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.
September 11, 2011
Everyone has a 9/11 story. Here’s mine…
On September 10, 2001 my grandmother died. Of course, this was a big loss for my family, especially my father. We were rallying in Ohio, where she had died, on September 12 for her funeral. This was going to be a little tricky for me, because I was starting school at Aveda (cosmetology school) on September 11th. I decided I would attend school the first day and then drive out to Ohio that evening. I rented a car and reserved a hotel room, but when I called my parents to tell them, they hated my plan. They really wanted me to fly out there, because they thought the drive would be too difficult for me. I was offended that they felt I was incapable of driving from NYC to Ohio, and although my parents and I never fight, I couldn’t let it go. We had it out. Several phone calls later they informed me that I was flying and that they had already bought my ticket. I was so angry that I hung up on them. Then I called the airline and spent several hours negotiating a “bereavement” fare, so at least they would not have had to spend hundreds of dollars for a flight I didn’t need to take. I went to bed incredibly bitter.
When I woke up on September 11th my first thought was of the fight with my parents and my stomach churned. I was still nauseous with anger when I got on the subway to head downtown to school. Luckily, when I got to the 1 train I ran into my friends, Alake and Suzy, also boarding the train. Alake’s birthday had been the day before (9/10) and Suzy’s birthday was September 11! So they were both in a very celebratory mood (Suzy was covered in glitter) and they cheered me up. I had a long ride to school–from Washington Heights to Soho, and when I got to my stop (Varrick Street) it was about 8:50am. As I came up onto the street I immediately noticed crowds of people lining Seventh Avenue and looking up and down the street. I was beginning to wonder if this was what people did every morning in Soho when a caravan of firetrucks came roaring down the avenue. Everyone on the street cheered and as I looked down Seventh to see where they were heading I saw giant flames leaping out of an enormous gash in the World Trade Center’s North Tower. It was about a mile directly ahead of me. I was alarmed, but nothing in me thought it was anything more than an accidental fire. When I got to our classroom, news started coming in about a plane having hit the tower, and within 30 minutes a hysterical Aveda staff member came to the room telling us that both towers had been hit by terrorists and we all needed to leave the building so we could call our parents. (Many of the students were only just out of high school.) I left the building, shaking, and called my parents. I got through pretty quickly to my dad who was beside himself. He told me the Pentagon had also been hit and I immediately had the idea that whoever was behind the attacks was not done with NYC yet and there would be more to come. We were supposed to go back to class once we made our calls, but just when we got back the South Tower collapsed, and the staff told us to get to safety. They suggested we team up and all head somewhere together. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and my thought was,” I do not want to die with these strangers.” I had the idea that there would be more attacks on landmarks around NYC and mentally made a map of them in my head. My plan was to walk uptown, taking a route that would avoid as many of them as possible. I felt that if I could reach 72nd Street and Riverside Avenue I would live. I couldn’t think of any significant landmarks further uptown than that.
As I walked quickly north I noticed that it was eerily quiet. Many people were just silently transfixed on the remaining tower. Most cell phones weren’t working anymore and people were very patiently and orderly lined up to use pay phones. The only sound came from news reports playing out of car radios–the cars parked on the street and surrounded by listeners. I headed up 6th Avenue from Spring Street to 8th Street and the whole way I was very aware that the drama was playing out directly behind me, but I didn’t want to turn around and look. I never once looked back at the towers that day. I knew thousands of people were dying a mile behind me I didn’t want to see. At 8th Street I cut west across Greenwich Avenue and realized right away that my view of the tower was now blocked, even if had wanted to look. I started to panic and felt incredibly alone, as everyone had deserted the side streets for the better view the avenues afforded. And as I walked toward Seventh Avenue I repeated over and over, “I’m ready, I’m ready…” I thought I was about to die and it comforted me to know I was ready to meet my Maker. Then as I looked ahead of me the crowds of people on Seventh Avenue began to scream and run north. The second tower had just fallen. I couldn’t see what they were running from, though, and I thought there had been a new attack right ahead of me. My heart stopped and I quickly turned east to backtrack to Sixth Avenue and saw the same scene of people screaming and running there, too. I felt trapped and terrified. I looked down at the ground and my legs began to give out. Everything slowed down and I knew I was about to pass out. I wanted to just sit down right there and have it all be over, but just as I was lowering myself toward the ground, something in me turned back on and I knew I needed to just put one foot in front of the other and keep walking.
When I got to the avenue I walked a few more blocks north and along with everyone else, was in a complete daze. Then I heard someone calling my name, and a car pulled up next to me. In the driver’s seat was a friend and I just walked over his car and got in. He hadn’t invited me to ride with him and was actually en route to pick his mom up from work and get her to safety, but I told him I was riding with him as far as he was willing to take me. I don’t remember talking to him at all, but when we got to 34th Street he told me he needed to drop me off. I got out and headed west–away from the Empire State building–and started zig-zagging uptown, avoiding the Lincoln Tunnel, Port Authority, Times Square, Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center. I began to notice that already, everywhere I looked, there were American flags. There was a feeling on the street of being very united with everyone else.
