Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gotcha Day

"Despite the reams of paperwork, obstacles worthy of a horse show, and a wait that can rival an elephant's gestation, adoption feels no different on the inside."
~Scott Simon, Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption

April 1st is a special day for me. It's not because of pranks or fools (I appreciate them every day of the year) but because it's my daughter's "gotcha day." Ten years ago she was officially mine and thank God no one yelled "April Fools."

The hope of a daughter began 14 years ago. After my second son was born a doctor's mistake made me unable to have more children. Not sure I could be okay with that I spent the next six months back and forth to the one specialist in Philadelphia for painful procedures and a final surgery. The end result was a suggestion to get on a surrogate list, so ultimate fail.

I mourned the idea of a daughter, that is until two friends returned from China with their new daughters. I looked into their beautiful faces, looked at my then husband, and declared "That's where my daughter is."

I picked China for three reasons: that moment stated above, the fact that China was overflowing with baby girls, and when we went for an informational meeting China was the only country that had 100% start to finish rate. The United States had the worst success rate. I knew that if someone put a baby in my arms there was to be absolutely no chance she'd be taken away. With China's one child law and the fact that putting a child up for adoption is illegal, babies are abandoned, with no hope of ever finding their birth parent.

No one would ever say I had to give her back.

The process was long, about 18 months, and filled with challenges.
The tragedy of September 11th made our travel more difficult.
The anthrax attacks that came through Trenton almost made my birth certificate unattainable by our deadline had it not been for a caring worker at the New Jersey post office.
The mass outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) was a nightmare throughout China right when our travel time arrived. The threat was so serious that our flight out of Hong Kong was the last plane allowed into the U.S. for quite awhile.

Of course the minute I held my daughter it was all minor issues. I had worried, as many adoptive parents do who have biological children, that I wouldn't feel a bond right away. What I felt was beyond anything I could ever describe. It was the only time in my life I ever cried in joy (and I say that with the explanation that childbirth and me were not good for each other so my boys were born into a virtual war zone).

She was so beautiful, living up to the name Lily after my grandmother. Within a few hours, as we waited in a cramped courthouse for more paperwork, she was not only smiling at me but giggling as well. She'd take her little hands and place them on my face and smile like she knew exactly who I was. The other seven babies in the group looked shell shocked for days, some crying constantly, but Lily was a happy, peaceful baby.

As she got older she created an "idea" of her birth mom. Lily decided her mom was too young for a baby and, even though she didn't want to, she gave her up. Lily knows that her birth mom left her on the steps of the orphanage at two days old with a simple note stating the date and time she was born, the name her mother gave her, and the request to take care of her. We have that note.

Every year both on her gotcha day and on her birthday I think about a woman in China who gave me the amazing gift of my daughter. I always wish deeply that she has a feeling that her child is happy and so very loved. I usually just whisper "thank you" and hope somehow she is at peace.

And to my daughter-you are my sunshine and I love you..

Big deal; so was Superman."
~Chris Crutches, Whale Talk

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Chain Reaction

"Just because an animal is large, it doesn't mean he doesn't want kindness; however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo."
~A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Someone asked me quite awhile ago to do a blog on being judged by appearance. I struggled with the idea for months, never finding an angle that flowed, until my daughter started talking about racism.

It's not something you'd think happened much in today's society but it apparently still has a form.  I remember my grandfather, someone who had a huge heart, use all of the negative terms we gasp at if heard today. In fact, when I called to tell him I was adopting a daughter from China he was so thrilled he cried. Of course then he said, "We're going to have a chink in the family." I explained how much I loved him but from that moment on he was never to use that word again.

So my beautiful daughter occasionally hears the ethnic jokes or gets some idiot making their eyes slant. Thankfully she is a smart little firecracker. Her come-backs are lacking though-we need to work on those.

But whether it's your race, weight, appearance, religion, sexual orientation or a physical impairment the judgement is still much more prevalent than it should be.

