Thursday, April 26, 2012

Everybody Does It ~ 100 Things

So, here goes.
  1. I've been married twice. For me, the second time was the charm. It continues to charm me.
  2. I've known my husband since before I can remember knowing anyone.
  3. My favorite song from my childhood is, "Ain't Gonna Bump No More No Big Fat Wo-man."
  4. My favorite movie is Joe Vs. the Volcano. I think it's an important work of art.
  5. I confess to not knowing much of anything about art, despite having owned an art gallery and sold my own art.
  6. I had to stop playing the cello because I got warts on the tips of my fingers, repeatedly. I'm very sad about that.
  7. My favorite job was at Cafe Society in 1995.
  8. I have never enjoyed, nor do I anticipate ever enjoying, being a part of a work-team like I was with Bryan and Robert that year.
  9. I still feel sad that I'm not in the restaurant business. Pretty much all the time.
  10. I love teaching, but fear that I'm not very good at it.
  11. I assume most teachers have a similar fear at times.
  12. I was not planning on becoming a mother.
  13. I love being a mom.
  14. I hate the sound of paper rustling, especially against cardboard.
  15. I am afraid of knocking on doors, even if I know you.
  16. I am terrified of talking on the phone, even if I know you.
  17. I eat one thing at a time on my plate, and those things must not touch.
  18. Unless I've engineered the dinner to have complementary flavors.
  19. I obsessively listen to narrative journalism on NPR, PRI, and BBC.
  20. I like to tell my husband all about what I've heard, though I rarely successfully communicate anything of what I've heard.
  21. I really like to talk to him at about 10:30 at night, while he's trying to go to sleep.
  22. I think traditional sleep patterns are not for me: I'd be more rested if I could sleep from 10pm to 2am and from 7am to 10am.
  23. I love naps.
  24. If I had my druthers, I'd spend every single day, all day, with my husband (the kid could be there part of the time).
  25. I want to build a house with him someday.
  26. I am afraid of publishing the book I've written. But also afraid that if I don't, I'll never go anywhere in my career. Publish or perish is real, guys.
  27. I love being short, and am a bit peeved when there's someone shorter around, which happens a lot because I'm only "average short," not "super short."
  28. Two of my husband's brothers are married to Wendys, only one is a Wendi. But that still counts.
  29. I often start reading a book only to realize that I've already read it.
  30. My favorite book changes all the time. Some of my favorites are, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Lover, The Earth Abides, The Glass Castle. Things Fall Apart, Birds of America, and Wives and Lovers.
  31. Such lists always stress me out because I'm sure I'm forgetting something.
  32. I'm very grateful that my siblings and I are in a good place with each other nowadays.
  33. I am a TERRIBLE housekeeper.
  34. I get very nervous when I'm assigned to write something.
  35. I don't believe in spanking.
  36. I have a tense relationship with religion. Let's just say I am a member of the Church of Hopeful Uncertainty.
  37. I've spoken in tongues, had hands laid on me, and been prophesied over.
  38. I love the sound of twangy Americana.
  39. My husband has been promising to design a tattoo for me since our first date.
  40. I don't have a tattoo yet.
  41. This is the year, I can feel it.
  42. I love speaking in public, but get totally freaked out at a party.
  43. I was a member of a theater company in Europe the year after I graduated from high school.
  44. I don't remember why I came back to the States.
  45. I think I'm German in my soul.
  46. It is very important to me to follow the arrows and directions in parking lots.
  47. I used to drag race down Central Avenue in my 1970 Ford Torino.
  48. I cannot believe I've avoided getting a DUI.
  49. There are some illegal drugs that I have really enjoyed.
  50. I can't do drugs like that anymore.
  51. My drink of choice is Absolut and soda. Yes, I know there are smoother, more hip, vodkas. I like Absolut.
  52. I have a seriously keen sense of propriety, and I'm extremely profane.
  53. Potty humor disgusts me; not in a good or funny way.
  54. It is amazing to me that my female students never identify as feminists.
  55. I voted for George Bush the first time.
  56. I've had sex under a waterfall, during the day, where people could have seen.
  57. I often end up loving the people who, at first impression, I can't stand.
  58. I've been barred from The North End.
  59. I hitchhiked from Zwolle to Amsterdam.
  60. I saw more American tourists in Amsterdam's red light district than anything salacious.
  61. I was baptized in a bathtub, by my father.
  62. My father performed my wedding ceremony.
  63. I have come to love gardening in a way that I can't really put into words.
  64. I still think it's a man's world, particularly literary world. That makes me angry.
  65. I had no idea that my peers were having sex in high school.
  66. I dated at least three guys that turned out to be gay.
  67. My favorite place to dance, of all time, was GDI's.
  68. At The Pipeline, I used the Slave bathroom.  K. stood in line for Master.  
  69. I used to love to go dancing alone.
  70. I like to eat out alone.
  71. Until recently, I always rounded my age up since I was born in a 0 year.
  72. I'm very much a Sagittarius.
  73. I'm a pretty positive person.
  74. I do not believe that there is such a thing as a hero.
  75. I hate it when people tell me that adopting my daughter was "meant to be" because that would mean it was meant for her to suffer.
  76. I'm still sad that I never gave birth, and probably will always be so. 
  77. My co-workers probably think I'm bossy and a know-it-all.
  78. I started this list two years ago and have had to delete a few things that changed.  But fewer than I would have thought.
  79. I don't plan on ever coloring my hair.
  80. For the first time in my life, I have a group of female friends whose company I crave.
  81. I love Facebook, and don't understand Twitter.
  82. I disagree that Facebook makes us lonely.  I've reconnected and resumed meaningful relationships with so many people as a result of being there.  
  83. I'm amazed at how many of the people I liked in high school I still like a lot. 
  84. I often wish I'd gone to law school.
  85. I think that I'm lazy, even though I get a lot of things done. 
  86. I'm afraid of having a bad relationship with my daughter. 
  87. I'm very sad that my daughter is not good at math. 
  88. I'm a paper stacker.
  89. I love and have a lot of craft supplies, but rarely use them.
  90. I'm going to be sad when my daughter won't let me throw her birthday parties.
  91. I spend too much time, energy and money on birthday parties.
  92. If I could, I'd throw a party of some sort every month.
  93. I like to go to professional conferences -- and stay in my hotel room. 
  94. One of the worst recurring arguments my husband and I have had is about what's for dinner.
  95. I like my current job a lot, but I think I'm a little too old for it.  
  96. I want to own an inn. 
  97. I wish I liked more vegetables. 
  98. I'm grateful that I've learned to enjoying being at home. 
  99. I eat dinner in front of the television most of the time.
  100. I thought I'd feel more like a grownup by now. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's VeeGee's World