My only focus was to reach 72nd Street and Riverside Drive, and once I did I began to feel that I would live through the day. I still had about 80 blocks left to walk in order to make it home, and just a few hours later I was walking in my door. The next few days are a blur. I knocked on doors all over my apartment building to see if everyone was OK and hosted a prayer night that many neighbors came to. Two of my best friends married each other September 15th, and I know we had parties for them throughout the week. (I can remember looking out the window at their rehearsal dinner and seeing the fighter planes circling the city.) My parents came in for the wedding and I remember my mom choking up as she held me, telling me she was never going to tell me what to do ever again. The nightmare she had been envisioning that week was “What if Renee’s flight, that we insisted she take, had been one of the hijacked ones?”. And my 30th birthday was September 16th. I think I spent most of it in bed. As the days, then weeks went by, I began to find life’s rhythm again. Of course, September 11th changed me forever.
What I think about most from that day was that moment where I almost gave way to terror and sunk to the ground on Greenwich Avenue. Coincidentally, my church now meets on that block and I walk that same stretch every Sunday. I went there today and sat down with a friend and prayed. I thanked God for giving me the last ten years. So many blessings have come to me in the past decade, especially the blessing of being Rahul’s mom. That same sinking/I’m-not-going-to-survive-this feeling has come to me a few times in the journey of loving and helping him, and that same “something” has clicked on inside me each time. Urging me to keep walking. To survive.
September 5, 2011
Let me start by saying, I never had any intention of going to Disney. Ever. I’m just not a “Disney Person” if you know what I mean. But then last Thanksgiving, as my niece and nephew were talking about their trips to Disney with Rahul I saw the look in his eyes. He wanted to go. He would never say so, but I could tell. My mom saw it too. She looked at me sternly and said, “You know you have to take him.” And so I began concocting a plan.
By Christmas I had enlisted my cousin Kathy to come also, with her daughter Gabby. We could share a room and cut down expenses and the kids could ride all the roller coasters together! I am severely motion sensitive, as is Kathy, but our kids are daredevils. And I have enough friends who LOVE Disney to know I wouldn’t have to plan anything. I would just do what they did! My sister and brother-in-law had taken their kids 2 years in a row during the last week of August and had found Disney to be low on crowds and less expensive. Its off-peak since kids in the South are back to school by then. So Kathy and I settled on traveling down there the same week and staying only 4 days (for my sanity).
The cost of the whole package was a lot less than I thought it would be, but it was still a stretch for me. Between paying for Rahul’s day camp at the beginning of summer and Disney at the end of it, I worked my butt off all year. I finally paid for the last piece of the trip about a week before we left, leaving just enough money for us to spend on vacation.
Then Hurricane Irene loomed. We had tickets to fly out of NYC the Monday morning after it was supposed to hit (on Saturday and Sunday). Saturday I had to drive up to the Catskills to pick up Rahul from sleep-away camp. My Jeep has been breaking down all summer and I have been stranded more than once. Honestly, I think it has spent more time with the mechanic than with me lately. I plan on trading it in for a new, RELIABLE car, but just haven’t had the time between repairs to make it happen. So I was just hoping it would keep running until I got Rahul back from camp.
(Oh. Sidestory that brings context to this whole tale: The week before Rahul’s camp I drove out to my parents’ house where he had been spending the first three weeks of August. Its a 7 hour drive and when I was just past the halfway point in the drive the traffic slowed to a stop and black smoke drifted into the air ahead of me: a tractor trailer had caught fire and the section of the thruway I happened to be on was a parking lot for three hours while they put it out.
These are the kinds of things that frequently happen to me, especially when it comes to traveling. Seriously, if I had been 15 minutes ahead or behind myself I would have avoided it completely. But, of course, there I am peeing in a cup in my back seat while the contents of the Family Dollar truck burn to a crisp.)
So as Rahul and I were winding our way down the Catskills in the rain that Saturday before Irene, my main concern was making it home without incident. We did, but as soon as I walked in the door I got a call from JetBlue informing me that our flight was cancelled. My heart stopped and I settled in at the phone for what I knew would be a long call. To their credit, the “on hold” music at JetBlue was “The Tide is High” by Blondie. They had a whole playlist of hurricane/flood related music, and believe me, I heard it all. I spent six hours on the phone with various airlines, trying to find SOME way out of town. The whole time, though, I saw our vacation slipping away. My final game plan was to book a flight out of Rochester (6 hours away, but in the opposite direction from the path of Irene) departing Monday evening. Rahul, Baby Fish Mouth (my dog) and I would drive up to Albany Monday morning and meet my parents (coming from the Rochester area) at my sister’s place. I’d leave my Jeep there and drive to Rochester with my parents. They would drop Rahul and I at the airport and take BFM back to their place for a few weeks. (I’m a fiercely independent person, but I couldn’t be nearly so without the help of my family.) I booked the flight out of Rochester on a Delta plane and got an Amtrak ticket to Albany for the Saturday we’d be back from Disney so I could pick up my car and drive it back home. Rahul and I would arrive in Orlando one day late, but it would be better than nothing. With that plan firmly in place, Rahul and I went to bed Saturday night and slept through the hurricane’s arrival. In the 22 years that I have been going to my church it has never been cancelled before. We had 26 inches of snow fall one Saturday night and the city was virtually shut down the following Sunday. We still had church. But for Hurricane Irene we cancelled our service. So I slept until 9am–probably the latest I’ve slept in years.
