a list of things I’m tired of.

I am tired.  Bone-tired.  Exhausted.  Spent.  Wrung out.  Knackered.  Drained. Weary.

You get the idea.

It’s the kind of tired that nudges against the slippery slope of depression, teetering on its edge, gripping madly to the toehold of sanity.  I am physically tired, true.  But today I am also emotionally tired, and that, I believe, is the more debilitating of the two. When you are physically tired, you can sleep away the symptoms and awake, some time later, a different person, with a different body, and a different perspective.  When you are emotionally tired, sleep only postpones the inevitable trudging through another day.  It is a respite, yes, but not a cure.  No, definitely not a cure.

Lately I have found myself whispering under my breath that “I am tired of [this]” and “I am tired of [that].”  Today, that pile of things I’m tired of toppled over and pinned me down so that I felt like I could barely move.

So, as I am wont to do, I decided to write about it and thereby toss that irritating pile from atop me and send it heaving into the ether of the internet.

These are the things I am currently tired of:

  1. I am tired of being invisible.  I am tired of all the things that I do and gestures that I make not being noticed by the people closest to me.  I know that we all feel this way sometimes, but its commonality does not diminish its annoying, cloying weight.
  2. I am tired of being criticized for my parenting.  Frankly, I think I’m doing a pretty decent job overall and I happen to actually like the kind of parent I am.  I have no intention of turning into a militant Mother General because that is not who I want to be, and I have finally (Jesus, it’s taken me 47 freaking years!) realized that reason is good enough. Yes, maybe I would have less of #1 if I were more exacting and less understanding, but I grew up under a Mother General, and while I was very good at abiding her rules and doing my chores, I am also now very good at avoiding having to see her or communicate with her.  So do the math before you tell me how to raise my kids.
  3. I am tired of worrying about how I look.  This is all on me, I know.  I lecture my daughters endlessly about body approval vs. body shaming, and we talk only about being “healthy” and “fit,” never about being “skinny” or “pretty.”  But, I am of my generation not theirs, and when I look in the mirror, it is altogether too discouraging. No amount of expensive age cream is going to bring back my cheekbones.  My stomach is likely to never see daylight in public again.  And I’ve had to face that I am now “curvy” rather than “slender,” no matter what I do.  But I hate it.  I really, truly hate it.  I feel like nowadays I dress to conceal my deficits rather than to show off my assets.  And, being adopted, I don’t really have much idea what’s coming down the road at me.  Who knows what fun and appalling things my body will do next.
  4. I am tired of “getting through” things.  I found myself today thinking, “We just need to get through the summer,” and then immediately thinking, “What the fuck is that?  You didn’t leave your marriage and break up your family to ‘get through’ life!  What the hell is happening to you?!”
  5. I am tired of having my joy trampled by others.  I have many dark moments, but underneath it all, I truly am a perpetual, hopeless optimist.  Unless suffering a clinical bout of depression, I am always certain that things will improve, that life holds pleasant surprises, and that the future is bound to be better.  Most days, when left to my own devices, I do a pretty good job of finding the half-full glass amidst the half-empties.  On any given day, I can rattle off the multitude of things for which I am sincerely and deeply grateful in my life.  But, then, almost inevitably, someone comes along and pours their sour misery into my half-full glass until it’s full of nothing but their disgruntled complaints.  I certainly buy into the idea that others cannot make you happy, but to that I add the corollary that they most certainly can make you unhappy.  And I seem to have a habit of pulling people toward me who are psychologically incapable of being happy.  Nothing is ever okay.  The glass isn’t just half-empty, it’s broken and scattered on the floor where someone is sure to step on it, slice open their foot, and die a painful death from sepsis.  Trying to hold your happy space around these kinds of people is exhausting.  Really.
  6. I am tired of not writing.  I read a lot about authors these days, and I find myself insanely jealous of the ones who simply state: “I make time to write everyday.”  Really?  Do they not sleep?  Do they have professional chefs?  Or liveried servants? Do they not have to schedule the carpet cleaners, meet with their financial advisor, shuttle the kids to camp, or get the dogs to the vet?  Jody Picoult says that her family understands that she “needs to write, like some people need medication.”  That’s great.  I’m not sure my family would make sure I got the medication I needed, but they damn well aren’t going to leave me alone long enough to write every day.
  7. I am tired of feeling guilty.  I want to eat what I want, without comments from the peanut gallery, and sleep when and how long I want, without passive aggressive suggestions that I might be a tad bit lazy, and read what and when I want, without being charged with “ignoring everyone,” and watch whatever I want, without having to find something that appeals to everyone (which really means, most of the time, some segment of the family that doesn’t include me).
  8. I am tired of fighting depression.  If you don’t struggle with any form of mental illness (and yes, by mental illness, I do mean anxiety that you like to call “worrying’ and depression that you euphemistically refer to as “the blues”), then you are lucky and I probably don’t know you.  For those of us who do have a history of any kind of mental (or physical, for that matter) illness, it is a Sisyphean task to hold it at bay, day after day after day.  I swear, I can be really happy, feeling buoyant and grateful and so bloody contented with my life, and then OOMPH! something comes along and knocks the air out of me, and I’m taking deep breaths and trying to hold off the icy claws of the depression monster yet again.  It sucks.  And I am really tired of it.
  9. I am tired of meanness.  I don’t watch any televised news anymore because it was simply too painful and disappointing.  I found myself losing faith in humanity and then discovered that plenty of health professionals advise against watching or reading too much “news,” for precisely that reason.  It hurts my heart to hear someone refer to a rape as “20 minutes of action” or to see a Presidential candidate make fun of a developmentally disabled reporter or to hear about dogs being eaten as part of a celebratory festival in China.  It seriously hurts me. I don’t know why any of those things are okay and when I try to figure it out, those icy monster claws tug at me.  Hard.
  10. I am tired of being tired.  I want to wake up and deal with my to-do list and handle my problems and not feel so completely, utterly, wholly exhausted.  I want to live life and not just get through it.  I want to occupy my own skin and be permitted to do so without constant, unsolicited guidance.

In all likelihood, none of these things is going to change any time soon.  I suppose I could change them, but then again, I’m just too tired.

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30 Days of Truth Challenge- Day 4

Today’s writing prompt:  Something you have to forgive someone for.

My brain over the last couple of days, contemplating this post:

Hmmmm.  I don’t want to talk about the horrible things people have done to me.  I’ve spent enough time writing on my blog about that stuff.  Then again, there’s plenty I haven’t written about:  What about the men who have been violent toward me?  What about some of the things my ex-husband did that I haven’t talked about?  What about the bosses who treated me so badly in my 20’s?  What about all the childhood wounds my mother inflicted that I haven’t mentioned?  Now that I think about it, there’s plenty of stuff there!  Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!

