Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fourteen

I didn't suffer through hours of labor in a hospital delivery room.

Instead, my labor took place in the hospital hallway, just outside a set of heavy wooden doors leading to the maternity ward. That's where I waited while, a few feet away, a woman I had barely met was going through the horrific pains of induced labor, as well as the pains of uncertainty.

She was having a baby she knew she should not keep, should not try to raise on her own. After much prayer and thought and deliberation, she had chosen me -- a woman on a piece of paper, a friend of a friend, a voice on the phone, a woman who was on the verge of desperate. I had only suffered through six years of unanswered prayers, of monthly meltdowns, a few failed science experiments, some false hopes and one giant broken promise.

And at that moment, on that January day, we were both trying to remember to breathe.

A few minutes later, I was allowed inside the doors and into a delivery room. It was all already over. Then I was handed the most precious, most wanted baby ever born. "Your daughter," she said. It took me some time to believe it.

Instantly, we fell in love. Two days later, we took her home. Eighteen months later a judge said she was ours for real.

Now it's 14 years later.

That tiny little shrimp-colored baby is all grown-up, morphed into a beautiful, quirky, retro, unique, hard-headed young woman I absolutely adore with her own style, her own ideas, her own beliefs.

If you've followed this blog over the years, you know that she has gone from the I-Only-Wear-Pink phase, to the Disney princess phase, to the Hannah Montana phase, to the Harry Potter phase to the Doctor Who phase -- with a few pit stops in between (Kim Possible anyone?).

But now that she is a full-fledged teenager, she has left behind her Disney ways. She is now my little retro girl who doesn't do Facebook (it's stupid) or Twitter. She does have an Instagram account, but she has blocked me from tagging her on it.

She has a Kindle she never uses. A laptop that "sucks," she says. And an iPhone that has the most eclectic mix of music you'll ever hear --  The Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, Fall Out Boys, Two Door Cinema Club, The Naked and Famous (really?) and dozens of other bands I have never heard of.

My retro kid asked for -- and received -- a record player for Christmas, even though her dad and I tossed our old vinyl collections years ago. (Shame on us!) And her first records? The Beatles -- Abbey Road, The White Album and Sgt. Pepper. She wants more.

She still sings beautifully ( but won't unless bribed), draws fabulously (but only her own little quirky characters who live in her head) and writes wonderfully. She is trying to learn to play the ukulele. She also made her lounge singing debut in December, wowing the elderly crowd with her rendition of La Vie en Rose, a beautiful song released as a single in 1947 but made famous more recently in an episode of "How I Met Your Mother."

She has seen every episode. And "Friends." And "The Office." And "Orange is the New Black." She did finally give up on "American Horror Story." The clown got her.

She has made the Honor Roll at her school both semesters.

She has graduated from her macaroni and cheese addiction to more of a Pizza Rolls every day thing.
And she is taller. Straighter. Stronger. She underwent a grueling 7 1/2 hour surgery  in July to correct her severe scoliosis, amazing all of her doctors and nurses (and her parents) with her tolerance for pain. She took the drugs for about two weeks. That's all. My teeth still hurt when I look at her scar. To her, it's a  badge of honor, of a warrior. She grew about three inches during the surgery.

And of course there are fewer kisses. Fewer hugs. Fewer morning cuddles before school. That's not cool, you know. She still hates it when I car dance, too. And when I try to mess up her hair.

Before her 14th year is done she will be a freshman in high school. She already is thinking about college and what she wants to be when she grows up -- more. Today it's film making (amazingly, the same thing I said when I left for college).

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

All I know is that, 14 years ago, a miracle occurred. Two strangers found each other, trusted each other and helped each other. An empty heart was filled. A dilemma was solved. And a family was created. We can't imagine it any other way.







Friday, January 2, 2015

Come on 2015

At about this time last year, I ran across a pretty cool meme on Facebook where I was asked the question, "What did 2013 teach you?" 

After giving it quite a bit of thought, I came here to my little blog and gave a rather long but (I think) well-written answer.

Word


Mostly I learned in 2013 that I am not a nurse, that I do not have any desire to be a nurse, nor should I be a nurse. Ever.  But, I did my best -- as bad as my mother-in-law may have thought it was.

If you read the above repost from last December, you will see that, at the end of 2013, rather than come up with a whole list of resolutions I probably would not keep, I came up with a word to define me, my life (another Internet suggestion).

I decided  My Word for 2014 was going to be "Resilience." I wasn't going to let life beat me down -- even though I was feeling it, even though it would have been so easy to give in and give up. I was determined to survive. And I did.

