The Last First Day of School

September 5, 2018

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Rahul’s first first day of school, age 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rahul’s last first day of school, age 17

Not Forgotten

July 11, 2018

Not Forgotten

Me, in my backyard, lost deep in thought in some imaginary world…

“Where’s Robyn?” my mom asked, sounding a little frantic. I looked around for my sister. A while earlier, she had asked me to watch her as she did some yard work. Robyn and I were playing in the sandbox. Except now it was just me playing in the sandbox, lost deep in thought in some imaginary world, as usual. I looked up at my mom with a mixture of fear and guilt. Because I had lost track of her. I was 4 years old.

As my Mom’s eyes filled with fear and confusion we both heard a loud squeal. Her eyes widened in terror and she went tearing around to the front of the house, screaming. I looked down at the sand creation I was building and quietly set down my tools. I felt a pain in my stomach like a stone as I realized what a horrible sister I was. Slowly, I crept around to the front of the house, going around the opposite side than my mom had travelled. As I rounded the corner I could see Mom carrying my 2 year old sister in her arms. There was a huge truck stopped in front of our house and I came to realize that Robyn had been crawling across the street, completely unattended by her big sister, when this tractor trailer rounded the curve at the bottom of the hill in front of our house. It was going full speed when the driver hit the brakes because of the baby crawling across the street. My mom had arrived just as he was picking Robyn up and carrying her toward our house.

I stood, unnoticed, off to the side of the house, in the middle of the driveway. I watched as my mom gratefully carried Robyn into the house to tend to her and nurse her own guilt and fear. And I remember just standing in that spot staring at the ground for a long time. I didn’t cry. Or run to my mother. I just stood there. Realizing I had nearly caused my sister’s death. Rooted to the ground with guilt and shame and embarrassment, unable to move. I was hoping no one noticed me there, and I understood that I didn’t deserve comforting. My pain was self-inflicted and my mom and my sister were the ones who really needed tending to at that moment.

But also, I felt forgotten.

I think everyone has a baseline fear that drives and informs their life. Most likely it is shaped by some childhood experience or trauma. It might be the fear of being alone, or the fear of being rejected. My son’s baseline fear is not being believed. He experienced a terrible trauma as a child when he lived in an orphanage in India, and when he told the orphanage director about it, she didn’t believe him. Of all the traumas he has suffered, that is the one that affects everything he does: not being believed. He is honest to a fault and will turn on you with violence if you accuse him of lying.

My baseline fear is being forgotten. I only recently realized how much this fear paralyzes me.  One of the things I have loved most about being Rahul’s mom is our closeness. We share everything and have been through so much together. We have a really deep bond that has been created through trials and fighting and a lot of hard work and love. Our attachment to one another is well earned. And because of his special emotional needs, we have spent more time together than most families. Last winter, as Rahul and I were talking about what it will be like for him when he goes to college next year, I suddenly realized what it will be like for me when he goes to college next year. I realized that although he will most likely live at home for the first few years of college, everything is going to change. For the past 10 years I have completely built my life around him. I created my business based on his school schedule and special needs. I sacrificed nearly all of my social life to spend most of the time when I’m not working caring for his needs. I sleep half the amount I used to before I adopted him because he has trouble sleeping and because of the demands of my work. I have no money because his special needs drained all of my savings and investments when he was younger, and I’ve spent the last 8 years digging myself out of that financial hole.

Well, all of that is about to change for me. Which seems like it should be a good thing! I will be able to choose a different work scenario, where I can earn more money and receive benefits. I will sleep more! I will be able to socialize like I used to. But all I can think of is this sinking feeling of being forgotten. I picture this vague, depressing scenario where I’m home alone with my cat and everyone has forgotten about me and moved on with their exciting lives. (My beloved dog Baby Fish Mouth is very old and I anticipate that he won’t be around much longer than Rahul’s high school career.) And that no matter how much I push myself into my friends’ lives and continue to care for my my son’s needs, I won’t be woven into the fabric of anyone’s day anymore. I won’t be the first person anyone sees every morning and the last person anyone sees every night. I don’t fear being alone, I’ve always been comfortable being by myself. But I’m terrified that I will be alone because I’ve been forgotten.

