The Best Monday

A typical Monday usually starts with hitting snooze.  Lately, by the time the alarm sounds, I have already been alert and consciously dreading the days events ahead.  Mentally trying to psych myself up to conquer the world.  My mind looms over the tasks of the day, appointments scheduled, people to contact, issues to deal with and the limitless amount of illogical distractions associated with middle management.  I hit snooze again and sometimes even a third time doing the exact opposite of what I encourage others to do and stress over all the improbable situations that may potentially go wrong.

With my body aching, partially due to not taking care of myself physically and also from the toll my emotions has taken on my body, I roll out of bed and begin a hurried preparation for the day.  I stand in front of my closet aimlessly waiting for pants and a coordinating top to leap off the hanger, inevitably I settle on an outfit and sluggishly shower and dress.  My hair and make-up routine go quick and end with a “Well, good enough,” attitude because my mind is already consumed with imaginary conversations I will have to have later at work today.

The best part of my mornings are rousing my sleeping beauty for her day at pre-school.  Amazingly the child who always pops out of bed ready to play in the mornings every Saturday and Sunday chooses Mondays to try to sleep in.  We rush to get dressed.  This can be taxing for a four year old who wants to express her own independence and pick out an outrageous wardrobe or one which doesn’t suit the weather and can easily spur an early morning tantrum.  Breakfast in itself can even cause frustration when the oatmeal is too hot, the milk spilled from the cereal or she only wants bacon when there is no bacon.  As she is headed out the door with Daddy there can be up to four times we have to stop for something else forgotten…  The share box, the water bottle, a sleep sack, the leotard for ballet class today, oh and don’t forget the folder…

Today has been different.  This morning I woke up refreshed and not stressed about what lies ahead in a department I am responsible for and yet have no control over.  This morning I was free of the dreaded conversations, problems and people who had previously consumed my life.  This Monday I was able to be excited about the projects and organizing I have neglected in my house for eleven months.  Today I was able to be the first instead of the last to pick my daughter up from school and cherish a mid-afternoon dance off.  This afternoon I was able to grocery shop earlier than 5:00 when we typically battle a child’s growing dinner appetite, and instead thoughtfully plan out some weekday dinner meals I will actually have time to prepare.  Today I was able to write a blog post, something I haven’t done since I started working full time last fall.

I took a leap of faith last week and quit my job.  It was not planned nor was it a method I would have chosen.  I quickly came to realize despite the stress, my dedication to the position, to the team and the community I was working with; the corporation did not appreciate my advocacy or questions and it was best we parted ways.  The uncertainty of what it means to be unemployed in society at this time is concerning and I am optimistic about how my path lead me to this and I know my purpose will be fulfilled elsewhere.  So I can happily say, this is the best Monday I have had in a long time.
wings

The Ultimate Determination

I have a friend I met almost four years ago through a job.  Carrie and I were hired within a month of each other and had an immediate connection.  We’ve talked about our souls being connected in the past and I knew she came into my life to help fill in the gaps of my own inadequacies and I to help her in the same manner.  We only worked together for about a year before some political drama and employment cuts ended up with her out of the job.  The situation makes me cringe to even think about and I could easily go into a downward spiral of hatred considering what happened…  So I will stop there and move on.

Our friendship continued although, our face to face contact became more dispersed.  She and I talked about the possibility of a business venture since our personalities complimented each other so well.  She is slightly older than I and sometimes it felt like she had a lifetime more life experiences.  There were times I would smile and nod at her question “You know what I mean?” hoping she wouldn’t recognize I knew nothing before I could puzzle together some context clues.  Carrie has a knack for getting her needs met, her southern drawl could reel anyone in and convince them of whatever she was requesting.  Her dark curly hair is the kind most women would lay down big money to duplicate, and this is on the days she claims she didn’t have time to fix it her own way.  She has warm brown eyes, a bright smile, rounded face and naturally tan skin.  Carrie’s outward beauty barely begins to exude the beauty within, as she has worked her life serving others.  Her career has involved advocating for those who cannot do it for themselves, and she is exactly who I would want representing me if I were incompetent to make my own decisions.  Sounds like I have painted the picture of a wonderfully warm and generous human being who speaks softly, with manners and always kind and gentle.  Yes, this is true of Carrie in many ways although I would warn you…  Don’t cross her, she can outwit you and pull the totem your pride was standing on before you can catch your next breath.

