How Do You Define Home?

photoWe’ve settled back into mountain life now after about two months. The weather has been a beautiful summer mix of cloudless blue skies and 75 degrees, and cool mountain rain that rolls in from the West in the afternoons.

It’s been an especially good wildflower season. Even as September approaches, there are still carpets of white, yellow and lavender mountain daises and large swaths of bright purple fireweed. The sweet scent of pink and violet clover fills the air on our walks.

The monsoon moisture has also kept the forest floors thick with green, and the meadows are thigh-high in bunchgrasses and cattails. Trout are jumping out of the crystal-clear mountain lakes, daring us to try to reel them in.

And in just our short time back, we’ve already seen an abundance of wildlife, including moose, black bears, foxes, coyotes, a mountain lion, rabbits, and beavers — not to mention the plethora of birds and chipmunks and squirrels who keep the forest humming.

It’s a bit like living in a nature photographer’s dream. And, honestly, it’s where I feel the most alive.

But is it home?

Obviously, I haven’t always lived in the mountains. I grew up in the flatlands of South Texas. And I love those flatlands.

I love the people, the stories, the food, the history, the music, the Texas sky. The smell of mesquite-smoked barbecue. The feel of crisp, dried grass under your bare feet on a hot summer day. The mixing of Mexican, German, Czech and other cultures. The homemade tamales. The kolaches. The sound of polka music on the local radio station. The click-click-buzz-pop of grasshoppers flicking about and attaching themselves to the porch screen door.

I love all the little idiosyncrasies that make that place special. The small-town courthouses and main streets. The Lone Star beer, the dancehalls, the oil wells, the old churches, the Stetsons and belt buckles and boots, the cattle and horses lazing under hundred-year-old oak trees.

Did I mention the food?

And of course, most importantly, all of my family members, including my Mom and Dad — whom I cherish — still live there. In the house I grew up in.

But is that home?

I’ve always thought of “home” as a place where you feel most comfortable. Where you can wrap yourself in familiarity and know that someone always has your back. A place you know like the back of your hand.

And in those terms, South Texas is all that and more.

Yet.

Here feels right for me, and it has for a long time. Like in a good novel, this particular cabin and mountain have become the physical place where the narrative arc of my life moves forward. It’s as much a part of my story as my friends, my job, my writing, my dogs, and even my son and husband. I think that’s why I felt so lost when we moved away for a couple of years.

If you don’t count those years we spent in the foothills, we’ve lived on this mountain now for 11 years or so. That’s long enough to feel that sense of familiarity and comfort, right? Instead, here, I find myself wrapped in something much different.

A kind of wildness maybe? A feeling that there are systems in place in this world that are much larger than myself? A feeling of wanting to uncover all the things I don’t know yet?

Yes, all of those things.

Some people say home is wherever their spouse or children are, that just being with them is all it takes. But I’ve learned from experience that even though you are in the presence of people you love more than anything in the world, there can still be a hole … a missing piece of the puzzle.

So what does define home?

Is it the place that warms your threadbare soul, like my mama’s chili on a rare cool day in South Texas? A place that knows who’ve you’ve always been?

Or is it a place that pushes you, like a rippling and rushing mountain creek full to its banks from spring runoff? A place that knows who you’re still becoming?

I don’t have the answer. But I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Meanwhile, I have firewood to chop. Snow’s in the forecast.

 

PS: This is one of the themes explored in my novel, Blue Straggler. I keep hoping that, through writing, I’ll figure some of this stuff out.

colorado moose

A Million Ways to Die in Texas

Dont-Mess-With-Texas-350x288

Two weekends ago, the husband and I saw the Seth MacFarlane comedy-western movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s all about how completely batshit crazy-dangerous it was to live on the Western Frontier in the 1800s. Basically, if a gunfight didn’t kill you, cholera would. It was good for a few laughs … but mostly just a great excuse to sit in the air-conditioned theater and eat buttered popcorn. (Real butter, people! Thank you, Alamo Drafthouse.)

It got me thinking, though, about my beloved (sometimes) home state of Texas. Because let’s face it. It’s not that much different than the Wild West, even in 2014.

Now, I won’t list the full million ways to kick the proverbial bucket in Texas, because I do have a life. (And I won’t even go into the whole open-carry, everyone-ought-to-have-an-AK47 gun thing because I prefer not to get hate emails.)

