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

sigh.

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

Margaritaville

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…



JUST BRING ON THE LOCUST AND GET IT OVER WITH…


It’s started. The beginning of the end is here. The Ten Plagues.  The punishment of God upon our people. Woe be it unto all those who didn’t believe.  Out of fear, I will be marking the door with lamb’s blood, but really, nothing can save us now.

My daughter, who is an angel on earth if ever there was one, disappeared last week, almost overnight. In her place, for 48 hours was an alien creature armed with a stony expression and burning coals for eyes that shot death-lasers of hate at me, and everyone around her, anytime I dared speak. The alien creature spent the whole of the 48 hours making snarky asides to any conversation, whether she was in it or not and provoking fights and dissension with those around her. When she wasn’t doing this, she was stomping around the house, slamming doors and shooting us glares of contempt.

We’ve seen little signs of this before now. Every so often, in the course of the normal day, you’d look into their eyes and you’d see something peeking. A little crazy that wanted to come out to play…but that was still years off, right?  Oh, wrong…SO. WRONG.  My girl just disappeared. Like overnight!  I had no idea that it would be this fast, but when I think about PMS and how fast that arrives, I guess I should have figured it out, because it’s like a dose of PMS, but on Human Growth Hormones.  Perhaps I will entertain myself by thinking of it as “The Cream” and “The Clear”.

My Bestie, The Dragon Lady, was all tea and sympathy for her, “Oh, maybe she needs chocolate!” she said over the phone.  “What she needs is gin, a cigarette and some Valium, but as this isn’t the 1950’s what I’m going to do is offer her some chocolate and a hot shower.”  But the message of what she was saying got through to me.  My Darlingest One was unconsciously dipping her big toe into the waters of The Sisterhood and she would need love, and a guide…and a horse tranquilizer from time to time, but hey, don’t we all some days?   So After the first approximately 6 hours of it all and finding that she had actually barricaded herself into her room to cry with rage and confusion, I brought some tough love into the mix, since she had proven to be utterly intractable in the face of every other piece of love, reason and understanding.

I took a deep breath and stormed the room, ordering her to march herself into my bedroom and get in bed. Then I announced that she would now be subjected to forcible hugging and comforting.  Once she had wept a little more I broke out the understanding and empathy for how hard her day had been.  And then I talked her into a hot shower to help her feel more herself, then back into bed for more cuddling. Basically, I tried to draw the roadmap to self-care for her.

This is not to say that I got the whole 48-hour event right. We clashed, I ranted, we cried and made up, dogs howled, swine gnashed their teeth and men fell, because perimenopause and teenage hormones, as previously noted, are bad. They’re BAD!  At other various times the two girls, my preteen and my five-teen year old were secretly at work sharpening spoons into shivs in their respective cells so they could go after each other in the exercise yard, occasionally triggering a lockdown. Sisterly love, I am told, sometimes looks like this.  One of the nicest women I have ever met, back in our church-going days, once admitted to me that she made her younger sister drink perfume, just because.  I suggested that a real older sister would send her perfume as a reminder for all birthdays and Christmases. How did I get here?

One of the chief features of this hidiosity seems to be the fact that they are unable to assess their own state. They think they’re fine. It’s you (and all the other clueless bastards in the house) who are the problem.  The other exciting discovery I made is that for much of this, there is no right answer. You can’t win and you can’t head it off; you’re just going to have to experience the event.  I think my early assessments here are correct, and it leaves me speechless with horror and fear. I think I’m going to miss my babies over the next few years and I hope they’ll come around for brief visits, but by and large, I fear it will be these evil aliens who will sleep in their rooms at times. I mean, it’s not as if there’s some sort of strong family history for hormonal stability at work here.

Case in point, the following week, her two brothers became snake-charmed as well.  The Golf Pro kind of freaked out a bit. He’s so mellow that he didn’t have an actual mood swing as a teenager. But I argued that if you think of them in single terms, if you isolate their behavior into individual events, then it seems actually kind of normal. However,  if you take that one of them and their head full of bad hormones and have all their interactions take place with 2 other people who have heads full of bad hormones…well, that’s just bad science folks.  Don’t put three people who have undeveloped brains, bodies being poisoned by their own body chemistry and poor social skills together. The results aren’t good.  Then you add the five-teen year old and the 7 year old, who imitates everything, the perimenopausal parent and the coping-challenged 2 year old into the mix, and seriously, I don’t know why the Golf Pro even comes home at all. And I don’t know what’s to become of us all.

