A few months ago one of Steve Harvey’s producers found this post on Scary Mommy about what it is like to be a mother with OCD. She e-mailed me and told me she would like for Scott and I to come on the show. Many of you don’t even know I struggle with OCD because I’m so good at hiding it. I suppose today that changed. Enjoy the show.
I’ll be back to tell you all about our experience at NBC studios in Chicago, including that time we saw some guy we couldn’t name from one of those CSI shows in the elevator and how I amused the security guard by being SO! EXCITED! TO! BE! HERE! and how I was so nervous I threw up in the hotel sink.
If you’re an agent or a publisher, I’ve got a book on life with OCD that Doctor Shana Doronn (who was also on the show) and I would like to pitch to you. You can find my writing on The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, and in my basement, where I kept the fifth grade journals professing my adoration for all six boys in my class at the Christian school.
One summer five years ago I was lying on a surgeon’s table, my family gathered around watching me bleed, knowing there was nothing they could do.
I bled and I bled and I bled, and the fourteen medical personnel in the room couldn’t find the reason. The doctor who had introduced my new daughter to her father seven hours earlier now told my husband to tell me goodbye. I was losing so much blood and there was absolutely nobody who could stop it. I could feel my end at hand.
I coded twice. A male nurse yelled “fuck! Run faster!” as we ran down the hall. It felt like a really cheesy medical drama come to life, and I was the reluctant star.
I wouldn’t be writing this today if it weren’t for the object on its way to my room, the object containing the stuff that would save me. I believe in a loving God, and that day the saving he sent me was brought to the hospital in a beat-up Coleman cooler. There was blood in that cooler, blood from a stranger I may not have even given a second glance at a restaurant. Blood from a stranger I may well have cut off in traffic. I wonder what that stranger was doing as I lay dying. Was he fighting with a spouse? Was she diapering her child, unaware that her selflessness months before was saving another woman’s life?
I read an article this morning in which one of the survivors of the Orlando evil said, “There was just so much blood. It was everywhere.” I sat through church thinking about that scene and trying so hard not to. I’m a creative, passionate imaginer and so I was transported into that chaotic scene: People screaming, blood everywhere. Lights turned on. Club smoke clearing. Blood looking darker than it should under the fluorescence of lights not meant to be used during club operating hours. Panic. A horror movie come to life:
I think of the man lying there next to his best friend, feeling the life blood draining out of his body as his friend tells him not to go. “Please don’t leave me. I love you so much. You’re everything. Please don’t go.” I imagine his boyfriend’s teardrops falling hot and clear on his face as everything starts to turn black. I imagine a wail from the man leaning over him, the final sob as he watches his Only One die, and then, a noise. The cavalry: Metal doors being smashed open and policemen and EMTs storming through, crying, “Who’s hurt? What do you need?”
“Here! We’re over here! Please! Help us! He’s dying!”
Then, the feeling of air underneath a body now white from the absence of blood being lifted up, up and up into the fluorescence and safety of a waiting ambulance.
That wounded man sees the same dark red in the ambulance, only this time the blood is contained and in bags along the side of the wall, not splattered about. The blood is waiting to help him, and it is a stranger’s.
That stranger may be a woman in her sixties living states away in the Bible belt, watching the television and begging God to let her son not have been in that club. That stranger may be a man in New York City who was just served his divorce papers. He is crying over his ruined life as the muted bluish-gray television broadcasts evil, sorrow, hurt, despair. He looks up to see the numbers of dead rising. He takes another drink and begins to cry harder.
I think of the web of humanity and love that connects us together even in these darkest of times. I think of the random strangers who saved my life five years ago and of the moment I woke up from surgery screaming in a raspy voice over my breathing tube, “I’m alive! I’m alive!”
My mind wanders back to the plight of that man in the ambulance, surely to the hospital by now. I think of the frustration on the face of the doctor as she learns that she does not have readily available the extremely rare blood type that this dying man needs. This man whose chubby toddler hand his mother kissed, this man who made a baking soda and vinegar volcano for the 7th grade science fair. This man whose family is begging God to let him stay. I think of them all gathered underneath the fluorescent lights of the hospital waiting room, the fear on their faces giving way to despair as they realize their son, brother and Love is lost.
I love to think, also, of the alternative. The alternative in which, though this bad thing has undoubtedly happened, there is enough blood for this man. His life force will come back and he will appreciate life more than he could have ever thought possible. He will leave the hospital kissing the sky out of gratitude, and the sun will shine on his back as he continues his exhausting, rare, beautiful life.