These characteristics have served Carrie professionally and recently in a deeply personal way as well.  This story is about the ultimate determination I have witnessed in my friend and an incredible journey to parenthood I am so honored to be able to report.  Seriously incredible and worth making into a movie, I told Carrie she would be played by Angelina Jolie.

Two years ago Carrie talked to me about her desire to be a mom.  She had been in a number of serious relationships throughout her twenties and thirties, none of them amounting to “the one” worth marrying.  Since she was well into adulthood, built a professional career and firm foundation, Carrie felt the tug of parenthood greater than the need for following society’s approved order of becoming a parent (i.e. relationship, marriage than baby).

Haters – stop right there.  I know some people immediately get all judgmental when someone acts out of the realm of what is traditional.  Need I remind you a large number of youth grow up in single parent households in the present day, single moms can do just fine providing all the emotional, physical and financial support a child can possibly need.  AND there is no such thing as a traditional household anymore – family make-ups are all unique and no one is better than another – just different.  There is no specific recipe for what ingredients make for a healthy child – love and resources in what ever form they may come.  

So Carrie began with looking at her options.  She wanted the experience of being pregnant, of feeling the baby growing and kicking, and delivering it into the world.  She submerged herself into research about the medical advances in using donors and insemination.  She met with doctors and began preparing her body.  She revised her diet and workout regiment, she was religious about vitamins and necessary medications.

I can’t recall all of the details of each insemination attempt. I know there were many and I know a few took to pregnancies and all ended in miscarriages.  Between attempts she became well versed in the medical terminology, being able to converse intelligently with her doctors about what tests they were failing to administer which increased her chances the next time around.  She submitted her body to a strict regiment of shots and medications to prepare for and retain the pregnancies.  With each attempt Carrie was more hopeful and then more upset with each loss, feeling dreams of motherhood crashing.  Feeling pregnancy may not be an option for her she looked into adoption.  Adoption also appeared like a hopeless path as adoption agencies look for two parent households.  The foster-care into adoption situations would only consider her for older children, sibling sets or children with special needs all of which she felt unprepared.

I heard her talk about “This will be the last try,” leading up to the most recent medical procedure, and I was elated to hear the positive test results several weeks later.  Without trying to sound pessimistic I questioned how she and her doctors felt this one would hold better than the last and if she would on-going increased care.  I so wanted Carrie to experience to joy of being a mom, to carry a healthy baby and experience the terrific pain of childbirth, I just had a sinking feeling this might not work.  In March Carrie told me the news, there was no heartbeat on the sonograms and this pregnancy also ended in a miscarriage.  It was devastating to hear and I cannot even begin to imagine how she was feeling.  Weeks went by before I heard from her again, and this time it was a phone call I will never forget.

The day before Easter Carrie called to tell me she was going to be a mom and her baby is due by the end of the month.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to hug her through the phone, I wanted to be there with her getting to see the expression of joy she had to be having.  Words wouldn’t even formulate in my mouth to ask appropriate questions of – how did this happen?  She provided me with some background and wanted some information, since she had spent two years working on how to become pregnant she missed the nine months women usually have to prepare for the baby.

Through this phone call and conversations we have had since I understand the bizarre and amazing connections which brought my friend to motherhood.  Even greater, the determination my friend sustained throughout this journey demonstrate she can tackle whatever challenges a parent may face.

Carrie and her mom learned of a young woman who was pregnant and wanting to give her baby up for adoption.  The birth mom was addicted to a multitude of prescription drugs and knew she couldn’t be responsible for the infant after the birth.  She used throughout the pregnancy and had no prenatal care at all.  Shortly after meeting with my friend she agreed Carrie is meant to be her baby’s mom.

Carrie scurried to get all of the necessary legal documents completed including a home inspection and began making purchases for a nursery.  She paid for a hotel room for the duration of the pregnancy and time afterwards since the birth mom had no stable living arrangements.  And she took the birth mom to buy food and to doctors appointments where she learned she was having a boy.

