Sunday, April 14, 2019

Scattering Love

It has been four months, three weeks, and two days since our kids lost their mother. I don't know what the hardest part is for each of them, but I would guess it is trying to make it through every day as though everything was normal, when it so clearly will never be the "normal" they once knew ever again. It might be the fear that everyone else has forgotten, that everyone has moved on with their lives, and they have been left behind in a space of despair, desperately yearning to talk to her again. They each vocalize (or don't vocalize) their grief in such completely different ways, but all equally profound and deeply heartbreaking. We never forget what they've gone through, the sadness in their eyes won't let us forget.

Today would have been Rebekah's 39th birthday. To commemorate the day we made a pilgrimage to her favorite beach, Scarborough Beach in Rhode Island, to scatter some of her ashes at the spot where her family has vacationed for years. The day was warm and sunny when we arrived at the beach, but a thick warm fog quickly rolled in and enveloped us. It felt like a spirit embracing us, and I can't help but wonder if Rebekah wasn't with her kids as they sent her ashes off to sea. The kids wanted to walk quite a ways out on the jetty, to a small inlet that was protected from the wind. They took turns sprinkling the ashes and watching the water sweep them away. It was a beautiful moment, one that I know would have made their mother proud.

After the ashes scattering we headed north to Enfield and met up with Rebekah's family at the cemetery to bring flowers to the space where the rest of her ashes are buried. The kids were very happy to see their grandparents, and it was a nice way to end the day.

Jon and I are beyond proud. We are in awe of these kids. Their kindness, grace, strength, and perseverance in the face of such a deep and profound loss never ceases to amaze us. They are beautiful, resilient humans who I am certain will grow up to become beautiful, resilient adults.

I want it to get easier for them. I don't know when or if that will ever happen. I cannot imagine losing my mother, not even now at 38. Thinking about it makes me weep. I want to shoulder some of that for them so that they can feel joy for at least a little while. I am hoping that at some point they will find some peace. Until then we will continue to hold them up with love as best we can.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Going Home

I just returned home from two weeks in the Dominican Republic, a country that helped to shape the core of who I am. I have been back often, as most of you know, but for the first time in 16 years I was able to visit the town that first made me fall in love with the island. I did not visit San Cristobal while I was married to Francisco for many reasons, most of all because he wasn't comfortable with the idea, and also because it was logistically hard to fit into our trips there. Jon was on board with the idea of us visiting the town I called home back in the 90's, and was excited to meet the people there, so we went together.

It's interesting visiting a place that you were so desperately in love with, so long after that time. So much has changed, and yet somehow nothing has changed. Many people have moved, died, or grown up and didn't recognize me, but the feeling was the same. It's a gritty town with an edge, but at the core, just like any other place on the island, it's filled with loving people who are trying their best to get by. We sat on the porch at Maria's (a woman who was like a mother to me), although she had just recently left for a trip abroad to visit her daughter in the Netherlands, so I was unable to see her. Life flowed around us the way it usually does, and I felt like I had never left. I haven't had so many feelings overwhelm me in a very long time. I found myself texting Jane (my best friend who lived there with me) to give her a sense of how it felt, but even with that I couldn't make it clear how surreal it was.

Being back in San Cristobal was like floating like a ghost over my adolescence, viewing my 18 year old self from above and feeling like I was watching her from above. It felt like going home again. The poverty there is always staggering, and it always leaves me with an ache to not be able to help my friends more, but I was able to do a lot with the donations we had collected to rebuild a friend's home that was destroyed by fire. We were also able to pay for medical expenses for several  people and buy groceries for some hungry families, so our trip was helpful on many levels. I wanted to stay there forever, or at least for a few days, and hopefully at some point I will be able to go back and stay a while, as opposed to just a few hours.

