National Margaritaville Day of Dicipline…

What do you write about when nothing seems to interest you? So just out of respect for the discipline (sounds like more fun than it is) of writing I’m putting up this post.

2 Days Ago…

I woke up at 5am after 3 hours sleep and my brain felt like it was crashing into my skull every time I turned my head from lack of sleep. Melancholy chased around the edges of the day all day, and I tried my best to ignore it. I wished I could ignore going back to Edelman’s Children’s Court once more. For those of you who didn’t know, Los Angeles county has it’s own special children’s court located in Monterey Park…and it’s packed. All the time. My daughter is part of an incredibly large population who requires the intervention of social services. She has had her own lawyer since she was 18 months old, and if she really understood what that meant she would be on the phone to him daily registering her displeasure with the condition of her life. “I don’t like this cereal. Get me my lawyer!”

I have been going to this building with some regularity for about three years now and it has always left me feeling like I’ve had a backstage pass to the Jerry Springer show. Again, the recurrent theme of my life: Irony. I have always been someone with an almost pathological need to avoid officers of the court and their kind. In my universe, being in court tends to mean I have screwed up somewhere (it might be noted that I view the Supreme Court very differently, but I don’t expect us to make any ground breaking points of law here. It’s all so soul-killingly mundane). But here I am, dancing through the court systems of two different counties. That definitely deserves a #FML, doesn’t it? All together now…

I try and remind myself that good things happen there as well. Families are made there through finalized adoptions. Children are saved, that sort of thing. But it’s hard, because I don’t want to be there at all. The whole process went better than I expected. In the end, my niece wanted reassurance that we would have a post-adoption contract in place and seemed willing to go forward if it was. So I will spend the next month getting educated about such an instrument and it’s scope and we will go into mediation to try and structure something that addresses both our needs before taking the final few steps. It seems I am destined for a complicated life, but who didn’t know that already, right?

Moments like yesterday still awaken the hope in me that my niece’s life will be salvaged. I desperately hope so, even while I realize that we are far from the time that I can be instrumental in such repairs. The work must hers, the journey back, hers alone. I wondered on the drive that morning whether or not I was doing what my brother would have wanted me to do. I think I am. I suspect he would have had much less patience with all this than I did. He was always quicker to action than I was. I can’t even begin to wonder what would have been different in his daughter’s life if he had lived. I’d like to think it would have been better…but it’s pure speculation. He had so many hurdles of his own, he just didn’t make it over the last one. I often wish he was here though.

My mother offered to go with me yesterday, which I was grateful for, but I said no. Their relationship is likely irretrievably broken and I felt it would only raise the stress of the whole affair for all involved. But pulling into that parking garage, what I really wanted was a guy. It’s funny how there are just moments in your life where you want a man by your side. Preferably a Navy Seal who can bring it with authority and presence. A decision-maker who has your back and exudes all that other Alpha Male goodness that makes a girl ovulate on the spot. Equally funny is how not real life that it. I never want to bring the children to that place and they end up staying home with the Golf Pro while I go and meet the demands of our family on my own. That’s just life and the real deal and all that stuff. Yes, sadly, these guys were all busy somewhere else…

Navy Seal Team

Who's Got Your Back?

So anyway, that wraps up another round of the Jerry Springer Show court and I get a reprieve until April, when we might see the whole business done and this chapter closed…so another one can open after that. I gave my niece a ride back to the sober living shelter where she is living, and then a stop at my mother’s nearby. But it wasn’t until I saw this view that the beginnings of peace stirred and the weight of the day started to lift …

Favorite Spot on the 405

Hello OC!