I spent Sunday packing and when Monday morning arrived Rahul, Baby and I got ready to set out. I pulled up whatever traffic information I could, because I knew there was flooding. The hurricane had hit, but had not impacted NYC as much as expected. A lot of roads were closed and on our way out the door I learned that the NY State Thruway was shut down on both sides of Albany. I called my sister and my parents, eventually deciding to bypass Albany altogether and head directly to Rochester across NJ and PA through Binghamton, NY. I could not get reliable information about the condition of Route 80, but it seemed to be open, so I headed out, hoping I’d manage to get to Rochester at some point before 6pm. We got about halfway across NJ and the traffic was bad, but the highway was open so we were feeling pretty good. We stopped for gas and I pulled the car over to the side of the parking area so I could use the restroom. And when I got back in to the car to leave, it didn’t start.
My heart sank. Because of all the other trouble I’ve had with my car lately, I knew this would be a major repair, and because of all the flooding, I knew it would be hours before a tow truck would be able to get us to a mechanic. There was nothing we could do, but sit and wait.
Three hours later, a tow truck came and took us down the road to the mechanic. Everyone who looked at our car that day had been dealing so exclusively with flood-related issues that they didn’t beleive me when I told them my car had not been sitting in water. One mechanic pulled me over to the side and threatened me, saying “You’ve got to be honest with me. What really happened to your car?” Somehow, I convinced him I wasn’t lying, and they went to work diagnosing my Jeep. As Rahul and I sat there waiting I looked ahead of me at the gas pumps and started laughing. We were supposed to be boarding a Delta plane right around that time…
Technically, God DID get me to Delta. Then I asked to use the restroom. The attendant gave me the key and I started laughing again.
NOT the Disney I had imagined.
Anyway, a while later they informed me that my car would need a part that they didn’t have in stock and wouldn’t be able to get until the following day. I had heard them manually start my car once or twice so I proposed instead of trying to find a place to stay overnight with my kid and my dog in the middle of rural NJ during a major flood, that they manually start the car and let me drive it back to the Bronx. They agreed to do that, warning me not to stall out (I drive a stick) and teaching me how to hot wire my car if I had to start it in an emergency. Rahul and I held our breath all the way home, but we made it safe and sound. I had been holding it together remarkably well all day, even as I was promising Rahul that I would take him to Disney someday and thinking about all the money I had worked so hard for going to waste. But when I called my parents to tell them we made it home I lost it. I didn’t have any food in the house and had no money left to buy any for the week, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around how depressing our week was going to be, while Kathy and Gabby were having fun in sun without us. I needed to get back on the phone with JetBlue to process my refund (thinking that was some money that might get us through the week) and when I spoke to the reservationist I cautiously asked if they had added any flights that we might be able to get on. And yes they had. And yes, they had seats. My first instinct was to just let it go. I was exhausted and didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment, but then she offered to change our returning flight for free so we could stay one day later. That would give us the 4 day/4 night vacation we had booked and would only mean adding one more night to the hotel reservation. I had JetBlue on one phone and AAA Travel on the other and was speaking to both at the same time (“JetBlue, how many seats are on that flight?” “AAA, does Disney have any rooms for Friday night?” The JetBlue lady thought it was adorable. The AAA lady wanted to stab my eyes out with her pencil.) Miraculously, it worked out. We got one more night at the hotel and got the last 2 seats on both flights with JetBlue. And Delta and Amtrak both refunded our money!
So, again we went to bed in the hopes of making it to Disney the next day. Early Tuesday morning I got my mechanic to tow The Green Nightmare to the garage. Then I got the kennel to let us bring Baby in (they had been flooded in the day before). Then I got my neighbor to drive Baby and I to the kennel. Then Rahul and I grabbed our bags and started out to the airport. I had no money for a cab, and obviously no car to drive us there, so we took the subway. Which meant we had to take the bus from Riverdale to Inwood, then catch the A train, literally, from one end of the city to the other. It took a little over 2 hours. Strangely, and admirably, Rahul was a perfect angel through this whole ordeal. We even decided we would take the A train to JFK airport from now on!
Well, from there the story gets much happier. The plane took off. We were on it. It went to Orlando. And somehow, despite every element seeming to be against us ever arriving at Disney, we made it there.
And it was magical.
July 11, 2011
After a week with my parents at their house on Lake Ontario, Rahul and I are full of song. Well, actually, just song titles. I doubt we’ll ever get around to writing the lyrics, but I’m pretty sure we’ll always remember the subject matter.
Don’t Hook Your Mommy (This is what I kept saying to Rahul as I followed him various fishing holes. I did actually have a couple verses of this in my head, about different friends who have had to go the emergency room after getting a fish hook stuck in various body parts. Luckily–and probably because I kept repeating this title unendingly–no fish hooks got stuck in mommy.)
I’m Never Going Canoeing Again (This is what Rahul said after a rather eventful canoe trip he and I took over to a nearby harbor–for some fishing, of course–that nearly ended with a coastguard rescue. The lake was fairly calm on our trip to the harbor, but by the time we were heading back home the waves had whitecaps and the wind was against us. Rahul and I were heaving and hoeing with all of our might and literally staying in one place. So I called it and we turned around, nearly capsized and headed for the shore of a private beach. Later that day Rahul got introduced to a Smith family classic, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Its a lovely song documenting the death of 29 boatmen on the Great Lakes. Sample lyric: Superior, its said, never gives up her dead. Lovely.)
Grandpop, What’s a Redneck? (One can only imagine the lyrics of this song and, believe me, its better that it not get written! Rahul heard me say the word, and when he asked me I was so embarrassed/ashamed that I had used it that I told him it was a bad word. So he asked my dad the next day, and I’m sure he told him ALL about it.)
