Usually when I meet a new client they will share a few things about themselves. Maybe they’ll tell me about their favorite haircut, their profession, their children…When I met Mary Ellen the first time she opened her eyes very wide, put her hand on her hip and said, very matter-of-factly, “I’m really into haiku, bookbinding and falconry!” My response was like, “Well! …OK! …Thanks for letting me know!” I could see right away that she was a passionate, creative, curious person, and I immediately wanted to know more about all of those hobbies. And her. What I didn’t envision was just how much this strange woman would weave her way into my life.

She was nearly 80 years old when I met her. And the best way I can describe her is tempestuous. She was a whirlwind and had boundless energy and passion. She would turn on you with no notice, then be singing your praises the next. Sometimes she would greet me at the door (I’m a mobile hairdresser) with a mouthful of vitriol about the doorman or her doctor or her neighbor; and sometimes she would fall into my arms in tears because she was frustrated and tired. She expected a lot from the people in her life, but she was also very grateful for her friends and loved ones.

I’m a person who is very comfortable saying “no” to people. I have a very intense life and I need to create boundaries around certain parts of myself, especially my work. I have hundreds of clients and I travel to several of them each day, usually at least 6 days per week. I don’t have time to dawdle between appointments, so as much as my clients sometimes want to visit with me or feed me or tell me their stories, I’m usually not able to fit that into my day. I love my clients and I really do enjoy spending time with them, but when their hair is finished, mama needs to be on her way! But somehow Mary Ellen pulled me into her life and I found myself scheduling time after her hair appointments to visit with her. Her stories are some of the most amazing I have ever heard. She lived a fascinating life and we found a lot of similarities between us. We both have had to hustle a lot to raise our kids and we both have given 100% to everything we put our hands to in life.

One day I got a call from her telling me she had broken her hip and was in a rehabilitation hospital and asking me (telling me) to come see her. Of course I came right away and somehow I soon found myself overseeing her bathroom renovation (she needed a walk-in shower). So much for my boundaries! Soon after her hip started mending she discovered she had cancer. And she knew that was going to be the thing that took her down, as it had to almost everyone else in her family. She was resolved to make the most of her remaining days and I found myself helping her hire a companion to take her to her second home up in Canada one more time. And once she got back from that trip she declined fairly rapidly. I was no longer doing her hair anymore, but I would go see her every few days, just to hang out and talk and help her with whatever I could around the house.

One day I arrived to see her, not knowing if I would be permitted in. She was at the very end and I assumed only family would be with her. But I was invited in and told she had just gone to bed and was pretty sedated on pain killers at the moment. When I went into her bedroom, there she was sitting on the edge of her bed. She turned and saw me with glassy eyes and a slow smile crept over her face. “You came!” she said. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I helped her lie down and cover up for her nap. I lay my hand on her shoulder as she drifted off to sleep and felt an enormous wave of gratitude wash over me. What a gift to have known this woman. And what a gift to have a brief, lucid moment with her at the end. She passed on a few days later.

That was over a year ago, and tonight I got to share about her and lead a prayer at her memorial service. Her family generously invited people from all the areas of her life to celebrate her and share about her. Mary Ellen had a lot of special items, decorative or useful in her home, and her sons brought many of them to the service for guests to choose from so each of us could have something to remember her by. She had given me a special gift from her collection before she passed, so I didn’t have in mind to take anything. But then I saw something that reminded me of the first thing she ever said to me about her unique hobbies. And I took a book she had bound. I plan to fill it with prayers and drawings and the contents of my own tempestuous, passionate heart.

 

To read and experience Mary Ellen’s amazing stories, check out her unique memoir:

https://www.flywaystories.com/stories

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Imagine Dragons

February 25, 2019

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Rahul and I, imagining.

