Posted by: Kate | November 20, 2015

Lest You Dwell Overmuch on the Amazingness

…or even just that things are shiny-happy around here more often than not, this is what I actually wrote first. It started as a Facebook post, then turned into a secret-group rant, then I thought, why am I continuing to allow people to imagine that I am worthy of canonization? Why am I pretending things are so much cuter and happier than they are? If my friends haven’t run screaming for the hills, then most of the public can probably handle the dark-and-difficult side of things… right?


And I could allow the blog to remain dormant, while I continued to share this experience only with specific, trusted friends. That seems logical enough, given my decision to cut off contact with L — by posting here, she gets a free peek at her offspring’s ongoing life, and I very much suspect she will be watching, and reading, and copying the photos to pretend I’ve sent her updates. She doesn’t deserve that, and if there was any realistic way for me to somehow block her from my entire online presence instead of just Facebook, I would do so.

But, as I said in the previous post, this is no longer, in any way, about L. She could always create another fake Facebook profile — she already has at least one, to allow her to spy on various friends and family without identifying herself, so why not more? — and I would be none the wiser. So let her tell whatever lies or alternate versions of our story she needs to. I already know that she tells people we have been lifelong, best friends. That she believes I always wanted Danielle to be my own because I was so upset at having a hysterectomy after Isaac’s birth. That Danielle was somehow meant to be in our family, not hers.


I think what we’re going through is important. I think it’s necessary to acknowledge just how hard this is, because so many people hear our story and immediately slide into the “You are so amazing / she is so lucky” chorus. That’s uncomfortable to hear at the best of times, because it simplifies the situation and glorifies us, neither of which feels right.

We never thought things in terms of How Awesome We Are and How Much L Sucks. At worst, it was How Tired We Are and How Else Can We Try To Help Her? It was difficult, and rocky, and we very much wanted a different outcome, and so this is a case of making the best of things, but not in an amazing, upstanding, model citizen sort of way. Every decision along the way came hard, and required much rethinking and triple-checking to try and find any other solution.

It’s hard to find many people who can identify with us at all, because so many people wait years and years, desperate to adopt, and Danielle literally fell in our laps. So many people spend thousands of dollars to be able to adopt; we spent more in the efforts to avoid the adoption than in the adoption process itself. People can grasp the concept of an unintended pregnancy, but the unintended adoption? Not so much.

So, yes, I do believe that we are providing Danielle, and all of the kids, with a good life. I do believe that she will have a better go of things with us than she would otherwise have had; not just financially, but emotionally. I do believe we made a right and good series of decisions to get where we are. I do believe that, as evidenced by the sheer amazingness of Emily (now 15) (15!!), Jacob (11) and Isaac (5), we kind of know what we’re doing most of the time.

Yay for us.


I’ve been a mother for 15 years, by the calendar, or 34 years, by accumulated childrens’ ages (which I think is a completely valid approach to measurement, because juggling four kids turns every day into more than just a day). I know it’s hard work, and I’m willing to give it everything I have (especially since I’m not working). And I’m damn good at it.

Or, at least, I was.

Raising a traumatized kid, who hits on every diagnostic criterion for Reactive Attachment Disorder, Disinhibited Type, is So. Much. Harder. Never heard of it?? That’s because it’s super rare in the US, usually only seen in kids raised in overcrowded overseas orphanages and the like, but Danielle was so intensely and thoroughly neglected that she has it in spades (see prior post for symptoms, even I’m tired of myself talking by now).

We have boiled her entire disciplinary system down to one rule, and everything else gets a mild reprimand at best while we focus on this one thing. It’s a simple rule, and she knows it — ask her, she spits out the right answer every single time — and the thing about RAD is that she isn’t doing it to be specifically oppositional or nasty. She simply does not understand the concepts of cause-and-effect, right and wrong, truth or lie, consistent parental discipline. Just because it was a rule yesterday doesn’t mean it applies, today… right?? So if she is not being directly and obviously watched, she breaks the rule. Every. Single. Day.

Want to know what it is, this diabolically and apparently wildly complicated rule?

Brace yourselves.

It is…

When you wake up, stay in bed.

Unreal, right? So freaking complicated. How dare I expect a 3-year-old to learn such a rule…after over a year of living here?

It’s not like she crawls into bed with me or plays with her toys. She learned, while living with L, to pull out the drawers in her dresser to climb to the top. She destroys anything paper or rip-able. She smeared diaper cream all over Willem’s desk (he uses the room as an office, since she’s only in there to sleep), as well as in her hair (it took a week to get that crap out), then smooshed a stick of deodorant onto the top of the desk, then covered it all with Post-Its. She wanders the house, getting into stuff that is not hers, finding creative ways to break things or at least spill them.

Then, when she hears me moving around, she races back to her bed, lies down, and fakes sleep. And all it takes is me asking, “What are you doing?” or sometimes just making eye contact, and she breaks into an Oscar-worthy tantrum, complete with instant tears and the hitched breathing you get when you’ve been sobbing for an hour. I’d see that as a sign of guilt, except she can turn it off on command, too.

And let me be clear: I am not leaving her unattended in the room for hours and hours every day. She wakes up and launches herself out of bed within seconds. It doesn’t matter if I set an alarm to wake up before her: she’ll be sound asleep, so I’ll go use the bathroom, and I’ll come out to chaos. I can’t use a baby gate because (a) she’ll destroy the room, and (b) she learned how to climb over them before she came to us.