What I didn't know then was that my time as a nurse, as a caretaker, as the unwilling foil for a cantankerous old woman, as a daughter-in-law, was about to come to an end. My mother-in-law, Jane, passed away in February of 2014.

And I spent the rest of the year trying to remember who I was and how to be me. Just me. Believe it or not, that was much harder than it sounds. It took a long time.

So, as we turn the page to this new year -- 2015 -- let us answer the new question.

What did 2014 teach you?

Well...

2014 taught me that I am, indeed, resilient. That I have the ability to bounce back from quite a bit in life -- including, but certainly not limited to, losing a job I once loved, losing my identity, my independence, my place in life, and even betrayal by those who are the closest to me. And death. 

That although we fought and cursed and sometimes hated one another, my mother-in-law and I had a bond. I knew how to take care of her when others didn't. We had a routine. It wasn't easy. It was never easy. But when we were forced to send her to the nursing home for those final weeks of her life, it was hard to let her go. I worried about her. And, when she was gone, I found myself missing her at the oddest moments.

That, I can actually be a nurse when I can be, when I must be, when there is no choice but to be.  That I can deal with piss and poop and blood and stitches and the pain and anguish of those I love without losing my shit.

That the hardest thing in the world to do is to watch a medical team wheel your baby girl away from you and into an operating room. That that is the most helpless you will ever feel in your life, the most terrifying. Those 7 1/2 hours she spent on that operating table were the worst hours of my life. 

But hearing her call out, "Mom?" when I finally got to her -- and finding out that she had been asking for me over and over -- is forever etched in my soul. 

That my 13-year-old daughter is absolutely the strongest, toughest, baddest ass,  most resilient kid I know in this world.

That my husband is kind of a big baby.

That there is life after baseball.

That you can stay married to the same person for 20 years and still be madly in love and still have mad chemistry.

That depression is a hard, real, ugly reality. Like a cloak, it envelops you before you hardly even know it has and sucks you in so hard you feel you may never get out. It is slow to lift, but when it does, the light is amazing.

That I have good friends. Good girl friends who like to have fun and drink with me. That I can drink way to much alcohol in one night and not only survive, but not even be hung over!

That there are people out there who do still enjoy and respect the work I do. That there are quite a few people who still think I'm good at it.

That being a freelance writer does not suck, but that not getting a steady paycheck does.

That a 401K-turned-IRA is not really for retirement.

That sometimes, trying something and doing something different can be exhilarating. That I am not just one thing. That I can indeed do other things.

That it feels really good to be the best candidate.

That commuting is a pain, but kind of fun at the same time.

That my old college campus, Loyola University New Orleans, is a beautiful place and it's really interesting to see all the young faces. But it certainly has changed a lot since I was there the first time. 

That it feels really cool to be part of the "Faculty/Staff," even if temporarily.

That journalism and public relations are completely different worlds.

That it feels great to be a productive citizen again.

That I need a new wardrobe.

That my life, my career, my work choices are not over. I am not washed up. That I am not finished. That I still have value to the world, to the work place, to my fields of expertise. That I am still good at what I do. That, just because I don't have a steady, full time job (yet) doesn't mean I'm a useless human being.

That what I did for those 15 months was important and worthwhile and necessary for our family and for Jane. 

That I am stronger than I ever knew I was.

So, now it's time to choose a new word for 2015 as I look forward to new opportunities and new possibilities and (perhaps maybe even a new job on the horizon).

I choose "Reawakened." That is what I am. I went into the depths of hell. I survived. I came out relatively unscathed. Now it's time to turn it on again and get busy.

I'm ready.










Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey is for family

I often tell my kids, my friends, my family, anyone who will listen to me, that the hardest part of being married is the holidays.

In fact, the holidays may be the hardest part of life in general (other than major illnesses and tragedies, of course).  Or unless you're a man.  For us womenfolk, the holidays are all about planning, shopping, cleaning, cooking, baking, worrying, obsessing, perfecting, stressing, decorating and, oftentimes, peacemaking. Sometimes, there is drinking. For men, it's usually about the football.

That's because we're all trying to achieve the impossible -- we're either trying to recreate the perfect holidays of the memories of our youth, or we're trying to invent the ones we never had. The ones we see on TV, that mythical perfect holiday dinner with the turkey in the center of the table with the white table cloth with everybody smiling and happy.




Isn't that how your mama or your grandmama did it?

I have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at my Grannie's house, which was next door to our trailer. Grannie had a huge oval wooden table that she set meticulously with the lace tablecloth hand-crocheted by Grandpa's sister, Aunt Irma Lee, her fine china and silver that had been passed down for generations and crystal goblets. A plantation child, Grannie also had cool little antique gadgets, like a crystal knife rest which kept the butter from getting on the tablecloth, and individual salt and pepper wells.

