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


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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.


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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.

 

 


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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.


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Don’t Stop for Cigarettes: Or What Blue Straggler Was Almost Titled

BlueStragglerCover_b06.4 front only W555H850A lot of readers ask me how I came up with the title for my debut novel, Blue Straggler. So here’s a little story for you, including a list of what might’ve been the title of my first Amazon bestseller!

The short story that birthed the idea for Blue Straggler was actually titled Boondocks. The title hit on the main character’s feeling of isolation, along with a hint at the crazy family out in the sticks. But as the story grew into a novel, the title didn’t feel right anymore.

Then, I was in the middle of writing Blue Straggler my first year in Colorado and I was reading an astronomy book. Moving up here had made me want to learn more about these stars I felt like I could touch from the top of a mountain. I came across the term, blue straggler, and its definition:

There are stars in our galaxy that belong to a globular cluster but have an anomalous blue color and high luminosity in comparison with other cluster members. When the globular cluster is plotted, there is a distinct turn-off point on the main sequence. The stars that appear to be disconnected from the cluster’s main sequence are called Blue Stragglers.

I knew right away that was the title I was looking for. The term and its image fit the main character, Bailey, so well. She’s down on her luck. She’s a kind of straggler in life. She’s disconnected from her family. She’s at a distinct turn-off point.

My agent, who signed me based on this novel, suggested I change the title. She said it sounded too sci-fi and wouldn’t resonate with the target audience in women’s fiction.

We brainstormed other ideas, even though I felt strongly that the title shouldn’t be changed. Here are some of the top ones we considered:

  • Don’t Stop for Cigarettes
  • The Draw of a Good Enchilada Is a Powerful Thing
  • It’s Hard to Escape with Texas Plates
  • Nowhere I Want to Be
  • Therapy Is Working Wonders

Luckily, my agent eventually let this be my decision, and I stuck with Blue Straggler. So did my publisher.

What do you think?


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The Best Gift My Dad Gave Me

My rough-around-the-edges, Texas-rancher dad spent 25 years or so in a house with four females (and one bathroom for most of that time), and I never once heard him complain.

As he said to me when I recently asked him what the secret was to being married to my mom for 50 years, this is his philosophy: “I try to keep my head down and my mouth shut.”

Did I mention he’s fairly funny, too?

232323232fp538;5_nu=32_7_989_896_WSNRCG=349672_43332_nu0mrj

My dad with child-labor ranch-hand.

He probably learned that mantra in the Army, but hey, it’s not a bad plan. It’s also one that failed to sink in with his middle daughter. But ironically, I think I actually owe a good part of my outspoken nature to my dad.

You see, he may look to the world like a Tony Lama-boots- and Stetson hat-wearing good-old-boy from Waelder, Texas. But my dad is a highly intelligent man who, in partnership with my mom, gave us all an extraordinary gift: He made his daughters wholeheartedly believe that we could be anything we wanted to be, that we could do anything we set our minds to. As long as we worked hard and used our brains (that he helped cultivate, I might add), the world was ours to conquer.

In fact, I didn’t even really believe that sexism existed out there in the world — that girls were sometimes treated differently, as somehow less — until I got to college. You can imagine my anger and downright shock when I encountered blatant discrimination from a professor at Texas A&M. It was only then that I realized being a girl meant I’d need to work even harder to get to where I wanted to go.

But that was okay, too. Because my dad also taught me that no matter what life throws at you, you work through it. No matter how much something hurts, you find your grit and get up again the next morning.

Here’s a prime example of the kind of father my dad was when we were growing up. I decided on a whim one day, at age 17, that I wanted to work at the local radio station as a DJ. I had no experience, of course, or any idea of what the job entailed. But why would that have stopped me?

I didn’t ask my parents about the idea; I just headed down to the station and pitched myself to the owner, who just happened to need someone for the late-night shift — as in signing-off-at-midnight-with-the-national-anthem night shift. Neither of my parents blinked an eye when I told them about my new gig, and I started the following week.