I know a fantastic woman who is smart, funny and a great mom who just happens to love body art, otherwise known as tattoos. But unfortunately there are still people out there that equate tattoos with a lower IQ or even moral compass. I myself have two tattoos and I've actually had family members make "interesting" comments about them as if it diminishes me in some way.

I have a deaf friend who discusses the "level of deafness." For some things she wants to do she's too deaf, in others she's not deaf enough. And this is according to people that should be the most accepting of her.

I had dinner the other night with a friend who discussed always being the fat girl in school. Often kids are the most judgmental but my ex-husband had what I would call an obesity aversion. The comments he would make would appall me and I would get so angry that things were said in front of my children.

So how do we keep people from passing judgement on others?
I have no idea.
I've only ever had to deal with short jokes or comments. I've been short-stack, squirt, pocket-size, midget....etc.
But my friend's daughter calls it "fun size." I like that one. Or sometimes I'm vertically challenged.

I guess the best we can do when someone passes judgement is to prove them wrong. Like when students admit to me that they didn't think I would be able to instruct what I do. Then they take the class and, well, I prove them wrong.

I'm never going to prove to someone I'm not short but I can prove that it doesn't hold me back from anything...except maybe getting things off of a high shelf without a stool. My friend will never not be tattooed but spend 30 seconds with her and you'll know she's amazing. My daughter will never not be of Chinese descent but she is proud, beautiful, smart and will make so much more of herself partly because she is from an amazing heritage.

What we can do to stop the cycle is stop it ourselves. Look at everyone we meet as interesting and unique, with their own gift to give us, unless they prove otherwise.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
~ Maya Angelou

Let everyone you meet feel like they are special, worthy and real. You might be surprised the chain reaction that occurs.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


I will not play tug o' war.
I'd rather play hug o' war.
Where everyone hugs instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggle and rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
and everyone grins,
and everyone cuddles,
and everyone wins.
~Shel Silverstein

Hugs, with the right person can turn our day around, with the wrong person violates our personal space.

A friend of mine (who is also my massage therapist) and I were discussing hugs this week. My massages are not the relaxation kind but the grip the table, try not to cry, but please fix me kind. So we catch up on each other's lives as we're both single moms with often more on our plates than we can possibly stomach.

The topic came up as she told me about a client that passed away that always accepted a big hug even though she was not a "hugger."

So are there two types of people-huggers and non-huggers?

I used to be a non-hugger. My family wasn't big on physical display. I remember having a friend that not only hugged her parents all of the time but kissed them as well!! I thought that was strange.

My friends growing up weren't super hug-oriented and hugging boys from junior high on usually involved some play for second base. Then I married someone I wasn't really drawn to. Hugging was awkward and I avoided it if at all possible.

It wasn't until my job as a martial arts instructor that I learned to give and accept them more readily. I would get very invested in my students and often developed a friendship with them. I'd feel such pride for them when they would accomplish something they really worked hard at that a congratulation hug was often involved.

Then I developed what I like to call my second family. It includes some of the best friends and co-workers I could ever have wished for. They all hug-often. Not in a weird way.

I also adopted a daughter who craves love. She is my Velcro child and I sometimes actually have to fight the urge for personal space (not proud) and just relax into the love. I find myself going beyond what I feel is right to hug, kiss and love her because I know she needs it.

My oldest son went through a time where I couldn't even touch him. His excuse: "You don't let dad hug you." Thankfully now we have a relationship like I never would have dreamed for me and my 17 year old. A lot of love and respect on both our parts.

My middle son will still let me hug and kiss him....but he's at a stage where I also fight the urge to water board him. Yet every night I tell him I love him and kiss him goodnight.

So what does a hug do for us? Physical contact gives us a sense of calm, love, self-esteem, compassion and, occasionally, passion. It is a magical endorphin if done correctly.

The quote above is by Shel Silverstein. He wrote The Giving Tree. Possibly my favorite childhood book. A boy loves a tree and a tree loves a boy. The tree does everything for a boy, and a boy loves the tree.