If it was just property damage or goofiness, I would be irritated but not as frustrated and, frankly, often ‘roid-rage pissed, as I feel nearly every morning lately. But she does things that are outright dangerous, and I’m shocked she hasn’t gotten more than the occasional pinched finger or bruise.

I’m completely out of ideas. I have tried reacting lightly, reacting heavily, keeping my emotional reaction hidden, allowing her to see just how angry I feel, whispering, shouting, time-outs, spanking, keeping her home from school, rewarding minimally acceptable behavior (which is totally against my basic belief that kids — and adults — should not get gold stars for doing what you’re supposed to do; gold stars should be reserved for above-and-beyond)…you get the idea.

And none of it, literally not one approach, has had the slightest impact. She stops, in the moment, but repeats the same behaviors day after day, as though yesterday never happened. And I take another step toward losing my mind.

So, we make a good story for friends to tell other friends. But the reality is so much harder, so much less amazing, than people want to hear about. They want an, “…and then we all lived happily ever after,” and I can’t even imagine that kind of feeling right now, much less envision it. I’m so deeply defeated by the endless loop of this situation that I find myself in tears at least daily, and I am not a cryer (not least because I do not cry pretty).

I’m a smart person. I’m a good mother. I am not used to feeling like a failure.

And I know, I know, my brain knows at least, that I’m not, actually, failing. I know that I am doing the best I can, and that it is good enough. I know we are giving Danielle a better life than she had before, or would be having now, given the alternatives. I know that, in the long run, this little experiment will be a success, even if we check her into juvie for running drugs when she’s 13, because she will have stability and family and love, and only occasional mind games for fun instead of daily exercises in How Not To Bond With Your Mother.

I know these things.

But I don’t feel them.




Posted by: Kate | November 20, 2015

The 3149-Word Short Version

Time to rev up the old blog, I think.

So, um. Hi.

Being lazy, being tired of myself, being bored by a daily life that was intensely repetitive (Sleep late. Hold down couch. Eat something. Go to bed. Repeat.), being depressed, being sad (not at all the same as depression), being in chronic pain…pick one, or several, they’re all applicable reasons for not writing anymore.

But I have words, more than I want to spew on Facebook. Because, since my last post, Things Have Been Happening.

There is simply no short version of the story; my private ramblings about the whole saga, shared only with close friends, reach upwards of 80 pages in a Word document. But I’ll try to hit the highlights for now. If you’re not interested in a long, occasionally whiny and other times psychologisty rant, then the true bottom line is: We have adopted the child of our former nanny.

Sit with that for a second. Bizarre, no?

OK, then:

When I was recovering from 2010’s medical insanity, we hired L, initially to be a mother’s helper in the hours between school and dinner, when I could not consistently function as a parent or really even a human being. After a few months, we moved into a house with an in-law apartment, at a time when she happened to be looking to change her living situation, so we came to an agreement to trade child care for rent and coexisted pretty well for over a year. She was a good nanny; she seemed to get how we approached parenting and fit pretty well into that scheme. This is important, and ultimately baffling.

The first signal that things weren’t entirely solid in her decision-making process came when L announced she was trying to get pregnant, with the specific intention of being a single mother. Couldn’t she see how hard it was, to love these creatures with your every breath and yet deal with constant demands and change and outbursts and other people’s bodily functions and ingratitude and noise and occasional urges to eat one’s own young??

Apparently not. Because despite pointed conversation on my part, both with her and with the father, they thought their plan was just fine: he would continue to see his “actual” girlfriend and just do his old buddy L this one little favor, she would be the valiant single mother, and everyone would somehow ride off into the sunset. Her complete lack of job skills, his complete lack of involvement, their complete lack of money…these were not pressing issues.

So, it was with a certain sense of relief that, once I was well enough to return to work, we were able to buy a house instead of continuing to rent a poorly maintained house in Massachusetts owned by non-English-speaking landlords in Texas. Our criteria for the realtor were simple: four bedrooms, 1.5 baths, and NO in-law apartment. We moved into our new place just a few weeks after L confirmed her pregnancy.

We parted ways amicably enough; I visited her once or twice during the pregnancy and was in the hospital a few hours after Danielle was born. We stayed in touch sporadically over the next two years, and I heard a cleaned-up, Disneyfied sort of version of her life: she had met someone online and he seemed like a good guy, so they moved in within a month of Danielle’s birth. He did computer repair, she was mostly a stay-home mom with the occasional college class sprinkled in to keep the student loans at bay.

I never heard a word about the Department of Children and Families (DCF), at least as far as Danielle was concerned. I did know that the boyfriend had two children from a previous relationship, one of whom was being raised by the boyfriend’s father and the other in a foster home, but I was told a story about the ex-girlfriend’s lies and DCF’s unfairness and unreasonableness. They were living their own lives, several hours away, so I shelved any skepticism I had and focused on my own life.

Two years passed.

