Archive for November, 2011

I love Guster in the same inexplicably passionate way I love very few other things.  Laura Ingalls WilderElfquest.  My beloved books, some that I’ve read dozens of times.

I’ll never forget the winter of 2002-2003, the first time I heard Guster – in the car, rounding the bend of Buckingham Pond, on EQX: the song was Barrel of a Gun.  I forgot about wherever it was that I was headed and went straight to the closest music shop.  I didn’t know the name of the band or the song, so I sang it to the guy behind the counter.  “I have to have this,” I demanded.  He nodded in an okay, just please don’t hurt me way and, luckily, knew just what I was singing, so was able to provide my first Guster CD:  Lost and Gone Forever.  I’ve been hooked ever since and have, quite unapologetically, seen 9 or 10 shows now.

My ability to expound on Guster in an uncool fashion really warrants its very own blog, so I won’t torture you too much about it here.  Suffice it to say that I was incredibly excited to be able to see them 2 nights in a row, on Black Friday and Whatever They Call The Saturday After That, in Montclair, NJ at the Wellmont Theatre.

First, though, was Thanksgiving.  My mom, God bless her, made a whole dinner – some for M and me and some for Andy.  We drove down together to see Boo and bring him to Andy’s apartment, where we all had turkey sandwiches and black soda for lunch.  Jonah took his usual two baths while we were there…

Jonah, of the water

…and then we took Boo for his regularly requested car ride? and came back to the apartment.  My mom and I left after Jonah’s second bath and another request for car ride.  During car ride I asked Andy to put Guster’s Easy Wonderful in the CD player, and Jonah and I sang songs in the backseat, moving our clasped safe hands up and down to the rhythm, singing the oooo-oooo-oooo-oooo-oooo part of Architects and Engineers like two little grinning goofballs… Jonah bursting out in a laugh every so often.  He loves Guster too now.  Score.

I like to joke that I have a bachelor’s degree in Guster and am working on my Master’s.  I know to bring canned food and ping pong balls to their shows, and I know better than to try to win the “meet and greet the band” prize after the show.  One time when I set out to win (and did win, by bringing box after box of food) the opportunity to meet and greet the band, I brought them a gift bag full of cookies and goodies, a mix-CD, and a letter that undoubtedly said something very very geeky.  Brian-the-drummer came out first after the show, and tears came to my eyes.  I was barely able to choke out “Your music makes me so happy” before I abandoned all hope of appearing normal, shoved the gift bag at him, began to cry, and ran away.  Fail.

But the shows were both fantastic, each featuring a different song off their first album, Parachute.  They almost never play songs off Parachute live, and they said it had been something like 18 years since they’d played either song.  To those of you who may be reading and knew me in high school:  nothing’s changed.  I’m still the geeky girl.

So here are some pictures of the shows.  At one point Ryan put a disco ball on his head; all the lights hitting it made the whole place a big disco – always the whole band and crowd laughing, dancing, joyful, energized by some cool twist on every song.

Adam on the horn

Ryan singing and jamming

All the Gusters

…and Ryan with his disco ball head.

I want to bring Jonah to a show.  I hope someday I can.  If not we’ll just keep on singing Guster songs.

While I was in New Jersey I was contacted by A.H., another beautiful singer from Shaker High School.  She said that a group was getting together that night (Saturday) to reminisce about Mr. Fleischer – but I was a state away.  Shit.  I would’ve loved to see everyone (and beg two or three people to sing).  I am so touched by the comments my old peeps, and Ned’s old peeps,  have left me.

Lives intertwined.  It’s all so amazing, this world and how it works.

P.S.  Jack and Almanzo are buddies now.

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that is all

Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“I’ve never known a writer who didn’t feel ill at ease in the world. We all feel unhoused in some sense.  That’s part of why we write.  We feel we don’t fit in, that this world is not our world, that though we may move in it, we’re not of it.”

~Andrea Barrett

When I saw that quote I felt the warmth of knowing I’m not the only one, the comfort of knowing I’m not alone.  There are other aliens, people not entirely comfortable here.  I feel particularly alien lately.