I had my own wheels by then, so I didn’t need a ride to and from the station. And yet, every night, once I’d signed off the air, as I’d lock up the station alone and walk out to my car, I’d see my dad parked a few yards away in his old Chevy, just waiting. Maybe listening to some Waylon Jennings or CW McCall, or reading a Larry McMurty novel by the humming street light. Night dew already on the windshield, crickets chirping all around. I’d smile at him, give him a little wave, and then he’d follow me home.

He never once said I couldn’t do that job because it was dangerous, leaving the station so late, by myself, when everyone in the two-county broadcast area knew exactly where I was and when I’d be heading home. He never suggested I do something a little more ordinary, like a normal junior in high school might do.

He never said a word.

He was just there. Making sure I was okay. Even though it meant he had to stay up late, too.

He was just, always, there.

I knew he had my back, even though he’d raised me to be fearless.

smallerpa and mnacphotfixo

Handsome grandpa, unknown stinkbug grandson

Now, when I think about how I’m raising my own son, I’m using that as my guide. Be fearless, kid. Grab your crazy idea and go for it. But I’m here. I’m always here. Just in case.

My dad may not be a man of many words, unless he’s telling old Army stories, but he certainly knows how to raise little girls to be headstrong, independent women who rarely take no for an answer.

Thank you, Daddy. (Yes, we all still call him that. We were raised in Texas, remember.)

Thank you for being our head-down, mouth-shut, loving hero who inspired us to be who we are today.

I kind of think that, even now, in your seventies, you’re still the glue that holds us all together.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 


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Dear Moms of Adopted Children

First, a quick note: I wrote this piece after reading an essay written by Lea Grover in the Huffiington Post, titled “Dear Less-Than-Perfect Mom.” The post by Lea was wonderful, and it made me think about us moms who found our sweet babies through adoption, and how we face unique challenges. I hope you enjoy it, whether you are the parent of an adopted child or not. Happy early Mother’s Day, everyone.

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Dear Mom of an Adopted Child,

I met you in adoption education class. I met you at the agency. I met you at my son’s school. I met you online. I met you on purpose. I met you by accident.

It doesn’t matter. The thing is, I knew you right away. I recognize the fierce determination. The grit. The fight. Because everything about what you have was a decision, and nothing about what you have was easy. You are the kind of woman who Makes.Things.Happen. After all, you made this happen, this family you have.

Maybe you prayed for it. Maybe you had to convince a partner it was the right thing. Maybe you did it alone. Maybe people told you to just be happy with what you had before. Maybe someone told you it simply wasn’t in God’s plans for you to have a child, this child whose hair you now brush lightly from his face. Maybe someone warned you about what happened to their cousin’s neighbor’s friend. Maybe you ignored them.

Maybe you planned for it for years. Maybe an opportunity dropped into your lap. Maybe you depleted your life-savings for it. Maybe it was not your first choice. But maybe it was.

Regardless, I know you. And I see how you hold on so tight. Sometimes too tight. Because that’s what we do, isn’t it?

I know about all those books you read back then. The ones everyone reads about sleep patterns and cloth versus disposable, yes, but the extra ones, too. About dealing with attachment disorders, breast milk banks, babies born addicted to alcohol, cocaine, meth. About cognitive delays, language deficiencies. About counseling support services, tax and insurance issues, open adoption pros and cons, legal rights.

I know about the fingerprinting, the background checks, the credit reports, the interviews, the references. I know about the classes, so many classes. I know the frustration of the never-ending paperwork. The hours of going over finances, of having garage sales and bake sales and whatever-it-takes sales to raise money to afford it all.

I know how you never lost sight of what you wanted.

I know about the match call, the soaring of everything inside you to cloud-height, even higher. And then the tucking of that away because, well, these things fall through, you know.

Maybe you told your mother, a few close friends. Maybe you shouted it to the world. Maybe you allowed yourself to decorate a baby’s room, buy a car seat. Maybe you bought a soft blanket, just that one blanket, and held it to your cheek every night.

I know about your home visits. I know about your knuckles, cracked and bleeding, from cleaning every square inch of your home the night before. I know about you burning the coffee cake and trying to fix your mascara before the social worker rang the doorbell.

