Yesterday, I was walking the dog. She was having a glorious romp…chasing squirrels, sniffing something in every yard, happily encountering canine friends…. I thought, “This is the highlight of her day!” and she has it to look forward to every day.
Suddenly the thought occurred to me, “What’s the highlight of MY day?”
I was challenged to think of anything I have planned for every day that I would consider a highlight… something I do each day that brings me great joy. Yes, there are highlights monthly, even weekly, but don’t we deserve joy each day?
Then I wondered whether I couldn’t come up with a daily highlight because I don’t have a sweet spot planned into every day, or because I don’t appreciate the sweet spots that are there. Sometimes we get so busy, it feels as if we’re running from task to task. That makes it easy to overlook the special moments in each day. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.
So if I were to ask you — as I did one of my colleagues — what the highlight is of YOUR day, would you have a good answer? Rashida’s was that she looks forward to cuddling with her one-year-old at his bedtime, and shortly before hers. Great answer! And it happens every day, at least right now. When he’s three or five, she’ll probably need to find a new highlight, because preschoolers seldom hold still for cuddle periods.
That’s the thing about those sweet spots… as life moves on, we have to look for new ones.
So I’ve decided to add twenty minutes of dance or reading into each day, and relish those precious moments of “me” time. I also started savoring those precious moments when my husband and I hold hands right before we fall asleep. I’ll be looking for more daily moments I’ve taken for granted to add to my cache of daily highlights.
Seventeen years ago this week, I lay awake in a hotel halfway around the world, staring at the ceiling long into the night. I wondered, with anxiety, how I was going to rearrange my life to become a good mother to the adoptive twin daughters I would be entrusted with the next morning. My husband was not plagued with such worries. He slept, snoring softly, in the twin bed across the way (in China at that time, twin beds were the norm).
I wanted to become a mother. That was not the issue. I had waited through not wanting children to desiring them deeply, but being with the wrong man. I had waited through breaking up with that man, dating, and finding the right one who wanted me, marriage, and children. I had waited through trying to conceive, fertility treatments and being told my eggs were “too old.” I had waited through 20 months of paperwork, expecting word “any day,” further delays, then receiving the joyful news of twins. The two-month wait to travel had finally elapsed, and here I was in China, filled with trepidation about my new role as mother.
I was a mature woman with a solid career as an executive at a trade association, a robust group of mostly-single friends, and a well-rounded list of hobbies. I feared I was too independent, too set in my ways, too self-focused and too career-oriented to become a good mother.
Somehow, I stepped up to the role of being the mother I’d hoped to be, and even excelled at it, most of the time. That is really the best we can hope for, since the role of parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual.
This week, seventeen years later, I found myself staring at another ceiling in a hotel in Arizona. This time, my husband snored softly at my side, and my twin daughters slept peacefully in a queen size bed across the room. We’d planned this vacation to Sedona, recognizing it might be the last as a family, at least for a while, as they set off on their own for college, internships, boyfriends and first jobs.
Again, I find myself wondering how I will rearrange my life to accommodate my daughters not being a significant presence in each day. While I never gave up who I was during the past 17 years, my career and hobbies ebbed and flowed around parenting, and into a life that better accommodated motherhood.
Like the wind and water that slowly carved and shaped the beauty of the red rock landscape that is Sedona, motherhood has worn away rough corners, unearthed vulnerabilities, and revealed an inner wellspring of emotion unknown in me before.
This week, Donald Trump signed orders that attempt to close the doors on immigration, to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to bar green card holders from returning to the U.S., to bar immigrants for seven predominantly-Muslim countries, and one meant to punish sanctuary cities. He is also threatening a Muslim registry. How many other actions will he try to put into place before he makes the U.S., not one of the more respected countries in the world, but one of the most reviled?