I try to explain this fear to my friends and I realize it doesn’t make any sense. I have friends that are closer than family and will never leave me. My friend Libby started crying when I told her about this fear, because she would never forget me and has proven over and over how much she is willing to do to be there for me when I am in need. I recently went though something really heartbreaking and my friends came swooping in from all over the place to take care of me. Calling me from far away night after night to talk and pray for hours. Traveling long distances and leaving their families behind to come take me out to dinner or go on a picnic to get me out of the house and keep me talking. It was extraordinary and I felt very loved and taken care of. But with all of this proof of love and devotion, I’m still terrified.

It’s irrational, but the feeling I fear is the same one I felt when my sister was almost killed. I fear that other peoples’ needs are going to always be more important than mine. I fear that because I am so fiercely independent people will assume I can always take care of myself. I fear that because I’m not usually the one in the middle of dramatic situations, because I’m not particularly needy or a squeaky wheel, people will assume I don’t need their attention. I fear that because the things I need are simple and quiet: a hug every once in a while, a text or an invitation to let me know I’m on your mind, a visit for no other reason than to spend time together–that people will forget that these things make me feel loved and seen and valuable.

I’ve been avoiding all the things I should be doing to prepare Rahul for his college career. I can’t seem to get motivated to research scholarships or set up school appointments or make travel plans to visit schools. And the time has come. We have a lot to do this summer and I can’t delay any longer. Time marches on and I don’t want him to miss out.

So I am resolving to face my fear and to push through it. I am traveling back in time to visit that little girl standing in her driveway, scared and ashamed, and giving her a big hug. I’m looking her in the eyes and telling her it’s OK and that I see her pain. I’m reminding her that her family loves and cherishes her and that no one blames her for what happened. I’m walking her into the house to find her mother and ask for the comfort and reassurance that she needs and will surely be freely given.

And I’m convincing her that she is not forgotten.

 

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Dear Rahul, my beautiful 17 year old boy,

I see you standing on the verge of entering that amazing world of romance and dating and heartbreak and true love.

And I want to offer you some advice. Some insights to arm you against disappointment and some guidance to get you on your way.

I sometimes think I am really under qualified to teach you about this, since I never married. But you often remind me that I can tell you what its like on the other side of the relationship–the woman’s side. And conveniently, you like girls. And I’m a girl. So there’s that. And believe it or not, I’ve actually had lots of experiences with love that should help you out.

So here are my words of wisdom.