This is one of my favorite spots in the 405. It’s where Orange County begins and I breathe a little easier every time I see this spot on my way home. Past this point I begin to feel a little more at peace. But what really makes me breath deeply is this sight…

Closing in on Home


This means I am close to home and the children, and that my heart can mend from the day. This sight means gratitude and safety. That day it also meant I got to celebrate National Margarita Day with one of these…

Salt, Rocks


Goodbye day from Hell…

Solomon’s Sword

The Judgment of Solomon

(The arguments in my head all night long…)

Why adoption? Why now? Can I start by saying that I think remaining in guardianship would probably be the easier thing to do. Fewer uncomfortable decisions, that’s for certain. The easiest thing in the world would be to just not rock the boat. And I imagine that there exists the belief that leaving this as wide open as possible and trying to create a situation with as many options as possible would be the way to go. Before anything else, do no harm. But I’ve thought about it and thought about it, and it is not, in my opinion, the best possible way to guarantee success. Making a freaking choice is. Making a decision is. Letting the situation drift, what does that say to her? What does that tell her about her own importance?

This has not been an end that I have raced toward, but when I look at her and my other children, I can find no other reasonable option that honestly meets her needs, nothing else that gives her the absolute best chance of having a successful foundation. Those other options, they meet the needs of the people around her, not hers, and this is supposed to be about her before it is about all of us. And if you need to know the reason it won’t meet her needs, well, chief among them is the marks left on her by Attachment Disorder.

We’ve lived with those words for some time now and it all comes back to that. At it’s heart, how can I teach her to become attached if I am still in a holding pattern myself, still seeing myself as a placeholder in her life for the mother that isn’t available to her? She needs to be firmly and securely attached to someone at the beginning of her life so that she can be allowed to get on with the all the very necessary business of her life.

Over these last three years in my stewardship of her and her mother’s relationship, I have tried to be very, very careful, worked to the best of my ability not usurp her mother’s place anytime it could be helped. I have worked to the absolute best of my ability not to offer judgment of your successes or failures as you struggled with your addictions in the firm belief that the weight of it could not contribute to your success. I tried to offer you a clean slate, but there was always a time limit for how long we would all live our lives in stasis and I was clear with you about that too. Promises have to be made…and kept. No matter what.

Perhaps you could argue that some kids can live day to day with only a substitute mother, but this one can’t. She’s different. She’s special. She is not a child who can be satisfied with half measures. She needs fiercely to possess and be possessed. To belong, and she has made this need clear in most every crayon stroke she’s made. This is a child who shouts with her drawings. They are, and have been, pictures of families and Mommies and homes and she has been making them since she could draw. Pictures of herself with whatever people were presented to her as available for a family. For a child who had no clear family structure to lay hands on in her experience, she has always been remarkably clear about having one. Determined about that as she is about everything else, she lives it out loud and in this, as in so very many other things, she has always been her own light. Listening to her has always allowed us to know her deepest needs. She exemplifies one of my favorite Eunice Kennedy Shriver quotes “…the love of a family, nothing else matters. If you haven’t got a family, go out and get one.”

You’re asking for more time. I suppose five years out of the life of an adult is recoverable, an undesirable, but acceptable loss when you look at the arc of your time on earth. But for her, it’s been her whole life. You can’t be a mother to her now or any time in the foreseeable future and somebody has to be. She deserves to be chosen, claimed, told she’s wanted in actions rather than words.

While I understand your need to preserve a place in her life for yourself, for 3 years now, people have been trying to tell you that the way to having that place is through actions and choices, not by gouging an empty space in her life so that you can have a place to return to when and if you manage to assemble your own life. For her sake, it has to be done in the opposite way. Go out and really find your life. Heal yourself. Build a life…and then come and earn your way back into hers. I promise she will want to have that relationship with you. I have always and will always raise her to welcome a relationship with you when you are a healthy, positive and contributing factor in her life.

So, despite the fact that I desperately did not want to be the person to make these decisions, no one else has shown up to make them, and we would be lying to ourselves, all of us, taking the cowards way out by pretending we could just not make a choice. The life of a child goes on despite the fact that the adults aren’t yet ready to show up. Why should she have to wait?