And I know about the followup visits, when you hadn’t slept in three weeks because the baby had colic. I know how you wanted so badly to show that you had it all together, even though you were back to working more-than-full-time, maybe without maternity leave, without the family and casseroles and welcome-home balloons and plants.

And I’ve seen you in foreign countries, strange lands, staying in dirty hotels, taking weeks away from work, struggling to understand what’s being promised and what’s not. Struggling to offer your love to a little one who is unsettled and afraid. Waiting, wishing, greeting, loving, flying, nesting, coming home.

I’ve seen you down the street at the hospital when a baby was born, trying to figure out where you belong in the scene that’s emerging. I’ve seen your face as you hear a nurse whisper to the birthmother that she doesn’t have to go through with this. I’ve seen you trying so hard to give this birthmother all of your respect and patience and compassion in those moments—while you bite your lip and close your eyes, not knowing if she will change her mind, if this has all been a dream coming to an abrupt end in a sterile environment. Not knowing if this is your time. Not knowing so much.

I’ve seen you look down into a newborn infant’s eyes, wondering if he’s really yours, wondering if you can quiet your mind and good sense long enough to give yourself over completely.

And then, to have the child in your arms, at home, that first night. His little fingers curled around yours. His warm heart beating against yours.

I know that bliss. The perfect, guarded, hopeful bliss.

I also know about you on adoption day. The nerves that morning, the judge, the formality, the relief, the joy. The letting out of a breath maybe you didn’t even know you were holding for months. Months.

I’ve seen you meet your child’s birthparents and grandparents weeks or years down the road. I’ve seen you share your child with strangers who have his nose, his smile … people who love him because he’s one of them. I’ve seen you hold him in the evenings after those visits, when he’s shaken and confused and really just wants a stuffed animal and to rest his head on your shoulder.

I’ve seen you worry when your child brings home a family tree project from school. Or a request to bring in photos of him and his dad, so that the class can compare traits that are passed down, like blue eyes or square chins. I know you worry, because you can protect your child from a lot of things — but you can’t protect him from being different in a world so intent on celebrating sameness.

I’ve seen you at the doctor’s office, filling out medical histories, leaving blanks, question marks, hoping the little blanks don’t turn into big problems later on.

I’ve seen you answer all of the tough questions, the questions that have to do with why, and love, and how much, and where, and who, and how come, mama? How come?

I’ve seen you wonder how you’ll react the first time you hear the dreaded, “You’re not my real mom.” And I’ve seen you smile softly in the face of that question, remaining calm and loving, until you lock yourself in the bathroom and muffle your soft cries with the sound of the shower.

I’ve seen you cringe just a little when someone says your child is lucky to have you. Because you know with all your being it is the other way around.

But most of all, I want you to know that I’ve seen you look into your child’s eyes. And while you will never see a reflection of your own eyes there, you see something that’s just as powerful: A reflection of your complete and unstoppable love for this person who grew in the midst of your tears and laughter, and who, if torn from you, would be like losing yourself.


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Comment and You Could Win! Who Is Your Favorite Character in Blue Straggler?

I recently visited with another book group that read Blue Straggler, and I always love it when I hear how animated and passionate readers are about the characters in the novel.

This particular conversation revolved around Adam and Rudy — two very different male characters in the story — and which one of the two was more likeable as a long-term romantic interest for Bailey (and for the book group members …).

And then one of the members asked me who MY favorite character in the novel is. That’s a pretty tough question. After all, I created them all and they lived in my head with me for a very long time before the story was complete and out in the world. It’s kind of like asking me which of the many dogs I’ve had in my life is my favorite. I’ve loved them all in different ways. I can’t pick. Ever.

I will say, however, that I plan to write a sequel to Blue Straggler, and Rudy will have a big part in it. Because I think I might miss him the most.

Now – your turn. If you read Blue Straggler, comment below and let me know which character in the novel was your favorite and why. I’ll choose a winner based on which comment I like the best. (I’m queen of this little world/blog, you know.)

Best part: Winner will receive a signed paperback copy of Blue Straggler – in its original 2012 cover (those are in limited supply, baby!)

Now, don’t let me down. Comment away!