When my son was 7 1/2 years old he was unable to imagine anything. He didn’t understand what people meant when they asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He didn’t play games with imaginary friends or made-up worlds. His world was extremely literal. He had known more loss that any human should have to know and had already lived 1,000 years of sorrow by the time I met him.

I remember the first time I heard him imagine something. We were driving in my Jeep, listening to music and he requested that I repeat a Sarah McLachlan Christmas song over and over. The music, he said, made him imagine. He had conjured up a scenario where he was riding a dragon through space, free and powerful. I loved hearing his fantasy and played the song over and over to let his little mind open up.

Dragons became a common theme in his imaginary worlds. After his bff Justin and he saw How to Train Your Dragon, I remember Justin and Rahul conjuring up an imaginary playmate in Toothless, the dragon in the movie. I remember feeling so grateful for Justin one afternoon when the two of them were battling the monsters of Riverdale with Toothless at their side, something I don’t think Rahul could ever have conjured up on his own.

One evening, Rahul created a “luxury experience” for me in his loft bed. He mounted a small video screen on his ceiling with duct tape, brought all his stuffed animals up to his bed and invited me to squeeze up there to watch whatever movie I wanted and while he fed me and snuggled with me. I chose Monsoon Wedding and we watched a few minutes of it before he grew bored and switched gears. He turned it off and then he turned off most of the lights. As we lay in the dark, he told me we were going to imagine together. He created a scenario where we each had dragons and we got to assign them super powers and we listened to music as we imagined them fly us into outer space. Tears rolled down the sides of my face as I lay there with him imagining our dragons and understanding that he was healing. He was expanding and evolving. The freedom he loved to imagine with his dragon was the freedom he was beginning to feel in his life.

My little boy is 18 now. He knows exactly what he wants to be when he grows up and is well on his way to achieving it. This weekend the third and final installment of the How to Train Your Dragon movies came out and we were there in the same theater where we had seen the first and second ones on the first night it came out. Even though he is practically a grown man, he still loves his dragons. His favorite video games are ones where he can ride imaginary creatures and fly. And he has learned to fly for real! He is on his way to getting his pilot’s license and regularly gets to fly a real dragon (in the form of a Cessna) through the sky.

When we were on our way to the movie the other night I reminded him how dragons had taught him to imagine. And I remembered another special time we shared when he was younger. We travelled to South Dakota to dig for dinosaur bones, and after we found them we camped in the Badlands. One night the winds were blowing our tent sideways and rain was starting to fall and we had to abandon our usual post outside the entrance to our tent playing monopoly and hunker down inside the tent for the night. I was struggling to come up with something for us to do in there together when Rahul’s eyes lit up and he pulled out his Kindle. He had downloaded How to Train Your Dragon and we snuggled up in our sleeping bags for the rest of the night watching one of his favorite movies. Everything about that night felt so perfect to me. The winds were howling all around us, and all we had was a flimsy tent to protect us from the elements. But we were so content together, hundreds of miles from home, huddled around a small screen, imagining dragons.

 

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Healing

December 14, 2018

When I woke up one morning 7 years ago, I knew something was wrong. My neck ached, but in a different way than I had ever felt before. By the time I stepped out of the shower, my pain was gone, but the next morning it returned. Each day it stayed a little longer and strangely, it moved around my body. One day my neck would ache, the next day it was my left knee. Then the next day the bottom of my foot, followed my my right shoulder blade. I have a very high pain tolerance, so it didn’t slow me down at all, but it was beginning to worry me. After a few weeks the pain was widespread and never dulled. I would wake up in the middle of the night because both my arms were inflamed with pain. I would feel vomit rise to my throat as I worked, the pain washing over me in waves that made me nauseous and breathless. I thought about my life: I’m a single mom who only sleeps a few hours a night as it is. Losing any of that sleep could break me. And I’m a hairdresser. Without the use of my hands I can’t make a living. I worried that the extreme stress of raising my special needs son on my own had created a crisis in my body that I wouldn’t be able to outrun.