It's an amazing thing to be a part of a community.

Several months ago, on the eve of the Health Care Reform passage, my high school friend, local journalist and lightning rod Wendi Thomas , wrote a piece in The Commercial Appeal about VeeGee, and our struggle to get and maintain health insurance for her. I spoke to her only because I wanted to provide a picture for so many people, particularly in our community, who have a misunderstanding of just who it is that health care reform is aimed to help. I was careful NOT to use polarizing language -- to the extent that we can even talk about such things without polarization. Which is, apparently, not very long or deep. We were amazed at the vitriol that sputtered up in the comments section online. Utterly flummoxed. Who are these people?

All that is really beside the point, except that, defending my family from that outpouring of hatred and downright meanness were the many friends, and sometimes strangers, that are our community -- some from as far away as St. Louis. It was amazing, and was the genesis of an event that is coming to fruition tomorrow night.

Of course it is humbling to have people do for us, to admit that we really do need help. But, more than that (and it's been a slow learning process for me), it's so wonderful to feel the active love of our community, individually, of course, but really, mostly, for VeeGee. And, it's not just that people know her and know how cute and fun and silly and brave and tough she is, or even that they know the whole story of her adoption and her special needs. Some of the people that have RSVP'd have never met her, have maybe only seen her picture. Some have never met me, or heard my name. But they're helping, and generously.

