Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Halloween 2005


Aaaahhh, I love, love, love Halloween! Always have....usually, we went to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, have for years. But this year, with a new baby, I decided to make my own Halloween Horror Nights....by having a Haunted Halloween party!

Oh, it was so much fun...I love decorating for Halloween....I love to bake and make all kinds of creepy foods for Halloween, I love to dress up! I’m really just a big, dumb kid at heart and love, love, love Halloween! And I confess, I go ALL out for Halloween. Who wants to just call your family and friends with the invite, when you can buy specially bought Halloween stationary to make your own invitations? And who wants to type it up in regular Times Roman font when you can use CHILLER? (Sorry, the blog format doesn't have that font for me to use here). And who wants to serve up spinach dip as just plain old spinach dip, when you can call it “Hair of Witch”? And why set out a big bowl of pasta, and just call it pasta, when you can gross everyone out with the name of “Brains of the Dead”? And peeled grapes make excellent dead eyeballs, in case you didn’t already know. You get my drift? I really love Halloween.

So I begin decorating for Halloween on October 1st....that’s how much Halloween stuff I have. I bought a pumpkin outfit for baby and spent the better part of an entire Saturday afternoon struggling with him to get THE PERFECT picture to adorn our Halloween holiday cards...yes, folks, I even create and mail out our own family Halloween holiday cards....told you I was a Halloween nut, didn’t I? And not only do I mail out Halloween picture cards, I enclose a Halloween poem, appropriate in content to the picture on the Halloween card...I called it “My Li’l Pumpkin”.

The party turned out to be a rousing success....the right mixture of family and friends, big kids and little kids...food and fun....creepy, spooky Halloween music and lights, drifting through every room in the house. I had created my own Halloween coloring books, and even the adults colored them. People that I didn’t expect would dress up, did! Jessica and her boyfriend made a spectacularly ghouly couple. Jared made a very authentic Batman (his current idol). And Ashley was a very anorexic cow. Adrian was a leopard lady, and Stacy was an angel. We watched kid-friendly Halloween cartoons (Snoopy and Charlie Brown, etc.); the food disappeared like I was feeding an army of refugees, and everyone loved, loved, loved my Halloween colored jello shots, especially Gloria!

I just love Halloween....I wish I could celebrate it once every three months! Enjoy the pics!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back to Work!

I looked ahead to the day like one would look ahead to an appointment with a firing squad. Actually, I ended up being spared a day, because I was called for jury duty on Monday. And I ended up getting excused from jury duty because of having a newborn. So my actual first day back at work wasn't until a Tuesday.

I got up that morning at about 5:00 AM. I was determined that if I was not going to be able to be at home during the day with my new baby, I would for certain make it impossible for him or his father to not feel my presence and my love for them. So when I got up that morning, I cleaned the house, I washed bottles, I did laundry, laid out clothes for the baby, fixed breakfast and lunch and set out and arranged every single, solitary item that they would need throughout the day. I tried to anticipate and prepare for every single thing they would need, every move they would make, every meal, every nap, every activity, every hour, every minute, every second of their day. Wow! What a morning! I don’t think a military General does as much preparation before his troops head off to war as I put into a baby and his daddy being at home for one day!

Finally, when all was in my very own, OCD obsessed order, I got dressed, I kissed and hugged and practically smothered the baby with love, and burst into tears, just as I hit the door. I sobbed, big, huge, gulping sobs the entire way to my office. I felt certain that my baby would forget who I was by 5:30 PM. After weeks of touring the southeastern US, and then weeks at home with me doing not much more than simply holding him warm and close and tight, for hours and hours on end, feeding him, burping him, changing him, cuddling him, loving him to pieces, while outside the world was cold and blustery, how could he not forget me while I went off to earn a living? I hated myself and the economy and the world at large that morning for making it necessary to actually to have to go out and beat down a paycheck. Granted, it was some comfort that his beloved and wonderful father was the one staying at home with him, but I wanted it to be me, too.

My first day back at the office, truth be told, was not that bad. To give my boss some credit, he did not inundate me with old work. It was a very slow, steady, evenly-paced day, and I actually got to leave work on time. It was OK, as far as first days go when you leave your baby at home for the first time. When I got home, I picked him up and sat down in the recliner, and I honestly do not think I moved from that spot until 9:00 PM. I tried to cram about 9 hours of missing him into the few hours until bedtime. In interrogated my husband about the baby’s day as if he were the enemy suspect, and I were an FBI investigator. I asked my husband if he thought Alex would grow up hating me for being a working mom...I know.... a ridiculous question. But my self-pity demanded that I wallow a little more and ask it.

It got better, a little, over time. My daily “morning raid of readiness” continued for about a month, and then exhaustion set in, along with the admission that his father actually could handle the routine of a simple day at home with baby, without my micro-management, so I began sleeping in until about 7AM. But it was several months before I actually could leave the house without crying. I still, to this day, wish I was the one at home with the babies, but that is not how our life panned out. And I am so eternally, entirely grateful that the kids have their father with them every day, instead of a nanny or babysitter. I’m lucky that my husband loves his job as a full-time, hands-on, stay-at-home dad, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. But ah, what a nice and comforting thought, if only we could both stay home and be with the kids, and if every child born had that blessing, to be so loved, to be so wanted. I can’t help but think, what a wonderful world it would be.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Little Look at My Life 1990 BC (before children)

The Student Murders....or....(How I Almost Killed Danny Rolling)

Some of you may not remember them, or weren’t living in Gainesville when they happened. I think almost everyone has heard about them, though. I remember them vividly.

I was young, single and brunette. Apparently, just Danny Rolling’s type. I was newly divorced, starting a new job, and for the very first time in my entire life, living completely on my own. Not my parents' house, not my husband’s house....my very own apartment. Mine to decorate as I please, mine to come and go from as I please, mine to have friends over as I please, and apparently, mine to run from in the middle of the night, covered in vomit and urine, half naked. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so let me back up.

I had no more than moved into my cute little “bachelorette” apartment when the murders started happening. And I lived in the Southwest, student-saturated part of Gainesville, right off of Archer Road. So when it became apparent that we had a serial killer on ours hands, my parents insisted that if I would not move back home altogether, than at least I should come and spend the nights there, until this killer was found and locked up. To be honest, it did not take much convincing on their parts to get me to agree. So after work every day, I would go to my apartment, check the mail and make sure everything was OK, put my cats in their pet taxi, and off we’d go to “Grandma’s” house: me and my cats. I’d spend the night and then go home in the morning to take the cats back and get ready for work.This went on for about 6 or 7 weeks, until the killings had stopped and law enforcement felt pretty sure they had the killer locked up.

Things relaxed a little, and I started staying all night in my own apartment again (even if it was with a butcher knife tucked under the mattress every evening). It was mid to late October and Halloween was fast approaching. I was visiting my younger brother one evening and to "get" me, he put on a Halloween mask: not a mask of a particular character or person, just a very ugly, scary, gargoyle-looking man with a big, bushy mustache. It was pretty gruesome. I asked my brother if I could borrow it to play a prank on a friend. So I took the mask home with me, and one of my cats became enchanted with it. He kept chewing and biting and gnawing on the furry, bushy mustache part of the mask. Fearing kitty would chew the whole thing off, and then spend the night up-chucking it, I took the mask and put it where I felt sure kitty couldn't reach it.

(Now pay attention here folks. This is where it gets tricky. Our college business law professor was right: The devil is in the details!)

I put the mask on my bedroom window sill. Now, my bedroom was your standard apartment bedroom. In other words, what? 8 or 9 foot ceiling? My bedroom window, however, was not your standard window. It was one of those short windows, placed way up high on the wall, closer to the ceiling than to the center of the wall. In other words, about 6 foot high up. This is where I placed the mask for "safety" from my cat, and then promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to nighttime, about 4 or 5 nights later. I do my usual bedtime routine, which includes taking out my contact lenses. So it's sometime in the middle of the night. I'm fast asleep. My cat hops up on the bed with me, as usual. He awakens me with his repeated meowing. I stir to life, reach down to pet him, and ask, "what's the matter, buddy?" (as if he will actually turn around and talk to me, right?). He is sitting very straight and erect and facing my bedroom window, where a full moon is shining through the window, his tail now twitching and kitty continues to growl/meow. (Sounds like Lassie, doesn't it?) I turn to see what he's meowing about and, not having either my contacts in, or my glasses on, all I see is a hideously ugly man's face, right inside my bedroom window! He's not moving, or speaking, just.......standing there. It's very dark in the room, and like I said, I'm legally blind without either glasses or contacts (20/400 vision), but I managed to make out his face, right at my window, right beside my bedroom door - the only doorway out of the room! I just knew it was the Gainesville killer, either him or another, new killer! I called out, "who's there? Who are you? What do you want?" to be answered only with silence. The tiny little bedside lamp on my table did not offer much in the way of light, especially with me being nearly blind. I reach for my glasses on my bedside table, but I'm so scared and shaking with fear, I knock them off and can't find where they landed! I was literally paralyzed with fear!

