Archive for November, 2008

21. to david, on his eight birthday 11

i am ninja, hear me roar

“i am ninja, hear me roar” march 17, 2008
Welcome to my new site. Please read the about page to see what this is all about. See also, the companion photo site, lyrical photography

I wrote this when my nephew David turned one. He’ll be eight this week. I’ve updated this story before, but this is the original version, written in 2001.

Several years ago, in the courthouse I work in (I was not working there yet at the time), an employee found the lifeless body of a newborn infant in a bathroom stall. One of the emergency workers who responded to the scene, Tim Jaccard, was so moved by the scene that he was motivated to start the AMT Children of Hope Foundation, a group which went on to found Safe Havens. Safe Havens are hospitals, private homes and houses of worship throughout Long Island that have drop-off points for women who have given birth, but for various reasons do not want to keep the babies. These are infants that may otherwise have been abandoned in restrooms or dumpsters, left for dead. Tim comes into this story again later.

My sister and her husband tried for many years to have a baby. When it became apparent that they were suffering from infertility, they sought medical help. They went through many tries at in-vitro fertilization, which is a physically and emotionally straining process. It never worked for them. They went through years of testing, experiments and physical procedures to try and conceive. They got to a point where they realized that it was just not going to happen for them. This is when they decided to try and adopt.

They first went to Catholic Charities, because my cousin adopted three children through them. They were turned down because my brother-in-law is Jewish. Never mind that they are financially stable, own their own home, can provide a stable, loving environment for a child, and promised to raise the child Catholic. It wasn’t good enough for them. Catholic Charities was a dead end.

They tried posting their number at colleges and on internet message boards made specifically for that purpose. Lots of phone calls, more dead ends.

One day my sister was talking to her friend Mary about her and her husband’s frustration. Turns out Mary is Tim Jaccard’s secretary. Mary put my sister in touch with Tim and the wheels began turning.

There were more dead ends at first. A young girl who decided to give her baby to someone else. A woman who, at the last minute, decided to keep her baby. That one was at Christmas time, and my sister had announced to us on Christmas Eve that they would be getting a baby. Two days later, the woman said no. And how can you be mad at that, really? She wanted to keep and raise her baby and that’s a good thing, despite the pain it brought to my family. My sister and her husband made the decision that they would not tell anyone the next time there was hope for a baby. They would wait until the baby was born, the papers were signed and then and only then would they spread the news.

Cut to last December. I was sitting at my desk at work, when my sister (who works with me) came into my office looking pale. She was shaking. She had just received a phone call from Tim. There was a baby boy, born on November 20th and the mother, an illegal immigrant who had just come here from Burma, did not want this baby. She was ready and willing to sign papers giving him up. My sister and her husband had known about this woman since the baby was born, but said nothing to any family member, remembering what happened the last time. But now she had to tell me because Tim said on the phone to be ready to be a mother in two days. Two days. After years of waiting and hoping and being disappointed, she had two days to get ready for a baby. She was to leave work immediately and head to to the woman’s apartment in Queens, where Tim was waiting for my sister and her husband to meet the mother. The mother wanted to see them first, to know who she was giving her baby up to. I walked my sister out to her car and wished her luck. As soon as she was gone, I broke a promise I made and called my mother.

Two hours later, my mother and I were in Target, spending a small fortune on baby supplies. Clothes, diapers, bottles and every accessory both useful and extravagant, were bought. By the time we got home, my father, who cannot keep a secret to save his life, had told every relative within shouting distance. Basically meaning everyone in town. Friends and family kept pulling up to the house, dropping off supplies. A bassinet. Enough diapers to last a month. More clothes, baby blankets, crib sheets. There were moments where we felt like we were jinxing the whole thing, pushing our luck, but we decided to test fate and stock up anyhow. Any woman who has ever had a child will tell you nine months is barely enough time to get everything ready. Imagine only having two days to prepare. We figured it was better to have this stuff ready for her than to have nothing ready at all, and have to run out that day to buy all the things they would need.

Sometime that night my sister called and said it was definite. The baby was theirs. He would be delivered to their home, by Tim, the next night. She still wouldn’t believe it, wouldn’t talk in definite tones until the baby was in her arms. Can you blame her?

The next day was a frenzy. There were still so many things to get, so many people to call. My sister was frantic, her husband was neurotic. By 9pm, there were 20 people, friends and family, sitting in their living room waiting for David. We had champagne ready. Finally, Tim pulled up at around 10pm. My sister freaked out and wouldn’t go to the door. She was afraid Tim would be standing there empty handed, come to bring the bad news that the woman had changed her mind. I looked out the window and saw Tim lifting a little baby out of a car seat. I shoved my sister towards the front door and told her to chill out. And Tim walked in, held out David, and put him in my sister’s waiting arms. There was not a dry eye in the house. My father was crying, the neighbors were crying. I thought my sister and her husband were both going to pass out. They held him and stared at him for the longest time and nobody moved, nobody talked. Finally, someone popped the cork on a champagne bottle and we all cheered. For the next hour, David was passed from person to person and we all stared in wonder at the baby we had waited so long for.

