Tuesday, December 19, 2017

When a Hanukkah Lesson Doubles as a Diversity Lesson

Early in the season, I received an email from my daughter’s preschool inviting parents to join her class and share what holiday we celebrate and why it is meaningful to us. By the end of that same day, I had already talked to her teacher and planned my visit.

I did not grow up in a very Jewish area, and I have clear memories of my mom bringing in dreidels and other Jewish trinkets to my schools throughout the years. The chance to repeat history in such a positive way was too good for me to pass up.

The night before, I prepped and planned and packed a huge bag to bring in with me. Even though my daughter is only four and a half, I wanted to make her proud.

I think I did.

There were nine children in her Pre K class that day. I brought in a toy menorah, dreidels for each kid and gelt for all. I read a few books, did a brief question and answer session and had as much fun (if not more) than the kids! My husband said when he went to school to pick our daughter up later that day, half of the kids ran up to him to show off their dreidels and exclaim how much fun they had that morning. One girl even commented that she wished I could come in every day!

I always knew I was different because I was Jewish, but it was a good different. I hope I am instilling that same sense of pride in my daughter.

My daughter is the only Jewish kid in her class. However, because of her, eight other children now know the story of Hanukkah and that not everyone celebrates what they might celebrate. Without even trying, I taught a lesson about diversity that day, too. 

My husband is not Jewish. When things started to get serious for us, I informed him that Judaism was more than a religion to me. It was a part of the fabric of who I am. He was accepting of that fact and agreed that we could have a Jewish home, and if we were ever lucky enough to have a family, we could raise our family in my faith.

So while we are Jewish in every sense of the word, on Christmas Day, we will make the short trip up the turnpike and celebrate with my husband’s side of the family. There will be a beautiful tree and decorative lights and more food and frolic than you can imagine. We will honor their holiday and enjoy the day. It’s the best of both worlds, in my opinion. My daughter is raised in a Jewish house but gets to experience life and religion outside of these walls.

Religion to me is tradition and spirituality as much as prayer. I want my daughter to be proud of who she is and those that came before her. I also want her to know there is more than just what she sees day to day.

By going to her school that day, I was trying to share that lesson with her classmates. I think I did. Next year, she will be in elementary school. I am already working on my lesson plan for that class!

Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Learning to Love Yourself No Matter What

One of the problems with being a writer is that I use words as therapy. By writing my thoughts and feelings, I can often make sense of the world around me. I can deal with my stress or grief or anxiety by blogging. But what happens when something is too personal to share?

Earlier this week, I was scheduled to have a minor outpatient procedure. It was something I decided was private and was happy to keep it that way. (No, it was not a nose job. I happen to have the best nose of all the Fields children.)

Gary took the day off to drive me to the surgical center. Miranda spent the night with her cousins and her aunt took her to school that morning. My mom was scheduled to pick her up that afternoon. Logistically, everything was worked out to the smallest detail. I was ready to go.

The only problem was that I had been battling a cold since Thanksgiving. Mostly just a cough, but there was some wheezing, too. Enough to keep me up at night and cause a lot of discomfort.  I told the surgical staff and they were not too worried. In my mind, the antibiotics that I was going to get post-op would also work on my cold and by today or tomorrow, I would be healing and the cold would be just a memory.

So I talked to the nurse. I talked to the doctor. I had on my hospital gown. I removed all my jewelry. My hair was in a less-than-fashionable hair net. I was good to go.

They wheeled me back to the procedure room. The anesthesiologist explained that he was going to use a slight muscle relaxant on me and then he would put me under. I would not wake during the procedure and there was no reason to be scared. The next time I saw his face, it would be all over.

Except that was not the case. I am not sure how long I was out before they realized that my cough was too extreme. Even sedated, I was coughing and bucking. (I swear they said, "bucking"...I could not have come up with that word if I tried.)

The team went to get Gary from the waiting room. They consulted with him. He agreed that if there was ANY chance that my life was in danger or that I could be harmed in any way, it was time to wake me up and we would do the procedure another time. So that is what they did.

When I awoke, I was being wheeled back into recovery. The nurse looked at me with such compassion and said they were unable to do the procedure. There was too much risk that my cough might have been bronchitis that would turn into pneumonia if I was under for too long. Everyone agreed it was safest to stop.

