A Letter to You

Dear friend, 

Did you know, November is Adoption Awareness Month? It’s all over my FB feeds, in mostly positive ways. I am adoptive mama to one. My feelings about this month have morphed over the years. At first, in our attempt to adopt, it was amazing to raise awareness about the need of orphans around the world. Then we adopted our sweet girl. And everything changed.

For several years, when we were in the thick of the on-going trauma in our home, I hated this month—the trite little adoption sayings, the pictures of sweet mixed & blended families. Although many would say it wasn’t easy, I never felt like any of the words adequately described my adoption experience, what was happening in our home, how hard we tried to do all the right things, how hard it feels like we failed. Even now, the posts and things I see break my healing heart. 

So during this November, this Adoption Awareness month, I just want you to know that adoption doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. 

To be sure, no parent walks into an adoption situation and thinks, “this will be a piece of cake.” That’s foolishness. But just like we all underestimate what it takes to parent any child, we extra underestimate parenting through loss, trauma, culture-shocks, and the ensuing special needs. So many people I know have risen to this. There are hard, but beautiful stories in the world around me. I treasure those stories. I love and support those families. I’m going to write a glowing recommendation letter for friends who just shared with us their desire to adopt. I love how adoption can work. 

But that is not my story. It is one of my deepest griefs, one of my most personal failings, that adoption didn’t work for us. But the truth is while I am still my Sweet One’s mom, the way I best parent her and protect myself and my other kids is to have her live somewhere else. Consequently, she is far away (at the best school we could find for her and she’s thriving) and I am working on healing from the abuse I have experienced. I carry so much guilt for my failings as a mom, for not knowing, for letting harm be done in my home. The repercussions of our decision to adopt will affect our family for years to come. 

I don’t want to dampen your excitement or enthusiasm for adoption but I just want you to be aware. For every family for whom adoption works, there’s one suffering (probably in shame-filled silence) somewhere. 

During Adoption Awareness month you need to know that adoption just doesn’t work for everyone. I need you to be aware of that too. 

Blessings, 

S

FF#7: Jillian vs. the Tiger

(Note: I am visiting my family for a bit of a vacation. Today, my niece, June, and I wrote a new flash fiction. The ideas were a combination of both of us. I told her that I would put it up here. So enjoy the work of me and my favorite 8 year old.)

Prompt: Prompt: Jillian, a 12-year-old girl, is in the forest of India, and she is being chased by a tiger. 

Jillian sat very still. From her spot behind the large rock, she could hear the cracks of the branches as something snuck up to the spot where she was hiding. A moment before, she knew there was no one around, so she knew it wasn’t human. Jillian held her breath. She hoped that if she was super silent, whatever it was would just keep walking by her. 

Silence filled the forest. Even the birds had stopped chirping. Everything was waiting to see what happened. Suddenly, a pebble landed on top of Jillian’s head. Not daring to draw a breath, she slowly lifted her head to look up and found herself underneath the threatening gaze of a tiger. From her spot, Jillian could tell this was Khan-dor, the king of the tigers in this forest. 

But it was easy to see that while Khan-dor could smell someone near by, he couldn’t see her. He was looking off into the forest at some trees that had just started swaying. Jillian dared a look at the spot and saw the tell-tale striped rear end of an Okapi disappearing into the darkness of the forest. 

The tiger tenses, and crouches into a pounce, readying himself for the attack. In the next moment, he leaps off the rock and bounds into the forest. Jillian takes a quick panic-breath before she breaks into a run in the opposite direction away from Khan-dor and his bloody claws. (240 words).

FF#7–The Proposal

Prompt:  a restaurant, a couple at a fancy dinner—a man gets down on one knee and then the girls throws up in his lap. 

Source: Grant’s Jewelry.com

Jack’s leg was so twitchy that he was afraid June would notice. The wine had already been poured, he was just waiting on the creme brûlée. 

Finally, the waiter appeared, placing the white ramekins in front of each of them. With a wink, he retreated, but stood close enough to watch. Everyone loved a proposal. 

June looked down to see her dessert was surrounded by rose petals. A warmth that started in her stomach rose as a blush to her cheeks. She’d been waiting for weeks for Jack to propose. The butterflies in her stomach were fluttering like crazy. She took a deep breath to settle. 