And then it occurred to me that the reasons those things were going to be easy was because I’ve already forgiven those trespasses (as we Catholics were raised to say).  To write about them would be an easy way out precisely because the forgiveness has already accomplished.  There is no vulnerability, no discomfort.  And I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of this challenge.  I think it’s supposed be a little hard, a little uncomfortable.

So it was back to the drawing board.  When I dug around in the darkest corners of my heart and poked and prodded at the growly resentments that lurked there, I realized that one hurt bit back the hardest, and therefore demanded to be the reluctant subject of this post.

Someday, somehow I need to forgive myself for decimating my children’s intact family.

To be honest, some days it seems like I’m almost there.  Like the morning I was driving Bryn to school last year and she voluntarily suggested that we are all happier now than we were before the divorce. Or the times when my oldest, Sabrina, tells me that she can totally understand why her dad and I just couldn’t make it together.  Those moments are blessings, salves to my aching soul, delicate threads of hope for all of us.

But then there are the other days.

Days when I wonder at what my girls might have been had I not made the decision to end our family as they knew it.  Days when I wonder at the long-term wounds I created with that decision.  Days when I wonder how much adult therapy it will take them to build healthy lives and relationships without carrying the detritus of our broken family with them.

Some of those days are burned into my memory – guilt branded onto the flesh of my soul.  Like the morning I watched 5-year-old Bryn haul her little wheelie suitcase down the stairs (“thump, thump, thump”), crying and asking why she had to switch houses every week.  Or the many times (so many times!) when Sabrina hugged me tightly and told me she didn’t want to go to her dad’s and why couldn’t she just stay with me? Or the Christmas when Bryn pointed out how unfair it was that they had to spend Christmas morning after opening their presents, packing up all their belongings to switch houses and have a second Christmas that afternoon.

But those moments, as heart-wrenching as they were, do not compare with the nightmares of possible damage that will manifest in their teen years and beyond.  The fear that they will act out their damaged souls through self-destructive behaviors that lead to pregnancy, addiction, or simply sacrificing their amazing potential in some other way — that fear haunts my nightmares in every possible form.

And those fears are looming ever larger lately.

Since last spring, my ex-husband, Bryce, and I have been struggling (so far unsuccessfully) to deal with Bryn’s growing tendency to lie and, on some occasions, to even steal money from family members.  Even as I type this, my whole body flushes with shame, because — let’s be brutally honest here — no matter how much we say it isn’t so, when someone so young goes off the rails, we lay the blame for the bad behavior with the parents, not with the child alone.  If she is wandering from the right path, it is surely because she was not provided with the proper guidance of how to stay on it.

Bryce and I have done all that we know to do:  we have tried to talk to her, we have sent her back to the therapist she saw and came to trust after our divorce, we have provided incentives for better behavior and punishments for the bad.  And still she struggles.

And every time she stumbles, I hate myself.

I understand that she might have had these problems even if we had stayed together.  Her therapist said as much to us during our separation when Bryn was 5.  But it doesn’t feel that way to me.  I am hyper-vigilant to any possibility that my decision seven years ago doomed my children to damage I cannot fix.  Bryn brings home straight A’s in advanced classes, is a successful competitive gymnast, and has nice, studious friends.  But as soon as there is the slightest suggestion that she is struggling beneath that well-adjusted facade, I panic.  And the self-loathing kicks in.

I knew before her therapist told us so that Bryn is acting out against some emotional trigger, seeking attention and trying to be heard, and I have my suspicions as to what that trigger is, but until Bryn is comfortable admitting it, I am unable to advocate on her behalf.  So instead I sob when I’m alone and wonder if she’d be crying out in this manner if her father and I had stayed together… if I had found the selflessness to allow her the luxury of an intact family during her childhood.

But I didn’t.  And life doesn’t give you do-overs.

These are the only times ever that I have come close to regretting my decision to divorce her dad.  I can’t help it.  I love my girls and can’t help but assume the responsibility for their pain.  I cannot see what that alternative future might have held, so I am confined to this future — that I created and imposed on the rest of my family.

I know that we forgive, not for the sake of the forgiven, but to achieve our own peace.  I would love to have that peace in my heart, but so far, I cannot say that I am close to it.  I don’t feel that I deserve it, and so I cling to the blame and resentment with an intensity that hits me from out of nowhere and strangles my heart Every. Single. Time.

Maybe someday I will forgive that desperate, sad, lonely me of 7 years ago.

Or, then again, depending on what the future holds, maybe I won’t.

forgiveness

 

 

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gossamer threads of comfort

Monday night I fell into bed, completely drained from a weekend plus a day that had left me emotionally raw and physically exhausted.  After tossing and turning, taking my melatonin, and trying to meditate, I finally said a short prayer:

Dear God, I need comfort tonight.  Please let me sleep and feel loved and appreciated and safe. Amen.

And, as is usually the case after praying, I fell promptly to sleep.  But what happened next was definitely not typical.

That night — last night — I dreamed one of those perfect dreams.  Sweet, simple, uncomplicated, without a hint of sadness or anger or fear or loss.  It was a dream of pure happiness.  I dreamed of a dog I once owned, whom I”ll call “Ranger.”  The plot of the dream doesn’t matter, but what mattered was how real Ranger was to me in that other realm of consciousness.  I could feel his thick coat, short and somewhat coarse.  I could smell his distinctive scent and hear his panting that sounded like an old man chuckling.  In my dream, I learned that I was mistaken about his death; he was alive and when I found him again, he leapt about joyfully, as he had when he was younger, before arthritis and tumors robbed him of his deer-like gait.  He ran this way and that, smiling his panting smile and wagging his inefficient  fat stub of a tail, so unique to Australian Shepherds.

I felt flush with happiness and blessed with good fortune — he was alive and healthy, after all this time!  I had a second chance to spend time with my dear friend!  I hugged him and we played and I recognized the funny way his left ear was bent and the beautiful, soft, white, scarf-shaped coloring he had around his neck that always gave him the look of a dandy, even when he wasn’t wearing his beloved bandanas.  I put my arms around that neck as I’d done so many times before, and he wrapped his chin around my neck in an unmistakable hug.  I remembered briefly how many times I had cried silently into that furry neck and how he’d patiently licked the tears from my face.