To top it all off, during the 8am Friday school drop-off, when I told the 2 year old that he could have a lollipop for breakfast, from his little rocket seat in the back of the car, he screamed “I Hate You.”  #FML. But, during one of the breaks in the storm, I got to hold my baby girl in my arms and watch this video with her. I guess those will be the moments to look for to keep us connected over the next few years…




Far, Far Away…


Today was one of those days. One of THOSE days. The kind that by the end of it I was looking at pictures over at the Pioneer Woman’s site and wishing that I could magically be transported away into another life. One that has landscapes in it like these…

The Pioneer Woman picture

thepioneerwoman.com

Somewhere that looks like the renewing can begin.  Somewhere warm and soaked with good things and full of soul healing peace…

I spent the morning once again working on a solution to our current dilemma. In time, I’ll be able to write about it, but for now, it’s too fresh, too raw, too much. Instead, I’ll keep trying to reframe and bend the humbling forces that these tasks ask me to walk through into something soul searching and worthy. Tasks like spending four hours waiting to throw myself on the mercy of others. And then three hours among the Jerry Springer folk at the court for child support issues instituted by the county regarding our foster kids.

As I sat and watched, an entirely unwilling participant I was forced to entertain the idea that I might have to join this fray in time. I’d rather drive needles into my eyes. Money has always been one of the LAST things I was willing to fighting over. There is something absolutely gut-wrenching about listening to couples argue over the money needed to make children safe. Hearing them use phrases like “that amount is calculated on a 28% timeshare” and to know that they are referring to children.  To seeing people arguing 5 years after their relationship is over about the care and feeding of their children is demoralizing in ways I cannot describe. On the surface, knowing what the right thing to do is when it comes to your children seems about the least complicated thing in the world, but I guess I miss something.

Maybe when you’re alone you can pursue the kind of soul-intact sanctity of walking away. Once children are in the picture, however, you have to get into the trenches.  So, I will do the things that I never thought I could do…and by and by, it will be ok. But right now…it’s awful and full of indignity and fear. But it is also full of the opportunity the make the right choice and I also suspect that when I’m out the other side, I will find that I have come away with more of those character building gifts that sometimes only seem useful when the next storm comes. Whatever. Maybe, if I evolve to a high enough level, I’ll get to come back as this…

Wabbit!

I hope so. Because after the Jerry Springer show was over, I stopped and brought donuts home with the idea of creating some  good cheer to erase the trials of the day. But my newly-minted teen still ended up looking at me like she hoped I would step into a fire and die. And the baby was still peaking with his terrible two year old tantrums, and the impulse-control-challenged child still lost control and spewed rage all about, and the child who isn’t on target in science whinged his way through any attempts to study and the 5 year old and seven year old drew swords once more…and it all went round again. It was just as if the pilgrimage to hell had never ended.  And I have to admit that I couldn’t find my sense of humor about any of it, and I drove the parenting car into the ditch. Again. Those are the times when all you can seem to be able to do is call in the crews and do your best to pull it back out of the ditch, a little worse for wear, but eventually still drivable.

At the end of it all, I have to say, that even though I know it is an utterly useless, soft-headed wish, it would have been nice to have been welcomed home to some kind of tender care. Something that said we know you had a tough day, but we’re together.  You’re home now and safe and we love you. Something that looks like this…

A Hug

Once I recover, I guess I’ll have to teach them how to do this, by doing it to them.  But for now, I’m just going to bed, grateful that tomorrow will provide another 24 hours of opportunity to make amends and get it right again.

Cheers…



Stress, Ebola and Preteen Mood Swings…


Germaphobia and kids

The Doctors office. It’s on my list of things to do in hell when I get there. I don’t know if there’s anything crueler than locking a germaphobe in a tiny doctors office with a bunch of kids for hours on end, but they’ve been doing it to me for years. Do anyone else’s kids just sit quietly and wait? I don’t know. My kids do their level best to take the place apart. Maybe it’s because there’s almost never been less than three of them and they tend to egg each other on in all things, but it’s insanity to lock a bunch of people with boundless curiosity and no impulse control in a room full of things that they’re not supposed to touch. A room crawling with virus.