But here’s a start:

  1. You could be killed by one of the 15 different kinds of poisonous snakes that make Texas their home. Seriously, there are 15 … and 10 of those are rattlesnakes. There are also three kinds of copperheads. And then there’s the cottonmouth water moccasin and the coral snake. Basically, if you go outside in the summer, whether on dry land or near a body of water, and you’re not wearing boots, you’re dead.
  2. You could succumb to heat stroke. Texas is a huge state, but one thing is pretty consistent whether you’re in North, South, East or West Texas: It gets damn hot. As in hitting 95 degrees in February and staying above 100 degrees for most of the summer. You can actually get five-degree burns on the bottom half of your ass (I made that up; the degrees only go to three) just by sitting on a tailgate in shorts in August.
  3. If you choose to lie down for a nap in the cool (ha) green grass, you might never recover from the fire ant stings. We used to lose more baby calves to fire ants than to coyotes. And if you do get stung by a thousand fire ants, and you don’t die, you’ll likely wish you had. So it’s a wash.
  4. Should I also mention spiders? There are FIVE different kinds of brown recluse spiders and all of them live and love the Motherland of Texas, and also the dark interiors of boots. Of course, there are also effing black widows. BLACK WIDOWS EVERYWHERE. There are jumping spiders and also tarantulas. And while those last two aren’t really all that venomous, if they take aim and jump at you, you will probably die of a heart attack. (To those people who say that jumping tarantulas are a myth, I say you are wrong. I have witnessed it myself, and the only reason I didn’t die of Freaking Out Syndrome is that I was 10 and my heart was still strong.)
  5. Here’s one not many people think of: You could get hit in the head with a rodeo belt buckle. These are large, heavy metal objects that, when sent flying through the air, can be lethal in a severing-a-major-artery kind of way. Please don’t ask me how I know this. Also you may be asking yourself, “How often does a belt buckle go flying through the air?” Doesn’t matter. Only takes once.
  6. One phrase: The Mexican drug cartel.
  7. If you’re allergic to dust, oak pollen, cedar, scorpions or bee stings, and you don’t have an inhaler or epinephrine injection handy, you might as well kiss breathing goodbye.
  8. Finally, drowning’s big in Texas, too. From flash floods or being drunk on a boat on a lake, or simply playing in the Guadalupe River with its magical sink holes and mystery vortexes that suck you under in Gonzales and spit you out in the Gulf of Mexico, your odds of going down are pretty high.

I could go on, but I’m getting homesick.

Texas friends, what would you add?

And Colorado friends, should we make a list of our own for this fine state? I think there may be even more than Texas: blizzards, mudslides, I-70 in the winter, hypothermia, mountain lions …

What about other states? Come on, it’s morbid fun.

 the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_image

 Despite its content, this blog post was not brought to you by the Texas Tourism Board.

 

Recycling

We’re moving again, back to our home at the top of a mountain in Colorado, after two years in the Denver foothills. It’s been a short experiment, and there have been some good things about it. But mostly, I can’t wait to get back home to my cabin.

With this move, though, I’m dedicated to a minimalistic approach to what we bring with us. I want a fresh start in my old home, and I want to leave behind things that are dragging me down, and ones that no longer serve a purpose in my life.

Jeans from 2008 that don’t fit anymore? Donated. A desk that I never actually use for writing at? Gone. Bowls that are chipped and stained and oh by the way I didn’t really like to begin with? Off to Goodwill.

I also just sold an antique hutch I bought right after a life-changing breakup. It had been a project that took me several weekends to finish back then, nearly 20 years ago. I remember working on it in the Texas summer heat, sweat dripping into my eyes. It had kept my mind off how badly I was falling apart inside, and it gave me something to put all of that hurt into. And it gave me a sense of pride that I could tackle refinishing the piece on my own, without him. I brought the hutch with me when I moved to Colorado — just me and my dogs — partly because I needed a reminder almost every day that I was strong and capable.

But I have other reminders of that now. I don’t need the hutch anymore. And it doesn’t need me.

I also took a huge step and recycled about 30 years’ worth of my feelings and thoughts (and bad poetry). I started journaling when I was in 3rd grade and stopped only during the college years. (Possibly due to not wanting any evidence to exist of what may or may not have happened at the Dixie Chicken in College Station, Texas.)

Recently, I flipped through all those journals, one by one. I could feel the pain dripping from the pages of my adolescent and teen years, when I felt so alone and so terribly ugly. And I caught my breath reading through the years of clinical depression, the years of fighting unexplained infertility, the years of losing my grandparents and saying good riddance to friends I thought would never let me down.

I suppose I’d held onto these journals, thinking they would inspire my writing at some point, thinking they might hold important insights some day. But all they are now are reminders of darkness when all I want to feel is light. So I ripped them into millions of pieces and threw them into the recycling bins.

