December 15, 2014
Today my friend Lorraine was laid to rest. Gone way too soon, she leaves behind 2 young children and a loving husband, as well as lots of heartbroken family and friends. She will not be forgotten–mostly because she is truly unforgettable! The life of every party, especially the ones thrown by her!
We first became friends about 20 years ago and some of my favorite memories of her revolve around adventures we masterminded together. Truly our greatest was a trip to my parents’ summer cottage on Lake Ontario (now their home) to celebrate the Forth of July. I remember excitedly concocting the plan together, breathlessly dividing the responsibilities. Lorraine volunteered to rent the car. I would invite some more friends and square it with my parents.
A few days before the trip Lorraine confessed to me that she hadn’t gotten around to renting the car. And since it was almost July 4th, there were none to be had. But just when we thought we’d have to cancel, she found a place to rent one and we were set.
There were 6 of us going on this whirlwind road trip and we were leaving after an evening church service from midtown Manhattan. We all brought our overnight bags and Lorraine brought the car. And, oh, what a car it was. It looked like it rolled off the line is 1978 and might have been driven by Starksy and Hutch. But it had enormous bucket seats so if fit all 6 of us and our stuff, so we were set.
The driving would take about 8 hours and we were leaving pretty late at night, so we switched drivers throughout the journey. My leg was the early morning shift. I would need to drive through Rochester, NY during morning rush hour. As we were approaching the city a car pulled up next to me and the driver honked at me, pointed to my car and kept going. Everyone else in the car was asleep, so I woke up my friend Kara (yes, the same one from my famous turkey episode) and had her look out the window at the car. Neither of us could see anything wrong, so we assumed the guy was honking at us because we were a crazy car full of women! A few minutes later there was a loud bang, the car shifted and we saw smoke emanating from the vicinity of the back tire. I pulled over through 4 lanes of busy traffic as gracefully as I could and screamed at everyone to get out of the car before it exploded. When we stumbled out and looked at the car, we realized the entire back tire was missing. It had exploded and disintegrated.
I ran off to find a pay phone to call my parents and the girls searched the car for a safe tire. I reached my mom and she said she would contact my dad (already en route to work) and have him come help us. And the search for the spare tire not only revealed that there was no spare tire. It also uncovered a receipt for “one used tire” in the glove compartment. Hmm. I wonder which one that was.
While we were waiting for my dad, a state trooper stopped by to make sure we were ok and after hearing our story he wrote his name and badge number on our car rental receipt in case we needed proof that the tire exploded. Then my dad arrived, assessed the situation, went out and bought us a new tire, put the new tire on the car, took us all out to breakfast, then sent us on our way. (That Buzz!)
We were feeling pretty giddy by this point and since Kara had brought a cassette player (of course the radio in the car didn’t work) and a tape of West Side Story, we were having fun singing (screaming) along. Too much fun. Lights and sirens startled us out of our reverie and I realized I was going about a thousand miles an hour.
So, don’t judge me, but I pulled over wrong. I was in the left lane, so I pulled over to the left shoulder. And as the cop sauntered over to my driver’s side I’m sure he realized he had scored big time. He looked us all over (very multicultural group in a very Huggy Bear car) then zeroed in on me. “How long have you been driving?” he asked. “Well, we started last night at about 11pm from New York, so I guess about 7 or 8 hours…” “No“! he interrupted. “In your LIFE! How many years have you been driving?!?” I didn’t know where he was going with this, so I began to babble. “Uhh…well I got my license when I was 16, but I moved to NYC when I was 17, so that’s a year. Then I’ve been in the city for 6 years now and I rarely drive, mostly just when I–” “BECAUSE YOU PULLED OVER TO THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD!” Whoops.
Anyway, we gave him our rental agreement and my license and when he saw the state trouper’s name and badge number he flipped out again. So we had to tell him the whole story and I’m sure he thought we were all idiots, but I think by that point he had given up on the idea that we were involved in any type of criminal activity. Except speeding. And pulling over wrong.
We got to my parents’ house and had a blast. The car proved even more fun when we discovered that it had a trick alarm that would erupt at any time of the night or day for no reason at all. We sure made a name for ourselves in my parents’ small town!
