Wednesday, March 25, 2015

on writing a novel: you can't force the feeling

I've come to this space and stared at the blinking cursor, then backed away like a bulldog who got a whiff of dogcatcher net.

The story I have been commissioned to write is a story that I didn't think would take this much out of me. I wake up in the morning and wonder why I feel so tired when I've slept all night. I feel less patient with my children and with Scott. I feel the absolute weight of this story and I want it to leave me.

Ryan was a junior in high school when I was a senior. One day he decided to rob a bank, committing suicide by cop when the cops showed up. He pointed his fake gun at one officer, and that officer had no choice but to kill him.

I thought in writing this book, that I would be writing the story of the healing path of Ryan's mom, Dawn. She has become such a close and dear friend and I honestly can't tell you how amazing it has been to have her guidance in my life. This rocky terrain as a mom has me so often wondering if I'm doing everything wrong.

Last week I went up to Cedar Rapids, where I am from, to meet with her, and we took a long power walk around her neighborhood. We just recently started our eight year old son on medication, and she is very holistic in her approach as a massage therapist but was completely supportive of my decision. I love how she trusts my intuition. It's like God sent her to me. I suppose one would say that she is my employer, but she's become such a faithful and supportive friend. She believes in me.

She believes that I will get this story right.

So many mornings I have opened up this computer, my eyes fresh to the world and my heart light, thinking that this will be the day that the whole story will come together in my mind. All 300 pages of it will arrange themselves like mist through trees exactly where they are supposed to be, the sweet baby-boy-growing-up parts all light on the branches like morning birds and the heavy parts, like the part where my sweet friend goes to the hospital to identify her son's body, will leave the story's reader so breathless and sorrowed that he can't possibly bear to turn another page.

And yet he will, because the redemption in this story is so amazing.

Would you believe me if I told you that this friend is happier and more fulfilled than she has ever been? That she is not only living life to the fullest, but engaging in each new day, asking God what He has for her there?

I've never met a soul like her.

I have, however, met my good friend Writer's Block, and I'm growing impatient with it.

If you write or draw or sing or dance or do any creative thing, you know full well that you can't just sit down and get it done. It has to flow out of you, a music book's song or a well-worn children's book you know by heart. You have to feel it before you write it, and you can't force the feeling.

I've wanted to force everything in my life. I forced my husband to marry me, I forced us to start having kids, to do foster care, to buy a house, to eat bacon for dinner.

I DO NOT DO WELL WITH WAITING.

"Maybe writing Ryan's story is part of your healing, too," she says softly, light streaming in the windows of a home filled, yes, with pictures of her son being everything a sixteen year old boy could be.

And then, suddenly, he wasn't, and I think that's what terrifies me most.

It hits me. I am writing a firsthand account of the thing that terrifies me most: one of my children dying.

I rarely have time or space to sit and process all of the emotions that come out of me as I process this story. Someone or another of my children needs a cup of water or peed their pants or figured out what "pubic" means and so I have to stop and simplify the crisis until it is nothing more than soft children's snores on a wall, palms open on favorite books, faces devoid of self-consciousness because they dream the dreams of heroes.

Her boy was once that little boy wearing underoos and a magic cape, two years old and flying through the house, a force of spirit and light.

I dreamt about him the other night. I must preface this by saying that I have interviewed the hell out of neighbors, friends, parents, even become friends with the police officer who shot him that day. Oh. I can't even begin to tell you the story there. You'll just have to wait for the book.

In my dream, I was begging Ryan to tell me why he did it. Why he felt like suicide was the only option. He'd look at me, blue eyes shining, red hair flipped back, all gangly arms and legs. "But Rachel, does it really matter? Does the *why* even matter any more? The part that matters is the story. I know you know that."

and then I woke up and I cried softly into the 2 am heat of my husband's slumbering form.

I know things now that I will never unknow, and the process of getting them out of my head and onto paper has been tenuous. It's been hard. I'm so thankful to his mother for her patience because I still feel that I am waiting for something.