I did choose to keep a few journals … the ones documenting my decision to move to Colorado, the ones reminding me how and why I fell in love, against my strongest judgment (I wasn’t interested in marriage!), with my husband. And the ones filled with the limitless joy and amazement when our son came into our lives.

It feels good to let go. It feels really, really good.

Losing Your Hair Sucks Worse Than My Six-Year-Old Walmart Vacuum

mama triedHere’s something I’ve learned in the past two weeks: When your body suffers through a brutal illness and you nearly die, your hair can decide, weeks later, to give up the ship, too. And while I am super-thrilled to be alive and all,* I’m a little bummed to be dealing with rapid (and I mean as rapid as a cat with its tail on fire) hair loss.

It began about two weeks ago. I woke up in the morning to find my Snoopy pillow (don’t judge) covered in strands of hair. As in hundreds of strands of hair. As in horror-movie, something-has-gone-horribly-wrong strands of hair.

After my first reaction that involved the word, “mother” followed by one that rhymes with “trucker,” I decided it was surely a one-time kind of thing. Maybe a reaction to a new shampoo? A new medication? Karma for saying that one (tiny, rarely ever happens) mean thing to my husband last week?

But sadly, by the end of that day, I was literally holding huge clumps of my hair in my hands every time I touched my head. There may have been audible whimpering.

Can I mention right now that when you hail from the Land of Big Texas Hair, this is a High-Alert Crisis Situation?

You see, my hair is the one beauty trait I could always count on. I may have been ass-ugly at times from the neck up, or fatter than a Lone Star tick on a cow dog from the neck down, but hey, I had good hair. Healthy, shiny, dark hair, just like my mama. It didn’t frizz, even in Houston in June. It didn’t need straightening or perming (at least not since the 1980s). I hadn’t even thought about coloring any gray yet. It was damn good hair, people.

But now, after only two weeks, there’s not a lot of it left. I have actual bald spots. I have a legit comb-over. (Daddy, I understand now.)

The only options I have these days, since it’s too thin to be styled in any way, shape or form, are to push it all back with a headband like I used to when I was 12 and in love with Scott Baio, or wear a ball cap or beanie ski hat. All the time.

Luckily, the ball cap/ski hat thing works well enough in Colorado; women wear them everywhere here. And by everywhere I mean Target, REI and bike trails. (Headbands work better for the office, though, since a “Mama Tried,” stained cap doesn’t go that well with black palazzo pants and a fancy blouse.**)

I’m working with my doctor to turn this hair loss thing around, but she said it could take months for things to rebound. In the meantime, I’m going to try to picture myself as I remember my Granny when she’d wear her old faded John Deere cap, out in the sun, working cattle or planting okra: One tough broad you didn’t want to mess with before she had her second cup of straight-up black coffee.

Also, at this point in time, I’d like to apologize in writing to every one of my friends who has ever had to go through chemo. Remember how I used to advise you not to worry about losing your hair? How I said it was just hair?

I was wrong and you can slap me next time you see my balding head.

 

* Thank you, Little Baby Jesus.
** Who am I kidding? I wear jeans and boots to work most days.

 

PS:  Are you offended by the word, “sucks?” Don’t be! Here’s why.

 

A Walk and a Talk in the Mountains

I had the day off from work on Friday, and even though my husband and I were both still feeling sick from a Colorado Super Bug going around, I announced I was heading up to our cabin on the mountain. I needed to be there, to take one of my old walks that I took daily for more than a decade. It’s the same way I feel about Texas about twice a year, too. That driving need to be back in touch with some basic part of who I am.

My husband has been up to the cabin several times since we’ve moved, but I have stayed away. I knew I’d likely tie myself to a pine tree and he’d have to peel my arms away or chop down the tree to get me to leave. And frankly, it played out kind of just like that.

On our walk, we talked about moving back. It’s a tough thing, marriage. And parenting. You just never know for sure what the right move is. You can guess, and you can hope to high heaven you’re making the best choices. And then you can pick up the pieces and put them back together when they turn out to be the wrong ones.

I’m still not sure what we’ll do. I want to do what’s best for our son. His needs come first. But it’s all so murky, that determining what’s best.

Yes, it’s dangerous to live and drive up there on the mountain. The drive to school alone would be trying … about 50 minutes one way. And yet, I have to also believe that living in such a raw, untamed area would feed his soul, too. Right?

And let’s not forget his newfound love, or obsession, with fishing. At our cabin, he could walk out the back door and fish in a beautiful creek within minutes. And there are three private stocked lakes, too. He could be ice-fishing within 5 minutes during the winter. And doesn’t the opportunity to witness bears and moose and mountain lions and stellar jays and golden eagles in your back yard have profound educational value?