The boyfriend turned out not to be as great a guy as L had thought, and suddenly she was living here, then there, then here again…with “here” being her own mother’s house, despite extensive stories of abuse by the same mother. (Perhaps it’s a violation of privacy, but I’ll risk a hint as to L’s mother’s name: after a few interactions directly with her, I began referring to her as the Bethhole. If I were to meet her on the street tomorrow, I guarantee I would not be able to stop at the first syllable.)

Still, I was given the picture of the valiant single mother, struggling to save up enough money to be able to get her own apartment as soon as possible. Willing to expose herself and her daughter to the outright cruelty of the Bethhole because, in the bigger picture, it meant she could reach that goal sooner. Desperate and lonely, yet functional and finding strength for the sake of her child. Awww, right?

Apparently not. Because on October 17, 2014, our lives all changed.

I got a text, around 9:30 at night, on just a random Thursday evening. “I’m overwhelmed and suicidal, and I can’t leave Dani with my mother. Can you take her so I can check into a hospital?”

Well, of course. Of course we can. As soon as I confirmed that L felt she could get herself here safely, I went up and cleaned out space in the office for a Pack ‘n’ Play, and warned Willem of our impending houseguest.

His very first comment was, “Can we just skip ahead to the part where we adopt the baby?” I think he’ll celebrate his instinctive rightness until the day he dies; I’m glad he is able to find reason to celebrate.

“No, no,” I insisted, “We’ve done this before. She just needs us to hang onto Dani, and then she’ll need a place to crash and recover a bit, but she’s been working and saving money.” Willem and I have always tried to operate under the idea of, If you can help, do. So, despite his initial skepticism, he agreed.

And I will admit it, publicly and unabashedly: he was right. I was wrong.

L was, indeed, admitted to the hospital, and stayed for over a week (a long time for a first admission). She did, indeed, crash when she got back here, because hospital stays are bizarrely exhausting no matter what the cause. Then we waited…and waited…and she just never picked herself up and moved on.

Oh, she got jobs. And lost, or left, every one within a few weeks.

She had a little money, once in a while. And spent it on cheap jewelry, unused makeup, and random (also unused) craft supplies.

She had therapists and social workers at her beck and call. And dismissed, avoided, or refused to engage with them.

She had her child. And avoided even simple eye contact, or any activity that required interaction beyond reading at her (not with) or watching cartoons with her.

I was baffled.

Of course, I understood, being a single mother is more stressful than having a solid partner. But she made it seem like she did have a solid partner, for a while. And everyone has their own parenting style. But after seeing her fit into, and seem to appreciate, our style, it was bizarre to me that she was so intensely distant and dismissive of Danielle. “Go play,” was her mantra, and she used it regularly.

“Go play,” to a two-year-old who seemed cute and smart and happy, but was quickly displaying plenty of underlying symptoms of a traumatic and neglectful life: inability to maintain appropriate eye contact (either avoidant or too intense), random and disproportionately intense tantrums (to the point that I would make her sit on the porch to yell at the neighborhood instead of yelling at the people in our house), significant speech delays (fewer than 30 understandable words, at 2 1/2), clear fear responses at simple things like asking her, “What?” or giving her an either/or choice… and there were still a few dark and oddly-placed bruises on her torso and back, longer and with clearer edges than I was used to seeing on a child that had fallen down or walked into a table, plus her physiology was frail, to the point that her elbow was dislocated with a simple lifting-up (we later learned it had been dislocated at least six times prior, according to the pediatrician’s notes).

My alarm level increased when I sat down with a DCF investigator, who was following common protocol anytime a single parent appears in an ER expressing suicidal thoughts as well as homicidal urges toward her child. (Yeah, she didn’t mention that part to me, in her text or on the drive to the hospital. Must’ve slipped her mind.) I learned that there had been an open DCF case for Danielle since she was two months old. Due to suspicions of neglect (hard to spot, hard to prove, even when you have the honor of living with them and watching it firsthand). Due to suspicions of abuse by the maternal grandmother (the whiteboard she kept on her kitchen wall, tallying the number of times she “had” to hit Danielle whenever she babysat the then-18-month-old, was a clue). Due to DCF’s openly expressed belief that the boyfriend is a sex offender, trafficking in child porn (L was told they would remove Dani from her custody if she left Danielle alone with him for five minutes…which she interpreted as, “DCF is mean,” and stayed with him another 6 months).

I tried, Willem tried, the therapists tried, we all tried so, so hard to help, pressure or scold L into being a better mother. A better employee. A better human being.

She declined.

After four months of her flat refusal to contribute to the household in literally any way — oh, pardon me, she did the dishes two or three times and provided four meals, but only after I established Dinner Night for everyone over age 10. Emily was 14 and Jacob was 10; they each worked hard and prepared decent meals once a week, while L found ways to ease out of meal duty most of the time, usually at the last minute (though she was able to find it in her heart to consume whatever we threw together in her absence, not to mention plowing through copious snacks and desserts on the rare occasion that I was able to get out of the house without her) (Which, about that…while she never got as far as the bunny-on-the-stove routine, there was decidedly an element of obsession in her attitude about me; to this day I swear she would have followed me into the bathroom if she could.) — anyway, we asked her to move out. She waited until literally the last day we said she could stay, then slunk away.

We told her she was welcome to take Dani with her, or  leave her with us while establishing a job, apartment, etc. She opted for the latter, with the stated intention of visiting often (after giving us a few weeks to settle into a routine) and gradually reuniting, independently and permanently.