In my dream, Ranger came to live with me again, following me around endlessly, always right under my feet, just as he’d always done, even when he was old and frail and stairs had become an enormous challenge.  But unlike in our previous time together, I didn’t snap at him when I tripped over his long legs.  I didn’t complain about the tufts of hair he was always leaving behind on my hardwood floors.  I fed him the blueberries and bacon and carrots that he so dearly loved.  I took him to the dog park and in the car and to Home Depot where the orange-aproned employees fed him dog treats.  I made the most of every minute, every second, because I knew, like I hadn’t known before, how much I would miss him when he was gone.

I am ashamed to admit that the last couple of years of Ranger’s life were not very good.  Those years coincided with the last years of my marriage, and I was irritable, distracted, and depressed.  Ranger was so attuned to me, I feel certain that his rapid decline was tied to his anxiety about me.  I hate remembering how few walks he got during those last years, how many times I barked at him to get out of my way, how infrequently I laid on the floor and cuddled him until he purred like a cat.  I hate acknowledging the relief I felt when he was finally at peace, eternally asleep in his bed next to mine, courtesy of the vet’s dreaded needle.  I will forever wonder if I ordered that needle when I did because of his pain or mine.

No human ever had a more loyal, more attentive, more empathetic companion than I had in Ranger.  The fact that he is the one who came to me last night, when I most needed comfort, should not surprise me.  When I woke up this morning, I struggled to hang on to the dream, clinging to those gossamer threads of comfort Ranger offered, silently apologizing, as I have a million times before, for not deserving his devotion in his final years.

All day today, I have walked around with the memory of the dream fresh and tangible in my consciousness, the peace and serenity it brought to me still soothing my soul.  I have reflected on so many precious moments I shared with a dog who carried me through some of the darkest days of my life. I have thanked the heavens over and over and over that I was blessed to know such a loving and kind being.

But tonight, as I write this, I am fighting sleep.  I do not want to succumb to the night’s slumber because I know that in doing so, I will lose Ranger again, and it may be years before he next visits.  I have spent the whole day feeling close to him and comforted by his presence, but all of that will be wiped clean by another night’s sleep.  And I do not want that. I don’t want to let go this time. Ranger left me long before I stopped needing him.  And when I finally surrender to the demands of sleep, he will leave me again.

And I will grieve all over again.

"Ranger," all dressed up in a bandana.  He loved wearing them and being fancy.   He had bandanas for all occasions.

“Ranger,” all dressed up in a bandana. He loved wearing them and being fancy. He had bandanas for all occasions.

"Ranger," with his favorite snuggle toy, Wally the Rat.

“Ranger,” with his favorite snuggle toy, Wally the Rat.

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the sins of my past

In case you had any doubts, I’m here to tell you that there isn’t much good about being broke with no financial or professional prospects. It pretty much sucks just as much you might imagine.  Watching what was once an impressive career draw its last, dying breath is uncomfortable under any circumstances but horrible beyond belief when that career is your own.

Of course, I can’t speak for anyone else who has crashed and burned her own shining career, but in my case, it didn’t happen overnight.  But sometimes it sure does seem that way. One day I had a big office near the Potomac River and the next time I took a good, long look at my career, I was scraping by and teetering on the brink of being Terminally Unemployable.  I spent many, many quiet moments of panic and self-loathing, contemplating my slow reversal of fortune, and my own complicity in it.

I think that it is objectively fair to say that my career peaked when I was 27-years-old and working DC for a national non-profit. I was flying around the country, appearing on national morning news shows, and pulling in more money than before or since. From there, my career involved a series of choices that took me further from power and money and ambition, including a six-year stint as a Stay At Home Mom with a part-time small business.

When I was fired from my last full-time job in February of 2013, I found myself involuntarily unemployed for the first time in my life, but the funny thing was, I wasn’t worried. At all. Seriously.  I had never, ever had to worry about finding work. Or money, for that matter. Whenever I needed an opportunity, one had always presented itself, and, even at my youngest and poorest, I had always been able to pay my bills. I felt confident that everything would be just fine.

Well.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks gave way to months. Months somehow slid into a year, and I was not any closer to a full-time job with benefits. I tried, honestly I did. I sent out resume after resume and tried all kinds of networking groups, online and off. I wrote and rewrote my resume to tailor it for every job I was conceivably qualified to do. I considered going back to school (!) to get some kind of certification or degree that would better position me. Caving to pressure from nearly everyone around me, I seriously explored hanging out my shingle as a sole practioner of law, only to suffer a few sleepless nights that made me realize that I’d be happier as a Starbucks barista than as an attorney. I completed the online application for Target and then realized that the shifts I would be given initially would require me to hire a nanny who would be making more per hour than I would.

In almost two years, I had two interviews and no offers.

I hid my despair from nearly everyone, putting on a brave front and reassuring my friends and family that something would surely come up. But I saw my own doubts reflected back to me in their eyes, and heard the silent question echoing in the space between us: “What happened to you? You used to have so much… promise.” Some of the younger women I had mentored for years fell away, and many of my professional contacts subtly distanced themselves from me. After all, it was fine to be fired from a politically appointed position, but to be unemployed for more than a year, well, surely there must be something wrong, no?

I didn’t blame them. I had the same doubts about myself. I cobbled together some writing work and interior design projects that, along with semi-regular withdrawals from my 401(k), kept me afloat. I worked every moment I could and literally said a prayer of thanks every time I deposited a check. (I was probably quite a picture at the ATM.) On the outside, I was “being creative” and “taking initiative” and “carving out an interesting little niche for myself.” But inside, I was terrified and couldn’t even admit it to myself, except in the middle of the night as I lay in bed and imagined losing my home and everything in it.

One of the things about working for yourself is that you have lots of time alone. And I used all of it to try and answer that silent question that hung in the air. What had happened to me? Where had my promising career gone? Who would I be professionally if I wasn’t the sharp, young wiz that everyone admired and respected?

What the hell had happened to me??

And I gradually realized that, for nearly 20 years, I had been apologizing, in one form or another, for my career choices. Offering justifications and explanations and reasons to assure everyone – including myself – that I hadn’t just made one sad mistake after another. I felt foolish as I accepted the truth: the question wasn’t new at all; only my conscious awareness of it was.

And then one day, as a bitterly cold 2014 melted into a milder 2015, I found my answer.

Life. Life had happened to me. Except that it wasn’t a passive thing. It didn’t just “happen.” I had engaged my life and made my decisions to the best of my abilities at the time. Each and every one was made with the best of intentions and with the best information I had at the time. I revisited my decision to leave DC and move to Colorado, knowing now that that single move downshifted my career in very obvious and meaningful ways. I examined my decisions to hop around, trying this job and then that one, and the experiences I gained from each. I remembered the heartache and fear of having a sick toddler, and the relief at watching her get well. I noted for myself some of the friendships I made being a Stay At Home Mom and how well those friendships served me later during my divorce. But overall, what I really did was simple: I forgave myself.

