Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Planes, trains, and automobiles (minus the trains, for now)

So we've been traveling a lot during the month of June.

First, there was the 12+ hour drive to and from New York, during which my thoughts can be summarized as follows:

"Is it really THAT much more expensive to fly than to drive?  At least then we wouldn't be cooped up in this car together from now until the Apocalypse. And we wouldn't smell the dog farts either!"

Then, there was the flight to and from Cincinnati, passing through what may be America's ugliest airport, LaGuardia (though I do have to say I love how the runway literally ends in water!).  My thoughts during this went something like:

"Please, please, please don't let any strangers talk to me.  AARRRGGGHHH!  Why is that woman STILL talking?! This would not be happening if I had taken the car!"

At this point, you probably think that I hate to travel and should probably just should stay home. Wrong! I love to travel. A lot. I just don't always love what it takes to get to where I'm going.  Still, this trip featured nothing more than the usual inconveniences, for which I consoled myself by thinking it can always be worse. In fact, thinking about how it can be worse inspired me to share my two worst travel stories. Maybe they'll console you too. Or maybe you can top me. If so, please share in the comments section. I'm always a sucker for a good story!

He went left, I went straight

Once upon a time, I was married, and my husband got a job in Houston. I had a fellowship requiring me to stay put in Indiana, so we loaded half our stuff into a U-Haul and his Ford Escort. We had a route, maps, a plan. Or so we thought. But somewhere in Illinois, he went left and I went straight (no, this is not a metaphor for our marriage...). This was before cell phones were ubiquitous, so there we were. I did the only thing I could think of. I went to the first rest area and waited. And waited, and waited, and waited. I put the cat's harness on, got her out of her crate, gave her water, and we waited. We met a group of really nice people on motorcycles, so nice I'm pretty sure you can't call them a gang. I used a pay phone -remember those?- to call my parents, then his parents, and told them where I was in case he called them too. Then I reached someone with the state police. Then the cat and I waited some more. Somehow, finally, the phone calls produced results. I found out he was waiting at a different rest stop this whole time. I loaded up the cat, climbed back in the car, and hightailed it over there. We were both tired to the bone but agreed to drive on to make up time. By the time we stopped, there were no rooms available, so you know where we slept? You guessed it:

Missed connections:

We were on our way to India to meet our third child. We both carried cell phones by then, but phones are precious little help against wind storms and massive delays at JFK. We saw our beautiful Air India 747 cued for take-off as we taxied to the gate on our flight from Cincinnati. After a night in an overpriced airport hotel, we returned to JFK, where we learned that the Air India 747 was still in Delhi. Our travel agent asked if we knew New York well enough to get to Newark. We did. So she told us to fly from Newark to Mumbai and then go from there. Any number of local carriers would be able to get us to our final destination, Bangalore (a planned stopover in Delhi had been thrown out the window long ago). We landed in Mumbai in full monsoon season.  Phone service was out, so we could not use our credit card to secure our reserved seats on the Bangalore flight. We changed money in time to get seats on the next one, but in the meantime, this happened:

That is a 747 stuck just off the runway. For hours, Aquafina, Cadbury chocolate, and new-to-us flavors of Pringles sustained us between nerve-wracking visits to the ticket counter and restrooms. The ticket counter agents were pleasant, yet somehow not reassuring in their insistence that our flight was most certainly leaving on time, even with the airport closed. The restroom attendant? She scared me, as did the restroom itself. Before you judge, when is the last time you used the public restroom in the old domestic terminal of the Mumbai airport? With the shiny new airport, you'll never get the chance. Anyway. We did... eventually... get to Bangalore. Our luggage, however, did not, and it was obvious that no one had any real idea as to where it might be. We filed reports, paid "tips," all to no avail.

All I can say is thank God for travel insurance!


Both stories have a happy ending. 

We got to Houston safely, though the cat never did willingly get in a car again, at least not without a hint of Benadryl. We moved back to Indiana a year later, but I refuse to believe that awful car trip had anything to do with it!

We also got to and from India safely.  We got the most important part done right when we were supposed to- we brought our son home. To learn more about the place where he lived when we met him, visit Vathsalya Charitable Trust

PS  The luggage came home too, five weeks after we did!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Kidneys vs. Brains

Author's note: this piece has been in the works for some time. I saved it for now in honor of National Attachment and Trauma Awareness Day.  Click on the NATA website to learn more.

Illness is a strange and unsettling thing.  Sickness in one's own child is about the worst thing that can happen in the life of a parent. And man, have we had a lot of illness in our household this year!

Did you know, though, that not all illnesses are created equal? If you don't believe me, go tell twenty people you have been diagnosed with, say, schizophrenia. Then tell the twenty people you have, say, cancer. Compare their reactions and I think you will find that what I am about to say to be terribly familiar.

My son, as those who have followed our story know, was diagnosed at age 6 with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). There is also talk of ADHD, SPD, ODD and PTSD, but the alphabet soup means little more than this: due to horrific early childhood trauma, his brain did not develop the way it should. In spite of some improvement, he will likely have to live with the consequences of this for the rest of his life.

This spring, my oldest daughter complained of what we thought were menstrual cramps. Two days later, it appeared to be a stomach bug. By the end of that same day, she was admitted to the hospital, where she was soon diagnosed with acute renal failure. Many tests, nephrology appointments, and gallons of water later, she recovered full kidney function and should, as long as she hydrates and avoids certain medications, be fine for the rest of her life.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I'll be the first to say that I have the best village there is. Yet even so, all too often their responses to these crises could not be more different.

