Jun 302011

It’s six am and I already hear my littles stirring. This makes me sad because – well, because they’re awake, honestly. But mostly because I’ve had so little time to write to you lately and I miss it so much. Most of my life I’ve lived off of five hours of sleep a night. Now, because of the Lyme, if I don’t get ten hours I’m a mess all day. So there goes my writing time, and it’s making me a little nuts. I have all these posts swimming in my head each day and no time to write them to you. But listen – in September, Amma starts preschool, which I am devastated (ecstatic) about. And then I’ll have three whole mornings to write to you each week! Recently Craig and I were talking about that extra time and he said, “It’ll be so great for you to have that time to get the grocery shopping and cleaning done!” I just looked at him and laughed and laughed.

Okay, quick update:

First-no final word on the adoption yet. The reason we think it’s not going to happen is that the officials in the country from which we are adopting have become super strict about the criminal records of adoptive families. For example, a few families have been initially rejected for ten year old violations like “trespassing” and such.

Now please understand that had I been ticketed simply for trespassing in my festive days, I would have considered it a banner day. A day to write home about. Let us just say that in general, I have been much more poorly behaved. I laugh at trespassing. Ha. Ha. Ha. Trespassing? C’mooooooon.

As a matter of fact, after learning about this new strictness, Craig has predicted that we will receive a letter from the ministry of our adoptive country saying that not only have they decided absolutely not to give us one of their orphans, but they have cleared out some room in their orphanage for Chase, Tish, and Amma and are sending for them immediately.

And honestly, with the way that they’ve been behaving this week, I’m not sure I’d appeal that decision.

So there you have it. That’s where we are. Waiting each day for a final decision so we can get some closure or celebrate a miracle. You know what, though? I’m really okay. I have my sad, sad moments but mostly I’m all right. There’s not a moment that goes by that I don’t feel completely forgiven and even grateful for my festive past, but I also accept that there are some unavoidable consequences of the choices I’ve made and crazy life I led. For some strange reason, I wouldn’t change a minute of it. None of it, no matter how this turns out. I love my mistakes. Love the twisty, tumbly ride I’ve survived. It’s made me an open and loving and forgiving person. And so if this doesn’t work out – I’ll try something else.

But there will always, always, be an extra chair at my family’s table for a child who needs one. Actually, there are always several extra chairs available at my table because at meal times around here everyone hides. I’m just saying- if you know a baby who needs a home- I know a family who needs a baby.

*No background checks, please. Gotta be a pretty desperate baby.

Tomorrow- book update.

Jun 182011

Two weeks. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve written to you, and that’s officially how long it takes ya’ll to become worried about me.

I started getting “are you okay?” emails a few days ago. Then the “we really do appreciate you” emails trickled in, a few at time. When the “I’m praying for you, G!” messages started, I figured I’d better get back to the computer.

It’s interesting to realize that if you drop off the face of the Earth, a lot of people will notice and care. It’s a little terrifying to a roly-poly person like me, someone who likes to curl up in her shell and pretend she doesn’t exist. It’s scary to allow people to have expectations of you, to allow yourself to be needed. Once I got overwhelmed by others’ expectations and I decided that I wanted the Universe to leave me well enough alone. So of course the Universe said, Sure Sweetheart, Try It Your Way. I moved to a small town where no one knew or needed me at all. And it was wonderful – for about three months. Then I started dying a little. Being isolated from others, it’s like having your circulation cut off. You start to get numb, and then you start falling apart. It’s hard to be needed, but it’s harder not to be. So anyway, thank you for needing me. I need you, too.

While we’re on the subject, I must tell you that I’ve stopped replying to Monkee messages. I was losing even more sleep and worrying all day about to whom I’d responded and to whom I hadn’t – and whether my responses were good enough, helpful enough- and it got to be a little unhealthy for me. This blog is my big old thank you letter to the world. If you send me a thank you letter for my thank you letter I will be thrilled and delighted. But I won’t send you a thank you letter for your thank you letter for my thank you letter. Not right away, at least. I’ve never been big on etiquette.