Marchiano Diablos Caca Poopoo Means I Love You (Marchiano Diablos Caca Poopoo is Rahul’s latest catchphrase. He usually has a new one each week, usually a random line from a cartoon, and throughout any given day will insert it in different types of sentences. This is the first time his catchphrase has had an Italian accent.)
Pickup Trucks Don’t Float (This would be quite a song. Every year my parents put a dock in the water at the beginning of the summer and take it out again at the end by attaching it to their pickup truck and driving down their right-of-way. This year Rahul was sitting on said dock as it was being loaded into the water, and when my dad stopped the truck to adjust something, I had Rahul get off. While my dad held his foot on the brake I adjusted the ramps that fit behind the large iron wheels of the dock. When I was finished, I moved aside and as my dad prepared for the final descent into the water the truck’s brakes gave out and the dock and the entire truck went crashing into the water. The back end of the truck landed on the front end of the dock, where Rahul had just been sitting. Nightmares have been had by all, imagining all the possible outcomes of that scenario. This would definitely be a Country song.)
By All Means, Bring Your Coffee! (After we learned that pickup trucks don’t float, we also learned that AAA doesn’t cover towing vehicles that are in the water, even if they are only 18 inches from shore. So emergency recovery vehicles had to be brought in. And while extremely helpful, they are not discreet. My parents live on a dirt road. Until a few years ago, it was only known as Fire Lane 44. 3 or 4 huge towing vehicles, covered in flashing lights, parked in my parents’ front yard at midnight caused quite a stir in the neighborhood. Personally, I’m not a big fan of many of my parents’ neighbors. Much to my peace-at-all-costs mother I have had words with several ill mannered people in her neighborhood who have crossed the line in various ways over the years. I know it upsets her, so I REALLY made an effort to hold my tongue while scads of neighbors she has never met flocked over to see what all the hubbub was about. Most of them began with, “Is there a fire?”, which would have been fine if it was uttered with concern, not hopeful glee. And I noticed that all of them except the one neighbor who is actually a dear friend were holding travel coffee mugs. In case they needed a little refreshment while they watched tragedy unfolding. I was inside the house watching all these people flock around my mom and her friend, while I knew she was holding back tears thinking of all the money they were losing by the minute. Finally I had to emerge and join them and my icy stares shushed them right back to their homes. )
While creatively inspired by the events of the week, I am also feeling like I need a vacation!
|Album Cover? Baby Fish Mouth is standing in the spot where the dock eventually was placed.|
January 31, 2011
Last week, my son became an American. Honestly, I didn’t attach much meaning to the event, other than celebrating the fact that I would now be able to properly claim him on my taxes and travel outside of the country together. It was only when I told my friends about it and witnessed their huge positive reactions that I realized what a great thing it was. Part of me had been feeling sad and guilty about Rahul becoming an American, because it meant he had to give up his Indian citizenship (India doesn’t grant dual citizenship). I started the day with him by saying that he would always be Indian, no matter what any piece of paper says. But now he would also officially become American.
And immigrating to America is hard work. let me tell you! International adoption involves more paperwork than a graduate thesis, and in my case I had to have every document triple notarized, which meant standing in line over and over again at the notary’s office, the police station, the county clerk’s office, the apostille’s office, and several federal buildings. And most of that time in line I was waiting alongside people who were at some point along in the process of immigrating to America. It was disheartening. Security guards wrangled us like cattle, shouting orders at the crowd of us, containing mostly non-English speakers. People who were supposed to be guiding and serving us never looked us in the eyes, and I often startled them by looking straight at them and speaking to them in perfect English. They clearly were used to pushing people around, and if there’s anything you can say (however stereotypically) about white, New York women–we DON’T like to be pushed around. I often wondered how anyone, especially those who didn’t understand English could understand where we were supposed to go or what we were supposed to do, the instructions often being implied and assumed. Many times I found myself nearly in tears, hurting for the people who were confused and trying their best to follow the proper procedures–totally at the mercy of people who were bored and bitter-hearted in their jobs. One horrifying encounter with the nastiest of the New York county clerks (they seemed to hate their jobs more than any other people encountered on this journey) had me facing off with her while she insisted that the document I was asking to her to verify was improperly notarized–it was the original and only copy of Rahul’s orphanage record. She held it in her hands seething with anger at me for having had it notarized contrary to her standards and I thought she was going to throw it back in my face or rip it into pieces as she went on and on about how wrong it was. And when she completed her lecture, I stared back at her, speechless, with tears in my eyes, and finally said, “OK…So, are you going to verify it or not?” She paused for a moment then without taking her eyes off me, she stamped the document and shoved it across the counter at me without saying another word.
Once Rahul’s adoption was officially complete, almost 2 years ago, he should have automatically become a US citizen. But the law has not caught up with the relatively new phenomena of international adoption, so we adoptive parents have to shell out another $450 to apply for our children’s citizenship. And I didn’t have $450. So the papers sat on my desk in a folder awaiting the day when I had the money to spare to start the process. Then one day, a friend of mine pulled me over in church. She handed me an envelope and I was confused. Her father had just passed away very unexpectedly and she had just returned from his funeral days before. She was so young to be losing a parent and I had been praying for her for weeks. I couldn’t understand why she was giving ME a card. After church I opened it. Rahul and I were buying a brownie in a coffee shop and I embarrassed him immensely by blubbering like a baby as money poured out of the card which described how she and her siblings had had some money donated to them at the funeral and her siblings were giving their money to their children. She however didn’t have any children yet, so she thought of me and Rahul and decided to give it to us. She thought her dad would be happy to know that’s where it was going. I decided right away that it would go towards Rahul’s citizenship. Within days of hearing this story my sister called me and offered to donate the remainder of what I would need to process the paperwork from some extra money she had earned. And so, like so many pieces of Rahul’s story–amazing, generous people got us where we needed to go.