I went to see my doctor, an amazing woman who really listens to me. She tested me for all the suspected culprits of this type of pain, but found nothing. She continued to think about my case and would check in with me every few days, letting me know she hadn’t given up on me and was committed to figuring out what was wrong. One day after driving for a few hours I looked down at my ankles and they were swollen to twice their size. I stopped by my doctor’s office and drew her a picture of what my ankles looked like and the next day she called me with her diagnosis. After looking at my picture she had me tested for sarcoidosis and the test was positive. It’s an auto-immune disease that can be deadly, but can also go away in a short time. I went to 3 or 4 rheumatologists in the next year to seek treatment, with varied results. One told me I was perfectly healthy. “Good news!” she said. “I’ve tested you for several things and there’s nothing wrong with you!” Another sent me away with a prescription for steroids, which did wonders for my pain and enabled me to keep working and sleep through the night. And one walked with me through the illness, teaching me how to step down slowly off the steroids, advising me that one auto-immune disease can easily morph into another. (He was sure I was developing Lupus).

After several years I had still not been able to ween myself from the steroids and I was gaining a lot of weight. My face had the tell-tale moon shape that prednisone gives you and my body was lumpy and swollen. I still had pain–enough that exercise was excruciating–but could manage to sleep and work. I felt like I was always bracing myself. I was afraid to turn my head too fast or run or put too much weight on my ankles or wrists. I felt fragile and puffy and tentative.

Two years ago I lost my health insurance for good and at the same time I began to notice the tell-tale butterfly rash on my face that indicates Lupus. I started getting sores around my hairline and on my wrists and when I Googled them, I saw they were also symptoms of Lupus. I knew I had to do something about my health and I decided to reach out to a client of mine who is an acupuncturist. I have known him and his family for many years and I trusted his expertise. We decided to barter acupuncture treatment for haircuts and I resolved that even though I knew very little about Chinese medicine, I would do whatever he advised me and I would trust him.

I faithfully followed his dietary suggestions and saw him every few weeks for 3 months and I noticed that I was beginning to really feel better. I felt like energy was moving through my body again, I wasn’t always bracing for injury. My daily pain level had been cut in half. We decided I would try again to slowly step down off my steroids, and in another 3 months I was feeling even better. My acupuncture treatments were really painful and I had no idea what he was talking about when he described the energy channels and yin and yang and all the other Chinese medicine stuff he tried so carefully to explain to me. I really didn’t care. It seemed to be working, so I was like, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do! And if you need to twist that hot needle around in my leg until I scream in pain, carry on!  As long as I keep feeling better, do whatever you need to do!

Then last December, a year ago, he suggested that I try intermittent fasting. I had no idea that it would do me any good, but he advised me to drink only water or plain tea all day, except for 3 hours in the afternoon, when I could eat and drink whatever I wanted. For 3 days. I hated it, but I did it. And for the first two days I felt horrible. Then halfway through the third day I began to feel better than I had in years! It was amazing. It really felt like my body was healing itself, becoming whole again. Energy was flowing through me and I felt very alive. I began to make it a regular practice to fast intermittently several days a week, and I was quickly able to completely stop taking prednisone. I dropped dozens of pounds and began to practice yoga again. I would stare at myself in the mirror in yoga class and couldn’t believe that I could bend and stretch and stand on one foot–all my weight on one ankle–with no pain. My body got stronger and leaner. By the summer I added running to my routine, something I hadn’t been able to do in years.

When people noticed my weight loss, they would ask me my secret. Was I dieting? Oh, I was fasting? Maybe they should try that, too! Acupuncture? Did that help you lose weight? I had no idea. I really could care less about my weight. How could I explain the gratitude and the relief I felt at not being in pain all the time? At not constantly worrying that I would only get worse and worse, compounding illnesses until my body wore away? I have no idea how to help anyone lose weight. I have no idea how to explain why acupuncture and fasting have worked for me. I don’t know how to help anyone heal. I don’t understand why it worked for me. But I do know one thing: I have never been so grateful for this amazing, energy-filled, yoga-praciticing, regenerating, shrinking body of mine! I don’t know why I healed, but I know that I did. And I am beyond grateful for what I consider a second chance at life. I feel blessed and I feel lucky.

