Spring Comes on Like a Bad Lounge Act
Spring really pissed me off when it finally showed up– a diva demanding attention–after an endlessly snowy winter in upstate New York. It seemed to scream with an over-the-top happiness I couldn’t share. Crocuses, daffodils & hyacinths popped their beaming, adorable faces out from near frozen ground; I glared at them suspiciously. Pear, cherry and apple trees flowered exuberantly outside my front door; I refused to admire them. Lilacs and lilies-of-the-valley gave off their intoxicating, in-your-face scents; I rolled my eyes. The big show offs!
This is when, I suppose, a little voice first whispered that something was wrong. But when you’re the mother of four children six and under, who has time to listen to whispers?
Before I knew it, Wynne, Theo, Moses and Beatrice were choosing bright pink, blue, orange and purple baskets for the Easter Egg hunt and we were racing across lawns at dizzying speeds, the children screaming as they spotted colorful metallic jewels in the grass, stuffing obscene numbers of these chocolate treasures into their mouths in Guinness Book of World Records time (Theo: “I can’t help it, Mom. When I eat too much sugar I get frisky!”).
When pale young leaves began blanketing the Shawangunk mountains–surely a symbol of all that is hopeful and optimistic–I noted one fern’s tender shade of apple green, burst into deep uncontrollable sobs and walked away.
After spending the past five years on some sort of impossible-to-explain, lighting speed road race to complete four adoptions, Tim and I are finally home with our four much longed for cuties.
According to my five year plan, now is the time for celebrating…
In the course of the four adoptions, might there have been one or two more obvious moments to become discouraged? Hmmm. Let’s see. Oh yeah. During the past five years I’ve cheerfully (mostly) endured:
- four, six-month rounds of mind bendingly tedious, high stakes bureaucractic paperwork
- a roller coaster year away from home in two developing world countries
- getting fingerprinted more times than a hardened criminal
- adoption breastfeeding (my own personal battle of the wills)
- getting spitup, peed and pooped on on 24 hour long international flights
- a pre dawn frisking by burka clad Muslim women in a dark room at the Dubai airport while my baby sat untended outside (ok, not so cheerful)
- carrying a naked, screaming child (she peed on her clothes) through a laughing crowd in a blingy Cartier store
- being stared at by Mayan reed weavers, Kenyan taxi drivers, Mother Theresa nuns and Rwandan coffee farmers.
- more sleepless nights as a new mother in dirty cloths in hotels, airport lounges and far flung rental apartments than I care to add up.
- tuberculosis scares
- scares of being detained indefinitely in Kenya (related to the tuberculosis scares)
- hours concocting sophisticated escape plans from Guatemala to Honduras, to live the rest of my life as a fugitive.
So….if it isn’t too much to ask…wtf? Why the face NOW?????????? NOW!
Turns out there’s a catchy name for what’s wrong with me: PADS, “Post Adoption Depression Syndrome.” Clearly the person who gave it this name has never experienced PADS or the name he chose would be a lot less catchy. How about “YJFLBYLCTMTFYTYCHIBYCS,” which stands for, “You-Just-Freaking-Lost-it- Because-Your-Life-Changed-Too-Much-Too-Fast-and-You-Thought-You-Could-Handle-It-But-You-Couldn’t Syndrome?”
And since hardly anyone has ever heard of PADS (kind of like Post Partum Depression was little known 10 years ago), how catchy a name is it, really?
But back to the story…
The Five Year Plan
This year, according to my ‘plan,’ we are supposed to be doing some serious nesting in our peaceful mountain home (which we bought while we were living in Guatemala during our first adoption in 2005).
We begin digging a garden. (“We” meaning Tim and his former post college NYC roommate, Eric) The house is soon stocked with adorable seedlings and brightly colored seed packets. On one unseasonably hot day, the kids spontaneously strip off shoes and clothes and run under a sprinkler leftover from the the previous summer; it’s as if they know the steps to some wild & ancient primal Spring dance.
Watching this giddy scene through the kitchen window–seeing the happy family I dreamed of for years finally manifest in my backyard– I am floored to find I feel almost nothing. Only a dim, phantom flutter of tingly warmth remains–like someone whose foot has been amputated feels a phantom pain where his leg used to be. Except it’s my joyful heart that’s missing.
And every day I walk around with a growing secret: I cannot wait for darkness to fall so I can put the kids to bed, get under the covers, and hide from all the wonderfulness we’ve created.