Most of us who live in the U.S., unless we are 100% Native American, are of immigrant stock. On my father’s side, I can trace my heritage back to the Mayflower. On my mother’s side, my great grandmother came from Germany. Her daughter married my grandfather, an English immigrant. Through Ellis Island records I was able to discover that he came to the U.S. in 1906 from England aboard the S.S. Coronia, with my uncle Ernie, then 5. Four months later, his wife came aboard the S.S. Umbria with my uncle Les, age 11 months. My grandfather married my grandmother after his first wife’s death. I never learned what brought him here, but I’m sure it was not the ravages of war taking place across the world today that drive many to seek asylum in the U.S.
I am happy to say that I and my family live in what is considered a sanctuary city. Our city welcomes refugees from other nations, recognizing the value they contribute in terms of economics, cultural awareness and diversity, the Arts and more. I believe it is a win-win for this community.
I thank my daughters, immigrants in their own rights who came here as adoptees at 9 months of age, for giving me the opportunity to meet some of these refugees first-hand. As volunteers through invitation by their French teacher, they began tutoring refugees to assist them in improving their English and building math skills in order for them to go to college. One evening, additional tutors were needed, so I jumped in and began working with an ambitious young man, known to his friends as Dino. Dino is probably in his early 30’s, he stands about 5’8″ and he has sparkling brown eyes, an infectious smile and a very funny sense of humor. He is married, with four children. He works all day in construction, then goes each night, Monday through Friday, to the refugee center for two hours of tutoring so that he can start studies at Monroe Community College in the Fall. The online study program serves up a menu of some very challenging questions for someone whose native language is not English. When he correctly answers one of those difficult questions, we celebrate with a fist-bump or a high five.
Dino spent eight years in a refugee camp before he and his family were selected to come here. He doesn’t like working outside in the cold weather, but he doesn’t complain. He is happy to be earning money to support his family. This past week, he excitedly shared that next month, he will celebrate his first year anniversary of being in the U.S. His goal is to become a social worker, as he was in his own country and in the refugee camp, so that he can help others. I am impressed at how well he already speaks English, after less than a year here. I tell him he’ll be a great social worker because he’s so wonderful with people. His already-radiant smile somehow brightens.
I look across the room on Monday evening. Each computer is occupied by an adult or student tutor alongside one or more refugees working hard to acquire the necessary skills for success here in the U.S. In each of them, I see the hope, perseverance and determination it must have taken our own ancestors who sought to come here, with few resources, a different way of life and possibly, limited English language skills.
I wish every person had this first-hand opportunity to work with these wonderful, warmhearted, ambitious people and experience, to some degree, what it must have been like for their ancestors to come here as refugees. Get to know these people, and it is easy to understand that the way to stem the tide on terrorism is not to close the doors and push people away, but to welcome them and help them become loyal, appreciated citizens and contributing members of society…like each of our ancestors.
Although the particular program my family is involved in focuses on tutoring adults, there are ample opportunities to assist through working with children, “adopting” families, donating clothing, furniture, appliances, money or time, and myriad other ways. If you want to get involved, search on “refugee services” and the name of your city.
I take up “the pen” today because it’s the only way I know to wrestle with disquieting feelings I’ve had recently.
As a marketing person, I post to many social media sites – both my own and to those for which I work. One Thursday, about two weeks ago, I had a most unsettling experience.
Through one of the non-profit facebook sites I run, I received a message where the writer asked whether the organization I posted for is truly community-oriented, or “a liberal propaganda house.” He pointed out that there are conservatives and libertarians in the community.
We had a relatively positive message exchange, where I indicated the organization welcomes everyone, and that, as a public access television station, we broadcast everything submitted, except media that advocates violence.
The individual pointed out that recent posts were “Left of Center.”
I thanked him for pointing this out, and stated that our purpose was not to alienate anyone.