We're overwhelmed. And we're grateful, not only for the physical help that it is generating, but the for opportunity to be a part of a community coming together for something important, something non-political (though, I suppose, it's all political), something that shows the best parts of ourselves. I've decided not to be embarrassed about it anymore, but, rather, to feel proud and happy that I've chosen this community in which to raise this special girl, to live my life, to become a better human. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Thought I'd share some old videos so you can see how far this amazing little girl has come!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On TMI and One-Upsmanning

Sometimes I worry about "putting too much out there." You read about this stuff, right? We're supposed to protect our kids from, well, from all that bad stuff, whatever it may be. I'm all for responsibility, but the reality is that, if someone really wanted to, they could drive up to my house and figure out a way inside. Right? I mean, unless I find a way, and make the effort, to go "underground," I'm living a public life. Does that scare me a bit? Sure. But not that much.

As an adoptive mom, it seems like there's an extra onus placed on our privacy. Maybe it's because we've seen more closely what the ugliness of the world can do to a kid, and I'm not just talking about kids who come to their adoptive homes like mine did, through CPS. Even kids with "easy" adoptions have a measure of ugliness, a sense of erasure, that they carry with them through life.

No matter how hard you try, or to what extent you believe yourself to be separated, I believe that's a falsehood and an impossibility. Your child will never be completely separated. And, neither will you. You could move to Antarctica, with no internet services, but the reality of adoption will exist in your lives. And, if you're trying to deny that, or in some way sublimate it, it will likely, as most things do, become even more central to your, and your child's identity.

I don't have a good relationship with my daughter's birth mother. It's not all wine and roses by any stretch of the imagination. And I DO severely restrict, to the extent that I'm able without becoming a totally emotionally obsessed woman, photographs in particular on Facebook. But, at the same time, that stuff is out there, and I'm a somewhat public person because I write about my daughter, and am published doing so. I've come to the conclusion that I want my daughter, and her birth mother for that matter, to have the record of me working out my own identity, part of which is that of an adoptive mom (who dealt with years of infertility), because that will model how I hope she can learn to work out her own, flawed and bruised and scarred and lovely and amazing, identity, part of which is/will be an adopted child.

Are there boogiemen/women out there? Of course. Are there dangerous birth parents out there? Of course. But, it seems to me, that "protecting" my child (though in reality this seems like more self-protection, rather than the child's protection) is best done by showing her how to navigate the dangerous world, not run from it.

One of the things that I'm learning as both an adoptive mom, and the mom of a child with a heretofore unrecorded genetic disability, a child whose birth mother refused to get her the help she needed -- to the point of near-death, is that, even though my situation feels unique, and in many ways IS unique, it's very dangerous and isolating to declare that no one has any access to what I'm going through, that no one can speak to my situation because they're not going through exactly the same thing. There is something in me that wants to hold my hand up to people and say, "You don't understand." This isn't unique to the adoptive community, unfortunately. This "game" gets played out all over parenting boards, special needs and adoption-focused, and probably everywhere else too. I don't really know why.

Fact of the matter is that there actually are some universals. And that's a function of the reality that there are universals within our human-ness. People need connection, even to those who've hurt them. But even beyond that, the connection exists whether we choose to acknowledge and/or facilitate it or not. What I hope I'm teaching my daughter is how to relate/interact with people who are not kind, not good, even, at times, very bad. That's the real world. Can I force her to forgive her birth mother/family? No, and I wouldn't want to. Can I show her how to live a life of acceptance and positive change? Yes. I can try. I would think this would be even more important for older kids. Addresses? Nah, not what I'm suggesting. I don't think anyone is. Not even visitation necessarily. Just, really, more of a posture of openness to the fullness of the kiddo's identity, which includes his/her family of origin.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Busy Summer

So, yes, as all Bloggers say, "It's been a while." As if anyone is sitting on their hands pining for my musings. I'll make this one quick, as I've got to get to the store, but will try to be a bit better about updating. I'm really grateful for all of you who follow this and are supportive of us, and her. It's a wonderful blessing to have such dear and kind friends.