The birth mom reassured Carrie about how even the baby knew she was his mom, when he would calm his movements when her hand was on the belly.  She the only person who provided calm for him in the chaotic environment his birth mom surrounded herself with.  Carrie said there were various times when several women and handfuls of children would also be staying in the hotel room when she came by with groceries.  During one such visit an ambulance was called when one of the birth mom’s guests had a gran mal seizure.  The way Carrie described the individuals she interacted with, they sound incredibly intimidating.  She certainly wouldn’t let any fear show, as she was there for her son.

The estimated due date provided Carrie with about a month to prepare, except two weeks early she was rushing to the delivery room with the birth mom.  The hospital staff requested Carrie’s cooperation to help the birth mom through the labor as she was the only one the panicking woman would respond to.  For hours during active labor Carrie was on her knees on the hospital floor to bring her baby into the world.  One Monday, at a perfectly healthy weight and size her baby was born, miraculously showing no effects from the drugs or withdrawal symptoms.  

You might think hooray, and it ends there…  Not for Carrie, with adoption it’s not over until the paperwork is signed by the judge.

Court was scheduled for Thursday, leaving four more days in the hospital.  Carrie snuggled her newborn and got to enjoy the first feedings and diaper changes, while in a separate room birth mom recovered.  The hospital social worker was obviously disapproving of the adoption arrangement and questioned the birth mom “wouldn’t you want your son to have two parents?”  When her questioning wouldn’t budge the birth mom’s decision she talked about child protective services coming to speak with her.  After the conversation with the hospital social worker, and without the knowledge of Carrie or any hospital staff the birth mom eloped from her recovery room.

Once the social worker and director of nursing became aware of what was happening they approached Carrie about taking the baby to the nursery, because she was not a legal guardian for the child (yet.)  The social worker and DON were no match for all Carrie had been through in the last two years for this child, and she made sure they understood how they had failed this child by making the birth mom feel insecure and allowing her to walk out.  She made sure they understood she would not allow her son to be punished by removing him from her care because of their mistakes.  Carrie tolerated the babysitter/security they staked out in her room for the remainder of the days leading up to the court hearing.

A head hospital administrator learned of the events taking place on the nursery floor and came to Carrie with an apology.  He offered two $10 gift cards to the hospital cafeteria as a gesture, ha – as if that could make up for the furry Carrie felt toward his establishment.

On the Wednesday evening before court the lawyers began drawing attention to the birth mom’s absence and her unresponsiveness to calls.  It was clear if she didn’t make it to court, the proceedings wouldn’t happen and the baby would become custody of the state.  Carrie’s mom stayed with the baby while Carrie went on a chase.  She drove to every sight she had ever been to with the birth mom, contacted each connection she had made with the birth mom and followed every possible lead to where she may be.  Around 2am Thursday morning Carrie found herself in a trailer park with some shady characters looking high out front.  She found the birth mom inside a trailer passed out and helped her regain enough consciousness to get into the car and return to the hotel room.

Despite the roller coaster of emotions during the week and a sleepless night before the hearing, Carrie made it to court with the birth mom.  In the meeting room before seeing the judge the birth mom continued to try to put her head down and sleep, with the lawyers looking on frowning for fear the judge may postpone the date.  Carrie insisted she stand up and jog in place with her to stay alert and ensured all of the final paperwork was signed and approved.

 

 

 

My friend Carrie’s story of becoming a mom is the ultimate determination.  Her son is as lucky to have her as she is to have him, and I am fortunate to have her friendship.  Carrie’s dedication to fulfill her dream is an inspiration to me and to so many others who have witnessed her journey.

In Honor of Memorial Day.

Enlisting in our nations military are some of the bravest and strongest individuals among us.  These men and women commit to the purpose to serve and protect our country, making personal sacrifices most of us cannot relate to or even begin to imagine.  1.6 million civilians have become veterans in nearly a decade since the war in Iraq began.  While this number is astounding, many U.S. citizens don’t know a soldier, don’t think about the war and don’t recognize how irresponsible it is for us not to support our troops and their families.

