, to lying in bed too tired to hold up a magazine, never mind write anything worth reading.

I go from heels to sneakers, scarfs to burp clothes, a cute little haircut to dirty hair jammed into an elastic band.

I go from eating hot food and drinking cold drinks, to eating and drinking everything at room temperature - if I ever eat at all.

I go from enjoying coffee, to needing coffee.

My trunk space is swallowed up by a stroller, my cupholders are filled with baby bottles, I drive hugging the steering wheel because the rear-facing infant carseat prevents me from moving my seat back, and I have 2 diapers in my purse but can't find the lipstick I know I had in there last week.

None of that matters, of course. All that matters is this:

It is all worth it. Absolutely 100% worth it.

But damn, the transition can be brutal.
This week I will celebrate my birthday in sweat pants, with a mysterious yellow smear on my t-shirt and a bottle of milk in my hand. Happy birthday to me. Please send cake - I don't have the energy to bake one.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Losing a parent to drugs - sometimes forever, sometimes just for now

When I read that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, the only thing I could think of was: "Those poor babies."

I didn't think about his partner, or his parents, or the two friends who found him dead on the floor and will probably never fully process what they saw. I didn't mourn what could have been, and how his incredible talent will be missed. I didn't care about the details: the breathless timeline of his last hours, the needle found in his arm, the packets of heroin and used syringes scattered in the apartment. None of that mattered to me.

All I could think about were his three kids - Cooper, Tallulah and Willa - young kids, very young, but old enough to remember their mother's face as she answered the phone and heard the voice on the other end. Old enough to remember being rushed off the playground, where they were waiting for their father to come get them, and driven to his apartment building. Old enough to remember their mother's grief, the police cars, the faces and voices - strange and familiar, the crying and the crowd growing, gathering in the minutes following the arrival of the first responders.

Those three children lost a parent. A lifeline. A hero and a caregiver.
While other families watched the Super Bowl, they watched their life coming undone.

And when my phone rang on Monday morning. to tell me about a baby that came into this world just as Mr. Hoffman was leaving it, I paused.

It is never what you want to hear. You don't want a parent to lose custody of their newborn. You want to be able to go back in time - just like you do in the face of any tragedy - and change the course of events. You want these children - all of these children - to be spared the wrenching away of a parent because of drugs. And you want the parents to stop. Reconsider. Think a little longer and hang on a little tighter, turning towards the light and away from the dark vortex of addiction.

But it's not like that. You cannot explain away or rationalize the pregnant woman doing drugs in the early stages of labor. Or the dad getting his fix before meeting his kids at the playground. It's not rational. It defies explanation. And that is why there are so many children in this world who are missing a parent. Drugs break people, but more than that, they break families. They break hearts and spirits and lives.

As sad as it is that tonight I am holding another woman's child, a child who was given to me to be cared for indefinitely, I am reminded - constantly - that there is still a chance. That as long as this mother is alive there is a chance to break the cycle, before she breaks her daughter's heart.

Ella won't remember the time she spends with me - but I assure you her mother is feeling every second that passes before she can see her baby again. Tonight as I hold this little one in my arms, I am thinking of her mother. She is not lost. Not yet.