Something has shifted in me.

When I get angry or sad I become incredibly focused. I don’t see the world around me anymore, just the narrow path ahead of me. My mind swirls around and around plotting solution after solution for my problem. After Tuesday’s election my mind hasn’t stopped swirling. So much has been lost.

Some are saying, “Get over it! Your candidate lost, stop whining and move on.” I say, “Listen to me. See me. This is not about sour grapes. This is about my future, about my son’s future.”

Others say, “God is in control.” I say, “Yes, He is. Always. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be hard times. That doesn’t mean that He is happy at my loss.”

I was about to start a new business. I have been planning this business for 12 years. It is now a bad investment. I have lost that.

I have had health insurance through Obamacare for myself and my son. We will lose that. I am self-employed with a business I have proudly built from the ground up, but is not the type of business valued by the people now overseeing our economy. So my health care costs will go back to $1,500 per month. Obamacare costs me $400 per month. It is far from perfect, but it was life-changing for me. We will not be able to afford health insurance. I have a chronic illness.

My son is brown. He is an immigrant. He is going to college in 3 years. We live in a very diverse neighborhood in a diverse city. He has not had to face racism. I will now only be considering colleges in diverse urban areas.

My friends are gay. And brown. And black. And immigrants. My heart is breaking for them and the insult that it is when you say “Make America Great Again.” “Make like it was when the only place those people had in it was under our feet and underground.”

I don’t need you to tell me to pull myself up by my bootstraps, because I already am. That is what I do. I don’t need you to quote bumper stickers to me. Give me some space and let me focus. Listen to me, if you want to, as I work out my issues. Debate with me if you disagree. Pray with me that I can lead my family safely into the future, and that my friends and loved ones will be seen and heard and elevated.

All I really want is to be like Jesus. And I know I don’t need health insurance or a new business to do that. I will follow Him no matter who leads our country and I am more than willing to walk through the valley of the shadow of death as I follow my Lord. But I’m disappointed and more than that, I’m disheartened. And what has shifted in me is that I want to share that with you.

Life of the Party

December 15, 2014

Today my friend Lorraine was laid to rest. Gone way too soon, she leaves behind 2 young children and a loving husband, as well as lots of heartbroken family and friends. She will not be forgotten–mostly because she is truly unforgettable! The life of every party, especially the ones thrown by her!

We first became friends about 20 years ago and some of my favorite memories of her revolve around adventures we masterminded together. Truly our greatest was a trip to my parents’ summer cottage on Lake Ontario (now their home) to celebrate the Forth of July. I remember excitedly concocting the plan together, breathlessly dividing the responsibilities. Lorraine volunteered to rent the car. I would invite some more friends and square it with my parents.

A few days before the trip Lorraine confessed to me that she hadn’t gotten around to renting the car. And since it was almost July 4th, there were none to be had. But just when we thought we’d have to cancel, she found a place to rent one and we were set.

There were 6 of us going on this whirlwind road trip and we were leaving after an evening church service from midtown Manhattan. We all brought our overnight bags and Lorraine brought the car. And, oh, what a car it was. It looked like it rolled off the line is 1978 and might have been driven by Starksy and Hutch. But it had enormous bucket seats so if fit all 6 of us and our stuff, so we were set.

Lorraine

The driving would take about 8 hours and we were leaving pretty late at night, so we switched drivers throughout the journey. My leg was the early morning shift. I would need to drive through Rochester, NY during morning rush hour. As we were approaching the city a car pulled up next to me and the driver honked at me, pointed to my car and kept going. Everyone else in the car was asleep, so I woke up my friend Kara (yes, the same one from my famous turkey episode) and had her look out the window at the car.  Neither of us could see anything wrong, so we assumed the guy was honking at us because we were a crazy car full of women!  A few minutes later there was a loud bang, the car shifted and we saw smoke emanating from the vicinity of the back tire.  I pulled over through 4 lanes of busy traffic as gracefully as I could and screamed at everyone to get out of the car before it exploded.  When we stumbled out and looked at the car, we realized the entire back tire was missing. It had exploded and disintegrated.

Lorraine 5

 

I ran off to find a pay phone to call my parents and the girls searched the car for a safe tire. I reached my mom and she said she would contact my dad (already en route to work) and have him come help us. And the search for the spare tire not only revealed that there was no spare tire. It also uncovered a receipt for “one used tire” in the glove compartment. Hmm. I wonder which one that was.

While we were waiting for my dad, a state trooper stopped by to make sure we were ok and after hearing our story he wrote his name and badge number on our car rental receipt in case we needed proof that the tire exploded. Then my dad arrived, assessed the situation, went out and bought us a new tire, put the new tire on the car, took us all out to breakfast, then sent us on our way. (That Buzz!)