The morning of the citizenship hearing was one of those crazy rain/ice storms and the traffic was terrible. When I finally found a place to park I stepped out of the car onto pavement covered in ice covered in rain and the parking attendant jumped out of my way so I could slip and rip my knee open. With a hole in my tights and blood pouring from my leg, I muttered under my breath something about not being aware a blood sacrifice was required for US citizenship. When Rahul and I got to the building our appointment was in, we saw a line wrapped around the building, standing in the rain that was now pouring sideways, and I recognized them immediately–the huddled masses. We took our place in line and entered the building a half hour later, soaked to the bone (so much for the cute outfits I insisted we wear). An hour of waiting later we were ushered into an office, sworn in, we signed a few papers, then we waited for another hour. Then someone brought out Rahul’s certificate. And that was it. No confetti, no flag waving. I think what Rahul will always remember about the day is that he got to watch Monsters vs. Aliens in the waiting room.
But I think when you have to work hard for something, the earning is sweeter. And knowing that Rahul and I, and all those people who stood along side me, endured the process, I feel victorious. God bless America.
|My little American|
November 23, 2010
It all started with the turkey.
The restaurant where I was working when I was, like, 24 years old gave us all free, frozen turkeys as a Thanksgiving present. So my roommate, Kara, and I decided to make a night out of setting each another up on dates, eating said turkey in the context of a fancy dinner, then going out to Lincoln Center for a concert. I had always wanted to attend a Handel’s Messiah concert, so we got tickets and we got dates. Then our friend Mike (and neighbor–he lived one floor above us in our apt bldg) heard about our plan and wanted to join us. He got his own date.
My job was going to be preparing the turkey/stuffing. Kara (who was a vegetarian, BTW) was going to make soup–a family recipe. That left Mike in charge of dessert. Kara and I were unsure of Mike’s comfort level with baking, so we looked up a few recipes and offered suggestions. We thought something light and fruity would be appropriate pre-concert.
He chose to make a Betty Crocker chocolate cake.
The day of our event I woke up and went to the freezer to take my turkey out. That’s right. I hadn’t thawed it. It was frozen solid. And our guests were coming over in about 8 hours. In a panic, I read the packaging on the turkey and it said something about a “quick thaw” method that involved soaking it in a cold water bath. Whew! I thought. Crisis averted! I put the turkey in a cold water bath, then left to go on an audition. When I came back 2 hours later, the turkey was still frozen solid. I chipped ice off it and tried to scrape the gizzards out of the cavity, but my fingers were getting frostbitten. I was beginning to think the turkey miiiiiight not be ready to serve in 6 hours. So I called Kara at work to alert her. She worked in a wall street office and offered to go around to the executives and pilfer bits of fruit and crackers from the Harry and David gift baskets they had all gotten from their clients for Christmas. Then she told me she would have to work late and would only be getting home in time for the dinner. Uh, what? What about your soup, Kara? No problem, she assured me. She said all the ingredients were in a grocery bag and all I had to do was open all the packages and dump them in a pot on the stove. I said, Uh, Kara? I can’t cook. (Obviously.) So when you say, open the packages and dump it in a pot, that is LITERALLY what I am going to do. I don’t have any method of discerning if I should perhaps add some water or some other soupy ingredient. I’ll try not to burn it, but at this point, that’s all I can promise. She was OK with those odds and said goodbye, leaving me again to my turkey dilemma. I set up another cold bath for the little guy and went about preparing the table. I had place cards, floral arrangements, china…table setting was my strength and really, I should have just stuck with that.
Then there was a knock on the door and it was Mike, stopping by to show me that he had purchased his Betty Crocker cake mix and was heading home to bake. Uh, Mike, don’t bother me. I’m thawing a turkey. After he left I went back into the kitchen and searched through my cookbooks looking for some miracle cure for the chunk of ice and flesh taking a bath in my sink. Then I saw it. At the bottom of the page in one of my cookbooks it read: Questions about cooking your turkey? Call the TURKEY HOTLINE! It listed a 1-800 number and I ran to the phone to call it. Unfortunately the lady who answered my call was moving at a non-New York City pace. I think she was from, like, Alabama. Even the way she said hello was slow: Heeeelllllllllloooooooooo-oooooooooo????? Before she even got to the lll’s I had screamed hello!!!! In about 2.7 seconds I detailed my crisis to her and awaited instructions. She paused. For a long time. Then she said, Sooooooooooo. Yyyoooooouuuuu’rrrrrrreee ffffrrrrrooooooooommmmmm NNNNNeeeeewwwww YYYYYooooorrrrkkkkk CCCCCCiiiitttttyyyyyyyyyy???????? Another long pause. I edited what came to my mind so that what came to my mouth was, Yes. And I really need some help. RIGHT NOW! Then Super Slow Turkey Hotline Lady came through and told me that I could actually cook the turkey while its still frozen, I would just have to add a half hour of cooking time for every pound. I quickly did some math in my head and realized that if I put the turkey in the oven right then, it would be ready at 10:30 pm, just about the time we would be getting back from the concert. I was elated!! I thanked SSTHL and got off the phone.
