Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Letter to My First Daughter

My Dearest Allie,

It’s been a while since I have written to you. I find it easier to write about you than it is to write to you.

I have been thinking about you a lot lately. Even more than usual. This month is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, but it’s more than that.

A family member had a baby girl yesterday. I was holding my breath until she arrived. To me, pregnancy does not always equal babies, and labor does not mean babies, either. I need to know there was a cry, a scream, a noise, anything…to let me know that the baby is alive. And even then, my breath catches in my throat.

I went to physical therapy this morning for my plantar fasciitis which is not getting better and thus has me pretty irritated. No one knows there me there, and so I am a blank slate. I talk about my injury, and I talk about treatment, and every so often, I get a chance to talk about your sister. Never have I been able to talk about you. Sometimes, I just can’t.

From there, I went to get a pedicure. When you have people working on your foot 2-3 times a week, it’s key to make that foot look as good as you can. At least, that’s how I feel. Anyway, the woman in the chair next to me was very pregnant. I overheard her say she was 37 weeks pregnant. With a girl. I could not even look at her. She was me. I was her. The difference is, tomorrow, that baby in her belly would be dead if she were me. But this woman will hopefully be spared that agony and have a healthy baby in a few weeks.

I do not take anything for granted anymore. Not since the day I learned I lost you. I do not expect happy endings, although I still crave them. I am still human, after all.

Allie, your sister and I were cuddling last night for no reason at all. Just because it felt good and warm and safe (and I think she as delaying bed time, actually). I miss all of those cuddles we never got to have. I miss all the things that were taken away from us unfairly – first words and first haircuts and first days of school. I cannot even think about what it would be like if you were here and in first grade and all that comes along with it. Would the tooth fairy be coming soon? What would you want to be for Halloween?

I yearn to hold you again and wish I took more pictures of you after you were born. I wish I asked the nurse to cut off a lock of your hair so I could rub it between my aching fingers and have a piece of you that I could touch. I wish we had more time. I always wish for more time.

On Saturday, we will drive out to Lancaster and light a candle for you and celebrate the love and light you brought to us, even though you are not here to see it. We will stand with other families like ours, and we remember you.

We see you. We love you. We will never forget you.

Thank you for making me a mom, sweet girl. I love you more.

Forever and a day,


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Love Makes a Family

Before we adopted our daughter, I knew a fair amount about adoption. I have a step-brother who was adopted, a cousin who was adopted, and my best friend from childhood was also adopted. Adoption was not a bad word or an uncommon word, and I learned from an early age that families are made in a variety of ways.

The foster care system, though, is something I know very little about. I did not know anyone who had come up through the foster care system. All of that changed earlier this year.

I have family that is going through the motions of (hopefully) adopting two brothers through foster care. These are adorable, passionate, fun-spirited, and energetic children.

Circumstances led them to where they are now, and it is hard to see the hoops that they have to jump through just to be placed in a loving home. It’s equally as hard to see the adults have to suffer in silence because their needs come after the needs of the children and the biological family.

Since my daughter is adopted, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to raise a child who came from someone else’s body. We have an open adoption and at each bi-annual visit, I have such anxiety in making sure everything goes well that I drive my husband crazy. Our daughter is four and a half years old. I know I am on borrowed time before I have to explain who her birth mother is and then have to brace myself for what my daughter wants to call her. Ultimately, it is her choice, and I hope that we are raising her to be accepting and to have room in her heart for all the people that love her.

We signed up for all of this when we decided to have an open adoption. We have a great support system and a pretty good relationship with our daughter’s birth mother. We all have the best interest of our little girl at heart, and I have confidence that everything will continue to go as well as it has these past four and a half years.

In the foster care system, the rules are different. From what I understand, the birth family is not as present, and it is not always their decision to place the child or children. There can be resentment and ill will. The best needs of the child can easily get buried under paperwork and bureaucracy. Any joy that the foster parents feel in becoming parents falls to the bottom of the pile of emotions. I have witnessed the children being confused as to what to call the foster parents. Mom and Dad seems disrespectful to the parents they know, and yet Miss and Mister seems formal for the people that have taken you in, clothed you, fed you and loved you.

In foster care, there are so many elements that need to be met before the child is placed permanently. Often the biological parents are still involved and maybe even resentful that foster parents are raising the child or children that the state decided they could not raise themselves.

While you are fostering a child, you can’t brag about that child on social media because the child is often split between the home they knew and the home in which they have been placed. It can be months or years before the courts decide what is best for the child. In that time, their lives are in flux. It’s stressful and complicated at a time in their lives where normal, everyday childhood events can also be a burden.

I am naïve just to want kids that need homes to be placed with the adults that can provide them. I know I am, and yet I want it still. I want every child to know the feeling of a safe and loving home, and it makes me so frustrated that is not the case.

I grew up in a far from perfect home, but I always knew I was safe and loved and wanted and that I would always have what I needed. I want all kids to feel the same way.

I am not trying to take on the foster care system. There are many out there who know way more about it than me. I just see two people that want to be parents and two boys that need to be parented, and I wish the road was easier for them all that it appears to be.