I forgave myself for essentially throwing away a very expensive education to follow my fancy down other paths.

I forgave myself for sacrificing my career altogether at the altar of motherhood.

I forgave myself for not having the driving ambition to match the opportunities provided to me.

I forgave myself for getting older and surrendering the Young Crackerjack title to other, younger, less seasoned people who are just as likely to make dubious choices as I was.

And I cannot tell you how wonderful that was. I felt so free from guilt and explanation and justification and that incredibly heavy burden of “What If.”

Surely there will always be people who hear about my career and wonder, “What the hell happened to you?” but the people who seek an explanation will never truly understand, because they will always judge me by the words on my resume instead of the life I’ve created and the lessons I’ve learned. And the ones who do understand me don’t ask for or need an explanation.

Remember how I said that some of the young women I mentored drifted away slowly after my firing? Well, there were some exceptions, and one in particular inadvertently helped me reach my peace with my past. For some reason, we had become much closer as my unemployment dragged on, and I confided occasionally in her of my fears. At the last lunch we had in 2014, she said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you’re much more interesting and inspiring now than when you supposedly had it all together. Or at least, you are to me.”

Her words stayed with me, sitting lightly on my heart, and made me wonder if maybe there was something better than having it all together.

I don’t know for sure what I was supposed to gain from my long, terrifying journey through unemployment and self-employment, but I think it’s pretty clear that in order to find any real professional satisfaction again I was going to have to make peace with my past. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life apologizing to others and myself for choices that were not inherently wrong. I had to forgive myself for making the decisions I had and fully acknowledge the realities of the circumstances that had created those choices.

I don’t know if I’ve fully forgiven myself yet, but I have deliberately replaced my self-loathing with a renewed appreciation for what I gained from all those years. I have a job now that I love and want to do for a long time. I am not ashamed to tell people what I do, even when I see a glint of surprise or superiority in their eyes. I am grateful for the opportunity I have and the work I am given and the paycheck that accompanies it. But most of all, I am at peace with all that has gone before in my professional life. It has been a wild and unpredictable ride, but it has been my ride. And that’s really the best thing that any of us can say at the end of the day, isn’t it?

I Am

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deleted.

Adoption is such a mixed bag of blessings.  The most valuable for me as an adopted child has always been the fluidity with which I view relationships.  Family is truly those who inhabit my heart, because any other definition would necessarily create a very lonely life.  This definition is expansive, endless with possibilities and rich beyond compare.

The flip side of this approach has sometimes been that I place more importance on a particular relationship than does someone who has ample and strong genetic family ties.  I have, on more than one occasion, realized that my sense of family with someone was misplaced; in the end, I was “just a friend” or “just a girlfriend” or whatever the small, definitive category was that I occupied.  I don’t begrudge these people their categories; indeed there have been occasions when I have envied them the clear distinctions of their lives, the ease of prioritizing relationships, the simplicity of explaining how one is related to another.  But that was not the hand I was dealt, and so I have bent and manipulated common categories to suit my own needs and life.  And that approach has mostly served me well.

After I was three weeks old, I didn’t lay eyes on a single soul possessing my genetic thread for nearly 29 years.  It was then that I met my birth mother, Kathleen, after a lengthy search.  Ours was a joyful telephone reunion, followed by pages and pages of emails, futilely trying fill in the missing years since she had held me as a screaming infant in her arms.  There were early morning and late night phone calls, exchanged photographs and small gifts, and a visit by her to the home I shared with Bryce, when I was newly pregnant with Sabrina.  Later, when Sabrina was 18 months old, I traveled with her to Kathleen’s home on the West Coast for a short visit.  Sabrina charmed her new “Gran” completely, and Kathleen seemed delighted by the prospect of a grand-baby, having missed so much with me.

Every relationship has its honeymoon period and, had I read any adoption reunion books I would have known that the same applies to adoption reconciliations.  Our honeymoon period lasted longer than most, but small fissures erupted and, without the grounding of a stronger or deeper friendship, they expanded into deep chasms.  There were so many parts of me that not only reminded Kathleen of her beloved younger brother, but also of her despised older brother.  She disagreed forcefully with many of my life choices and was unimpressed by my choice of husband.  But perhaps most damaging was the fact that, aside from my skin and hair coloring, I physically favor my birth father, a man who brutally hurt her and about whom she cannot speak. So perhaps the relationship was doomed from the beginning, or even from the second beginning, but I was determined to at least keep the line of communication open, even as she clearly withdrew from me.

My first inkling that perhaps I had been abandoned by her permanently came two years ago when Sabrina was in 5th grade and completing a family history project.  I had received lots of family stories and histories from Kathleen in emails during those early, breathless days, stories I had been waiting a lifetime to hear and she’d been hoping for the chance to share.  I’d compiled them all into binders that I stored with my photo albums, the closest thing I had to a family history.  Sabrina thumbed through them, amazed to discover the richness of Kathleen’s family history, the surprising realization that we were, in fact, a Western homesteading and ranching family, and the terrific tales of Irish lore handed down.  Then she sat down and wrote Kathleen a very sweet email, telling her of the family history project and asking more questions.

Kathleen never answered her.

I was more than a little stunned as the days dragged by and there was no response to Sabrina’s email.  We worked on her project as best we could without the additional information.  I offered, but Sabrina refused to abandon Kathleen’s family and instead do something about her dad’s side, which was equally interesting.  She completed her project and received an A, but I was still reeling from the silence.

I sent Kathleen an email via Facebook, where I know she is very active, asking her to please reply to Sabrina even if it was just to say that she couldn’t provide anything else.

Silence.

As an adult, I was able to cognitively process the rejection.  Kathleen is a woman who, at least since the harrowing and unfortunate circumstances of my conception and birth, has struggled and mostly failed at maintaining relationships.  She knew she would be a poor mother, having had a very cold and critical role model to follow, so she relinquished me rather than risk perpetuating the family problems.  The quirky and interesting commonalities we shared did not bridge our larger differences.  And basically, no amount of genetic material could make up for what was lacking between us.  I knew all of this.

But, still.

The adopted child in me cried out for her.  Wondered at how she could abandon me, again.  Wondered how I could be so very flawed that, even having gotten to know me, she could reject me so completely that her rejection would encompass my innocent children.  Wondered at how blood was so thick for some people, but apparently counted for nothing in my own life.