  1. Don’t kiss a lot of frogs, but do date a lot of princesses. Some people think  that you have to endure lots of sucky dates with disappointing potential love interests in order to find that true “princess” who is a million times better than anyone else. I don’t agree. I think when you approach dating as a way to build friendships and encourage each girl you spend time with, you will more easily see your way to finding a true companion. You are spiritual and God-centered. Date girls who are likewise. You will connect with them on a deep spiritual level, and even it you are not attracted to one another, you will have made each other’s lives richer for having spent time together.
  2. Notice how they make you feel about yourself. You will probably be interested in many women over the next few years. You will think they’re sweet and cute and beautiful and they will occupy your thoughts and you’ll feel like you’re going crazy. That is how it is to fall in love. But before you’re in too deep, take note of how you feel about yourself when you’re with her. Not how you feel–how you feel about yourself. If she doesn’t make you feel like you can be a better man, that you are capable of so much more because she believes in you, that you are the most wonderful, strong, gorgeous man when she is looking at you, she is not for you. Period. It’s the easiest litmus test, and if you can’t see it clearly, I guarantee the people around you will see it. Ask them. Women have the power to build up or tear down a man with their words, and if she is playing games or manipulating you it will be obvious by how you feel about yourself.
  3. Notice if they seem to want to change you. If she doesn’t love you for who you are right now, she doesn’t really love you. Some people really love a project, and they fall in love with the idea of you instead of the actual you. And you’ll be able to tell, because she will always be a little bit dissatisfied with your clothes, or your choices, or your timing, or the flavor of gum you chew (true story…). And even if you try to change these things she will find something else to pick at.
  4. Don’t forget the “friend” in girlfriend. I know I tell you this all the time, but its true. If you want a girlfriend (which you often say you do) the best way you can prepare for that is to be a really great friend. Nurture all your relationships, and really try to be the best friend you can be to all your buddies, classmates and long-time pals. Because all the romantic gestures in the world won’t mean anything if you don’t know how to be really great friends with your girlfriend.
  5. Speaking of romantic gestures, make them sincere. Now, this could be just me, but I think most women prefer small, spontaneous, romantic moments more than grand fanfares. When I look back over my life and think of the most romantic, meaningful moments, the ones that stand out are so sweet and small they are almost hard to describe. For instance, once I was talking to this man that I loved and the wind blew my hair in my face and it stuck to my lipgloss. And he just reached up and gently pulled my hair free, all the while giving me this look…The world stopped. These are the moments we love.
  6. Give gifts that show her that you know her. A woman who loves you will be so encouraged by any gift you give her, but you really want to show her that you understand her. This is very important to women–we want to know that you see us. For some reason, there was a period in my life when every guy that was interested in me gave me a teddy bear. I remember one day, opening up my closet and looking at this whole shelf of teddy bears and thinking, “Who is out there telling men that I like teddy bears?” You know me. Do I seem like I would like teddy bears? No. And it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the fact that these amazing men were going to the trouble of buying me a sweet gift, it’s that the gift just made me realize how much they didn’t know me. And that can be discouraging. It’s not hard to find out what a woman likes. Just ask her!
  7. Chase her… When you find a woman who you are really crazy about, let her know. And we like action, not just words. Send her a letter, get to know her friends, surprise her at her job or her class, write her a card, send her encouraging texts just to tell her she’s special and you’re thinking about her. There was this boy I loved many years ago, who would run down the street after me in the winter, having forgotten his coat, just to walk me to the train. Still, when I wonder if someone loves me, I think, “But would he chase me down the street just to walk with me for a few more minutes?” If the answer is no, I realize it’s not love.
  8. …but don’t stalk her. Not everyone you fall in love with will love you back, I’m very sorry to say. And if you are getting a firm “no” from her, that she is not interested in you, you need to let it go. Of course there’s always the chance that she might come around, but that will be more likely to happen if you can move on and give her some space. It is a really horrible feeling to be the object of someone’s obsession. It is not flattering. It’s guilt-inducing at best, and terrifying at its worst. For instance, when you’ve already told a co-worker repeatedly that you are not interested in him and he proceeds to fill your locker with flowers and buy you candy and gives you a painting–of yourself–that he painted…this is cause for great alarm and fear, not for a change of heart. And every moment you spend on a woman who does not and will not love you, is a moment you are taking away from the one who will.
  9. Don’t be afraid of a mess. Because love is really, really messy. You will be floating on air one moment, and curled up in a ball on the floor the next, only to be followed by more elation, then another crushing blow. I think falling in love feels like floating on a small raft in the ocean. It’s a thrilling ride, as the waves pull you out to sea, and you sometimes feel like you are about to be sucked under the water, then just at the right moment, you find complete tranquility and calm and bliss. There are so many highs and lows–life and emotion are heightened unlike anything else. You will feel completely powerless over it and terrified of it. And you will also feel like you can’t live without it. You will be walking down the street by yourself and suddenly burst out laughing when you think of something funny she said. And certain songs will make you weep with the exquisite pain of your heart opening up to her. You will be confused and seriously wonder if you are going crazy. Your knees will buckle when you think about holding her in your arms. You will think of her when you’re brushing your teeth and when you’re taking a test and when you’re riding in the car and you will eventually say (accidentally) out loud, “Get out of my head, woman!” You will feel like she is tying you up in knots and also that she can help you become anything you want to be. You will feel strong and confident and happy.

I can’t wait. You deserve to live life to the full and to be loved completely. You will be amazing. And I will be proud.

Love, Mom

 

Attached

March 8, 2018

I recently shared this story with my church and while I was preparing it, got a lot of great feedback and editing from Rahul. Basically, we wrote it together…

 

When I adopted my son Rahul, 10 years ago, he was 7 1/2 and living in an orphanage in India. Imagine how strange it was for him to suddenly be in a family! I had to help him to trust me and bond with me and I worked hard to create ways for him to attach to me.

One of the first things I noticed was that when I would try to pick him up to carry him, he didn’t know how to be held. His arms and legs just hung limp. He didn’t ever learn how to mold his body around an adult because he hadn’t been carried around when he was young. I couldn’t overwhelm him with bear hugs and snuggling–for a child who had rarely been touched, that would be too much. So I created games to help him get used to physical closeness. He loved to play Hide and Seek and our ritual was that he would always find his way to “home base”, then I would run over to him, swing him around and tickle him. It was always so great to hear him laugh the way a kid should be laughing. We would play that game for hours and hours. We would have pillow fights and I would swing him back and forth like he was a bell and when he wanted to look at something on the computer I would sit him on my lap, so we could look together.