Those wounds which an evil man ripped open and from which his blood spilled will be stitched up by the careful hand of a doctor and a carefully-placed needle will drip, drip, drip life back into his dying body.
And there, watching the whole while, his Love from the night club, the one who lay over him begging him not to die, will sit in his chair and cry. He will wonder whose blood now courses through the man’s body and he will swear to himself to try to find out.
It’s love that binds us, not fear or hate or apathy.
We all bleed the same blood and we cry the same tears and we feel the same pain. We do. If you’re feeling helpless, choose to be that person another stranger thanks God for on a Saturday evening after his world has just fallen apart while you watch your Netflix and drink your soda. Be that one small act that changes the world, that act that gives fluorescence and blood a new meaning beyond carnage and death for the recipient.
Be the reason a man’s memory of fluorescence and blood makes him cry happy hospital tears.
If you wish to find a blood donation center in your area, the American Red Cross has many locations.
Well, it’s summer. What summer means with a 4, 5 , 9 and 11 year old is constant stasis. Lots of yelling, but never by me because I am too busy milking the chickens and making organic, free-range hemp chicken nipple oil to sell in my Etsy shop.
Where was I.
So, I’m not a scheduled person but children like schedules. Oh, the irony.
Also, two months ago I told my husband that we weren’t taking any more long-term foster care placements and two days later we got a call for our current five year old. Oh, the irony. I thought we could retire after five years but God did not. Haha. Just kidding. I’m not grand enough to think that God is up there approving of my every “yes”. In fact, I think He’s probably really busy trying to bring the evangelicals back to Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen…ANYHTHING but Donald Trump.
So I’ve always been obsessed with pregnancy and babies since I was about five. Now that my youngest is five in July, I’m doing this really strange happy dance and thinking of kindergarten in the fall, only I’m not sending her in the fall and I don’t want her to be the youngest, so I’ve got ONE more year of having little little kids at home, and I’m totally OK with that. I have enjoyed every bit and every stage of my kids’ little ages, but gosh is it ever fun to be able to discuss moral relativity with a sixth grader. (I’m not kidding. It’s fun.)
The other day we were driving by some men at work and she and her friend were in the car. Her friend told me she thought that the man halfway in a manhole just didn’t have legs. I laughed and laughed because I thought it was so cute. She did not.
How am I old enough to be driving around children who are trying to be cool?
Every time it comes up that we do foster care, people say, “I couldn’t do that.”
Before you think this is another post where I lecture you about your selfishness if you don’t foster, let me tell you that this post is kind of the exact opposite.
I was looking through more old files last night, my fingers brushing over the names in cheap black ink on Staples office paper. Just names to most people, but to me, they are children I loved. Children I couldn’t wait to get rid of. Children who are now firmly ensconced in fickle memory.
That’s all most of them ever will be to me, memories. It’s foster care.
When you’re a foster parent you know that when that child gets into that agency car to be taken away, the chances of seeing him or her again are slim to none.
When you’re a foster parent, you cherish the scar on your arm which is where that two year old scratched you so hard you bled because she didn’t want to leave.
When you’re a foster parent, you ask your husband to take the booster seat, car seat and crib and put them in the farthest reaches of the basement where the two resident mice will hopefully nosh them into nonexistence.
When you’re a foster parent, you wonder what will happen to that little girl you told was beautiful. You’ll wonder if she left you believing it.
After all, she *did* have to leave. You lie awake at night and wonder if she thinks that the reason she didn’t get to stay was because people prefer pretty things and she wasn’t.
Foster care is not for the faint of heart. “How do you give them back?” is the most basic, honest and gut-wrenching question and there’s an echoing canyon where my answer should be.
The last time someone asked was in the Wal-Mart neighborhood market, the day after our most recent foster daughter left. I felt a blank space then, and I still do. My youngest daughter does. She constantly asks when Baby T is coming back. I don’t have the heart to tell her “never”.
Maybe that’s the crux of it: Baby T came to us sad and angry, a twelve month old with a chip on her shoulder. I got to see her laugh and smile, to watch her steps grow from faulting and unsteady to boisterous and confident. I got to see her shine. I was the first one she called “Mama”.
If you’re feeling a nudge toward foster care, do it. In writing this I finally came up with an answer for you. It’s not an answer all wrapped up in a pretty bow, but it’s nonetheless an answer.
If that same woman in Wal-Mart had asked me, again, ‘How do you give them up?’ I’d say right back, Would you miss out on the opportunity to be a part of making a tiny soul whole again? To help her regain a tenuous hold on a troubled existence that was fragile from the moment she was born? To show her that her footsteps matter? That you will be the one who hears her first great big belly laugh?