Then there was another knock on my door. It was Mike again. Renee, do you have a bowl I can borrow? I was about to criticize him for not having a bowl when he was making a cake, then I remembered that my turkey was still solid as a rock. Sure, Mike. Let me get you a bowl.
I put the turkey in the oven and called Kara again to check in when there was another knock and the door. It was Mike again. Do you have a measuring cup I could borrow? Ran through my own cooking failure in my head again and edited my comment to, Sure Mike, Let me get you a measuring cup.
Then I set about finishing up the cleaning and opening all the packages for Kara’s soup, when there was another knock at the door. Mike. 2 eggs? Oil? I gave him a look that said everything my brain was thinking and after I silently passed him the eggs and oil I slammed the door in his face.
Our guests were about to arrive, so I went in the bathroom to get ready and Kara came home from work just in time to greet them with her pears and crackers. She stopped in at the bathroom to see how I was doing and I was just sitting in a heap crying. I was so stressed out and felt like such a failure. She talked me through it, gave me a hug and got me on my feet again. I asked, Did the soup come out OK? She averted my eyes and said, No, it hadn’t, and quickly exited. A few minutes later she came back in the bathroom. She had tears in her eyes and she was holding back a huge laugh as she asked me to come out into the kitchen. I followed her out and greeted all our guests, who were pretending to like their Harry and David castoffs. And when I got to the kitchen, she gestured to Mike’s “cake”, which was sitting on the counter. Actually, it was kind of sliding off. He had attempted a layer cake. And I’m pretty sure he was waiting at the oven door for the cake to finish baking with a spatula full of frosting. Because the cake was still steaming hot and the frosting had turned to “icing/liquid” and was running down our counter. The top layer of the cake had slid off and was at a 45 degree angle. And cake was on a cheap Kmart plate. I loved it. I laughed so hard that I had to sit down on the floor. Our elegant dinner was such a flop and we were all losers in the kitchen, but it really was starting to strike me as incredibly hysterical.
After our hors d’Oveures we set off for the concert, with the plan that after the concert we would come back and sit down for our “feast”. The turkey remained in the oven, causing approximately 7 fire hazards.
The concert was very nice. But I have a bit of a sensitivity to people making noise around me in theaters. I can hear someone sucking on a hard candy across a room full of 300 people. And unfortunately, the women behind me had just purchased some fascinating opera glasses at the gift shop. And unfortunately, they were wrapped in what sounded like 13 layers of crinkly, plastic wrap. And UNFORTUNATELY, they chose the very quiet, sad, alto solo, “He Was Despised”, about Jesus’ crucifixion, to unwrap their new goggles and chat all about them loudly right in my ear. Kind of wrecked it for me.
Anyway, after the concert we went back to my place, where the turkey STILL was not cooked. It was now late and we were all cranky and starving, so we decided to eat the only piece of food in the house. The cake. We sat down at the fancy table I had set up and set the “cake” in the center. Then we all grabbed our forks and just started hacking away at it. It was too lopsided and slippery to actually cut, and we were too tired to try anyway. So we just ate like pigs in fancy clothes.
Then Mike left to take his date home. And my date went home. Then Kara said goodbye to her date and went to bed. At 2:30 am Mike returned. He was hungry and the turkey was finally done.
So we carved it up and the two of us ate, what I swear to this day, was the most delicious turkey I’ve ever eaten.
November 16, 2010
Four years ago I bought my dream car. Ever since I was little and I would see the neighbor’s yellow jeep whizzing down Thrall Road I loved Jeep Wranglers. And when I bought it I had just said goodbye to my very boring Ford Something-or-Other car. Does anyone else (besides my family) name their cars? I’ve had a “Chuckie”, named after the Chuckie movies, because that car was a little possessed. Then of course I had the famous “Putt-putt”. I bought that car for $100 from a friend and it was a 20 year old Audi that had no working air/radio/odometer/radiator. It made the putt-putt noise whenever I drove it. That boring Ford was named Bruce. I don’t know why–it just seemed like a Bruce. (Sorry to Libby who’s Bruce is nothing close to boring! If I’d known him then I would have name my car something else. Like Bob.)
When Bruce died I was in a bit of a pickle because my job at Aveda required me to drive to salons every day and I was suddenly renting cars and taking long bus rides to the Hamptons to do my job. I had a boss at the time who was, like, oh, How can I describe him? Totally incompetent. I tried to explain to him that when I had been hired, owning a car was not in my job description; over time I had inherited some accounts that I was able to take because I happened to have a car. I was trying to argue that Aveda couldn’t force me to buy a car and instead should rent me a car twice a week. He didn’t buy it. He told me to go buy a Jetta.
Instead, I decided to buy a car that would make me happy.
I named it The Green Monster. I was on a bit of a Red Sox kick at the time. (My nephew Jack, who was 3 at the time and is a premium member of the Red Sox Nation was a bit scared of my car because it was a “monster”, but imagining the Green Monster running over Yankees in New York made him feel more comfortable around it.) The Green Monster really makes me happy. I LOVE driving it and my hearts swells every time I see it. I paid it off before I adopted Rahul and when times have been lean I’ve thought of selling it, but I could never bring myself to do it. And I was juuuuust saying 2 weeks ago that it has never given me a day of trouble.