If you ask me to explain sarcoidosis or fasting or acupuncture I can’t. If you ask me why I healed when so many others only fade away, I definitely can’t. I know it’s not because I am more faithful or more good or more blessed that I have found healing and renewal. It’s not because I found the best acupuncturist in the world or because fasting is a cure-all. I can’t explain what has happened to me, I can only tell you how I feel. When I work a 14-hour day and have no pain in my hands or cramping in my feet or swelling in my ankles if feels amazing! When I practice yoga and watch my body bend and stretch and strengthen I can barely contain my surprise and awe! As I run around my neighborhood in the middle of the night or through the woods in the middle of the day I literally hold my hands up in the air in praise to God because I can’t believe how alive I feel. I appreciate my health every day. I do everything I can think of to maintain it and celebrate it. As I pray for my friends who have lost their loved ones to terrible disease and for my friends who’s bodies are wasting away from illness, I also thank God for the gift of health.

I didn’t earn it and don’t deserve it, but I will appreciate it every single pain-free, healthy day.

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Me and George Bailey

November 29, 2018

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

George Bailey is my hero. He is my favorite fictional character (followed by Jean Valjean and Lorelei Gilmore). Every time I watch It’s a Wonderful Life I discover a new part of his story that resonates with mine.

When I created this blog, many years ago, I had just adopted my son and I was looking for some medium where I could tell my story. I was learning so much and I wanted to share my experiences and reach out for support at the same time. When I was trying to encapsulate what the theme of my life was, I kept thinking of George Bailey. The journey I had taken to motherhood was not what I planned at all. I had a completely different life envisioned for myself! But God determined my steps and gave me things I didn’t even know I wanted or needed. I was full of gratitude for my unexpectedly wonderful life!

George Bailey is a man who knows what he wants from a young age: he wants to travel and explore and see all the things he reads about in magazines. But each time he is about to set off on a journey, a crisis occurs that presents him with a choice. Each time he can either choose to follow his heart and go traveling or he can stay home and take care of his family and his community in some way. He always chooses the unselfish path, but he pays the price by becoming bitter. When he finally becomes so discouraged that he wants to die–when he sees no other way out than to kill himself–an angel intervenes and shows him the magnitude of all the difficult choices he made in his life. He gets to see what the world would be like if he had never existed. And it’s pretty bleak. It turns out that even though he felt like his life was small, he had an enormous impact on his community. Seeing this helps him to be grateful for the life he has and stop yearning for the one he thought he wanted. He understands that he has lived exactly the life that God wanted him to live, and it’s actually been pretty wonderful.

I knew from the time I was very young that I wanted to leave my hometown, move to NYC and become a Broadway actress. I had a clear path to those goals and no one ever stood in my way. I moved to NYC when I was 17 to go to NYU and found a lot of success in the musical theater department. My senior year I held the lead role in both the school opera and the musical and by the time I graduated I had sung for top casting directors in the city and had an agent who was submitting me for Broadway productions. I started getting job offers in theater, and I began to be overwhelmed by the choices I was being asked to make. Each job took me away from home for months and over the years I turned down work because the jobs were too small to warrant leaving home, or they didn’t pay enough. Twice I turned down good jobs to stay in NYC and be the Maid of Honor at friends’ weddings. I didn’t know how to choose work over friends or responsibilities and after a few years I had turned down more jobs than I had accepted. Eventually, the job offers dwindled and I pursued a different career altogether. God opened the door so wide to my hairdressing career that I ran through it and have never looked back. I have found success and happiness and every corner of the business. I had never seriously considered doing any other kind of work than performing and was so surprised and grateful to love my work and have success come so easily to me.