I accepted Kathleen’s complete retreat and did not pursue the family history issue again.  I did notice, however, that she did not unfriend me on Facebook, so I assumed that she had some lingering interest in me, my children, and our lives. I continued to send her school photos of the girls, Christmas cards and presents, and a Mother’s Day card that always read, simply, “Thank you.”  I thought we had reached some kind of plateau, in which I would continue keeping that thread alive between us, and she would continue to ignore me.  I rationalized to myself that there was no harm in it; after all, it wasn’t like she could actually hurt me anymore.  Right?

One day not long ago, she posted an interesting exercise on Facebook.  It was one of those cut-and-paste, perpetuating games in which the poster asks each of her Facebook friends to leave a one-word comment below the post, describing how the poster and the friend met.  I don’t usually comment on Kathleen’s posts, but they are not usually an invitation to participate, as she is more fond of political diatribes and humorous videos.  This time, though, I thought I had a very clever contribution.  And so, because I am apparently a pathetically slow learner, in the comments section, I wrote “Birth.”

Later that day, I noticed her post on my timeline again, as our sole mutual friend had also provided her one-word answer.  I clicked on Kathleen’s post, and as it filled the screen, I saw it.  The void.  The emptiness where my comment had been.  It was gone.  Deleted.

I should not have been surprised.  You, reading this, are not surprised.  But I was.  I truly was.

I stared at it for a long time, the obvious irony settling in.  She had deleted me.  She had deleted my birth.  So swiftly and easily, with merely the click of a mouse.  And I knew, for what was probably the first time, that if she could do that for real, she would.  She really would.

I know that getting pregnant with me changed her life dramatically and my birth father’s cowardly response to the pregnancy demolished her in ways I can’t fully appreciate.  And I know that my birth nearly killed her and did disable her for a year, and that she never had a family of her own after that for reasons that only she knows.  And I know that I am not what she had hoped I would be.

But I am her only child in this whole world.  Her blood.  And she deleted me.

In the days that followed, I felt foolish for the photos and the Christmas cards and gifts that have likely met the trashcan unopened, but not too much.  I offered her as much love as I knew how and I considered her as much a part of my family as the other wonderful parents I have.  I shared the most precious part of my life with her, my children, and encouraged them to pray for her and offer her love, too.

In short, I did nothing wrong.  It was not my fault that I was conceived under such ugly circumstances.  It was not my doing that she suffered an aneurysm during my birth.  I cannot apologize for how I have turned out or who I have loved.

I wish that we could have been family.  Some kind of family.  But I know now that we will not be.  So this holiday season, I instead turned my attention fully and completely to the family that does love me, truly and deeply and without reservation.  Some ties are actually thicker than blood.  And for that I shall be forever grateful.

photo

Me, at about 2 1/2 years old.

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was it worth it? (pt. 4)

One of the things that enabled me to finally pull the trigger on my divorce and take the blind leap out of my marriage was the noble idea that someday, somehow, it would all be worth it – that me, my children, and even my ex-husband would someday, somehow be better off for my choice. It wasn’t just a hope, it was a certainty that I clung to fervently. Indeed, had I not convinced myself of its truth, I might never had taken that leap.

The question of whether the pain inflicted by my decision will ever be permanently offset by the benefits realized later, during and after the dust had settled, is one that I have mulled often and written about several times (for a look at those earlier posts, search “was it worth it?”). I realized fairly quickly that my own well-being had most definitely been improved by my choice, but that alone was not enough, because then I would be haunted by the pure selfishness of my decision. No, I needed to see that my children and my ex-husband had grown, improved, become better versions of themselves as a result of our family breakdown.

The question of my children remains to be seen, certainly, as they are still young and the full ramifications of our divorce have yet to have to manifest themselves. Later, when my daughters begin choosing and navigating relationships, then, perhaps, I will have a better sense of what they have actually learned from these experiences. For now I see only that they seem well-adjusted, with friends and decent grades and close bonds to both their dad and me. In fact, one recent morning, my 10-year-old informed me that she thinks our divorce has made her stronger and more compassionate. Huh. So, for now, I check that box as being as good and healthy as I could hope for and remind myself to wait and see what the future holds.

But then there is my ex-husband, Bryce. There have been many, many times since I first announced my intention to leave that I saw glimpses of remarkable personal growth in Bryce – self-awareness and openness I’d never witnessed previously in our 13 years together. Those glimpses offered me hope that our divorce would someday cease to be the worst thing that ever happened to him, and instead would be looked back upon as a fork in the road that led to a deeper happiness and peace in his life.

Have I mentioned that I’m a hopeless optimist sometimes?

Or at least that’s how I prefer to describe this part of myself. Others might label it naivete. Or foolishness. Or plain, old-fashioned stupidity. But I’m going to go with optimism. Faith in humankind. An overarching belief that most people genuinely do want to do and become better.

In one perfectly organized, perfectly courteous email sent to me at the end of October, Bryce revealed himself to me as the same man I stopped loving many years ago. The same man I left without much more than a glance over my shoulder. The same man who prioritized, above absolutely everything else, money. The same man who had tunnel vision on his own wants and needs to the extent that the girls and I simply didn’t factor in at all. At. All.

Ah, yes, I remember him.

When I read his email, with its passive-aggressive insinuations that I was not financially carrying my share of the water for our daughters, my first reaction was fear. Unemployed for 8 months at that point, with my savings running dangerously low and James’ slow season nearly upon us, I was already worrying – okay, beginning to panic – about money. But I hadn’t asked him for additional money during my unemployment, and had cut absolutely all fat from my budget (including decent health insurance for myself), in order to not have to cut back on the children’s expenses. I was doing absolutely everything I could to stay afloat, and he had to know that. So, his professorial tone and implied assumptions made my heart race. And that’s when the angel of Reality showed up and sat me down for a talk.

Alone in the house in the middle of the work day, I sat on the stairs, iPhone in hand, and re-read the email, seeing and absorbing each word carefully, allowing their full meaning to sink in, surrendering to the truth they carried.

“Okay,” I said out loud, “I get it now.” I saw what I had to do: First, I had to deal with the practical and logistical implications of the email. Then, later, I would sit down with the emotional truth within it.