I’m not completely crazy, by the way. I know life on the mountain is tougher. The elements (wind, cold, blizzards) demand that you develop survival intelligence, that you respect Mother Nature in all her greatness. That you learn the value of hard work, like chopping wood, that ends up keeping you warm all winter. You learn that life isn’t just one big easy paved suburban street. You learn that sometimes the power can go out for days, but that’s okay because you kick ass at Scrabble and keeping a fire going 24 hours a day.

But are those lessons he really needs to learn in today’s society? Shouldn’t I be trying to create the easiest life for him? So that his biggest worries are doing well in school and making friends with kids, not foxes?

Or maybe we should just forget the mountain for now and instead live abroad for a year or two. Let a foreign country shape the kiddo instead of life at 10,500 ft. Maybe then my unsettled feeling would be replaced by excitement for a new adventure. Of course, there’s that little problem called money to fund such a thing, and let’s face it … we don’t exactly have Eat, Pray, Love kind of reserves going on.

I don’t have all the answers yet. But I’ll leave you with a few photos I took while we were on our walk … showcasing the Colorado Rockies in transition. The gorgeous aspen leaves are all gone, but the lake isn’t completely frozen over. The snow is on the mountain and some of the trails, but water is still trickling through the waterfalls. Paradise to me.

Colorado mountains

mountain trail

pine tree in the mountains

pine trees reflecting in water and ice

Poetry and Irony

I was looking through some old writing files tonight and found a poem I wrote back in 2003. Sadly, it reminded me of the recent catastrophic flooding folks here in Colorado experienced last month. Isn’t it sad that sometimes everything you know has to be ripped away from you before you can begin to rebuild?

Bed Unmade

Drying, cracking, ribbon like,

a creek bed unvisited

by the very one who owns it.

Aching, looking, a young girl’s search

timelessness, quietness, seeping in.

Rocks and mold, age-old formations,

pebbles between her middle toes,

insects crawling among the lines.

Then rainfall arrived

and arrived, and stayed late;

foaming clay-mud swirls

filling a crisp canvas

and erased the lines

betrayed the ants

silenced the quiet

and swallowed the land,

unmade the bed,

sheets all torn

pillows swimming

only to slip back and taunt again.

Memories Like Soup

Tip: Do not search for soup images while you are hungry.

Tip: Do not search for soup images while you are hungry.

Isn’t it interesting the memories that your brain’s cerebrum chooses to hold on tight to well into adulthood?

I mean, sure, there are the obvious high points, like the night of your high school graduation. (I still remember what I wore under my black gown, do you?) There are the low points, like the first time you experienced the loss of a childhood cherished pet. (Oh Champ, I still mourn you. Such a good, good dog.)

But there are also those weird little memories that, in the big scheme of life, tend to seemingly have no meaning. Yet, they emerge when you least expect it and become symbolic somehow.

I had one of those memories pop up this weekend.

My son wasn’t feeling great, and we were snuggling together on the couch, reading, in the early evening, having just eaten supper, most of which he didn’t touch. And then for whatever reason, I began to remember being really sick on a rare cool and rainy fall Sunday in South Texas when I was maybe 9 or 10. I remembered being curled up on the living room couch, coughing, with my Snoopy pillow against my cheek, while my dad watched the Houston Oilers in his recliner and snacked on peanuts.

But mostly, I remembered my mom in the kitchen (not unusual, as she spends most of her waking moments there still to this day), making my favorite creamy potato soup. We’re talking smooth, rich, perfectly homemade potato soup. Soup that’ll smooth the rough edges off your soul with just a cupful. No lie.

I swear, I could smell it simmering. I could hear the spoon against the stainless-steel side of the soup pan as she stirred it. I don’t remember actually eating the soup that Sunday, and I don’t recall any of the conversations that might have gone on around me. But I do vividly remember Mom making that soup … for me.

So, here in Colorado, I handed the Stinkbug over to his dad, who was also watching football on TV, in a recliner. And I quickly drove the 20 miles to the grocery store for ingredients. Then I came home, and at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, I began to make my son’s favorite homemade chicken noodle soup.

I could say that I did it because I want a Mom of the Year award. (Do they give those out? Because that’d be cool.) Or I could say I did it because I knew he’d likely be even sicker tomorrow, and the soup would comfort him. (Prediction verified, darnit.)

But somewhere inside, I know the real reason I made that soup. It’s because some day, I’d love for him to be holding his own sniffling kiddo on a cool fall Sunday (maybe they’ll be watching football)  – and I hope, in that moment, he’ll think of me and smile.