Two weeks later, she asked us to keep Danielle forever.

Willem and I had, as I mentioned, anticipated this possibility. We weren’t enthusiastic. We had our kids and our life; we weren’t looking to expand the family; I was on long-term disability from work and had no idea whether my condition would remain stable, worsen or maybe possibly kind of sort of improve; this was a child with even more baggage than your typical adoption-eligible two-year-old might carry; and so on.

But, on the other side… while not a specialist, I had enough child psych training to recognize and understand how her tangle of behaviors and symptoms wove together to create this bizarre entity called Reactive Attachment Disorder (Disinhibited Type, for those in the know): an inability to process her own emotions, a refusal or inability to independently act or problem-solve, difficulty understanding relationships, total inability to understand what a stranger was (if someone smiles at her, they are her friend, and she would take their hand and disappear off into the sunset with them, never looking back — and, even now, nine months after last seeing each other, Danielle has not once asked about L), an innate and wildly sophisticated ability to profile the people around her and behave in whatever ways she thinks they want her to, great abilities to mime and mimic to get her needs met but serious problems with speech and articulation (she can make all of the speech sounds, some better than 5-year-old Isaac…she just…doesn’t). It’s so rare, and so poorly understood, that I know it would have gone unnoticed in a foster home, at least for a long time, and she needed consistency and stability if she wanted any hope of minimizing those tendencies.

This is a child who had lived in our home for almost five months, by that point. We had been forced, at the beginning, to stand back and really watch for a long time before we could truly absorb the extent of emotional, and to a lesser degree physical, neglect that was happening in front of us. Neglect isn’t like a punch or a slap, instantly observable and clearly wrong. It’s slow, and sad, and subtle.

I know she was also hurt by the Bethhole…and if we mention L, we hear increasingly scared, sad and horrifying responses, including, “L run away to be happy!” and “L not love Dani. L hate me.” (She started referring to me as Mama within months of moving here, which is both sweet and heartbreaking in itself. She has no idea what a mother should be.) Just yesterday, when I was trying to rehearse with her the One Rule in the mornings — stay in bed, do not wander the house when Mom is sleeping — and I said, “We need you to be safe in your bed until it’s time to get up. What might happen if you get up alone?” Her reply: “I get a cold shower.” Wait, what?? That has certainly never happened here. Maybe I misheard her. But when prompted, she repeated, “I go in the cold shower with my clothes on and I cough.”




Plus, she adores our older kids, who have been wonderful with Dani from Day One. And, while she wavers between so-cutesy-and-over-sweet-it’s-bad-for-your-pancreas and whine-whine-whine with Willem, and she is not interested in following rules she’s known for months with me, she does have strong feelings for us both. At the end of the day, while we knew DCF was an option (and they later admitted that, if we had sent Danielle to live with L, they would have immediately placed her in foster care), we just didn’t have the heart to let her lose absolutely everything like that. She has already lost enough.

So, we agreed. The pros outweighed the cons, for everyone. And… If you can help, do.

The day after she moved out, L got a tattoo, with another, much larger one within a month. She was short on money at the time, so, she assured me, she opted to pay for both with sex instead. She insisted that it didn’t count as prostitution because no cash was involved. I knew the phrase “goods or services” applied, but she was not convinced.

We gathered copious paperwork, and filed for adoption on April 1, with the hopes of maintaining sufficient civility and contact with L to have an open adoption. The plan was, no direct contact for several months while we all continued to adjust, but regular communication, photos and updates, on both sides. I was very much in favor of visits, as long as she met a few basic criteria: Maintain one job for more than a few months. Get an apartment, with your name on the lease. Do not engage in prostitution.

That seemed like a pretty low bar to set, I thought. But apparently not, because after a disastrous series of more lost jobs and threatened eviction, a disastrous readmission to the psych hospital, and a disastrous six-month stint in Ohio (“because I have a free place to stay…and because there are goats there”) (yes, really), it has become clear that I was asking far too much.

So, since in Massachusetts all adoptions are, legally and officially, closed, with the adoptive parents in charge of the degree of contact with the bio parents, we finally decided to, legally and officially, close it.

This breaks my heart.

I cared about L. This is someone who lived with us and helped us during the darkest, hardest and scariest period of my life, when I was in absolute despair, physically broken, and overmedicated. Yet she insisted on seeing me as a competent, interesting, worthwhile person throughout, and to an extent helped me eventually start seeing glimpses of that side of me again.

She’s smart, and witty, and capable of doing all of the things a grown-up, with or without kids, needs to do. She just won’t do it, and she refuses to acknowledge her primary reason for that refusal: she tells people she has Bipolar Disorder, when what she really has is Borderline Personality Disorder. Similar names and abbreviations, very different treatments.

So it hurts me, deeply, but I had to cut off direct contact, in order to remove that constant hovering presence just beyond the borders of our life, always wondering when she would finally lose all her other sources of support and end up on our doorstep again. I’ve had to appear in court dozens of times already, between guardianship and restraining orders and more guardianship and more restraining orders (seriously, you have no idea); what’s one more No Harassment Order in the bigger scheme of things?? We haven’t quite reached that point yet, but we’re on the brink, in terms of criteria and such. I so, so don’t want to. Because it would force me to see her face-to-face, and I just can’t anymore. I have given her absolutely all of myself that I could, and so… enough. She’s out of the picture.