I’d walk away, comfort food in hand. And the answer I would whisper to myself?
It’s coming up five years to the day I almost died.
My Apgar score at birth was zero. I wouldn’t breathe and my mom, an OB nurse, hadn’t felt me move for several days before my birth. I guess I must have finally cried.
When I was just a few months old my mother, decked out adorably in a floral kerchief and 70s shorts, pulled my baby carrier away from a stone cabin wall for some reason. Minutes or seconds later a huge boulder fell out of the wall and directly onto the spot where her newborn was quietly sitting, obliviously mouthing her fists.
There was the time in Sanibel Island, Florida when I was four and my dad left my older brothers in charge of me (hey. it was the 80s). I distinctly remember my hand quietly slipping off of the swimming pool ledge as I was pretending to be a ballerina. First, panic as the chlorinated water took residence in my burning lungs. Then, euphoria as I stared at the underwater light, marveling in its beauty. I can still remember feeling my 12 year old brother Nathan’s arms around me and bringing me up, up, up to the surface. I remember a man barfing into a puke colored bucket in the waiting room, then needles to start an IV, an oxygen tent. My dad taking my brothers to see Star Wars (hey, it was the 80s).
There were several bad choices, including (but not limited to) a turn of the wheel of my little tan Honda Accord at precisely the wrong time from the Hy-Vee on Mt. Vernon Road, then staring sidelong into the headlights of an 18 wheeler. (Just kidding, it was an SUV). As I walked away, dazed, a man ran out of his house and said in a Texas twang, “Oh, honey! I saw the whole thing and for sure thought you were dead! You’ve maybe got a God up there!”
That internet date in Kansas City where I decided to go to a guy’s house (sorry, Dad). He wanted to “give a tour” of his newly remodeled basement. As we were in a back room he said, “Hey, I could totally murder you down here and no one would ever know.” Run, Rachel. RUN.
Another car accident in California. I can still hear the car radio’s music in my head as we spun and screamed and spun and screamed. Then, after: laughing because the driver had a female urinal in the trunk that the police officer had found about a quarter mile down the road.
Life is either comedy or tragedy.
If you’re smart, you make it both.
Then, years later and finally having our third child, my father in law holding her as I wondered why my belly hurt so much. “You’ve had a c-section!” the nurse said. “I know, but this isn’t like normal c-section pain. It hurts more.”
Yelling, the Code Blue button pushed, my husband standing over me looking like he will pass out, my parents looking on, doctors who’ve studied years and years and years looking at each other and shrugging their shoulders. My sturdy, analytical father all but wringing his hands. Life becomes something else when you hear, “We’re losing her” and “Nothing is working to stop the bleeding” and they’re talking about YOU. I remember thinking, “I need my mom to fix this.” If you’re reading this and you know my mother, you know Joyce Swanson is capable of quite a lot. There she stood, watching the doctors in stunned silence.
My mother couldn’t fix this. Nobody could. I was dying.
I’d like to say my journey since then has been super awesome and I have been always glad to be alive and thankful for the extra life I’ve been given. That’s the way I look at it: extra time. For some reason I feel like the death that was evaded at 32 is always there, watching me, sizing me up. I feel the blood pulse in my veins and I worry I haven’t done enough. Haven’t been enough, produced enough, been patient enough. Just not enough.
Shortly after this near death experience I went from being grateful to be alive to feeling a profound sadness. In those final moments before I passed out the words to “Awake My Soul” by Mumford and Sons was playing over and over again:
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life
One thing that nearly dying has taught me is that I want to wear out my life. I want to make every day count. Sometimes the only thing that matters in making every day count is giving everyone a kiss and holding back an angry word.
Some days that’s enough, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
My relationship with God is a complicated one. Most relationships with God are, I suppose. Some days I’m fully trusting and believing that He’s got everything in my life mapped out and things are the way they are supposed to be. Other days I think he’s a wrathful jerk. I know my feelings aren’t truth, but I am a sentient being and so I must wrestle with those feelings, too.
I’m glad I didn’t “just be grateful you’re alive” as so many told me right after Phoebe’s birth. If you’ve never had a near death experience or watched someone you adore die, you don’t know the sort of cluster it makes of your life. I do. I’ve been there. It’s a hard road back. I’ve been honest all the way, and I won’t allow the false churchianity of “just be grateful” to force my hard road into a good Christian box other people can deal with.
It’s been a wonderful five yeras, and also the hardest of my life. I wake each morning with a single prayer: Make something out of me today, God.
It’s all a mortal can ask.
It’s always a crapshoot, cleaning out old files.