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PS: Thanks, Mama, for making that soup that day. Just in case I didn’t tell you because I was a snot-nosed, smart-ass preteen. Which is unlikely, right? But just in case.

An Honest Discussion About Adoption Between My Son’s Birth Mother and Me

adoption tree

Beautiful adoption illustration by Jimi Bonogofsky. View her work at http://jimidoodle.blogspot.com

My husband (I’ll call him R. in this post to protect his privacy) and I adopted our son (M.) six years ago through an open domestic adoption here in Colorado. For us, it was important for our child to know his birth family, if at all possible. We felt strongly that the more people he knew as family, the more people there would be out there in the world who would love and cherish him like we do. That’s been our guiding philosophy.

Recently, I asked M.’s birth mom, Amanda, if she would mind participating in an honest conversation about the adoption process for my blog. After the years that have passed, I wondered if we could together provide some insight, whether new or old, that might help other birth parents and adoptive parents, especially those just beginning their journey.

Always gracious and giving, Amanda agreed. And what follows is the result.

Kathy: Let’s start at the beginning! You must’ve looked through a ton of family scrapbooks filled with pictures and letters from couples like us wanting so badly to be parents. How did you choose us? Were you looking for something in particular?

Amanda: There were a lot of scrapbooks to go through; it was  great with me being into scrapbooking myself. There wasn’t any one thing I was looking for. B. (B. = birth father) and I just knew. It’s like a mother’s   intuition of some sort.

Kathy: So after we got our “Match Call,” the agency set up our first meeting. I was so nervous my hands were shaking on the way over to meet you and B. for dinner. Were you nervous, too? What was going through your mind before you met us?

Amanda: I was definitely nervous … not knowing what to expect or if you guys would be as nice as you looked and seemed in the scrapbook. One of the hardest things in my position was thinking I was being judged. I know Allison, our bulldog, (LOL) made me feel much better about it.

Kathy: Allison (from Creative Adoptions) was so completely awesome. She was definitely our champion and bulldog through it all, wasn’t she? I was so glad she was there for our first meeting. That’s funny that you were worried you’d be judged when we were worrying about the same thing. R. and I were so afraid that we would do or say something wrong — something that would make you change your minds about choosing us. You really held our little world in your hands that night. How do you remember our first meeting?

Amanda: I remember our first meeting going better than expected. Even though we had completely different lives, we still had a lot in common, like our personalities. You and I were quieter than R. and B. (I’m not saying they talked too much!) I knew after the first few minutes you guys were the ones. It was like God intended on me getting pregnant to have your son.

Kathy: I remember that, too. The guys talked a lot, trying to bond over men stuff. I remember concentrating on my salad a lot. Ha.

But you stayed the course with us. And then about six weeks later … you left a message for us that you were headed to the hospital: “Are you guys ready for your son to be born?” R. teared up. I think I was already in the car with the engine running.

And then, you allowed us to be with you during delivery. That was equal parts brave and kind. Did you have second thoughts about us being there? Could we have done anything differently to make it easier for you? What would you like other adoptive parents to know if they are lucky enough to be so involved at the hospital?

Amanda: I never had second thoughts about you guys being in the room … not at all. And you guys did more to comfort me than my own husband did. All I have to say to future adoptive parents is that if they are in the room, pay attention to signals. If the birth mom seems irritated, which obviously she’s going to be a little, maybe just back off. Respect any of the birth parents’ wishes.

Kathy: I remember getting you flowers and thinking that it was just stupid. Flowers? You just handed me my life in a tiny blanket. Should I have done something more? Or different?

Amanda: I think what most adoptive parents don’t understand is that for me personally, and for a lot of birth parents, you are giving us a great gift, too. You are giving us the gift of knowing our children will be safe and have what we couldn’t give them, whether that’s material things or to have the loving parent they need. So for me the flowers were great, but you and R. taking on the little guy when B. and I couldn’t is the gift. And just the love and compassion you guys have for all of us (especially me and my children) is amazing, and we are very lucky to have you all.

Kathy: Wow. It’s hard for me to think of it that way. We have always felt like the lucky ones. But I do remember Allison saying at the hospital that she could feel the love and respect we all had for each other. And that was so true.

And then came those first few months. We saw you and B. and the girls several times. We saw how you loved this baby so completely. We worried: Would you change your mind? Were we enough? Each time we talked on the phone, I hurt for you. What was it like for you those first few months before the adoption was final? You should know I never knew what the right thing to do was. Should I call you on the day the adoption was final? Should I give you space? I think I didn’t call; I just didn’t know if I should. And I didn’t want to cause you any more pain.