So here’s me, trying to address the idea that I’m closing the door on you, her other mother. It’s more that I can’t hold it open this way forever. You’ve put her and I in the position of having to fight for each other. Fight hard. The damage all this has done to her is the very reason for having to take this step. More than most children, she simply cannot live in ambiguity. If she had been stable when she came to us, perhaps it would have been possible, but I just don’t think it’s a viable option. I have fought harder for her than any of the other 5 and she has fought harder for herself than any 5 year old should have to, and I still can’t give her a single promise or hope regarding your presence in her life. If anything, your situation has worsened rather than improved and I cannot just hold your place forever. I don’t know how to do that anymore and believe that she, and my other children will have their best interests served.

By this method I am legally buying myself a seat at her table forever. I am promising her that I will always fight for what she needs. I am telling her that she was important enough to take this hardest of steps for. This is also my way of saying that I don’t want my life, or hers, dictated any longer by people who lack the ability to arrange their own affairs, and I certainly owe that to my family after all I have put them through by choosing to stand in for this. I am doing this to teach her and the rest of my children one day that it is desirable to take steps to be the author of your own fate. That “you must make decisions based on who somebody is, not who you think they could be.”

In a life full of hard decisions, this has been one of the hardest and most complicated and I keep circling back to the Old Testament story of the baby who was claimed by two mothers before King Solomon. That story was all about judgment in various ways, and so, finally is this moment because I have to wonder if withholding judgment has caused you to mistake my feeling about this. I love you and I hope you get well, but none of this is even close to ok anymore. You have reached the place where you have asked too much. You were expected to show up as their mother and when you didn’t you bought yourself out of her life through your choices. I’m not sure why you think it should be otherwise.

And through it all there are my other children to consider. Why should they be asked to live this way anymore? There are not words for how big an apology you owe them. Your choices have asked sacrifices of them you don’t begin to imagine. They have rights and certain expectations that must be met. I try and remember that because of your own childhood, you cannot begin to know this. But that doesn’t mean that it can still be condoned.

I hope you will remember that they will still be here for you. They will still be here to be part of your life, provided that life is really healthy. I think anyone else would have stopped this long ago. You’ve had everything that we could offer you in the way of support, whether you knew it or not. You still do, but the work is yours and no one can do it for you. And no one can pay the freight on your life anymore, even though you might deserve it. It’s time to make different choices and there is still a lifetime of good choices out there for you to make, but cutting the baby in half won’t be one of them.

Because she makes me feel stronger…

A Christmas Carol of My Very Own…

RbP - Ghosts of Christmas Past

I’m not sure I have something illustrative to say about the season this year, but I do hope to have produced something along those lines by the end of this post.  It was messy, like this post is going to be and I’ve been a bit stuck. But part of learning about the experience of this blog is that I’m going to have to post through these moments, when my thoughts are less than perfect and I can’t seem to get the salient points nailed down…Here’s my less than perfect post. It matches my less than perfect life ☺

The way the season went it turns out I didn’t have to read Dickens this year. I was visited by all the ghosts of Christmas anyway. So let’s hope that, like Scrooge, it will finally help put some things into perspective and release me to move forward.


This year was flavored with more memories of the past than usual, which didn’t thrill me. It felt entwined with spiritual reminders of my teenage Christmases, where I felt very much on the outside looking in, and as a result I just couldn’t seem to get into Christmas this time around. The financial terror at the beginning of the month seemed to just consume all my energy. Then having the older 3 kids gone for the week leading up to it was sort of the coup de grace. And as I drifted, without plan or energy, I was easy prey for a visit from the ghosts of the past, days where Christmas routinely felt like it belonged to everyone but me. For a very long while, light years from where I stand today, it was the loneliest time I ever knew. But for 11 years now, the warmth of all these little bodies and souls has driven those feelings far, far away for the most part. (do I really need to insert the kind of words of gratitude here that I feel? There aren’t enough.)

And so, it was no wonder that I felt removed from it all even while I tried to have Christmas for the little ones. I was only marginally successful I feel, but I don’t think they noticed it too much. Not enough anyway, that it can’t be recovered with a better effort next year.

With that as the goal, what’s the take away from all this? I’m still not living the life I envision for myself. Not really. I think the answer lies in what keeps me from completely inhabiting my own life? Who am I still trying to please and what choices and steps do I need to take so that by next year I am writing a post about how we found our own way through Christmas…and how much better it was.