See??? No short version… and while this is certainly longer than the explanation I give casual acquaintances, it by no means encompasses the whole ordeal.

But, yes: enough. It’s late, and I already have another too-long post to follow this one.

So, we are now a family of six. As I told my dad, “Surprise! It’s a girl!” (Quick! Name the ’80s TV show!)

Her name is Danielle Grace. For all of her quirks and challenges, she is ours and we love her. And for all our quirks and challenges, we are hers and she loves us.

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Posted by: Kate | August 9, 2014

Still Holding…

I suppose a check-in is due, six weeks into this particular adventure.

As of July 1, I’ve been on short-term disability from work, due to a conglomeration of yuck that simply overwhelmed me. At the time, I was deeply ambivalent, about whether I could work, whether I should, and so on. I was so disappointed in myself, and I really viewed the time off as a personal failure.

This angst peaked again, briefly, when we decided to cancel our planned vacation to Prince Edward Island, because of my health and because of finances, and just because it was too much.

But, overall, that has faded.  Really.

Which is wonderful, both for me and for my family. I’ve realized and accepted that I really was at the end of my tether, and if I hadn’t made the decision to step away from my job in July, I may very well have experienced serious repercussions, to the tune of I don’t even know what. Falling asleep at the wheel, literally or figuratively? I just don’t know, but I feel like I was standing at the edge of a precipice and could well have pushed myself right over it.

I push myself, by nature. I have a very hard time not doing so, but the past six weeks have been exactly about that: stop pushing, just rest and be.

I’m still in a lot of pain, due to a fracture in my lowest vertebrae plus ankylosing spondylitis, but it’s not as overwhelming. I’ve had a change in medications, which has left me less muddled and not-me. So…I’m better.

Which is exactly the point of taking time off, I think.

I have started using a cane, to walk anything more than a short distance. I hate it and I hate what it symbolizes, but I am working hard to reach an oh-well attitude about it. I hope to return to work in the relatively near future; I’m still figuring out how to walk, with the cane, carrying a backpack, so that I can do what I do, professionally.

I’ll keep you posted.

Posted by: Kate | July 29, 2014

Spastic Naked Scream

I have full respect for people who earn their living in the sales-and-commission world, whether they’re selling iPhones to entitled college kids or crystal meth to disillusioned yuppies, or anywhere in between. It’s not an easy lifestyle, and I am grateful that I have not had to spend large portions of my professional life there. And I have worked with some truly gifted, wonderful, personable, fantastic specimens of humanity whose resume happens to contain 27 synonyms for “convincing other people to spend their money on my stuff.”


Just like with the rest of humanity, there is a select subgroup — the vast minority of hemorrhoidally intrusive rays of sunshine who know exactly what I’m doing wrong with my life and how I can fix it — that creates far more unhappiness than any simple, polite, appropriate interaction can possibly begin to compete with.  These bastions of righteousness don’t just believe I will buy anything they happen to be selling, they know I will, as long as they can squeeze enough words in around the edges of the screen door. Whether it’s steaks out of the backseat of someone’s car, salvation in the form of My God (which comes with the free bonus edition of Why The Other Guy’s God is Wrong), or solar panels for my roof, every day for three weeks straight (I kept a tally sheet by the door for that one), someone out there knows what I need to fix my entire life, and they’re going to go so far as to bring that solution right to my doorstep.

Now, I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. I know how to make myself heard and understood, in nearly every situation…except when I am standing inside my front door, refusing to allow a stranger to enter my home. Sadly, “no” is rarely enough these days, no matter what volume or language I use:

  • English: No.
  • French: Non.
  • Spanish: No.

I can’t think why it torques me to have to express a word, repeat it, define it, use it in a sentence, define it again, and then snarl before they are ready to test the next word…And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the word is “no,” “go,” or a handful of choices I would prefer not to send back to school with the kids.

Of course, there’s always the logical response: “Just don’t open the door!” …but perhaps I’m on my own subilminal crusade to bring basic conversational respect and boundaries into mainstream society. Crazy talk, I know, but every worldwide movement has to start somewhere, right?

Maybe. Or maybe I just like to play mindgames with poor, unsuspecting folks, who might have thought that the most challenging aspect of my front door is simply reaching it, 18 stairs up from the street.

Whatever the underlying reason, the repeated failure of a simple “no” was steadily wearing away my will to open my door. It was time to come up with a new approach. Happily, my need to find a new approach coincided with the steady increase in the population of children in my home. I’m a firm believer that kids can handle chores from early on, and so why not have them start to earn their room and board a bit, just as soon as they’re able to handle the complicated procedure we call the Spastic Naked Scream. It sounds all technical and complicated, I know, and unfortunately I am bound by copyright restrictions to keep descriptions to a minimum.  But, trust me: once mastered, it is shockingly and delightfully effective in almost every situation.

So rather than chasing them away before they make it up the stairs, or allowing these uninvited guests to continueraising my blood pressure without even buying me a drink first, I will peek outside, then stage-whisper, “Uh oh! It’s… naked time!!”