The first part was easy. I called my attorney, discussed my legal obligations and options, and made arrangements for taking the necessary steps to stop the financial nonsense once and for all. They are steps that have been available to me for two years, but I have resisted taking out of my determination to maintain a solid, healthy, supportive relationship with Bryce for the benefit of my daughters. But his email helped me realize that he does not share my goal, or at least his commitment to it ends with financial considerations. I realized that I have been sacrificing my financial security for something that I value far more than he does, and while I would normally say that it’s healthy to follow my own values without reference to anyone else, there comes a point where one must accept that one is being taking advantage of. Being “nice” or “accommodating” can quickly be transformed into doormat status by those too self-absorbed to realize that they are on the receiving end of consideration. And just because he loathes paying child support does not decrease his obligation to do so. Knowing how much he hates it, I have tip-toed around the subject, to my own detriment, apparently. So, legal action may have to commence and I will deal with it as I would any other business arrangement. But, honestly, I have remarkably little anxiety about that.

After I hung up the phone with my attorney and gathered the necessary documents, I made myself a cup of hot tea and sat on my bedroom balcony, contemplating the Rockies spread out before me and wondering at the more subtle message in Bryce’s email.

I took a deep breath and willed myself to look back at our history. To honestly assess, as I might for a friend, the give and take in our relationship. I stared hard at the signs of his personal growth and at my own need to be assured of that growth. I examined the bias I had about which direction that growth should take and how it should manifest outwardly. I recognized the heaviness of the guilt that I carried about our divorce, and how desperately I still clung to the hope that Bryce would cease to be all the things that made me want to run away from him, as far and as fast as I could.

And then I realized that it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if Bryce grows at all from the divorce, or if he grows in direction or manner that is not of my preference. It doesn’t matter if he always harbors anger and resentment toward me for ruining his life. It doesn’t matter if he blames every single unhappiness he experiences on me and the divorce. It doesn’t matter if he clings to his swollen bank account with the certainty that it will bring him peace and security. Not really. Not to me. What he does with the lessons available to him from our divorce is outside my control and responsibility. His choices, his life, and his truth are not mine. Not any longer. I do not need to reference his happiness or growth to justify my own. It is entirely his choice whether to rise above his pain and create authentic happiness, or not. I have no control or responsibility over that. At. All.

Possibly, that is the beauty of divorce. At its very core, it is about no longer being emotionally responsible for or to each other. Your life becomes, again, your very own. I did not do something to him that requires atonement or restitution; our marriage failed because we were badly suited to one another and lacked the love and commitment to last a lifetime. He is not a victim, any more than I am. It is time for me cease to measure the success of my choices by how they affect him. Time to put on my Big Girl panties and approach my relationship with Bryce with the detachment and guarded civility with which he has consistently dealt with me. Time to let go of childish fantasies of friendship and closeness, and time to realize that I don’t actually need any of that.

Letting go of needing that approval from Bryce might be the final step in our divorce. Letting go of feeling that my happiness is undeserved unless it somehow feeds the greater good is difficult for me, but might be the biggest lesson I will ultimately learn from this process.

On the whole, of course, only time will reveal all of the effects of our divorce, but time is a phenomenal teacher, if only you allow her teachings to gently rest within you. That week, she taught me that I no longer need Bryce’s approval or friendship or happiness to enjoy my own.

And that’s worth more than the contents of any bank account.

letting go - kite

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why I hate being a stay-at-home mom

I hate being a stay-at-home mom.

There.  I said it.  Call me all the names you want.  It will still be true.

I hate having my daily life revolve completely around the care and upkeep of everyone else. I went to law school rather than medical school in part because I acknowledged to myself that caring for the basic needs of others could not be the central focus of my existence.

I hate that any achievement I make (A delicious dinner!  A clean bathroom! A watered garden!) is almost immediately undone or disappears. There is nothing that I do that is of lasting, tangible impact.  In my last job, I created things, I wrote things, I drafted new laws.  In this job, I make a pie that is gone in 36 hours and for which not a soul says anything, except a passing “that was good” from James, which is why he’s my favorite.

I hate that nothing I do merits more than a cursory “thank you” from anyone. Ever.  In my marriage, I tried everything I could think of to solicit some kudos for my cooking, baking, cleaning, painting, yard-tending, animal-keeping, laundering, etc.,  but nothing worked and I gradually learned the age-old lesson of all housewives:  if you’re really good at what you do, your family will take you for granted because people only notice the problems or mishaps in the minutiae of their lives, not the aspects that run smoothly.  A lack of complaints is really the highest compliment a housewife can expect.  And I hate that.

I hate that the harder I try to be seen, the more invisible I become.  Yesterday, I took the girls shopping.  I bought one girl a bike and another girl some clothes and some sports equipment, and another girl an accessory for one of her toys.  For the bike, I got a big hug (which I savored greedily), but the others prompted nothing in the form of recognition or gratitude.  It wasn’t a matter of the missing “thank you” as much as I was hoping that they would see that I cared for them and their needs.  But, of course, they are children and that was lost on them.  As soon as the goodies were placed in their hands, I receded into the ether, gone until the next time they need something.

I hate that I don’t have grown-ups to talk to about grown-up things.  I went to dinner last night with my friend Gwen, and found myself waiting at the table for her arrival, nervous that I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say.  I was fairly certain that she wouldn’t be enthralled with news that the big dog is shedding like a maniac or that our lawn has turned brown in patches and I’ve no idea why or that Jay’s bike tire has been flat for weeks and I can’t seem to get around to fixing it.  But when she sat down across from me and started talking, I could feel my innards begin to untwist and relax.  And before I knew it, we were gabbing away about work and men and kids and faith.  I can’t count the number of times she said to me, “I can’t believe how much you’re juggling right now!  I don’t think I could do it.”  It was like soaking in a warm bath of acceptance, validation, and understanding for a few hours.  But than I emerged, got into my car, and felt my guts tighten up again.

I hate feeling sorry for myself.  I know — really KNOW! — that I, and I alone, am responsible for my current lack of employment.  I knew when I sent the final email to the Mayor that I would likely be terminated for refusing to adhere to his way of doing things.  I also know that there are fateful reasons for my being unemployed right now; I know that it is necessary for me to be home with the children this summer, to ease their transition and grease the blending of our families.  I can easily appreciate that I am immensely selfish for resenting sacrificing one simple summer for the sake of 5 precious children.  But there are definitely days, like today, when resent it I do.

I hate feeling tired and frumpy.  No amount of exercise or nutrition or sleep helps me shake this low-energy mood.  The endorphin high from working out lasts only until the next “MOM!!!!!” is screamed amidst yet another sibling argument.  There is no need to dress nicely when I am simply chauffeuring and cleaning up after children, so I sport the de rigeur summer uniform for the stay-at-home mom — jeans shorts and a cotton t-shirt — each and every day.  Sometimes I even put in earrings, but that only prompts the children to ask why I’m so dressed up.