Then, a true moment of self-preservation kicked in and I knew it was either fight or flight! And since my would-be murderer was right by the only door, flight didn't seem the appropriate option at the moment. So fight it was! I blindly reached under my mattress for the ever-present butcher knife I had been sleeping with since returning to my apartment a week ago, and found it! OK....here goes! I grabbed the butcher knife and ran towards him. He wasn't moving towards me at all, still just standing there, so I just lunged ahead. I raised the butcher knife over my head in both my hands and brought it down.....into nothing...well, it felt like I hit something, but I don't know what. Luckily, I didn't stab myself in the belly or legs! He still wasn't moving, no gasp, no sound....but I just knew he was about to lunge at me with a sword or a machete, or his own butcher knife. All I could think of was poor Christa Hoyt...decapitated, butchered, her head left on a shelf in a ghastly display of mockery towards the people and law enforcement officers who would eventually find her. Even though I never saw her in person, I was seeing her in my mind's eye right now! Off with the head it was! I raised my butcher knife yet again and swung towards what I thought was his throat, moving right towards left! This time, my knife stuck in something...and remained stuck! And sure enough, the head fell to the floor! OMG! I did it! I killed him! I ran screaming from the room.

I ran towards my apartment front door (actually the apartment's only door). I forgot that part of my new bedtime routine included creating a barricade of sorts by the door, so that in the event someone did break in, I'd hear them crashing through the barricade, and hopefully have enough time to call 911 before my attack began. But on this night, it was not my intruder who crashed into the barricade. It was me! Now, why finding the barricade assembled in place did not register with me, I do not know. But it didn't. So I ran and crashed right into it: two small bookcases, a couple of chairs, a small end table. I fell, crashing to the ground. I was sobbing hysterically by now....certain that my intruder was right on my heels. And it all caught up with me at that moment, certain as I was that my death was only moments away. So biology took over, and I puked and peed all over myself. I was completely unhinged. But, that's the kind of fear, panic and hysteria that gripped this city during that awful, stricken time so many years ago. I somehow managed to clear myself of the books and table and chairs that had fallen on me, lunged at the front door...unlocked, unbolted and unchained it. Still, it was not registering with me that the front door was still completely locked up. I make it outside and run out of the courtyard and into the parking lot, wearing only my nightclothes, which consisted of a long T-shirt and my underwear. Now, this was almost 20 years and certainly more than 20 pounds ago...the sight of me half-naked was not as disturbing then as it would be today....but I didn't care at that point. As I stated earlier, I lived in the student section of town, and the police were still frequently patrolling my apartment complex, just to check on the safety of the students who were still living there. Once out in the parking lot, with me screaming, crying, heaving, covered in puke and pee, a patrol car circled around and spotted me. The officer got out and IMMEDIATELY called for ALL BACKUP. I managed to tell the first officer my story of seeing someone, an attacker, I thought it was the student murderer, and that I had just killed that person in my apartment. He and his partner draw their guns, and go inside my apartment. I sneak and followed them, hoping to be allowed to put something a little more modest (and clean) on before everyone arrives. Once inside my apartment, it certainly looked like a struggle had taken place....what with the vomit, urine, books, chairs, end table and bookcases strewn and thrown everywhere. They look first around the living room/dining room area.....then the kitchen, then ask where the body was. I told them in the bedroom and pointed around the corner. The walked in the bedroom and, with the help of their big flashlights, find the light switch by the door and turn on the lights. By now, my apartment has probably a dozen people in it...police, EMT, investigators, you name it. And little ole me. Everyone is sort of braced for finding the body of the elusive Gainesville student murderer. However, once the lights were on, they discovered my butcher knife....stuck in my bedroom door. But still no body is found. They look under the bed, inside the closet, behind the door....nothing...no body, either dead or alive. It's a regular size bedroom, not many places a body can hide. What they did find, however, was my brother's Halloween mask...lying on the floor, a victim of homicide...by me. I killed my brother's Halloween mask. I butchered it. It was dead.

The cops finally ask, "is this what you saw? Is this your killer?" I bend over, and squint up my legally blind eyes. I had never stopped to find my glasses, much less put in my contact lenses.

Me: "uh, uh-oh. Mmmm, yeah, er, sorry!" Sweet smile, sheepish grin, giving it my best "oops, I goofed, don't kill me" look.

Now, mind you, this whole thing took probably less than two minutes up to this point. It felt like hours, but really, from start to finish, from my cat meowing me awake, to the police's arrival in my apartment, was probably a minute and a half, and my actual attack on my attacker was only seconds in duration, hysterical as I was.

Obviously, the police continued to scour my apartment, inside and out, and everywhere nearby. The commotion woke my neighbors, people were crawling with bright lights everywhere, the EMS insisted on checking me over just to be sure I was OK. And then I had to give a statement to the police. So it was hours before I got back to bed. And I say bed, not sleep, because I don't think I slept again for several nights after that.

So my brother's Halloween mask ended up being a prank after all, only it was not on my friend, it was me. And just so no one thinks I'm a sadist, my planned prank on a friend was nothing as harrowing as what I went through. It was a broad-daylight, people everywhere, "this is me without makeup" type of a prank. But that'll teach me to ever think I can pull a prank on anyone again. From now on, I'm just sticking to "knock-knock" jokes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who Keeps Turning On The Heat?

If you ever, while living in Florida, during the heat of mid to late summer:

1) Have a 6-month-old living at home;
2) Have a teenager living at home;
3) Take in Hurricane Dennis refugees (even if it is your stepson, daughter-in-law and grandson);
4) Start to suffer peri menopausal hot flashes; and then
5) Agree to take in two other teenagers for the summer,

RUN, don’t walk, but RUN to your nearest shrink, because that’s a sure sign you’ve completely lost your mind.

I got a call from my oldest and dearest friend from grade school, D, who was going through her own personal family crisis. She and her hubby were divorcing, and she was traveling quite a bit for her job, and asked if I could take her 15-year-old daughter for the summer. I’m a sucker for kids, especially kids in crises, so I said yes. Little did I know the adventures and mayhem that lay ahead of me that summer. Little did I know I was edging into “The Change!”

So Chirpy (as we came to call her, because she talks nonstop, like a bird chirping outside your window all day) arrived and she and Adrian became fast and furious friends. I think Adrian liked playing the role of the older sister, for a change.

I quickly noticed that Adrian’s “trash the place” bedroom motif is not just her own personal preference. I never did figure out if it was a girl thing, a teenage thing, or a teenage girl thing, but Chirpy gave Adrian a run for the title in the leave-the-bedroom-and-bathroom-like-a-cyclone-hit-it department. I honestly don’t know how they function in that mess. And this is a bitter pill to swallow for a neat freak like me. I’ve always been a neat, tidy, clean person. Marrying a true slob of a man was hard enough. Then, having a baby in the house just necessitates living in a mess, but add a couple of teenagers on top of it? I was ready to lose my mind.

Then there was Richard. Little Richard as we came to know him. A friend of Adrian’s who also had fallen upon hard times. A high school drop out who lost his job, he was Adrian’s boyfriend’s best friend, who had at one time dated Adrian’s best friend. So he starts to hang around our house, all summer long, pursuing his huge crush on Chirpy. Well, to make a long story short, his family and home fell into a crisis that summer as well, so he moved in for the summer, too. Little Richard is exactly that: little. Short, skinny, freckle-faced, glasses, but with a gargantuan ego to boot. Yes, Little Richard was quite the handful that summer. There was some kind of frenzied, panic-stricken melodrama every day and every night with those three teenagers. It never ended. Boyfriends, girlfriends, hookups, breakups, late nights, late mornings, loud music, messy rooms, never enough food in the house, laundry piling up, MTV, VH1, you name it, and our house endured it. That, and the fact that every major electronic device and appliance we owned broke down over the course of the summer. TVs, VCRs, DVDs, the microwave oven, the washing machine, and plumbing problems. Our house was like a frat house.

And then, just when I stupidly thought it couldn’t get any worse, just days after the joyful news of my stepson's return from his tour of duty in Iraq, he makes it back home to his family in Biloxi, Mississippi, just in time to get hit with Hurricane Dennis. Within about four days, he and his family had to evacuate. So they headed here. Head count = 9. An infant, a toddler, 3 teens, two twenty-somethings and hubby and me. I now have a mob living in my house.