Lorraine is still famous in my family for her incredible joie de vivre and enthusiasm for everything. She had to stop at EVERY garage sale…
And take a picture with EVERYTHING…
Lorraine was an incredibly special person. She taught me how to make a table look pretty for a party and how to dress like a grown up. She lit up every room she entered. She supported her friends fiercely and loved very deeply. And although she never wanted to be the center of attention, she was always the life of the party.
(If you’d like to donate to a fund for Lorraine’s children, click here: WESTERVELT CHILDREN’S FUND)
March 5, 2014
After Rahul had been home with me for several months I settled into a new job that allowed me to be closer to home and have a shorter workday. I had already become accustomed to spending my every waking moment caring for his especially intense needs as he adjusted to life with me and began to heal from past trauma. One night, my friend Tamika come to our apartment. I knew life wasn’t going so well for her right then, but I was so engrossed in Rahul’s very exigent needs, that I hardly noticed what was going on with any of my friends. I was thrilled that Tamika had come by, but we ended up spending our entire evening helping Rahul through a particularly harrowing crisis. As Tamika left that night I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for caring for my child so lovingly and spending a night giving help when I knew she needed it just as much. I watched her walk down the hall and felt a sinking feeling that I should be doing more to help her, but I didn’t know how.
A few days later I had a very unique and cherished opportunity to spend 2 hours by myself. Rahul was asked to join an after school ESL program and I knew he would try it out at least once. For even one session it would be worthwhile to get him some extra help and I’d get have a few hours to breathe.
I came home from work that day and sat down at my desk, staring at the huge pile of bills and papers I had been barely tending to. My goal during these next 2 hours was going to be to get through to the bottom of the stack! I opened my computer and before beginning my serious tasks I went to Facebook. I really hated Facebook, because each time I scrolled through friends’ happy status updates about how their lives were so much easier and less oppressive than mine I wanted to throw the computer across the room! Facebook just made me feel bitter. I spent several months ignoring it completely, but I had a friend I’d been trying to track down for years who had just found me on Facebook and I was thrilled to reconnect with her. We were writing messages back and forth to one another, so I was in the habit at the time of checking into Facebook every day.
This particular day I looked for a message from my friend and finding none, scrolled down through my news feed. A few messages down I saw Tamika’s status, which read, Goodbye. My heart stopped. What time had she written it? Hours ago! Frantically, I scrolled down to the comments her other friends had written. Did they know what she meant? No. There were several comments like, I didn’t know you were heading out of town! Where are you going?
I knew what she meant. Goodbye. Forever.
Several years earlier I had been the first person Tamika had called when she woke up after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. She was such a dear friend to me and I was terrified and heartbroken that she was so sad and lost. She went into treatment and worked very hard at healing. And she had been doing really well, until her mom passed away.
I had learned of her mom’s passing one summer night when I called Tamika to tell her about a show I had just seen. After talking for a while, I asked her where she was. On a plane, she said. My mom died. I was stunned. After talking for a while I decided to try to get a flight down to Louisiana the next day, so I could support her. But as soon as I woke up the next morning I got the life-changing news that my son had been found and I was going to be Rahul’s mom! That news started me on a race to get a thesis paper’s worth of paperwork triple-notarized and sent to India so I wouldn’t lose him. I sent flowers to Tamika instead.
As I stared at the word Goodbye on Facebook that fateful day I felt I might be the only person who knew what was happening. I immediately called her and got her voice mail. “Call me”, I said. “I just read your Facebook message.” I clicked on Tamika’s homepage and learned I wasn’t the only one who knew. A friend of hers from Louisiana had written this message: HELP!!!!!!!!!!! TAMIKA HAS TAKEN PILLS AND IS TRYING TO KILL HERSELF AND I DON’T KNOW HER ADDRESS!!!!!!!!!!
I know her address! A few weeks earlier I had ordered a few Christmas cards to send out and after addressing them to various family members I had one left. I asked Rahul whom we should send it to and we decided on Tamika. It would be her first Christmas without her mom and I thought it would cheer her up. She had just moved, so I called her and got her new address.
As I started to write back to her Facebook friend, my phone rang. It was Tamika. Thank God she is alive. I answered and although she was alive, she was not well. She was slurring her words and not making any sense. While I listened I picked up my other phone and dialed 911. I was grateful to have a second phone — I had only bought it one day earlier. I was able to keep her talking while I gave the 911 operator her address. When she heard that I was sending help, she hung up on me.
My hands were shaking as I finished writing back to her Louisiana friend to say that I had Tamika’s address and had called the police.