I suppose this entire story has been unfolding for 17 years. As I left my hometown and drove past the cemetery where he was, this boy whose story has begun to become so much of mine in so many ways, I pondered going to his grave and asking him some questions, hoping he would give me the answers.

I surprised myself when I drove past the Cedar Memorial Cemetery gates, knowing that the answer was there with his body no more than I needed to know it.

In places like these, in times like these where life and death collide and send you on a path you'd never expected, you just have to be patient with yourself and let the story do the tale-crafting.

Three months. Three months until this story sees the light of day, and then maybe I'll be back to writing about my favorite Bath and Body Works products and how it's really a shame that Netflix no longer airs "My Little Pony".

This story is coming out in July, and I hope as you open the pages and read this story you will feel your soul tilt forward, waiting for the part where redemption shows her beautiful face in the shadows of one of life's most harrowing situations.

If you wait for her, beauty is always, always bound to show up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

this is the sound of my head exploding

I have spent an hour trying to order a birthday present for a lifelong friend. I feel like I'm stuck in beaurocracy hell. We are going around in circles, and Lucy is sitting next to me, highly entertained by the fiasco.
Read on...

Welcome to Origins Online. A Representative will be with you shortly.
Hello. Thank you for your interest in Origins. My name is Maria. How may I assist you?
Rachel: Hi Maria! This is Rachel. I believe we got disconnected! I tried to refresh the page but still my free checks and balances is not showing as free.
Maria: Hello Rachel!
Rachel: I'm trying to checkout and have purchased a set that is above $30, but when I type "REFRESH" in the coupon code to get the free Checks and Balances face wash, I get the message "Only one offer code may be used per order" but I haven't used any other offer code. Could you help me out with this?
Maria: I am sorry to hear that. Try opening a new tab and signing into your origins account from there. Once signed in, click on the checkout bag.
Rachel: It is still the same amount, not reflecting the $21.50 deducted for the face wash. I've spent 45 minutes trying to figure this out and it's probably time to hop on over to Aveda. :( I'm ordering a birthday present for my friend who loves Origins but I didn't expect it to take this long.
Maria: The $21.50 is for the 5 fl oz Checks and Balances in your cart, would you like me to remove that?
Rachel: If you remove it, I won't get it free, correct? The point of having it in the cart was so I could use the "REFRESH" coupon code and get it free. The advertisement was for a free full-sized face wash if I spent $30 (which I did) and used the "Refresh" coupon code, which is not working.
Maria: The 5 fl oz is different from the free 1.7 Checks and Balances that comes with the offer code REFRESH
Maria: The free 1.7 fl oz one is added automatically when you enter the offer code REFRESH.
Rachel: All right, but that is not what the website is advertising. If you click on "specials" it says, "free full size checks and balances with the offer code refresh", and 1.7 ounces is not full size, correct?
Maria: The Checks and Balances comes in 2 sizes. The 1.7 fl oz is $12.00 and the 5 fl oz is $21.50.
Rachel: correct. and on your website it states that the 21.50 size is the size that is free. Would you like me to take a screen shot?
Rachel: If you go here, you will see that the full size is the one being offered. https://www.origins.com/special_offers/index.tmpl
Maria: The offer code applied the full sized product, so you may remove the paid for one to remove the $21.50 charge.
Maria: I apologize for any confusion.
Rachel: but 1.7 ounces isn't full size
Maria: The free one is the 5 fl oz. I apologize for the confusion.
Rachel: right, but it's not showing up free in my cart. that is the whole problem.
Maria: So, you would remove the $21.50 one since the free one is already in your cart.
Maria: I just removed the $21.50 one from your cart and now there is just the free one in there.
Maria: You may need to refresh the page to view the changes.
Rachel: The free one is only a sample. The 21.50 is the full size. I know dealing with issues all day is not so fun. If the company is offering the 1.7 ounce as "full size", that would be a mistruth, correct? I'm fine if it's the 1.7 ounce, but don't say it is the 5 ounce if you're really only offering the 1.7 ounce. Does that make sense? Thank you for your time. I may have just spent an hour of my life I can never get back, but at least this will make a really good blog/twitter post.
Rachel: but it just says "sample". that's ok, thank you for your time. I hope I didn't totally ruin your day! ;)