Apparently, regardless of what they’re bringing to the door, their sales-training never entirely covers the possibilities at the Wallinga household. Our frequency of door-to-door sales, in all areas of commerce, have decreased significantly, and we almost never see any single individual return for a second attempt.

It’s a good system, though I do recognize its inherent limitation.  Emily is already 14, and while I am deeply grateful that she is not the kind of young lady who would willingly streak through the house under these circumstances, I also am mourning the loss of my loudest, most-spastic little minion.  Jacob is 10 (today! yikes!) and has abruptly reached the same “Naked Is No Longer Cool” phase, so I know that little Isaac, only four but he was just born like 20 minutes ago so I know my time of relying on my direct offspring is limited.  Perhaps by the time Isaac is ready to limit his naked-minutes-per-day, the technology of holograms and such will all me to set up a projection.

But, to be honest, I have to admit: I am really hoping there’s just no substitute for good old spazzed-out people (whether they’re in sales or childhood slavery, err, I mean, service).  Because if all else fails, it is a known and accepted fact that I lack the speed and grace necessary to execute a full Spastic Naked Scream routine more than a few times a month… but Willem, my 6’4″ hockey player, should be able to capture their undivided attention and that right quick.

Posted by: Kate | July 1, 2014

Hold…and Release.

I just left my job. Severe depression/anxiety, intense daily chronic pain, and various medical things I just don’t want to talk about..all converging somewhere in between my brain and my heart (because both hurt right now).

It’s *just* medical leave/”short-term disability, and I’m to stay in contact and let them know and keep them in the loop and check in and touch base…

I mostly feel OK about it. I feel like I’ve been functioning somewhere around 75% all the time, whether I am at home or at work. And I’m not really ever anywhere else, because it’s just all too much lately. Work, kids, sleep — or, in the past month, laying there wondering why I can’t sleep.

My hope is that some time off lets me get my shit together and get back to where I was a couple of months ago.

My fear is  that I won’t get better.

But I have let go of some of my signature over-reserved-ness and leaned heavily on my husband lately. Unsurprisingly, he is several dozen types of amazing and has figured out ways to support me even when I refuse to lean, so of course he has been a rock star over the past little while. And I’ve been very honest (but careful) with the kids, who are already more resilient in the face of Mom-being-unwell than they have any right to be. They’re each beautiful and careful right back.

So we’ll be OK, as a family. No matter how OK or not-OK I end up.

Stay tuned…

Posted by: Kate | May 29, 2014

Squeal Like…

For several years — 2007-2010, I think –Gretchen & I went to Martha’s Vineyard, on little just-us getaways. It started out as a fun idea, to have time to let a new friendship build: within 6 months it seemed strange that I knew so few facts about her life experience, because, after all, we’d known each other forever…right? But then, it became a deeper, meta-vacation sort of thing. We had specific, extended, uninterrupted and nearly-uninterruptable time to sit and knit, or ride the bus, or walk, and just…be.

And it gave the significant others time to miss us…or, perhaps, time to imagine us donning lingerie and high heels for our nightly pillow fights. Whatever, I always came home to the same number of children that I left, so I was happy to ignore home when I was away.

So I already have more than adequate reason to miss those times. Even the really hard time, a handful of months after my 2010 nightmare, when I was still using a walker and overmedicated and chronically Not Myself. Because I got that experience that most moms seem to miss out on (time to just be) and time with Gretchen, whose simple acceptance and beautiful soul allowed me to feel like a halfway-decent human being, just by association…both when I was reasonably functional in the Before I Got Sick days and in the During, not to mention the After.

Apparently I’m getting maudlin in my middle age. I turn 37 tomorrow, that’s middle aged, right?


You might expect a certain degree of class — even snobbery — in anything to do with The Cape and Islands, particularly since we’ve been there at the same time as the Obama family, multiple other celebrities/politicians, blah blah. Even without the big names, it’s all cottages and pristine beaches and photo opportunities (and margaritas). So, you might expect similar muted colors and eco-consciousness, even at their little Agricultural Fair, right?

Right, me too. Such assumption was quickly disabused upon viewing the inflatable 20-foot rat immediately inside the entrance. So when we saw “Pig Races” on the itinerary, attendance was imperative.

I laughed for an hour straight, probably caused permanent damage due to oxygen deprivation. Best competition EVER. If we’d been just a little more prepared, we could’ve placed bets.

So, yeah. Good stuff comes in small, pink, squealy, astonishingly fast packages. Add it to the list of reasons why Gretchen & I have to return. The sooner the better.

Yeah, yeah, it’s been a while. Long enough that I bet you wouldn’t recognize my kids if you passed them on the street. Proof:

Emily is almost 14; Isaac just turned 4; Jacob will be 10 in July. *eek*

Emily is almost 14; Isaac just turned 4; Jacob will be 10 in July. *eek*

I shared the photo on Facebook with the comment, “Three kids, three Guys. I’m giving serious consideration to keeping them…definitely the Guys, they’re quiet and well-behaved. The kids are increasingly well-trained and occasionally well-behaved, but never, ever quiet.” A friend immediately replied, “What ARE they? Tribbles?” I started to respond there, but realized I has written far too much for a simple Facebook comment, and I might as well use this old blog thing I have laying around over here. So…


Are which Tribbles? The kids, or the Guys?