It was frustrating, to be sure. And there appeared to be no end in sight. It was hot, muggy, crowded, and I honestly thought I was going to die. Who kept turning up the heat? What am I sweating bullets when everyone else is wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts? Why am I so mad all the time? Why do I feel like crying all the time? I complain about the heat, and everyone tells me to put on a pair of shorts. It’s not my legs that were hot. It’s my head, my neck, my face, my chest, my arms, my back. Not my waist or hips or legs or butt. It’s roasting in here, and no one notices it but me! The AC is cranked down to 60, everyone else is complaining about the cold, and I'm roasting!

I did something, I don’t know what I did, because I can’t remember. I’m sure I was in a heat-induced frenzy when I did it though, and I must have done it good, because hubby went to my mother to talk to her “about me.” Fine with me. I have one less person in the house that way. I began filling every bottle, carton and container I could find with water and putting them in the freezer. My thought was that I’d just make me a nice, frozen bed of ice to lie on all day long.

Mom shows up, full of motherly care and concern. I get defensive and upset and angry, start crying. Mom took my hands, forced me to face her, looked me right in the eyes and said, “honey, you feel all the time like there is a shelf of fire burning right at your boobs, don’t you? It’s like someone has stuck your upper body in an oven. You’re burning from the chest up and it’s all from the inside, isn’t it? “

“Oh, my God! Yes, yes, yes! That’s it! That’s exactly it! What is it, am I dying?” I ask my mother, the nurse.

“No,” she replies. "You’re having hot flashes and hormone surges. You’re in pre menopause. You are NOT dying.”

“What? That’s what this is? I’m not losing my mind? I’m not dying?” I ask.

“No, you just will feel like you’re dying, and sometimes will wish everyone around you would. Welcome to the change, honey.”

I can’t even begin to put a finger on what I feel. Relieved, actually. I’m just glad I’m not dying or losing my mind. So I demand that my mother explain the whole thing to “my idiot husband” because he doesn’t believe me when I tell him it’s hot as hades in here. Mom is trying so hard not to laugh, while I stand there panting and rolling frozen water bottles all over my neck, and plant one to rest, sitting right inside my bra, resting between my boobs.

Finally, my stepson and his family left to return to their home in Biloxi after about a week at our house (only to have to face Hurricane Katrina a month later). Then, Chirpy’s mom came to get her (but not without first inviting her ex-in-laws who live nearby to an afternoon mini family reunion: at my house! Picture it: there are about a half dozen people in my house, in addition to the ones already living there permanently or staying on a temporary basis, and I don’t know a single one of them. But they had no qualms about fixing a plate of supper and grabbing a can of Diet Coke and gathering on my back porch, while I, the grand dame of this whole shindig, hacked and coughed and sneezed and snotted with a good old-fashioned summer cold that weekend)!

The summer from hell....that’s all I can sum it up as. I don’t know when I ever felt so overwhelmed and exhausted and worn out.

OK, ladies, anyone care to describe their entry into this wonderful time of life known as The Change, or your own summer from hell?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Moving Forward 2005

So as Spring of 2005 moved forward, we began to settle into life as a family of four: my husband (the stay-at-home dad), my husband’s granddaughter whom we had informally adopted (Adrian), our newborn son (Alex) and me, the working mom. We proceeded through Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day with tons of pictures to show for it.

March 20, 2005, the first of Angel’s birthdays without her. I bought a heart-shaped plaque inscribed with a memorial poem, her name and her dates of birth and death engraved on it, and gave it to hubby on her birthday. We hung it on a tree outside, since Angel loved the outdoors and all living things, right where we could see it at all times and be reminded of her. We also began a tradition on that day that continues even now. We lit a candle in her honor and spent an hour, beginning at 7PM, with our thoughts and hopes and prayers focused solely on her. We talked, we laughed, we cried...we let go with all our memories of Angelia. She came back to us for a blessed hour that night, and we decided to keep the candle burning until April 13, 2004, the first anniversary of her death. That’s a tradition that we continue, even to this day. For the three weeks separating the anniversaries of her birth and her death, we keep a battery-operated candle burning, in honor of our beloved Angelia.

We celebrated Easter that year with an egg hunt and party with our friends from our local adoption support group, and a trip to visit my sister-in-law and her family, and my parents.

Alex's adoption was finalized on May 12, 2005. That was a great day...oh, the tears I cried.

I looked so forward to my first real Mother’s Day, and I was not disappointed. My husband made such wonderful arrangements for my celebration. First, it was church that morning and brunch afterwards, followed by a lazy, Sunday afternoon nap and cuddle time with my baby. That evening, I was told to dress nicely, and hubby and baby took me to a wonderful Italian dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. There at the restaurant, waiting for me, was a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a nice bottle of wine, and my gift. My husband had taken my favorite picture of my baby as a brand newborn, and had it made into a “#1 Mom Award” plaque. What a surprise! What a thoughtful gift! I loved it.

I had another wonderful surprise in the Spring of '05: I ran into my good old buddy, 'Nett. She and I had been besties about a decade earlier, but then had lost touch when she went through a divorce and remarriage. A lot had changed (she had two more kids, I was now married with Adrian and Alex) and yet nothing had changed. We picked up right where we left off: phone calls, secrets, advice, commiserating, plots, plans, gossip, you name it. She had returned to school, hoping to get her degree, and I was very happy for and proud of her. She had always been to me like the little sister I had never had. I was thrilled to have reconnected with her.

We celebrated hubby’s birthday as a family, but my first time away from my new baby, other than work, occurred on Memorial Day weekend, hubby’s and my 7th wedding anniversary. We left the baby with my parents and went to dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant. Needless to say, we spent the whole time talking about and bragging about the baby and rushed home to him as quickly as possible.

For Father’s Day, I returned the favor to hubby. Church, brunch, and an afternoon with baby Alex. Then it was on to Outback Restaurant for a yum, yum dinner and lots of gifts for dad. A “#1 Dad” T-shirt, a “Dad” cross-stitch pillow, a large, framed collage of all my husbands’ children, and a photo and a poetry book about what it means to be a father. All in all, a very good day for the old man.

Late winter, spring, headed into summer....things were great, life was good. I loved being a mom and my family is terrific!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Remembering Angelia, Part III

Approximately three weeks after Angelia’s death, we got a call from Adrian, Angelia’s youngest daughter. She wanted to come live with us. We agreed, as emotional is it would be, that it would be for the best. Perhaps it would help us to heal the loss of Angelia, and we certainly hoped we could offer a home and a life of love, caring, support, strength and encouragement to Adrian, a young woman so recently left motherless. We needed to make it legal, though, so that we could properly care for Adrian, so we hired an attorney and her father signed over to us legal custody and guardianship of his youngest child. The day we had to meet him to sign the papers was a day we’ll never forget. We had arranged to meet at the house where his mother was staying. It was now about 6 weeks after Angelia’s death. We got there on time. Ricky, however, was running late. Sitting there in Angelia’s mother-in-law’s house was the urn containing Angel’s ashes, as well as many, many pictures of her, everywhere. We heard a truck pull up and out hopped Ricky. Behind Ricky....no, oh my God, who is that? It.....can’t.....be! Who is that? It looked exactly like Angelia. What? Who? Huh? It was Ricky’s new girlfriend. Teresa. They had met about two weeks ago, when he passed her broken down in her car on the side of the road. He stopped to help her, and they hooked up and immediately began living together. And he brought her with him to his mother’s house, the house where, 6 weeks ago, he had been living with his late wife. To sign over custody papers of his youngest daughter to his father-in-law and me. He also brought along with him and his new girlfriend, pictures of his wife’s memorial service, to share and look through, with his father-in-law and daughter and his mother......and his new girlfriend. With his wife’s pictures and her ashes, sitting right there. Hubby had that same hollow, sick, sunken look about him that had come over him that day in the hospital, the day when Angel died. He was looking at Angelia’s twin sister. Needless to say, another numb spell came over us and our time at that house did not last long. We left as quickly as we could, and no one said a word on the way home. Adrian was mortified, hubby was sick, and I was mad as hell. Ricky’s mother later told me that after we left, and she was there with Ricky and the new girlfriend by herself, that the 8 x 10 picture of Angel that was on the end table, right beside where they were sitting, out of the blue, fell over to the ground and shattered. No knock, no nudge, no sharp gust of wind coming through the window, no sudden movement on their part. Just Angelia, falling to the floor. I believe her.