I started to cry. Big, fat, wet tears. I felt like my body failed me. The last time I had anesthesia, it was to deliver my daughter still. This little surgery that I elected to have, brought it all back. Yet another outcome that was not how it was supposed to be.

I  was angry and sad and still sedated so I am sure I was not making any sense. And I did not care. 

Gary held my hand and patiently explained it all to me. The doctor and nurse and everyone else on staff also went over everything again and again. We called my primary and got me in later that day. Turned out I did have bronchitis and even with a nebulizer treatment, antibiotics and an inhaler, I am still sick today. Although I am planning to leave the house for a little pre-Hanukkah party at the local mall, so things are looking up.

My surgery is rescheduled for the end of the month. The doctor is coming in on a day off to be there for me. My family and friends will surely rally around me once more - this time when I am healthy and mentally and physically ready to undergo a procedure.

My body did not fail me - I did not fail me - things just happen. I should know that by now.

We really can't control what happens to us in this life. But we can control how we deal with the highs and the lows.

This was not my best week. But I am here. Alive. Relatively healthy and insanely loved. I am not sure I can ask for more than that. And I know that next week will be better. Thank goodness for that.

Always look for the silver lining

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why I Am Thankful Every Day

Tis the season for giving thanks. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and even the leftovers are just a (delicious) memory. The holiday season is upon us, and I have less than two weeks till we light the first candle on the menorah. 

So before the first snowflake begins to fall and before the wrapping paper gets dug out of the closet, here is what I am most thankful for this year:
  1. Miranda. I know, you all saw this one coming a mile away. The thing is, though, she is a living, breathing gift. She brings out the best parts of me and makes me slow down, take it all in, appreciate the moments that I would have previously rushed by, and makes my heart so so full.
  2. Allie. This will be our sixth holiday season without her physically here. The lessons she taught us, though, about love and survival and hope are with us each and every day.
  3. My husband. Man, I hit the mother lode with him. He is a true partner and the lid to my pot, and I still can't believe that he's mine.
  4. My family. My mom who is by my side through thick and thin. My brothers who have shown me what unconditional love really is. My sisters-in-law who are really like my sisters. And to the family that I married into, my cup runneth over with the love you have for all of us. Not to mention that I have the best, cutest, spunkiest, most hilarious nieces and nephews in the multiverse. (We watch a lot of CW superhero shows here.)
  5. My friends. From high school, youth group, college, first job, second job, third job (Ok, fine. I have had a bunch of jobs!), support groups, fellow loss moms, fellow adoptive moms and dads and now preschool mom friends and more. I am blessed to always have a sounding board, a drinking partner, a listening ear, and more than one friend to lend me a book, suggest a good movie, meet me to shop or just have me over to let me chat for hours on end.
  6. My health. It's no secret that this body of mine drives me nuts. From thin to not-so-thin and every weight in between, I struggle daily with how I look and how I feel. But I am fortunate to be able to exercise a few days a week and eat healthy when I can and know that this body that I do not always treat like a temple has gotten me through some tough times. I can no longer blame the skin I am in for the way that I am, but I can accept that this is the body that I have and try to respect it. I am lucky to be alive and not a day goes by that I do not know that.
  7. Our home. I love our little house. I love that every night before I go to bed, I sneak into Miranda's room to check on her and she is safely ensconced in a beautiful room with toys and books and clothes galore. She wants for nothing (although she will adamantly disagree) and I love that we provide for her in the best way that we can.
  8.  All the material goods that are out there. Hey, I like nice stuff. I am admitting it. And I am thankful that I can still purchase some of it. Wait till you see my new Coach sneakers!
  9. Words. Writing has become therapy to me. I am grateful for the words that let me express myself and for the audience of you all that take the time to read them.
I could go on and on and on. My heart is overflowing with gratitude and appreciation. I have been dealt a lot in my 43 years, and I have not always known how to best handle it. Yet here I am, living my life the best way I know how. Sleep comes easily for me at night and not just because I spend many of my days chasing my daughter. I got to bed each night knowing that I am trying my best to be a good mom, wife, friend, daughter, and more and I feel good about most of the choices I make.

So that's my list. Not bad if you ask me. Not bad at all.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What National Adoption Month Means to Me

For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been celebrated every November in communities across the country. Many national, state and local agencies will help spread the word through programs, events, and activities that help raise awareness for thousands of children and youth in foster care who are waiting for permanent, loving families.