Marriage license, old receipts, recipes that sucked. Hospital bills, medical records. And then I see it, and reading it for the 300th time still turns my bone to concrete.
“Examination of ‘Products of Conception, Baby B” – autolyzed fetus, extremely macerated, as a result gender is undefinable. There are what appear to be several loops of colon protruding from the abdominal cavity, as well as many other abdominal organs….fetus appears to be incompatible with life.”
Death does seem to be incompatible with life, doesn’t it?
A mother nurses her child, another mother weeps for her lost one – her first Easter without.
A stooped old man stands alone in the wind at his beloved’s freshly dug grave.
A woman buries her young husband with her babies at her side, the victim of a seemingly errant twist of tragedy.
Lovers swoon, cancer cells multiply.
A rose blooms, a man in a bed takes his last breath as the sun makes its descent down whitewashed walls into night.
Babies are born, a couple sobs. Another holiday without a child.
Dogs bark, a homeless boy shrinks deeper into makeshift existence as cold prevails.
This life, I can never make sense of it. And maybe that’s the point. Because if I could make sense of it, I’d have no need for it, the thing that saves me.
Whenever I think of myself, I find myself lacking:
you don’t play with your kids enough (another post about our society’s obsession with mothers “playing” with their children is coming”. It’s a luxury of the modern child to be able to be played with by the maternal figure. Usually mom was too busy growing soy beans.
you’re a sucky wife. Scott really can’t stand you. you start projects and don’t finish them and oh, by the way, you need to wear something other than yoga pants once every, say, 30 days?
kids are a constant vortex of need. i never feel like i am filling their love tanks enough, as oprah would say, and I’m just sure one of them is going to become a columbine shooter because of it.
i suck at making contact with my friends, usually because the social anxiety makes it hard for me to leave the house some days.
i enjoy foster parenting, because kids don’t expect a whole lot but a clean bed and some good food. Thanks to Costco, I can do that.
This is a short post about all of the ways I’m failing. Please feel free to add your own.
A few days ago we had to re-home (nicer-sounding phrase than getting rid of) our dog. I cried and cried. This was the dog who, five months ago, cowered every time someone in the room moved. She seemed to always be apologizing for her existence.
In the ensuing months I watched Rosie blossom. She learned our routine, jumping back in the morning as I opened the outside door to remind me she hadn’t yet gotten her treat. She started to expect good things because she knew I would give them to her. I didn’t fail her.
When Rosie left due to my sinus allergies and the fact that she is a 65 pound dog we adopted thinking she was fully grown at 38, I cried. I cried a lot. I cried in the Target dog food aisle, imagining her wondering where her morning treat was. Someone on Facebook posted, “What’s wrong with you? This is BS!” because I was finding a new home for her. I felt like crap, like I was failing her.
Something I’ve come to realize is that I’m not the only one who can provide good things for others. God (sorry, here comes church lady) has shown me that I can care for others to the best of my ability but sometimes I have to say “no” to good things or say “yes” to hard things because that means I’m caring for myself, too.
“Take everything!” I sobbed to her new owners, some poor unassuming Craigslist schmucks who didn’t think they were going to be coming to the suburbs to meet a crazy mother in yoga pants that were never actually worn for working out. There I was, literally chucking all of her things out onto the lawn. “Please take it, take it all, because I won’t be able to bear looking at her things.” I came inside, picked up the car keys, headed to McDonald’s for the three-for-a-dollar chocolate chip cookies and a Diet Coke. I cried some more in the car.
OK. I did the mooing cow cry in the car.
There are so many parallels I could make between caring for a traumatized animal and a traumatized child. Those small daily acts that turn into the bigger calling of leading a soul into trust is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
The child: I will speak about her now. She came to us a few weeks ago; I picked her up in a dirty municipal building at 10 pm on a weeknight and her diaper was soaked. She was sobbing.
That first day she slept in until 10 AM and cried almost nonstop. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into, but my four year old daughter showed me just what as she relentlessly, as an act of grace and compassion, ran back and forth in our living room to find a toy, anything, that the baby would like.
When Scott arrived home she absolutely FLIPPED out, sobbing her poor little pot belly out as he sidled along the wall, hands up, reassuring her he was not going to try to touch or engage her.
The trust has been slow-coming, but it’s come. She belly-laughed for the first time a few days ago and then caught herself. Almost a, “Oh, wait. I don’t know that I should be showing them this side of me quite yet.”
|fear not; this is not an actual photo of Little Lady|
As I held her and my four year old to read them a story, she slipped her little brown arm around my neck. I looked at her, she looked at me. Connection.