So the last week has seen us in our own mini-family land rush to various doctors offices across the county as we fulfill our commitment to the state by proving that we are not requesting permanent legal placement of two small children into a home that may be lethal to them in some way. That’s right, physicals and TB tests for everyone involved. Six kids and two adults. Yay. Break out the Purel and let the rodeo begin.

So yesterday found me for the third time filling out endless paperwork, telling people not to touch anything and pinning people down so they could be injected with immunity producing miracle drugs. Like Noah’s Ark, we broke them down two by two. The littlest two went with me first and lately doctor’s visits have been a prime opportunity for the 5 Year Old to indulge in the kind of soul-soothing drama that she requires. I mean, is there any place with greater potential to be the center of all adult attention? It affords repeated opportunities to wring your hands and ask in a quavering voice if you’re going to have to have a shot. And this can be done no matter how many times your exhausted adult has explained to you the full scope of the visit. It’s a chance for someone who already has issues with ‘dead air’ and nonsense questions to scale a whole new level of her own private conversational Mt Everest.

All the while, her brother is wandering around button pushing, touching, opening and closing and climbing anything and everything, and pausing every few moments to lick the excess Ebola off his hands. We were all sick two days later, but the shots were handled with relatively little fuss and chocolate handed out to calm people who have been manhandled in the name of science. It has long been my policy to stand in front of trembling children with absolutely giant sized, unwrapped candy bars held ready at eye level to both medicate and distract them once they have had the steel driven into their puny little arms.

Visit number second involved Middle Son and Oldest Daughter, who decided silently to enter into a competition for child with most personality in front of the doctor and the nursing staff. With 11 year olds, this is usually not something good, as eventually one of them will cross into the land of disrespectful speech and smart-alecky tone. On this visit it was my normally charming and gentle daughter who was overcome by a combination of sibling rivalry, impending vaccine stress and unsteady hormones. The combination produced a gentle, but clear talking to by the Doctor about her improper interactions with the adults in her general vicinity. I was a tiny bit surprised but I did not intervene. While I will not let someone abuse my children, I have no problem with their experiencing the natural results of their actions when delivered appropriately, and it was. Our doctor is very nice, but no push over. In the end, I also had to break up the stress she was unwittingly pouring out onto the nurse after the second shot by forcefully reminding her that the nurse was doing her job, not fulfilling a personal vendetta. She’s a very good girl, but I begin to see what people mean when they say that puberty is an alien abduction.

Visit number three involved my two ‘Stress Cats’ – Oldest Son and The Kid. I had back up this time in the form of the Golf Pro, but really, his effectiveness there was canceled out by the presence of the 2 Year Old. And here we go again, except the rodeo was for real this time. While we were still waiting for the Doctor, and telling the 2 year old to stop touching stuff and don’t lay on the floor until we were blue in the face, I drew the short straw on a diaper change and thoughtfully excused myself and 2 year old to the next room. Halfway through the change, I heard the screaming erupt in the other room and realized that I may not have drawn the short straw after all. It’s all a matter of perspective, am I right folks?

The screaming it turns out was from the finger stick. Oh great, I think, because that means that it can only go down hill from here since we still have 11-year-old booster shots and TB tests still to go. From there on out, both kids bordered on the edge of panic, greeting everything from the earphones for the hearing test (“is that going to hurt?!”) to the Otoscope for the ear exam (“What’s that?!!”) like skittish, wild-eyed, wild horses. In the end, both kids went down with stress, “My stomach hurts. I don’t feel good. I’m dizzy.” We had to skip the TB test because we couldn’t get them read over the weekend, so The Kid gratefully escaped having only gotten a dose of Flu-Mist up the schnoz. The 11 year old, well his panic got the best of him and he had to be held down. Like horses, you basically have to put your full body weight on their neck, pinning the non-shot arm underneath you and holding the other one down exposed. It also helps if you think about the drink you’re going to have that night.

Despite my all but burning the fingerprints off my hands with Purel, I am pretty convinced that I acquired 3 separate colds from the three different visits.

And we still have to take the two Stress Cats back to be rodeoed through their TB tests. Dear God…



Bathing in the Blood of Virgins…


Real Menopause looks like...

What The Hell?!!