What you do need to know is that your emails are the fuel for my writing. I read and save every single one and they make me cry and think and laugh and they are what propels my bottom back to the computer. I need your emails.I need you to tell me how you feel. And here’s my promise to myself and to you: I will respond to every single one, eventually. You and I may be eighty when it happens, but it’ll happen. Wouldn’t that be grand? Emailing each other as elderly monkees? I hope we’ll still be wearing our sassy hoodies.

Here’s what’s happening over here. I’m in a strange limbo-ish place. I keep swaying between gratitude and sadness.

I am grateful that my children and I are settling. I am grateful for my new community, my new neighborhood, my new church. I love my church. Church can be such a good place, done right. If you need a church home, you should come visit us. Sweet Loretta will welcome you and our pastors Elliott and Elizabeth will inspire you and we will all sing to you. You will be safe.

In my new community I’ve found several women whom I seem to need already, and who seem to need me, too. This is the kind of neighborhood where people expect a lot of each other, and that is good for me. People are all up in each other’s business and home and families the way people are supposed to be. It’s very small town-ish in that way. This small town way of life requires hospitality.

I have always yearned to be hospitable – my obsession with monasteries never ends, and I want my home to be like a monastery . . . to exist for others, to always take people in, to be a safe place to hide. I want this to be a home not just for my family but for my neighbors. Unfortunately, this sort of thing – hospitality- doesn’t come naturally to me. I have always felt terror at the prospect of having people over. But the thing is that I have a very narrow comfort zone, and so if I only do things that don’t terrify me I will spend my whole life in flannel pants on the couch with several bottles of Nutella and the Housewives.

So I’ve been practicing being a good neighbor, making myself open my front door and worry less about a clean house and pretty food and more about the people who enter. It’s been really, really, good. Letting people in is crucial for me. I can’t pretend that what I do here is enough. Letting people into my head and heart through my writing is not the same as letting people into my home and family. Gotta do both. And the more I practice hospitality, the better I get. I don’t mean the more Martha Stewart I get, I mean the less Martha Stewart I get. The less I concern myself with how my guest feels about my home and my food and the more I concern myself with how my guest feels. I can handle being that kind of hostess. And I amI’m doing it.

My home has been filled with people lately. And I’m discovering a new side of myself, who actually likes this hostessing thing. It’s like when I got Theo and realized…Oh my God, I’m an animal lover! I thought I hated animals and now I’m ready to get naked for PETA. Who knew?? Life is like playing with those little Russian nesting dolls that pop out of each other one at a time….just when you think there can’t be any more versions of yourself . . . look! There’s still more!

And in the midst of all my gratitude, I’ve also been very sad because of the adoption. Still nothing definite, but all signs point toward not gonna happen. Last week I was sitting on my back deck staring at the stars and begging God for a miracle, and I experienced major deja vu, which is God’s way of saying . . . Focus up, Sister – We’ve Been Here Before. I was reminded of my twelve year old self, sitting on the back patio of my childhood home, praying for a miracle. The miracle for which I was praying was that God would allow me to meet and marry Sebastian Bach from the eighties band Skid Row. Now I’m sure Mr. Bach has had a lovely life, but I just can’t imagine that giving myself to this man in holy matrimony would have been good for my long-term sobriety.

Now I don’t really see how adopting an orphan from Africa and marrying a drug addicted eighties headbanger would be similar. I’m just saying, life is weird, so maybe they are, what do I know? Maybe I don’t have a clue what the hell kind of miracle I need right now. Maybe God’s saying –

I know better, Lovie, I can do even better. It’s just like I told you on Bubba and Tisha’s patio when you were twelve . . . G- Hold On. Mr. Bach isn’t the one for you. Trust me. In fifteen years you’re gonna meet Mr. Melton….

Even though my soul knows that all is well and always has been well and will continue to be well -my heart is sick and my head is panicking and grasping at straws, trying to fix unfixable things. My head is such an ass.