The kidney failure was one of the most terrifying things I've ever experienced. The outpouring of love and support, though, was amazing. Prayers, child care, rides, you name it, it happened. I could scarcely keep my phone charged for all the texts, calls, and e-mails I received from concerned family and friends. When I announced that my daughter had made a full recovery, our "village" heaved a collective sigh of relief. People still go out of their way to modify plans, change behaviors, do whatever they can to make sure she stays healthy and well.

Not so my son. I have a few people who check in, one or two who try to help us cope with the burden, shared by our whole family, of living with his trauma. Few, if any, ask about his progress, much less the prognosis. And even among those who do, the response is all too often along the lines of, "sounds like he's all boy," "my kid does that too," or "you need to lighten up." They usually mean well, but they have no idea. And even though I don't want our lives, especially my son's, to be defined by his problems, sometimes the dismissiveness and lack of empathy hurt.

What hurts most of all is this: why does one illness matter more than another? And why do we blame the sufferer for the mental, but not the physical? My daughter possibly could have avoided the worst of her illness by simply drinking water. She let herself get dehydrated at a track meet and it all went downhill from there. My son, on the other hand, had no say in what happened to him early in his life. Because it manifests in his behavior, however, people assume that it is somehow in his control, when in reality, that is only true some of the time.

Anyway. The point isn't to decide who or what is to blame. Into everyone's lives some illness will fall. The point is this: we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and every part of our being is worthy of respect, compassion, and care. After all, I have yet to meet the person who can survive for long, much less truly live, without fully functioning kidneys AND brains.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Beautiful Creatures

I always cross my fingers for the underdog, from the Jamaican bobsled team to the kid picked last in Little League. I'll take that one kitten who seems a little bit "off," the one who hasn't been adopted yet.  Will those supposedly ugly ducklings all become triumphant swans?  Don't know and don't care.

However, there is also a lot to be said for swans. The quirky misfit has his place, but so do creatures of extraordinary beauty.  American Pharaoh literally brought tears in my eyes when he crossed the finish line to claim his Triple Crown.  Those tears reappeared when I watched the replays the following day.  You just have to look at him to know why.

While you're at it, don't just look the horse. Look at his jockey, Victor Espinoza. It's obvious that he knows what an extraordinary privilege it is to know this amazing animal inside and out. These two are so good together that we forget the Triple Crown had become all but impossible to win – I wasn't even ten the last time it happened!  What a gift to sit in wonder as that bounding, exuberant stride carried them to victory.

What's more, jaw-dropping beauty doesn't just happen when the whole world is watching. Sometimes it appears in a small-town theater, when a girl who has always wanted to fly floats across the stage.

This is my fifteen-year-old daughter dancing. She is the one closest to the camera, bound to earth by a mere square of pink satin, fingers stretching to the sky. At three, she stood on a railing wearing fairy wings, fully intending to fly. At four, she found a book on ballet and proclaimed, "I want to do this" as she pointed to a picture of a ballerina en pointe. She has been dancing, and flying, ever since. When she does, it's like getting a glimpse of the perfect oneness of creation. Her spirit, the same that animates American Pharaoh and Victor Espinoza, both defies and fuels imagination. Before you say my comparison is crazy, remember that an artist named Degas saw it too...

I will always root for the ugly duckling, and I will always be blown away by the swan.  Most of all, I will cherish the gift of all beautiful creatures, whatever form their beauty may assume.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Twelve years is not enough

This year, my oldest daughter turned 18.  She went to prom with her best friends in April, and in May, she graduated high school with high honors.  She has a full ride to college this coming fall, where she wants to study medicine -to help people- and history - because she loves it.

I am so proud of her that sometimes I don't know how to contain such depth and breadth of feeling. She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met.  She is strong, stubborn, brave, soft-hearted, and works harder now than many people will in a lifetime.

I often wonder what it would have been like if I had met her sooner.  You see, I met her on paper when she was already 5, in person just three months after she turned 6.  The year before that, she was in an orphanage, and before that, with her birth family.

This kind of wondering is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is no way on earth I would rob her of those years, too precious and too few, with her birth mother.  I don't know much about that blessed woman, and if I did, I wouldn't share, because that's my daughter's story, not mine. But I can tell from the way my girl moves through the world that she was loved from the first, and cared for as much as humanly possible under circumstances most of us can't imagine.

On the other hand, twelve years, well, it isn't really very much time at all.  It's not enough time to tell her just how much I love her.  It's not enough time to tell her I'm sorry for all the times I got this parenting thing wrong (and believe, me, there are LOTS of those!).

One beautiful April evening, I looked at her in her spectacular red prom gown and for a moment, all I could see was the little girl in the pixie cut running around in a Sleeping Beauty dress and dollar store tiara.

A week later, I watched her fly down the track in the 100-meter dash and beside her was the fierce little ballplayer who started stealing bases while only in tee-ball.

And the graduate? The one headed to college, who bought her own car, for whom we bought her very own Mac laptop? I don't even know what to say about her. I already said she is amazing. I don't think there is anything to add.

Except this.  I know she is 18 and that it is time for her to fly.  I believe in my heart of hearts that Lindsey Wilson is going to be an amazing experience for her. She reminds me of myself in that college seems like the place she's "supposed" to be.  High school was just marking time while waiting for something bigger.

Even so, I can't help it. These 12 years with her by my side, they still don't feel like nearly enough.