Friday, May 8, 2015

Graduation Day



Just about six months ago, I got a chance to go home.

No, not to my hometown of Houma -- although, I go there all the time. Thanks to an opportunity, a former co-worker at the former daily paper, a nice recommendation from her and a spiffed up resume, I got to go home to Loyola University New Orleans.

I spent seven of the best years of my life at this beautiful, cozy, Uptown campus, beginning in 1980, when I joined a bunch of crazy women from Florida and St. Louis, Missouri, on the fourth floor at Buddig Hall.

I spent the last few months living in the Cabra Hall Dormitory on the Broadway campus, just steps from where I am now working as a part time/temporary writing assistant in the Office of Public Affairs. It's a nice gig with some nice people in a nice, very quiet office in the ancient Greenville Hall, which once was part of the St. Mary's Dominican campus. I have my own little cubicle I like to call, "The Grotto."

I won't get into all the reasons why it took me so long to complete my Loyola education. Let's just blame it on New Orleans, Mardi Gras, an off-campus apartment, my lack of maturity, indecision, (the now defunct) Phi Phi Phi sorority, the Oil Bust of the 80s and lots and lots of beer. Mostly the beer.

But I did eventually finish. I did get a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in Religion and another in Secondary Education. But I didn't graduate.

I didn't get to put on the pretty crimson cap and gown and traipse across a stage to get my diploma (or at least the cover). Instead, I left the Times-Picayune sports department on my lunch hour and went to Loyola to pay my final bill. The nice lady in the finance department handed me a receipt and told me to go to the Registrar's Office. There, another nice lady handed me my diploma.

Just like that.

No cap. No gown. No "Pomp and Circumstance." No applause. Not even a cake.

I had my reasons. My family was just too quirky at the time, and didn't always play nice. My high school graduation so many years earlier had been a blended family fiasco. While I sat on the Terrebonne High School football field sweating in the May heat, it broke my heart to see one part of my clan seated to my left and my dad seated to my right. They couldn't get together for just one night. for me. I didn't even want to attempt to let them try again.

Plus, I was, quite frankly, a little embarrassed that it had taken me so long to finish. I dropped a lot of classes. I skipped a lot more. My transcripts are about 10 pages long. By the time I finished my last class in the summer of 1987, I was 25 years old and already working at The Times-Picayune  sports department. I even spent part of my final semester living in the dorm at Cabra Hall with eight or so 19- and 20-year-olds. It was a little unsettling.  And even though I was the first of our family to get a college degree, I was a joke. I still get teased about it -- or I did until my stepson beat my record.

So now I'm working in the Public Affairs Office with this woman, this Cracker Jack woman, named Angela. And she is the person who puts together Loyola's graduation ceremony. I mean she really puts it together. Then she directs it.

For the last several months I have heard this woman plan the annual Commencement ceremony down to the most minute detail -- from who is carrying what to who is saying what to who is ushering whom to where. It truly has been amazing to listen to her on the phone. The other day the office table was covered with "Just in Case" stuff -- markers, pens, pencils, Post-its, a first aid kit. You name it, she has thought of it.

I don't know if the 1987 Commencement Ceremony was so meticulously planned. I going to guess it was not because Angela wasn't in charge then. If she had been, it would have been for sure.  And it makes me rather sad that I'll never know. She makes me wish I had walked that stage.

When I became a step mom to Daniel and Courtney, one of the things I wanted to make sure of was that none of their events would be spoiled by their parents because of me. And their parents agreed.  Cheryl and I both are kids of divorce. We each grew up with our own stories. And it's part of the reason we all made it a priority to play nice. I've always told the kids, if they ever want Mom and Dad on the front row and me on the second, just say the word. They never have.

And we don't elbow each other out of the way. We save each other seats. That's what families are supposed to do. Especially on days like this.

Y'all KNOW I would have wrtten "LOLO" on my cap, right?


Lagniappe: Here's one for all my fellow New Orleans area graduates (whether on stage or not). It's a N'awlins tradition! And it makes us all cry.   ---------->   Graduation Day    









Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Where Y'at?

Dear Little Blog (and my handful of loyal readers):

I have not forgotten you. I have not abandoned you. Yes, I do miss you. I miss telling tales of the little family in Norco -- of my girl, The Coach, the pool, the neurotic poodles. And Mama.

I just haven't needed you.

Sorry if that hurts your feelings, but it's the truth. I haven't felt the compelling need  to write about my life and my family and what's going on with us. Fortunately, that is in part because there hasn't been much going on.

When I was laid off from the job I loved and left adrift, I needed you. I needed a place to vent about what the company I had given my life to had done to me and so many of my co-workers. I needed a place to compare them to The Titanic. I needed a place to just write.

When, two weeks later, my mother-in-law moved in with us after being forced out of her assisted living home (because she needed too much assistance), I needed you.  I needed a place to tell my truths and vent some more about the hard-headed lady I was forced to care for. It was the biggest challenge of my life and I didn't always do it well. I needed an outlet for my anger and depression. And I needed all of your support to get through it. Honestly, I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without this little blog and all of your friendly voices telling me not to give up. So, thanks for that.

When I found out that my daughter's spine was horribly twisted and would require surgery, I needed  you. I needed to tell her story, in part because, well, I am still and will always be a reporter.  I felt a need to document Lora's scoliosis story, for one thing. And I saw an opportunity to educate. Some friends of ours in our town have a young daughter who was recently diagnosed and is facing the possibility of surgery. Because of my openness with our story, they knew they could come to us for help and guidance.

And as I faced this horrific surgery I knew was coming, again I needed  a place to vent and express my fear, my terror. And, once again, I found a great deal of love and support and information from those who read this little blog.

But now, all that is behind us. I've found rather steady work as a freelancer at a variety of news outlets and at my own alma mater, Loyola. For the past six months I've had a nice (paying) little part time temporary gig in the Public Affairs Office, learning an entirely new craft (PR) and practically an entire new language (higher education). At least I remembered how to parallel park from my days as a student.  And I'm still doing sports for a couple of newspapers and web sites. This is our new "normal." And now I may have a new freelance gig for a software company in Houston -- another craft and another language to learn. Perfect timing because Loyola is letting me go at the end of May. So, I am back on the job hunt. But I've also just begun a new River Parishes community news column for The New Orleans Advocate.

Lora is nine months post op and doing just great. Her back has healed nicely. She is in no pain. She does lean forward a bit and still to the side at times, but she is now a healthy, normal kid about to head off to high school. Who wants to wager that I'll be needing you then?

Instead of Coach's mama I've had to take some care of my own mama. She has had several health scares over the past few months, a couple of hospital visits. But at 81, she still has a full time job, still commutes to the French Quarter downtown and still plays with the tourists every day.

And I'm learning to live with an ex-coach.  It's been just about a year since my husband gave up his baseball team. It has been an adjustment. For both of us. I had to learn to live with him under my feet and in my space all the time. He has had to learn how to be a spectator. Neither of us did very well at that. He did fill some of his spare time by helping coach the golf team. But  I'm guessing he will be on a baseball field somewhere again rather soon. Or else we may be in divorce court.

So there you have it. My life in one simple blog post instead of many. Not much drama. Not much anguish. Should I knock wood?

But, dear readers, I do still need  you. While I was gone, my little blog got it's 200,000th hit. I have no idea how that happened (but I think I still need to thank the Russian bots). The Mardi Gras post still gets the most hits (largely thanks to the word that rhymes with hits). But folks are reading the scoliosis posts and, I hope, finding hope and encouragement.

So, please, don't give up on me just yet. I'll be back. I'm sure something is bound to happen soon.

Lo



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



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.