Over the summer, we began attending Compassionate Friends, which is a support group for bereaved parents. We also quickly fell into a feeling of family and familiarity with Adrian. She was a poor, lost child in a great deal of pain. We all helped each other to begin to look at life again. It was rough, but over time, life simply had to go on....we now had a teenage girl in the house, and if nothing else, the place began to become loud and lively again.

Our dreams really came back to life, however, of all times, during a hurricane. It was Labor Day weekend and Hurricane Ivan was raging through Florida. The same Labor Day weekend as our family reunion. It was the first family reunion of my mother’s side of the family in many, many years. We had family members in town that we had not seen in 30 or 40 years. And while both my house and my mother’s house were lucky enough to not sustain any real damage, both our homes were without electricity for over a week. While riding out a hurricane is a dangerous and anxious time, I will always look back fondly on those dark, stormy days, for it was then and there that my hopes of dreams of motherhood came back to life. My teenage cousin, Tabatha, from Alabama, was there with her parents for the reunion. I had not seen her in about 4 years, and she had grown and changed a lot, as do most all teenagers over the course of time. I thought she looked a lot bigger than I remembered, and hubby said she looks pregnant, but I thought to myself, “no, I would certainly have heard about it through the family grapevine if she were”. So the weekend and the hurricane party continued.

As happens during gathering and in large groups, people tend to pair off into small groups and begin chatting and talking. Tabatha went off with all the teenagers in the house, and I sat with my Aunt Chris to chat a bit. I mentioned for humor that hubby had thought Tab was pregnant and then kind of laughed it off with Aunt Chris. Then Aunt Chris floored me, with a statement that would forever change my life. She said, “Well, actually, she is. And she is thinking about asking you to adopt her baby”. The thunder and lightning outside of Hurricane Ivan could not compare with the thunder in my heart and the light in my eyes when she said that. “What”, I croaked. “She what”? Aunt Chris said she wasn’t going to say anything just yet, but since the cat was out of the bag, here it is. Tab’s pregnant, and she is not really ready or able to raise a baby on her own, and she knew of our previous plans to adopt, so she’s considering asking us to adopt her baby. Aunt Chris advised me, however, that she had strenuously advised Tab to not even consider asking us if there was even one iota of a chance that she would change her mind after the baby was born. Aunt Chris warned she would come after Tabatha herself if that happened, because that kind of pain, after the year we’d been through with losing Angelia, well, she was afraid we’d never survive. And she was right.My legs felt week. My chest felt tight. I was dizzy. I had to sit down.

Aunt Chris left me alone to catch my breath and collect my thoughts. I went after hubby. I took him outside with me. I sat him down. I shared the news. If there are two moments in my life I’ll never forget, one was the moment of looking at hubby when he learned his daughter had died. The other was the moment I told him, that we were finally, at long, long last, going to be parents to a baby of our own. The light, the LIFE, came back into his eyes. A smile returned, to his face and his heart. Life began again. It was months later when I realized the significance of all these dates.....losing Angelia, days after Easter, the Christian holiday memorializing the death and resurrection of Jesus, and 9 months later, Alex’s birth, days after the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I also recalled a dream I had had, not long after Angel’s death. It was a dream about Angel and she was giving me the hand of a small child. When Adrian came to live with us, that dream seemed to make sense...that Angelia was trusting us to finish raising Adrian. And while that still may be true, it also makes a lot of sense, that somewhere, up there, she met in Heaven the little baby brother she would never get to meet on Earth....that she was handing him to us, straight from God’s hand, to hers, to Tab’s, to ours. As so it was with renewed hope and belief and happiness in the goodness of LIFE, that we began to prepare for the arrival of our son. It was time to start living again.

Remembering Angelia, Part II

That first night at home is eerie in my memory. Dark, overcast, too quiet. It’s like the day, the environment, the atmosphere knew what was in our souls, knew we were missing an integral part of ourselves. We had walked back in the house early that evening, came in through the kitchen door, and there, on the floor, right where hubby had left it, was the old garbage disposal torn out, his tools, a big mess, and the new garbage disposal, still in the box. That was what he had been working on late that morning when we got the call and left. It was bizarre, weird, odd, to walk in our house and see something so normal, so ordinary, so task-minded....when our whole world, our lives, had just been blown apart. It seemed just so wrong to me, to see something so average, so every-day, sitting there spread out on our kitchen floor, waiting on us, as if hubby would just pick up where he left off and continue to replace the garbage disposal. Later that night, hubby was on the couch, sitting in the dark, not crying, not talking, doing nothing....well, because.....at this point, what is there to do? I walked in the family room and asked him, stupidly, of course, I know, “are you OK?” I felt like an idiot before the words were out of my mouth. Then, my mother walked in....and I looked at her, I really looked at her....and her sadness, her grief, her loss (because she had known and truly loved Angelia as well) had weighted her down, and my poor mother looked so little and tiny and sad and lost. The three of us sat, quietly, for the longest time and said nothing. Then the words began, the senseless, changes-nothing words began. And the phone calls began. People wanting to ask, to inquire, to help. The next few days were a blur.....cremation arrangements, memorial services arrangements, talking to the medical examiner’s office, talking to Jessica and Ricky, trying to piece together exactly what had lead to her death. The first indications were that the fever of 108 had killed her, had basically cooked her brain. But there was more to it, for she had been covered with bruises on the lower part of her body when she died, and that would call for an autopsy.

It’s funny what you go through when a close family member dies...the things that creep up, the things that irritate you. I remember vividly having my head down and crying at one point while we were making cremation and memorial service arrangements, and a neighbor of Angelia’s took center stage and held practically a press conference to discuss the amount of her recent income tax refund and what she spent the money on. Sitting, head down on my folded arms, across my knees, I listed to this woman brag on for nearly half an hour about her new kitchen cabinets and flooring, etc., etc., etc. I mean, how obnoxious! How insensitive! How arrogant! And then, when it came time to actually talk about the details of Angelia’s cremation, this woman did not want me talking about it too loudly or too graphically, because her two young daughters were there, and she didn’t want them to get upset! This is the point where I lost it! I told her in no uncertain terms that if she did not want her daughters to hear anything about death, dying, cremation or burial, then this was not the place for her to be, because this is a house where someone has died, and we needed to proceed with the business of death. Sorry if it’s an unpleasant topic, but it ain’t any better for us, thank you very much. And the last thing I needed was to be worried about tip-toeing around the sensitivities of this broad and her kids! If she didn’t want to hear it, she could damn well leave the house!

Eventually, we got the arrangements made, and Ricky pulled it together enough to take Jessica and Adrian with him to look for an appropriate cremation urn. Somewhat to my surprise, he picked out something not only decent, but actually quite beautiful. He also put together, with help from the girls, of course, a huge, framed photographic display of Angelia’s life. It was surprising and even moving to see his loving and final efforts to make something nice for Angelia. The day of the memorial service arrived, to be held at the cemetary where hubby’s parents are buried. Everything was arranged very nicely, lots of people, and in addition to the framed photo montage made by Ricky and the girls, there were lots of momentoes and favorite objects of Angelia’s on display....some plants from her garden, a ceramic dish she made in school as a small girl with her name in it, a picture of a deer her little brother Matthew made for her when he was a young boy, and family photos and flowers and bouquets everywhere. It was all nice, as nice as a service can be when it’s your daughter you’re saying good-bye to. The service began. Hubby held it together pretty well, stoic, stone-cold numb, in pain. The one who really lost it, after days of holding it together, was Ashley, my step-daughter. She had been very calm, very collected in the hospital the day of Angel's death, and in the immediate days afterwards. She finally broke down, though, at the service, and sobbed like there was to end to her anguish. I felt so, so bad for her, for Angelia had been something of a second mother to Ashley. The oldest daughter and the youngest daughter, one gone, one to life the rest of her life without her beloved big sister. I knew Ashley's life was forever changed, as all of ours had been.

After the service, we all went back to my brother-in-law’s house, which used to be my mother-and-father-in-law’s house when they were living. The whole family was there, and it began to take on a party atmosphere. Food, kids swimming, talking....someone brought out the 4-wheelers and all the young kids began riding around on those. It was foreign, how can all this family togetherness be taking place; us, my inlaws, the cousins, nieces, nephews, my parents, the kids, the grandkids, all without Angelia being here in the middle of it? Where is she? Why is she not here? How can everyone be talking and living and go on, without Angelia here to join us? It was the oddest sensation and recognition of my entire life, so far. I could tell it was getting to hubby, too. We left, quickly and abruptly, we simply had to get out of there. In spite of the house being on a 5-acre lot, we were both getting claustrophobic there....couldn’t breath, couldn’t sit still.