I had always intended to get married. My parents got married when they were 22 years old and that seemed like a good plan to me. I did have a serious boyfriend at that age, but at just the time when we would probably have begun thinking about getting married he went through a very difficult crisis and I saw clearly that I needed to give him space. I couldn’t explain to him why I was breaking up with him, but I was 100% sure it was what I was supposed to do, not for my sake, but for his. And he did recover and flourish. And move on without me. The same thing happened again and again with other men until I began to realize that maybe I was supposed to be single. I didn’t stop dating, but I did start to really appreciate all the awesome things about being single. I had intended to marry, but I loved my independence more than I loved any of those men. (To be honest, there has been one man I really wanted to marry. But that’s a whole other story…) Looking back on my life now I can see that God knew exactly what would be make me really happy and fulfilled. He created me and He knew how much I would love adopting and raising a child on my own, owning my own home, owning and running my own business. I have had a really wonderful life and I’m grateful that God wrote a special story just for me. I know He is still writing my story and believe me, He constantly surprises me.

Becoming a mother was never a dream of mine. Until it was. And then I adopted Rahul! And being his mom has been the most unexpected, wonderful blessing of my life. Who knew I would love mothering so much? I dream of adopting 10 more children and who knows? Maybe God has that in store for me as well.

Some people may watch It’s a Wonderful Life and wonder why someone would make the choices George Bailey did. It might seem like he chose his own failures by not following his dreams. He always had them in his reach, but he constantly makes decisions that he knows are the right thing to do, but probably couldn’t explain them to other people. I know what it’s like to be a disappointment to people who shared your big dreams. I know what’s it’s like to be so boxed in and lost that you want to give up your life. But I also know what it’s like to find contentment by following unexpected paths and to be fueled my a greater gratitude than you even knew existed.

Basically, I’ve given up trying to write my own story. God has such better ones written for me! I’ll just document what I learn along the way, through this wonderful, George Bailey life.

 

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Ms. Dressup

October 31, 2018

I grew up so close to the Canadian border that my family was only able to tune into Canadian tv stations for most of the 70’s. And one of Canada’s hit shows was called Mr. Dressup. Don’t believe me? Google it. It’s a real thing. And he was super cool. He had a Tickle Trunk that he would open on every episode to reveal some amazing costume he would wear around his living room, where his “friends” Casey (small boy) and Finnegan (dog) would appear from behind the couch (they were puppets) to talk to him. I think they may have lived in a treehouse in Mr. Dressup’s backyard…

Anyway, my love for dressing up started early, thanks to Mr. Dressup. My sister and I and our friends would always be wearing clown makeup or flowing dresses or wigs or tutus and prancing around our living room, putting on “shows” or just lost in some imaginary world. My sister and I especially liked accessories and props. We didn’t need braces or glasses in real life, but we would fashion braces out of tin foil or paper clips and wear sunglasses with the lenses poked out. At a certain point we asked our dad to make us crutches (we had never needed those either) and that was super fun. We would hobble around the house with our crutches and glasses, lisping through our tin foil braces…it was endless fun!

So, of course, Halloween was always a big deal. We grew up before there were many pre-made options for costumes, so our parents always made them. My sister was Betsy Ross once, with a red, white and blue hoop skirt (our hula hoop) and a flag she carried with needle and thread. My dad made me a costume one year that incorporated the crutches: Man Who Has Just Been In A Car Accident. I had bloody bandages all over me and my arm in a sling. And a fake broken leg, of course.

I worked and studied as an actor for a number of years, so always had lots of opportunities to dress up there. But it was the impromptu costuming that was the most fun. One evening, my neighbor Lea knocked on my door in a panic because she was throwing a Murder Mystery Dinner Party and 2 of her guests didn’t show up. And if you’ve never been to one of these parties, each guest plays a role and has a script, which gradually reveals who the killer is. So she really needed 2 more guests and wondered if I could come. Yes! I said. As long as I can bring my other 2 roommates and we could all dress up! Done and done.