Which brings us to…The ghost of Christmas Present. He came wearing a chauffeurs hat again, as this season found us once more driving the freeways of SoCal trying to make sure everyone was seen by everybody who needed to see them. 6 kids, 4 different houses, numerous relatives, 48 hours. Hard to believe the suicide rate jumps during the holidays, right? You know, if the parents and families of all my children decide to check in someday, I could find myself trying to negotiate 4 fathers, 2 mothers, and an absolutely endless number of other relatives. Hard to believe the suicide rate jumps during the holidays. Oh, wait…I mentioned that already.

I can see things could get even further out of hand and it is too much, for sure. But, to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure how I can possibly edit it. I wonder if the trick won’t be more about crafting the days leading up to the 24th so that we feel we have a greater ownership of our holidays. And then I wonder how many other people talk about having “ownership” of their holidays…is this common do you think?

We opened a “Box of Grandma” again this Christmas, and I found that with it, I opened a big box of resentment I didn’t realize I had been carrying around – ever since “The Phone Call”.   These boxes come at least twice a year and they are huge. I mean H-U-G-E.  As in, “How much guilt can you pack in a box?” and they come for one child. That sounds mean, I know, but so have all her phone calls to me – all 2 of them in the last year. It is certainly their prerogative to send their gifts to only one child, I see a lot of this and it is nails on a chalkboard to me. I admit that I bristle at any attempts to draw lines through my children, and although I will likely never be able to avoid the carving up of my family completely, don’t ever expect me to be ok with it. And so, by all means, you don’t have to concern yourself with my children, but if nothing else, she has a brother who is biologically hers . Not so much as a matchbox car for him. Wow. I mean, WoW. Oh, and also, if you could stop packing that stuff in those Styrofoam packing peanuts? Cause that shit gets all over my living room.

So never mind her brother, or that the other families who have been enmeshed in this through no fault of their own managed to include the other children, or that you are sending items to a child with hoarding instincts, resource hyper-vigilance and material goods issues, just keep serving your own feelings and making yourselves feel a bit better. I wish my guilt at the uncharitable feeling I have towards you could be bought off as easily…but hey, I haven’t tried yet, so perhaps they can! (kthxI’mdone – dusts hands)

But, to get away from all of that (and it’s best we try), this Christmas also brought an opportunity to give hope to someone else. The opportunity to tell the father of my youngest daughter that there is still every reason to believe that he can have a successful relationship with his daughter in the future, despite my move to adopt her. More will be revealed on that front in the future, I’m sure, but even if it never happens, I felt it was of great worth to be able to tell him that he could walk toward a future that would include her as long as it included healthy decisions. Santa likes it when you can reach out and give hope, so I’m trying to build on that moment in hopes that the “Box of Grandma” will get smaller, both physically and metaphorically.  And so, this brings us to…


Am I the only one who feels so out of control of their holiday season? Is that more the norm than the exception? I don’t know, but I don’t think I want to spend another holiday feeling like this. I keep coming back to the same word: SIMPLIFY. The fact that our finances dictated a leaner Christmas for us this year is something that I’m hoping to springboard off of in the future. I’ve long been feeling harassed by the uber-commercialism that has become Christmas, as have so many of our friends. I don’t feel that the kids are getting what I want for them out of the season and that we can do much better about discovering the true meaning of the Season.






So, come November 1st 2011, my job is to have a plan in place to make the holidays more organized, affordable and enjoyable…but mostly, to make it far more full of the kind of meaning I always wanted the kids to think about.

What do you think? If you have any ideas about things I’ve missed or that might help, throw them out there. I’d love to see them.


Why I Took My Daughters to the Homeless Shelter…

This is the exercise: have your children pick out their 10 most very favorite, most special things in the whole world. Have them take their time. It can be anything – ice cream, football, an adored older brother, a beloved grandparent, their father, their pet, You…Have them tell you about what they love about that thing most. Everything about how it makes their life a place that is safe and happy and complete. Now…I’m going to take 8 of those things away from them.  That is what has been done to my 5 year old daughter.