My phone rang again and this time it was the police. They were at Tamika’s door and she wasn’t answering so they were going to leave. “NO!” I shouted! I dialed Tamika again and she picked up. Go open your door! I said to her. “She’s there!” I said to the police on my other ear. “I’m talking to her right now.” A moment later I heard Tamika’s roommate (who had been sleeping and was awakened by the banging on the door) answer the door. I heard the police questioning her and they rushed her into an ambulance. I hung up both phones and took a deep breath.
I thought for a second and realized there was one more thing I could do. I knew Tamika’s therapist, Tina. That’s because she had been my therapist first and I had recommended her to Tamika. In all the years I had known Tina she never once picked up the phone when I called her office. That day when I dialed her number, she picked up the phone. “Renee! So great to hear from you! How are things going with your son!” “Tina, Tamika is on her way to the hospital. She took a bunch of pills this morning. Do you know her psychiatrist? Could you find out what medication she is on?” “Oh my God.” She said. “Yes, I do know him and I will call him right now. Thanks for letting me know.”
Ask I hung up with Tina my phone rang again and this time it was Tamika’s friend from Louisiana. She was so relieved to get my message and she explained how she had called the NYPD earlier in the day, but because she didn’t know where Tamika lived they couldn’t do anything. And then she had to pick up her son from kindergarten and had just had to leave that desperate message on Tamika’s Facebook page praying someone would see it. I realized it was time for me to go pick up my son from school also. But before I left I got one more call. Tina called back to say she had gotten in touch with Tamika’s psychiatrist, they had tracked down which hospital she was admitted to and talked to the ER doctors at the hospital. They had caught her in time and she would recover. Hallelujah! There was now nothing else I could do, so I went to pick up Rahul.
To make a long story short, Tamika received wonderful care and worked very hard to heal. She is a new person today, solid and happy. I’m going to her wedding in May!
When I think back to all the stars that aligned that day. The timing of that one afterschool class Rahul took—literally the only 2 hours I had to myself for months. The online reunion with the friend who gave me a reason to check my Facebook page. The extra phone I had just bought. The address I had just procured from Tamika. The therapist I knew personally who answered the phone. God put me in the right place at the right time, with the right tools and the right knowledge, to help to save my friend.
Serendipity. Provident serendipity.
(And I don’t hate Facebook anymore.)
*By the way, in case you are wondering, Tamika gave me her blessing to tell our story.
January 26, 2014
Recently, my son took his second snowboarding lesson. My whole family went to a local ski resort for a day and my brother in law, niece and nephew went skiing, Rahul took his lesson, and my sister, parents and I “lounged” at the lodge. (In actuality, we fought off pushy ski families and attempted, unsuccessfully, to connect to the “free wifi” so we could get a little work done.) When the day was nearly finished, Rahul’s class ended and he was allowed to try out his new skills on one of the hills. The skiers in my family were anxious to join him and somehow, in the hustle and bustle of getting them all together in the same place, Rahul and my nephew darted off to the chairlift that led to the highest peak on the mountain. Yes, my 13 year old “exactly 2 lessons” son and my 10 year old “competent skier, but not allowed to ski without his dad” nephew were on their way to the top of the mountain and there was nothing any of us could do about it.
My sister and I ran out into the snow towards the chairlift and they were gone. Up the mountain. No cell phone, no adult to guide them. On their own. We stood there staring up at this humungous mountain and realized there was absolutely nothing we could do but stand at the base of the mountain and wait for them to come down.
I’m not an anxious person. I don’t restrict Rahul much and I like for him to try new things and take risks. I’m more of a Free Range Parent than a Helicopter Mom. But I stood there absolutely frozen in panic, consumed by fear. We watched tiny specks move their way down the mountain, imagining every one of them to be our sons. We looked for anyone who seemed to be stuck or in distress, realizing there was nothing we could do about it even if it were our child. I watched the line of trees on either side of the trail, scanning for any person who came too close to them, praying constantly that God would bring my son down the mountain in one piece. We stood there shaking with cold and stiff with fear for what seemed like hours, until finally, my nephew emerged around the corner at the base. He was safe and in one piece and skied right over to us, unaware that our hearts had nearly stopped beating with terror for his safety. “Where is Rahul?” I asked. My nephew had lost him halfway down, but said he was managing OK when he last saw him. My sister sent him inside and, bless her heart, she stayed there with me, huddling together, waiting for Rahul. My brother-in-law, bless his heart, sped over to the final lift of the day on his skis, hoping to find Rahul on the way down and guide him to safety.