Some of it comes from having spent 8 hours talking with prospective adoptive parents on Sunday in Brooklyn.  I knew to bring tissues; sure enough, they were gone by the end of the day.   I know the hope these people have.  I know the fear that hope may remain just that – hope.  I know how hope can become something to be afraid of, to even acknowledge.  In a backwards, strange way, I know.   They are special to me, the longing-to-adopt.

There is a surreal aspect too.  They long for a baby, and I long for my boy.  It is parallel and perpendicular at once.  Someone will ask if I have children, and I answer that I have a boy who is nine.  A few people get confused, thinking Jonah is the adopted child.  “No,” I explain.  “I’m adopted.  My son is biological.”  One lady asked me if I had a hard time conceiving.  I admitted that I did not.  She looked steadily at me, her eyes entering mine with heavy envy.  “You’re so lucky,” she sighed.  “You’re so incredibly lucky.”

I realized she was envying me the same way I have envied mothers who kiss their kids each day, waving to them as they board school busses…the parents whose children play games.   Who do homework, or argue that they don’t want to.  Kids who tell Santa what they want for Christmas.  The truth is, I know nothing about all these people beyond that which I see in a fleeting glance, just like the lady telling me I was lucky knew nothing at all about where my so-easily-conceived boy is now, and why.  There really is no greener grass.

Another man at the conference had just married his long-time boyfriend, and they wanted to adopt a child.

He read The Story of Amy

…a book my mother made for me out of one of those circa 1970 gold-ring-bound, red cloth, cling-paged photo albums, hand-written on white paper and illustrated with all the cards my parents received to congratulate them on their new baby girl.

I always bring the book with me to adoption conferences because I think it was a great way for my parents to tell me I was adopted.  My mom read it to me every night from the time I was a baby, so I always knew I was adopted, and as a result, being adopted never felt strange to me.

Usually people flip through The Story of Amy quickly, giving it an appreciative glance.  This guy, though, picked it up, stood aside, and read the whole thing, slowly, page by page.  When he handed it back to me, tears were streaming from both his eyes.  He couldn’t even talk to me.  He picked up my business card and walked away.  I almost cried with him.

And speaking of crying, I can’t seem to stop thinking about Mr. Fleischer.  I should have sent him a care package, I’ll think, or I wish I had told him he is the answer to one of my password prompts on almost every website log-in:  Who was your favorite teacher?

If I don’t use Ned Fleischer, I use Patrick Meanor from SUNY Oneonta, my favorite college professor.  I don’t intend to make the same mistake with him if I can help it.  I’m going to look him up and see if we can visit in Oneonta.  I want to tell him he is my password prompt too, and another one of the few greatest influences in my life.

Tomorrow, though, I’ll have Thanksgiving with my mother, my boy, and Andy.  And then, later, with M and Jack and Almanzo.  I’ll stop thinking “I feel like an alien” and I’ll concentrate on gratitude.  For so many things…

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It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m on the train headed to NYC for an all-day Adoption Conference tomorrow, which I love.  I’m an adoptee who also understands the frustration of not knowing when (or if) something is going to happen, so I can relate to the people who attend.  I enjoy helping them, listening when they need it, and sharing their joy when they find a child.

I have a heavy heart, though, because yesterday morning I opened the Albany Times Union, and on the front page was an article about the passing of Ned B. Fleischer, my high school chorus teacher – the man who nicknamed me “The Winklett” at age 14 when I was a geeky, awkward, skinny freshman at Shaker High School, class of ’87.  I’ve been winklett everywhere ever since.  That article didn’t say how he died; another one only said he was “stricken.”  Stricken.  I wavered on my feet, shaking, put the newspaper down on the counter, and realized I’d been holding my breath.  Stricken.  Gone.