No one who attended that party will ever forget it. The 3 of us came in ridiculous costumes (A turban! A flamingo pink disco dress! Curlers in our hair!) and entered in character, complete with accents, ticks, and attitude. The very conservative party guests had no idea what to make of us. Halfway through the script I guess my roommate Kara realized that she was the killer, so she made the character choice to reapply her bright pink lipstick often, each time going a little more outside the lines. And when we got to the last part of the script, where she confessed her guilt, she uncovered her face to reveal a giant painted mouth that spread from ear to ear! As she relayed with a straight face how she had done it, the rest of of fell off our chairs laughing.

Like any decent NYC actor, I spent several years waitressing. And like any decent NYC restaurant, all the servers at Sambuca’s were creatives of some sort, so our manager encouraged us to dress in costume for Halloween. My best friend and I worked there together, so we would compare notes on our costumes, then share a cab to work, rather than take the subway or rollerblade (my favorite mode of transportation in the 90’s) so as not to embarrass ourselves too much. The first year we worked there she dressed as Hester Prynne (from The Scarlet Letter. Google it!), complete with a red “A” on her bodice and a fake baby Pearl. I had gone a slightly different direction with my costume–I was a Beauty Queen Gone Bad. Here we are:

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On our way to work that night, we were in the taxi, still 10 blocks away from work, when our driver pulls over and tells us to get out of the car. I’ve forgotten why. Maybe his cab broke down? Anyway, we were stranded and there were no cabs around. We saw one down the block that was off duty and Libby took control of the situation and told me to “hide” behind a tree on the sidewalk that was literally 4 inches in diameter. I obeyed, knowing no cab would pick me up in my weird outfit, and did my best to blend into the tree, while wearing my pink satin gown and leather dog collar. Libby took off her cap and started franticly rocking Pearl, desperately waving down the off-duty cab. He pulled right over and she commanded me to jump in quickly before the cab driver noticed me. As he was pulling away from the curb he stared at us in complete confusion. Where did that crazy blonde chick come from? Is that really a baby? That second question he asked out loud, to which Libby replied she’d tell him once we got to our destination.

The following year, she dressed as Ophelia. (From Hamlet. Google it.) She learned her speech about the flowers and recited it to ALL of her tables that night, before allowing them to order. And when they asked her who in the heck she was, she made them guess. The whole night the only person who answered correctly was a man who later that night called the restaurant, announcing himself as Hamlet wishing to speak to Ophelia and he asked her on a date. I, on the other hand, did NOT get asked on any dates that night. Because I dressed as Medusa (From Greek mythology. Google it.), complete with green snakes in my hair. I didn’t make my tables guess my costume. I announced to each of them in a loud, angry voice that I was going to turn them to stone if they didn’t order from me right away. They would all nervously giggle and try to ignore me, but I insisted and never broke character, snarling and frowning at everyone all night . It was the best night of waitressing I ever experienced.

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One is mad…

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and the other is MAD!

I don’t dress up too much anymore. I think I’m just too exhausted. And my son is not that into Halloween. But as soon as I recover from single parenting, I’m totally pulling out that red wig and tiara I’ve got in a box in the closet and coming up with some awesome props to create an obscure, insane costume.

Ooo! Maybe my dad can make me some crutches!

 

Happy Unbirthday

October 24, 2018

Today my son turned 18, but it wasn’t his birthday. He most likely wasn’t born on October 23rd, but he has no idea when he was born. He began living in an orphanage when he was about five years old and we don’t know very much about his life before that time. What we do know, we mostly keep to ourselves because it’s sensitive, treasured, highly personal information. Suffice it to say, a stranger brought him to the orphanage where he lived for the next 2 1/2 years before I adopted him. And the date Rahul arrived in the orphanage was October 23rd, so that was assigned to him as his birthday.

