Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Word About The A-Game of Adoption.

A little more than ten years ago, the beauty of adoption became very personal to me.

My cousin and his wife, who are much more like siblings to me and my sister, had suffered multiple miscarriages. After much prayer and preparation, they visited a desolate Russian orphanage. During that visit, they met not just one, but two of their sons.

Beautifully, one of my closest friends who was a true sounding board and prayer warrior during my cousins' adoption process got the call 10 years to the day from my cousins' visit to Russia that the baby she and her husband were adopting was being born. (Without thinking every little thing is "a sign," I just refuse to believe that some things are coincidence.) :-)

Within the last few years, several other dear friends and family members' lives have been enriched through adoption, and I'm so thankful it's such a growing and accepted means of family expansion. Many companies -- including the military -- allow for maternity and paternity leave for adoption as well as natural births.

I'm truly grateful not to have experienced what must be unbearable pangs of wanting to have a child, but not being able to. (Yet. Even at 35 9/10, I am certain those wants could still come for this late bloomer -- if not because nature intends it, because my grandmother is willing it day and night from her home in Mississippi.)

Even though I don't have personal experience with those longings, I can only imagine how hard being physically restricted must feel for those who wish to grow their family. I do know from talking with friends who have dealt with these issues, subsequent treatments, and miscarriages, that the resulting hurtfulness is much deeper than anything I could imagine.

For all of these reasons, I love the concept and act of adoption even more. No, an adoptive mother does not experience months of gestational growth, and I can imagine that must be very difficult for those with a desire to fulfill that purpose. But if physical barriers prevent natural childbirth from occurring, I believe adoption is a wonderful, miraculous option that should not be overlooked.

That side of my family had never had an adopted member before my cousins' boys joined us, but we all agree without hesitation that our days, heartbeats, gatherings and stories have been forever changed by those two precious lives, their biological parents' willingness to do what was needed for their situations, and by my cousins' openness to grow their immediate family beyond their physical means at that time.

There are obviously extensive reading materials and research on this topic that I wouldn't pretend to be qualified to match (including by that cousin himself), but for what it's worth, here's my two cents on the subject: Through adoption, I've seen so many barren couples' tears not dry up overnight, but eventually be soothed by this beautiful means of welcoming lives -- who are in need of loving arms -- into their worlds.

With each friend's process, my heart smiles a little wider for this beautiful A-Game that appears to be more and more commonly accepted.

You go, girls. (And guys.) Open those minds and hearts and homes. Share that love.

It's a beautiful thing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Growing pains.

One of the most impactful teachers I had in school was not very encouraging. I probably didn't hear "good job" or "way to go" too often from Coach O'Neal.

(Before you ask, yes, I was and still am a total dork. Even so, I'm pretty sure this teacher's behavior toward me wasn't just because I was smack in the middle of my awkward phase, which I would, for the record, gradually meander away from around the tender age of 22.)

No, if memory serves correctly, I think it's safe to say none of us at d'Iberville High -- the graceful, angsty, athletic, pretty, troublemakers, awkward, pimply, mischievous, gorgeous, shy, overeager, troublesome or ambivalent -- walked out of that classroom at the end of A Hall with the warm and fuzzies on a regular basis.

Yet, it seems the majority of us ended the semester, year, high school career, and sometimes even the week under Coach O'Neal's tutelage with a great sense of satisfaction of having tackled something much more complex than the when-will-I-EVER-use-this-in-the-real-world Algebra III equations we inevitably, somehow, miraculously overcame.

In Coach O'Neal's class, we tackled an environment where it didn't matter who "ya mama an' 'em" was. It didn't matter if you wore snazzy Girbaud jeans (my cool friends) or highlighter pink smiley face t-shirts (dorky me). It didn't matter if you had beautiful silky smooth hair or had never heard of hair product but desperately needed to (must you ask?).

What did matter in Coach O'Neal's class -- at least what I recall of it -- was the task at hand. If you were in Trig, Trig mattered. Same for all the Algebras and other advanced math classes.

This isn't to say the other excellent teachers we rave about didn't focus on the same things; they totally did. But Coach O'Neal did it in a much different way, and we all knew it.

Coach O'Neal's focus was sans the warm and fuzzies, and when you got him for your math classes, you were well aware that your work was cut out for you.

DHS didn't have only one math teacher, so I wasn't required to ever walk into this man's classroom. Given that, you can imagine my parents' surprise when I requested him for Algebra I just a year or two after he'd wrongfully accused my very sweet sister of cheating on a test. (Those of you who know my sister KNOW. I won't expound too much.) So to make a very long story a little less long, after The Accusation, my kind parents met with him leading to no results, my sister powered through, took the 0 on the test,  and worked like a dog to pull her grade up.

Because of all this, my parents were understandably mortified not long after when their questionably minded younger child chose this man for not just that one inaugural class, but eventually all four years of really unnecessary advanced math classes during high school.

And looking at this in black text on the white screen, I gotta wonder, why in the world would I do that to myself? Or them? Or Kim, for the love of Pete?

But, feeling the emotions that have come from the reason I've typed these words tonight, of course I know why.

I chose to take elective math classes that I didn't need not to raise advanced or bonus or whatever the geek word for Overachiever's GPA was in the 90s, but to prove something to Coach O'Neal...or so I thought at the time. I thought I was showing him that our family was ethical, and not scared of him.

And maybe, just a little bit, in some ways, I was.

But maybe also, I kind of liked tackling his snuff-dipping, deck shoe-wearing, unconventional, non-back-patting teaching style. Because getting those As and Bs on tests and in classes and subjects I really hated and didn't excel at and had to work for felt much better than any end-of-year academic award in areas that came much more naturally to me.