Being a working mom is really tough. This I know.  I’ve done it with babies and I’ve done it with bigger kids.  I’ve commuted almost an hour each way, through all kinds of weather, while worrying what I was going to get on the table in time for dinner.  I’ve missed school plays and soccer games and sick days for meager paychecks that barely covered the cost of child care.

During my first tour of duty as a stay-at-home mom, I was relieved beyond belief to be free of the guilt that hangs over the working mother like a London fog.  Finally, I thought, I will have the time and attention and focus to devote myself to my children and family and home!  Our lives will be unstructured and stress-free and full of laughter and fun.  But you know what?  I am no more qualified to be a stay-at-home mom than I am to be an astronaut.  I am simply not suited to it.  I don’t have the aptitude or the training or the fearlessness to embrace the challenges inherent in the job.  When I re-entered the salaried workforce after my divorce, I did so with a guilty pleasure about which I am still ashamed.

This second tour of duty as a stay-at-home mom was involuntary for the most part.  When I refused to turn a blind eye to the political corruption in my previous job, I failed to recognize that the absence of another job in the wings might result in my conscription in the Stay-at-Home Moms Corps.  Never, not once in all the time that I was unhappy under the new mayor and feeling increasingly put upon having to work for a foul administration for a pittance of a paycheck, never did I wish that I could be a stay-at-home mom again.  Yet, here I am.

To be honest, I’m not terrible at being a stay-at-home mom.  In fact, I’m actually pretty good at it.  But this is only the second job I’ve ever had that I was good at but didn’t like.  The first was being a waitress at Bob’s Big Boy when I was 15 and had to wear a brown plaid, polyester uniform and orthopedic shoes.  I have to say, in all seriousness, that the waitress job was only marginally worse.  At least I got tips.

I know that at some point, all the job applications I’ve completed, all the resumes and cover letters I’ve sent out, all the interviews I’ve smiled my way through, will eventually result in a new job coming my way.  And I am equally certain that said job will appear at precisely the correct time in the universe’s schedule.  But until then, I’ll make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while wearing my hair in a ponytail and repeating “Would someone please get this hairbrush off the kitchen counter?” for the 534th time.

Because I’m a stay-at-home mom.  And that’s what we do.

mom to-do list

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Sabrina’s gift to me

On December 30, 2000, my eldest daughter, Sabrina, was born.  She came to us  5 1/2 weeks premature and via an emergency c-section after it was discovered that she was in a full breach position that a century ago would likely have resulted in both of us dying during her birth.  Nurses were scrambling, doctors were shouting, my poor ex-husband was whiter than the bleached sheets covering the gurney.  But in the midst of it, I knew she would be okay.  I could just feel it.

After she was born, they said she would likely need to be incubated.  They were wrong.  They said she probably wouldn’t be able to nurse.  They were wrong.  They said she might suffer physical and/or developmental delays.  They were wrong.

Instead, she ate and grew and ate and grew and ate some more.  By her 6th month check-up, she was in the 50% for her weight and 90% percentile for her height.  As the years passed, she struggled with some physical ailments from her prematurity, but nothing that ever held her back in any meaningful way.  She welcomed the world with a smile and hug that could win over even the coldest-hearted, and her compassion and grace taught many adults the value of random kindness.  Her teachers spoke of how she lit up a room and how gentle she was with the other children.

Parenthood is such an incredible journey, isn’t it?  This very small person is bestowed upon you, to nurture and guide and raise to the best of your abilities.   There is no owner’s manual, and all the advice books contradict each other.  You’re basically winging it, every single day, hoping against hope that you manage to get it right more than you get it wrong.  And all the while, you are witness to this person evolving and developing and growing into something indescribable in its complexity and uniqueness.

Sabrina has given me many, many sweet and thoughtful gifts through the years.  Pottery that sits in the dining room breakfront.  Handmade cards that are tucked away and cherished.  Scrawled artwork adorning my office walls.  But, as I tell her every time she has birthday, nothing can surpass the gift she gave me that morning in December.  Because in that instant, when she emerged and screamed lustily, she gave me the gift of motherhood.  Just moments before that, I was simply me as I’d always been.  But moments after, I was mother, on a lifelong journey of caring and worrying and protecting.

Nothing in the world could have prepared me for any of it, least of all for all the things she has taught me in her 12 years on this earth.  I have been alternately astounded by her wisdom and shocked by her most unfiltered words and behaviors.  I have discovered a fierce protectiveness I never imagined when she has been threatened, and a fear beyond my wildest nightmares when she has been gravely ill.  I have known my biggest successes and failures in this life in my role as her mother — nothing in the professional arena even begins to approach them.

In my spiritual book club, we briefly explored the concept that souls pick their parents — that they, from some other plane of existence, select which of us to be born through and experience life with.  I am, of course, unable to say with any certainty whether this is true, but I find the idea humbling and awesome.  For whatever divine plan brought Sabrina to me, one thing I do know is that her birth was a the greatest, life-changing gift I shall likely ever receive.

Happy Birthday, my darling daughter.  Thank you for all you have taught me and for all you have given me.  But most of all, thank you for making me a mother and for blessing me with the incredible opportunity to to be your mother.  When you exited my body, you took a big chunk of my heart with you.  I love you dearly.

newborn baby

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the not enough place

There is a very dark place inside some of us.  I think of it as the “not enough” place.  It is a space in our psyche in which we are consistently less than adequate, always falling short of expectations, never quite good enough for the task or person we are striving toward.   This place has no light.  It is heavy, pregnant with expectations never met, people never pleased and ideals fallen away.

For some people, this place was constructed early, as part of some childhood experience — an emotionally distant or highly-critical parent, physical abandonment, or unstable family dynamics.  For others, it appeared suddenly, maybe even overnight, the result of an intensely traumatic experience that shattered their sense of personal safety and value.  Whatever the cause of its appearance, once present it is a difficult place to dismantle.

The not enough place is where all our worst personal demons are housed.  Once in the room, we are treated to a litany of our short-comings, a veritable laundry list of all the ways in which are less than we should be.  Our imperfections, in all their stark, harsh realness are on display, brightly lit for all to see who enter.  It is in this space that we are told that we are now and always will be unworthy, unlovable, not necessary, a human mistake.

Sadly, it is often those we trust most who first thrust us into this place, slamming the door behind us and subjecting us to the torment of our worst thoughts about ourselves.  Parents, extended family members, teachers, coaches, boyfriends, spouses…. The people whose esteem we value and strive for most are the very people most capable of creating the darkest corners of our psyche through their mistreatment or neglect.   Some of them constructed the not enough place intentionally, believing that it would help us to see ourselves more clearly or avoid the pitfalls of hubris or relinquish fanciful self-concepts.

