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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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?