Then it suddenly developed 5 separate and expensive problems, and it has spent the last week in the shop. The repairs cost a large chunk of dough, but thanks to Don Glo Auto (if you need a mechanic in NYC, I highly recommend them) it was a much smaller chunk of dough than the first place was going to charge me. When Rahul and I went to pick up TGM last night, I hugged the car when I saw it on the street and when I got in I scolded it and told it to never do that to me again. I was so busy last week and my business revolves completely around my car (I’m a mobile hairdresser). Sans car I was lugging about 30 pounds of hair stuff all over creation, and although I didn’t miss one appointment I was late for about 75% of them. I was late coming home every night and I missed 3 church services. And I was pooped.
|Rahul on The Green Monster|
This morning I had to take Rahul to the doctor, and although the office is right in our neighborhood, we usually drive there. As we walked past the car, Rahul asked why we weren’t driving. I told him I had learned the value of walking last week. And I told him he needed to train for a race he’s running. But I realized that in actuality I had some unresolved feelings toward TGM that were making me reluctant to drive it. So this afternoon I took it for a spin and we made up. It runs so much better now.
And I know its really sorry for inconveniencing me.
October 1, 2010
Today was the 4th Grade “Get Aquainted” day at Rahul’s school. That’s the PS 24 version of an Open House–each teacher prepares a short presentation for the parents of their students outlining curriculum and expectations for the year. For the last two years Rahul has been in General Ed classes with students of some of the most dynamic and involved parents in the school. Every time parents were invited into his class for an event the room was packed with parents, grandparents, and tons of food! And I have tried to learn from them what it means to be an “involved parent”.
This year I moved Rahul to a Special Ed class and it has so far seemed to be a great move. I was really looking forward to this morning’s meeting, so I could get to know his teacher a little better and see where Rahul sits. He told me the other day that the class had all written notes to their parents and they were going to leave them on their desks for us to read today. I love that stuff!
So this morning, I trudged (2 blocks) through the wind and rain to the meeting, and when I walked into the classroom only one other parent was there. The class is small, there are only 13 students, but I couldn’t believe we were the only two people there! The notes the kids had written to us were laid out on their desks, along with a guide from the teacher and a bookmark she had made up for us. We waited for a few minutes to see if anyone else was coming, but finally Ms. Vedevino began her presentation. She opened by reading the poem that was printed on the bookmark, called “Unity” (Author Unknown).
I dreamed I stood in a studio
And watched two sculptors there.
The clay they used was a young child’s mind.
And they finished it with care.
One was a teacher; the tools he used
Were books and music and art.
One a parent with a guiding hand
And a gentle and loving heart.
Day after day the teacher toiled
With a touch that was deft and sure,
While the parent labored by his side
And polished and smoothed it over.
And when at last their task was done
They were proud of what they had wrought,
For the thing they had molded into the child
Could neither be sold or bought.
And each agreed he would have failed
If he had worked alone.
From behind the parent stood the school
And behind the teacher, the home.
By the time she finished reading the poem I was choking back a major crying situation because my heart just ACHED for the kids who’s parents weren’t able to be there. Of all the kids in the school, these kids need their parents there. But many of them don’t speak English, or don’t live nearby, or have to work, and maybe some of them just don’t care. Or believe that they could make any difference. But as I looked around the room at all the notes these kids had written with the expectation that their parents would be sitting in their seats and learning about their class, and looked up at the presentation Ms. Vedovino had prepared for us, I just wanted to weep. I wanted to go around and read all the kids’ notes and write them a little one back, like I did for Rahul. I wanted to go to all their homes and talk with their parents and learn what had kept them away today. I wanted to invite them all over for a playdate. Except Jose, who Rahul gave a wedgie to yesterday because he was bullying him…oh, OK, Jose, too!
I have already experienced the second rate attention parents of ESL students and Special Ed students receive from the school. I know we are the quiet wheel and without a little squeak we won’t get anything we want for our kids. And I know that without the unity of parent and teacher described in the poem, our kids won’t make it. I feel prepared to fight the crusade (because if Special Ed in public schools is not a crusade, I don’t know what is) and I hope I can drag a few others along with me. I have become BFF with Manny, the vice-principal in charge of Special Ed, have emailed the PTA presidents, cozied up with the looney school psychologist, I do the ESL teacher’s hair (and her daughters’)…I’m trying to engage a strong team of people to help my son get through this year.
And I also volunteered to be the room mother.
|Rahul with his grandparents in his class last year|
September 29, 2010
One of the easiest decisions I ever made was which pediatrician Rahul would go to when he first came home with me. To choose Dr. Jane Aronson was a complete no-brainer. She is known as The Orphan Doctor (www.orphandoctor.com) and is a pediatrician who specializes in treating children who have been adopted and have crossed cultures in doing so. She has made it her business to deeply understand conditions for orphans around the world so as to better treat them here. (She also founded WWO, wwo.org, to improve lives for children in orphanages around the world.)
So when Rahul arrived on US soil (4/08), one of the first things I did for him was to make an appointment with Dr. Jane. It seemed that he had received good medical care in India, but I needed to make sure his immunizations were up to date and that he was as healthy as he seemed on paper.
The day of our appointment was Rahul’s first field trip at school, and I really wanted him to be able to go to the Bronx Zoo with rest of his class (he had just started school a few days earlier). So I met him there and after we had lunch with his class and rode the monorail, we headed out. Now, at this point, Rahul and I did not speak a common language, so we had only a few words–and a whole lot of gestures–that we used to communicate. I didn’t know the Hindi word for “doctor” and I certainly was NOT going to do the “putting a shot in my arm” gesture to explain where we were going, so I said, “dost”, which means “friend”. That’s where we’re going. To our friend’s house. Where she is then going to stick big needles in your arm. Can’t wait.