VeeGee's pharyngeal flap revision was at the beginning of July. We had been warned that there was a good chance that she would have significant loss of speech production, or, rather, that there would be significant increase of nasality in her speech. We went ahead with the surgery, nevertheless, because we figured, hey, breathing's more important than talking. Also, (and I think I may have covered this before) it seems to us that her WILL to communicate is surely going to overcome any of these setbacks.

We went to Vanderbilt prepared to stay for a long time, partly because we were going in on the holiday weekend when we were sure that most docs, our primary surgeon especially, would be on vacation. Also, we remembered last time (in April of 09) where we thought we'd be there three or four days, and it turned into 12. We were really amazed when they let us out in just over four days. AMAZING. AND, best of all, it doesn't seem that her speech has been too negatively impacted. We can definitely tell a bit of an increase in nasality - but, who cares?

So, she's starting kindergarten this year. Of course, we have to go to Nashville on the first day of school. Ugh. THIS doctor is addressing her GI issues (stop reading or blink if you've a sensitive stomach). This poor child cannot poop. Not without adult-dose Miralax every single day. It is horrible. And that matters, too, because if she can't eliminate, she can't increase her caloric intake (still 100% g-tube), which means she can't gain weight (she hasn't gained an ounce in over eight months). It's a stressful thing to watch your baby retch and retch because she's too full, knowing full well that she's not gaining weight. The GI has done two separate biopsies for Hirschprung's Disease, both of which came back negative, though that doesn't mean she's actually negative, just that they've not snipped the part of the colon affected. A part of me wishes they could just "install" a MACE and be done with it. K just can't stand the thought of yet another hole in her body. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baking Bread and Licking Envelopes

I'll make this one quick. We baked bread again today. This time it was black/blue/raspberry bread and I threw in some oatmeal for, well, I don't really know why. It's probably my mother's voice, "Eat white bread, the sooner you're dead" mantra echoing in my ear. Diet Coke for a pre-teen? Sure. Just no white bread.

Anyway, that's another post for another day.

VeeGee and I baked bread today and before we mixed all the berries in, I told her that she needed to try one ittttty bittttty (we're talking minuscule, people) piece of raspberry. Well, you'd have thought I was asking her to cut her arm off. Or eat poop, or something. We went round and round for about five minutes and she finally -- sort of -- "ate" the mashed up little piece that had, by that point, melted on my finger into a rather macabre-looking lump of fruit.

So, we move on. Bake the bread. Burn the arm (mine) with the closing of the door on the arm bit (I'm in agony). It's delicious, if a bit dry and not too sweet.

Fast forward. We didn't get to go to her playdate with her "BEST FWEND IN DE WHOLE WIDE WOYALD," because I feel icky, so she decided to color her friend a lovely T-Rex. And then she decided that the picture should be put in an envelope, and sealed with sticky tape (I think that's what Dora calls Scotch tape). I explained to her that, no, all you have to do is lick the envelope (you know, like George's Susan) to seal it. So she did. Vigorously. With no shuddering. Over and over. To such an extent that there is no way that the lovely flavor of adhesive escaped her sensitive little palate. But does she object to that, likely toxic, taste? No. No, she doesn't.

But lick a raspberry? No way.

Monday, May 24, 2010


This essay appears in the Spring issue of Switchback. (You should check them out HERE!)

Wendy Sumner-Winter

I stood in the Goodwill parking lot on the Highland Strip, across the street from the college bars. Music billowed out with the cigarette smoke as kids my age pushed and pulled their way into and out of the darkness. I smoothed the pale blue dress across my torso, imagining the cells blooming inside of me. The dress was an extra extra large tent-like thing, taken from the left-behind-pile at the dry cleaner where I worked. I arched my back and stretched the fabric across the convex curve of my belly.

I don’t know why I was standing there. Perhaps I was stalking, waiting to be stumbled upon. Waiting for one of the boys to come and claim me, to take responsibility. I was standing there, and it seems to me that it was cool, late spring.