As the minutes dragged by I began to realize that what we were doing–waiting at the base of the mountain–was a metaphorical representation of what we all do as parents every day. We send them up a mountain (or they dash up there all on their own) and then we wait for them at the base. I thought about how my job as Rahul’s mom is to prepare him the best I can for whatever challenges the mountain brings him. And it is also in my hands to wait for him as patiently and confidently as I can. I am meant to rejoice in his victories–the new skills and lessons he learns, and to support him when he falls.
I thought about powerlessness. About the mothers who wait for their sons and daughters when they disappear. About my dear friend whose teenage son is recovering in a nearby burn unit from a horrible accident at school. About Avonte Oquendo’s mom and Leiby Kletsky’s mom –2 NYC moms who didn’t receive their sons back alive. I thought about a friend of mine who had recently told me about an entire weekend she and her husband spent tracking down lost photos of their daughter so she could have a special birthday celebration in school only to have the birthday girl stay home that day so as to stay out of the spotlight. She said, “That’s so much of what parenting is, isn’t it? Learning to let go of the plans you have for your children and embrace and support theirs.”
After an eternity, we learned that Rahul was safely in the lodge with my family. He had taken a bit of a detour at the bottom of the mountain so he never passed us by. He was triumphant at his victory (“I flipped over a bunch of times, but I only fell and couldn’t get up once!”). It took me a few hours before I could calm down enough to share his triumph.
We’re going back to the mountain next weekend. And Rahul will try the smaller hills. And I will be waiting for him at the bottom.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20
January 3, 2014
I want to thank you for allowing me to “be” you for the last 5 years. You know how much my son needed to believe in magic, and you provided that for him. I really wrestled with whether I should introduce him to you or not. He was 8 years old his first Christmas with me, and–as you know–by that age I had lost my childhood belief in you. I wondered whether it was morally right to introduce a figure such as yourself to a child who had already lost so much. I didn’t want him to feel abandoned when he lost you. He has always been so savvy, so street-smart, so lacking in imagination, I wondered whether he would even be able to grasp who you were. And so I decided I would let him lead me. I told him a little bit about you, then I let his schoolmates and his tv shows tell him the rest. I figured if he needed you he would grasp on to you.
And grasp on he did! One of my favorite memories will always be Rahul’s reaction to the mounds of presents you left under the tree that first Christmas morning. He knew who you were, but he hadn’t really believed you would visit him. He thought he was too bad. Too insignificant. He hadn’t made a Christmas list and didn’t know what to do with the toy catalogue I had handed him. (You may remember that my sister and I would devour the Sears Catalogue every December, pouring over it for hours, circling things we fancied and adding them to our list…) Once when I read to him at bedtime I finished with a poem about a little girl wishing on a star for her Christmas wish–a horse. I asked Rahul whether there was anything in particular he would wish for as a Christmas present. He didn’t even understand my question. After much explanation and prodding he squeaked out, “A remote controlled car?” I smiled to myself, because the very car he wanted was at that moment hiding in my closet:)
That first Christmas Eve I snuck around hearing Mission Impossible music in my head while he slept 6 feet away from the Christmas tree. And in the morning as he climbed down from his loft bed he could barely comprehend what he was seeing! Presents! Tons of them, all for him! His first comment was, “I must have been a very good boy!” That is what it meant to him: validation. You taught him that he was good.
And over the years, despite his classmates and friends outgrowing their belief in you, Rahul stood firm. The child with no imagination and very little faith in anything, believed wholeheartedly in you. He loved your letters most of all. He held them as some of his most prized possessions, asking me throughout the year to pull them out so he could re-read them. Knowing that you were proud of him gave him strength and helped him to be proud of himself.
I knew it was going to be tough for him to hear the full truth about you, but I was prepared when he finally asked for the whole truth this year. Initially, the news was devastating to him. Despite being 13 years old, Rahul was a True Believer. He looked at me in complete shock and shut down, except to ask me for your most recent letter to him. He spent the night crying on that letter, his tears doing their best to wash away your words. All the next day he wrestled with disappointment, anger, embarrassment. He kept saying that you were a lie. That I had lied to him about you. And I insisted that I had not lied. That you were real, just not what he thought you were. I explained to him how as a parent I had the amazing opportunity to play the role of Santa. To become you. I explained how a myth and a lie are very different things. One is told in love, the other in malice. And after hours and hours of talking through his feelings, I finally read him the “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” letter. And that did it. That encompassed everything I was trying to explain to him and it made sense to him. After 24 hours of declaring that we would not celebrate Christmas this year, he finally smiled and said, “OK. Christmas is back on.”