By the time she looked up, Jack was down on one knee, holding open a small box with a glittering ring inside. “June, I want to spend the rest of my life loving you. Will you marry me?”

June, overcome with emotion, couldn’t find any words, but as she leaned forward to say yes, her gorge rose, pushing insistently to escape. Unable to contain it, June vomitted her dinner, turning her head at the last moment to avoid the ring and Jack’s face. A moment of silent shock filled the dining room. Then the room erupted in motion: waiters coming to June and Jack’s aid, other patrons backing away in case it was contagious. Jack whisked away into the bathroom to clean up and Jill left crying on her chair, the perfect ring in tiny box forgotten on the table.  (246 words)

Pastor Paul (FF#6)

Prompt: one sunny spring day, a new pastor, Paul, arrived at Elmdale Park Church. The next day, the murders began. 

The murders had really started at Paul’s first church, Family Life. As an associate pastor, Paul’s responsibility was congregational care. The morning after his visit to an elderly parishioner, she was found dead in her senior living apartment. The police had cleared him of all wrong doing, but he never visited another member at their home. 

By the time he was made a senior pastor at The River Church, he gave the untimely death little thought. But on a dark and stormy Thursday night he visited Norma, a beloved member of the church recovering from a nasty pneumonia. The next morning, she was found dead. No one questioned the pastor’s involvement. But Paul was spooked and stopped all visitations. Dissatisfied with his lack of personal care, the church asked him to leave, which is how he found himself at Elmdale. 

This time, the deaths started immediately, before he even knew a single soul. In order to end this personal reign of terror, he and a skeptical detective concocted a simple plan: he would visit the home of an elderly neighbor, but when the meeting was over, the elder would disguise himself as the pastor and drive away. After watching the house throughout the night and not receiving any reports of disturbances, the detective knocked on the door. Hearing no answer, he broke the door down and found the pastor, on the couch, dead. There was never another untimely death at Elmdale Park Church. (243 words)

The Black Forest (FF#5)

Prompt: A young woman with a mysterious past, a village at the edge of the Black Forest and your aunt’s goat has disappeared. 

Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/tall-trees-in-the-forest-998409/

Often, when I’m at the river, gathering water, I see her walking as if her feet don’t touch the ground, her flax dress glows against the dark shadows of the forest on the edge of town. Today, I return to my aunt’s home to find another disaster. This time our beloved goat, Crag, has disappeared. 

Many strange things have been happening: the hay for the pigs has been strewn across the yard, the grain jar toppled over in the middle of the afternoon, and the dead squirrel found on the doorstep. There’s only one explanation: the woman I see walking. 

Ever since I was little, I’ve been told not to enter the forest where she lives. We call it “The Black Forest” because of the dark and dangerous things found in the shadows. Adults whisper about the woman who walks, but always hush when us children are nearby. 

It’s bright and sunny when I leave the edge of town and step into the Forest. Suddenly, the air is  dark and weighty, as if smothered by a blanket. I whip my head when a branch cracks behind me, shattering the deep silence. I am alone. 

Following the twisty path, I come to a clearing with a pile of rocks in the middle, the body of my dead goat splayed across the top, blood running down. At the head of the pile is a stone.“Beware the Witch of the woods.” 

I turn and run, never to enter the forest again. 

Squeak (FF#4)

Prompt: a mouse who lives in an abandoned house who discovers humans. 

from : https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ee/b9/d8/eeb9d8385129294b7165383b628e23b1.jpg

The first clue was the loud bang from the front of the house. The second was the loud pounding  over her head. In her many weeks of living, Squeak had never been so over-whelmed. Upon investigation, Squeak found more clues: bright lights in places that were usually dark; thick layers of dust pushed aside, creating piles in the corners. These changes made her nervous. Suddenly, her home didn’t feel safe anymore. 

Huddled in the corner of her room, Squeak waited for darkness and the comfortable silence before creeping out to explore. From one room to the next, Squeak sped along the walls. Without warning, in a place where she used to pass without constraint, the door had been closed. She squeaked under the crack. 

The room was different. The weight of the air felt heavier. Squeak’s nose wrinkled at the foul tinge. Her snout working overtime, she sniffed for the source. A quiet snort filled the air. In the dark, she saw nothing near her, until she walked into squishy wall she’d never seen before. A sudden movement from above and Squeak was draped with a heavy fabric. Another shift in the squishy wall and the fabric vanished, pulled away from her face. 

