I spend a lot of time pondering the disparity between the mom I thoughy I would be, and the mom I am. I was such a good mom before having kids. I had dreams of my children playing with quaint wooden toys, learning piano at a young age, and having picnics in meadows (eating only organic food, of course). Somehow my reality of motherhood involved a lot more plastic, McDonalds, and trips to Target than I ever imagined. That meadow picnic? Yeah, that’s never happened.
Also in my dreams of motherhood, our home would be free of toys that represent weapons. My oldest was a boy – but I imagined that somehow, with careful guidance, I could free him from the gender expectations that give way to a desire for violent objects. Unfortunately, no one warned me that a predilection for destruction seems to be coded in the DNA. Despite providing my son Jafta with a playroom full of peaceful, docile toys, he seems to be drawn only to things that produce explosions, loud noises, or (best yet), wounds of the flesh. He was begging for a sword by the time he could talk. Once he got wind of this light-saber business, everything in the house (paper towel roll, umbrella, drumstick) was brandished as a light-saber. And now, despite the fact that he’s never seen a movie much darker than Stuart Little, he is totally and utterly obsessed with guns.
I blame this on the tawdry influence of some of his older, more worldy friends. (The friends in question actually being the children of our pastor and one of the church elders. So, you know, unseemly influences). These friends have given in to the obsession and allow their kids to play with pretend guns, and on more than one occasion we’ve been on a playdate where he has observed these kids gleefully chasing each other with said toy guns, whereby I scramble to distract him with some benign fire truck or other object that seems incredibly boring in comparison to A GUN! A GUN! I’M FIVE AND I WANNA PLAY GUNS!
I finally confessed my concerns to one of the other mothers, who is the mom of several kids older than my own. She laughed knowingly, and patted my shoulder, and said, “Oh, that’s right. Jafta’s your oldest. I remember feeling that way, too. But now that I’ve watched three boys go through this stuff, I gotta tell ya: you’re fighting a losing battle. All boys want to play with guns. You can do everything you can to outlaw it, and they will make a gun out of a stick. Just let it go.”
I suspected she might be right, but I was sticking to my guns (or lack thereof). At this particular playdate, I encouraged Jafta to find other things to play with, as he stared longingly at the other, seemingly cooler kids as they ran and chased and rendered each other dead. I tried to distract him with Legos and trains. He stared longingly as every other boy ran by, brandishing a weapon. He also spent the playdate alone – excluded because his mom wouldn’t let him engage in what everyone else was doing. I left the playdate questioning my judgement. Jafta left the playdate devastated.
A few weeks later, we went to another playdate with the same group of boys. As soon as we arrived, I could see that the other boys were enraptured in another game of gun play. Jafta looked forlorn, and I had a little moment where I decided that my value for Jafta being included with his peers was more important than my rule about guns. I told Jafta to go get a gun, and start running. He looked at me like I was crazy. And then I heard myself saying, “Seriously, Jafta. You can do it. Go get yourself one of those guns. Get it! And RUN!!”
And as those words I never thought I would utter came out of my mouth, I reminded myself that parenting is not predictable. I have to be willing to change, to reconsider, and to budge a little. I watched Jafta look confused, and then hesitant, and then I saw a huge grin break out on his face as he joined in with the other kids. He had a great playdate, and he felt included.
We still have a no-gun policy at our own house. Although, he seems to be working his way around it.
I’ve wanted to be a psychotherapist since I was in eighth grade. It’s what I went to school for, and it’s what I’ve done for the last ten years. I’ve been licensed and with with the same private practice for ten years. It was a very comfortable place to me. I liked my colleagues, I liked that the job was challenging and cerebral, and I loved that I could set my own hours and work part-time for a decent wage. One of the things that drew me to this career was that I thought it would be very compatible with motherhood. I thought I could see a part-time caseload during Mark’s off days, while staying home with the kids.
This worked out well when Jafta was a baby. I really enjoyed going in to work, and the adult conversation was a welcome change to the quiet days at home with a baby. When India came along, it got a little more difficult to juggle. I felt a little more frazzled in session, and really struggled to keep up with returning phone calls and setting appointments during the week. Once I had Karis, I could barely find the time to call back the referrals I got. The few long-standing clients I saw after her arrival were hard for me. I felt like my brain was in short-circuit mode. I just couldn’t get my head into a space where I could really be present with clients. I am an introvert, and motherhood was draining any energy I had that I could previously devote to my job.