Friday, March 6, 2015

why I'm talking about giving medication to my son

As a special education teacher, I used to inwardly roll my eyes when I'd look on a child's Individualized Education Plan and there'd be 27 medications listed. Really? Prozac for a six year old? Ritalin for a nine year old? All they need is LOOOoooOOOVE, don't you know? Love and better parents.

Parents like the parent I was sure I was destined to be. Awesome. A+. Better than Average.

no, my son is not Asian and yes, we lock up the meds.

Isn't it strange, those points in life when we who usually could say all of the words in the world in one day just don't have anything to say?

Asher's appointment was good. He's now on a regimen of therapy and supplements (yes, I shall call them supplements) to help combat childhood anxiety.

I think it felt pretty crappy to finally acknowledge that I was the one who gave this to him, genetically speaking. I just haven't had a lot to say since he received that diagnosis. We have tried play therapy, talking therapy, essential oils, dietary change, sending him to his room, sending everyone else to their rooms, withholding his electronics, withholding treats (yes, we're awesome like that), and there was even one day last week that I am not proud of. I lost my composure with him and I cried for the rest of the day.

me when my kids are grown, realizing I've completely failed them. 

I know that he knows right from wrong. I know that old-school parenting would say, spank him when he misbehaves and just be consistent. I am not theworld's most consistent parent. I will submit that. Also, though, there are so many times when I've seen him trying SO HARD to do the right thing, with everything in him, and he's telling me, "MOM I'M TRYING SO HARD TO BE GOOD BUT MY BRAIN IS STILL GOING" or "I WORRY ALL DAY LONG ABOUT 'X' HAPPENING" and I'm transported back 28 years ago to when I was seven and no one knew what was wrong with me.

starbucks drinks
My husband and my best friend and my sister in law all were the people I needed to talk to. My sis in law risked sounding like a complete douche at Starbucks just for me and ordered a skinny grande decaf mochalocha frappucinno with no whip, then headed over to my house and let me talk and talk and talk and talk.

My friend is a former social worker and current adoptive parent and foster parent, so feeling like I was given the "OK" from her and the support I needed was pretty awesome.  I remember, years ago, when Scott and I were dating. I said to him, and seriously, "I am totally OK with never having an biological children. I don't want a kid to go what I went through with depression, anxiety and OCD."

a representation of our family in all of its caucasianness. Also, if Scott smiled that creepily I would have no choice but to hit him in the head with a frying pan.

Scott then said something about with adoption you REALLY don't know what you're getting, and I'm sorry, but now that just makes me laugh. I have several friends who have adopted children of unknown heritage and I'm pretty sure they haven't been diagnosed with anxiety disorders or need medication. The ol' "but my genetic line is superior" makes me laugh a little bit.

and cry, maybe, too.

Oh, irony. You're such a bitter little pill.

our son does not wear Uggs on a beach or have long hair, though I wish he did so I could redeem a bit of myself with the natural parenting community...

Our son is an amazing little creature. I just want him to not constantly be in fight-or-flight mode, which is what the last year has felt like. Huge tantrums over not getting the right spoon, time lying in his bed wide awake and staring at the ceiling because he's afraid someone is going to break into our house and he can't stop imagining the scary things they'll do to him.

Me feeling like Class A Dick because I told him he couldn't wake us up unless there was a medical emergency.

We'll see how this new method of treatment works for him. I'm sure there's someone out there who thinks I am making the wrong decision for my son, and you know what? I'm completely OK with you thinking that. You're not his mother, and you do not know what I know.

Heck, maybe this will be the wrong decision, looking back.

Or maybe this: maybe my honesty will help some other mom feel less alone.