My head is saying . . Kay. Next PLAN. Domestic adoption? Pregnancy? Nothing? Decide, Decide, Decide! My head is always trying to cheat loss with replacement. It says to me: Skip the grieving, it’s too hard! Get busy, get distracted! Sadness and stillness are too uncomfortable, too unproductive . . . let’s get moving!

And my soul says . . . No, honey. There are no shortcuts. Let It Be. When you skip the grieving, you miss the blessing. More will be revealed. Just sit with this. Life is sad sometimes, it’s okay to be sad. Even if you are surrounded by more blessings than you can count. It’s okay to be sad.

It’s okay to be grateful and sad at the same time.

My new friend Beirne taught me that. It’s a long story, which I can’t wait to tell you in detail, but basically she taught me that things can fall under the and/both theory. Two things that seem contradictory can, in fact, both be true. I can tell my family and friends that I’m fine, that I’m grateful for what I have, and mean it. And I can sit by myself in the bathroom and cry for what I’ve lost, and mean it.

These days, I am full of joy and sorrow. I am blessed beyond what one woman could hope for and I am also yearning for more, different, else. I am content and sad. Full and empty. Both/and. It’s okay. It just is. I’m human, you know.

Probably typos in this one…not gonna edit. Children all over me. 1,386 hours till school re-opens. Sweet Jesus Have Mercy.

May 262011

A few weeks ago, I sat in my family room with Craig and said, “There are so many Monkees who have little ones with autism. I need someone to teach me about it.”

Two days later, my beautiful and brave neighbor, Heather, emailed and said, “I’d like to write about my son.”

Of course you would, I said.

Monkees, meet Heather and Preston.

My baby boy turned seven this week, and I’ve been a little weepy.It’s not just a case of the mommy blues – a little wistfulness that life is “passing by so quickly,” or a touch of nostalgia for the end of “little-kid-dom” coming to end.

My son’s birthdays – while always happy occasions marked by the standard moonbounce-jumping, cake-eating celebration – are touched with a hint of sadness for me.Each year I come a little closer to understanding the challenges my sweet boy will face in this world, and I worry. Fret.Lose sleep. And yes, even let myself indulge in a little self-pity for a moment.

School’s going to be tough for him; athletics – frustrating; and making friends, well, we just pray that he does.

You see, my son, Preston, has autism.It’s something that’s taken me nearly four years to say without getting a huge lump in my throat or tear in my eye.And yet, sometimes speaking the words aloud still feels like a kick in the gut – like when I’m sharing the news for the first time with a long-lost friend.A surge of emotion waves over me, flooding me with a feeling of sickness and disbelief that autism is our reality.

Let me introduce you all to Preston.He might just surprise you.He doesn’t fit the bill of what you may have heard about autism through Hollywood portrayals or headline-grabbing stories.He’s not a number-crunching genius like some, or in his own private world, like others.

Preston has charmed many-a-therapist with his wide grin and mischievous sense of humor.He adores his big sis, and tries to negotiate a playdate every day of the week.He makes us laugh – and scream – almost every day of our lives!At first glance, you might just mistake him for your typical pizza-eating, Chuck-E-Cheese-loving 7-year-old boy.

Autism takes many, many shapes, and we are greatly blessed that Preston is on the higher-functioning end of autism. Still, it’s been a long journey to get him where he is today, and we’ve learned to celebrate the little victories that we simply took for granted with his “typical” big sis.

To understand the so-called “autism spectrum”, picture it as an umbrella, where each spoke has a different specific label: autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, pervasive developmental delay (often referred to as PDD-NOS), and some are even now saying ADD.But under the umbrella, there are common themes: language impairments, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive behaviors or fixations, and behavioral problems.For some kiddos, the issues are obvious;others, not so much.