And it was different this year for him. Less magical. Its always difficult that first year. Its hard for us until we learn to become you, to bring magic to others and receive a different type of magic in return. Please help us all to embody you as we believe in one another and celebrate their victories.
In the meantime, thank you for giving Rahul something no one else could: belief in himself.
May 5, 2013
Today before church began I watched in fascination as Rahul performed an ancient, healing ritual with a little boy in our congregation. It’s called Hide and Seek. This little boy is 1/3 Rahul’s age and size and was over the moon to run all over the auditorium chasing him, counting to 20 and peeking under chairs to find my gigantic pre-teen curled up in a ball or stretched out on the floor under the seats. He would take turns hiding, too, as Rahul pretended not to be able to find him and called his name until he would pop out of hiding, exploding in giggles. I was supposed to be rehearsing some music, but I was barely able to to contain my tears or wrench my eyes away from the game.
Rahul has been with me for 5 years now. And when he first came, he was frightened and angry and independent. He was not used to being hugged or held, so in order to get him acclimated to loving touch, I had to invent games where he could enjoy human contact without sensory overload. I used to grab him by one hand and one foot and gently swing him around in circles (he would giggle uncontrollably), or hold him under his arms from behind and swing his legs back and forth like a bell (while saying “ding-dong, ding-dong”). But by far, his favorite “gotcha” game was Hide and Seek. I would always be the “Seeker” and he would always hide. I would count to 20 and go off in search of him and he would always make it back “home”, where I would snatch him up and swing him around and tickle him, and he would laugh so hard he would fall over. We would literally play that game for hours.
You don’t have to be much of an armchair psychologist to see the deeper meaning behind the game. Over and over we would play out the act of Rahul being lost and me finding him. Over time, he began to indoctrinate anyone who meant something to him into this game. I remember our friends, The Thompsons, coming over in Rahul’s early days, and all 6 of us playing Hide and Seek in my one-bedroom apartment over and over. And once, when my dear friend Libby and her then-fiancé Bruce came to watch Rahul for the day, they reported that they had played some version of Hide and Seek the entire day. At one point Libby couldn’t find Rahul until she opened my closet and looked up–he had crawled up the walls, Spiderman-style, and was hovering over her head. One of my favorite memories is hearing my Dad count loudly to 20 over and over again, in full view of all my nosey neighbors in our front yard as he and my Mom played marathon sessions of Hide and Seek with Rahul.
It’s been a year or so since I remember him playing Hide and Seek, so that’s why I was surprised to see him playing it this morning. What struck me most today was that I could see he wasn’t playing it for his own therapy anymore. My ginormous man-child doesn’t need games anymore to get a hug. He just says, “Give me some sugar” with his arms outstretched and he’s got a big bear-hug from me. He asks for foot rubs, or head rubs almost every night. He snuggles with the dog, carries little friends on his shoulders, curls up with me on the couch to watch tv. No, today he was patiently allowing another child to enter his sacred ritual. Sharing his gift. Coming full circle.
January 14, 2013
Today is my Dad’s birthday. There are millions of things I love about him! Here are a few:
When I was about 5 years old my best friend Kyle told me about a monster that had appeared in his room from under his bed one night. He said as he lay in bed a big hand had reached up from under the bed and grabbed him! I suggested that maybe it had only been a dream, but he insisted it was the absolute truth and scared me out of my wits. That night when I went to bed I told my Dad how scared I was that there was a monster under my bed that was going to reach up and grab me. He soothed me and told me Kyle had just had a nightmare. Once I was calm he turned out the lights and left the room. A few moments later I heard my Mom scolding my Dad from the hallway, “Buuuuuzzz??” At the same time I saw a huge hand reaching toward me from under my bed! I screamed, but instantly I knew it was my Father who had crawled back into my room and under my bed to reach his hand up to scare me! Now, another child might have been scarred for life. But I honestly don’t think I lost a moment’s sleep over being scared again in my life–ever.
