Thursday, October 27, 2011

When the heart says yes



It's 10 years later.

We have a nice life, the Coach and me. We have a nice house with a nice pool.

We have established careers.  Good paying jobs. We have our routines (well, sort of).

We have two grown children (Marty's kids), who have graduated from college and begun their own careers.  One of them has a baby on the way.

And we have the child we prayed for, hoped for, wished for. The one we believe we were destined to have all along. A beautiful, funny, witty, charming, oh-so-talented 10-year-old who is everything we ever could have wished for. (OK. She could be a little neater, but ...)

Sure we could use a winning lottery ticket, but, for the most part, life is good.

So why then, when I got the Facebook message yesterday afternoon, did the back of my neck get all hot and prickly and my stomach do a little flip? Just like it did every damn time all those years ago?

"Did you ever think about adopting again?"

Wow. What a question.

Only every second of every minute of every day.  I'm an infertile woman. An unexplained infertile woman. No one could ever tell me why my female plumbing didn't work the way it was designed to. And it really didn't matter. All I knew is, I can't have children. Not the "normal" way.

I had to find mine. Literally. Or, she had to find me. We put the word out to our friends and family, sent letters, marketed ourselves -- before blogs and Facebook and MySpace.

One day, we got a phone call out of the blue from a woman named Gail, who asked, "Are you the couple looking to adopt a baby?" And less than 30 minutes later, she said, "I've made up my mind. Y'all are it."

After holding my breath for the next three months -- including the three days after she was born -- we brought her home with us. And all our dreams came true.

But, even though I was deliriously happy to have a baby in my arms at last, I was still an infertile woman. And I would have loved to have had more children. If I had not been an infertile woman, I would have. No questions about it.

But I am. And I couldn't.

So I went on with my life, being the most devoted mother I could. I have savored every second of every day, knowing this was the only chance I was ever going to get. I held too much. I cuddled too much. I hovered too much. I spoiled. So what?

Am I the best mother? Hell no. My kid doesn't eat enough fruits or vegetables, doesn't always have table manners, could really use better telephone manners and can't wash a dish or fold an article of clothing. She also stays up way too late on school nights and probably spends way too much time on the computer.

But she is a wonderful child with a sparkling personality, a beautiful singing voice, an amazing imagination, an incredible ability to write fiction and a budding little talent at drawing. An honor roll student.

And I love her with every breath in my body.

When Lora was born, I stole Rosie O'Donnell's line, likening motherhood to the movie, The Wizard of Oz, which goes from black and white to color: "Life is now in color."

It's true. And then they become a tween and lose interest in you and life kind of goes back to gray again.

Just like any other woman in the universe, I would love another one. A baby. Another round of burps and lullabies and rocking to Linda Ronstadt. Diapers and cute little outfits. Giggles and smiles and discovering the world. Oh how my heart says yes.

But my head says no. Diaper changes? Midnight feedings? Day care? Car seats? Putting up a crib? (I just got my room back!) I don't think my back or my hips can take another baby on them.

Besides, people will think we are absolutely nuts. I can hear the tsk tsk'ing now, the tongues and fingers wagging, the eyes rolling, the hands wringing.

I'm 49. He's 54. We have a 10 year old. When she graduates from high school I'll be 57. He'll be 62. By the time a newborn baby graduates I'll be 67. He'll be 72.

At least we'll be retired.

We have a little house. A little bank account.

We have a grandchild on the way!

But is it fair to deny me, a woman who has so much love in my heart, a woman who initially wanted a huge family to make up for my tiny one, a child? One that I could not give myself on my own? Am I really expected to say, "No. But thanks for asking!"?

And is it fair to deny Lora, who loves children and who is so wonderful with all of her little cousins, a little brother or sister? She would love that.

Want to know the most amazing part of this story? The person who messaged me? It was Lora's birthmother. She has a friend, who has a son, who has a girlfriend, who is having a baby. It was she, the grandmother-to-be, who asked Gail to ask us. She has heard the stories about Lora, about how cool she is, about how we stay in touch with her birth family and have frequent visits. She has seen, almost first-hand, the kind of parents we are.

And wants us anyway.

And that just amazes me.

So, as I write this, there is this possibility. No certainty. The family has a decision to make. And once they make it, we may have one too.