Squeak ran as fast as her legs could scuttle to the far corner underneath a new pile of dust. Finally surveying the room she spied them: Monsters had invaded her home. Without another thought, she retreated to the safety of the walls, never to feel safe again. (250 words)

Home Alone (FF#3)

Prompt: A 12 year old boy, home alone, who heard a voice from the other room

Oliver’s head snapped around in the direction of the kitchen. He was sure he’d just heard a voice, but he knew no one was home with him. Mom and Dad were at the Johnsons, Jenny was with friends. He was supposed to be alone. 

from: https://jooinn.com/images/house-at-night-4.png

Heart thumping in his chest, the options raced through his mind. He could run upstairs and hide. But then, he could be followed. He could run out the door to the neighbors, but it was dark outside. 12-year-old logic kicked in: the best way forward was attack.  Keeping his eyes trained on the swinging kitchen door, he threw his arms behind him to grab the table lamp. The dark, cool metal felt like the perfect weapon. Bonus: the top was pointy and sharp. 

He shimmied along the wall like a mouse, careful not to make a noise, when he heard the voice again, sort of crackly and from a distance. “There’s no one here, let’s go.” Ollie felt something warm trickle down his leg, but swallowed his fear. 

He snuck along the wall until he was next to the kitchen door. Pausing, he listened. He couldn’t hear anything, but he swore there was a voice. He knew heard it. And he was going to scare it away. 

Raising the lamp stick over his head, Ollie pushed open the kitchen door and ran into the kitchen screaming to find a walkie talkie in the middle of the empty counter. (242 words)

Meat Eater (FF#2)

Prompt: Anne goes to a BBQ at her new boyfriend’s place. She is a staunch vegan.

Anne took a deep breath to steady her nerves, inhaling the noxious fumes of smoked meat. While Springdale smelled like a BBQ joint every sunny Saturday afternoon, Anne never partook in the carnage of meat eating, but after their first date, Michael had invited her. Knowing she was facing the celebration of murder, Anne steadied herself by clutching her quinoa salad to her chest. 

Laughter filled the air before she even turned the corner into the back of the apartment complex. Across the lawn was spread yard games, friends she knew in conversation with each other, and Michael, smiling at her over the smoke of his black Weber grill. 

Steeling herself, Anne recalled the ease of conversation of their first date. Sitting at the bar, the sounds of jazz floating around them as they sipped drinks. Was she going to let her strong feelings keep her from a great thing? 

Walking up to the grill, she smiled at Michael. “Hi” she said in the most chipper voice she could muster. 

Michael clipped his tongs at her face. “Hey yourself. How’re you doing with all this?” His other hand motioned over the grill ladened with burgers, and brats. “I’m really glad you came.” He moved aside to reveal four mushroom caps sizzling on the top of the smallest rack. 

The blush rose from Anne’s toes up to her cheeks. 

“See, even the worst carnivore in the world is capable of learning something new.” (242 words)

Misplaced (Flash Fiction #1)

(Here follows the first of many flash fiction stories I am writing in response to prompts given to me by friends. Each of these stories are inspired by a prompt of a character, a setting and a problem. The only requirement I’ve given myself is that the story make sense and be less than 250 words. Also, I’m working on craft, so I’m allowing myself to publish less than awesome work in anticipation of better work.)

Prompt: A man at the airport but he’s forgotten something

Ever since Joe say down in seat 25C, he’s had a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach. Since he deplaned, he’s sure of it. He left his glasses somewhere. Joe can’t read two words on a page without the help of his trusty specs. So, he turns back to the gate he just left.

“I need to get back on that plane. I left my glasses on the plane.”

“I’m sorry sir, I can’t let you back on once you’ve deplaned. FAA.”

“But I can’t see without my glasses.”

The counter steward takes a light breath. “Sir. If you can just wait a moment, I’ll call back to the plane. Where were you seated?”

Joe waited, huffing and checking his watch every few seconds.

“I’m sorry sir, No one has seen your glasses. If you’d like to leave a descrip…”

“Never mind. I have to make it t my connection.” Joe turns his roller bag away from the desk and walks off at a brisk pace.

Halfway down the concourse, Joe steps into the restroom, muttering under his breath the entire time. “Someone must have taken them.Who would ever steal glasses?”