I also created attachment through food. In an orphanage you don’t get to choose when or what you eat, so Rahul didn’t understand the feeling of hunger. I would put food all over the house so he never would need to panic that he couldn’t eat. And when it came time for meals, I would always prepare his food, and even if we were at someone else’s house, I would serve it to him, so he would learn that he could rely on me to take care of his needs.

One of my favorite moments from our first few days together was when we were at the airport in India, killing time while we waited for our flight to NYC. My Dad and my best friend were with us and when we adults saw a candy counter we walked over to buy some snacks. I turned to Rahul and asked him what he wanted. He looked at me like he had never been asked what he wanted before. Then he pointed to a pack of gum. Then he asked if he could have two! It was the best feeling to be able to give this child something he wanted and to see the look on his face when he got it! It is one of the joys of parenting to give your children gifts. In our early days, I would take him shopping a lot because I hadn’t bought him many clothes or toys before he came. And as we ran around the store he would point to things and I would just throw them in the cart! I wanted to let him know that I thought he was special and that he was worthy of receiving gifts and getting what he wanted. And that being in a family is good, happy thing.

When we would walk anywhere together I noticed that he hadn’t learned to walk with other people as a group. He had no sense that we were a unit and that to stay safe, he would need to walk in step with me and keep an eye on where I was leading him. So my Dad made up a game for him where he would point to a car parked further down the road and have Rahul run  to that car and wait for us. He would get so excited to run ahead and he would always wait, so that led to lots of other games where he and I would run up different sets of stairs and wait at the top for each other, or he would run through the circular driveways (on the sidewalk) all over our neighborhood and wait for me at the end. Mostly, I would just talk with him as we walked, so he had to keep his eye on me and stay within earshot.

Bedtime was hard. You can imagine how lonely and scary bedtime might be in an orphanage, and this is often a really tricky time of day for kids who have spent time in one. So we created lots of rituals around bedtime that made it fun and safe. My favorite one was our reading ritual. I would make him a snack and go sit on the couch and start reading while he was still bouncing around the house. After a chapter or two I would have him come sit on the couch with me. And he still had so much excess energy that he would sit and kick his arms and legs and roll all over the place for a few more chapters. Then I would sit closer to him and put my hand on his head or his foot or his shoulder, and I would slow my reading down while he started to settle down. And eventually he would fall asleep and I would carry him up to his loft bed. There were many nights that I would be reading for 4 hours or more!

These experiences taught me so much about how God loves me. We are all God’s adopted children!We don’t always know how to take in what He is trying to do for us. He is my parent, and whether I know it or not, He’ll always be trying to love me more than I could ever love Him.

Like I had to be careful to not overwhelm Rahul, God is careful not to overwhelm or overload us. He has given me friends to help me carry my load and He uses our relationships with each other to express His love for us.

Like I had to teach Rahul how to rely on me to provide for him, God quenches my thirst and nourishes me with His word.

Like I love to give Rahul gifts, I’m learning that God loves to give me good gifts. And He gives them just because he loves me and wants me to be happy being a part of His family!

Like I taught Rahul to walk with me, God has provided a way, through Jesus, to talk to Him directly, so He and I can walk together wherever I go.

My savior has stooped down to make me great2, He longs to gather me in His arms3, He makes me lie down in green pastures.4

Isaiah 40:11 says, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Being Rahul’s mom has taught me that is who my Father is.

 

Leaving Rahul’s orphanage together, hand and hand…

 

 

  1. Ephesians 1:5
  2. Psalm 18:35
  3. Mathew 23:37
  4. Psalm 23:2

Inside

February 28, 2018

10 years ago I was waiting for the call that would tell me it was time to book a flight to India and bring home my son.  I was homeless, having recently sold my apartment in Washington Heights, but not yet able to close on my new one in Riverdale.  So my dog and I surfed couches for a few weeks, while all my belongings sat in storage. I had spent just over a year on the process to adopt Rahul–paperwork and bureaucratic tedium I’ve tried to forget. Panicked phone calls, angry county clerks, hundreds of dollars spent at FedEx, checklists of documents, folders of papers, lost fingerprints, invasive questions I had to answer (“Why are you single?”), scores of documents I had to triple notarize…

My new apartment was proving to be difficult to close on and I had weeks of work to do in it before it would be comfortable for Rahul. So I was very anxious to get the keys in my hands. All year I had somehow been able to handle the extra work the adoption process threw my way, but the challenges and obstacles became more insane as the time drew near to go get Rahul.

I flooded my apartment, for example. The apartment I would soon be selling. And in doing so I also damaged all four apartments below me. That was fun.

