Category Archives: Parenting

If wishes were horses

Lynne stood near a pile of horse manure, leaning on a fence post, flies zooming around her in the late-afternoon sun. She squinted her eyes and watched the creatures before her, a lump in her throat and tears threatening to overflow her eye sockets. She sighed away the feeling of being consumed, which had come uncomfortably close to enveloping her.

She hated when that happened. Why couldn’t she just allow the ecstasy to flow on the rare occasions the conditions were right?

Because it didn’t seem appropriate in a horse pasture. And with this woman she barely knew. And, of course, in front of Grace. Grace freaked out at tears, even happy tears.

Lynne never thought she’d find this woman, this creature, this possible solution for her daughter. She’d searched for two years, ever since equine therapy was first suggested as an idea to try for her daughter. And though Lynne had had to be patient, the possible solution had unfolded beautifully.

Weeks before, Lynne had entered the local health foods store. She never checked the community bulletin board in the entry way, but this day, as she left the store with her baba ganouj and Greek yogurt, she stopped to read a flier. “Art/Music Festival this Fri/Sat 10-5.” Surprisingly, the address was within biking distance from her home. Lynne made a mental note to take the family to  the Art/Music Festival sometime during the upcoming weekend.

On Friday, Lynne and the kids drove past the intersection listed on the flier. Looked like a very small Art/Music Festival, Lynne thought to herself. This isn’t even in a parking lot — it’s in someone’s yard. She and the kids were on task for something else and didn’t go to the Art/Music Festival that day.

Saturday was full of duty. Lynne and Rob got their yard mowed, some weeds pulled, the groceries bought, some calories burned. The day was slipping away when Lynne remembered the nearby Art/Music Festival. She knew her husband was a sucker for local music. C’mon, let’s go, she’d said around 3:30.

They got to the teeny-tiny Art/Music Festival just an hour before closing time. Along the perimeter of the lot were maybe six white tents providing shade to vendors of knit caps, airbrushed artwork, and handmade wind chimes. In one corner was a small stage with a miked and amped guitarist, vocalist and drummer. In another corner a guy was offering chair massages.

At the entrance to the clearing, a pretty blond woman was offering horse rides.  Grace begged to ride, so Lynne approached the woman to find out how much a ride cost. “Five dollars. This is Pinto,” she said pointing to a liver-spotted horse. “He was a rescue. He’s very gentle.”

Grace’s pleadings reached a fever pitch remarkably fast, even as Lynne fished cash out of her purse. Grace’s difficulty in focusing on schoolwork was accompanied by a peculiar ability to hone in on what she wanted and not stop petitioning until she got it. The blond woman arranged for a young high school student wearing jeans and boots to lead Grace, atop Pinto, on a 5-minute circuit around the lot. Twice. Grace could not get enough so they went around a third time.

Lynne chatted up the horse owner. “Do you know anywhere around here that offers hippotherapy?”

It was a highly specialized field. Not only did the horse need to be trained in dealing with children who had special needs, but the human also had to be trained in fields like occupational therapy, speech therapy, maybe even psychotherapy. Lynne had searched for years in vain, finding such horse+therapist combination an hour’s drive north or an hour’s drive south. Not doable.

How had it come to this? It had become clear that Grace was not getting what she needed at school, at home, through their medical network. No one had even been able to figure out what she needed. Grace was falling behind academically, she was having difficulty with relationships, she was combative at home, and though infinitely lovable, Grace’s presence was a whirlwind of chaos. Lynne and her husband were exhausted in dealing with her and trying to help her. They’d tried numerous strategies, therapies, even medications. Nothing had helped Grace focus, stem her impulsiveness and tendency toward opposition, or “click” with reading and math skills. Lynne and her husband were growing more and more fearful that maybe an answer didn’t exist.

So the blond woman’s response was nothing short of miraculous.

“I do hippotherapy.”

Lynne could not believe her ears, her luck.

“You do? Where?” fully expecting the answer to be in a faraway town.

“Right here. I’ve just returned to the area and I’m setting up riding and therapy again. I’ve worked in the past with children of all abilities and with all sorts of issues.”