Frustratingly, there was no wake/funeral/obituary I could find, even though I called the reporter who wrote the article, hoping he’d have the contact number of someone I could ask.  I left a message for him to please call me back.  I’ve yet to hear from the guy, and that was Friday of last week.  Well who the hell am I, anyway?  Nobody.  Just one of hundreds – maybe thousands – who’d really appreciate a way to mourn a man who made a tremendous difference in their lives.  Before I left Facebook, I was in the “Ned Fleischer Fan Club” and understood exactly why everyone else was too.

Mr. Fleischer was one of those rare individuals you can’t pigeonhole or categorize (I can’t help but revert to what I called him when he was my teacher; I never could refer to him as Ned).  He was perpetually tanned – a swarthy, slight figure with an aura of mystique.  He could be peevish and moody.  You’d ask him a question and he’d nod and say “no” simultaneously, just to throw you off.  He had this uncanny way of figuring people out – discerning what he could expect of you and demanding exactly that, without cruelty or condescension.  High school kids’ egos are frail.  He knew not to crush sensitive youth but rather to build us up, through persistence and integrity and damn hard work – work to which he was unfailingly dedicated.  Equally dedicated because of it, we rose to his expectations.

He nicknamed us.  He reveled in the process of orchestrating a new combination of people every year – a new set of personalities and voices to blend into songs.  We gave him our all.  Something made us want to please him – perhaps the confidence he bestowed upon us as both trophy and duty – perhaps the way he’d lend an ear when you needed one, because he genuinely cared.  He was counselor and confidante to me more than a few times.

He’d sit with me in his office, cigarette lit in the ashtray, gifting me with his full attention until the cigarette had a four-inch ash on it because he hadn’t smoked it at all.  He was too busy listening.  Finally, he’d take a final puff, press it out in his glass ashtray, and utter something wise – sometimes soothing, sometimes not at all.  But after a talk with him, I always felt validated.  He made me feel like I was somebody.

Every one of us learned the language of his looks:  Sarcastic.  Angry.  Proud.  A heavy glance from him could mean anything from Nice pitch to Enunciate! or Smile!

To let him down was unthinkable.  It simply wasn’t an option.

While I understand his family’s decision to hold a private funeral, I know I can’t be alone in longing for a way to gather, mourn, and honor him.  So many of us loved him.  And while I respect Shaker High School’s request for mourners to refrain from placing memorabilia or candles, etc. on the school grounds, I long to return to the chorus room, sit at his bench behind the big black grand piano, cover its surface with flowers, and cry my eyes out.

I was lucky enough to sing in Melodies of Christmas all four years of high school; back then, it was always the Shaker High School Chorus who did Melodies.  Even in the subsequent years when they chose kids from various high schools to perform, Mr. Fleischer remained their leader.

During I think three of the four years we sang Melodies, we ended the show with The Halleluiah Chorus.  There was nothing in this world more beautifully fulfilling, more excitingly breathtaking than singing that amazing piece of music with a full chorus, orchestra, audience, and Mr. Fleischer’s let’s do this intensity at the helm.

The Halleluiah Chorus was a climactic apex of all the hard work, of months of singing-while-smiling, learning, laughing, memorizing, struggling – of doing it all over and over and over again.  Melodies of Christmas was a long performance in front of a live audience, 60 of us or so collectively standing tall and singing full, from the diaphragm, diction trained into sharp consonants and cool vowels, eyes and mouth smiling despite heavy red chorus robes under hot lights.  By the last song, Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus, we were exhausted…and yet exhilarated.   It was this final, from-the-gut push upward into flight – Mr. Fleischer in the lead, all of us lifting and v-ing out behind him on wings of The Messiah.  God it felt good.  Like magic.

To be honest I was a decent singer at best.  My voice peaked around age 10, then settled into a mediocrity which was on pitch, but breathy and limited.  Shaker High School had a special “select chorus” of 10 or so of the best voices in the general chorus.  Select Chorus had special rehearsals and performances, and we all wanted in.  I tried out too, auditioning for a position among the elite.  Mr. Fleischer never encouraged me not to, and he never implied I couldn’t do it, even though I knew I couldn’t.  With blind hope and stubborn persistence, I auditioned every year.  Though I did my best, I never did make it into the select chorus.

