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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

An attitude of gratitude

It's that time of year where we are supposed to declare all the things for which we are thankful. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I've been in a season where that hasn't come easily. I could say something like "I'm thankful for my tears because they remind me I'm human" or "moments of sadness make the happy ones that much sweeter," but I can't. It's not that there is anything wrong with such statements. In fact, I have found comfort in them before. It's just that this time, they fall short. I don't know why, but they do.

Then I read Courtney Martin's "The Sensory Astonishment of Gratitude" and a whole new way of seeing unfolded. I especially loved the following:

"[G]ratitude is not just about empty platitudes or forced dinner table exercises. It’s about marveling. It’s about witnessing people and telling them that you do. It’s about natural science and human anatomy. It requires, above all else, slowing down and noticing and letting yourself be astonished."

Those five sentences brought the spirit of thanksgiving back into my heart.

Marveling. So many things are marvelous, marvelous in the original sense, that of causing wonder. Tonight's spectacular blue-white moon. Airplanes. Interstates. More than a decade of successfully cooking Thanksgiving turkey with stuffing that tastes just like my mom's. That these seven people get to be together on this date, in this place. Mountains. Song.

Witnessing people. I'd like to think it's something I do pretty often, but I suspect that it's usually because they're on my radar for one reason for another. Rarely do I, out of the blue, do what I did today and say, "Hey, I'm thinking of you. Happy Thanksgiving." What if I made every day Thanksgiving for someone, just by letting them know they matter?

Science. I might not think scientifically by talent or by trade, but I can glory in the warmth of natural light on a late November day. Likewise, I appreciate the miracle that is my body. Yeah, it's been cut open and taken apart, pinned and stitched together, yet it works. It lets me feed my family, body and soul, and I don't just mean for this most American of feasts.

Finally, slowing down. If I had to identify one good thing about sadness, that would be it. I've lost my sense of urgency, and in exchange, found time for other things. I see a plane pass overhead and imagine the people on board. I don't just hear the song, I listen. Twice. I check in with my friends. I cook not until it's time to eat, but until it's done. In other words, I live.

Friday, November 20, 2015

When you see a family like mine...

I think this may be the first in a series. Only time will tell. I also want to write some posts on the theme of "Everything I need to know, I learned from an orange cat," but that loss is still too fresh. For now, I'm just letting the muse strike when and where she will until I summon enough energy to impose some discipline on her.

So without further ado, here we go. To give you a frame of reference, this is my family. Here on some tips on what NOT to say, especially when meeting us for the first time.

Cumberland Falls State Park, 2011

Question: Where are they from?
Answer: Kentucky.
Alternate answer (available only if I think it's relevant): Kentucky, but they were born in India.
The voice in my head: Stop being so dang nosy. If you had Indian children of your own, I bet you'd find a different way to phrase your question.

Question: Are they yours?
Answer: Yes.
Alternate answer (snarky, paired with theatrical scanning of surroundings): Are what mine? Oh my God! Them?! Why do these people keep following me?
The voice in my head: You probably want to know if they're adopted. If you also have a transracial family and/or adopted kids, you might have grounds to ask. Otherwise...

Question: Do they look like their dad?
Answer: Nope.
Alternate answer (highly snarky, accompanied by feigned scrutinizing of children): You know... now that you mention it, they sure don't. Wonder how THAT happened?!
The voice in my head: You want to know personal details about my family and think you've found a clever way to ask. You haven't.

Question: Are they adopted?
Answer: Yes.
(No other answer is necessary.)
The voice in my head: This question is usually fine by me, as long as it's asked kindly and respectfully, and as long as it's not followed by any of these...

Question: Couldn't you have your own?
Answer: They are my own.
Alternate answer: I already do.
The voice in my head: Please tell me you are not actually asking me about my sex life and/or reproductive health. Do you hear me asking you about that?!? I didn't think so.

Question: Did you try magic beans/ IVF/prayer/sacrifices to pagan goddesses?
Answer: No.
Alternate answer: Actually, I chose adoption first. I wanted to be a mother and there were kids who needed parents. It was a perfect fit.
The voice in my head: Why are people so stinkin' interested in getting what I would consider TMI? Seriously! That is so NOT okay!