But my chronology about this whole time in my life is fucked up. When I look back, I don’t know what happened first, what thing led to or came from the other. I’d waited a long time to become a woman, to know men. And then off to the races. I’d run out of the starting gate like that mechanical rabbit would feed me if only I could catch it.

And then I was in the emergency room. In the waiting area of the grimy public hospital, the hospital for the indigent and shattered. My father’s friend, an older man, a Christian, having pity on me in my state, sat beside me. I don’t remember the labor beginning, or how it was that I came to be in this place with my father’s friend. He prayed for me, but I kept my eyes open, could not bow my head, could not say amen. So be it.

I could not lower myself fully onto the chair. I could not let my legs stick to the ripped black vinyl upholstery. I did not want to let the blood go, fearing what it would take with it.

The nurses nodded toward the chairs every time I went to ask how long? as if they’d seen a million girls pushing a million dead babies into the world, into this dark room. I was afraid to push them, afraid of being shuffled to the bottom of the pile of files. So, I waited my turn.

When my turn came, I’d already finished.

They spread the white paper across the brown vinyl table. I tried to stay on the paper, away from the blood that was on the floor, on the garbage can, on the step I took to crawl up. They spread my legs and nodded, reaching inside of me, confirming what I already knew. I was empty.

I lay there with tears dripping, as quietly as I could; afraid to ask for reprieve from my sins, afraid to ask for relief from my consequences.

The room was filled with people. People in addition to the nurses and doctors. A party bopped around like this was something easy, something not deserving of solemnity, reverence. All watching my sister push her second child into the world. At twenty-two, she had two. At twenty-nine, I had none.

This baby was born blue.

I sat at the foot of the gurney and wondered why no one else seemed to notice that the baby was dead. The nurses scurried around, each with a task that made them not see her. The party filmed and laughed, patted each other on the back as if they’d done something. As if, by their universal virility, they had done something here with my sister.

The blue baby had black, black hair and lots of it. Her face was screwed up in a scowl as if a scream were trying to escape from the black gulf of her throat. The room was cold. I looked at my fingertips. They were blue as well.

My sister’s red face popped up from her pillow as she pulled her knees toward her chest. She grunted and howled, her hair a wet halo against the starched white pillow. I could not move, but waited for her eyes to open and see the blue baby slithering into the world. She did not look.

They held a mirror between her legs and she looked. She reached down to touch the head which had paused in the entryway, the exit. Wow, wow, wow. She said it over and over, an ohm, a birthing chant.

The baby finally screamed, and took a deep breath. The baby punched at the air as she lay on her mother’s stomach.

I stood as the nurse carried the baby’s pinking and squalling body to the scale. I reached for her, and touched the tip of the swaddled form as they lay her in the crook of my sister’s arm – out of my arms’ reach.

They lopped off the ends of my fallopian tubes, over and over until there was no point in keeping the scraps anymore. The ovaries were pocked with cysts and covered in webs of scars. Blood ran for years without pause. Two more babies exited dead.

I gave up, resigned, and had them take it all away.

In the ward they wrapped my legs with pressure cuffs and gave me the morphine button. I pushed on a timer – every ten minutes. I willed myself to be relieved, to feel emancipated, to no avail. They said to walk, walk it off, like what you tell a kid on the playground who’s been punched in the stomach. I walked and wept and watched my lover try to reach me, to keep up with the sorrow, to sweep it away.

Consolation cards came with casseroles and insufficient comfort. I was in a place unreachable by platitudes and promises of better days. The good aunt, the cheerful sitter, the unperturbed marriage – such prognostications are the luxury of the full.

The priest said to my friends, Father, name your child. I wept onto my lap, holding the keen in my throat, keeping my silence. We bowed our heads as the parents passed, down the aisle, the font behind them. And then we stopped going at all, too many overflowing cradles, too much predestination.

Time does not heal the want.

When I first heard that she’d come into the world, she was already six weeks old. Already sliced and diced, already neglected. She was sick, they told us. She was broken, they said. They offered her to us as if they had the right to broker her. It was all hypothetical, all horror.