Now that Kembe is here, it has become increasingly obvious that I won’t be able to continue in this line of work (at least any time soon). Parenting four kids is incredibly taxing for me as an introvert – but parenting Kembe also requires a great deal of therapeutic intervention. I am daily trying to help him grieve his losses and break through some of his emotional and behavioral issues. With all the trauma we are working through at home, it seems impossible to then go and help others work through their own stuff.
I’m also finding it more and more difficult to handle “heaviness” in general. I have often thought that my cynicism and sarcasm have been shaped, in part, as a way to cope with a job where I deal with the worst of humanity, day in and day out. I look back at the last ten years and wonder how it has shaped me to hear story after story of the way humans are ugly and hurtful to each other. From divorce to child abuse to domestic violence to infidelity – I have heard it all. There have been many times when I’ve wondered if I wouldn’t be happier arranging flowers, or designing furniture. As a therapist you are supposed to learn the art of detaching – but I have found that detachment follows me into other arenas of life, which hasn’t always been good.
I’ve been holding on to this career, though, partly because a large part of my identity has been wrapped up in this career I chose before I knew myself well, and partly because I feel like the years of grad school and student loans mean that I need to stick it out. (There is also the bigger part of not knowing what else I can do professionally, but that’s another story). But I’ve been avoiding any acknowledgment that I’m done – telling referrals that I’m on “maternity leave”, even though it’s been a year. And telling colleagues that I’m just taking a break.
Last week, my office called . . . and in a very gentle and therapeutic way, suggested that maybe it was time for me to come get my diplomas and books. They were absolutely right. I haven’t been into the office in nearly a year. But something in me wanted to hold that place, because I just didn’t want to admit that I am too compromised to be a therapist right now. Or maybe ever.
So I went and got my things, and packed up ten years worth of books with titles like Working with Emotional Intelligence and Anxiety Disorders and Phobias. As I packed it into my car, I wondered what to do with all this books. And I don’t just mean where to put these books (though that poses a problem, too). But the more existential question: what do I do now, with all this knowledge, and without the ability to apply it?
(And yes, the obvious answer here is that I can apply the knowledge with my children. But I’m having a little pity-party of vocational identity, so let’s not go there, okay?)
For the time being, I’m still teaching a couple classes in the grad psych department, and supervising a few interns, but I’ve officially taken down my shingle as a private practice therapist. Books are in the garage. Diplomas are in a box. Self-identity undeniably in flux.
I think it’s fair to say that many of us who write our own blogs also read a lot of blogs. We might also spend a fair amount of time on twitter. We might also waste a bit of time on facebook. And before we know it, we might find ourselves wondering how it got to be 1am and we still haven’t put the dinner dishes away.
And by we, I mean me.
I spend entirely too much time online. It’s what a call a neutral addiction. It’s not hurting anyone – I’m not flying into a drunk rage or throwing my life away or getting arrested. I’m just quietly wasting lots and lots of time.
I have a love-hate relationship with social media. It has certainly expanded my worldview and made me feel a part of a broader community of moms. I have never had that sense of isolation as a mom that I heard my mother’s generation talk about. Despite the fact that some days I don’t ever make it out of my pj’s, I still feel like I get to do a little socializing every night on facebook. When my kids go down for a nap, I can catch up on my reader to see what my friends are doing, or relate to an anecdote from someone else in a similar lifestage. I can blog about my struggles with choosing a minivan, or dealing with the school bully, or my inability to remember my assigned snack day in the classroom, and the comments often feel like my very own community of women, propping me up and guiding me along the journey. It’s also provided me with an amazing community of adoptive moms, with families that look like mine. I may not see them every day, but I know they are out there, and I get to keep up with them on facebook and twitter.
And really, without twitter, how else can I let John Mayer know what a douchebag he is, or pretend like I’m friends with Michael Ian Black?