The rest of our trip was exciting and packed with fun and sunshine. We brought my daughter and three of Jon's kids, who did well with the culture shock. I was ready to come home after the two weeks, as the exhaustion of translating was wearing on me, and I missed my surly teenage son (who sadly didn't want to come with us for many teenage angsty reasons). So we're back in the gray New England winter with cozy fires in the pellet stoves and dogs to snuggle with, and our kids are back to ignoring us and hiding in their rooms. Life with teens is a constant feeling of loneliness and angst, but at least I have the memory of the warm salt water washing over me and the sun of the island to keep me company.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


I have been trying to muster up the ability to write a blog for quite a while, but I can't seem to get myself to sit down and get the words out. First I was consumed by the busy everyday life of the working mom, driving kids around and helping make sure everyone has taken their medications, does their homework and picks up their bedrooms, while also staying up all night at work helping bring babies into the world night after night. The regular routine many of us are used to that swallows us up when we aren't paying attention, and leaves little room for much else. So I didn't write for months.

Then something big and awful happened.

My step-children's mother, Rebekah, died on Thanksgiving day.

It came out of nowhere and we don't know what happened, but she died suddenly and without warning and for a long while our lives just stopped moving. We have been picking up the pieces ever since, trying to help sort out the confusion that comes when someone dies.

We had a challenging relationship with Rebekah, as most people do with their exes, but for the most part we worked it out and were able to parent the kids in an amicable way without too much drama or arguments. We were able to share holidays together with the kids, and talk back and forth about the minutiae of life in a way that felt good to all of us and made the kids feel safe and secure. Although she struggled to find her path in life, she loved her kids, that much I know, and they loved her very much.

It has been a roller coaster of emotion for the four kids she left behind, to say the least. It is an unparalleled level of unfairness that they have to endure this kind of a loss this early in their lives. When they should be thinking about college, and prom, and theater productions, and middle school instead they are left feeling empty and sad and confused. All I want is to ease their burden, but I can't. There isn't really anything anyone can do or say that can make this easier for them. They just have to go through the process, and the process is hard and shitty.

There are a lot of things I am grateful for. I am grateful to everyone in our lives who have helped to hold up the kids, and Jon, and me so we can be there for them when we need to be. The amount of food and love and kind words and cards we have received has been both overwhelming and uplifting. I had no idea how helpful food was when people are grieving, and this will certainly change the way I approach helping people when a loved one dies. I don't know how much it was helpful for the kids, but it sure as hell was amazing that Jon and I didn't have to spend every waking moment in the kitchen. I am grateful that the kids were home with Jon the night that the police banged on our door to tell us the news, and they were not with her to witness such tragedy. I am grateful that her family was warm and accepting of the role that I play in her children's lives, and that planning her services was not a difficult ordeal. I am grateful for the love that Jon and I have for each other and our kids, that keeps us afloat as we wade through this deep ocean of child grief.

I just wish I could hold onto the kids' sadness for bit so they didn't have to. And at the same time I don't ever wish to feel that kind of pain. It is remarkably unfair. Helping kids grieve is a challenge I don't feel like I have the training for. Each day is up and down and I honestly never know what kind of emotions to expect at any given moment. I feel like we are grasping to the side of a fast moving train, trying to stay attached but at any moment one of them might lose their grip and fly away.

We are gearing up for everyone to go back to school tomorrow. We have had as good a Christmas as we ever could have hoped for, given the circumstances, and I think some routine will do everyone good. I am looking for the light at the end of this dark and narrow tunnel, and although I do not yet see it I am hopeful it will come soon.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Gearing Up for Summer With Teens

I love summer. It is my favorite season, which likely comes as no surprise to anyone who knows how much I love hot weather. But the one thing I do not love about summer is spending it with teens.

I don't mean to be negative about teenagers in general. Most of our kids love to go outside and do things, and I have so much fun doing that with them, but there is a small sect that would be the most content if they were able to stay inside and play video games 18 hours a day. It is unfathomable to me to think about spending even one glorious summer day indoors, let alone all of them. A couple of our kids have no interest in going to camp, or joining us on our family camping vacation (just one someone in particular, but that is so sad to me). So I dread the summer when it is my job to break out the mental jaws of life and force these kids into outdoor fun.