In honor of Memorial Day please consider the over 6,000 soldiers who have been killed in combat.  They leave behind parents, spouses, children and friends whose grief of a senseless loss will have infinite effects throughout their lives.  In addition to combat deaths, statistics regarding suicide rates of soldiers should be enough to alert the military and the government to discontinue their efforts and re-evaluate how to gain peace.  Many soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have to cope with the effects of post traumatic stress related to the devastation they have witnessed overseas.  Troops experience real life nightmares and exist in a perpetual state of alert anxiety to survive.  Many soldiers returning have to rediscover their place within their family and in society, some uprooted again for redeployment.  Many soldiers struggle to find employment in our suffering economy, some statistics suggest unemployment for veterans is higher than 27%.  Many soldiers, 45% of veterans, need some form of services related compensation do to injury or trauma.  And many soldiers need more mental health services then the military is prepared to support, some give up seeking help because of the amount of paperwork required by the VA.  In the last two years suicide rates of soldiers has surpassed the combat death rate.

In honor of Memorial Day please consider the over $4 trillion which has been spent related to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It’s difficult to say what we have or have not accomplished with these funds because of the war efforts without being hyper critical of our government or cynical about their reports of accomplishments.  What’s not difficult to see is the injustice that has been served to our troops and their families because of the sacrifices they have given in honor of our country.  The physical and emotional pain these men and women will continue to deal with for the rest of their lives and the lack of support to them once their service is over is outrageous.  Even if you are an individual who doesn’t know a soldier and doesn’t think about the war on a regular basis, you are effected.  Every American feels the rippling effects of the senseless violence these brave men and women have witnessed.  We all feel the rippling effects from their families who stress at the absence of their loved ones.  We all feel the rippling effects from the hatred that perpetuates war.

In honor of Memorial Day please consider what you can do to help a soldier or help a soldier’s family.  And to honor those who have been lost in combat or from suicide – stand to put an end to the war and bring our brave men and women home.

Food for my spirit.

Have you ever had the experience of going to a restaurant where you wondered how you ended up there?  Either someone recommended you try it or it was a random stop on the highway when you needed to eat.  Once you enter the place you notice the atmosphere and begin judging that it will be an awful experience.  The dive looks dark and worn down, years of wear that no one bothered to keep up with repairs and decor.  It feels uninviting and you are ready to leave if it weren’t for being shown to a table – a sign that you were committed to staying. Then when the server approaches it gives you an even further sinking feeling that this experience is going to get worse.  The server also appears a little rough around the edges and slightly abrasive.  You are careful to be extra polite to ensure that she doesn’t end up cursing about you to the kitchen staff.  Finally when your food arrives and the first fork full enters your mouth you are forced to pause as the judgement about the establishment begins to melt and all you can think is “mmmmm…”

Every morsel is devoured with the same “mmm” of satisfaction.  The food is so amazing that you cannot believe that it has taken you all of your life to be sitting there enjoying it.  It’s the kind of meal that excites every taste bud on your tongue and in turn gives you goose bumps down to your toes.  Between the delectable bites you begin to see the restaurant with a new set of eyes, even the server stops to engage in a conversation with a slight smile.  And once you have licked your plate clean, paid your bill and exit the doors of your new favorite secret spot – you can’t help beginning to plot when you could possibly get back there to enjoy the experience all over again.

I know this feeling.  I have been in a situation where my thoughts started “What was I thinking coming here.”  I have been intimidated by the server.  And I have experienced an awakening in my spirit when I visited this secluded location.

This place that I am referring to is not a restaurant, though.  And the server is not presenting food – at least not to me.

I had the honored privilege of getting to stay on the grounds of Endangered Animal Rescue Sanctuary (EARS) in Citra, Florida.  My sister had moved there to volunteer for a couple of months and urged me to come visit.  Of course being an animal lover with an insatiable travel bug buried within me I jumped at the opportunity.  When I arrived at the airport I was met by my sister and the co-founder of EARS.  The co-founder’s name is Gail, and she is much like the server I was referring to earlier.  She probably did greet me with a smile, however, all I remember is her larger than life presence which made me feel on edge to begin with.  She wore a tan safari like shirt with the sanctuary logo, thick mascara on her eye lashes and big hair to match her Georgia drawl.