At the same time, I often think about how social media affects my priorities (and if I’m honest, my parenting). My tether to the online world is short and demanding. For something that was created for fun, I often feel an overwhelming compulsion throughout my day to get a post up, to think of something clever to say on twitter, and to make sure I’ve caught up on everyone’s updates on facebook as if it’s a pressing to-do list. I wonder how my life would be different if I didn’t have the distraction of social media. Would I be more present with my kids? (Yes). Would I be a better cook? (Probably). Would I be competing in a triathalon? (Well, let’s not get carried away). I have frequent checks with myself about my time spent online, and I’m aware that there is a fine line between recreation and addiction. I’m also aware that I am frequently on the wrong side of that line.
I confess that there are many times that I feel tempted to go “unplugged”. I fantasize about a kinder, simpler existence where I’m not worried about whether or not my sarcasm is coming across in my tweet about wearing a MILF shirt, or whether or not my father might be reading a post about my disdain for g-string underwear. I often wonder what level of self-actualization I could be at if I went to bed at a normal time, instead of furiously scribbling off a self-mocking account of my day each evening. At least a couple times a year, I become so disgusted with my social networking habit that I regret ever having discovered the world of social media.
And yet, I can recall times when we’ve been going to Haiti, and I posted a list of supplies we needed to take down, and within a few days I had a pile of donations from friends. I am cognizant of how my blog helped me in explaining the many stages of our journey through the fostercare system as we adopted our oldest, and how many painful conversations were spared by my ability to keep our circle of friends informed online. I am aware of how easy it is to update family on our big life events (contrasting giving birth pre- and post-twitter: the hours I spend making exhausted phone calls after having India, vs. the quick text that updated twitter and thus updated Facebook and thus updated my circle of friends that Karis had arrived).
I was feeling this dichotomy fiercely at the beginning of this year. I was excited about the fact that I had helped raise $30,000 for a birthing center in Haiti with a team of amazing women – a feat that was accomplished primarily through social networking. I also completed my first half-marathon with a group of other adoptive moms I’ve known for years, but had never met in person (our bonds being formed through the blogging world). But I was also feeling burnt out on blogging, and tired of the way I felt like my writing habit was a job from which there was no vacation (and very little pay). I was again in a stage of wanting to throw my computer into a body of water and free myself from the self-imposed obligations of my online world.
And then, I took a quick trip to Haiti to visit the little boy we’d been trying to adopt for two years. And then, an earthquake.
The days following the earthquake in Haiti were every bit as terrifying as the event itself. It was a different kind of terror . . . a dull, overwhelming sense of dread and fear that had a cloudy, disassociative feeling to it, in contrast to the sharp focus of the earthquake itself. The terror was diluted with a heady sense of relief and gratitude to have survived.
I would like to say that I found some sort of supernatural strength in the days following the earthquake, but in reality, I felt scared, weak, and alone. I was without my husband, and without two of my children, and I missed them terribly. I was also very worried about getting out of the country. My infant daughter who traveled with me was sick, and we were beginning to hear about issues with food and water. The phone lines were down, and we had a day where we really had no contact with the outside world.
But worse than all of that, I was convinced that this earthquake would halt the adoption process from Haiti, and that this little boy who I had visited and bonded with for two years would never be my son. We had been through so many hurdles in his adoption process, and I was certain that the mountains of paperwork now covered in concrete at the Haitian social services office marked the tragic end of our efforts.
And this is when something unexpected came from all of this seemingly frivolous social media I’ve engaged with for so long.
In the moments just after the earthquake, we had a brief interlude of internet access via satellite. My new friend Erin and I had been staying in a guest house that was now structurally compromised, so we walked with our children over to the house of Troy and Tara Livesay. Troy was able to update his twitter account that evening. He posted that there had been an earthquake, and that he and his family were okay. He posted that Erin and I were okay – which is how most of my friends learned that I was alright. As information came available, he posted about the people he knew who had survived, and about the stories he was hearing of the devastation reported by the friends who were stopping by. At this point, we really had no idea of the scope of this earthquake, though each visitor brought more and more troubling information. Troy continued to update via twitter, as we sat in their driveway weathering the terrifying aftershocks.
I can’t remember how long, but shortly after that we lost internet signal, and it was off for what seemed like a long time. Erin and I were trying to get flights home. My baby was fevered and vomiting. The mosquitoes were fierce but we were also scared to be indoors. I desperately wanted to get Karis out of Haiti, and be back at home with my family. I couldn’t reach my husband, and we had no way of contacting anyone.