So we arrived and I parked my car in a garage one block from Dr. Jane’s office. Then Rahul refused to get out of the car. After a few minutes of prodding, followed by a few minutes of threatening, followed by a quick experiment to see if I could lift Rahul out of the backseat (I could NOT), I called my parents. They were 7 hours away, but they were also the only people in the world that Rahul seemed to like at that time, and I thought they might have some luck convincing him to get out of the car. So Grammy and Grandpop worked their magic and Rahul got out of the car. So then we took a few steps along the sidewalk and Rahul sat down on the curb and refused to budge. Again I tried the prodding, the threatening, the lifting — nothing. This kid was going nowhere. So I called Dr. Jane’s office. Her receptionist was really sweet and smiley and I thought if I could convince her to walk over to where we were, Rahul would feel more comfortable and be inclined to get off the curb and into the office. She immediately understood what I was asking her to do and why and was happy to come over. So a minute later, not only does Bubbly Receptionist come walking up the block, but Dr. Jane herself, flanked by two other doctors she was training that day. Now Dr. Jane is a striking woman, with white, curly hair and brightly colored glasses, and as she led her team across the street to where we were, she had a huge smile on her face and was shouting “Hi, Rahul!” as she walked. Of course, he immediately stood up and smiled and was happy to go with this fun group wherever they were going, and as we started walking towards her office Dr. Jane sidled up next to me and said, “Is he driving you crazy yet?” She is an adoptive mom as well and has more experience with the trauma that occurs when an orphan crosses cultures and enters a family than anyone, and I was comforted to know that she didn’t judge me–or HIM–because of our behavior that day.
We stepped into the office suite and Dr. Jane started her examination right in the bright, cheery waiting room. But after a few minutes it was time to move into her office. She weighed and measured him, checked his pulse (it was racing, he was so scared!), and interviewed me about his habits. Then it was time for the needles. She had to draw a lot of blood for testing, and once Rahul realized that’s what was coming next he flipped out. He kicked, screamed, bit, flailed his arms, and ran out of the office and down the hall. A large, male doctor grabbed him as he ran by and Dr. Jane yelled out, “Papoose him!” Another person grabbed a contraption that looked like a straight jacket attached to a wooden sled and it took five adults to strap Rahul into it. Rahul was terrified and called out for me, and I held his head so he wouldn’t bite Dr. Jane. She drew the blood, vial after vial. And then she was done. She unstrapped him from his straight jacket and let him run out of the room to be alone and cry in a little heap at the end of the hall. Then when he was done, he came to Dr. Jane and got a sticker and a hug.
And then she reminded me that Dylan’s Candy Bar was right around the corner from her office.
So off we went to the greatest candy store in the world. And I was so relieved and strung out that I gave Rahul carte blanche to get whatever he wanted.
I have the receipt from that visit in his scrapbook.
|Rahul with his $75 worth of candy|
February 19, 2010
I just spent 2 days in Kennebunkport, Maine and had such a great time. At this stage in my life, my idea of a perfect vacation involves a cozy room, a fireplace, a good book and silence. This was my sixth visit to The Captain Lord Mansion and it is one of my favorite places in the world. I discovered this B&B about 15 years ago when I was looking for somewhere for my family to spend Christmas, since my parents’ house was under construction and my sister Robyn and I both lived in small apartments. Robyn was in law school in Portland, Maine, so I found a couple of places in Maine, sent my sister to check them out and The Captain Lord Mansion was at the top of my list. She (and my dad, if I remember right) visited it first and as soon as they walked in the door they were won over and made our reservation.
I can’t afford to buy milk right now, much less take a vacation, so this trip was my Christmas gift from my parents. And boy, did I need it. Since adopting Rahul almost 2 years ago, while I’ve had the occasional break, I hadn’t taken a vacation. And I have to say, the thing I appreciated the most about the trip, was the SILENCE. Its amazing how soothing the sound of silence is. I literally parked myself in front of the fireplace in my room and read the whole time. The breakfast cook told me about a man named Wilbur who visits there every Fall for 18 days. He loves reading so much that he ships a big box of books to the CLM before he flies in. She said he becomes a fixture in the wing backed chair in front of the fireplace in the mansion’s common room and just quietly reads from morning to night. Sounds like bliss to me.
One of the books I took with me to read was Persuasion by Jane Austen. I read it years ago, but recently saw a great exhibit of Jane Austen’s letters at the Morgan Library and it inspired me to re-read some of my favorites. The first time I read it I was traveling on a Greyhound bus and the sun went down just as I got to the best part (the last two chapters are gripping and amazing!) and the light above my head went out. Panicking, I looked around the bus for another seat and realized that they were all filled! So I held the book up the window and every time we passed a street light I would read a few words. I just couldn’t bear to wait until I got home to see how it ended! So as I re-read Persuasion yesterday and was getting to the end, I realized it was time to check out of my room. I really didn’t want to get into the car without having finished it. So after I checked out and packed my car, I sat in the wing backed chair by the fireplace in the common room and dug in. And just as I was nearing the end I heard the mansion staff whispering about me. Apparently I had earned a new nickname–Wilbur.