It didn’t help that two girls in particular, P.D. and A.E., both one year ahead of me, had voices like angels –and not only led the select chorus but won all the leading roles in every musical as well.  I couldn’t even be upset about that.  These were girls you’d pay money just to hear sing something.  Anything.  They really were that good, and were pretty and stylish too.  I envied them not only for that, but also for the extra time they got to work with Mr. Fleischer, who must have loved such incredible vocal instruments to shape into maturity.  I still think about them sometimes.  I can still hear their rich, clear, beautiful voices.  I wonder if they continued to sing.  I hope so.  Damn, they were good.

I went back to visit Mr. Fleischer only a few times.  He’d recognize me immediately, greeting me with a joyful shout — The Winklett!

I hope I can find out where he is buried so I can visit his grave, at least, just to sit with him.  I always took it for granted I’d see him again.  One more time.  One more visit.  One more Melodies.

Goodbye, Mr. Fleischer.

You are loved, and you will be deeply missed.

“Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.”

~ Mr. Holland’s Opus

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When Jonah was three, his teacher asked me to send in pictures of our family for a special project.  The project turned out to be laminated colored paper pages made into a book – one photo to each page, and a little saying like “this is my daddy.  I like to play with daddy.”   Though the book is certainly not well preserved anywhere, I still have some of the pages.  One is pinned over my desk at work.   My page is orange, and in the picture I am smiling;  2-year old Jonah, next to me, looks blandly into the camera, one thumb in his mouth.  His hair has been sun-dyed a beautiful fresh straw color, and he seems content and almost confident.  The page says:  This is my mommy.  I love my mommy.

On weekdays when I come in to work it is early.  I put classical music on, loud, and stare at the picture.

Usually the music is Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto number 2 or 3, or Bach’s 1st, or Chopin’s 2nd, or anything at all by Mozart.

My late friend Gina was one of only two or three people I’ve ever been come across who loved the classical masterpieces like I do.  She loved them even more intimately than I, making ceremony out of the listening – lighting candles and incense, plumping up her feather-bed just so and lying back, eyes closed, to let the music enter her.  There is a secret in these masterpieces and it’s got nothing to do with how to drink tea pretentiously, your pinky in the air.  I wonder why that’s always the perception.  I think some classical music is boring and for me a little harpsichord goes a long way, but in general I think it’s fantastic.  Magnifico.

The guy who laid down the music tracks for the Bugs Bunny cartoons understood.  He used Flight of the Valkyrie and all kinds of other fun classics as perfect accompaniment to those cartoons.  One of my all time favorites has Elmer Fudd dressed in opera costume, singing kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the waaaaaaa—-bit as he pursues Bugs amid lightning strikes and ominous clouds.  Awesome.

Gina and I went to see the Philadelphia Orchestra at Saratoga Performing Arts Center every year during their month long residence, buying lawn seats, usually.  We’d have a big blanket and something to cushion our heads.  Wine and cheese.  The warmth of summer evenings under a spray of stars.  Add Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and I don’t know what’s better.

Since she’s been gone I’ve dragged people there…

I’ll buy your ticket!  It’ll be wonderful!

…but it isn’t the same as going with someone who loves it as you do.  “How much longer?” one unhappy acquaintance even asked me at an all-Tchaikovsky performance.  Really? When it’s so heart-wrenchingly beautiful?

Hell, channel 1069 (classical masterpieces) is the best show on cable TV.

But I digress.  The picture in my office, above my desk.  It’s one of my favorite pictures of Jonah and me, and when I look at it I feel reaffirmed as his mother.

This is my mommy.  I love my mommy.