Preston’s particular “brand” of autism is marked by significant speech and language delays, and difficulties communicating and interacting with his peers. So, while he can easily rattle off a list of 10 different fruits, he would have difficulty explaining the differences between an apple and an orange.Though he has the vocabulary of a nine-year-old, he has a tough time translating what he knows in to conversation.And while he desperately wants to play with other kids, he lacks the social skills to be able to ask if he can join in the fun.

Think of a file cabinet in the brain that’s supposed to be alphabetized so the information can easily be retrieved.In children with autism, some fool has come in and shuffled everything up, filing away important information using a secret code that can only be deciphered through repetitive and persistent therapies.

He also struggles with fine-motor tasks like writing, and other tasks that require the two sides of his body to work together seamlessly, like swimming or even opening a jar.

And then there is the quirkiness.We all have our idiosyncrasies, but for children on the autism spectrum, eccentricities are just part of the package.Some days it can be frustrating, but over time we’ve learned to find the humor in it all.

Preston gives us a kick out of his ability to tell us every single make and model of car that every family member and neighbor on our street has.

You also didn’t hear any complaints from me when one day he woke up and decided that he must have his bed made, clothes picked up, and doors closed to his closet if there was to be any peace in our household. This lasted for a few months, and then one day, that chapter was simply closed.

And who can forget Mario, of “Super Mario” that is.Preston is the reigning king of Mario Kart WII in our household, and can tell you everything there is to know about the courses, style of cars and characters.Strike up a conversation with him about Mario, and he may just never shut up – something I never thought he would do even two years ago!

Then there’s the “bad behavior” – the big B.For us, one of the first clues that something was amiss with Preston was his delayed speech and “bad behavior.”When he was a toddler, he screamed all day, every day, frustrated by his inability to communicate and unable to control his feelings – picture terrible twos on steroids.

The word finally came down when Preston was two-and-half.A team of specialists from Georgetown Hospital sat my husband, Brad, and I down and told us they “couldn’t rule out” that Preston was on the autism spectrum.It was just too soon to know for sure. You could have knocked me over with a feather. We both knew deep down that our lives would never be the same from that moment forward.

Still, we argued with ourselves and the doctors over the next year.But he’s not anti-social; he laughs; makes eye contact.I told the doctors, “It’s just that a light bulb hasn’t gone off for him on how to communicate.”Little did I know, I was actually defining autism.By the time he was three-and-a-half, we got it.

I now see Georgetown’s squishy diagnosis as God’s way of easing us into the idea of what lay ahead.

Talk to any parent of a child with autism, and they’ll probably describe the first year or two after the diagnosis as the “dark days.”What does it mean?What do we do?Will he grow out of it?Could they be wrong?

I just wanted someone to hit me over the head with a frying pan and just tell me what to do to make it all better.Of course, that didn’t happen.

But what happened is I realized, maybe for the first time, that I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – try to “do it all” on my own.God has equipped me with the tools and strength to go to battle for my son.Yes, fight, because that’s what it takes!

Stealing from a Mother’s Day sermon at church last week, I am a “mom on a mission” – a mission to help my son fulfill his potential and purpose on this Earth; a mission to defeat autism; and a mission to “pay it forward,” helping other moms out there on there on this bumpy road.

I thank God every day that he gave me a wonderful husband, Brad, to share the joys and hardships of this life.He’s been my rock and partner every step of this journey.

God also gave me a beautiful daughter, who loves to be a helper and friend to her brother; he brought my dear friends Kelli and Ann Marie in to my life, who have shared their own personal autism journeys with me and helped me with mine; he’s made it possible for my parents to move hundreds of miles to be closer to us;and of course, introduced us to true angels walking this Earth in the form of special needs therapists and teachers.Nikia, Tina and Jess – we couldn’t have survived without them!

Five weeks from now, Preston will graduate kindergarten at our local school, hand-in-hand with “typical” kids in a regular old classroom. Just a few short years ago, we questioned whether this would ever happen. We’ll be cheering him on from the sidelines of graduation, just as we will as he makes his way through life – so proud of his accomplishments; so grateful he’s our son.