The first year he was my son, I planned a very small, simple birthday party for him on October 23rd. He was still very suspicious of me at that time and did not believe he was turning 8. He remembered being told at the orphanage when he turned 6 years old, but no one over told him that he turned 7, so for the first few months he was with me he didn’t believe his age. But once he had his first birthday party, on his 8th birthday, he finally became convinced of it.

I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a mother, and until I decided to adopt a child at age 35 I hadn’t planned on having children. It just wasn’t something I desired, as much as I have always loved children. But then God led me down that path and He completely changed my heart. I am sure I was born to be Rahul’s mom. But because I hadn’t spent a lifetime dreaming of it I hadn’t anticipated how much I would love certain things about motherhood. And celebrating his birthday was one of those things. I didn’t ever plan elaborate parties for him, but I loved to buy him gifts and plan special surprises for him. There is something so special about celebrating the person you love more than any other in the world. I loved bringing cupcakes into school so his classmates could sing him Happy Birthday. I loved having my parents and my sister’s family come visit so we could celebrate all together. We had costume parties for several years, then one year we went to Coney Island and rode rollercoasters, and once we went to this crazy place in the woods and had a paintball party! Then a couple years ago he stopped wanting to celebrate his birthday. He didn’t like the attention anymore. And that date, October 23rd, was becoming problematic.

It was starting to really bother him that he didn’t know which day he was born and that the date that was chosen for him was actually anniversarying a difficult day in his life. He no longer wanted to celebrate the day he entered his orphanage and pretend that it was his birthday. So we stopped having parties, then we stopped inviting family over, and this year we stopped saying “Happy Birthday” or buying presents or making anything special out of the day. I bought him a few candies that he likes, but that was it.

And Rahul had a really great day today. He and I talked and prayed about how this date is very bittersweet for him, because if he hadn’t ever made it to that orphanage, he never would have made it here, to me. He doesn’t like to commemorate the date, but tonight he acknowledged what an important milestone it was in his life. It was a crossroads, and the road that was chosen for him led him to me.

I’m so proud of him and so grateful that today was good for him. But all day I have been so, so sad. I have watched Rahul pass up so many joys that other kids so easily embrace because his early trauma robbed him of his ability to celebrate and receive loving attention. And all I want for him is for him to be able to be happy and to live life to the full. These are daily struggles for him. And he is a rock star, constantly pushing himself to engage and participate and connect with people. But sometimes it just breaks my heart that he can’t blow out candles on his birthday cake. All day my heart has been grieving that child he briefly was, the date we’ll never know, the story of his birth, all the things I can never give him. And I grieved for myself that one of the beautiful surprises about being a mom, one of the things I have really loved–celebrating my child’s birthday– has disappeared from my life.

This year we started commemorating his adoption day in special ways, and when he got his tattoo this summer, in honor of our ten years as family, he had that date etched into his skin. April 17, 2008, the day he became my son. That’s the date he wants to remember and celebrate.

So I thinking that maybe next April I can get him to blow out some candles:)

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Opening presents at his first birthday party

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The Last First Day of School

September 5, 2018

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Rahul’s first first day of school, age 7

Every year that Rahul has been with me, I have printed out a copy of his school calendar to put on our refrigerator. There’s one page for each month, so as each one ends I rip it off and throw it away. The first full school year he was with me I was shocked to discover that I was completely overcome with emotions when I threw that last calendar page of the school year in the garbage. I remember feeling like I’d been punched in the gut. The year was over! I would never get it back. And we would just keep moving on like this until one day there would be the final calendar–senior year. I suddenly realized that in his final year of grade school each month would hold a special pain as I threw out the last September, the last February, the last June…

Well, here we are. It’s Rahul’s first day of his senior year. The last first day of school.