His father is so much closer to him, geographically and emotionally.  It is Andy he runs to, cries for.  Jonah is his daddy’s boy.   When I talk to other parents of special needs kids (in both the cyber and real worlds), I always expect to find more of them like me, with marriages didn’t make it.   I hear these statistics about how 70 or 80 percent of couples with special needs kids end up divorced.  Where are all these mythical broken couples?  Most of the parents I meet are in religious marriages, so they turn to God, praying and trusting, struggling, but struggling together and making it.  My marriage = Andy, an agnostic/athiest, and me, who I’d best describe as ecumenical sprinkled with Buddhist.  I’m not saying that we were an ideological mismatch, but there’s something to be said for shared faith.

I once saw a bumper sticker that said  Militant Agnostic:  I don’t know and neither do you. 

Whatever the case about Divinity, I shall thank Thee for Saturday’s visit with Jonah, which was on a sunshiny-cool day.  Jonah was so good!

We sang, he laughed, we ate sandwiches and chips, pizza rolls, cheese doodles, grapes, and of course drank some black soda – then he wanted car ride and park.  He always chooses the first swing on the set.

My mom rides back to the apartment in the front with Andy, and Jonah and I chill in the backseat, having safe hands (a request from Jonah, if you can believe it, for me to put my hands over his.  It’s as if he knows he might not be able to control himself enough to not hurt me).  So, hands entwined, Jonah and I sing Guster songs from their latest CD, Easy Wonderful, that my boy memorized when the album came out and I played it 55 billion times with him in the car.

Never let it be said I don’t know how to brainwash my son.  We sing together; our eyes meet and lock for long moments, mine pouring love, his asserting:  This is my mommy.  I love my mommy.

And so I am back, writing.  Just after I’d so emotionally bade farewell – in French, even.  I am flattered by the comments and e-mails from people telling me they will miss my blog, or asking me to please keep writing.  Thank you, my peeps.  Your kindness means more to me than you’ll ever know.

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Got this from Wikipedia.com – it almost exactly describes what I’ve been feeling since yesterday morning (I left work at 1pm and stayed home today), after having gotten the flu shot about 24 hours before I started to feel all woozy and weak.

Side effects

Side effects of the inactivated/dead flu vaccine injection include:

  • mild soreness, redness, and swelling where the shot was given
  • fever
  • aches

These problems usually begin soon after the injection, and last 1–2 days.[129]

Some adults 18–49 years of age have reported:[130]

  • runny nose or nasal congestion
  • sore throat
  • cough, chills, tiredness/weakness
  • headache

Yeah, I got all of that.  Funny how they call it “side effects.”  I call it the f-ing flu.  I feel like a sheep, or a lemming.  Shot in the arm full of “dead” flu virus and preservatives?  Sure, go ahead!

Slept almost all day.  Had horrible nightmares – I’d wake and cry for Jonah:  I want my boy back!  I’d panic, coughing, and cuddle under the covers deeper.  I had a scream inside me; my ears rang with a cricket-y pulsing.  Maddening.   They say dogs know when you’re sad, or sick, and I believe it.  Jack jumped into bed with me, pressing all 90 lbs of his warm self into me and licking my face and ears.  My mom calls Jack a cow.  He’s such a good dog, though.  He can’t help that he’s a lummox.

I am looking forward to seeing Jonah on Saturday with an impatience I rarely feel.  I miss him palpably today, and in a piercing, whiny, weak way.

I want my boy back…

Of course I don’t – at least not now, what with this “side effects” the flu.

It’s a blessing to rest.  Jonah’s been doing either well or okay for a few days running now, from what I understand.  He doesn’t have school tomorrow so I hope to God and little baby Jason it is sunny and nice out so he can go on his favorite swing or run around and play.  I hope he somehow knows in his heart that his mommy is thinking of him, and loving him, and wishing she was there now instead of Saturday.

I decided to keep writing for the Capital District Parent Pages, only in a different capacity – writing feature articles about local businesses (obviously child-focused).  My first new column publishes December 1st.   It’s so good to keep writing.  I know, for example, that this is no award-winning post, but it makes me feel better and I’m sick-y.

On that note, headache coming back.  Must.  Seek.  Meds.