He continues his discourse as he washes his hands. When finished, he raises his hands to his head to push back his thinning brown hair, when his hand hits a piece of plastic. Lifting his eyes, he catches the sight of an old man staring at him in the mirror, glasses perched on top of his head. (250 words)

What I want you to know about Autism

(Reprinted from TayloredIntent.com. Originally published on 4.14.22. The words are all mine.)

What do I want you to know about autism? Since I am neuro-typical, I can only give you a mother’s perspective. So, last night, I asked my 15-year-old with autism what they want people to understand about autism. After a moment’s thought, they had two things to tell others.

First, in their typical blunt manner, C said, “Autism is a spectrum, it doesn’t always look like a little 6-year-old boy who can’t control himself.” 

I thought this was a great point. Our autism story isn’t typical. My kid, born in a female body, wasn’t diagnosed until last year, when they were 14. (For the purposes of this post, I’m using gender neutral pronouns and the letter C for their name.)  They’ve struggled with a number of things for years: reading was hard, paying attention in school was a disaster, building and maintaining relationships with “normal” peers was super challenging. The autism diagnosis was a sigh of relief for all of us. Finally, we had a name that encompassed a wide variety of things: social skills that were getting harder to manage in middle school, sensory issues that seemed to becoming more intense, and a hyper-fixation on a growing, rotating range of topics. Autism was not a negative diagnosis for us. It was an answer and in it, I found hope. 

It took years for me to start thinking about autism for my kid. To me, autism looked like one of two things: it was either the young boy whose autism made them unpredictable, a person with special needs, or it was the savant, again a boy, who could tell you everything you needed to know about his particular fascination. In fact, it was C who came to me and said, “Mom, I think I have autism.” In the next breath and typical fashion, “I’ve been doing some research.”

My sweet kid, from the moment they were born, was never typical. They were happy and silly and the third born. They could be laughing one minute and asleep on your lap the next. C was cuddly and tender one moment, but at the next moment, trying some stunt that would make a mom’s heart stutter with nerves. They could listen to me read to them for long hours or play a silly made up game all afternoon, but could never concentrate long enough to finish math problems. 

We got an ADHD diagnosis when C was quite young. (That’s another thing C would want you to know: often Autism is misdiagnosed in females as ADHD because Autism presents differently in girls and practitioners don’t think females have autism.) And in that moment, an ADHD diagnosis was a tool—it gave our family a framework for understanding that our kid’s brain worked differently. We could accommodate their learning and home life to best suit their needs. C is smart, funny, talented, creative, and silly. Their diagnosis forced me, as a mom, to reframe the negative lens through which this is seen. I wasn’t going to let them think their ADHD was an affliction. Instead, ADHD was their superpower—they saw the world differently than I did. It’s just that the world isn’t really made for kids whose brains aren’t like everyone else’s. 

Everything fell apart in Middle School. Well, Middle school and a pandemic and online learning and adolescence. It was the perfect storm of horrible-ness. It has been a rocky couple of years for my kid (and me) as we’ve discovered the autism diagnosis and struggled mightily with mental health. (One more thing C would say, because they think of things at random times unrelated to anything else, is that because autism is diagnosed so late in girls, most girls with autism struggle with depression, anxiety and a sense of “who am I?” and “why can’t I be like everyone else?” An earlier diagnosis could help relieve some of that angst.) 

This is the first time I’ve ever put this story down in words. It feels rather momentous to do so. Yet, when I tell people in my orbit that C has autism, some are surprised, but for most, who know us, it just rolls off their back. “Huh,” they say and move on to something else. Because for them, as well as us, it’s just a way to define the way my kid is, the way they move and think and interact with the world. And someday, this culture will understand what a gift a brain like that is. I am convinced that someday C is going to change the world. 

Oh, and C wants everyone to know something else about autism: “Mom, make sure you say that moms who have kids with autism aren’t superheroes. They’re just moms. Like you.” 

C makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe. They will share their saved memes with me for 30 minutes just to get some parental attention and then later lock themselves in their room and not want to talk to anyone. They challenge the way I think and expand my view of what success looks like in the world and teach me a gazillion things I never thought I would have to know. 

While I wish the world was an easier place for my sweet one, I would never, in a million years, change this part of who they are. 

And that is what I want you to know about autism.