Every few months or so, I look like this for about 5-8 days. Picture it in your head, but in your head, replace the blood with hormones…then add the blood again. Then fall to your knees and thank all the gods of the known world that you aren’t a member of my family, who would desperately like to be absent from these moments. I can tell you I’d like to be absent from these moments myself, but, other than some short separations from reality, it appears I’m not allowed to be, because this is the way that my body has decided to stop having babies. Apparently, no one told it that the doctor and I took care of that over 7 years ago.

Welcome to the End of life as we know it the beginning of perimenopause. For some women, perimenopause comes lightly, without much of a ripple in the serene pool that is their female journey. To others, it hits like the uglier, meaner older brother of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Welcome to madness. Welcome to your new, starring role as Lady MacBeth for an eight-day run! Welcome! (Now is a really good time to just start saying, “What the Hell?!!” because you’ll be saying it a lot). You and your family are going to love this!

I have always had my glorious journeys through the land of PMS, but previously it was mainly confined to random bouts of hormonally driven weeping, sitting around eating potato chips and Ben & Jerry’s, and a few irrational accusations and a slight hysteria over how I suddenly have nothing to wear. It was never this…this total, split-second transformation into a demon from the garden of hell, who sits on the chests of her babies and sucks away their souls. WTF man?!

I was tipped off to the fact that this month was one of the months where the curtain would be going up when I spun out of control and once again found myself beginning to resemble Lady MacBeth more than my regular waking self (some might argue the difference is slight). The trouble is, these days she’s there before I know it. I mean, my emotional mood swings have now attained the kind of speed and velocity previously only known to the makers of the Bugatti Veyron. I can now go from 0 – to rage in 2.7 seconds. What the Hell?!!

I have read too that it is genetic to some degree. (I can recall that my mothers journey through this land was, what’s the right phrase, oh yeah, Scary as Hell). I even remember praying a year or so ago, “please don’t let me get as crazy as my mom was. Please, not that…” And then I went back to my task of making wild accusations, shining bright spotlights into the eyes of my children and demanding to know what they really think of me as a mother. I can only hope the The Golf Pro is coaching them through it with whispered advice like, “Freeze! Maybe she won’t see you. Don’t move. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t make eye contact! They see it as a challenge and she might charge!” I hope he is helping them learn the 28 day calender. I hope they learn to be more in tune to their sisters, future girlfriends and wives in some way.

Also, I begin to fear with real cause that I may have timed this absolutely perfectly, so that my hormonal madness will coincide with the hormonal surges of three teenagers. Go Me, right? Or rather, oh dear God, what am I going to do? This has to be one of those unspoken, widespread events that is connected to a new generation of women who are delaying having kids until their 30’s and even their 40’s nowadays, but I don’t hear that much about it. Where’s the sisterhood?! I can’t be the only one to find themselves in this position. (…annnnnnd cue the crickets)

The thing is, I hate myself as Lady MacBeth. It ruins my hair and skin, the stage lighting is harsh, and it has changed my metabolism for the worst. But more than all that, it steals me from my children because my focus has to leave them and turn to the management of my own out of control madness. It takes me away from my role as a therapeutic parent, away from the years of hard won patience and affection and empathy I’ve fought to give them, and worst of all, it steals my sense of humor. Unforgivable for me, as it is my chief coping mechanism. I don’t want this to be the person they assume their mother is, but I don’t know how they can render any other portrait. They have no context for the arc of my life outside their own. For all they know, I’ve always been this crazy (shut-up Madilyn).

Is there a bight side to all this early exposure they are getting to the Classics? I hope so. I hope there is an upside to the fact that every couple of months they get to experience both Shakespeare’s and all the Greek Tragedies compressed into a week long festival of bloodletting and baby-eating protagonists right there in their own home. Perhaps if they are ever required to read Medea in high school they won’t need the Cliff Notes, they can just roll their eyes at the idea…”Puh-leaze…Been there!”

This last time, in an effort to give them some insight into what was happening, I chose a child to sit down with and try to explain it in a way they might be able to relate to. I began by comparing it to the teenage hormones we’ve talked to them about. The ones that we’ve told them are going to make them kind of insane. The ones that are coming their way.  The child looked at me and said “So,  you’re going to blame the hormones?” And that’s when I looked at my child and wondered if it was part of the madness that made me choose a boy first to try and explain this to.



Après-ski or…Ménage à NO!