And my heart is already saying yes.


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Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Talk

Ms. Darla has known my baby girl since the week she was born.

She and her husband, who used to be my husband's boss, were among the first in our community to welcome home the baby girl everyone had waited for and prayed for. Lora was just days old when they dropped by for a visit (bearing gifts!) and to see our new arrival.

It was with such joy and pride that I placed my baby girl in Ms. Darla's arms that day. She was genuinely happy for us.

Since then, Darla has watched my girl grow up.  Her daughters took care of her at the annual high school dance team camp and even babysat the night my stepson, Daniel, graduated. We also bumped into each other frequently, at the grocery store, various school functions, and, of course, at the baseball field where my husband coached her son.

A nurse by trade, Darla also just happened to be on shift in the Emergency Room the day I accidentally and horrifyingly closed the tailgate of my SUV on Lora's 3-year old hand. (I'm happy to report that Lora's still mushy bones suffered absolutely no injury. She wasn't even bruised.)

She also was on hand as the school nurse the day my baby girl started at the local elementary school. Most comforting to a very nervous mom.

In fact, it was Darla who came to our house to recheck Lora's hair after I spent hours picking the head lice and nits from her gloriously long and curly hair, and gave me great tips for treating them so they wouldn't come back (and they didn't!)

So it's only appropriate that I should bring Lora to Ms. Darla now.

My baby girl isn't a baby anymore.  She is a growing-fast-as-a-weed tween, standing on that oh-so-dangerous precipice known as puberty. It's hard to keep up.

She's Godzilla in the morning and Strawberry Shortcake at night. She eats everything that isn't nailed down. And she can outgrow a pair of pants before they get out of the laundry cycle.

She's already a half a head taller than all of her classmates. She's already outgrown all the children's sizes and has moved on to juniors. She already tries to wear my shoes. She has her own razor.

And, yes. She sorta smells.

She also doesn't listen to a word I say. 

But for the last few years, Ms. Darla, now the nursing supervisor for the entire district,  has taught a very special class for young girls, where she teaches them all about the changes their bodies are about to go through and why.  So, I signed Lora up.

And last night she, and about 15 other girls aged 10 and 11 -- and their very nervous mothers -- filled a classroom at the local high school to listen to Ms. Darla dispense her wisdom.

And it worked like magic.  With her sweet sing-song voice and her ever-so-patient ways, Ms. Darla managed to explain the wonders of puberty to a giggling gaggle of girls, explaining -- with video -- exactly what is going to happen to them, how and why, what they are supposed to do about it and how they should prepare.  And what it all means.

"Just breathe," she repeated over and over as we got to the "yuck" part of the video.  "It will be OK."

And they believed her.

Without eye rolls, sighs or stomping out of the room, my girl listened as Ms. Darla explained that she needs  to wash her face, she needs to take a shower every day (or almost every day), she needs to wear deodorant.

"These things are important," Ms. Darla said. And my girl didn't argue once.

She even gave them a lovely little lesson on love: The crush (a little blow-up balloon that fizzles out when you let go), young love (a heart-shaped helium balloon that can be popped), and real love (a beat up old basketball, still filled with air). 

At the end of the program, all of the girls left with a little bag of goodies -- a toothbrush, toothpaste, a very discrete little pad to tuck away in their schoolbag for "that day," and a little pink booklet explaining things in a little more detail.

And a cupcake (Ms. Darla also happens to be a fabulous baker as well!)

Us moms, meanwhile, left with a little peace of mind and a survey. Was the class helpful? Absolutely! Then: "What other classes would you like to see offered at Community Education?" it asked.

While one mom asked if there was a similar class for boys (not yet), I had only one suggestion:

How about a class on "How to listen to your mother?"



Mom

Lora
        
*Original art by Lora.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Friends like these

I know there are a lot of people who don't understand it. Some who wonder how we do it. And others who think we are flat out nuts.

Mostly, those are the ones who don't know us very well. Those who do have just come to accept it. They still probably shake their heads, though.

That woman over there, sitting on my sofa, eating at my table, picking up my child on Tuesday afternoons just because, helping my husband and me coach our daughter's volleyball team, and giving me high fives when we won one without him? Yes, she is my friend. Yes, she is family. Yes, she is my daughter's Godmother.