Actually, I’m relatively pleased to be able to say I don’t know what Tribbles are (Star Trek reference, maybe??). I understand that by admitting this, the University of Facebook will rush in to properly educate me on the topic.

No, each kid has received approximately a billion stuffed animals over their lifetimes, and only one ends up being The Guy.

Emily’s is Larry Monkey. He was an impulse purchase due to good behavior during a mammoth K-Mart trip right after we bought our first house, and it took a few weeks for us to realize that Emily had attached more firmly to Larry than any of her other critters. (She named him. We have never known anyone named Larry, so I guess this is a situation where he whispered his name and she heard and understood.) So we went back to K-Mart, in hopes of picking up a backup Larry or two. Turns out, sometime shortly after we walked out with Larry, K-Mart cleared their shelves of all Larries and similar simians. I believe they also burned down the factory and killed all the workers, because we’ve never seen anything even remotely similar… but now she’s almost 14, so I’m reasonably confident of her ability to hang onto him.

Jacob has Black the Dog. He was purchased when we moved in 2011 and he was moved into the top bunk… apparently Black has the ability to attain lightning-fast speed and catch a falling boy in the middle of the night. (Don’t even try to tell me you never told your kids stuff like that. Jacob was never a good sleeper, so if that’s what it took to get him to Go To Sleep, amen.)

Isaac has Frank Moose. He’s a new addition… for a long time, it was Wilbur (named because he was a white bear…you say “white bear” several times, in toddlerese…voila! Wilbur!) but Wilbur is really small and Isaac is… not small. We were at IKEA a few weeks ago, and I bribed promised Isaac a toy of his choosing if he made it through the upstairs maze without meltdown. Which he did, and he lasered through the toy options and grabbed up this moose as though they were magnetically connected. Aww, cute, we thought, and fully expected Moose to end up shoved under the bed with the other dozen forgotten critters already down there… but, no. They have bonded. Again, no idea where the name came from, but Isaac was very clear and very consistent from the start that his name was Frank Moose. OK, then. Don’t question the Moose.

I’m delighted for them that they have Guys. I’m thrilled that they have that immediate security, something to shield them from the occasional Closet Monster, sibling infestation or early-morning sunlight. I’m happy that they can arrange their Guys to support their heads at the perfect angle for sleeping, at home or away.

And I’m ecstatic that the kids allow – even encourage – their Guys to take regular trips through the laundry.



So, there. A blog post, after a year of silence, and a pile of cute kids. What more could you ask for… except maybe more frequent posting? I’m trying, honest. We’ll see.

Posted by: Kate | July 6, 2012

A Choice of Realities

She refused to go to the hospital, insisting nothing was wrong. But after days of seeing proof otherwise, her daughter called for help. So rather than meeting her in a hospital room, I met her in her own bedroom.

She was courtly, both in appearance and in behavior. It was somewhat of a surprise, considering her evident poverty and recent losses and changes, but she had a certain way of holding her head and a certain way of looking at you that made you remember your pleases and thank yous; even if you typically used them, you were extra-careful to mind your manners around this lady.

She bore up under the onslaught of invasive, demanding questions with aplomb, and accepted the indignity of the situation with grace. She admitted to hearing things other people didn’t hear, seeing things other people didn’t see, and experiencing ongoing conspiracies on the part of her children, the government, and possibly alien agents, all with such gravitas and simple belief that it was easy to start to believe her version of events, to fall into her reality for a while. When it came time to step back into my own reality – the one that (I hope) most other people share, and therefore we consider it correct, even though we really can’t ever prove one version or another. We can just offer pills and therapies that pull other people’s reality closer to our own, as this lady has experienced many times in the past.

“Frankly, young lady, I don’t want to be on those pills right now. I know what they will show me. I know what they will make me feel. And I don’t want to feel like that right now. It’s too much. It’s too hard. I can’t handle it,” she pleaded with such dignity that tears came to my eyes. Because I knew she was right: the reality that those pills would bring her was horrible. It contained the untimely death of her partner of over 30 years, the abrupt move to a different state, the awareness that her primary caregiver is gone and there is no one left who truly wants to take his place. Her children will do it out of duty, but not out of open-heartedness.

We formed enough of a bond that I was able to tell her – gently, I hope – that even though her world felt better right now, it truly was dangerous to her at the moment. She was taking walks in the middle of the night, in an unfamiliar and not particularly safe neighborhood. She was accusing her children of horrible things. She was engaging strangers in uncomfortable interactions. It was time to return her to the medication regimen she had been on for so long, to return her to the more generally accepted reality, even though it was a more painful one.

She trusted me. She asked me to follow her to the hospital, and I did. She asked me to stay until they knew where she would be admitted,even though that meant staying hours after my shift, and I did. After her daughter left, she asked me to sit and hold her hand, just for a moment, and I did.

There are rules, and suggestions, about not getting too close to clients, about not touching, about not getting involved. And sometimes those rules are broken, I believe to everyone’s benefit.

Posted by: Kate | July 6, 2012

Blank Screen, Blank Mind

I said I’d write more often, didn’t I?

And I do… just not here. I post regularly on Facebook, and I’ve even started using Twitter more often. But somehow the tremendous expanse of white screen that greets me when I try to write a blog post just intimidates me into silence. Most days, I can’t even bring myself to click on the link, because I know I won’t go through with the typing.