Love makes a family – pure and simple. Adoption and foster care exist so that there are homes for all children that need them. Love is the common bond that families share. If only we could use love alone to build all families. Instead, we have to rely on the systems that are in place and hope that they are enough. My fingers are crossed. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Casting Away My Sins in the New Year

Happy New Year, Jewish folk! And to anyone else that just enjoys a good celebration! 

Rosh Hashanah began at sundown last night, and we rang in the new year with brisket and challah and turkey and kugel and my very own version of my mom's Jewish apple cake.

We had a table full of kids and laughter and singing (not in the traditional religious way...when my brothers and I get together, we tend to break out into song). 

It was a glorious way to kick off the Fall, a new year, a fresh start, and more!

I woke up today, however, and did not know what to do. Not members of a synagogue yet (joining next year when Miranda starts Hebrew school), I felt a little lost. If I worked a corporate job, I would have taken off. But I am home. And Gary is at work and Miranda is at school and so what was I to do? Pretend it was just like any other day?

Then I heard from my brother, Jeff. He was taking my niece to a local park to perform taschlich. Did I want to go?

I could not reply fast enough! Yes!! That is exactly what I want do to today. 

Tashlich comes from the Hebrew word meaning "to cast," referring to the intent to cast away our sins via this meaningful and ancient Jewish custom common.  The general idea is to go to a body of water on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah and throw breadcrumbs into it, symbolically washing away all of your sins from the past year. 

What a cool tradition! In all my years, I have only done this act once. I knew I wanted to do it again.

We met up at a natural trail that we have been to before. We greeted each other, grabbed our bread, and took off for sites unseen.

Along the way, we stopped and saw many wildflowers and fallen leaves. The air felt like summer, but the trail looked like fall.

About a mile in, we reached a bridge and stopped to cast our sins. We all tore off pieces of the bread and began to toss them in the still lake. The fish came immediately, and my brother commented that it was a win-win that we could toss away our sins and make sure the fish were fed at the same time.

I tossed my sins from the past year. Goodbye selfishness. Goodbye to being overly critical. Goodbye cattiness. Goodbye jealousy. Goodbye sins!

My niece laughed and delighted in having our pretty much undivided attention. She was practicing saying the word "tashlich" which sounded sooo adorable coming out of her two year old mouth.

After a while, we strode back to our cars. We all felt lighter. I felt free.

Religion to me is as much about the traditions and the spirituality as anything else. That is what I want to raise my family with and that is what I want my daughter to learn. We started a grand tradition today and one that I hope we now do every year with all of the kids that are around. I know mine will be.

To a happy and sweet new year - no matter what religion you are! L'Shana Tova!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Sadness of Losing a Long Lost Friend

Late yesterday, I found out that a girl that I roomed with in college passed away from cancer. I was scrolling through Facebook and her picture popped up, in full color.

At first, I did not know what I was seeing. I though, OMG! That's Sherri! What ever happened to her? 

We shared a house with seven other girls during our junior and senior years of college. We pledged different sororities, so we did not have all of the same friends, but we shared the walls of the house and more memories than I can begin to fathom.

We graduated in 1996. Email was just becoming something that everyone used – at work. If you had it at home, you used a dial-up connection that took forever. There was no Facebook. There wasn’t even MySpace.

I have kept in touch with many of my college friends. Unfortunately, I have lost touch with even more. One of the reasons I keep my maiden name in my Facebook profile is so that old friends can still find me. 

But I never found Sherri. To be honest, I am not sure if I even looked. We had a lot of fun together, and when I think about her, all I see is a big smile. I remember her being very positive and very happy.

I clicked on the link last night where I saw her picture staring back at me, and I quickly learned that she was diagnosed with cancer back in 2015. A Go Fund Me account was set up by her husband to help defray the cost of her medical bills and to help them support their three children. 

It’s been 21 years since I have seen her. In that time, she got married, had a family, lived a full life and had died. Way way too soon.

I feel so sad today. I wish I had reconnected with her. I wish I could have been there for her.

It’s normal for people to go their separate ways. It’s part of growing up and moving on. Had I not seen the note on social media, I would not even know she had died.

Grief is a familiar emotion for me. Almost as much as joy or pain. However, I do not know what to do with the loss of this friend that I once knew. A friend that I have not known in over two decades.

My solution was to dig out my college things and try to remember the good times. I found photos of us all in our house on S. Walnut Street, just a few blocks from campus. I found pictures of us out to dinner and at a comedy club for my birthday one year. And I found this one of many of the roommates in the kitchen, where we spent so much of our time. Cooking ramen and mac and cheese, having house meetings about rent and utilities, sharing drinks and the occasional cigarette, and laughter.

Thank you, Sherri, for the trip down memory lane. I hope that if you were in any pain, that is gone now. I hope your husband and children got to spend as much quality time with you as was possible. And I hope that some of that light and happiness that I remember about you was with you up until the end.

My deepest condolences to her whole family.

Some of the WCU Girls. Sherri is on the far left.

A Letter to My First Daughter

My Dearest Allie, It’s been a while since I have written to you. I find it easier to write about you than it is to write to you. ...