Question: How much did they cost?
Answer: stunned silence
Alternate answer: Ummmm.... You do know that I didn't BUY my children, right? I paid fees to lawyers, agencies, orphanages, immigration services, and more.
The voice in my head: What in the heck is wrong with you? Who asks that? How much did your pregnancy cost? What about the delivery? What? You don't want to answer? Why not?

I could go on, but you get the point. If you wouldn't say it to a married, heterosexual couple with 2.5 kids who look exactly like them, then don't say it to me. Deal?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It's okay to be sad

I can imagine some of the responses to the title of this post:
  • "Well, duh! Of course you can be sad. Just like you can feel happy or mad or anything else."
  • "You mean there are people who aren't sad?"
  • "Maybe. But don't wallow in it." 
  • A variation of the following: "Look for the silver lining." "God always sends the rainbow after the rain." "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
I could keep going, but I won't. All of these responses come from a place that is probably...hopefully...well-intentioned. At the same time, each in its way falls short. 

The first is probably the closest to a healthy response, but it doesn't go far enough. Our emotions are more than just "okay," more than just something to take for granted. If we are to be fully human, we need to make a nurturing space for them.

Too much sadness, as in the second response, is like too much of anything else. Excess never works to the good.

The final responses might be worst of all. Life is sometimes devastating, and denying that only compounds the sense of loss. Please note that I don't mean this in the sense of clinical depression – that is a different thing entirely, also deserving of our care and respect, but not the topic of this post. I just mean that painful things happen, sometimes to the point of creating seasons of sorrow. I'm in one of those spells right now. Here are just a few of the reasons why, in no particular order: 

Norbert in healthier...and heftier...days
  • As those of you who have read the last couple posts know, our giant OC (orange cat) lost his battle with cancer and crossed the Rainbow Bridge. There is a cat-shaped hole in our house and in our hearts.
  • My son, the one with the alphabet soup of mental and behavioral diagnoses, has struggled since starting middle school, and finding the right help seems all but impossible short of winning the lottery or inheriting millions. 
  • Someone dear to me needs surgery and can't afford to get it. The Affordable Care Act gave millions access to health care... but millions apparently doesn't include everyone.
  • Another cherished friend is coming up on the one-year anniversary of the death of her son. Yes, you calculated correctly. That will happen right as everyone around them celebrates the holidays. 
  • Yet another friend, one who has saved my life and sanity (whatever remains of the latter...) more times than I can count, is having to stand by helplessly as her daughter makes decisions that will surely change her life for the worse. 
  • The recent attacks on Paris are more than any person or country should have to bear. My heartache is compounded by the fact that France feels like my second home.
Lights out at the Eiffel Tower

And know what? All of that SHOULD make me sad. Not to the point that I can't laugh at a Melissa McCarthy movie or feel satisfaction at a student's success. But I am still sad. Who wouldn't be? The world can be a very sad place, with no discernible silver linings (maybe the silver linings exist, but that are not yet visible to the ones in pain). So all I can do is make room for it and sit quietly with my wounded heart until I am ready to move forward again. Sometimes that takes a while, but it is the middle ground I have found between the extremes of wallowing and denial. The sad things, like all the rest, are now part of me. That is as it should be.

Some people feel sadness for a season, others habitually brood in the opalescent light of the moon. Laren Stover writes eloquently about the latter in her New York Times piece, "The Case for Melancholy." I encourage you to read it. Your blue side will, paradoxically, be glad you did.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Work in progress...

Norbert, the big orange fur baby, crossed the Rainbow Bridge over a week ago, and since then, the words have not come easily, to talk about him or about anything else. I'll try again next week.

Norb with "his" person, photo from the Times Tribune
(yes, this cat was in the paper!)

In the meantime, enjoy this website, put together by someone who very obviously knows and has lived with cats. Yes, they may seem like furry little dictators. But life would be empty without them.

Until next time, then.

A meeting of the minds. Or bellies. Or both.