No More Family Vacations

Trip #3: Mammoth Lakes, Ca. 3 Adults, 3 Seven Year Olds, 1 Four Year Old, 1 Two Year Old

To get to Mammoth, we packed 8 people and their gear and supplies into a car designed, in theory, to hold 8 and their gear.  This is only a theory, I assure you. We left for our trip on Christmas night, right after opening gifts at the Golf Pro’s parents house.  It actually wasn’t that bad. They slept, we made a respectable distance and slept overnight before making the final leg.

I was more strung out than usual on this trip. We had recently come into the possession of my great-niece after she had been removed from her mother’s care due to drug and alcohol addiction issues. In reality, what we actually had come into possession of was a child who had deep emotional and behavioral issues due to Reactive Attachment Disorder, but at the time, we were about a year away from that diagnosis.  All we knew was that someone had lobbed a human grenade in our midst and chaos followed in it’s wake.

Also at play was the fact that the triplets’ father and I were entering into the early stages of a very different understanding of each other and how we were going to negotiate the future of shared custody. Time spent together was anything but comfortable…but again, didn’t I want my kids to have as whole and repaired a family as I could give them? Wouldn’t I go to the mat for that sense of security for them?

So  we made the trip and got settled into our cabin, and we waited for the good times to begin. And we waited. And actually, the first night was without incident. That is, if you count the 2 year old waking up 3 – 4 times and screaming absolute blue murder because the wiring in her head has shorted again as being without incident.  The next day saw ski rentals taken care of and snow gear purchased, the local market located.  I will remind you that all these tasks are being accomplished while herding 5 young children from place to place through the snow.

So, up to the ski run we took our crew and after dropping them off and setting a time to return for pick-up, the Golf Pro and I went over to the ski school. I had called when we arrived to ask about classes for kids with special needs and sensory issues.  Turns out they had a fabulous program for that.  Yay! The Kid was going to take a shot at skiing. We went over and signed the paperwork for the next day. This was going to work! At Last! I spent the rest of the day fighting for control of the wild horse that was my 2 year old, buying supplies and exploring the town.

That night, I lost a crown, fought through another scream-fest with my RAD kid and watched as the 4 year old projectile vomited in front of a horrified, yet oddly fascinated group of 7 – 12 year olds.  The curse had clearly not been broken. In fact, I think I may have tempted the gods with my burst of carefree optimism. We treated his fever through the night and did our mad dance with the 2 year old.

The next morning we located an emergency dentist, left the now sleeping 4 year old and 2 year old in the care of the triplets’ father and got my dental emergency taken care of by 9am. We went back in time to release the skiers and to find out that the cancellation policy for the ski school was 24 hours notice. We didn’t make it. They would have credited it to another lesson, but it was clear by now that this kids wasn’t recovering anytime before we left and using what energy he did recover on the slopes when we had a 6 hour drive at the end of our trip was going to be a bad idea. So the Golf Pro paid for the class and the 4 year old lay delirious on the couch.

What we learned from all this was that getting trapped in a small cabin with a child who has un-diagnosed RAD is a recipe for going postal.  Spending time with people you have nothing in common with eventually provides an intolerable amount of general discomfort for someone with my Spidey Senses and that if you put enough pressure on some mothers, they will accidentally teach their 4 year old to repeat the phrase, “Is this some kind of effing joke?”  Except they won’t say “effing”.

I got to go skiing with my kids on that trip for the first time. And despite the fact that I got lost on the other side of the mountain once, it was awesome-sauce.  I had an ipod, skills to match my kids and an entire Led Zeppelin playlist loaded up, starting with the Immigrants Song, a little nod to the skiing of my youth in Reno where one run had the name Immigrants Run. Turns out a couple of my kids are total dare-devils on skis and it was just the best. In fact, I shamelessly wrangled a second afternoon out of an unwilling Golf Pro. I just had to. When his turn came, it was miraculously timed with the leading edge of a white out storm and 30 mph wind gusts.  Sorry Golf Pro, but I admit, I’d do it again to be with my kids.

The return trip found me once again trapped by my shorter legs in the back seat with the kids, which by the second hour left me feeling like a badly abused lab rat.  It also included a 14 minute speed tour through the site of the Manzanar Japanese Internment camp. If my kids recall any of it, I’ll be shocked.