She told Lynne her fees, which were not as high as she’d feared. Phone numbers were exchanged, and soon Lynne had set up this first lesson.

Best of all, Grace, with her love of animals, did not even know she was getting assistance. Being different from other “normal” kids had been the downfall of other therapies and activities they’d tried. But this? This looked like learning to care for and ride horses.

In reality, the reported benefits of equine therapy include learning to be respectful, being calmer in the body, honing social skills and understanding the subtle give-and-take, improving the eye-movements essential to reading, reinforcing sequencing, building self-esteem, and experiencing trust.

It remained to be seen if Pinto and the blond woman could bring about any of these changes for Grace, now sporting a borrowed riding helmet and sitting with a straight spine atop the horse . But as Lynne stood in the glow of the afternoon sun, watching her daughter ride with confidence and focus, she was supremely hopeful.

Perfect Moment Monday: Chinstrap time travel

Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between.

Once a week we engage in mindfulness about something that is right with our world. Everyone is welcome to join. Details on how to participate are at the bottom of this post, complete with bloggy bling.

Please visit the links of the participants at the bottom.

Here’s a perfect moment from my week. I hope you’ll share yours, too.

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This is a moment I plan to savor on my deathbed. I took care to emblazon it on my psyche.

~~~

Each morning since school began, the kids and I strap on our helmets, mount our bicycles and ride ¾ mile to their school. I make sure they’re OK locking up their bikes in the bicycle cage and then I pedal home. At the end of the school day, I zoom back to school, meet them at the cage, and we ride home together. In just two weeks this has become a treasured ritual. We get fresh air, exercise, a joint activity, and time to talk while in motion.

Friday morning, the kids were already on their bikes while I was still putting on my helmet. They buzzed around our circle waiting for me. It was a beautiful sunny morning, temps in the mid 60s. The grass is still green, the heavens a gorgeous azure, the flowers vibrantly colorful, the air so clean you want to inhale the entire sky into your lungs. I paused to notice, really notice, what was going on.

And then a curious thing happened, in the mere time it takes to click a chinstrap.

I marveled that the two teeny-tiny babies that I’d schlepped in infant car seats, that I’d toddled down driveways, that I’d left, crying with separation anxiety, in pre-school classrooms, that these two amazing beings had become such independent, active and generally happy children. In the blink of an eye, a filmstrip covering 9+ years of parenting ran through my mind.

And the phenomenon continued, from the present day forward. I could see Tessa, her legs splayed in the “wheeee” position while she coasted the arc of the circle, sporting braces, then wearing a formal dress and corsage with her right hand on her date’s chest in the classic prom-photo pose. I could see Reed, working on his wheelies, in a gown with a mortarboard atop his head and diploma in hand as he graduates from my alma mater. I see them each in wedding-wear, gazing with devotion into their beloveds’ eyes, then becoming parents themselves, teaching their children, my grandchildren, to ride bikes.

Best of all? I returned to right now. This perfect, delicious, endless moment with my children.

I am so lucky.

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To participate in Perfect Moment Monday:

  1. Between Sunday night and Tuesday night, write up your own Perfect Moment in a blog post, on Twitter, on Facebook, or simply leave a comment below.
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What Perfect Moment have you recently been aware of? Be sure to visit these moments and share the love, and please come back next week (click to subscribe).


 

Hotel Rwanda and Open Adoption Parenting

A few years ago I was teaching World Geography to middle school kids. We’d done a unit on the phenomenon of genocide, and at about the same time Paul Rusesabagina came to our city for a speaking engagement. I organized a field trip, and we all heard the first person account of the hotel manager who sheltered Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.

Truly, his story is remarkable. At risk of his safety and that of his family, Paul Rusesabagina (played in the film Hotel Rwanda by Don Cheadle) used his connections and wiles to save more than a thousand refugees. Think the Schindler’s List of Africa.

paul rusesabagina and don cheadle