So that is a true hug. Giving yourself completely to that person you want to show love in that moment. Not wanting anything in return but the amazing feeling of knowing you're giving yourself over to a hug.

So find someone to hug. Not a casual hug but a Giving Tree hug. Give yourself to someone with no expectation but to get a hug in return.

Be a giving tree.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Motivational Mojo

"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."
~Raymond Chandler

Wikipedia defines Motivation as:
1) The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.
2) The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

Motivation is that missing link at times to do what we need to do. At this very moment I am seriously lacking motivation. In fact I'm procrastinating by writing a blog.

We all have a hard time getting motivated for things we dislike or things that intimidate us. Mine is a bit of both. I'm putting off biology. I hate it and it intimidates me. The office manager where I work looks at my massive book and gets excited. I look at it and get nauseous. Then I look at her and tell her she's weird.

It's been two decades since freshman biology at Gettysburg and I remember struggling then. That was when my brain was young and sharp and my only distraction was a terrible roommate and when I'd go to my next meal.

Now it's easy to check Facebook or my email 20 times, decide to organize the clutter, fold laundry, go for a run or write a blog for crap sake. 

So where do we find the motivation? How do we make ourselves "just do it" as the Nike commercial says?

Often it takes us being accountable to someone or some thing. A deadline, a reward, a penalty or simply the idea that we're letting someone down can be what gets you from point A to point B. A huge part of coaching is being that person who keeps you focused, on task and keeping momentum in what we struggle with on our own. 

But I have a loose deadline and no one to be accountable to but me. Yet if I don't do it I'm not only wasting my own time and money but not achieving the goals I set out to accomplish in (maybe) less than two years. So I basically have to find my study mojo.

I was thinking about some kind of rewards system but a) I'm broke and b) I have nothing I want. I could put a friend up to being my study Nazi. But then I might become bitter to whatever friend takes that roll and I love my friends too much. 

So my plan instead is to find a coach by going to the organization I received my coaching certification and employ a student (free) to use me as practice. If I have to touch base with someone once a week and explain that I spent an hour on Pinterest when I was supposed to be making a study guide I may stay on task. 

But it's a funny quote under an angry cat and a recipe for soup!


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Been There-Done That

"It is better to be high-spirited even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent."
~Vincent Van Gogh

Making mistakes in life is about as universal as passing gas. We all do it and we all are mortified when we get caught. Mistakes, like gas, can be huge, smelly and messy or small and quickly ignored. Attractive comparison right? I thought so.

I've had my share of mistakes both big and small. But lucky for me so has everyone else. 

I remember being mortified when I began going through my divorce. In my mind I was a failure and I was sure people would look at me with surprise, disgust or even pity. Instead what I found was complete understanding, compassion and empathy. I would hear things like: "I don't know if you knew but I was married before;" or "My parents divorced when I was a kid and it turned out to be the best thing for them;" or any number of other comparisons that immediately made me feel not like I was this unique brand of loser at the moment. I had some of the most meaningful connections during that time including one woman who told me she was "blissfully divorced."  My first reaction was that I could also be blissfully divorced.

The blissfulness may not be quite up to par but I am so much happier, as are my children, being out of a household with such an unloving air to it. The marriage was a mistake but I have three fantastic kids who are my world. So for that I would live that mistake again if needed.

More than three years ago I was reconnecting with an old friend who lives in Europe. After awhile the friendship became flirty and then more romantic. We decided to see what was there so I boarded a flight for 10 days in Amsterdam.

I didn't tell anyone. I was at the end of a divorce with three kids (who were on vacation with their dad) and I was going to see if there was a relationship across an ocean with someone I hadn't really seen for 20 years. Seemed like it had the potential to be a huge mistake.