Once at home again, the visits and phone calls continued over the next week or so. Hubby held up pretty well....considering. I went back to work, hubby went back to his various activities, life went on in some fashion. When Angelia died, we were two weeks away from our final home visit by our adoption social worker. After a year of preparation and waiting, we had come so close. However, the raw, searing pain of Angelia’s death caused us to put our plans on hold for a while, to give us time to grieve. We planned to resume our homestudy at some point, but we deliberately left things open, knowing our hearts would tell us when to move forward. Good thing we didn’t try to plan things too much, because Our Heavenly Father above had some significant changes in mind for us.

Remembering Angelia, Part I

It was a very tough day. A very, very tough couple of days....three weeks, actually. Sunday, March 20, 2005. Angelia’s birthday. Angelia was my husband’s first born daughter. His beloved “Sassy”. The year before, on her birthday in 2004, we did not get to see her. She and her husband had been separated the year before, and had recently gotten back together, so they were doing something just themselves for her birthday. But, we did send her a card and gift for her birthday, for which I am eternally grateful, since it was the last birthday she’d ever have. For it was just three weeks later, on Tuesday, April 13, 2004, just two days after Easter, that she left us.

We did not see her at Easter that year, either. She and her husband had gone camping. We had our usual family Easter celebration at my sister-in-law’s house. Almost everyone else was there, except Angelia. After leaving my sister-in-law’s house, we drove by Angelia and Ricky’s place to leave her an Easter card. Angelia was a constant worry to everyone, mostly because of her husband’s troubles. But, she was a big girl, and we, the entire family, were powerless to stop her from her determination to keep her marriage together. We knew she was depressed and exhausted and anxious, and we all worried about her constantly.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. Tuesday, April 13, 2004. 11:48 A.M. I was at work, hubby was at home putting in a new garbage disposal. I answered the phone at my desk. It was Jessica, Angelia’s oldest daughter. Jess was crying and nearly hysterical. I managed to get out of her that Angelia had been sick for the last few days and Jess had to call 911 to bring Angelia to the hospital. Now, my first thought was that Angelia maybe had a bad sinus or respitory infection, possibly even pneumonia. In other words, something fixable, something curable. Then, Jess said something about “Mama was blue.....fever of 108.....eyes rolled back in her head”. I tried to get Jess to calm down and see if someone else could get on the phone and tell me what was going on. But she said all the doctors would tell her is, “they’re doing the best they can”. Whatever was going on, Jess did not need to be there alone with her mom. Ricky was at work, I assumed, and Adrian was in school. I found out what hospital, and told Jessica we’d be there as quickly as possible. I went home to get Pete and we left immediately for the hospital. It was about a 30 mile drive. I remember being on the phone with various family members the whole way down to the hospital. I spoke to my husband’s oldest son, who was at the time a medic in the Air Force, and he said that fever of 108 does not sound good. My mom, a nurse, said the same thing when I had talked to her. Mom was quite hesitant, not wanting to tell me what she knew would be the truth, so she only said, “well, she could suffer some brain damage from a fever that high”. When I relayed that to my hubby, his immediate reply was that we (he and I) would simply bring her home to our house and rehabilitate her there with us. I wholeheartedly agreed.

I remember arriving at the hospital and parking. As we began to get out of the car, I grabbed hubby’s hand and asked if we could pray for Angelia. We took each other’s hand, and he lead us in a deep and meaningful prayer for Angelia’s recovery. As we both said, “Amen”, and our eyes opened, my eyes landed on the dashboard clock. It was 1:23 P.M.

We left the car and made our way into the hospital. We were eventually led to a waiting room and were told someone would be with us shortly. Opening the door to the room, there was Ricky, with Jessica on one side, and Adrian on the other. All three, hugging and sobbing. Hysterically sobbing. I reached down and touched Adrian on the shoulder to let them know we were there. Adrian looked up, and for some strange reason, I remember vividly noticing the new color on her braces: neon green. I remember thinking that was an odd color to have in your mouth. So it took a moment for it to sink in, what she said: “Momma’s gone”. What? Huh? Gone? Gone where? To another hospital? What do you mean? But gone she was. I found out weeks later after receiving her death certificate that her time of death was 1:23 PM. The exact time her father and I had said, “Amen” to our prayer for her recovery.

I grabbed hubby’s hand and was astounded by the hollow, sinking look in his eyes. Denial, no, it can’t be. He could not speak. Could not find his voice. I don’t think he breathed. I roughly pulled him to me, to try to jolt him out of not breathing. I held him. The tears began. I cried. Hubby was just repeating, “no, no, no, no....not Sassy, no, no, no”. Over and over and over again. The little he moved, to hug and hold his granddaughters, he moved very stiffly, very woodenly. He was pale yellow. His eyes, sunken. I remember his beard stubble looked very black against his yellow face. His hazel eyes were tiny and red. His voice, rasping, over and over again. “No, no, no”. Next: confusion sets in more. People arrive, the phone in the family waiting room starts ringing. Ashley arrives and starts making calls. I remember thinking how brave, how "take-charge" she was being for such a young woman. A counselor comes to talk to us. A doctor comes to explain what happened.

Staphalcocus aureus septisemia.

Eventually, we went to say our good-byes. Angelia, laying there on the bed. A vent tube still in her mouth. Her hair was oily and stiff. Her skin, pale and waxy and lifeless. The tube made everything very unnatural. Her whole body looked very small and tiny. I held her hand, talked to her, kissed her. Told her how very much she was loved. This is not real, this can’t be real. She is not gone. They have to help her, have to fix her, have to make her better. I cannot say good-bye. After some time, I left the room. I remember feeling like a horrible person for leaving her in that room, alone. To go through what lay ahead of her, by herself. Surely, there must be some mistake. The rest of the family, most of them anyways, was gathering. Phone calls, decisions, tears. I lot of this is a blur. Hubby had to get out of there. Ricky had disappeared with the girls. We went outside to our car, and saw them, the three of them, sitting on a concrete parking wall. Huddled, sobbing, hugging. The three of them. Angelia’s little family. As much as the family had problems with Ricky, it was hard to not feel sorry for him now, left alone with his two daughters, without his beloved Angelia, the sweetest, gentlest, kindest, most loving person you could ever want to meet. I remember just standing there, looking at them, and my heart began to break, never to be whole again.

We got in our car, and headed to my sister-in-law’s house. A lot of the family gathered there, and again, while most of it is a blur, I do remember a verbal argument going on between several of my in-law’s, along the lines of, “I thought I would be the next to go”, “no, it’s probably me”, “naw, I figured I was next in line”, etc., etc., etc., with everyone listing out their various ailments, aches, pains and illnesses. Just absurd. It really irritated me. I started looking around, and everyone was just sitting there, ignoring my hubby, who was a zombie, a wooden statute by now. Numb. A big block of pain and nothingness. No one was comforting him, paying attention to him, helping him. Everyone was so self-involved and worrying about their own miseries. It just made me so mad, and hubby and I looked at each other, and almost simultaneously, we got up and left. No one protested much. I guess they figured we needed to be alone. But it’s like we both knew we had to get out of there, before one of us blew a fuse.

Baby Brain!

It’s a weird phenomena, becoming a parent. It’s full of warmth and love and wonder and surprises...you realize how strong you are, how capable you are, how much you can love another human being, and, sadly, how truly, deeply stupid you can be. Welcome to the world of baby brain!

I’m an intelligent, educated, well-read woman. I have a good job, and am a literate, organized, competent individual....or, I was until my baby came along. It’s got to be baby brain, right?

For example, I know where the dish washing soap goes. I do. It goes in my house where it goes in most people’s houses....at the kitchen sink. NOT in the freezer where I somehow managed to put it. Another example: for Easter, I wanted to bake my traditional carrot cake. I love baking, I looked forward to it all week, getting my hands in a mixing bowl to bake my family my famous carrot cake. I got out the box, turned on the oven, hunted down all my ingredients....and forget to do anything else the rest of the day. And the bills, oh my gosh, the bills....for the first time in my life, I just absolutely freakin’ forgot to pay a couple of our household bills.....how did that happen? Luckily, I found the bills, buried in the bottom of my purse (where I never put them), just in the nick of time, so I wasn’t late in paying them....but almost! Walking in a room....hm...I know I came in here for something...what was it? Alright now, I didn't just walk in this room from all the way across the house FOR NOTHING! Why am I here? And how does my laundry continually get buried, underneath the covers and sheets and blanket, at the foot of my bed? How does it get there, coz I sure didn't put it there! But I should be lucky I did the laundry at all, coz many times, I put it in the washing machine, turned the dial...and then promptly left the lid UP (so the cycle never starts) for the rest of the entire weekend!