Amanda: The first few months before the adoption was final were emotional. My marriage was pretty much over and things were kind of falling apart right before my eyes. It was hard, but the one thing I was sure of was that M. was going to a good home and had everything I couldn’t give my two girls. On the day we went to court to give up our rights (I’m in tears just thinking about it), I believe I sat in the back seat as Allison and B. and I took that long drive to the courthouse. While I never second-guessed any of it, even the judge got teary-eyed and said how amazing and strong we were for doing what we did. He said that even though it’s a good thing, these were the hardest court cases. But look at us! We made it.

Kathy: What a great judge to have talked to you compassionately as human beings and not paperwork. I think that, so many times, people who aren’t knee-deep in adoption don’t really understand the full range of emotions that are there for both birth and adoptive parents. I’m glad that you felt confident in us.

Now, well, it’s been almost seven years. We still talk and we still see you, but not as much. And B. doesn’t want anymore contact for now. So looking back, has this experience been what you thought it would be? Has it disappointed or surprised you in any way?

Amanda: The experience was better than I expected, and I have to give great thanks to our counselor Allison. Without her, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it; she was amazing. I think all of us did very well. We all know the one sign God gave us was, even though I wasn’t too sure about M. being his name, once Dr. M. came in and introduced herself, that was all the confirmation I needed to know that God had intended on M. being created just for you. I’m sure not all adoptions go as well as ours but I certainly know this is the one decision I made in my life that I am truly proud of and will never have one bit of regret.

Kathy: I know – totally freaky when the name we picked out for the baby turned out to be the last name of the attending doctor. Even spelled the same way. I am getting goosebumps thinking about it all. And I have tears streaming down my face from your words, too. I remember you suggested we name him, “Owen.”  I liked that name, but we wanted to honor R.’s grandfather who had recently passed away, and you were sweet about it. I’ve told M. many times that his name was almost Owen. Maybe he’ll name his own child that one day. And I think you’ve also hit on a very important point. It wasn’t just us that made this adoption go well; the agency we both chose and the staff made a huge difference in their support of all of us.

Now, is there anything you want to say to adoptive parents out there, especially those who are just beginning their journey?

Amanda: What I’d want to say to adoptive parents is that even though it may seem like you’re not enough or doing as much as you feel you should, some of us birth parents feel we’re just as lucky as you guys are. I’m not every birth mom, but I know that I’m not sure where my life would be without you and R. You are still behind me and my family 100 percent. Adoptive parents: All you can really do is listen to the counselors and respect birth parents’ wishes. Hopefully you will be as happy and lucky as everyone involved in our adoption.

Kathy: Thank you, thank you. <wiping tears> Is there anything you want to say to birth mothers like you, who are giving a gift so precious it’s almost unspeakable?

Amanda: Stay strong. You will know the right match when you meet them. Adoptive parents are probably more nervous than you are. But I believe, and I have to say I’m not a religious person, didn’t go to church, but you will know what God intended for you. Deep down you’ll know. Just follow your instinct as well as your heart. It may seem hard, but something will tell you or show you what you need to do to feel ok with whatever decision you make.

Kathy: Well said, as always. You have always been wise beyond your years. Finally, though, is there anything you would like us to know?

Amanda: To the amazing parents my boy was lucky to be blessed with: I am grateful that my son (our son) has such amazing parents and will have opportunities we couldn’t give him. I can only imagine where all of us would be had we not made the choice we did. I am most thankful that you continue to be here for me and let us all be a family like we agreed and wanted to. I would like to also give your families huge thanks for accepting M. and my family into your lives. I love all of you.

Kathy: I think you just summed up the best things about open adoption in just one short paragraph. And we love you, too!

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NOTE to readers: There’s a lot of love in here, and I’m proud of that. But I also don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that open adoption is a breeze, and there aren’t things that both birth and adoptive parents have to work through. Everyone has to understand their boundaries and expectations; I think Amanda would agree we had to muddle through the first couple of years like most open adoption relationships. And we had hoped our son’s birth father would want to continue a relationship, and that hasn’t panned out. We’re still hopeful for the future.

Overall, I believe the main message here is that it can work if you’re willing to try, and it can be a beautiful, wonderful, loving way to raise a child.

Especially this one, who comes by his awesome fishing skills from ALL sides of his family.

fishing

6.5 year-old happy boy, in the zone.

 

 

Hemingway. Barbie. Therapy. Mother Teresa. You Know You Want to Read This.

* Special promotional note: I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because proofreading my own work is for sissies. Kidding. Kinda.  