For us, it’s just another month in which we are so grateful that adoption exists because it was the perfect way for us to grow our family.

After Allie died, we were searching for answers and clinging to hope that we would be able to honor her and have another child. Nothing worked, and for a time, it seemed like nothing would. When we were ready, adoption was there for us. We turned to it not as a final straw, but as another avenue.

Our second daughter is now four and a half years old. She is a happy, carefree spirit that has dramatically changed the course of our lives. I barely remember a time without her, and I know my life is better having her in it.

This past Halloween, after we went trick or treating and the rest of my family was sound asleep in a sweets induced coma, I settled in to watch “This Is Us.” I enjoy the show very much and often find parallels to my life in it. 

One of the main characters in the show was adopted. His adoptive parents had triplets, and one of the babies was born still. So they adopted a third baby who happened to be born on the same day and needed a home. They brought them all home from the hospital together. When the child (Randall) grew old enough to ask, he wondered to his mother what happened to the third baby. Did that baby get lost and then Randall somehow got found?  

His mother replied, "We didn’t lose him. Not like that. He didn’t live. Sometimes that can happen. Sometimes a baby dies right at the beginning. But your dad and I had all this love in our hearts…and we saw you and met you. So yeah, you are a miracle. But you’re not instead of anything.  You are the way it was always supposed to be.”
My daughter knows the word adoption, and we have visits with her birth mother twice a year. She knows she has a sister who lives in heaven, too. She has not yet put together that her sister’s death is what lead us to know without a doubt that we wanted to be parents and ultimately led us to adoption and to her. She will learn it all soon enough. The few times we have tried to explain it to her so far, it’s just been too overwhelming.

In this same television show, same episode, in fact, they talk about the child that died, and that his name was Kyle. That is virtually unheard of, even now. To name a baby that has died makes that child live on and I think you can ask any loss parent and they will agree. It's so beautiful to see these nuances played out on the screen. 

I was meant to be a mom to my two girls. To the one who shares my DNA and only lives in my heart as well as to the one who looks nothing like me but shares my love of life.

I am glad months like this one exist to spread awareness, and I am glad that TV shows like this one also exist to share their messages. Most of all, I am glad adoption exists because I love my family so very much and can’t imagine us any other way.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Learning How to Share At Any Age

I understand how important it is to share. "Sharing is caring!" I often remind my daughter when she has cousins or friends over and "forgets" to let them play with her toys. 

Before I was a mom, sharing was not very easy for me. I was never one to want to order two dishes at a restaurant and share my plate with someone else - not even my husband or my best friend. I was always worried there would not be enough for me.  

Now when I have something particularly yummy on my plate, and my daughter inevitably wants it, I share it with her without even thinking about it. Often, I anticipate her wanting what I have and automatically slice her off a piece or set aside something of mine for her.

I grew up in a relatively big family. We all had to share. There was no way around it. And yet, if I am honest, sharing sometimes makes me want to pout.

Let me give you a recent example. This past weekend, we had a visit with Miranda's birth mother. It was a nice visit overall, and Miranda soaked in all the extra attention that she was given. I, meanwhile, was a giant bundle of nerves, hovering in the corner, feeling inadequate and out of place.

I know this is ridiculous. I know it makes no sense. I know I drive Gary nuts during these visits. I can't help it, though. I hate sharing the single best thing in my life. My daugther.

I can share her with Gary. No problem. I can share her with our friends and family. Duh. I struggle, though, with sharing her with the woman who gave her something I could never have given her - the gift of life.

Instead of being grateful and feeling blessed that this woman chose Gary and me to raise our daughter, I feel insignificant and alone and afraid. 

I think we have maybe one more visit before Miranda asks who M is to us. There are no other kids at our visits, and she is always the center of attention. When we see M in October, she showers her with holiday gifts. When we see M in March, she showers her with birthday presents. Sooner or later, Miranda is going to want to know why we see this woman at all. 

We talk about adoption a fair amount. We have yet to connect the dots, though, and explain that Miranda is in fact adopted. It's hard to understand at any age, let alone four. We are on borrowed time, though. Miranda is becoming more and more inquisitive and we owe it to her to share her truth with her.