David is a year old now. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at him and think about the birth mother he has out there somewhere, and I wonder if she knows what she gave up. I look at his engaging smile and listen to his loud laugh and kiss his soft little cheeks and I wonder. I see my sister and her husband with their child and I am so happy for them, and so thankful that Tim Jaccard afforded them this opportunity, that this adorable child was not abandoned in a dumpster in the dark of night because the mother had no one to turn to.

So happy first birthday, David. You are a lucky boy. You had a selfless, caring birth mother who made a choice that was hard for her and right for you. And you ended up in the arms and hearts of two people who will give you a lifetime of love.

As an update: I first wrote this in 2001, on David’s birthday. He’s eight now, a funny, charming, mohawk wearing kid who is way too smart for his own good and loves Star Wars, karate, The New York Islanders and playing air guitar.

20. girl 2

where webs of snow are drifting

“where webs of snow are drifting” february 26, 2006″
Welcome to my new site. Please read the about page to see what this is all about. See also, the companion photo site, lyrical photography

I cross the street and she’s there, in front of the drug store, waiting for me. She knows I had to pick up my meds and she’s there like a stalker, her eyes rimmed with the black of insomnia, her hands shoved deep inside her pockets. She’s staring straight ahead at me and I have to acknowledge her. My first instinct is to turn around and go home, go to the park, go anywhere else but to the place where she stands. But I need my meds and she knows this. She knows I’m not going anywhere but right towards her.

She at least tries to look shameful, bows her head a bit and bites her lower lip but I’ve seen it all before and I don’t let her little acts of manipulation phase me anymore. It’s old. But the mere act of pretending to be shamed tells me that at least she still has the capacity to recognize that what she’s doing is wrong. She knows she shouldn’t be here. For a split second I think about grabbing her, kissing her, pushing her hair back from her face and telling her I love her but then I remember that it’s gone, all gone and I’d be just setting myself back months if I did that.

I reach for the door to the pharmacy. Open it. Walk in. She follows behind me and stands at the counter with me while I wait. I say nothing to her. She grabs onto the sleeve of my parka and pinches it, holds just a tiny bit of fabric between her fingers, as if that’s all it would take to keep me bound to her. Maybe it is. I get my pills, sign the insurance form and walk back out the door. She’s trailing behind me like a pet, stumbling to keep up with my long strides, her fingers still gripping my parka like a lifeline.

Out in the cold air again I take a deep breath, exhale, and blow smoke rings with my winter breath. I fight off a surging nicotine craving by biting down hard on my lip. I draw blood, lick it off and savor the taste of my own blood, which alarms me. My god, I’m so fucked up. I walk east, not even bothering to step around the pools of slush, my sneakers making puckering noises in the melting ice and snow. She’s still there, still holding on and I start crying as I walk, I swear my tears are freezing up the instant they hit my cheek. I don’t care. I’m just walking and crying, walking and crying and she’s fighting to hang onto my coat.

My feet are soaked and my toes are numb and I pick up the pace because I need to shake her off. I turn around. I know better, but I do it. I slow down, baby steps over the sheets of ice in front of the school and I crane my neck and I can see her, black hair and pleading eyes and trembling lips and my heart cracks, bleeds and falls apart right there in front of the elementary school where the little kids put down their crayons and stare at the crazy man on the sidewalk, the man who is kneeling down in the wet snow, crying, screaming, all alone.

Someone comes out to help me and let them, for the first time I let someone help. They pick me up, hands under my arms and I go limp. I don’t even turn to look for her. I know she’s gone. I. Know. She’s. Gone.

She’s gone.

19. yellow 1

and it was all yellow (365-108)

“and it was all yellow”, created on february 16, 2008.
Welcome to my new site. Please read the about page to see what this is all about. See also, the companion photo site, lyrical photography

Just as they could hear the tires of the pick up truck nearing the house, his mother shooed him into the shed and told him to watch from there. He was grimy, his mother said. No place for grimy children up front.

He hadn’t meant to get dirty, but it was hot and thick outside and all the dust and blacktop and stuck to his sweat. Besides, he really didn’t want to be up front. All the commotion scared him a bit and from the way the other kids were talking, Mr. Jacob would be sitting in the back of the truck, his dead body propped up like he was still alive.

“No, Matthew. Mr. Jacob is in a box. A coffin.”
“Can he breathe in there, mom?”
“He’s dead, Matthew. Dead people don’t breathe.”

Matthew left it at that because he didn’t want to talk about what it means to be dead. That’s all his brothers and sisters were going on about and listening to them made him feel like someone was poking holes in his stomach.