* Special non-promotional note: This article first appeared in the awesome The Write Life magazine earlier this year. Reprinted here with permission. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend this cutting-edge, digital publication.

Now, on to the actual post. I wrote this in response to the question:  Why do you write?

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This is Ernest Hemingway. (public domain photo)
This is Ernest Hemingway. (public domain photo)

 Ernest Hemingway once said that there’s nothing to writing; all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. E.B. White was quoted as saying that writing is not only hard work, but also fairly bad for your health.

And even though Hemingway was likely drunk when he was quoted and White can’t really be trusted because of the whole talking pig thing, there is some truth to their words.

As a professional writer with 25 years of experience (obviously, I began writing in utero), I agree that writing can be a soul-wrenching thing. After all, writing means staying up until 3 a.m. to finish a chapter you’re working on, even when you have to get up at 6 a.m. for Real Life. It’s revising and revising until your corneas get angry at you. It’s putting your words out into the universe only to have one reader simply comment, “Meh,” in a one-star review on Amazon.

So why would any sane person do it? Why do we writers continue to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard when we could be watching Downtown Abbey or Duck Dynasty instead?

For some of my writer friends, the need to write is like the need to breathe air. Others say they write mostly because they love to tell a good story, and the world needs more good stories.

Me? Well, I think it comes down to three factors.

1)  I write because it’s not socially acceptable for me to play with Barbie dolls anymore. Even though I was a tomboy in every other way possible growing up in a ranching family in South Texas — with the scars to prove it — there was one “girly” thing I loved. And while the feminist in me today reels at the thought, here it is: I loved to play with Barbie. And Skipper and Ken. Only I renamed them Cherry, Hayley and Holden, respectively.

This is Barbie. (photo from Mattel)

This is a headless Barbie.

That’s right. I played with plastic girls with sparkly tube-tops and unrealistic 38-18-34 measurements. But unlike a lot of Barbie fans, I didn’t care what she looked like, or what dresses she wore. I didn’t envy her twist-n-turn hips, blonde hair or blue eyes.

To me, Barbie was a mere tool for my vivid (and probably not quite normal) imagination. I put those dolls in situations no doll in the history of dolls would ever want to be in. They were probably praying every night for Mattel to come and put them out of their misery.

The stories I created were soap-opera-level in intensity. There was illicit activity going on in the broken elevator shaft in the Dream House. It wasn’t unusual for miniature furniture to be thrown in anger from the penthouse. There was a scene involving beautifully crocheted clothes (made by my unsuspecting grandmother) being torn off in passion. (Note to Mom: I watched Showtime when you weren’t looking.)

Now that I’m a grownup — or at least pretend to be one — I still have the same crazy imagination, and stories still pop into my head all the time. Only now, I pour the drama into short stories, novels and other types of writing.

I think Cherry, Hayley and Holden would be pleased.

2)  I write because I can’t afford therapy. Most writers I know aren’t necessarily rolling in the dough. Yet we tend to have varying degrees of tormented inner lives that make us great candidates for therapy. So for me, writing is a great, zero-percent-down alternative.

In all seriousness, writing is how I try to make sense of the world. It’s how I deal with my constant restlessness. It’s how I delve into my past and figure out my place in the here and now. It’s how I deal with the ugliness and goodness out there, and inside.

Through placing characters at tough crossroads, I can consider how I would react in that same circumstance. Through placing characters in situations I have actually been in before, I can work through what I could’ve done differently, and how that would’ve played out. And I can help those characters find strength and courage and humor when life becomes one hot mess.

This is therapy.

This is therapy.

I can even face my fears — and write my way through it all until I see light at the end of tunnel, or at least until I can get it ALL OUT and move on.

Sure, I could spend months in a therapist’s office and come to all the same conclusions. But you’re not allowed to drink copious amounts of vodka at a counseling appointment, are you? Plus, writing doesn’t demand a copay.

3) I write because I want to make a difference. (Cue the We Are the World music now.) Throughout my childhood and in college, I always believed I would one day do something important that would help make the world a better place. Basically, I wanted to be a kick-ass combination of Susan B. Anthony, Mother Teresa and Ann Richards.

This is Mother Teresa.

This is Mother Teresa.

After college, I took up causes. I was knee-deep in political campaigns and volunteering for activist organizations. I was working at animal shelters and marching for better elder care.

And I was frustrated.

I felt like I was scratching on a well-trodden, muddy surface, and any difference I’d made was quickly gone when the next rain hit.

Today, I still do some of those activism things. But I also understand that through the effective use of language and storytelling, I can sometimes reach readers in a pretty darn deep place — a place where thoughts and ideas linger long enough for questions to be raised, and a search for answers to begin.