We were feeling pretty giddy by this point and since Kara had brought a cassette player (of course the radio in the car didn’t work) and a tape of West Side Story, we were having fun singing (screaming) along. Too much fun. Lights and sirens startled us out of our reverie and I realized I was going about a thousand miles an hour.

So, don’t judge me, but I pulled over wrong. I was in the left lane, so I pulled over to the left shoulder. And as the cop sauntered over to my driver’s side I’m sure he realized he had scored  big time. He looked us all over (very multicultural group in a very Huggy Bear car) then zeroed in on me. “How long have you been driving?” he asked.  “Well, we started last night at about 11pm from New York, so I guess about 7 or 8 hours…” “No“! he interrupted.  “In your LIFE! How many years have you been driving?!?” I didn’t know where he was going with this, so I began to babble. “Uhh…well I got my license when I was 16, but I moved to NYC when I was 17, so that’s a year.  Then I’ve been in the city for 6 years now and I rarely drive, mostly just when I–” “BECAUSE YOU PULLED OVER TO THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD!” Whoops.

Anyway, we gave him our rental agreement and my license and when he saw the state trouper’s name and badge number he flipped out again.  So we had to tell him the whole story and I’m sure he thought we were all idiots, but I think by that point he had given up on the idea that we were involved in any type of criminal activity. Except speeding.  And pulling over wrong.

We got to my parents’ house and had a blast. The car proved even more fun when we discovered that it had a trick alarm that would erupt at any time of the night or day for no reason at all. We sure made a name for ourselves in my parents’ small town!

Lorraine 2

Lorraine is still famous in my family for her incredible joie de vivre and enthusiasm for everything. She had to stop at EVERY garage sale…

Lorraine 4

 

And take a picture with EVERYTHING…

Lorraine 3

 

Lorraine was an incredibly special person. She taught me how to make a table look pretty for a party and how to dress like a grown up. She lit up every room she entered.  She supported  her friends fiercely and loved very deeply. And although she never wanted to be the center of attention, she was always the life of the party.

Lorraine 1

 

(If you’d like to donate to a fund for Lorraine’s children, click here: WESTERVELT CHILDREN’S FUND)

Recycle the Review

January 5, 2011

So, if you don’t live in Riverdale, NY, you may not know what I’m getting so incensed about.  But if you do, you know how one of our local papers has been attacking PS 24, where my son attends school, for years.  The parents at the school and others in the neighborhood have created an organization called Recycle the Review (the paper is the Riverdale Review) in an effort to bring it down.  Freedom of the Press! you may say.  I agree, but I also say we need to protect the reputation of our school.  So along with many other parents at the school I have written a letter to several elected officials who support this paper.

Here’s my letter:

January 5, 2011

Dear Elected Officials,

I am writing to voice my concern over the Riverdale Review’s frequent articles demeaning PS 24.  I understand that you recently placed a congratulatory full-page ad in this paper and I’m confused about what there is to congratulate.

I no longer read this paper and in fact, I have begun to recycle the entire stack that is periodically left in my lobby.  But one recent headline stopped me in my tracks as it mocked PS 24’s reading program as producing “ding dong” students who can’t read.  This article particularly offended me, because my son, who is in fourth grade at PS 24 does not read at grade level, so I assume Mr. Wolf would regard him as a “ding dong”.  However, the reason he does not read at grade level yet is because I adopted him at age 7 ½ from an orphanage in India, where he received very little education.  Before I completed his adoption I moved to Riverdale, specifically to live in the PS 24 district.  In fact, we live 2 blocks away.  The past 2 ½ years that he has attended PS 24 have been incredible and I have nothing but kudos for our school.  Because of his learning delays and some mental health issues he suffers as a result of trauma, he could have easily have proved too difficult a student for any public school.  But the educators at PS 24 across the board have been unbelievably willing to do whatever it takes to help my son.  He has thrived in the school as a result of many people working very hard, compassionately and creatively to get him up to speed.  

The “ding dong” article not only was offensive, it was poorly reported.  I write professionally for several publications, including CBS NY online, and my editor would never approve such terrible reporting.  The only “expert testimony” cited in the article came from Mr. Wolf himself, who apparently deemed himself an expert because of his experience editing the education section of his own paper.

I am deeply disturbed by the Riverdale Reviews blatant hatred of our school and your support of this paper.  What’s more, I run a business in Riverdale and many of my clients have recently asked me what is wrong with PS 24 and have begun to assume that Mr. Wolf’s articles are founded.  However, I do have some clients who, even though they do not have children that attend PS 24, have begun “recycling” the Review as well, because they feel that real estate values are being driven down in our neighborhood because of PS 24’s damaged reputation.  One such client went so far as to call all of the advertisers in a recent edition and ask them to stop supporting a paper that is destroying our neighborhood.