Rahul didn’t start school formally until 3rd grade. He had some lessons in his orphanage in India, but couldn’t read or write Hindi (his native language) or English. And when he arrived home with me in April 2008 it was practically the end of the year. I put him in a 2nd grade class, and he had a few weeks of school where he got to participate in field trips and perform in concerts. One concert, his school’s annual dance concert, was life-changing for me. I didn’t know what to expect–actually, I didn’t know what to expect about any of his school experience–and I had a conference call with my work team that morning. I thought surely I would be finished with the call by the time the concert started, but the call just kept going longer and longer. I tried to keep up, but I had my video camera in one hand, my regular camera in the other and my phone to my ear. (If only I had an iPhone back then!) And as Rahul’s group got up to perform, tears were streaming down my face as I watched him keep up with the class that had been learning this dance for weeks. I hung up on the phone call and quit my job soon after. I had realized that I couldn’t do it all and would have to find a more flexible job if single parenting this child was going to work.

He repeated 3rd grade with the same teacher both times to give him a chance to catch up. Then we switched him to a Special Education classroom in 4th grade when he still hadn’t learned to read. The summer before that school year he had a neuro-psych evaluation done and I wanted his classroom teacher to have this valuable document with all his test results and recommendations on it before school started. But despite my constant calls to the school, I could not get through to his teacher. So on the first day of school I marched him into his classroom to hand it her. Except when we got to the room there was no one there, the lights were off and the chairs were on top of the desks. We walked all over the school looking for his teacher and finally found her in the cafeteria. Apparently that’s were the Special Ed students gather in the morning. No one had informed us. I confirmed with his teacher where to pick him up at the end of the day  and left my once excited, now crestfallen child in the cafeteria. At the end of the day I waited outside the door he was supposed to be exiting from and watched as every 4th grade student in the school ran out into the arms of their waiting parent except my son’s class. I was really angry and panicked by this point, because Rahul has an attachment disorder and if I don’t show up on time it triggers a PTSD episode. He thinks I’ve left him and am never coming back. Even now. So that day I marched into the school to find him and there he was, with his confused teacher, wandering the halls. I was supposed to pick him up from a different door. I had already made multiple calls to the school that day to complain and when I got home I made one more. I found an ally in Mr. Manny, the vice principal and he assured me we could work together to improve things. I was still very upset and uneasy, so I decided I needed to go to his school and call on a different ally. I left Rahul home, walked the 2 blocks back to his school and walked around and around the school, praying. I prayed for every single human in that building. I prayed that the adults in the school would love Rahul and be charmed by him. That they would always have their eye on him. That he would find favor with all his teachers. That he would grow and learn and be safe and feel secure. I prayed until I was done, and in the end had probably walked around the school 10 times.

And this walking and praying has become an annual ritual for me. Each year, on the first day of school, I take time off of my job and I walk around and around his school, praying. I pray until I’m done. And as I walk around I picture the instructors at Hogwarts casting spells of protection around the school as the dementors are closing in. I realize I’m not casting spells, but I love to picture creating that same type of bubble around his school. I imagine my prayers traveling through the school like incense wafting through the halls and under the doors and up the stairs, until the whole school is covered by God’s protection and love. I walk away secure and confident that my child is not alone in there. That he has a spiritual army walking with him wherever he goes, whispering in the ears of his teachers, moving in their hearts.

Someday I will write about all the amazing things that have happened to Rahul throughout his school career. It’s nothing short of a series of miracles. But for now, I want to absorb this last first day of school. This last prayer walk around the campus. I want to make it count, for him and for me.

And as I move through this school year, throwing out each month on the calendar as we creep closer and closer to the end, I want to remember that armies surround me too. That I am not alone in my sentimental recognition of Rahul’s lasts and firsts. And that there are still many “firsts” yet to come.

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Rahul’s last first day of school, age 17

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