When my first love went off to college I was still in high school. After coming home from delivering him to the start of his sophomore year, I was heartbroken and trying to hold it together through dinner. We used to have rather formal dinners at our house. Dining room, candles, wine, interesting music, etc. At one point I excused myself and went out to the kitchen under the pretense of getting something. Instead, I stood in the corner and quietly sobbed with my face in my hands. A moment later I felt big, strong arms surrounding me–my dad had sensed that I was upset and had followed me from the table to give me a hug. I love that I didn’t have to speak my troubles or make a scene, he just knew what I needed in that moment.
When I was preparing to adopt Rahul my Dad announced he wanted to come with me to India and I was thrilled! It was a pretty emotional experience (to say the least) and there is no one who steadies me like him. Besides that, Rahul instantly fell in love with him.
Need I say more?
Happy Birthday Buzz!
January 12, 2013
The other night I was having trouble sleeping. Now, normally, I sleep very soundly. My life only accords me a few hours to sleep, so I try to make the most of it! But I swear I’m starting “the change”, because the other night I felt like it was 90 degrees in my room and I just couldn’t cool off. So I rolled around, changed my clothes, kicked the cat off the bed. Nothing worked. And as I lay there trying to cool down and fall back asleep I began to fret. I’m not normally a worrier, but there’s something about lying alone in the dark to get one feeling anxious about all of life’s troubles. My mind searched around for something else to think about, but I couldn’t seem to let go of troubling lines of thought.
How am I going to pay my bills? Is my dog going to feel better? (He’s been sick.) How am I going to send Rahul to college? What will I do when my parents get too old to care for themselves? Who will care for me when I’m old?
You know the progression of anxiety.
Then a strange thought popped in my head: purple. I saw in my mind the most vivid purple. It was so gorgeous that I forgot about my questions for a moment. It was an abstract thought, but it was an arresting color and I contemplated whether I had ever seen it in nature, or just material things. I thought about the sky and and the beautiful, startling colors contained in it at times and I puzzled over whether I had ever seen that purple in the sky before. I was sure I hadn’t. And as I drifted back off to sleep I longed to see that purple in the sky…
A short while later my alarm was gonging and it was time to get up. I rolled out of bed and took my dog outside for his walk. My brain was foggy and sluggish as I led him east along our street. He stopped to sniff something and I turned my head to stretch. And the western sky was completely purple. I immediately remembered my earlier thoughts and was stunned. It was exactly the color I had pictured in my head and it wasn’t just a sliver of purple, it was the entire sky! I stood frozen on the sidewalk staring into the sky. And before my eyes it changed to grey. As the sun was rising the colors were refracting differently and the purple was gone.
He made it purple for me! I thought. God put color in the sky at the exact moment I was going to see it to show me He would take care of all the answers to my anxious questions. To show me He loved me and He saw me.
I know it sounds arrogant–God colored the entire sky purple just for me!!–but I do believe it. I think He does it for all of us, all the time, whether we notice it or acknowledge or recognize it. David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)
I’m just one, tiny insignificant person and I am mostly invisible to the people around me. But to know that my Maker sees me is what I need to get through today.
October 1, 2012
I wrote and published this piece several years ago, but its one of my favorites so I thought it bore repeating…
As I stepped out into the cold April night I was aware that my son was not wearing any shoes. When he turned back and saw me following him, he took off running down the poorly lit street. My heart had already been pounding, now it felt like there was enough electricity pumping through my veins to launch a rocket. I don’t know how this is going to end, I kept thinking. I had only moved into this neighborhood two months earlier and did not know all the shadows and driveways and if Rahul ran off the street I would never be able to find him. I caught up to him quickly and he slumped his shoulders when he realized I was going to follow him wherever he went tonight. Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he stared straight ahead, determined to out-walk me, if nothing else. Neighbors passed by us, but didn’t notice that he had no shoes on, or that he was breaking down. I whistled a tune so he would think I was calm and in control. When we reached the first intersection he started to dart across the street, not understanding the traffic lights or the “don’t walk” signal. I grabbed him and pointed to the oncoming traffic to show him that I didn’t want to stop him from walking, just from getting hit by a car. He pulled out of my grip, enraged that I was trying to hold him back, and charged ahead as cars drove toward him. I jumped between him and the cars and held my hands up to stop them as we crossed the street together. I prayed that they would see me and stop. I hadn’t stopped praying since his tantrum had begun.