The adults would drink wine (probably Boone's Farm, but OK), and my brother and I would get grape juice to pretend. Grandpa would repeatedly warn us not to back our chairs into the glass china closet, and we would eat our turkey, cranberry jelly, sweet potatoes with the little marshmallows melted on top, Grannie's oyster dressing, cornbread dressing, peas, fruit salad and brown and serve rolls. My sister, the oldest, would make cherry pies that my brother and I loved.

And yes, I have tried to recreate those meals in my own house with my own husband and children. I have Grannie's lace tablecloth, but it's too tattered to use anymore. And I set my own meticulous table with my own wedding china and crystal and my great-grandparents' silverware. It's my version of Norman Rockwell.

But when my daughter was about 6 or 7, she asked us why we don't put the turkey on the table all pretty like they do on TV. It was our custom to bring the turkey slices to the table on a large platter, after my father-in-law had taken it the bird into the laundry room to carve it up with the electric knife. So we humored her. The Coach brought the big, brown beautiful bird to the table, we oohed and aahed for a moment, then Pappy took it to the laundry room to cut up.

Of course, when it comes to the holidays, the most important thing is family. But that's also the most difficult part of getting, being and staying married. Just like on your wedding day, sides must be chosen. Lines must be drawn.

At whose house are you going to eat on Thanksgiving? On Christmas? Where will you eat dessert? And it starts even before the wedding. I've seen my stepdaughter and stepson sit at a table already rubbing their too-full bellies because they're trying to give a little to everyone and make everybody happy. It can't be done.

I can clearly remember the last time I had a holiday dinner with my own family -- my mom, my stepdad, my sister and her husband, my brother, his wife and their children. It was November, 2000. The woman who had promised to let us adopt her child had just reunited with her boyfriend. Our nursery was all decorated, but remained empty.

My family, feeling sorry for me, came to my house and let me cook for them. It was nice. We all got along. We made wonderful memories. We were blessed with our baby girl just two months later. But my brother would not live to see another Thanksgiving.

All the others have been about my husband's family -- his parents, his children. And, because that's the way we decided to roll, his ex wife, her husband, his children, Later, it came to include my stepson's wife and her parents.  Yes, they'll all be coming to my little house on Thanksgiving. We'll go to the ex wife's house on Christmas Eve. Last year was the opposite.

And I realized the other day that this holiday season will be my first. I mean, "mine." For the first time in more than 20 years, this will not be my mother-in-law's holiday where she dictated all the rules -- what to cook, when to eat, what to eat, how to eat. Where to eat.

In the early days, I capitulated. I let her have Thanksgiving at her house in exchange for Christmas. That was fine. My mom even lived in the same town in Mississippi, so it was easy to go there. Except for Lora's first Thanksgiving. She needed a nap before the big meal. The mothers refused to allow it and repeatedly questioned why in the world I thought my child should take a nap. They found out when she fell asleep at the table during dinner.

They would then come to my house for Christmas. But of course, it was still "her" holiday. She actually said that one time. "This is MY Christmas." The "not yours" was left unspoken. So we cooked her way. We went to church at her time (4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, which I hated). We woke up when she decided. And we ate what and when she demanded.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit and the in-laws lost everything and moved in with us. I still did my best to let her have "her" holiday.

Now I don't have to.

My Thanksgiving will be in my house, cooked in my tiny kitchen (without a dishwasher mind you) and served on my table with my china and silver -- just like my Grannie used to do. I'm trying to create memories for my daughter, traditions that she will want to carry on to her family -- but probably have to give up once she gets married.

That's just the way it is. Pick your battles, hon.












Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's my "Book-i-versary"!

Growing up identifying myself as a "Writer," of course I dreamed that someday I would write a book.

I just never dreamed it would be this one.

Adopting in America: The Diary of a Mom in Waiting



Then again, I never could write fiction.

Yes this story is true. All of it. And it is my story -- the story of how I set out to become a mom in the usual way, only to find out the hard way that I couldn't. Well, not the usual way, anyway.

Journalist that I always have been, I journaled. Through the tries, the failures, the doctors visits, the science experiments. Then my turn around the corner toward adoption -- and the tries, the failures, the experiments.

And, ultimately, the joy.

And then I blogged. And then I decided one day to post a snippet of what was then just a personal, private journal. Then I got some encouragement. And that began another whole journey filled with tries and failures and experiments.

Then this.