See, when I was growing up, in and out of the classroom, I received encouragement and warmth and receptiveness from almost everyone. I mean, I was no one's little princess by any means, but I was good for the most part. I did my work and did it well. I only smarted off  out loud sometimes; I didn't push the line too much, and when I did, I apologized.

So getting a straightforward, no-nonsense hour of sarcasm laced with, "If you can do this, show me you can do this" each weekday might've been good for my shiny (hello, T-zone!), happy self. I think I might've even grown to like it a little bit.

And one thing's for sure: there's nothing like a good balance of warmth and reality from high school teachers to prepare you for college professors, the work world, "grown-up" relationships and "adult friends" that come with enough drama to make Ryan Seacrest feel like it's his birthday. In fact, I think can see Coach O'Neal rolling his eyes now!

Only....I can't. And I haven't for many years.

Which is why I'm thinking of him tonight, and why I'm working through this whole Dewey Decimal system of memories, blog-style, like I do when I need to sort out this type of thing.

I learned today that this impactful, sloppy-on-the-outside, studious-on-the-inside instructor o' mine has been dying of metastatic colon cancer, and that Hospice has been called in.

From what I've heard through former classmates, he's donating his body to scientific study, and his family and friends will hold a memorial service on the beach. All this is very fitting for the unconventional, shaggy haired teacher who non-verbally challenged my word-loving self to take advanced math classes and my sweet sister to stay in his class and pull up her undeserved failing grade.

In Coach O'Neal's classes, we at DHS learned to power through more than the successive Algebras and Trigonometries.

In Coach O'Neal's class, I think we all learned how to power through growing pains, which for some of us included an unfortunately late discovery of hair products, and for others might've been the buzzkill of peaking at a very young age.

Today, with the news of his declining health, many of Coach O'Neal's students are powering through other growing pains.

We're all adults now, for better or for worse.

Some of us have procreated.

Some are in our ultimate careers.

Others are still discovering that path.

We all can drive and are probably doing this every day, which might make Coach O'Neal shudder if he were to use energy to think about those very special days in the student parking lot.

Far removed from the sacred halls of DHS, we still might not get warm and fuzzies from each of life's "teachers," but we've probably learned how to scope out the ones who will instruct us well, and which ones we should return to for repeat lessons.

Whether or not we resolved the growing pains of if and only if, other complexities of higher-level math, or Coach O'Neal's sarcasm, we're basically all dealing with the same word problems as our peers now, just as we were back in 5th period.

My sister has been teaching since the late 90s, and is stronger in that environment in every way than I could be for one hour. In the past month, I have volunteered for work projects that were out of my realm, but they needed to be done, so I stepped in.

But no matter what we've grown to do and be, I'm confident that all of Coach O'Neal's students have our own stories to tell and be told, and our own challenges, word problems and solutions waiting to be worked out.

And you know what? We're Warriors. We got this.

So here's to you, your ever sockless feet, and those deck shoes, Coach O'Neal. You won't be forgotten. Thanks for all the lessons.

Sail on.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

No apologies.

Some conversations and reflection this evening has reminded me of a few things I'll never apologize for loving and including on my "must haves."

This list, as Coach O'Neal of d'Iberville High would say, includes iff (if but not if only) the items in Jo Dee Messina's song of old, "I'm All Right:"

Well, I miss 'em, but I'm doin' all right.

No apologies for that. Not on my part. Or on anyone's part, I hope! :-)

Monday, September 3, 2012

5 Things I'm Thankful For (Post-Isaac).

A visit from Mother Nature's roughest and toughest can remind you that it doesn't hurt to be grateful for the little every second you have them. :-)

So on this post-Hurricane Isaac holiday and long weekend o' recovery (God BLESS America!), here are five things I'm grateful for:

  1. Electricity. No need to expound.
  2. Community. While it's painful (and slightly guilt-inducing) to know many are still without power or have damage to their homes and property, it is a wonderful relief to see communities band together to provide service in ways we sometimes forget exist. Since the last storm, that is. Churches sending non-perishables to those who can only get to their still flooded homes by boat. Non-profit workers buying tables full of service workers' meals at the only restaurant open in a washed out town. And the list goes on. Blessed are we.
  3. Communication. I've lived through scarier, higher-category storms without knowing how my friends and relatives in Mississippi were faring, or if they were faring, but thankfully, our family had open communication lines during this storm. Phones worked, my parents' electricity stayed on, my uncle was able to get my grandmother to Tennessee before the storm reached the Gulf Coast -- my relief couldn't have been more palpable.
  4. The work of my hands. To put it kindly, I'm an anxious person. So during anxious times, I've learned that keeping busy is more or less a survival mode for me. For that reason, I can't help but wonder if God led me to work in public relations so I could have meaningful work to do during and after these events. My nail chewing and hair twirling about the overall situation still occur, but at least I have a task. And it actually helps people. This is good, and I'm thankful for it -- moreso with each storm. Because apparently, unlike some, I'm not "mellowing with age." ;-)
  5. Days of rest. See #1.

While I'm enjoying my power being back on and trying not to hem and haw about how to get the yard cleaned up with a bum foot, I realize these are selfish, subjective feelings, and my heart breaks for those who are dealing with everything that comes with natural disaster.

My prayers go out to all dealing with the aftermath of this storm, as well as those who are still trying to overcome and learn to deal with the physical, mental and emotional toll that Hurricane Katrina put the Gulf states through seven years ago.