I would like to request an apology for your previous support of this publication and your promise that will no longer do so.

Respectfully,

Renee Smith

Parent of Rahul Smith, 4-213, PS 24

Rahul in the Earth Day TShirt he made last April at school (and our dog, Baby Fish Mouth)

Curses!

September 11, 2010

I can remember being 16 years old and sitting in a hotel room with 3 younger girls at a dance conference and they were going on and on about how they noticed that I didn’t curse and how strange that was.  And until then, I guess I didn’t realize how unusual I was!  (Well, I knew I was unusual, just not for my wording!)  And as they dared me to say words and I refused, I realized that I didn’t really know where that particular conviction had come from. When I was growing up my parents swore, my pastors swore, my friends swore.  I don’t remember anyone telling me it was bad or wrong.  I think it was just always a personal choice based on my own feeling of ickiness when I heard “bad language”.  Words are powerful and I believe in choosing them carefully.

 

I have strong convictions about things, but I’m not someone to go around demanding that the people around me adhere to the same convictions.  I have never asked someone to change their word choices in my presence just because I was offended.  But I did come really close once.

 

After Rahul was home with me for a few months I started the proceedings to finalize his adoption.  Children who are adopted internationally are usually adopted in their home country, then re-adopted in the US.  I understood it to be a simple process that would take a matter of weeks to complete.  I had been through the extreme document-craziness that is international adoption already, so I was not intimidated by a short list of papers I had to produce.  However, Rahul’s finalization dragged on FOREVER.  My lawyer started the proceedings in Manhattan, then realized 3 months later that I lived in the Bronx and therefore had to start the whole process over.  Then I lost a good 2 months because the Bronx lost my fingerprints and I had to do them over (for now the 4th time since starting the adoption.  I never committed a crime, people! How many times do I have to prove it! ) Then to top it all off, once they got all my paperwork filed, the Bronx court wanted to send a clerk to visit me before they would give me a date in court.  I was incredulous that someone ELSE would have to come to my home and verify that I was a fit parent.  I mean, I understood why a social worker (who is trained and qualified to make a judgement on my parenting) would come to visit–and she gave me a raving review 4 out of 4 times!  Now a clerk–someone qualified to file papers, handle legal documents, manage a judge’s schedule— was coming to my home to make sure…what?  What are you going to discover and discern, Oh, Clerk, that no one else has realized before?  That stack of papers six inches thick is not enough information for you?  I was beyond furious. But I had no choice and had to invite her into my home with a smile on my face and let her make her uninformed judgements on me.

 

From the moment she entered my home it was a disastrous meeting.  She swooped in and the first thing out of her mouth was an incorrect statement about Rahul’s birth parents–something that would have been shocking to him if he had understood what she said.  I hushed her and corrected her, but she proceeded to talk to Rahul, asking him if he was happy here.  When he answered (I told him that question was coming and that he could be honest in answering it) that sometimes he was and sometimes he wasn’t because he missed his friends in India, she scolded him and told him he should be grateful that he was lucky enough to be adopted.  I wanted to vomit, and in fact could not hold food down for days after her visit, it upset me so.  (After she left I gave Rahul a big speech about how he never had to feel “lucky” that he was adopted and told him what an idiot that woman was.)  Then she wanted to talk about why Rahul ran away sometimes.  (He went through a stage during the first few months of being adopted where he would run away–and I would run with him–when he was upset.)  I explained to her that he had moved past that very normal phase and that he had never been out of my sight when he ran off.  Then she started instructing me how to parent based on her personal experience (in a two-parent family with a daughter she gave birth to).  But it wasn’t until she started cursing that my blood really began to boil.  She started using language that is NEVER used in my home and I suddenly realized how extremely offensive that language is when it is used in my personal domain.  I think my friends and family must really tone their language down when they’re around me because I had never noticed anyone cursing in my home before–nor have I since!  But this woman’s language was peppered with words that NO ONE should use in a professional setting.  I have no idea what she said after that (except for something about how my kitchen sink was too small–uh, what?) because my brain was full of this very loud inner voice saying, “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” over and over again. It took all my strength to not say that out loud.

 

I considered throwing her under the bus afterwards by writing a detailed letter of my experience, but honestly, I was so relieved to have the whole crazy process over with that once I got Rahul’s Adoption Certificate in my hands I washed those hands of the whole ordeal.

 

Rahul has not really learned to curse yet (although he makes up his own words that sometimes are hilarious versions of curse words, like “shot” and “dannit”) and I don’t know whether he will have the same conviction about words that I do.  But I am happy that for now I can tell him that there is nothing that comes out of my mouth that he is not allowed to say.