The hard part is that they often are too busy complaining to allow themselves to have a good time. Nate is especially good at this routine. He will not have fun, and you can't make him, so this year I am giving up on trying to make anyone enjoy themselves. I will force them outside (partially by withholding all access to video games) and then the rest is up to them. I'm hoping this takes the pressure off of me, and allows me to enjoy my own summer.

This is all likely a product of my having spoiled my kids. If I could do it again I think I would likely withhold all fun things until they were begging to go to the lake or out to ice cream, and not make it all so readily available. Jon and I are going to try changing our video game policy in our home (to no video games in our home) because who actually benefits from those horrible things anyway? I also need some creative strategies to convincing a kid to go outside and making him think it's his idea. So if anyone has any thoughts I am all ears. Summer in New England is way too short not to enjoy every second of it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In The Trenches

Parenting  is HARD. This is not a cliché. This is not a whining mommy blog where I can't get my three year old to put on their socks (which was also hard, not to minimize the experience of people dealing with three year olds, I whined loudly on this blog during those times as well). No, this parenting of these children who are both my children and my blended children as they emerge from divorce and rocky pasts, and struggle through depression and anxiety and trauma and heartache is so much harder than I ever thought possible. I am talking the hardest fucking job I have ever had.

It is not the daily arguments or tantrums that overwhelm me, but the emotional sadness that they all feel at different times. It is usually staggered, but sometimes it's all at once, and it is a deep, deep sadness. It is an intense pull of emotional turmoil that they need to let out, and sometimes they do and they feel better. Other times they don't let it out but instead it festers into a dark and scary explosion, which splatters our lives with the heavy, sticky paste of raw emotion gone wild. It is both emotionally depleting and heart-wrenching for us to muddle through with them. Even when they express these emotions and feel better, as a mother I can't help but absorb those emotions in to my own being and hold onto them for my children, and it drags me down into sadness and misery right along side of them, as they seem to rise out of it I feel wasted and vacant.

The part that also saddens me is that they don't really seem to rise out of it. Most of our kids seem alright for a few moments, maybe a week or even a couple of months, but then we're back to the pit of sadness again, with threats of suicide and hurting themselves, trips to the doctors and therapists, and anger and crying that is often worse than the last time. The older they get, the more intense the emotional rise, and the harder the crash.

What is also alarming is that it is every single one of them. We have six kids, and not one of them is OK. I thought for a while that maybe they were feeding off of each other, and I do think that the amount of attention paid to a child in crisis does affect the overall morale, but these kids are individually feeling the pain of their lived experiences. There is nothing that either Jon or I can seem to do to ever make it better for any of them. We try and we fail, and although I believe that we are not terrible at this, I can't help but feel like a failure most of the time.

I get a lot of "those kids are lucky to have you" which, like adoptive or foster parents know, is not actually true. These kids would be lucky to have not gone through all of the shit that got us here in the first place. All of our kids deserved two loving parents from the inception who loved each other enough and were stable enough to create a healthy home. Our kids deserved to not witness the collapse of their families. Our kids deserved to not have terrible things happen to them. Our kids deserved to have a life free of emotional abuse. Our kids deserved to be able to express their emotions and have them validated. Our kids deserved all of this before they were so old that they were broken and harmed from it. All kids deserve these simple things from the beginning.

I hope we can get them all safely to the other side. I don't know what will happen or how their lives will pan out but as any parents knows, all you really want is for your children to be happy, in whatever way that is possible for them. I absolutely hate not knowing what to expect next. I wish I was a religious person who could pray loudly to my deity for salvation of their souls, but I don't believe in any of that, and I am pretty sure it wouldn't do much anyway. Right now we live in the trenches of parenting, and here we will remain for many more years. Here's to hoping we all make it out safe.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Last Night in Cuba

It’s our last night in Cuba as I write this, and I really don’t know that I am ready to leave. I miss my family and I am anxious to get back to them, but I cannot believe what an excellent trip this has been. I love traveling and I love the Caribbean, but there is something about Cuba that is so distinctly unique and special, it’s almost beyond words.