She also is my husband's ex wife.

Go ahead.  I'll wait...

Cheryl is the woman my husband fell in love with in college. The woman he married in a big, splashy wedding at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. The woman who bore his two children. Who celebrated his first victories as a coach. Who waited for him at home. And waited.

One day she decided she had had enough of waiting for him to come home. He didn't see it coming.

Then one night I found him. In a bar. Trying to get his feet wet again. We fell in love.

Cheryl and I? Not so much.

Although we always were civil to and with each other, there were some awkward moments, especially at first. We are women, after all. No woman wants to see her man -- even the ones we don't want anymore -- with someone else. We want them miserable and missing us forever. Right?

So we had our tussles and our dustups. Nothing major. No shouting matches. No fisticuffs. Most involved the care and feeding of the children.

But it was the children that brought us together.

Besides coming from the same home town, Cheryl and I both are products of divorced parents wh didn't get along. We remembered the pain and angst of the anger in the room, and we both decided we didn't want that for our kids.

Yes, our kids.

Her children, Daniel and Courtney, are my kids too. I never asked them to choose between me and their mother. There was no choice. She came first, as it should be. They had their parents. And they had me. A bonus mom. Actually, in the early days they called me their "Semi-Mom."

Although, I have to say, I don't understand the whole stigma that goes along with the word "stepmom."  I'm proud to be one. A wicked one at that. And I don't mind the word at all.

Eventually, Cheryl and I figured out our pecking order. We found a comfort zone. Then we found that we genuinely liked each other. We formed a friendship.

When Courtney and her friends had to go see The Backstreet Boys and N'Sync at the Superdome, I was invited to go too. There, Cheryl and I made a pact. If Donny Osmond ever went on tour, we were going. Together.

When I heard the news that he indeed would be playing nearby in Mississippi, we did go. Together. Our husbands went to dinner.

One day when Daniel was playing baseball, Cheryl and I were sitting in the stands together. He was in the dugout and needed a Gatorade. He called to his mom. He called to me. Neither of us heard him, until he shouted, "Would ONE of my moms please get me a drink?"

And on the day of his wedding, I was on the front row, right next to his mother. And halfway through the mother-and-groom dance, she stopped, called me over, and oh-so-graciously passed her son -- our son -- on to me for my turn.

Lora's Christening
And when, after six years, Marty and I finally received our miracle child from God (and a woman named Gail), he and I barely had to discuss who her Godparents would be. Cheryl was an easy choice. First of all, her faith is inspirational. But more than that, we wanted -- no, needed -- to include her in the family circle. I didn't want her to call Lora, "their" child. I wanted her to have a "my."

And it was the best decision we could have made.

Not only does Lora adore her "Nanny," but Nanny loves her right back. And she and the children were the first to welcome us all home from the hospital.  And since then, this oh-so-creative kindergarten teacher has filled my house with handmade treasures for every occasion, all made with footprints and handprints of all three of my children.

She comes to our parties.  We go to hers.  We have sat together at weddings. And funerals.  Lora stayed with her when Marty and I went away for an anniversary weekend.

Like many of our acquaintances, Lora doesn't quite understand the complete dynamics of this relationship. (Daddy used to be married to Nanny?)

And, late to the party, Cheryl's husband, Henry, needed a little time to figure it all out himself. He has since come around. Lora calls him "Uncle." I call Henry's kids my step-step kids.

But people do question our little arrangement.  During our evacuation to Houston for Hurricane Ivan, my friend Janine introduced me to some of her book club members. Their jaws definitely dropped when I told them that my husband's ex wife was my daughter's Godmother. But not as wide as when I told them that I didn't have a dishwasher.


We even were included in a USAToday article a few years ago on blended families inspired by Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.  We are in good company, apparently.

Cheryl, Lora and me. Mardi Gras 2011

We certainly didn't do this to be role models for anybody.  We know that not everybody gets it. And we know that not everyone can do it.  Some hurts and anger can't be put away.  And we didn't do it to be on Oprah.

We just decided we would rather all be friends. Life is so much easier.  And much more fun. For us and our children.

Plus, she makes a mean pineapple dip for my luaus.