Here’s a recap of the some of the characters for you:

Bailey — Directionless female protagonist approaching 30; uses self-deprecating humor to deal with life; enjoys Cool Whip and alcohol on frequent occasions; can’t keep a relationship longer than it takes milk to expire in the fridge

Rudy — Bailey’s best friend since college at Texas A&M; will kick your ass at Jeopardy; Bad at dating and financial management.

Idamarie — The third and oldest member of the friendship triangle; shells out good diner food and mostly good advice. Fourth-generation Texas woman with the hair and sass to prove it.

Adam — Moody mountain man with a beat-up Jeep and heart, plus a lot of dogs and a barn for rent.

Francis — Coffee shop owner and Bailey’s first friend in Colorado. Nice Southern accent.

Stella — Feisty mail carrier and mayor of Gold Creek, Colorado. Don’t look at her prosthetic ear.

Tuck — Tow truck driver, originally from Texas, now living in Gold Creek. Has a Jesus bobblehead on his dash.

Bailey’s Mother — Enjoys throwing backyard parties and yard sales, and berating Bailey. Co-owner of family’s fiberglass cow business.

Bailey’s Father — Rancher. Values beer, old outlaw country, gambling, and good dogs.

Lawrence — Librarian with Skills.

Weasel – Bailey’s cat she believes is out to get her.

Willie and Waylon – Bailey’s family’s dogs

WHO WILL YOU CHOOSE?


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Readers’ Top 10 Blog Posts in 2012

I started this blog in early 2012, at the request of my publisher. I’ll admit I was worried about it. I’d written a weekly online column before, but that was different. This was a BLOG, something I’d resisted for years. Would I have time to blog and blog well? Would people (other than my mother) care enough about what’s going on in my head to read it? And what in the hell would I write about?

Well, I haven’t kept up with the blogging schedule I’d hoped for, but I have written a few fun pieces. Below, I’ve featured links to the 10 most popular posts, just in case you missed `em. Even I enjoyed rereading a few.

Oh, and just to recap this AMAZING year in publishing for me (because that’s what you do on New Year’s Eve-Eve) … after becoming an Amazon bestseller in the spring and summer, Blue Straggler (released as an ebook in August 2011 and in paperback in March of this year) remains in the top 30 in sales and customer ratings in comic fiction on Amazon. It hit #2 again right after Christmas and #5 in a different category (humor). Pretty cool. Or rather, a huge dream of mine come true. A Good Kind of Knowing was released in ebook in October and in paperback earlier this month. It made it to the #10 spot in its category (fiction/drama) on Amazon and remains in the top 30 in ratings. It also made the top 100 in customer ratings in literary fiction. Whew. That’s as good for this writer’s soul as crab legs, cheese biscuits and a Bahama Mama from Red Lobster.

I’m so thankful to everyone who has supported me this year and always. Having my work touch just a few people would’ve been satisfying. But this kind of success has been overwhelming. Thank you!

Now on to those posts, and here’s to 2013, y’all!

 #1  Our Dogs Are Going to Get Us Kicked out of the Neighborhood

#2  Saying Goodbye to My Dream, or the One-Year Experiment With Normal Living

#3  And This Is Why I Hate Dental People

#4  Friends Are Worried About My “Girls”

#5  What Happened When I Turned 30 …. and 40

#6  What Being a Texas Woman Means

#7  How Growing Up With Country Music Made Me a Better Writer

#8  21 Facebook Posts You’ll Never, Ever See From Me

#9  Open Letter to High-Fructose Corn Syrup

#10  Your Official Music-to-Read-By Playlist 


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A Texas Christmas (Early) and Other Thoughts

We flew home for a quick holiday visit to South Texas this past weekend. As always, it was great to see my family, wear sandals and shorts in December, and enjoy my mom’s awesome cooking.

Mom made 12 pies at last count, and I think I ate 10 of them. We’re talking pecan, peach, lemon icebox, lemon black-bottom … mmmmm. We had her famous chili and beans for our “Christmas” lunch, along with homemade tamales. She also made all of her traditional cookies, and Dad barbecued my favorite sausage for me. It was all delicious, and I’m pretty sure I gained 10 pounds in three days, as evidenced by my jeans getting tighter and tighter each day. Ask me if I care!

