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

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Rahul and his friend at the base of the mountain.

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Thank You Santa

January 3, 2014

Dear Santa,

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.

 

Your friend,

Renee

 

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Hide and Seek

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.

Rahul Walking

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!

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…)!

Enjoy…

SUMMER VACATION VIDEO *Click Here*

Mother’s Day

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.

 

Women Who Throw Phones

January 31, 2012

I’m starting a club.  It’s kind of like the First Wives Club.  But its called Women Who Throw Phones and you can only join if you have done at least 5 of the following:

  1. Thrown your cell phone across the room, picked it up and thrown it again
  2. Spoken to your children in an “exorcist voice” and later felt ashamed
  3. Cried so hard you’ve thrown up
  4. Experienced an actual hallucination from lack of sleep
  5. Missed your child so much when they are with a caregiver you spent all your “me time” crying
  6. Walked the dog, taken the children to school, done all the household chores and worked a full day–all with a fever of 102 or higher
  7. Caught your child’s vomit in your hands while driving
  8. Wanted to scratch out the eyes of any number of women who post this on Facebook: “Hubby is taking me for a much needed getaway this weekend. Beach and spa, here we come!!!!!!!”
  9. Been at a loss for words when a friend says, “I don’t know know how you do it!  My husband went away for the weekend and I had to do everything myself!”
  10. Have built shelves, haggled with a mechanic, taught your son how to pee in the toilet, and received Father’s Day cards.

One time I went to a parenting class at my church.  And as I sat there hearing advice that did not apply at all to single parent families or children with special needs I began to realize that I didn’t belong there.  I needed to be able to talk with people who had problems bigger than Little Johnny Is Not Obeying His Parents or How To Carve Out More Time To Have Family Dinners Together.  The subject of children’s anger came up and as people shared anxiously about the (relatively mild) scenarios they were dealing with I thought, “My God. I don’t think you would last one day with my child.”

 

One day my best friend Libby and I were at the beach with Rahul.  He had just come through a particularly bad patch, and I spent the day telling her all the latest.  It was pretty “life or death” and she is one of the few people on the planet who knows some of the most excruciating details.  As we left the beach we passed a family bargaining with their toddler to let go of their beach towel because she was dragging it on the ground.  Something like, “Betty, if you let go of Mommy’s towel you can hold the sand pail!  Come on Betty, let go!  Betty, do you want an ice cream?  I’ll buy you one if you stop dragging the towel!”  Libby and I rolled our eyes at each other I said, “I look at families like that and wonder how long they would last with my child.”  She laughed and created a quick shorthand I have used many times since:

LESS THAN”      
“TWO”

 

Less than two minutes.  That’s how long they would last.

 

 

I am in Maine right now with one of my best friends and we are totally serious about starting our club.  She is a widow with 3 young children and helped me create the above list from her own experiences.  Her children are extraordinary–one is in the gifted and talented program, one has special needs and the third is an Indigo Child.  She lost her own father when she was a young girl and is now helping her children navigate the same situation.  She is the most amazing mother.  Another friend who I asked to join our club is a divorced mother of three young children who recently had to sit at a court hearing and hear a judge tell her the upside of her new 50/50 custody agreement (which my friend had spent years fighting to prevent) is that “Mom will finally get some ‘me time’!”  She is working 3 jobs and has to regularly hand her children over to a man who I wouldn’t let in the same state as my child.

 

We need each other.  Every once in a while we need to be able to talk about our lives, say “You know what I mean?” and hear someone say, “Yes.  Actually, I do.”

 

You know what I mean?

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

The Boy Who Lived

March 9, 2011

Last month, Rahul and I finished reading the Harry Potter series together.  We just started it in November, so basically I was reading at least 2 hours to him a day for about four months.  And we had a BLAST reading it!  Oh my gosh, those books are good.

 

Harry is a hero everybody can relate to, but Rahul has a LOT in common with him: birthparents gone, suffered as a young child, suddenly as a tween whisked away to a new place by a big hairy creature (seriously, I tweeze a LOT)…  He is known from Book One, Chapter One as The Boy Who Lived because he was the only person to every survive a “killing curse”.  And Rahul, also, has survived against incredible odds.  Aside from the fact that he was one of about 20 million orphans in India, he also survived a physical accident as a young child that could have killed him.  When he refers to it, he often follows with, “I wonder why God saved me?” (In other words, he has a bit a hero complex and I am happy to say that I encourage it.)

 

I also found myself identifying with Harry.  So much was asked of him and he was often so alone in feeling the weight of the challenges on his shoulders.  Single parenting a child with special needs can feel like that.  The themes in the books were very deep and I found it interesting to talk with Rahul about which characters were his favorite and why.  We talked about fear, death, evil and friendship and so many times I found myself enlightened by what he shared with me and surprised by what he drew from the text.

 

Reading is such a huge part of my life, and I was anticipating the day when Rahul would love it as much as I do.  I have always read to him, but lately he has just devoured books.  Last Fall we were reading The Secret Garden  (another orphan who moves–from India, no less–to a new world as a tween!!) when he said the words I had been waiting to hear, “Keep reading!”  I love when he begs me to read one more chapter.  And honestly, what better thing is there to do with your child?  Toward the end of the Harry Potter books we were reading 4 hours a day and he preferred to sit a listen to me read over watching TV and playing video games.  And we laughed and cried together (sometimes I cried a bit TOO much and he had to ask me to pull myself together) and even the dog joined in as we would snuggle on the couch every night before bed to read.

 

And we’re still going!  After reading a few “rebound” books (It’s hard to follow Harry Potter!) we are now reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series.  It’s nice to read a series that is true and features a healthy, happy family.  Last night we got laughing so hard over one part of it (where Pa beats down a stump that he thought was a bear) and Rahul kept telling me that part over and over as I put him to bed and the first thing he said this morning was, “Mom, remember that part where Pa…”

 

I hope that Harry and Laura and Mary Lennox and many others will continue to live inside Rahul as walks though life, and that they will always remind my Boy Who Lived what living’s all about.