It’s crazy the places where you find beauty and grace, isn’t it? For me, it’s making connection with my husband, my kids, my friends, hurting children. It’s showing them my own vulnerabilities so they can show me theirs. It’s an emotional kind of “doctor”, that game we all played as kids.
“I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.”
But who goes first? Who is brave (or stupid) enough to do it?
Tonight she gave Scott a “high five” as I told her he didn’t hit anyone. He got her to smile as he did a silly dance. She caught herself mid-laugh, remembering that men hit and she shouldn’t be so careless.
Vulnerability comes softly, a flutter of grace on air-filled sparrow wings. It’s a flash in the eye, the hint of a smile. Vulnerability is what makes relationships worthwhile, it’s what makes the “How are you?” actually mean “How are you?” instead of something we say to say it for saying’s sake.
Do you allow the people around you to be vulnerable? Do you really listen? Are you ever brave enough to say, “Hey, I’ll go first!”?
It’s something I’m working on.
I’ve checked on Wikipedia (true 10% of the time, but in this instance I’m willing to believe it) and found that Sam Brownback has not once had a foster child standing on his front step, wondering if this man standing there is going to do the horrible things to her that the last one did. Will she eat tonight, or will there be a lock on the refrigerator door like there was at the last place? Oh, oh, there’s a woman here, too. The last time I saw a man with a woman I watched him rape her and leave, storming out after. She snorted some white stuff in her nose through an errant McDonald’s Happy Meal straw and went to bed, but at least she let me sleep with her sometimes and watch tv.
83%. Sit there with that.
|kind of helpful, but not really|
Do I believe that life begins at conception? Absolutely. Do I believe that abortion breaks God’s heart? 100%, yes. Do I believe that God’s original plan was for man and woman to procreate, fulfilling the earth with their love? Yes.
You know what is also not fair to a child? To all of our children? You sitting on your bottom parts getting in tweet fights with God knows who over abortion or the sancitity of marriage without following your own thoughts through. Say you’ve helped a woman not to have an abortion. Great. Now what? What next? Are you going to get down into the dirty with her? Are you going to help her find housing, a stable environment in which to raise her baby? Are you going to buy her groceries and take her kids when she’s sick so she can’t keep her job?
One thing I’ve always admired about my own parents is their always, ALWAYS putting their actions, not just money, where their mouths are. They’d be embarassed to read this, but my parents are the ones who took in foreign exchange students so they could show them God’s love. My mom worked for years at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, sitting with broken women as they cried over their seemingly hopeless life situation. My parents have treated our foster children as their own grandchildren, knowing that they would most likely not be permanent fixtures of the family.
My parents are passionate about sharing Jesus’ Love with kids in the public school system through a program called Child Evangelism Fellowship, and while they are retired and could be spending most of their time shopping and playing golf, they’re faithfully following the command to love the little Children and lead clubs in the public school two times a week. It’s labor-intensive and exhausting and they do it anyway because they know it’s important. So, sorry to embarrass you, Mom and Dad, but you’ve always been an example to me of what sacrificial love looks like.
What’s so sad to me about the Twitter wars and the Facebook rants is that, more often than not, there is no action behind them. People write a check, buy some Christmas presents, mail a shoe box full of gifts. Those things in and of themselves are not wrong, not by any stretch of the imagination! Surely these things need to be done! Actually, I have so many friends who have blessed us with these kinds of things and they have a part in the ultimate plan. As a friend pointed out, “I’m not built for foster care, but I want to help you in whichever way I can.” Wow. This friend is also a preschool teacher, and I couldn’t spend 14 minutes in a room full of twelve snotty four year olds for 14 minutes, let alone all day. So, YES. We are all built with different gifts!
What I’m saying though, goes deeper: heart work is hard. Getting entangled in the lives of the broken is devastating.
A friend and I were talking yesterday after she and her family experienced a very, very deep hurt involving a child within the foster care system.
“Redemptive entanglement is very hard.”
Blew my mind.
She went on:
“I have ended up caring for him (her child’s foster father) more than I ever expected to. I see why the check-writing is easier. That doesn’t cause nightmares and angry first families.”
It doesn’t cause sitting in the middle of a mess that humans caused but no human can fix.
“Walking alongside hurting people sucks.”
It does. It hurts. It causes tears. Once you see that great wide fissure in humanity, in the very heart of a tiny child, you can’t “unsee” it.
And you know what? It tires me. It makes me cry. It makes me want to run the other way. Sometimes, the situations we find ourselves in make me want to pee my pants.
It’s a good thing my emotions have no IQ. Because, friend, at the end of the day,
I don’t ever want to unsee it.