There are reasons I know about, and likely reasons I haven’t yet figured out, for my blog-silence. There are readers that I know are reading, but whose presence intimidates or irritates or saddens me, depending the the person. There are words I’ve already posted that have caused pain or angst, which was never the intent (or, to be precise, I never intended to upset the people who were wholly innocent in the matter. I have no problem at all causing angst to those who acted in a way to earn it.). There are words I haven’t posted, which cause guilt and frustration on my part. So, it’s complicated.

But I’m trying, right this second, so that should count for something…right?

And the thing is, I want to post. I have a lot to talk about, because my life has taken a complete turn, and for the better. 2010 and 2011 were such dark, scary, difficult, painful years, so much so that I still avoid most reference to them when possible – though it’s rarely possible, because my entire life is measured in terms of “before 2010” and “after 2010,” or “before/after I got sick,” so it really is pervasive.

But there is so much good going on right now. I love my job – LOVE it, and I am not overstating, even with capital letters. I feel useful again, productive, like I’m making a difference sometimes. (Of course there are shifts where I can’t touch the clients’ minds or they never needed to meet with me in the first place, but every once in a while I really feel like I’ve made a connection with someone. Just often enough to keep doing the job.)

And my new house? Oh, bring out the LOVE again, because there is no better word. It is a place of joy for me, a place I want to show off, because it’s so nice I still feel like it should belong to someone else, because I have no business owning a place like this.

Good stuff, all around. It’s so strange, to feel OK more often than not. I’m still struggling with back pain, some days intensely so, and there are the typical tiffs and child-annoyances to keep life interesting, but I’m OK.

I’ll try to keep the blog active. Honest.

Posted by: Kate | March 30, 2012

A Really Big Nutshell

I’ve written, once or twice, about how disproportionate words can be to the life experiences they represent.

At least, the big good things.

Somehow there are always words – and, often, far too many of them – for the big bad things of life.  The angers, the fears, the hurts.  Immediately after I woke up, in March 2010, my fingers would literally cramp and freeze because I was in such desperation to try and express myself.  To try and prove I was still alive, that I was still me… to the world, and to myself, because if I couldn’t believe me, how could you?

After a time, I realized that I was deleting far more posts than I was publishing, because I kept saying, and writing, and thinking, the same stories.  The same fears.  The same hurts.  Ad nauseum.  I couldn’t tolerate myself anymore, and it simply wasn’t helpful to keep rewriting ideas and feelings.  It would be boring and pointless to read a blog of someone who is basically content, not thinking too deeply about anything, just swimming along… and it was boring and pointless to write a blog when I was basically miserable, not thinking too deeply about anything, just swimming along.

Then, the words imploded.  They simply collapsed under their own weight, unable to bear the wounds they were causing.  Most of my readers friends were voluntary, insisting they wanted to see even the most mundane and repetitive drivel, encouraging me to write even while finding ways not to push too hard. Which only made me feel that much worse, knowing how sad I was making them. I hated to push more negativity out into the world, but I wasn’t able to find a way to keep it light, and so I became stifled.

You all knew, didn’t you, just how bad things were? You realized that I was in despair, and many of you would have suffered outright bodily harm if that somehow would have lifted my spirits. You sent kind words, and good vibes, and sometimes weird little elephant statues or CARE packages. If wishes were enough to heal a soul, I’d have been healed so quickly I would barely have realized I’d gotten hurt in the first place.

And you know what? Maybe wishes are enough. Not instantaneously, true, and not independently, but collective karma is as good a reason as any for the seismic shift in my life just lately.

(Hey. You. There, in the peanut gallery. Yeah, you. Shut it. I know I started this post by mentioning big good things and few words, and then spent 400 words rambling about bad stuff. Sit down and wait: I’m busy proving my own point.)

Because I could devote pages and pages to the explanation of the process, the transitions and key moments that led from Big Bad/Sad/Scary Point A to Shiny Happy Point B… or I could just skip to the good stuff:

1. I don’t have a serious seizure disorder. Maybe a low-key one, along with other neurological and psychological shtuff. I can handle that.

2. I do have PTSD, complete with anxiety, hypervigilance and dissociation. But this falls under the Good Stuff category because I’ve had PTSD before, and I know how to cope with it. I know how to live with it, and eventually I’ll learn again how to live after conquering it again.

3. I realized how much I missed my last job. How much I hated being completely reliant on Willem for all things financial, but more how much I missed being really, really good at something that other people valued and respected. So I went back to work.

4. I also really missed being a homeowner, and I hated seeing the market stay low and knowing now is an excellent time to buy. So we’re buying another house.

5. I’m OK.

6. Really.

I won’t promise to write much more often, because I really hate making promises I can’t keep. But I can tell you that I want to. I have things to say… some stuff I’ve said before, some stuff you’ve thought before, and maybe once in a while I’ll find something new and different to share.

Right now I’m very, very busy, mostly with adjusting to just how many minutes there are in a day now that I have things to fill those minutes up. I’m adjusting to needing work clothes, and having work to wear them in. I’m adjusting to being recognized by more people than those with whom I live.

But I can sense it. Right around the corner… that adjustment is en route. And once it strikes… I’ll write. More. A lot more.

Consider yourself forewarned.

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