We stood in our kitchen, on opposite sides of the silver table, four hundred miles away from her, looking at each other. I with longing, he with reserve. I wanted a baby. He didn’t. Neither want nor lack of want mattered. She belonged to someone else.

I saw her first at nine months, crawling on the filthy floor, dragging her feeding tube behind her. Dragging it through the dog hair, against the flea filled carpet. I saw the green mucous crusting her unfiltered trach. I saw her mouth stretch wide in a silent howl. I saw her red hair, thin and patchy like a chemo patient’s, her skinny legs, her distended tummy. And I saw her mother’s dispassion, disconnection. It was everything I could do to not reach out, grab her, and run.

When we got in the car, I told him that this, this baby, was my baby.

Another year, another phone call, standing in the same place, the silver table reflecting our faces. He looks at me and mouths, it’s the baby. I see the switch in him, instant, firm. He is a father now. I know, that moment, like I knew from the very first moment. My baby is coming home.

We have five weeks between the phone call and the arrival. A short gestation. We walk around in a daze, pregnant with fear and sorrow and joy, not sure where to go first, what to do. We read about the causes, the missteps, the brokenness, the system. We learn new words, forget old dreams. Adjust to the coming.

People are happy for us. They throw thoughtful showers for us, and thoughtless phrases at us. Jewels in your crowns. She’s lucky to have you. Things happen for a reason. Meant to be. Meant to be? People tell me that; I sometimes think it. But that would mean her suffering was meant to be, engineered. That can’t be, isn’t, true. My suffering, the availability of my home and heart to her, not meant to be. I don’t buy it.

I think about the first mother, my husband’s sister, young and numb, like I was once. I gin up compassion like a white lie. I look so hard at the facts that have been laid out before me in the documents. Highlighted in yellow. Arrived at school with wet feet in forty-degree weather . . . child found lying in a pool of vomit, choking, alarms ringing, door closed . . . social worker called to spend the night in ICU because mother’s first day of school is tomorrow. How does one forgive?

I lie awake most nights, watching her breathe, waiting for her to stop. And when I sleep, I labor. Pain beats at my insides from my mind? from my own sense of loss? the scars of my un-birthed babies crying for their new sister? And when I wake again, my breasts tingle from the phantom suckling, ache for the baby to be nourished from my body. I examine my sheets for the blood, the placenta, the water. The sheets are immaculate.

I want to hear the word mama, but she is silent, eyes averted, tentative. It’s too soon, but I am impatient. We trip over the event horizon and into a black hole, a tiny spot of receding space. Sorrow and anger are sublimated by the need to move, move, move. We are making up for lost time. We are trying to restore what she never had in the first place. We try to replace what should have always been hers, but never was.

I check her feeding tube; fill the bag with putrid-smelling formula. I hold her tight to my breast as she vomits up every bit of life that I can imagine she holds inside of her. I wrestle against her swatting hands, touching her where she cannot bear to be touched. I hold her down, slide the trach out of its puckered hole. Her mouth stretches open, gasping for air, the instinct that has no satisfaction. Her eyes widen as I slide the fresh one in. I give her back her breath.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Moment of Pleasure, A Milestone for Me

VeeGee and I have a lot of fun, but mostly it's when we talk in the car (on the way to the doc/therapy/surgery/etc.) or in my half-attention while I'm working. K is the roll on the floor guy. I feel like so much of my life with her is planning and researching stuff for her health care (financial and diagnosis-wise), not quite as much is just play.

Some of that is just me. I have a hard time letting go of all the hooha and just sitting down to play. Some is her. She would really rather watch tv than anything in the world most of the time, and so trying to get her to play is awful.

Anyway, yesterday we baked bread together. It was really so lovely. She's getting where she's interested in and willing to follow directions (still won't eat the final product, but that's okay). I know that seems so small, and so many of you are much better at this part of mothering than I am. But, for me, it was just wonderful to feel pleasure in doing it instead of obligation. Does that make sense? It makes me really excited for the summer! She's doing Extended School Year, but that's only until noon, so we'll have more time to play. And I'm actually looking forward to it. Which is a milestone for me!!!!!