Cuba is relaxed in a way that is unlike anywhere else. It isn’t just an “island time” kind of relaxed. Cuba is relaxed in that the people who live here are not stressed and worried about life all the time. They are neither starving to death, nor rushing around to get everything done all the time. Cubans are not worried that someone will rob them, or shoot them, or about where they will find their next meal. Above all, the people of Cuba are the nicest, most welcoming people on Earth. There is virtually no crime here. Women are generally very respected, and there is minimal racism. Also, it’s warm and beautiful, and we have seen no mosquitos.

This week I have hiked in the mountains and swam in the cleanest river water I’ve ever seen. I dove into the turquoise blue of the Caribbean and danced to the twirling hypnotic rhythm of salsa with talented partners who brought me back to my early 20’s in Miami. I climbed to the tops of tall old castles and took in the endless miles of stunning landscape, and I absorbed the deep, meaningful history of this island that is so remarkable in its triumphs. I spent a week with my mom and didn’t have one argument. In fact, we have had a fantastic time and I would be more than happy to do it again.

This week we have been unplugged from all of our outside lives. There is minimal wifi in Cuba and when you do find a connection it is spotty at best. I managed to find a signal for about 20 minutes on Tuesday, so I could call home and check in, but other than that I have no idea what’s going on in the world outside of this island and I love that. I have read an entire book, I can’t remember when I last put my phone down long enough to do that. I have used my iphone to take pictures and check the time, and nothing else, and I do not look forward to picking it up again. I do not remember the last time I felt this relaxed, it may have been the last time I was in Cuba. I need to make some adjustments to the way I do things at home and the way I prioritize my time, because I would like to feel this good more often.

I think everyone should come to Cuba. It is magical here, and it sinks into your bones slowly and without you even realizing it, until, as my mother announced a few days into our trip “I really love it here”. Every single person we have met this week has treated us with unwavering kindness, from the hosts at our casas particulares, to the people on the street who we asked for directions. I have asked multiple Cuban people if this is their experience with everyone here, and they tell me that yes, it is. Someday I will come back and bring my kids to experience this slice of paradise and hope that they feel the magic as deeply as I do.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Saying Goodbye With Love and Hats

This weekend we laid my grandfather Nathaniel Harrison Hartshorne to rest. Our family gathered together and donned his many hats to parade in a line (in order of our age) to the Blawenburg cemetery and bury his ashes. We held hands and took turns throwing dirt into the spot and saying a few words of thanks or "love you". My grandmother started it off with a smile saying "save a space for me!" Tears were shed, then we shared a moment of silence on a cold, crisp, spring morning that he would most certainly have loved. It was short, sweet, and a perfect send off. We will have a large memorial service in the summer, with the many friends and extended family members who were touched by Bumpy's life, but this week it was just us, and we all needed that.

My grandparents' house feels so different now. It is cozy and warm as always, and my grandmother is the most adorable and hilarious person in the world (putting things away in the most bizarre places, plates slid in among the cookbooks, orange juice on top of the washing machine) who is still able to laugh at herself and see the joy in life. But it is so strange to have spent the past 37 years coming into a house and now suddenly not find Bumpy in his office writing, or out chopping wood in the barn. Death is the most unsettling of situations, because even when you understand it and are at peace with it, you still find yourself looking around for that person and feeling the hole they have left in you. We each took one of Bumpy's hats home, and I will hang mine in my closet and look at it daily when I get dressed, to remind myself of the pride Bumpy took in getting dressed each day. Forever a dapper gentleman, wearing button down shirts right up until the end, I will strive to take that kind of pride in myself.

Thank you, Bumpy, for always listening, and for teaching us all to be the best we can be. Farewell.