Rahul had only just come home with me from India a week or so earlier. He was angry and irritated and uncomfortable most of the time since we had met, and a few times he had erupted in such rage that he would try to run away from me. He would start by putting his shoes on, the ones he had worn home from the orphanage, then he would carefully remove anything I had given him—a watch, a shirt—and try to leave my NYC apartment. He was trying to run back to India. Back to his house—his orphanage. Away from me. I stopped him the first few times. A few days earlier he had gotten so angry at my stopping him from leaving that he lashed out at me to the point where I feared I couldn’t control him. He was small for his age, but he was still a 7-year-old boy, and a strong one at that. I have never claimed to be very strong myself, physically at least. He spent several hours kicking, scratching, screaming and biting me, until finally he passed out on the floor in a heap. I fell into a heap myself that day, in tears, scared by what I had taken on. Unsure how to handle his emotion. But after that incident I decided that the next time he tried to leave I wouldn’t stop him, I would just go with him. I would be his shadow as he discovered that India is too far away to walk to. So that night, when he started walking out the door, I stood aside and let him go. As he struggled with the locks he got so angry that he threw his shoes across the floor. I looked in his eyes and said, Wow, you are angry! Then I unlocked the door and opened it.
Once we made it safely across the intersection I could see Rahul’s eyes scanning the edges of the street lighted area for somewhere to dash to. We walked another two blocks, then turned north. We were no longer walking on the sidewalk or the road, but balancing on a small curb. I prayed that there was no broken glass to cut his feet. And I prayed that this night would end well. We walked a few more blocks and Rahul turned right, crossing an overpass over the Henry Hudson Parkway. Where is he going? I thought. Then he made one more turn, down the entrance ramp. My heart raced as I realized his plan was to walk onto the highway. Did he think it led back to India? My brain was spinning as I followed alongside him. I knew if he made it to the bottom of the ramp I would have to physically restrain him and I wasn’t sure I could do it. My God, what would that look like to people driving by? Then, just as we reached the bottom, he stopped and turned around. I took a deep breath. Did this mean he was done? As we reached the top of the ramp and turned back over the overpass, without looking at me, he whispered, “House.” It was one of the few English words he knew and at that moment it was the most beautiful word I had ever heard. I said, “OK.” I could see that he didn’t know how to get home and his little body was shivering. I said, “ Can I carry you?” I wasn’t sure I could carry him very far, but I couldn’t let him walk anymore. He stopped dead in his tracks and lifted up his arms. I drew him up into my arms and tried to help him mold around my body. Having not been held much in his life, he was awkward in this position, with his neck stiff and his limbs just hanging limp. I placed my lips to his ear and said, “Rahul, I love you. I am not going to hurt you.” It was the first time I had told him that I loved him, and until this moment, I wasn’t even sure that I did.
The rest of that night was happy and there have been so many happy times since then. That night I began to trust my maternal instinct, which has guided me more surely than any advice or instruction. That wasn’t the last time Rahul ran away from me and it certainly wasn’t the worst night we have shared since he has been home with me the past two and a half years. But that night was the beginning of our very special relationship.
|Rahul circa April 2008 in his favorite outfit!|
September 7, 2012
Leading up to Rahul’s adoption I prepared a lot. I read books, I shopped for supplies, I found doctors, dentists, Hindi translation services, I even moved to a new neighborhood with a better school. One thing that I was completely unprepared for, though, was summer. Rahul came home with me in April 2008 and I immediately put him in school. But it wasn’t until there were only a few days left of school that I came up with any type of plan for what he was going to do during summer vacation while I was at work! Not surprisingly, that summer was a bit of a mess. And in fact, it took me a couple of years before I came up with the perfect combination of activities to fill his time without killing me financially and over-scheduling his vacation. But, seriously, this summer (our fifth together) was by far the best!