During the car ride to EARS, Gail spoke firmly about exotic animal breeding and the unwanted animals she had rescued.  She talked about her first experiences with animals, training Elephants overseas, how she ended up in Florida and beginning EARS with Jaye.  I didn’t think that I had ever done anything cruel towards animals, although in that car ride I felt that if I had unintentionally Gail would be able to sniff it out and scar me for it.  My first impression of wanting to stay on her good side ended up being a laughable fear by the end of the trip.

As if my anxiety wasn’t high enough being in the truck with the intimidating server, when we got to Citra it was an even deeper feeling of discomfort.  It was the walk into the restaurant.  Citra is a small town that most would miss on a drive through Florida, empty stores and buildings falling apart.  No nearby ocean or amusements parks there.  Once we entered the gates of the sanctuary all of the wondering “what am I doing here” was gone.

EARS has many big cats – tigers, leopards, lions, cougars.  They also have other unwanted animals like a wolf, bears and monkeys.  And then there are some not so wild animals who needed a safe home like dogs rescued from flooding in New Orleans, random ducks and chickens.  Amazingly, all species seemed to be living in harmony (most separated in appropriate enclosures).  It was an unexplaineably comfortable and content feeling to be on the grounds.

My sister with Delila. She came to EARS after being found during a drug raid, I guess the dealer thought a pit bull just wouldn't do.

My sister and Gail toured me around the property.  It was clear that the animals had a trusting relationship with their human care givers.  This was not just a fondness for the hands that deliver the food, rather true recognition that Gail, my sister and other volunteers truly care and want to protect them.  This was evident especially by the tiger’s chuffing response to them approaching.  I had never even heard that tigers chuff until I was there in person to hear it.  It would be similar to a cat purring in approval, chuffing sounds sort of mechanical like short and rapid puffs of air.   Gail explained where all of the animals came from, she recalled details with dates for each.  The stories varied from a rejected tiger from Las Vegas because he wasn’t pure white, a cougar kicked out of the zoo for walking with a limp, a bear meant for a circus act with mangled paws from a poor attempt to declaw him, and many big cats who were unwanted when they got too big for “pictures with a cub” jobs.  All of the stories were unfortunate, many horrific.  Gail went on to explain that these are the lucky ones because many big cats are killed when they don’t fit into an owners plans.

I learned more about the sanctuary itself and the vision that Gail and Jaye (the other co-founder) have for it.  They strive to have the animals living with dignity, which means excelling state regulations for sizes of cages and time in turnouts.  They act on what is best for the animals instead of minimal guidelines, it also means having to turn away animals in need so that they don’t forfeit the standards for the animals already there.  It is quickly apparent when talking with Gail and Jaye how dedicated they are.  Both live on the property in side by side homes.  They sacrifice personal time, human relationships and steady incomes to be able to provide a good quality of life for the animals, a sort of priceless dedication most people could not fathom.

Both Gail and Jaye are relentless educators and advocates.  Gail provides group tours on occasion to help encourage donations and teach the public about the dangers of breeding exotic animals.  Jaye drives all over the south delivering food to other sanctuaries for a minimal profit to help keep EARS running.

Leopard brothers, Tafari and Odoki. Swahili for "one who inspires awe" and "little brother"

Being able to spend time getting to know Gail and Jaye, working the labor intensive weekend at the sanctuary, seeing the tigers up close and witnessing their personalities, waking up to lions roaring not far outside my window, letting a vervet monkey pick threads off my shirt, feeding animal crackers to a bear…  It was a weekend that warmed my soul and reinvigorated my spirit.  I was re-energized to dedicate myself to my passions and to do it with integrity.  The memory of this experience, this place and these two women will stay with me indefinitely.  I left there immediately plotting how soon can I get back?  I know that the best place for exotic animals is in the wild and if they can’t be there – the next best place would be at EARS with Gail and Jaye looking out for them.

If you would like to know more about the animals, the co-founders and the sanctuary I would encourage you to check out their website at: www.earsinc.net

ps. There is a sound bite of the tiger SuSu chuffing under the multimedia section – Check it out!