The best quote from my son since we’ve been back was: “It sure is hard to come back here after eating at Grams’ house.” Which did not go over well, as he said it while eating a dinner my husband had cooked.

During the Texas Christmas gathering, we also enjoyed another rousing singing competition we call “Harris Idol.” My favorite moment was when the whole kid gang (minus my nephew who preferred to go deer hunting instead) sang Feliz Navidad as a finale, with all their hearts, even the parts they mumbled. It was priceless.

I don’t care who you are. This is funny.

There was the usual craziness in Texas, too, of course: We played our traditional Christmas Lights Game and some Unnamed People cheated badly. There was a strange Santa Claus toilet seat cover involved, dating back to the 1960s. My parents’ dog hid behind the couch a lot. I encouraged my kid to write “Wash Me” on my sister’s dirty prized Cadillac, which in hindsight might’ve been a mistake. We opened presents one at a time (to make the fun last longer) and there was disagreement as usual over whose turn it was. My son got a youth-size power drill. (And I’m totally on board with it. After all, he asked Santa for wood.) The usual country music CDs and knives and handheld spotlights were given and received. There were a few disagreements here and there, some harsh words may or may not have been spoken at one point. I was enjoying Hazelnut Martinis, so I’m not the best judge.

My son wants his own goats.

My son, by the way, loves Texas even more than I do. He cried for a long time at the airport — so much so that I truly think some people assumed I was abducting him. The only way I could get him to stop was to talk about all the things he’d do once he moved to Texas, which he plans to do as soon as he graduates from high school (as long as I come with him). He says he will attend Texas A&M (good boy), build his own log cabin on my family’s land, dig three water wells so he won’t run out of water, and drill one oil well so he won’t run out of money. He wants 10 dogs, three goats, three milk cows, five beef cows, one rooster, some chickens for eggs, and a pig. Also he will have three horses, and I get to ride one of them. The other two are his. And he plans on having several tractors because they are always breaking down. He’s got it all planned out — has even sketched out how he will design his log cabin. When I was his age, I’m pretty sure all I cared about was my Lite Brite and Raggedy Ann doll.

On a much sadder note, Newtown happened while we were home, too. Like so many people, there were entire moments when I couldn’t breathe when I heard the news. Could. Not. Breathe. But I couldn’t let myself get too vocal about all that I was feeling while I was home — I didn’t want to ruin Christmas with my family, a lot of whom are supporters of the NRA and who believe guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Just typing that old cliché upsets me, actually. To me, that’s like saying (and I’m stealing this from a Twitter feed) chickens don’t lay eggs. People with chickens lay eggs.

But here’s the thing. We as a nation have to do something. Something is terribly wrong in our society. The easy availability of assault weapons — weapons designed and manufactured to kill — is part of the problem. I believe that with every ounce of my being. It’s not the only thing wrong, but it’s a large piece of the puzzle.

So I say this: Please, please, let’s have some rational discussions about assault weapons. Let’s demand a plan of action from our leaders.

Please.

For the sake of every little soul who was killed, for every parent who waited at that firehouse for their baby … who never came, for the children and adults who lived through the massacre and now have to go on with those images and emotions forever embedded in their brains and hearts, for our own children.

And to all those who say it won’t help to ban assault weapons, I say this: Maybe it will. It’s a start. And what if it COULD help? What if it could save one child’s life? It’s worth a try. Slippery slopes, be damned. Can you look a parent in the eye whose child was shot 11 times and say you are worried about losing your right to own a hobby gun?

That’s all I want for Christmas. For us, as a nation, to act on this.

In the meantime, I wish all of you, no matter where you stand on gun control issues, a warm holiday with your families. Tell everyone you love that you think they are pretty great. Make sure that every friend and family member knows that if they are ever feeling so completely hopeless that they want to take their life or others’ lives, that you are there and you will help them. Tell them that killing is never the answer. And to every family who lost someone to a mass shooting this year, I pray for your hearts to heal. And I’m not even the praying kind.

Sending love and peace to all.

 


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