He found a milk crate in the shed and shoved it over to the side window. He wouldn’t miss a thing from there. The shed - once a place where his father kept his tools and now a rotting corpse of crumbled brick - looked right down the driveway and towards the street, giving Matthew a fine a view of all his family and neighbors gathering by the roadside. He settled in and waited. For what, he wasn’t sure. But he knew from the way the older kids were talking that they had done this before and that it was a big deal to have a dead guy paraded down your street. He just wished Mr. Jacob wasn’t the one being dead today. He liked Mr. Jacob. He was the only grown up who ever smiled like he remembered what it’s like to be happy.

Yellow. Years later when Matthew would think about this day he would recall how everything was tinged in yellow. Not the yellow of daisies and crayon suns, but a brownish, dirty yellow that cast an eerie glow on the death circus he watched from the shed window.

For three days after Mr. Jacob died, the sky had been bloated with thunderstorms that wouldn’t budge. Matthew’s mother and father stood outside every morning and said “gonna be a big storm today,” but it never rained, never thundered and the sky just turned yellow and gray and brown like it was rotting. And as Mr. Jacobs’s funeral procession approached Matthew’s house, all rumbling tires and crying women, the clouds seemed to sink under the weight of the storm they were holding in and the sky felt lower, like it was pressing down on them and forcing the whole world to bathe in its weird storm-glow. The dirt road, the dry hedges, the gossiping women and stoic men and oblivious children playing by the porch - they were all tinged dirty yellow and it hurt Matthew’s eyes to look.

The pick-up rounded a corner and was headed toward Matthew’s house. Every child stopped moving. Every woman stopped talking. Matthew held his breath, afraid to make a sound and break the spell of revered quiet. There were only a few sounds; tires doing a slow turn over dirt and Mrs. Jacob, held up by Matthew’s mother and aunt, praying and crying. Her whispered sobs carried loud like echos.

Matthew, still holding his breath, watched the truck get closer and only when the noise of the wheels on dirt was enough to drown out Mrs. Jacob, he began to breathe again.

The truck was open in the back and had a makeshift wooden bench on each side of the truck bed. On each bench sat three men and between them, on the floor, was Mr. Jacob, resting comfortably dead in a wooden box. The men were all dusty boots and squinty eyes, dressed in the same hats and flannel shirts and faded work pants. Their expressions never changed as they stared into the crowd of people that followed them on foot. Their faces were worn and filled with lines like etched stone and as the wind kicked up and the hems of their pants ands cuffs of their shirts flapped and fluttered, they never flinched not even as wind-carried dirt settled on their lips and flew into their eyes. Every few seconds the long box would shift and the men would all bend down at once and push the box back.

As the truck moved right in front of Mrs. Jacob, the men all took off their hats and bowed their heads and Mrs. Jacob wailed, a sound that made Matthew’s heart feel squeezed and tight. Matthew’s mother and some other women were trying to keep the widow from running into the street, but Mrs. Jacobs’s grief carried her away from grasping arms and she ran toward the pick-up truck, trailing it, holding up her long funeral skirt as she half-ran, half-stumbled and the driver of the truck sped up just a little and later - years later - Matthew would wonder if the driver was trying to get away from Mrs. Jacob or trying to keep her from reaching the truck bed. His brother would say to him “same thing, ain’t it?” And Matthew would shake his head. “No, not at all.”

Later, when the sky finally cracked and the rain flushed the yellow from the sky, turning it black and brown, Matthew sat on his front stoop with his mother, eating a piece of pie and looking at the very spot where just this morning Mr. Jacobs passed by his house for the very last time. Matthew knew then this would be one of those things he would remember forever, that one day he’d be sitting on the porch like his father before him, telling stories about his childhood, and this would be one of them. Even if as the years went on the colors would change or the pitch of Mrs. Jacob’s cry would get louder or tiny flaws of memories would change the snapshot in some way, it would always be there, hanging like a poster in his mind.

18. imperfect parenting 4

it takes a potemkin village (word of the day)

“what, me worry?”, taken may, 20, 2008
Welcome to my new site. Please read the about page to see what this is all about. See also, the companion photo site, lyrical photography

How do you know if you’re doing something wrong if there’s no specific “right” way to do it? Maybe it isn’t until later on, when it’s too late, that you realize you did it wrong and the ramifications are in full gear. It’s too late to take it back, too late to make it right. Perhaps it’s not too late to change the direction of things, but overcompensation is really not the way to go.

Sometimes I wonder why people become parents. Is it conceit? Do we want to have extensions of ourselves walking the earth so that when we die, we still live on? Is it because some of us have an innate need to nurture? Are we purposely creating something that we know/hope will love us? Some people have children and then realize that perhaps they shouldn’t have done that. Oops. Too late. Some people have kids and work to fit themselves squarely into that mold of perfect parent; unselfishly devoting their lives to their offspring, giving up part of their lives so that the lives of their children may be perfect. Extremes, either way, and both end up having detrimental effects on the kids.