Upon leaving our visit, I remarked to Gary that I dreaded having 14 more years of these visits. To which Gary replied, "It's 56 hours. Total. Our visits are 2-3 hours each, twice a year. That means it's about 56 hours that M gets with Miranda. We will have that by Tuesday."

Then I felt foolish. He was right, of course. We get EVERYTHING. She gets a few hours a year. 

It's not a competition. I am her mother. M is the woman who gave her life. Miranda will be able to have room for us both one day. Of this I am sure.

I wish I was better at sharing. In time, perhaps I will be...

At our visit this past weekend

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Let's All Be Kids Today

I like Halloween. Always have. I like dressing up and pretending to be someone else. It's like an all-day acting class for me and being voted "Most Dramatic, Class of 1992" for North Penn Senior High School, it should come as no surprise that I like to put on a show.

Today is the first year that Miranda will be in school on Halloween. That means she gets to participate in the Harvest Parade around the school's parking lot and attend the party in her Pre-K classroom afterward.

I packed her Moana costume with such care and I told her that she will be able to spot me right away in the parking lot because I will have the most massive grin and (probably) the loudest cheering voice.

I am giddy with excitement and motivated to get all my writing done early today so that I can make it to everything on time. I feel a lightness that I did not expect to feel.

Then I realized why. Today is about Miranda. And Miranda only. It's not about what Allie should have been or would have been. It's not about the lost opportunities of my first child. It's not about my empty arms or my sometimes lonely heart. It's about the child that needs and deserves the full attention of both her parents today.

I am not sure what has changed. I am not sure if the universe shifted overnight while I was sleeping. I am not sure if it will shift back. All I know is that I woke up knowing that today was just about the little girl fast asleep down the hall and that was it.

I do not feel guilty for not making today about Allie. I feel a calmness knowing that I will not have to split my heart today. I cannot explain how or why I feel this way, so I am just going to go with it. It feels good. I feel good.

Today, we are all going to act like kids. We will play dress up and laugh and probably overeat candy. We will take pictures and soak in all the fun that we can on this one day.

Tomorrow, we can act like adults again. Or not. That is entirely up to you. I think I might try this kid thing a bit longer.

Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Surviving the Sadness

I do not know how many people die per day. I do not know how many funerals there are per day. I do not know if more people die from natural causes than at the hands of themselves or someone else or random acts. 

I do know that there was at least one funeral held today for a man I did not know. I may not have known him, but I know his wife, and I have met his children, and through them, I know he must have been someone worth knowing. 

His wife was not someone I know well. I see her once a year at our annual Pollyanna party and maybe one or two other times at a block party or some other such event. One time I accidentally sat in the same row as her at a Pink concert. Random, I know.

Since I learned of her husband's passing last week, I have not been able to stop thinking of them. Of the kids who will grow up without their dad and the wife who no longer has her partner by her side. How utterly unfair.

You would think that I would be familiar with grief by now. I know the agony of empty arms and unfulfilled dreams. I know the longing in my soul that sometimes makes something has simple as breathing seem like a chore. And yet, while I know how to grieve and miss and yearn for my daughter who died before she had a chance to be born, I can't wrap my head around this family's grief. The empty spot at the table. The quietness of his absence. 

Shortly after Allie died, Gary told me he wished he heard her cry just once. Not me, I said rather harshly. If I heard her voice, I would have wanted more. I am the type who always wants more. 

My uncle died when he was in his early forties. He also left behind two young children and a devastated wife. Maybe I am comparing my memory of what it was like to lose him and transposing it onto this family. Could be.

Death is so final. So abrupt. There is so much left unsaid and undone. 

Maybe people say that death makes you stronger. I would rather be weak and have my daughter here than be strong and live a life without her. I imagine my friend feels the same way about her husband.

I am at a loss to help this woman that I barely know. So I turned to my writing to see if it could ground me. In a way it has. Writing down how loss does not define us feels good. It feels like I am doing something instead of just being sad.

Somehow, in grief, we make it through. The hours turn to days and the days turn to weeks and then it's a month or two or three, and you have survived without that person. You feel guilty when you laugh or do not think about your loss every second of every day. Time does not heal, but time allows your heart to feel other emotions again.

Make it count. All of it. You never know when the chance you have could be the last chance you had. Do your best to survive the sadness. It's all you can do.

Adoption In My Heart

Today was the Adoptions From The Heart Annual Picnic . We love this event. It is close to our house, it is early enough in the summer that i...