Three years ago today, with my 11-year-old adopted daughter holding one hand, I pressed the "Upload" button on my computer with the other.  Today is my "Book-i-versary."

Three years later, I am a very proud non-Best-Selling Author. I sold a few. Gave away a few more. Still have a few in the back of my car if you want one. Or, it IS still available at Amazon.com and at B&N.com for your Nook.

It's the story of how I went from a woman with a broken heart to a woman with a full heart -- and a daughter -- through hard work, perseverance, stubbornness, a little luck, a lot of prayer and, maybe, a little bit of destiny.

It is my hope that my story might give a little bit of hope to those other women out there who are waiting, hoping, dreaming, yearning for a child to fill their empty arms and the hole in their heart. It can be done. It isn't easy, but it can.

If you have (or plan to) read the book, here are a few updates:

Lora Leigh is a beautiful, bright, creative young woman who can draw, sing and write beautifully. She has been the light of my life, my ultimate joy. I cannot imagine my life without her in it.  (And she did inspire me to create two children's stories!) She is well-adjusted to her adoption. She says she likes knowing who her people are and where they are. But she doesn't discuss it much. We do celebrate her adoption anniversary -- April 15th -- which we call simply, "Lora Day."

We are still in touch with her first family.  Her first mother Gail, aunts, uncles and a host of cousins all follow her with my regular Facebook updates and this blog. Her sister Ashlee has grown into a beautiful young woman. We all were there when she graduated from high school last year. We still have semi-regular visits.

Kimberly has not led a wonderful life. Facebook stalker that I can be, I found her a few years ago and was happy to see that her daughter Samantha  -- the baby we would have named Elle --  looked to be a healthy, normal, well-cared for child. There also was a younger boy in the photographs.

Then tragedy struck. One day I went to check up on them and saw photos of Samantha in a hospital bed, surrounded by tubes and machines. She and her family had been riding bicycles when she had some sort of accident. She did not survive.

I wrote at the time that perhaps this was all part of the plan. Perhaps Samantha was supposed to stay with her mother because she wasn't going to be here for very long.  That makes me feel a little better, anyway.

We wonder if this is they way it was all supposed to be all along. If I had been able to get pregnant, I would not have my girl. I am forever grateful that Gail chose us. From the day she called us -- completely out of the blue! -- my heart told me there was a reason. I knew it. Marty told me I was crazy, but I knew it. It was all meant to be.








Friday, October 24, 2014

Giving Back

As we were preparing to leave the hospital after Lora's spinal fusion surgery, a very nice lady from the Blood Bank came to visit us.

She very politely asked us if we would consider donating blood to replace the three units Lora needed during her surgery. (That's three units BESIDES her own blood, which was recycled, mind you.)

"Of course," we said.

"Or you might consider a blood drive."

Well, that seemed like a great idea. With all the people we know in the community, that should be a piece of cake.

Ha. No.

First, there was the problem of finding a suitable site, then a suitable date, then a myriad of paperwork.

But, here we are three months later and we are having a blood drive. Today. At my daughter's middle school.

Please, somebody, show up.

We have done our best to put the word out. We put up flyers around the community. I flooded my Facebook and Twitter timelines with reminders. The school even did a robo call about the parent teacher conferences and tacked on an announcement about the blood drive. I notified the newspapers.

And one decided this was a pretty good story: Norco family gives back

That's my kid on the bottom right.



We are truly blessed. And thankful. And oh-so-grateful.

I'll be more grateful if a few people show up, but I'm very grateful.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Uncool, Mom



I'm not exactly sure when it happened. I'm pretty sure I know how.

In the blink of an eye, my adorable, precious, sweet little girl I waited forever for grew up. There were a few years there when she thought I hung the moon -- those days when I would rock her for hours, read her stories, have tea parties on a blanket in the backyard and watch "Wiz of Oz" for the one thousandth time. But that was long ago.

Those were the days when she wanted me around, when she would bring me the parent volunteer forms and make me sign up to chaperone her field trips, when she would allow me to come to her class on volunteer days.

Those days are long gone.

She's a teenager now, you know. And just-like-that I have become the Uncool Mom,   the one no cool teenager wants around -- unless I'm driving her to Barnes and Noble.

Just last week her class went on a trip to the local wetlands park. I was available. I would have gone. My BFF Kristal, whose daughter is my daughter's BFF, went.  So, I asked my kid:

Me: Hey! You want me to go on the field trip?
Her: No, that's OK.
Me: You sure? I can go.
Her: No, that's OK.

So I didn't.