I suppose the in-between is where most of us lie. We have kids because it’s what we, as humans, are supposed to do. We procreate, we keep the earth going, we keep the world spinning, so to speak. We have kids because we want to be parents, we want to create little beings to give our love to, to watch them grow and live and learn and laugh and become fine adults. It’s pride, it’s need, it’s nature. I have never seen someone answer the question “why did you have children?” without stumbling over their words at first. Becoming parents is not a matter of survival. At least not for us, immediately and personally. For the human race and the long run, yes. But we have children for no reasons but our own personal ones.

I don’t think there’s a parent out there who hasn’t at least once said “Why did I do this?” It usually comes at a time when you are throwing your hands up in desperation, letting out that deep, resigned sigh that embodies your exhaustion, frustration, aggravation and worry. Being a parent means being in a semi-constant state of anxiety; no matter what stage in life your children are at, there is going be a bundle of worries attached to it. Some of those worries are the staples of parenting; Is my kid developing properly? Is she saying the right amount of words for her age? Is he playing well with others? Is he doing ok in school? Is he healthy? Is she succumbing to peer pressure? Is he going to make the team? When you are new to parenting, you think the anxiety and worries disappear as your kids get older. When they can finally articulate what’s hurting them, when they can fend for themselves a bit, when you no longer have to worry about baby proofing everywhere you go, it all gets better, right? No. Because then you worry about their future, and how you’re going to pay for college and they’ll start driving and you’ll stay up late because you can’t sleep until you hear the car pull in the driveway.

Then there are worries that are as unique as each family is individual. They are your worries alone and they are a culmination of every move you have made as a parent, and they can all fit into this one question: “Did I do it wrong?”

Sometimes that answer is going to be yes. Yes, you did it wrong. There are no perfect parents. We all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are small and insignificant. Sometimes they loom large and change the direction of lives. Either way, it’s a bit hard to admit you made those mistakes. It’s hard to stand back and say, yes, I did it wrong.

I can’t change what I did years ago. I can’t change the fact my marriage to their father failed, that I suffered from a deep, dark depression for at least two formative years of their lives, that I overcompensated for those years to an alarming degree, that I stayed in a bad groove and made bad choices that clearly affected them to this day. What I can do, and what I am only able to do now, is to stand back and say yes, I did it wrong. Now what can I do to make it right? I am not the first parent to do it wrong. I am not the first mother to beat herself up over what she did years ago. I am not the first to make mistakes and try to rectify them and have that rectification end up being another mistake. Parenting is a live and learn experience. It’s trial by error. It’s how you correct those errors and use that learning experience that matters most.

Yes, I did it wrong. And it’s in my nature to hone in on those wrongs, to zoom in very close up on what I didn’t do correctly and to think that all those wrongs negates everything I did right. Never mind that my kids are good kids. They’ve never been in trouble. They are polite and kind and I’ve had other parents tell me how proud I should be of them. I did it wrong, but I must have done it right, as well. It’s just hard to see that when I see my daughter’s OCD in action or when I keep seeing my son’s tendency to be anti-social and I wonder how much of that is me. How much of that is from my mistakes?

There’s no handbook that comes with parenting. There’s a basic set of innate guidelines that everyone knows to follow. Feed them. Clothe them. Make sure they don’t stick their fingers in electrical outlets. Love them.

I did all that. I followed the guidelines that were obvious. Then I read books and sought advice from other parents and followed my instincts. But no one tells you about the curve balls. There’s no parenting magazine that covers what to do when your life is falling apart and your ability to care is being swallowed up by a black cloud. There’s no one that can tell you the exact right thing to do when everything changes and you don’t know how to deal with it, because your situation isn’t someone else’s. No one has lived your life, with your children, in your home and all the well meaning advice in the world isn’t going to apply specifically to what you are going through.

So you wing it. And sometimes you get it wrong. Along the way, you get some things right and you hope that those things can carry you through the trials and errors. As long as you realize that it’s never too late to turn things around. It might be too late to take away those wrongs, but it’s not too late to fix the outcome of them.

18 years and two kids into this parenting thing and I’m still learning something new every day. I’m still figuring this out. There are plenty of days when I wonder if I wasn’t mean to be a mother, if I wasn’t really cut out for this life. But it’s a bit too late to take it back. I wouldn’t, anyhow. Despite all the anxieties and worries and misgivings, there’s a lot of joy and love to be had in being a parent. There’s a lot of joy and love to give, too. I think that is why most of us have kids.

Yes, I did it wrong. But I did it right, too. And I think the greatest lesson I learned is to not try to make up for the past, but to figure out how to do it right for the future.

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