For much of those 5 years, her life has been chaotic, unpredictable and out of her control. It has been full of losses impossible to imaginable, and dependant on the decisions of other people. Often those people, while they loved her, have not been able to accurately judge or sustain even her most basic needs. They have been ill with the demons of addiction and efforts to come to terms with deeply troubled pasts of their own. At times, this has made them a danger to her.

And not knowing any other choice was available to her, she has loved them anyway…because they were the source of warmth and life and food, which you need to survive. Because you can always love someone who is dangerous to you if you aren’t taught not to. Loving in a healthy way is entirely learned behavior.

At 5, my youngest child has already had to “overcome her circumstances”. And while I have been able, with much education on my part, to help her do that, I have not been able to do the same for her mother.  At various times over the past 3 years, I have tried to be available to support them both, but in reality my job here, is to choose between the mother and the child when it becomes necessary.  My actual job is to choose the children over her.  It’s not a job anyone would willingly sign up for, but it is also not one that can be walked away from.

And so, yesterday was another step on an unchosen journey of courtrooms, visits with social workers, therapists’ appointments and supportive participation in a variety of drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. Another one of the endless meetings seeking a course through the havoc that addiction brings to the lives of everyone around them.

Why do it at all you ask? Well, to the people who have said it is too much, and they are many, I make the point that life is often messy. No one chooses for their mate to get cancer, or their child to get sick, or for the terrible car accident that steals a life. It happens and you simply have to respond.  It happens to these children and just because their parents are sick, that does not mean that their need to have contact with those parents, where possible, doesn’t have to be managed as best as one can.

Currently, their birth mother, my niece, is the resident of one of the numerous Salvation Army shelters for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.  This is at least the second or third such place that she has lived, and there have been other out patient programs.  One statistic I heard said that is takes an addict between 7 and 8 separate attempts to get sober. It takes that long to accept that there won’t be an easy way. That either you or the vice will have to die. Many never reach that acceptance.

The story of how they came into our family is a long one. I’ll likely write it here in time, but by way of a short summary, I have guardianship of the two children who I call my youngest son and daughter. They are biologically my great niece and nephew, but that distinction is biological only at this point. They are my children, brother and sister to my other 4. But they are also still her children. And that is the balancing act that we are learning.  The journey of an unintended open adoption.

All day leading up to the visit, I watched my youngest daughter act out on her stress and excitement and mixed up feelings in a mind-spinning number of ways, as she struggled to cope with everything she was feeling. Feelings that I worked at helping her to understand and find the words for. I spent the day telling her that I would be there and make everything OK for her. That everything she was feeling was OK.  I worked to strike the right balance for her, one that would allow her to view her mother’s circumstances as something she should not accept as normal.  And I worked to impart to her that they were circumstances that were no longer hers (gone are the days when she talks about how she used to live at the “Celebration Army”). And I worked to do all this in a way that would not stigmatize her mother.

I have to admit that I didn’t think about the kind of place that we would be going to. They have visited her in treatment programs before. For a period, when she had regained custody of them briefly, and seemed to be on the road to rebuilding her life, they lived with her in another Salvation Army facility that provided recovery services and a sober living environment.  But  when I drove up to this place, 3 of my children in the car with me, and saw it’s industrial rundown location, the homeless dejection of it’s exterior and it’s occupants my stomach began to clench…

OMG,Omg,omg,omg, I’m thinking, did I do the right thing agreeing to this visit? Did I do the right thing bringing my 10-year-old daughter along as additional family security for my youngest daughter, who was about to see her mother again for the first time in months.  Was I asking too much of her to help me wrap this 5 year old in a blanket of female safety as she sees her mother in these horribly institutional circumstances? Omg, omg, omg, I’m thinking as we are walking into a place that makes me think of correctional institutions and they hand us visitor’s badges, even for the 2 year old. How can she want her kids to be here?  Why didn’t she tell me before we were on our way here that it wasn’t like the other places she had been. Places where children were an expected feature.