I did not go on the next trip. I’d had enough. In the face of being trapped again in a snowbound cabin with small, screaming, vomiting children I declared the shared parenting divide healed enough and left them to it. I hope they will forgive me for birthdays I’ve missed and memories I wish we shared. But in return, they get a higher degree of sanity and peace in their parent

The trips I have missed since that decision have included another jaunt to Mammoth. Reports came back from that trip of truth or dare sessions and guilty admissions of circle time where they improved each others vocabulary by sharing their lists of  swear words with one another and at least one of the boys jumped into an icy pool in response to a frontal challenge of his burgeoning manhood. Also missed was a trip to Utah that rendered their father almost horizontal for the majority of the trip with altitude sickness and left the kids burning up the phone lines to me so I could mediate their inadequate social skills and tell them that I wanted them to come home soon too. This year they are in Tahoe and I am getting regular phone reports, because my daughter is excellent and understands that I need them. The general outcome of the trip has yet to be reported.

I miss them so much every time…but then I remember all the past trips and I’m distracted by the nervous tic that’s just starting up around my left eye. Perhaps another year down the road,  I’ll allow my optimism to overcome me once more.



Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses…Part Deux


Just Say No to Family Trips

TRIP #2  Big Bear Ca., 2 Adults, 3 Six Year Olds, 1 Three Year Old

I wasn’t present for most of this trip because of work commitments.  Yes, I know it was a blessing.  I left the day of their birthday with the baby to drive up and meet them for dinner. I think I had their birthday cake in the car with me.

The drive up the switchbacks to Big Bear was largely uneventful, except for the fact that I was running late and fielding phone calls from my 6 daughter who was in a state of extreme panic and existential angst because her father had told her over dinner that when you die there’s just nothing after that. Predictably, you would think, her response was stark fear and terror. Nice job, Jackwagon.  I spent the middle part of the trip negotiating dangerous road conditions and talking her down off the ledge, “Well ask Daddy how he knows that?  Where ever you end up going is exactly where I will be going.” “But he said that there was just NOTHING!” “Ask Daddy to prove it!” and in final desperation, “Well, Daddy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, OK!”

By the time I reached Big Bear, it was dark and even more unfamiliar. I was harried and late for my children’s birthday dinner and I am now caught in the cross-hairs of an uncontrollable situation. I was a woman who’s sense of direction measures a -10 on any scale being given directions by a man who’s ability to communicate information is even lower than that.

It’s dark, I’ve never been here, nothing is clear and at one point his exasperated, impatient directions included this gem, “The restaurant looks kind of like a log cabin. You can’t miss it.”  Ever been to Big Bear?  Want to guess how much of the architecture up there is designed to look like a log cabin?  Oh, and the baby has started to get seriously over it by now too.

It took about 40 minutes to find the place and by the time I arrived there, it was the family friend at dinner with my kids who actually took the time to wait downstairs at the restaurant to help me with the baby and their birthday stuff.  But I made it!  Now, I could relax in a restaurant with 4 small children. The waiter came and asked me if I wanted a drink. I think I hate Big Bear by now.

I’m pretty sure at least one of the kids threw up, but I no longer remember who it was, oh and the Baby got his hand closed in the automatic sliding door of the minivan.

Time spent skiing with my kids: 3 Hours



Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses…


Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses

So, my oldest 3 kids are currently stuck in a blizzard having a great time on their annual ski trip with their father.  This year they went to Lake Tahoe and I miss them in irrational ways. To keep me busy while they are visiting one of my favorite places on earth and to make myself feel better about not being with them (it’s not really working btw) I thought I’d take a tour through ski trips past and revisit a little thing I like to think of as Post Traumatic Trip Disorder.  Pay attention now, because I’m about to make you feel better about every trip you’ve ever taken with your kids.

*Please note, this is as faithful a recollection as I can post, but some memories have been repressed for my own protection…

The ski trips began several years back. It’s a tradition the triplets’ father started over Christmas vacation/their birthday.  When he mentioned it after we had stopped cohabiting together and an uneasy truce introduced, I agreed to go for several reasons. Firstly, because it would be the kids first time to the snow right?  Who wants to miss that? Secondly, it would be their birthday, and I’m not missing that. And thirdly, because my presence and that of their younger brother and the Golf Pro was a statement supporting the kind of shared custody that I hoped for them to have.

Trip # 1:  Big Bear, Ca. 3 Adults, 3 Five year olds, 1 Two year old.

When I look back on this trip, I can only tell you that we got in the car and it pretty much went downhill from there.  We made the short trip into the mountains before the gods of travel turned on us.