But if it was it was going to be MY huge mistake. I didn't want anyone's opinion or judgement about why I should or shouldn't do this. Did I panic? Hell yes! I stood in the center of JFK asking myself over and over "What are you doing?" This could be an incredible 10 days or the most uncomfortable I've ever had. A couple of drinks in an airport bar helped me calm down and actually board the plane.

It turned out to be one of the most life altering weeks of my life so mistake averted. But it was a huge chance to take. And my family thinks it was a huge mistake to not trust them but I stand by my ideals on that one. That one trip gave me such strength and independence. I returned ready to be on my own and it didn't look scary anymore. I was ready to be a single mom with all of the responsibility and stress that can include and be okay with it. 

So our mistakes aren't always so clearly bad or good. We can hate ourselves for our actions, failures or weaknesses. But with every mistake comes something that makes us more aware of who we want to be in the future. 

I tell my children that no matter what mistakes they make they can tell me. Chances are I've done something similar. If they only knew the mistakes their mom has made they would be amazed. And if they ever need me to share them to make them feel better about their own mistakes I will in a heartbeat. I know how it feels to admit something you think is shocking and hear, "Yeah, I did that once." It's like waiting to get socked in the gut but instead receiving a warm hug. That's how I hope to be with anyone's mistakes, not passing judgement or guilt, but sharing my own inadequacies or at the very least understanding theirs. And maybe I'll learn something as well.

"Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it's a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from."
~Al Franken 
"Oh, the Things I Know"

Monday, March 4, 2013

Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine

"God writes a lot of comedy....the trouble is, he's stuck with so many bad actors who don't know how to play funny."
~Garrison Keillor

If you've never heard Garrison Keillor speak it's worth the time. He has a brilliant, sarcastic and dry humor that appeals to me. I was lucky to spend quite a chunk of time with him during college. He was friends with my adviser who was also my poetry teacher and "boss" at my internship with a literary magazine. So I had classes, lunch, and a press session (I was the features editor of the school paper) with Mr. Keillor.

I was the only student at the press conference. Mr. Keillor had every reporter in the room believing that he was on a mission to end the ravages of dehydration in America. That people were not thinking clearly anymore simply because they weren't drinking enough water. It was fantastic. He played it completely straight and they ate it up like the Gospel of Garrison.

I met him again a few years ago when he did a show at our local theater  I don't really think he remembered me. I don't think I was funny enough.

I love people with the ability to make me laugh. I'm not sure I would have gotten through 16 years of marriage with a guy who had no idea what comedy was without Comedy Central, such smartly written shows as Friends, or the creative geniuses on Whose Line is it Anyway.

Recently I found myself in a "whoa is me" kind of funk for awhile. The one thing that really helped put me back on track was a genuinely ridiculous EDGE class. That is a self-defense class I instruct for the teens at Direct Action Tactical. Normally we have fun but there is always a level of seriousness to what we're doing. That night there were just two of my tried and true students and the silliness of the tangents and conversations had me with tears in my eyes. We did get work done-don't get me wrong (my boss may read this so I have to be clear). But I left feeling like the weight of my world went from an elephant to a chihuahua.

I realized how easy it is sometimes to wallow. To pick the sad songs or tear-jerking chick flicks because it's where we are on the inside. It reinforces us somehow.

But to decide to change it-watch the silly comedy, make plans with friends who make you laugh, listen to the upbeat selections on your playlist, spend time with your kids, eat chocolate, have some retail therapy if you can afford it, learn to do something new or do a hobby you love in order to keep busy. Finding those things that get you out of an emotional rut can make a huge difference in how you interact with others, how you take care of yourself, how you preform at work or as a parent.

Recently at dinner my oldest son asked me what I wanted to be called when/if I'm ever a grandmother. My middle son-with a straight face-said Uncle Ben. From then on the hysterical conversation was how to confuse small children by having them call their grandmother Uncle Ben. I'm sure you had to be there but the idea is I've given my children the love, need and ability to always have humor in their lives and to find it in others.

Charlie Chaplin is famous for saying: "A day without laughter is a day wasted."

Don't waste your day!