I was beginning to really get kind of scared...I mean, what if I had a tumor or something? What if I was at the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s? What if I was losing my mind completely, just at the time when my life had really begun to be amazing and wonderful, with my beautiful new family? I’m a hypochondriac, in case you can’t tell, and I really was working myself up into a frenzy of worry.

I didn’t want to mention these things to anyone. I had always been the efficient task-master of the family...the one everyone else counted on, depended on, relied on, to manage everything, to take care of every thing, to get everything done, in the proper order, in the proper time. And now, I was losing it? Good grief, what would become of my family....a teenager, a newborn, and my husband....we were lost!

Luckily, before I checked myself into a hospital, and spent thousands of dollars on CAT scans, MRI’s and everything including electroshock therapy, I mentioned it to another mommy friend of my, and she saved my life with the words, “BABY BRAIN”.

So the next time you are with a brand new mommy, and she’s flustered, frustrated and distracted, cut her some slack, OK.....it’s not in the PDR (yet), but it should be, and will be soon....I know, coz it’ll have my picture right next to it!

How ‘bout it, ladies (and gents, too, for that matter). Anyone care to share their stories of baby brain?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Alex’s birth story

Our oldest son, Alex’s, due date was December 29, 2004. We had anxiously waited for about two months for his birth, since Tabatha had asked us to adopt him. Tabatha is my cousin, at the time, an 18-year-old, unwed, unemployed, pregnant young woman, who had made the courageous decision to have her baby, and place him for adoption. Knowing that my husband I were looking to adopt, in October of 2004, at 7 months along, Tabatha lovingly asked us if we’d consider being the baby’s boys parents. Overjoyed and thrilled, we said yes, and thus our family’s journey, and this blog story, began.

Tabatha had grown and grown and grown and had kidney trouble during her pregnancy, so when she began having contractions at Thanksgiving, and then started to dilate around December 20, we headed up to Alabama on December 22. We thought, at most we’d be gone around ten days (as told to us by our Alabama attorney).

Tab went to the hospital about every other day from the 22nd to the 27th, thinking, “this is it!” but each time the doctor sent her home. On December 27, the poor girl was so uncomfortable and miserable, the doctor decided to induce her labor the following morning, so we finally were about the meet our new son.

Tab checks into the hospital around 6AM on Tuesday, December 28, 2004. It was a long, slow morning, but things really started happening around mid-afternoon. Finally, at 6:19 PM, Alex was born! Our beloved, first-born son! We are so proud, so happy, so blessed, so elated, so excited! My first phone call was to my mom. I have her on the phone while I’m in the nursery, giving Alex his first bottle. Her first grandchild is born! Oddly, her reaction was very...flat. Very un-enthusiastic....very off...very not-what-a-grandma should sound like, I thought. I kept her on the phone a while, trying to get some sort of excitement from her, but I finally let her go, as she just sounded like she only wanted to take a nap.

(Days away from home: 6)

Alex stayed in the hospital for 36 hours until medical check-ups and legal paperwork could be completed. On the morning of Thursday, December 30, we were allowed to leave. It had been previously decided that we should not hang around there in Northern Alabama in deference of Tabatha and her mother’s emotions during this time, but we couldn’t return to Florida, either, until the Alabama paperwork end of the adoption was sent to Florida. We were told by our Alabama attorney personally that we could leave the hospital, leave the city, leave the county, leave the state and go anywhere, with the one exception being going back to Florida. THAT we could not do. So, with what we were told would be only a few days to kill, we decided to head to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to visit my husband’s oldest son, Matthew, and his family (wife Emily and then-3-year-old son Colton), to introduce them to Matthew’s new baby brother, before Matthew had to leave for his Air Force tour of duty in Iraq.

We get to Ocean Springs on the afternoon of December 30th and spend a few days there. After Matthew leaves on January 2, and the paperwork from Florida was still not completed, we decided to head to Valdosta, Georgia to camp out, so that when we finally were given the green light to go home, we’d only be a few hours away.

(Days away from home: 12. Alex: 6 days old.)

We set up homestead at a nice hotel right by the interstate, on the afternoon of Monday, January 3, 2005, assuming we’d only be there a few days. A few days pass, and no word. Finally, I get a call from our social worker, Candace. Candace informs me that on her end of things, she never received our medical clearance forms from Dr. Ashley, our family doctor. That is a crucial piece of the paperwork needed for the final adoption homestudy. We both had had our physicals done by Dr. Ashley back in November, so I didn’t understand why the reports weren’t sent to Candace.

I call Dr. Ashley’s office from our hotel in Valdosta, Georgia. I’m informed that they are short-staffed because of the holidays just past. Well, I don’t care about that...I care about why my paperwork was not sent to our caseworker. I was informed that we “never called back for an appointment to come pick the paperwork up.” I replied that when had come in for our physicals, I had advised not only Dr. Ashley, but his office manager as well, that when the report was completed and lab results were in, that the office was to simply fax them to Candace. Due to the approaching holidays, the any-day-now arrival of the baby, and our previously-planned and can’t-get-out-of- without-losing-a-lot-of- money trip to New York City with Adrian, us coming to get the paperwork in person would be difficult and time-consuming. We had previously signed a release for him to simply fax our medical reports to Candace, without any follow up needed from us.

Apparently, no one followed up on that, and I was told that I “could set an appointment now to come by the office some time later in the week to pick them up myself”. To which I replied, “well, that might be a little difficult, because our child has already been born, we have temporary custody of him pending the completion of this paperwork, and we’re stuck out of state and don’t know when we’ll be back, because we CAN'T come back to the State of Florida until the paperwork is completed, part of which is what you have right now, so JUST FAX IT TO THE CASE WORKER LIKE YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO SIX WEEKS AGO?” We don’t need the medical reports, the case worker does. We can’t come get it, because we’re not allowed in the State of Florida with this child YET, so it would have been so simple for them to just fax the stuff and be done with it. But no, they had to make it difficult. They had to fax us another release, which we had to sign and fax back, for them to fax the reports to Candace. Another day shot.

(Days away from home: 15. Alex: 9 days old).

On Friday, January 7, 2005, my parents decide to drive up and meet their new grandson, since it’s apparent we may never return to Florida. They arrive that afternoon and lo and behold, my mother’s arm is in a cast. Turns out, the night before Alex was born, mom tripped on their dog, Rose, and fell, landing on and completely breaking her wrist. She’d been to the hospital and they’d put her in a cast and given her narcotic pain relievers, which explained her lack of enthusiasm when I called her the night of Alex’s arrival. She was doped up on painkillers! She didn’t want to tell us because she did not want to dampen our joy at Alex’s birth or have us worry about her at that precious time. Well, at least I felt better about that...not her breaking her arm, but about why she’d been so “meh” about Alex's arrival!

It’s now the first full week after New Year’s. Adrian has to go back to school. Pete leaves with her on the evening of Sunday, January 9, 2005, to take her home and spend the night at the house and just generally check on things, leaving me in Georgia with Alex. One thing that needed his attention was the piled up mail. He returns to Alex and me in Valdosta on Monday, January 10, 2005, bringing the mail with him. One of the things in the mail was the tag renewal stickers for the car and truck, both of which I had paid for before we left Florida back in late December. I went down to the car to put the sticker on the license plate, and realized that the numbers did not match up. Odd, thinking I had brought the truck sticker with me, I went back up to the hotel room and got the other sticker. Strange, that did not match either. I checked the glove box for our registration and other auto info, and the sticker I have in my hand matches neither our car nor our truck. So I called the tag agency, and as it turned out, apparently our car tag had been stolen (who knew when, other than sometime since the previous January when I had placed 2004's sticker on the plate) and another stolen tag had been put on our car in it’s place! We’d been driving around for who knows how many months with a stolen plate on our car! Good grief. More calls to Florida, this time to try to make DMV aware that we were stuck out of state because of a pending adoption, and could not return to Florida until advised to do so, and what could be done in the interim to make sure if we get stopped for any reason, we’re not carted off to jail! Turns out, not much could be done until we returned to Florida. So, just be cautious while driving and pray we don’t get stopped!

(Days away from home: 19. Alex 13 days old).