I sure hope so.
this is supposed to be some moms hugging, not a lesbian wedding. Either way, it's an awesome picture.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

when you actually want your kid to be diagnosed with something so you know what it is

So many people have asked how my son, now age eight, is doing these days.

I'd like to say that he's doing great in every capacity. That he's number one on the soccer team; all sweaty boy at the end because he chased and chased that ball and even kicked it the wrong way sometimes. But he was so INTO that game like a normal little boy should be, so it was OK.



No. I can't say that. I also have to say that it's hard because on the outside, he looks completely normal. He's a beautiful little boy; so many friends have told me so. I can see it. I could see him being a Ralph Lauren model some day. He's just got that adorable face that will go through awkwardness and, ultimately, sport the most adorable hipster mustache you ever did see.

I just feel that his inability to properly process the outside world is directly due to my failure as a mother.

When our children are little when they want something, they reach. When they are hungry, they cry. When they're sleepy, they sleep.

When they're older, things are more complicated. Watery. You're dealing with their little brains delving into secrets and curiosity about things beyond what toy is in the Happy Meal and what a double homicide is.



I guess the frustration here, too, is that I feel like so many people think I'm making this up. When Asher's grandparents take him out for lunch or dinner or for a special treat, he's fine. More than fine! Talkative, engaging, polite to the waitress just as I have taught him to be.

I almost feel like people think I want him to be diagnosed with something.

I have to say that I don't know what to do when my child tells me that he can't stop thinking of a bad guy coming into our house and cutting off his arms and legs. I had those very same fears as a child, and they were absolutely horrid. The more I tried to get them out of the head, the longer they stayed. Its just a horrible tenet of OCD and it's one I never wanted for my children. It's actually something I thought about before having biological kids.



OCD sucks.

Anyway, on Monday we get to see a guy who has lots of letters behind his name and talk to him about Asher for an hour and a half, and then hopefulliy we will come up with a plan and our whole household will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

I worry I don't do enough for my kids, or that I do too much, or that I'm not teaching them enough about the world, or that I'm already sharing with them too much.

I freak out because with Lucy we only have EIGHT MORE YEARS before she leaves home, and I want those eight years to be the best they can possibly be.

I guess I just never expected parenting to be this complicated.

Monday, February 9, 2015

I lived.

Today at church the band played One Republic's "I Lived".


To say that I was a weeping pile of humanity by the end of the song would maybe be sort of an understatement.

Our foster daughter's voice rings once again throughout our house, thanks to the technology of Facetime and her awesome father.

"I hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay."

Yeah. That's what I want for my life .

I was thinking specifically during church of a friend who is adopting two children out of foster care. I heard about the pastor from Seoul who decided one day to install a "drop box" in his house because no one else was saving these babies and he thought, "Heck, why not me?"

When my friend first told me about adopting these children I was SO excited for her and then I wondered how it all would go and then I realized I was operating from my own fear-place, from my own she's-mortal-and-what-if-she-gets-hurt place.

That guy with the drop boxes made the statement, "If we live long enough, it is life's natural course for us that we eventually become orphans. If we don't care for the orphans, who will? WE are the orphans, every one of us."



Today in church the pastor was talking about how people avoid eye contact with others because, he believes, once you make eye contact with another person, you are acknowledging their humanity.

That can be a heavy load to bear, and so we avoid it.

These are the thoughts coming out of me today. I didn't promise you anything super transforming, but I guess I am realizing that all of my fears and worryings and guilt over not being a good enough friend, wife, daughter, mother come from the fact that I am listening to the wrong sources.

I'm listening to my own self-condemning head instead of God. I'm listening to the lies of the media over how I think my body show look and how it actually does, and that can damage my relationship with my husband.

I'm trying to fit myself into all of these worldly molds when, bottom line, this world just isn't my home.

I tend to freak out when I realize how quickly time is passing. What I think I forget, sometimes, though, is all the good that has happened in my life, from and for other people, and that the years and wrinkles don't just show time passing.