Last winter Rahul began asking me if there were places where one could dig for gems, fossils, minerals, etc. so I turned to my good friend Google for some ideas. The first thing I found was this amazing dinosaur dig in South Dakota that seemed perfect (http://www.paleoadventures.com) . Then I realized that South Dakota was a great place to dig for other treasures like gold and gems, so I built a vacation around traveling there. Then I learned that Rahul’s best friend Justin, who moved to Japan last year, was coming to NYC to visit for several weeks over the summer. So Justin’s mom and I coordinated our schedules so that Justin arrived just as we were returning from our South Dakota trip. We arranged for him to stay with us for a week and for the boys to travel together to my parents’ house of Lake Ontario for a week. My parents are retired and live in an amazing place and they are unbelievably generous, so each summer they watch Rahul for a few weeks at their place while I come back to NYC to work and catch up on a year’s worth of missed sleep and social activity. So when Justin returned to Japan, Rahul stayed at the lake and fished, swam, and had all kinds of adventures with his grandparents for a few weeks. And our very last activity of the summer was to visit one of our favorite places on Labor Day weekend: Libby’s Beach (which is actually the Jersey Shore, but my bff Libby’s family lives there…)!
May 6, 2012
I remember the first Mother’s Day card I received. I was in India adopting my son and my bff Libby was with me, and she had brought a card all the way there so she could give it to me on the day I met my son for the first time. She wanted to be the first to wish me Happy Mother’s Day! I had been so completely focused on preparing everything in my life for Rahul and making sure I had everything he would need that I hadn’t really thought about how my own role in life was changing. I remember thinking, Oh yeah! I’m a mother now!
As someone who came reluctantly into motherhood I had to wrestle with feelings of fear and distain toward joining “the mommy club”. I hadn’t dreamed of becoming a mother my whole life–in fact, I hadn’t dreamed of it at all. I remember once, on an ill-fated date, being asked how many children I wanted to have. Zero, I said. My date looked at me in absolute horror. He literally stood up and paced and nearly left (good riddance) until another friend talked him down. And you may be surprised, but I’ve received many similar reactions throughout my life when I have said I didn’t think I wanted children.
It wasn’t until about two years before Rahul came home with me that I began to have stirrings that I was supposed to be doing something more with my life. A friend who had a similar lack of desire for children (and had been taken to a psychiatrist by her mother-in-law who thought she was a lesbian because she didn’t want any children–seriously, has she MET any lesbians?) had experienced a life-changing yearning when she held her nephew in her arms for the first time and was now expecting a child with her husband (a second marriage–the first one dumped her because of the “no kids” thing). She advised me to seriously reconsider my ideas about motherhood. And I did. I thought about it seriously for the first time, but could not wrap my mind around becoming a single mom. Then a few months later I experienced a big heartbreak and in the pits of my despair I realized I was yearning for something more than what that relationship could have given me. I was yearning to be meaningful to someone. To create family. To use the blessings my life was overflowing with to help someone else. Adoption. The idea gelled completely in my mind and I knew it was my life’s purpose. And a few weeks later I was filling out adoption papers!
So when I found myself facing my first Mother’s Day I thought it might be fun! A day to celebrate me! Well, my first Mother’s Day was so completely horrible that I literally wore sunglasses all day because I was crying and didn’t want Rahul to see. People called me all day long to wish me well, which should have been encouraging, except that Rahul was miserable and unstable and totally hated me. Every time I got a new “Happy Mother’s Day” phone message I wanted to throw the phone across the room. It wasn’t a day much different from any other in those first few months, except that I had people congratulating me all day. And to me that created a chasm between myself and everyone else. I was prepared for Rahul’s difficult transition. It was incredibly hard, but I didn’t have expectations that it would be easy. I think it was hard for most of my friends and family to understand how painful and traumatic it was for Rahul. Most people pictured a much happier situation than it was in reality. But I wasn’t crying that day because Rahul was making me sad. I was crying because I felt like no one understood what I needed that day. Not well wishes and congratulations. I needed a hug, comfort, a visit, support. I realized that day that being a single mom to a child with special needs was incredibly lonely.
Subsequent Mother’s Days have gotten increasingly better. Rahul is happier each year and he has expressed so much gratitude and love to me on Mother’s Day and every day that I don’t feel like there is anything I need from a special holiday. And being a mother is my favorite thing in the world. It is the most amazing experience and I’ve never regretted it once. But I still feel a familiar tug each year on my heart at the beginning of May. A reminder of the chasm that I still feel exists between myself and so many others. Do people really see me? Do they understand how treacherous my motherhood journey has been? Do they realize how different my life is from theirs? My side of that chasm is much more crowded now–with people who have held my arms up and remembered me and taken care of me. Friends who have loved me and listened to me and supported me. Friends who have had similarly crazy journeys through motherhood. Family who have laid down their lives so Rahul and I could make it through the past four years. It takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a village to keep mom standing.