In fact, when a reader tells me that my work has touched them somehow, and made them think about something a little bit longer than they would have otherwise, that’s when I know that what I’m doing with my life — this whole writing thing — does matter.

After all, books and stories and poems have been known to change lives, you know. And if my work can trigger just one little change in just one person, then, well, it’s worth it.

* The following words are registered trademarks: Amazon, Downtown Abbey, Duck Dynasty, Barbie, Mattel, Showtime, and probably some others I’m failing to mention. Please don’t sue me. Refer to #2 above.

It Ain’t the Riviera, but It’s Mine

Due to limited funds (I need a KickStarter campaign for my life), our family’s summer vacation this year needed to coincide with buying three plane tickets home to Texas to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

We talked it over with great seriousness. I suggested a cabin on one of the lakes around Austin, or the San Antonio Riverwalk after the big party in my hometown. My husband suggested anywhere there was air-conditioning and tequila. Our son, however, was all about a beach.

We’d taken an awesome trip to Florida when he was not even 2 years old, and he’s seen those pictures time and again. But he can’t remember ever being near the ocean. And the kid wants to be a marine biologist (this moon cycle at least).

So, being the Perfect Mom that I am (ha), we decided to book a place somewhere along the Gulf Coast that was not more than a few hours from my parents’ celebration.

Heading out on the ferry from Galveston.

Heading out on the ferry from Galveston.

An Internet search led me to research Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula. It’s an island accessible only by ferry from Galveston. I’d spent a good deal of time in Galveston back in the day but had never been to the peninsula. Even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have recognized it now: It seems Hurricane Ike pretty much wiped out the island five years ago. And when I say wiped out, I mean, WIPED OUT. (You can see pics here of the catastrophic damage.) But the area was rebuilding, and I liked the idea of supporting that. And because there aren’t many services/amenities there yet, prices were reasonable, and I found a cute little beachfront house for less than we’d pay for a condo in Galveston or Port Aransas. So I booked it.

My husband was not all that excited about this excursion. You see, as an Air Force brat, he grew up with the perfect sand beaches and clear blue waters of Hawaii and Florida. He hadn’t heard great things about the Texas Gulf of Mexico. (I didn’t even tell him that the area was known for shark breeding …no sense adding that to his list of why-we-should-not-gos.)

View from our deck of an ice-cold Dr Pepper. Oh, and the ocean.

View from our deck of an ice-cold Dr Pepper. Oh, and the ocean.

But I convinced him, and we packed up a boogie board, summer sausage (see my post about that here), Throwback Dr Pepper in bottles, and a large amount of limes and tequila and headed to Crystal Beach.

My report? It was really just lovely. The water isn’t Caribbean-blue, for sure, and depending on how much churn was going on, it could look like chocolate milk, but it was warm ocean bath water with perfect-sized waves for family fun.

Pure future marine biologist joy.

Pure future marine biologist joy.

The beach was not white, but it was fairly void of beer cans and jellyfish and pretty great for castle-building. There was, as predicted by others, lots of seaweed, which some people see as an eyesore. But my son found its abundance great for catching ghost shrimp by shaking clumps of it into his fishing net.

The temperature was perfect for June, mosquitoes weren’t biting, and with the Gulf breeze, sitting on the deck at night, listening to good music, was the epitome of relaxation.

Surf was up.

Surf was up.

Unlike Port A and parts of Galveston, the beach was not crowded, and there were no drunken parties and wet t-shirt contests going on around us.

But here’s what I loved about Crystal Beach the most: Over the course of a few days, our son found a family of three sweet little boys to play with, and we parents got to hang out with the parents and grandparents. The family was from East Texas, and they welcomed us into their little part of the beach with open arms. I watched as my son, an only child, played in the waves and fished for minnows and crabs and dug in the sand and flew his kite with his new friends. I watched his smile light up in ways that it simply can’t when he plays with his parents (even though we’re pretty darn fun, if I should say so myself.)

Fun with new friends.

Fun with new friends.

Meanwhile, I laughed and soaked up the humor and kindness and thick Texas accents of our new friends, one of whom reminded me so much of my grandmother, I had to fight back tears a few times.

I listened to the stories they told — stories, I’ve found, that you just can’t get anywhere but Texas — drinking stories, fishing stories, kid-gone-wrong stories, small-town stories, trailer-trash stories, oil-rig stories, down-on-your-luck-four-wheel-drive stories, and stories about how family sticks together no matter what … and how when it comes down to it, home is what keeps you grounded.

Even when a hurricane takes everything but your foundation away.

Happy summer, y'all.

Happy summer, y’all.