Some people are blessed to travel through this life without more than a cursory visit to the not enough place.  They don’t stay long enough to absorb any of its poison, but instead are strong enough to resist its sirens’ song of denigration.  They blithely move on, secure in their self-worth and sense of place in this world.  They are the truly lucky.

But others are not so lucky.  Some fight a lifelong battle with the not enough place, boarding it up time and again only to sneak back and re-open its dark chamber once more.  Others succumb to its thrumming mantras of self-loathing, giving up entirely on their sense of self-worth and hiding fearfully behind a mask of their own making, hoping desperately that it never slips and reveals their unworthiness to the entire world.  Then there are the few, so ravaged by the beatings endured in the not enough place, that they surrender completely to the madness.  These are the Sylvia Plaths of the world, for whom no amount of external validation can convince them that they are worthy of love, or friendship, or even breath.

The holidays can be a magical time, but for many, they can also be a time of considerable stress, emotional highs and lows, and a readjustment of all kinds of expectations.  I suppose that I am publishing this tonight as an homage to those feeling let down, perhaps most of all by themselves.  If you have a not enough place in the deepest recesses of your heart, please stay away from it this season.  I guarantee you that there is at least one person in your world who believes you worthy, and lovable, and valuable, and irreplaceable to them.

I have, on my bedroom wall, a prose poem called The Desiderata, given to me by my dear friend Caitlyn some 20 years ago.  When the not enough place starts  its infernal pestering, I remember and recite these lines:

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.

The trees and stars do not have to ask if they are lovable or worthy or valuable.  And neither should we.

shooting star and tree

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the angel tree

I had a date this weekend with my daughters.  It was not my usual weekend to have them, but in the bustle of the holiday season, one important bit of Christmas shopping hadn’t gotten done yet.  And, because of some custody adjustments to account for holiday plans, I won’t get them back until Christmas Day.  So, my ex granted me Saturday afternoon with the girls and off we went.

To do my favorite Christmas shopping of the season — the Angel Tree.

For those of you unfamiliar with an Angel Tree, it is a Christmas tree decorated with paper ornaments.  Each of those ornaments has the name of a needy child (or family, or senior, depending on the tree), their age, and a short list of the things they’d like or need most for Christmas.  You select an ornament (after reading heartbreaking lists that have included things like underwear, “a doll, any doll,” and a winter coat “for walking to school.”)   Every year since 1996, my family and I have selected at least one ornament — sometimes more, depending on our own financial security — and had the honor of playing Santa for someone who truly needs these things in ways that we are fortunate enough to not understand.

The tradition started simply enough:  Bryce and I had been dating for nearly a year when we were Christmas shopping at a local mall near our home in DC.  We came upon an Angel Tree, which neither of us had ever heard of, and I, being the sentimentalist that I am, immediately had to stop.  But when I began looking at the ornaments, I froze and tears sprang to my eyes.  Bryce, seeing my distress, came to my arm and looked at the ornament in my hand and then at my face, still not understanding.  But how could he?  The name of the organization meant nothing to him and everything to me.  It was the orphanage where I spent the first month of my life, parentless.  Here was a whole tree full of infants, toddlers and children who, for one reason or another, were spending a Christmas without a forever family.  When I explained this to Bryce, he shifted into “Fix It Mode,” as I came to call it over the years.  He pulled me over to a bench and sat me down.  Then he said, “Get as many as you want to.  We’ll find a way to pay for them.”  I knew we didn’t have much money. Both of us were in our first jobs after law school and paying down my crushing student loan debt.  I was working at a non-profit, while he was slaving away as a first-year associate.  The hours were long, the money okay, and the stress enormous.   So, I chose carefully.  I’m pretty sure we read every single ornament on that tree.  Eventually we picked 3 ornaments, and spent the rest of the day imagining what the children on our ornaments were like and stretching every penny we had to grant every single wish on those lists.  And we did.  Then we went back to our little apartment, spread out our treasures, and took photos of each child’s haul.  That Christmas, someone gave me a photo album with a Christmas tree on the front and our Angel Tree book was born.  Every year we have taken photos of the things we bought and put them in the album, along with whatever we knew about our recipients.  It is so amazing to look back on the photos and remember all those shopping trips, all those children, and all the Christmas spirit the Angel Tree gifted to us.

But it hasn’t always been fun and games.  When our girls were younger, there were a couple of years that were so discouraging they were nearly unbearable.  Too young and self-centered to appreciate the neediness of others, my girls whined and complained their way through the mall: “This is so boring!”  “How come we’re buying her better toys than we have?”  “I’m hungry!  Are we almost done?”  “Why do we have to do this again?”  Ugh.

Bryce and I discussed possibly stopping the tradition after two years in a row of that experience, recognizing that the girls’ abhorrent behavior was killing any enthusiasm we had for our Angel Tree trips, as well.  But we quickly decided that, no, this was important to us and it was an important lesson that we were determined to teach our children, come hell or high water.  Sure, they didn’t see the checks we wrote each month to various charities now that we were financially comfortable.  And sure, they didn’t appreciate the volunteering that we did for local organizations we cared about.  But they could damn well give up one Saturday a year to a child who probably had a tenth of what they were blessed with.  Yes, we were resolute.  The tradition would continue.  And so it did.

The last two years have seen the fruits of our labor and patience.  Now the girls start reminding me after Thanksgiving not to forget the Angel Tree.  Last week, they sat together on the chaise in front of the fire and paged through the Angel Tree album, remembering the various trips through the years.  And on Saturday, they thoughtfully and carefully chose each gift for Maribel, the 9-year-old girl they selected off the Angel Tree.  They laughed and argued about what she would like, selecting various clothes and putting them back until they had the exactly perfect gifts.  They have learned over the years that the needs of these children are somewhat different from their own — they pick shoes that are sturdy as well as fashionable, clothes that can be layered for multiple seasons, and how to bargain shop for toys to get that one extra thing she’ll love but didn’t ask for.

I am so grateful that Bryce and I didn’t give up when the girls were younger.  They still complain, but now it’s to lobby for the more expensive bike or an extra doll for our Angel Tree child.  And when we got home, they argued, but it was over how to arrange the goodies for the photo, each exclaiming that it had to be perfect and the other was ruining it.

After the girls returned to Bryce’s on Saturday, I sat down for a moment with the Angel Tree album and thumbed through the photos and descriptions, marveling at how one heartwrenching moment in a mall 16 years ago and 7 states away has led to a family tradition that might, quite possibly, be the best gift of all.

merry christmas tree

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