Flash Mob Video Addict
I stay up late watching old episodes of Modern Family. One night, during the scene where Cam & Mitchell get into a fight at the mall, and Mitchell dances in a flash mob to prove how much he loves Cam, I burst into a particularly satisfying round of tears. I become hooked on flash mob videos. Actually, I’m addicted to crying at flash mob videos. Even fake ones. (fyi, I highly recommend the one on season 3 of the ABC series Greek).
Soon I don’t even need the flash mobs. I am up crying at 4 am. I’m crying in cars. Crying as I make dinner, hiding my face from the kids and holding my breath so I sob silently.
At about this time we hit our one year anniversary of bringing Moses and Beatrice home from Rwanda. I feel like I should plan the welcome home party/shower I never had for them, but I just can’t muster the energy.
I try making the requisite one year anniversary adoption celebration video montage– complete with heartbreaking images of the Rwanda orphanage, triumphant arrival scene at the airport, adorable highlights of happy children today (all to the tear inducing soundtrack of gorgeous & hip contemporary Christian music). But that’s not happening either.
On the exact day of the year anniversary, my eye becomes swollen shut with the same creeping crud eye infection I had a year earlier at our appointment at the US Embassy in Nairobi to apply for the kids’ passports (see In Nairobi with Internet.) My body at least, acknowledges the anniversary.
Big Enough to Receive the Blessing
Then one night, at my Sacred Mothering group (I live in the Hudson Valley of New York, home to the original Woodstock spazzy-hippy spiritual free for all. We love this sort of thing), somebody mentions something she read about grief. About how in certain African tribal communities, people don’t freak out when someone is in despair.
They don’t rush around in a panic trying to fix it. They don’t avert their eyes in embarrassment. It is not a sign of weakness. It is taken for granted that in every life, even the most ordinary. stuff happens–loved ones die or suffer, dreams never manifest, illnesses occur, relationships break up, and there are unexpected natural disasters.
Various members of the community take turns sitting with the grieving person and letting them cry. or do whatever they need to do. For as long as it takes.
Grief in these cultures is just routine emotional hygiene, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower cleans off yucky dirt that builds up in the course of living. Tears are a way to clean up and clear out old pain, to remain fresh and open to life.
As I think about this, it suddenly becomes stupidly obvious. I’m running from the truth and here it is: I’m crazy desperate, break in a million pieces sad. I miss my old sweet, peaceful family of four.
I miss cuddling in the quiet mornings without a fight breaking out. I miss floating down the cobblestone streets of Guatemala on some sort of new mom endorphin high, with one baby in a sling and another on my back (both carriers made only of single pieces of handwoven Guatemalan fabric tied by the woman who wove them) feeling powerful, free and blessed beyond measure.
I’m fighting with every bone in my body having to say goodbye to the family of four I loved in order to embrace the new & unfamiliar beauty of the family of six I have right in front of me.
Sometimes I worry maybe I’m not strong enough to handle this. That I won’t be able pull myself together. That when I look back on my life at the end, this will be the thing that took me down. The thing I never really recovered from.
Doesn’t everyone secretly worry that some tragedy or challenge will come along that is just be too big, and they won’t be strong enough to get up again?
But maybe we’re not meant to be that strong. Maybe it takes a different kind of strength to fall apart. To allow yourself to be remade, shaped by the losses of your life into something different than you were before.
Maybe it takes a kind of strength to understand that, when you’ve asked for something big, something bigger than you maybe realized when you first asked for it (right now the fervor with which I wanted four children seems like delusional insanity) the only way to get what you really want is to first break apart, sometimes into a million pieces, in order to create enough surface area to receive the blessing.
In some churches there are ‘grief rooms,’ rooms especially made for people to fall apart. A safe place to ride out the storm. A place where we don’t have to carry the burden alone.
What if everyone had a safe place to go?
So I offer up this post as a kind of makeshift grief room. A place simply to consider the possibility that we could stop running from grief, that we could stop hiding our losses from one another in the quest to appear cool and invincible.
And wouldn’t it be funny if it turns out that what we needed all along was not the next big superstar, philanthropic billionaire, or genius inventor but something even more amazing: a bunch of ordinary people who manage through the ups & downs of life to hold onto a ‘robust vulnerability,’ as the poet David Whyte calls it.
Where instead of growing harder and more cynical as we get older, our hearts grow as soft as our children’s (especially our adoptive children, who have the world’s most forgiving hearts). Filled with empathy for others in pain.
Wouldn’t it be freaky if what saves us in the end is a totally new & unexpected kind of strength?
(kindred spirits: please demonstrate your own robust vulnerability/strength by leaving a comment below xoe)
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