This week, I regained a portion of my coolness when I spent a small fortune to buy tickets to the annual New Orleans Voodoo Fest. This is a three-day festival over Halloween weekend in New Orleans' City Park, where a bunch of bands you've probably never heard of and the Foo Fighters will perform. For $175, you can buy a three-day pass to see and hear all of them. For $76 you can go one day. My kid, however, only wants to see one, single band, her OMG ABSOLUTE FAVORITE band, The Arctic Monkeys. Yeah, betcha never heard of them either. I have, because I'm cool like that.

But apparently I am NOT cool enough to accompany her on this adventure. No, she has decided to take her older sister, Courtney.

"I think she would have more fun," she said.

She's probably right. Frankly, I have no desire to go to New Orleans City Park at 9 o'clock at night (which is what time they are scheduled  to play), fighting traffic and a bunch of drunk/hungover and probably drugged out hipsters for elbow room. I really only want to watch her watch them. But, that's not cool, apparently.

So, last night my precious, beloved child came and sat next to me.

Her: I don't want you to be sad, Mom. I feel bad. I feel like that episode of Full House where D.J. got tickets to see the Beach Boys and decided to take Uncle Jessie and Danny got sad. I don't want you to be sad.
Me: I'm not sad. I just want you to go and have a good time.
Her: You sure?
Me: I'm sure.

And she wandered back to her room, appeased.

I'm so glad there was a box of tissues close by.








Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Curve balls



I believe my daughter was still in her hospital bed, still hooked up to her morphine pump, still dazed and confused after her surgery when my stepdaughter gave me a look.

"So, what are you going to write about now?"

At the time, I believe I indignantly said I had lots to write about. Lots of topics, lots of stories, lots of fodder for my little blog here.

But, go look. You haven't seen much of me, have you? Or heard much from me? I haven't had much to say or much to tell. And I don't know if that's because I've just been so worn out by recent events or my life is just that boring.

Probably a little bit of both.

If you're wondering, Lora Leigh is doing great. Her recovery has gone much smoother than anyone -- certainly I -- imagined it would. Although we had a few rough times, none of my nightmares came to fruition. Her scar is straight and healing beautifully. Her pain levels never reached what I feared they would. She is back to her normal, goofy self. And I tell all the moms-in-waiting in the Facebook groups, "The reality is not nearly as bad as your imagination."

The Coach's knee replacement surgery went fine as well, but his recovery has been much slower than he anticipated. He has a hard time getting and staying comfortable, and still has a pronounced limp. His attitude is great, though, and that helps him through.

Saturday was the 22nd anniversary of our first date -- a Saints-49ers game in the Superdome. He asked me to go, I told him I was already going with my mom, he sold the tickets, my mom invited someone else, I told him I could go and he spent days trying to get his tickets back. When we got to the crowd surrounding the Dome, I slipped my hand in the crook of his arm and felt -- something. We both did. Later, he excused himself.

"Bring me back some chocolate," I told him.
"What kind?" he replied.
"Surprise me," I said.
He came back with one of every kind of chocolate they had.  And I knew he was the guy for me.

And me? I'm just a little freelancing fool, covering high school football and volleyball games for both The New Orleans Advocate and Sportsnola.com.  I haven't written any great works, but I've kept busy and made the car payments. I guess that's all that matters.

Yesterday, September 30, 2014, marked two years since I was laid-off by the then-great Times-Picayune newspaper. Today, October 1, 2014, would have been my 28th anniversary at the paper. Any day now I would have gotten my little invitation to drive to New Orleans for a free cup of coffee in the cafeteria  and a meeting with the human resources head.

Instead, I sat in my little home office,  surrounded by my favorite things and writing about the annual Hahnville-Destrehan football rivalry and procrastinating. I hate doing football capsules.

Oh, I miss it sometimes -- getting dressed in real clothes and not just yoga pants, the friends in the office who knew everything going on in my life, being part of a team. I'm sort of a housewife now. I don't go anywhere after my daily walk.  I rarely wear long pants. Sometimes I shower and dress and put makeup on and say, "OK. Where can I go?" Sometimes I go to the Dollar General, which is just across the street from my house. Sometimes I go to Big Lots.

It gets a little lonely sometimes.

But I look back on the last two years and have to wonder: Did all this happen for a reason? Did I get moved from sports to crime so that I would come to hate it so much that I wouldn't be so devastated when it all came to an end? Did I lose my job so that I would be able to take in Jane the Mother-in-Law two weeks later? Did she pass on so that I could devote my attention to my daughter and my husband when they needed me? Would I have been able to do all that for them with a full-time job? Probably not.

Strange how life throws you curve balls sometimes. Strange how, sometimes, they're the pitch you're supposed to hit. At least they make for good stories.