Still hanging out and waiting in Valdosta, Georgia, we get a second call from Candace, our case worker on Thursday, January 13. Apparently our attorney in Alabama did not handle things correctly when he got Tabatha’s voluntary relinquishment of her parental rights. He did not wait long enough after her delivery and the pain killers wearing off before getting her consent to the adoption, so now she has to do it over again. Otherwise, she’d have the option of later saying she had been “under the influence of drugs” at the time of termination, so it now has to be done all over again. So we’re not even cleared out of Alabama yet, much less having paperwork sent to Florida for review.

(Days away from home: 22. Alex 16 days old).

The next day, Friday, January 14. Candace calls again and asks us exactly where we are (she’d been calling on our cell phone), as there was another mess up on the part of our Alabama attorney. Apparently, when the termination of parental rights consent was taking place in Tab’s hospital room on December 30th, Pete was in the room also, which was not allowed during the termination, as then it could be considered “intimidating” or “threatening” to Tabatha. So it has to be done all over again, and in making the arrangements, Candace wants to make doubly sure that we’re not staying anywhere near any of my family in Alabama, just to that nothing can go wrong this time with the termination proceeding. We tell her not to worry, unless Tab feels intimidated from being an entire state away. She freaks out, “what do you mean, an entire state away?” because apparently, we did NOT have permission to leave the State of Alabama. We told her, “But our Alabama attorney told us we could leave, that we could go anywhere EXCEPT Florida.” We tell her about our trip to Mississippi to see Matthew and she replies, “well, don’t broadcast that!” because apparently with Alabama not having signed off on the adoption paperwork yet, (because of our attorney’s TWO mistakes) we were NOT allowed to leave, despite of what our idiot attorney told us. Technically, Tab still had parental rights since the attorney had botched the taking of her consent to the adoption. As a result, we were actually kidnappers, since we’d left the state with the baby! A felony, FBI, prison, everything! And us driving a car with a stolen tag! Good grief, can it get any worse? Candace tells us to very quickly and very quietly and very carefully head back to Alabama. Anywhere in the state, as long as we are in Alabama. While we pack and get out a map and try to decide where to go (not wanting to go back to my aunt and uncle’s hometown, again in deference to the family situation) Candace is working on the arrangements for getting Tabatha’s relinquishment of parental rights again, and this time, she is hiring some big guns to take charge and making sure it is even videotaped.

The next day, my birthday, Saturday, January 15, 2005, it was done. We were now in Dothan, Alabama. As close to Florida as we could get and still remain in Alabama. We were now no longer kidnappers (just car thieves)!

(Days away from home: 24. Alex 18 days old).

We settle in for a wait, now with the adoption paperwork now in the hands, finally, of the State of Florida. Candace tells us she is going to put as much of as rush on it in Tallahassee as she can, considering all that has happened. But, seeing as Monday, January 17, 2005, was a holiday (Martin Luther King Day), everything is shut down and closed.

At long, long, long last, on Thursday, January 20, 2005, around 4PM, Candace calls us, still hotel-hanging in Dothan, Alabama, and tells us we can come home. Home. Our real home, Gainesville, Florida. It took us mere minutes to throw everything in the car and pull out. We were home by 8PM, where my Mom and Dad and my brother Mark were waiting for us, with a big Welcome Home Mommy, Daddy and Alex sign. At long last, home. It only took 29 days, and Alex was now 23 days old, but we were finally HOME!

I look back on this now, almost 4 years later, and I can laugh and appreciate the comedic chain of events that occurred during our month-long journey with a newborn. At the time, though, it was pretty stressful. However, being on the road, away from other well-meaning family members and friends, away from work, and away from even the chores and habits and duties of being at home, really gave us the opportunity to focus in on our new son. Hours and hours, undisturbed, uninterrupted, to gaze, to sing, to cuddle, to love and snuggle and squeeze, to bond, to give thanks to Our Father above for this miracle. So in the end, I guess you can say, I wouldn’t have traded out little Southeastern US adventure with Alex for anything!

New York City!

New York City!

I had wanted to take a vacay to New York City since, well, like forever. Usually, time, distance and money prohibited DH and I from taking on a Big Apple Adventure. However, in the Fall of 2004, Adrian was offered an opportunity to be part of a marketing team for Fashion Week in New York City, so we jumped at the chance to go and be her chaperones.

After a lot of confusion on her school's part as to when, exactly, Fashion Week was being held (kind of an important thing to know, doncha think?) and us, based on that mis-information, booking our flights and hotel reservations FOR THE WRONG WEEK, we finally arrived in the Big Apple on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, 2004. We flew into LaGuardia and faced a cold, rainy Thanksgiving Day....missed seeing the Macy's parade by a long shot.

We booked our hotel, again, based on her school's recommendation, at a hotel that, in this blog, shall remain nameless. Let's just say it was NOT a chain hotel, and was located in mid-town Manhattan. We arrive and are ushered into the lobby. Not bad. It's all decorated for Christmas, with glowing lights and Christmas trees and the sounds of Christmas music everywhere. Being the world's biggest sucker for anything holiday-ish, I was impressed. But now here's where the fun begins:

We booked what we thought was a two-room suite; one for us, one for Adrian. This hotel did not have two room suites. We then asked for a room with two separate beds; two separate queen beds, preferably. The clerk said that they did not have any available. He advised that the only room with a queen bed was a single, with only one bed. I replied that that wouldn't work, as there are three of us . He asked if she couldn't just sleep in the bed with us. I pointed to my teenager, 5'7", wearing a C-cup bra and asked, "if you were her, would you want to sleep in the same bed with us?" Nuff said. Back to the room dilemma. He said we could have a room with two single beds, since we wanted to sleep separately. Well, that would prove to be a tight squeeze for hubby and myself, but we'd done it before, so perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. He sent us up to a room, and no bull here, the room was so small, you had to walk sideways, not face front like a NORMAL HUMAN BEING, but sideways, like a CRAB, to get to the bed and get in. And the distance from the one tiny window in the room outwards was less than 18 inches to the building next door. It looked straight down over an alley way, where visions of dead bodies in alleyways from old episodes of Law & Order flashed through my head. No way were we staying here.

Back down to the lobby, where I informed the clerk that no way would I even put my three cats in that room, much less the three of us, especially when we had paid for a queen double room. After hassling and negotiating and informing me that with the holidays and a convention in town, and that our chances of finding a room like we wanted in another hotel in New York, without paying as much for the room as my husband did for his first car, were about as likely as monkeys flying out of my butt. The only thing we could come up with was putting us on a queen bed in a single room, and rolling in a foldaway, single bed for Adrian. Which is exactly what we did.

So we're shown to our room. Not too bad....bed, dresser, lamp (minus the shade), not as roach motel-y as it could have been, but far below what I expected with the price we were paying, but then again, it was New York City at Thanksgiving. So we began to unpack.

DH, of course, being true to his gender, decides the first thing that needs to be done is to turn on the television. So he picks up the remote, and parks his butt on the bed. Naturally, the remote doesn't work. Button, button, push, push. The TV won't come on. We decide it surely must be the batteries, so we call down to the front desk. They say they'll send someone up, which they did, but without any batteries. So he takes the remote with him, and says he'll go downstairs to get new batteries and bring it right back up. Fine and dandy. Now, it's a sad day when I have to admit that we, as a society, and my husband, in particular, are so lazy and rendered so immobile by all our wireless devices, that it takes half an hour for him to decide that HEY!....I'll try to turn on the television ON THE TELEVISIONS ITSELF!.....because our remote has apparently been kidnapped and is being held hostage by the desk clerk.

So hubby goes to the television set, bends down with glasses perched on the end of his nose to see which is the POWER button, and when he find the right button and pushes it, the entire button panel on the bottom of the television, falls INSIDE the unit of the television set. You know what I'm talking about...the channel up and down buttons, the volume up and down buttons, and the power on and off buttons. That whole thin, narrow little unit has now fallen backwards inside of the television set. And it was a very narrow space to fall into. Hubby couldn't reach inside with his hands, so Adrian and I both tried, having much smaller, thinner hands, but neither of us could reach it either. So this has just really set hubby's vacation in New York City off on the WRONG foot.