It is clear as we walk to the metal tables in the dining hall that the children are attracting attention, and my mind is flying, searching for the words and gestures that will normalize the entirely abnormal.  I am mostly watching my 10-year-old daughter intently, but surreptitiously for her reactions.  She is looking around. At the place, at the people, at me…and I am sending off waves of competence and authority and all of the “I have this handled” energy that I can. Literally shedding it onto her. And as we sit down and my niece is settling the children we have ended up sharing in this strange way, she leans over to me and says, “Some of the people here look…you know, kind of worn down.”  OMG, OMG, OMG.

Suddenly I am appalled even more that my niece was no longer able to judge that this wasn’t an appropriate place to have asked for the children to come. Suddenly these children, who people are working their asses off to give a safe, secure and very normal life are being introduced to homeless people and addicts, as they have become an instant novelty in this place.

I want to leave, but we’re already there and the 5 year old is engaged with her birth mother and I can’t do that to her. I have to ride it out. I remember when I worked at my first job in food service at Nevada casino that I would regularly volunteer to serve meals at the local shelter every Christmas and Thanksgiving, because it seemed like a great combination of good service and the chance to get paid double time. And I also remember being afraid and uncomfortable most of the time…but I was 6 years older than my oldest girl was now. This is not fair. Any of it.

But as moments pass, and the children are greeted politely by the other residents, I have a chance to get past the immediate shock of our unexpected circumstances. I have a chance to broaden my narrative of the event, to challenge my opinions and automatic biases.  Who are the people living here? What is their story and how did they come to be here?  Surely not all of them are drug addicts and alcoholics…surely some of them never imagined themselves living here. I mean who grows up and thinks, “I want to be homeless!”

I start to think of the most recent statistics I have seen on the homelessness of our nations Veterans. Over 100,000 from the recent wars. Some of these men are surely veterans who couldn’t get past the PTSD and other physical injuries to rejoin their lives back here.  Veterans who have resorted to self-medicating themselves as a way of coping with their memories and the lack of opportunity awaiting them upon their return from the war zone.

I looked again at my daughter and thought of all the children her age who are currently living in such circumstances because of the devastating economic setbacks America has experienced of late.  Or even the thousands of other children like her younger sister, whose parents are simply unable to win their battles against addiction.  I don’t want her here, but suddenly, it isn’t the biggest mistake I’ve ever made as a parent. And my girl, bless her heart, is taking it pretty much in stride, although she will later state in the car, “I feel really sorry for those people.” This is said without judgment and I marvel as I always do at her unadorned compassion. My girl has such a very good heart, tempered by a good and sensible head on her shoulders.

So while I am not in a place of comfort internally about taking my children into such a place, neither do I think, in the long run, that it have a negative effect.  They will know the results of drug and alcohol abuse in real terms. The next Red Ribbon Week at her school will have context for her that may teach a more valuable lesson.

More importantly still, my 5 year old drew a picture while we were there and gave it to her birth mother. In it, she drew herself, crying and told her mother matter-of-factly that in the picture “she was sad because she had lost her mother.”  She didn’t put me in the picture either. Neither of her mothers were drawn in there and so handily avoiding conflict. No, she drew the only safe figure she knew.  She drew her 10 year old sister in the picture with her.   So while it had a price, this one moment told me that taking my older daughter had done what it needed to do. It gave the 5 year old the safety she needed to get through it.  I shared this story with my oldest girl so she would know why we did what we did and how she had helped her sister.

For me, the visit left more questions than answers and it allowed me to identify another obstacle in the landscape ahead. I was troubled by the fact that her desire to see them out-weighed her ability to choose self-denial at a moment when it likely would have been the better choice for the children not to have them come there to see her.  This was made even more significant by the fact that she was going to be free to leave the treatment facility in less than 2 weeks and come to see them in an environment more comfortable to them.  For me that said that at some level, living in these circumstances has become normalized to her.  And how are we going to do this going forward, because it was anything but normal to me.