Happy 11-11-11 tomorrow…

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it’s not happening

As therapeutic as writing has always been for me, sometimes if I don’t write about it, I can pretend it’s not happening.

But I have so much. I am grateful for so many things, and people, and beauty in my life.

I am working at an adoption fair tonight; I really enjoy working with couples seeking to adopt.  I’m an adoptee myself.   I understand their hope, fear and frustration, even if it is different for me.

I want to help them find their little babies, and I love to envision a happy life ahead for all.

I was adopted at six months old, and in foster care before that.  This is one of the first pictures ever taken of me, once I’d gotten home.  My parents say I didn’t cry or complain at all.

Guess I saved it all up for now!

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So maybe I won’t go away altogether.

I have to show you how they managed to dress Boo up as Spiderman for Halloween! (Major accomplishment.  Believe me!)

…and to share my final column with those of you who don’t/can’t read the Capital District Parent Pages:

Normal is a Dryer Setting

November 2011

And so I settle into my surreal life.  Andy’s moved into an apartment just 5 minutes away from Jonah, and I’ve moved back into the house we lived in before we separated.  Jonah’s old room is silent; Elmo’s gone to bed.  I take a scrub sponge and find the spots of sauce and ketchup left from food thrown by Boo, up high and unnoticed before.  I get the mop and wash the floor.  I spray Windex and wipe the windows.   Until recently, this house existed in such a state of ‘Jonah aftermath’ that cleaning was futile; a new spill or mess immediately followed the swipe of a paper towel, as if part of the process.

The throwing-of-his-dinners undid any manner of order in the kitchen.  In one enraged moment Jonah could cause at least an hour of clean-up .  Needless to say, this place still has ceiling spots and wall splats.  Behind the radiator in his room is an unreachable collection of magnetic letters and colored straws.  I don’t even want to know what’s under the fridge.

Nowadays when I clean, I figure whatever I am cleaning will stay that way, barring accident or natural disaster.  But sometimes cleaning feels like I’m erasing my boy, and I find myself wanting to leave the stains and spots alone.  When I was doing yard work yesterday I found a tiny shard of jagged glass.  I knew immediately it was from last summer, when Jonah had that first terrible tantrum and kicked his bare leg through the double-paned window.   Then for some reason I wanted it, that piece of glass.  I can’t explain why.  I took it inside and placed it almost reverently in a jewelry box on my dresser. 

Sometimes I want to be Jonah’s mother – his caregiver – again, so much, I hate this new state of “geographical childlessness.”   I don’t have another kid on which to focus mother-love.

In a lot of ways, of course, life in the house is blessedly calmer.  Now I can actually light a candle if I want;  it can even sit for hours on a table.   I can cook – chopping, mixing, baking, and sitting down, taking my time to eat.  I can take 3 hour naps on Sunday.  I can brew coffee and leave the machine alone instead of carefully unplugging the whole works and placing it on top of the fridge, out of Jonah’s reach.  I can take down all the things that we’d moved higher and higher as he got older, taller, and more destructive.  And when I go to the mall, I can ride the escalator once up and one down, instead of fifty or sixty times each way.

Sometimes, though, something shifts inside my head – and as in a nightmare, I’ve left my son somewhere but can’t remember where and can’t find him, no matter where I look or for how long.  He’s just gone.

I didn’t anticipate the change this would have on my life, beyond the awareness that I’d miss him a lot.  I didn’t think about the fact that I wouldn’t even have parenting in common with other parents anymore.   And yet I am still his mommy, far away and sending love with all my heart to him across the distance.

I know I’ll always be his mother, even when I can’t be with him, and I visit him as much as possible, but something is always whispering to me, asking questions I can’t answer.  Is he truly happy there?  Can he blossom?  When I visit Jonah, I hug him tight, inhale him deeply…soak him in.  I cry when it’s time to go, and at first I felt nauseatingly guilty leaving him behind.  I still cry, and it still hurts, but I repeat my mantra: we’ve done the right thing.

Now we get to see what’s possible.

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