Eventually, much later that night, they deliver us another television, as well as a working remote. So hubby's entertainment crises, i.e., not having a television, in the ENTERTAINMENT CAPITAL of the United States, i.e., New York City, (you know, Broadway, Off-Broadway, CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.) is resolved. He can proceed with the evening. Darkness begins to fall upon our own little corner of midtown, so we turn on the large, brass lamp on the dresser in our room. We proceed with unpacking and planning out the next day's adventures. Finally, it's time to turn in....but the lamp, which was missing it's shade, WON'T TURN OFF! It's a pretty bright lamp, too, but it won't go off. We tried to unplug the lamp from the outlet, but it's plugged in to a socket that is behind the dresser, a very large, very heavy, very immobile dresser. So we can't unplug that way. We tried to unscrew the bulb, but IT WON'T UNSCREW! It literally won't unscrew from the socket....each of us tried. All three of us tried to move the dresser....we all tried to turn it off at the switch. This stupid lamp is possessed....the lamp that won't turn off! We called maintenance, for the second time now this evening. It was late, however, and they said someone might not be there until morning. Until morning, yes folks, that's what they said. I insisted that surely they could find someone to come get this ridiculous lamp out of our room, and they promised they would try. In the meantime, we had to live with this ridiculously glowing, 5000 watt bulbed lamp. So we set it down off of the dresser and pulled the cord on it as far as it would go, just barely long enough to be able to put the lamp in the closet and shut the door. There. We can finally sleep at last.

The next day, and the next 10 days after that, all brought their own fresh, unique stories of the vacation from hell. First thing the next morning, upon awaking, we pulled up the tacky vinyl window shade over the only window in our room, a large, 5 foot tall window looking right out over the front of the hotel, Madison Square Garden, and a good portion of mid-town Manhattan. Good morning, New York City! We all proceed to take showers, where the water, while piping hot, was also somewhat brown-ish in color, and the water pressure coming out of the shower head was like needles: pounding and sharp and searing enough to take your skin off. I'm not kidding. It felt like a million tiny little knives coming out of that shower head, all aimed right at the poor soul standing in the tub. There was no changing or switching of the knobs...it was not one of those multi positioned, variable WaterPic shower heads. This was your standard 1960s version, one-shot only shower head, that seared and pounded the flesh and make you feel like you had a shark mauling instead of a shower.

Someone arrived the next morning to take away the ever-glow lamp, but neglected to bring us a new one. We explained that in spite of our appreciation of them removing that blinding device from our room, we would, however, like another lamp, one preferably that gives us the option of OFF or ON. We were promised that we would have one by that evening. I decided to let that slide, since we planned on being gone from the room all day, but if we didn't have a lamp in our room but the time we got back to it, there would be trouble. And yes, when we returned to the room that evening from our eventful day of sightseeing in the Big Apple, there was a lamp. A teeny, tiny, little lamp that looked for suited for a lamp to be used in a baby nursery....and had a bulb in it to suit. Well, we were beginning at this point to understand the meaning of the phrase "you get what you pay for", especially when it comes to hotels in New York City. We decided to let this, too, slide, as we figured the light from the television would add some to the room. One does, however, like to close the blinds at the end of an evening, especially in a city as busy and bustling as New York. One does not, however, get that privilege at this particular hotel, not for the price we were paying. We could not pull the blinds down. Did not, would not, could not get those blinds down. Hubby ended up hopping up on the furnace to stand up and pull the blinds down, and when he did, the whole thing came crashing down on his head. To make a long story short, we spent the rest of our stay in Manhattan with our view of Madison Square Garden WIDE OPEN. We never did get another window shade, or get the old one repaired.

A few days went by without any further disasters in our hotel room. We were beginning to enjoy our stay in New York City. We saw a couple of Broadway shows (Whoopi Goldberg, Rent, Momma Mia); visited Central Park; visited NBC studios and the Saturday Night Live theater; saw a taping of the Today show; spent a lot of time in Times Square; visited the Empire State Building; Trump Towers; Ground Zero; skated at Rockerfeller Center and attending the tree lighting ceremony; backstage tour of Madison Square Garden and the New York teams that call it home; Statue of Liberty; Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes; toured all of Manhattan on a freezing cold tour bus; rode the subway down to Brooklyn....all a lot of terrific things. What began to occur, however, was the result of hubby's lack of attention to packing details. He had been on prescription medication for depression since his daughter had died earlier that year, but had forgotten to pack them for this trip. So he was having withdrawal symptoms. He didn't say much about it at first, until it got really bad a few days before we headed home. I cannot even imagine feeling this way, but what he described what the feeling on walking around on big, giant, wet, squishy sponges. He felt like he was sort of bouncing....like the ground beneath him was just a giant sponge and he would sink into it with each step down, and bounce back up out of it with each step up. Sounds like a 1960's flashback to me. At first he found the sensation rather interesting, and just went with it. But after a few days of it, it was proving to be more difficult to live with than he anticipated.

With three hot tempers like us roaming the harsh streets of NYC, it's amazing to report that we only had one altercation with the public at large while we were there. We were souvenir shopping in some random store near our hotel. At one point, the three of us got separated, just everyone sort of browsing and following whatever caught our eyes. I met up with Adrian, and she asked where Pete was. I looked up and spotted him, pointed him out to Adrian and said, "there he is". Standing next to hubby was what looked like a normal, average, reasonable human being. Looks can be deceiving. This nut job got mad and shouted at me, "whadda you want? What's your problem? I didn't do nothin' to you! Stop messing with me! You got a problem with me? You wanna take it up with me?" And my big mouth opened up (completely on it's own, mind you, I had nothing to do with it) and started shouting back, "I don't have a problem with you! What's your problem with me?" His escalating reply, "You were pointing at me and saying 'there he is'! I didn't do nothin' to you....you leave me alone! You tryin' to get me in trouble, you just better quit pointing at me!" I stupidly replied, "I wasn't pointing at you....I was pointing at my husband! You better leave me alone and quit hollerin' at me!" I mean, I'm standing in a souvenir shop off a back alley in mid-town Manhattan and arguing with a complete stranger, who is apparently bat-bleep-crazy, and for all I know, is carrying a semi-automatic or a butcher knife! Talk about stupid! Luckily, hubby rushed over to me at this point and was physically pulling me back and away from the encounter, whispering and talking to me, trying to sooth me like you would...well, a crazy person, telling me, "just be quiet, leave him alone". And my childish reply, "well, he started it!" Hubby, in full kid-glove mode now, is trying to reason with me, saying, "just let it be....it's not worth fighting over....he's not right...he could be dangerous....just DROP IT!" Well, I had taken a deep breath by that point, and my sanity had returned, so I did what hubby advised and just shut up and walked away. What the hell had gotten into me? I have watched enough Law & Order and CSI to know better. But, like a child, I kept my eye on the man, who trailed us through the store giving all of us the fish eye. Dorothy, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!

So towards the end of our stay in Manhattan, and back at our lovely hotel, Adrian made the mistake of taking a brown-water-needle shower one morning. She was in the shower, curtain closed, hubby and I in the room watching the morning news and gazing out our shade-less window, when we heard a tremendous crash and the sound of glass breaking come from the bathroom. We bolted for the door, fearing awful things had happened to Adrian, but she was still standing in the shower, with the curtain clutched around her, asking the same question as we were: "What on earth happened?"

The answer: the 4-foot long bathroom light fixture had fallen to the floor, crashing and shattering into a million pieces. Just. Like. That. No warning, no door slam, nothing thrown or fallen onto it. Just crash to the floor, scaring the heebie-jeebies out of us. We call the front desk, and someone eventually came and picked up the bigger pieces of the broken fixture, but then said he would need to go get a broom and dust pan to get the rest of the mess cleaned up. Needless by now to say, we eventually left with room at the end of our stay, with never having the little pieces picked up, nor having the light fixture replaced. Just the bare bulbs hanging from the wall. So from that point on, we never entered the bathroom without shoes on our feet (a little hard to do when you need to take a shower, non?).

On our last and final evening in Manhattan, we didn't bother to check (not that we should have had to, but we also knew this hotel very well by now) to see if we had fresh towels in the bathroom. We did not (oh, no, you say, what a shock)! The next morning, Adrian showered first, which is when we noticed no towels. Just washcloths. No hand towels, no bath towels. The maid staff had taken our used towels from the day before when they serviced the room, just had not left fresh ones in their place. So while Adrian was showering, I call downstairs to drop a hint or 500 that WE NEED TOWELS in our room. About half an hour goes by, a knock on the door. The fella standing there is holding about 5 rolls of toilet paper in his arms. "Yes?" I ask upon opening the door. "These are for you", comes his reply. "We didn't order toilet paper", I tell him, "we need towels". "Oh, yes, I know....but we are out of towels, we have no more towels, so I brought you this instead".

I was speechless at this point, as I'm sure you would be, too. Thank God it was our last morning there. We beat it out of there and high tailed it home. We enjoyed our time in New York. We really did. We had a blast seeing everything, do everything, being a part of one the most exciting cities in the world. And we do plan to go back again someday...but you can bet we'll be forking over extra money on our hotel room next time, for those, you know, luxury items...clean water, window shades, working lamps...and towels.