Then there was the day my friend Paul died. He was leaving behind one of my closest friends and their 3 children–it was a huge loss. And after attending to his family I got a call from my dad that my mom, who had just had knee-replacement surgery, now had a dangerous blood clot in her lung. I was in her hospital room the next morning when she woke up and as the first doctor of the day mumbled his prognosis to her, both of my phones started ringing off the hook. I asked Doogie Houser to translate his speech (and to please enunciate) and once I felt assured that my mom was stable I set off in search of a quiet corridor to attend to my phone calls. It was my adoption counselor who had been urgently trying to reach me, and when I listened to her messages my heart dropped to the floor.  There was a problem with the adoption and she needed to speak to me immediately. I sat in shock, imagining what was assuredly the end of my adoption of Rahul. I called out a desperate prayer to God to comfort me in my horror, to be with me in the loneliness of this situation–alone in a bleak hospital corridor, my mother hanging in the balance between health and ruin, my friend left alone to raise her children, my world in chaos. I held my breath as I called her back, bracing for impact. Of course, I needn’t have panicked. It was only a manner of some additional paperwork, however urgent, that could be easily remedied.

My tooth broke and after the fifth time my dentist yanked off the replacement in disgust I started having panic attacks.

I found a buyer for my apartment, only to have his mortgage rejected because my building didn’t carry enough insurance.

I should have been able to close on my new apartment, but the seller’s lawyer misfiled some paperwork, delaying the process by months.

And so on and so on.

So here I was, in February 2008, in Longbranch, NJ, at my best friend’s parents’ house, completely broken. I was spending the weekend there in hopes that sometime within the next week I would finally be able to get into my new apartment. In total despair, I had stopped eating and had gotten to the point where I could barely get out of bed. I was a mess, stuck in the crazy limbo between Singleness and Motherhood and couldn’t settle down. For me, when life is chaos or my mind is restless, I need to walk; it helps me move through my emotions and clear my head. So since I was on the Jersey Shore I decided to go for a walk by the ocean. I took my music and my earbuds and as I hit the boardwalk a song came on that I had heard before, but had never really listened to. Inside by Sting.

As it began, I stopped in my tracks. The sound completely expressed the maddening chaotic whirlwind going on inside my head, and the lyrics completely expressed the excruciating process of opening myself up to love this other little human so completely. I realized that God was breaking me down completely so He could rebuild me as a Mother. Like a phoenix from the ashes or a clay vessel smashed and refashioned. I was feeling the complete destruction of Love.

Inside, the doors are sealed to love, inside, my heart is sleeping.

That was the story of my life. A childhood spent hiding my emotions deep inside, an adulthood spent falling in love over and over again, only to have my heart broken each time. I had gotten to the point where I was so depressed and shut down that I needed help. I found a therapist and had been devoting myself to sifting through all the broken parts of myself and learning how to feel again. In fact, that process led me to adoption.

Inside, my head’s a box of stars I never dared to open. Inside, the wounded hide their scars…

Outside, the rain keeps falling. Outside, the drums are calling. Outside, the flood won’t wait. Outside, they’re hammering down the gate.

The struggle between Inside and Outside, the struggle to give myself over to Love and all of the destruction it would cause was very real to me.

Love is the child of an endless war. Love is an open wound still raw. Love is a shameless banner unfurled. Love’s an explosion. Love is a fire at the end of the world.

People often want to know why I chose to adopt a child, and the answer can really be boiled down to feeling called to love a child who otherwise would not have a future. I felt incredibly blessed–spoiled even–and it was beginning to feel selfish holding all of my blessings for myself. I wanted to connect with someone and change their life, and I was willing to give up everything to do it.

On that day at the Jersey Shore I didn’t know all that I would be called to give up and endure to be Rahul’s Mother, but I was feeling the weight of change and sacrifice in my body and I was beginning to understand that loving another person the way I would love Rahul can be raw and shameless and explosive.

Love is an angry scar, a violation, a mutilation, capitulation, love is annihilation.

I walked back and forth on the boardwalk for what seemed like hours, listening to that song over and over. And I’ve listened to it over and over for 10 years, because it reminds me of the great cost of Love. And the great reward of giving yourself over to it.

I climb this tower inside my head, a spiral stair above my bed. I dream the stairs don’t ask me why.

I throw myself into the sky…

 

 

 

Me and Rahul on the same beach on the Jersey Shore, a few months after my walk with Sting.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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