Now I will say that the leanings of most of the people who work at this organization ARE, in fact, “left of center.” As one of the more diverse organizations in the city of Rochester, attracting people of all ages, socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, political leanings and religions, that is the mindset of those who tend to apply for jobs and work there. It also tends to be the mindset of many of the independent producers whose work is shown on the channel. So, the individual writing is probably accurate in his assessment that the posts I have made have a tendency to be somewhat liberal. Following his comment, I actually thought about the fact that we should, perhaps, reevaluate our social media strategy to make it “more balanced.”
Then, in thinking about this exchange, I was curious what had prompted his note. I clicked on the story I’d posted. That is when I became unsettled.
It was a story and photo, originally posted by Malia Obama, about Anja Ringgren Loven, a Danish woman doing social working in Nigeria. The first photo showed her feeding an abandoned and severely malnourished two-year-old Nigerian child. In the second photo, it shows the same young woman holding the child at some later point in time. She has now adopted the child, who she named Hope. He is the picture of health and clearly shines with the love he feels.
When I originally shared this post, I considered it a purely inspirational story…the story of one human coming to the aid of another.
As someone who has adopted children internationally, I know that there are some who would say this child has been robbed of his heritage. To those critics, I would say, “Better robbed of his heritage than robbed of his life,” which is likely what would have happened. Every child should have the chance for love, no matter what.
But to discover that this post could, in any way, be construed as a political message totally flabbergasted me.
I am distressed and disgusted that this election cycle has catalyzed a toxic environment that has become so divisive and so polarizing that politics trump humanity and a story such as this can be construed as anything other than inspirational.
What have we, as a nation, come to when we cannot simply rejoice in the rescue of A Child Named Hope?
Disclaimer: This is the opinion of Carol White Llewellyn and should not be construed as representing the opinions of anyone within any of the organizations with which she works.
As I sat there waiting for the doctor to take me back to the recovery room to be with my daughter, I reflected on parenthood and the unexpected emotions and realities it brings.
When I was without children, time seemed to pass more slowly… I had fewer physical and temporal reminders of time’s passage. Yes, there were holidays, but there were no quarterly report cards or picture days, there were no outgrown shoes and clothing to replace or regularly-scheduled dental appointments, band concerts or intramural practices to attend. Time did not swirl with the same crazy intensity.
When I was without children, I was invincible, or at least could pretend to be so. My daughters are my Achilles heel…their physical or emotional suffering pains me far more deeply than my own.
I am also at my strongest. I swallow fears and tears to give my children strength. I become part lioness, part super hero, to keep their world safe and happy.
As a parent, I push to become my best self…trying to love, protect, encourage and inspire them…trying to be someone they want to look up to and emulate.
Such is the role of parents since the dawn of time. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Originally posted on Carol White Llewellyn’s Family, by Choice on June 30, 2011.
It’s Thanksgiving week and almost the end of November, National Adoption Month, so I wanted to share a very personal post. In truth, it has only a little to do with adoption, but much to do with giving thanks for family.
I have only very recently reconnected with family members… cousins on both sides of the family and an uncle who were “lost” due to factors, some within, and others totally beyond my control.
Over the years, in spite of the fact that we were out of touch, I thought of them often. But it was only in reconnecting that I truly realized how much I missed them and how our shared history and memories enriched my life. I regret those “missing years.”
Yesterday, I was thrilled to get back in touch with two “long-lost” cousins while visiting their father, my uncle, who is terminally ill. My cousin Joan remarked, “so what have you been up to the last 30 years?”
Thirty years? How could it have been that long? How could we, who were once almost as close as sisters, have let life get so in the way of staying in touch? Fortunately, we fell into easy conversation, in spite of the sad reason for our reunion, and we were able to pick up where we left off. I’m certain we’ll all stay in touch now, certainly via email or facebook… in spite of living more than half the country away from each other.
As I think about Family, I realize it’s a funny thing. Family is like a box of chocolate. Sometimes you love them to pieces. Other times, a little goes a long way. But even the ones that are a little nuts sweeten your life.