The audience was full of gushing praise for him. Each person who got up to ask a question at the end of Paul Rusesabagina’s presentation began with some version of, “You are extraordinary.” or “You are exceptional.” or “You are amazing — I would never be able to be so brave.” Continue reading Hotel Rwanda and Open Adoption Parenting

A moment in open adoption parenting

Tessa was distraught, after a Halloween party, for not getting the nod for a sleepover at her aunt’s house. The excitement of the kid-oriented haunted house, the disappointment about the sleepover and a sugar high made for a meltdown.

I got her into the car and she continued to wail about how mean her dad and I are. Roger and Reed were in the other car (long logistical explanation), so Tessa and I had some rare alone car time.

The wailing changed tone as we headed home.

“Why can’t Crystal and Joe be my parents!? I have never even been with both of them at the same time!”

Whoa.

I silenced the GPS lady so I could focus. Here’s a slowdown of my processes during moments like this.

  1. Calm, center, open. Breathe, and be aware of my breathing.
  2. Listen. Let her do most of the talking.
  3. Assess. What is she really saying or asking?
  4. Trade places. What might this look like, feel like, to her?
  5. Abide. Give her space to feel her feelings.
  6. Speak. Equal parts head and heart.

Following are the salient parts from the ensuing conversation, which lasted about a half an hour and culminated while we cuddled in her bed.

“Tell me more,” I said while driving home.

“If they got together, maybe they would LIKE each other. And then…”

“And then…?” (pause) “And then they could be your parents?”

“Yes.” (pause) “But Joe is married, and Crystal has Luke.” (pause) “They will never be married, will they, Mom?”

Now, the best thing I did here was not personalize this and make it about ME. Her words, and the thoughts behind them, had NOTHING to do with her feelings for Roger and me, her attachment to us, her love for us. The best way for me to help her find resolution about having two sets of parents, and about her own road not taken is NOT to pretend that one set of parents doesn’t exist, is NOT to feel bad that I can’t be everything to her, is NOT to “fix” it for her by pointing out all she does have.

It’s by giving her space and support to find her own way.

“No, Sweetheart. They were together many years ago, but they were not a good match. You know, don’t you, that they both love you?”

“Yeah, I know that. But why aren’t they my mom dad?”

“Would you like me to tell you the story again? After we get home we can cuddle and talk.”

“Yes!”

10 minutes later we pulled into the garage. Tessa got on her jammies and brushed her teeth. We climbed into her bed, about an hour past normal bedtime.

“Crystal and Joe were very young. Twenty may not sound like young to you, but it’s a time when some people don’t have a lot of skills in dealing with other people, with being frustrated. You know that class we took together, Taming the Anger Monster? Well, at that time, neither Crystal nor Joe had learned how to tame their anger monsters.

“They broke up because they were hurting each other. With words — you know that words can hurt. And as much as they both loved you, they knew that neither one was able to give you a stable home, a calm home. At that time. You needed a forever family then, though. And that’s what you got. Daddy and I will always be your mom and dad, no matter what.

“The Crystal and Joe you know now are different from who they were then. It’s OK to imagine what life with them would be like. What do you think?”

“Well…I would have an older brother from Crystal. And a younger sister from Joe. I’m not sure if we would live at Crystal’s house or at Joe’s house. And I would probably go to a different school. One I don’t even know. I might not even know Reed. Or Grandma and Grandpa. Or the OTHER Grandma and Grandpa. And all my aunts — I wouldn’t have any aunts! That would be weird.”

“It would be very different, wouldn’t it? You can tell a thousand stories of what your life is not. And only ONE story of what your life IS. This is your life, Tessa. Lots of people around who love you now and forever, including Crystal and Joe, daddy and me. All of Crystal’s family, all of Joe’s family, all of our family.”

“Mama,” she said sleepily, the anxiety and sadness gone for now, “I love you.”

“I love you, too Tessa.”

*****

There probably were wiser words I could have said, and things I shouldn’t have said. I’m putting this out there because in this space I try to share (within the limits I’ve set regarding Tessa’s privacy) as many facets of open adoption parenting as I can. It’s important to know that “open adoption” isn’t just something you do when you exchange photos, send emails, have a visit. It’s something that can come up even when you have other plans.

Image: JewelBasket.com

Please see my response to the reader comments (below) at my follow-up post, Hotel Rwanda and open adoption parenting.