They show years well-lived and a desire for expressive intentionality for future ones.



Having our foster daughter for 14 months was hard on everyone, but so rewarding.

Sitting next to my 8 year old son in church and nudging him after the pastor said, "reach out and take care of someone. Do something to show someone else you care. Take in a foster child. Help someone who is..."

It was a pretty spectacular and un-mundane moment when I nudged him and he smiled back at me, finally knowing what that meant:

self-sacrifice is OK. We're all going to die.

We might as well do something worthwhile while we're living.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Children Around My Neck

Today I dropped off her purple shoe, size 7.5. She had left it behind and I probably held onto it longer than I should have.
2013-03-29-necklace450x337.jpg
Who can blame me? She was mine for 11 months.
I was her foster mom, which means that the first time I saw her she was standing in my driveway, looking so little and scared and dirty and lost. I saw her through trips to the doctor and skinned knees on the sidewalk. I was there through tantrums in the parking lot and hearing her go from speaking single words to fully-formed sentences. My big hands presented a lovely little homemade strawberry cupcake to her waiting little ones on her second birthday. I texted a photo to her grandmother to commemorate the event.
We became foster parents because a string of miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy left me desperate for that long-awaited baby we had been trying for for four years. Eighteen months later we received a call for a little two-year-old girl, the little girl who owns the purple shoe. She was feisty and loving and crazy and sweet. A relative had dropped her off at the homeless shelter and left. She was an abandoned baby who needed a home.
Our home.
She stayed those 11 months, and some days I wondered if I'd be able to stand another tantrum. Other days, I wondered how she could be so sweet and amazing and wonderful. Then, when it became obvious to us that her case was heading toward another adoption, we let her go.
We had to.
Still, today, walking up to her new Mama and dropping off that sweet little shoe, something stabbed my heart.
"We'll see you next month at the foster care conference!" her Mama said, and: "You know, you'll never stop being her mom. She's going to grab onto you next month and not let go. You know that, right?"
I started full-out crying, the ugly cry.
She hugged me and I headed back to my car.
********
There are five little names on a chain around my neck. Three of those names belong to the babies I bore biologically, and two of those little names are babies I got to raise for a short time and then let them go.
I used to have a quiet awe for mothers who choose to give their babies for adoption, but now it is loud and unabashed.
Like me, I suppose, those mothers loved those babies, carried those babies, prayed over those babies.
And then, all quiet and soft, they placed those babies' hands into the hands of other mothers and, holding tight to those beautiful names around their necks, they walked away.
2013-03-29-necklace450x337.jpg

Monday, February 2, 2015

these exhausting days

Some days are just really great, and some days (like days in February after the holidays when I'm in a bit of a slump) just feel like they go on and on, with all of the same trappings.

Cook.
Clean.


Clean again.
Settle fights.
Set two separate timers because both children are in time out and we must keep track of these things.
Wonder when Scott will get home.

I'm not fighting cancer (that I know of), my kids and husband are healthy and we live in a happy neighborhood with a great school. I can go to the store and literally buy or order anything my little heart desires.

In some ways, those above facts make me feel worse. I torture myself with them. "Well, why are you depressed? You've got a great life, one that many would be envious of! You get to stay home with your kids, everyone is doing well, no tragedies have befallen you."

GET OVER IT!

I have a friend who often tells me, "Stop shoulding on yourself." I love that. I will say,

"I should feed my kids gluten-free egg noodles with humanely processed chicken."

"I should read each child a Bible story and reaffirm their knowledge of God's plan for Salvation nightly before bed."



"I should not be feeling sad, because there's nothing to feel sad about."

GET OVER IT!

I will make a meal, and even if it's good, I'll have to make another one tomorrow. There are mothers dying of cancer and there are fathers who will not come home from deployment. I know this, and still I feel these things.

Sometimes I think the only thing you can do is acknowledge how you feel, clean up the applesauce, and put the kids to bed early.

And just realize that it's OK.