When the internet finally came back on, we all quickly grabbed our laptops, hoping to send a few emails, find out when flights were resuming, and log into CNN to see if we could get a broader view of what was happening in Port-Au-Prince. I’ll never forget Tara finding a picture of the crushed presidential palace, and the dread that came over the room when she showed us. And then hearing Troy realize that his tweets were being broadcast from every major news network. There were no reporters in Haiti yet, and no flights coming in or out. Troy was the news. He was not just updating our friends and family. He was updating the world.
Haiti was a trending topic on Twitter – and continued to be for weeks. Many people were talking about ways to give. People with friends in Haiti were asking for information. People in Haiti were tweeting their addresses and updates, but also pictures of people they were searching for. We also saw people tweeting their coordinates – “I hear a voice coming from a building at 31 Delmas – need help digging”. Bresma orphanage tweeted their GPS coordinates for days, asking for someone to bring food and water to their dehydrated children. Twitter was becoming the coordination center for aid in Haiti.
And then I logged into facebook.
I thought I would quickly update my status. What I saw brought me to tears. All of my friends were posting messages for me – my wall was full of people asking about me, offering to help, and posting their prayer support. In those days of disconnect from my family and friends, facebook became a way to instantly feel connected again. It also became a communication tool. I couldn’t call Mark, and we were separated by time zones. But when I had a rare moment online, I could ask a friend to call and wake him so he could get online to chat. The first day I posted about my canceled flights – and then I was offline for a day. When I got back online, I saw people moving into action on my behalf. Someone had an uncle in the military in the Domincan Republic – they were working on a helicopter. Someone knew a Haitian with a private plane – they were working on a seat. Someone knew a missionary outfitter who had a standby seat with my name on it. Friends continued to keep me updated on my commercial flight cancellations via facebook.
In the end, none of these options panned out, as the only way out of Haiti in that first month was via military jet from the embassy. But it was such a relief to know that my friends were pulling for me, and trying their best to get me home.
My husband had also updated my blog for me, which received hundreds of comments in those first few days. Even though internet was spotty, I could click on my blog comments and then read them after we lost connection – a way of feeling support in the glow of my laptop after our contact was cut off. I sat reading my facebook and blog comments long into the night – bawling and yet feeling bolstered by the prayers and support of friends and strangers. Those days after the earthquake were some of the lowest points in my life – but I also felt some of the most intense love from others. And beyond my own comfort, facebook was also a place where people were exchanging information on how to support Haiti.
Once I was home and reunited with my family, my blog and social networking sites became instrumental in the attempt to get our son Kembe out of Haiti and into our home. I left Haiti assuming that his adoption was stalled at best – but with very little hope. When I got home, someone I didn’t even know had send me a message through facebook. She asked me to get involved in petitioning the government to allow already approved families who were matched with orphans to bring them into the states and finalize the adoption from here. I immediately started campaigning to get our government to grant humanitarian parole for orphans who had approved families. I penned a frantic blog post my first morning home – asking people to call our state reps. I asked my facebook friends to do the same. They posted my blog as their own status update. I watched the word get out quickly. That was a Sunday.
On Monday morning, I woke up to messages on my cell phone from Barbara Boxer and Dana Rhorbacher’s office. Before I had even had a chance to call them, people had called on my behalf. I had my government leaders aware of our story and working behind the scenes – all from a blog post pleading for help. I think you know how this story ends . . . but just in case, five days later the US Secretary of State and the Haitian government agreed to give humanitarian parole to already in-process orphans. Our son came home January 23rd.
Now, I don’t presume that my little blog and my facebook page is responsible for this decision. But I do believe that it was a tiny little ripple in that movement, and I’m extremely humbled by the way my friends and readers (yes, you) moved into action. And if I haven’t said it clearly yet, THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart.
So, I continue with my ambivalence towards this social networking thing . . . aware of the way I’m choosing to waste my time, but with a fondness for the friends it has brought me, and for that little moment in time when I was in a pit of despair, and a virtual mob of people put their hands together and collectively pulled me out.
Thank you for that.