So this week on Thursday, I will be giving thanks for family. I will give thanks for my wonderful husband and two amazing daughters who wouldn’t be family without the institutions of marriage and adoption. I give thanks for friends who are like family and family who are friends. And I will give thanks for finding lost treasures.
What will you give thanks for?
This post was originally published on November 21, 2011 on my former blog, Family, by Choice.
Eleven years ago next Monday, we became a family. We celebrate the birth of our family, much in the way others celebrate birthdays , and we call it “Family Day.” Generally, we choose something special to do together on this day. When we lived in New York, we often went to Rye Playland. Here in Rochester, we’ve gone to the National Museum of Play, Seabreeze and the Seneca Park Zoo. Last year, we spent the day running between rain drops to collect sea shells with our friends Annette and Ted, on the beach in Naples, Florida. That’s a Family Day we’ll all always treasure.
To commemorate the day, I thought I’d take you with me to the night before my twin daughters came into our family. Amazing that it feels like only yesterday.
We had arrived in Guangzhou, China and were staying in the beautiful White Swan Hotel, a very different experience from the hotel we were at in Beijing where faulty air conditioning didn’t insulate us against the 100° temperatures outside and left a huge spreading puddle on the rug that we stepped in each time we entered or left the room.
At the five star White Swan Hotel, there was a young woman stationed at the elevator to guide you to your room each time you stepped off the elevator. A stream accented by a waterfall flowed through the middle of the hotel lobby, exotic birds serenaded you from cages in the upstairs lounge, and the breakfast buffet was fit for Kublai Khan.
We had arrived from Beijing that day, still a bit jet lagged and we’d done a bit of sightseeing, so I should have been tired. Instead of tumbling asleep to dream of Adoption Day taking place the next morning, I lay awake worrying far into the night, long after my husband snored softly from the adjacent twin bed (yes, even in a five star hotel, twin beds were the norm).
Was I worrying about the health of my daughters or about how long it would take them to bond with us? Or worrying about the leap of faith we’d taken, adopting twins that had probably been premature? Was I worrying that they’d only heard Chinese for the first nine months of their lives or that we would look so different, we’d seem like aliens to them?
No…I worried that I wouldn’t be a good enough mother.
I worried that I was too selfish, too set in my ways…that I’d be reluctant to give up the many things I’d enjoyed doing as a single woman and then as a couple – the dancing and travel, the shopping, movies and plays, friends and adventures. I lay there, silent tears streaming as I envisioned the “me” I knew slipping away, drowning in diapers and bottles, nursery rhymes and strained peas, nursery school and PTA. I worried that my career would suffer and that I’d be seen as less capable. I worried that I, as I knew myself, would disappear… dissolving into my new identity as “mother of twins.”
At last my fears were absorbed into the night, I fell asleep and the gritty-eyed dawn arrived. Our group of four families boarded a bus and headed happily off to a governmental building to meet our long-awaited children.
And in that one day, all of my fears came true, at the same time as they never materialized at all.
How do I explain it?
For a time, I did become engulfed in feedings, ear aches, diaper changes, nursery rhymes and alphabets. But the odd thing is, they enriched rather than eroded who I was…who I’ve become. Did my career change? Yes, but not because of my daughters, but by economic circumstances and choices I’ve made, both good and bad. Yes, there were times when I’ve wished I could put my husband and daughters in bell jars set high on shelves where they’d be safe and time wouldn’t pass so that I could go off and be “my old self.” There are still days when I think that if I have to do one more load of laundry, prepare one more meal, make one more grocery shopping trip, I’ll turn in my badge.
I’ve since discovered that’s what “girlfriend getaways” are for…a chance to renew and reinvigorate. The most important thing I’ve realized is you don’t have to love every part of the job to be a good parent. And you don’t have to let go of who you are…. The parts of yourself you treasure most can be shared with your child, enriching and blossoming in both of your lives.
This was originally posted on a former blog Family, by Choice on August 1, 2011.