The vomiting began about a third of the way up in the midst of an absolute maze of switchbacks leading us up the mountain. At least 2 children succumbed (it might have been three, who can say, repression is a wonderful thing) By the time we arrived they had pretty much thrown up in every available thing and I had been reduced to emptying packet oatmeal boxes so they could have something to throw up in.  The humanity, the HUMANITY!

I barely remember where we stayed that year, only that it was night by the time we arrived.  After cleaning things up in the car as best as possible that night, we investigated the cabin and one more child threw up.  Little did I know this was only the beginning of the Bataan Death Marches these vacations were to become.

The next morning brought with it incontrovertible evidence that we weren’t just dealing with motion sickness. Nope, stomach flu – one 5 year old and the baby.  The other two went skiing with the adults while I stayed in the cabin and racked up more laundry. Some time later that day the Golf Pro and I found one of maybe 2 Big Bear Laundromats and began to wash pretty much everything they had touched in the last 2 days, car seats included.

Between tending sick kids and cleaning the results of it, I still hadn’t really seen much (any) of Big Bear.  So after a couple of days of crises management, we , the Golf Pro and I, decided to actually enjoy some of what the mountain had to offer. I had never been there before.

The whole crew (we had friends and their kids with us) had decided to go tubing that morning and we made arrangements with the triplets’ father to come back and get us.  We packed up the two year old and the triplets Dad, who had possession of the only car, dropped us off with the plan of getting a lift back with the others. He had been up all night and was going back to the cabin to sleep for a couple hours.

He let us off in a busy parking lot at one of the tubing places off the highway with directions on where he had left everyone else less than 30 minutes ago. And with a goodnight and good luck, he drove off.  We went over as directed, paid our price and began to search for our people. Except…no people.  Anywhere.  Take out our cell phone and call. No answer either.  WTF? Call their Dad. No answer. Call everyone else we are connected to on the mountain. Nothing. Arghhhhhh!

After an hour of Where’s Waldo, we accept our situation.  We are stranded on this highway with a 2 year old and outside of reasonable walking distance back to the town. Well fine, we can’t just sit out here off the highway forever.  We ask the desk clerk of a nearby motel that was across the parking lot from the tubing hill about ways to get back to the main town.  We learn we can take a bus.  The bus stop is just up the road a bit. We go and wait for close on an hour at the bus stop for the bus. They’re not big on public transport on the mountain. The three of us finally end up on a bus, which I seem to recall had a crazy, homeless person on it conveniently located in the seat next to us.  The day is really starting to take shape. It’s the kind of shape generally achieved only after a really good dose of Chernobyl-style radiation.

We reached the town.  More calls, more no answer from anyone. Let’s have lunch. Still no answer. Let’s window shop. Still no answer. Let’s go and visit the Big Bear Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce.  How about a taxi service, because I’m freaking over this and I’m positive that I can guide him to the general vicinity of our cabin.  There is, it appears, only one taxi guy for the whole of Big Bear. I think his name was Pete. At least that’s what the answering machine we kept reaching said before it informed us that he was currently out of range.  We left a message.   It was one of at least 3 messages we left for him.  We never successfully made contact.

I don’t really remember how we were finally rescued. I have vague recollections of finally hearing their father’s sleepy voice on the phone.  We hadn’t seen him for about 6 – 8 hours. At least 4 of those hours were spent in the Chamber of Commerce.  Big Bear Lake was the first mountain recreation area in Southern California. I know this because I read every pamphlet in the visitor’s center.

We were picked up and because my people are crazy…no one ever acknowledged that our ordeal of being abandoned stranded with a 2 year old all damn day was in the least way remarkable. They just said, “Hey, we’re all going to dinner!”   Yay! Dinner in a nice restaurant with a bunch of small children, my favorite! The waiter that night asked if I wanted a drink, it felt like both the kindest and the cruelest thing anyone had ever asked me.

I remember very little about the rest of the trip. My oldest children had a birthday and they learned to ski. When we went back down the mountain, the one child who hadn’t thrown up on the whole trip, joined the one who genuinely did get car sick in a show of solidarity and they vomited their way back down the mountain. Afterwards, friends had to help me decompress, and I had the shakes for a good month afterwards.

Time spent skiing: O Hours

*Stayed tuned for trip #2 coming soon…



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.

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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.