Happy St. Patrick’s Day to Me?

According to Ancestry DNA, I have about 20% of Irish DNA. Granted, it’s part of the 75% European piece of the Elissa pie, but it was enough green to shock me. I don’t know why it came as a shock. Since 1981 U2 has been my favorite band. My favorite part of summer camp werdna piee the counselors from Northern Ireland as a child. My affinity for all things Irish has been with me as long as I can remember. Even the men in my life have tended to be descended from the Emerald Isle, so why the big surprise?

I have always known I was adopted.  There was never a time where I didn’t look around and think “They made this up.” I mean, if you saw my baby pictures, it was kind of obvious. The story always began with “We were so excited when the phone rang announcing your arrival.” Then it would lead into a theory that my birth mother was in the military, that she was too young to take care of me, that she was Mediterranean, and that I was in such a hurry to be born, I was born en route to the hospital in the ambulance. The story always ended with how much my family wanted me. That had to be made clear before we moved on to something else.

As I grew up, I began to notice that there were a few holes in the story. For example, how did we know she was in the military? The hospital where she received her care was a Naval hospital in Chelsea. My birth mother was a patient of a family friend who was her obstetrician. This family friend got in touch with my parents and that is how I was brought to Plymouth.  It was never confirmed that she was in fact- part of the US Navy. That was assumed because you had to be in the Navy in order to be treated at this particular hospital. And why did she need to take an ambulance? Didn’t anyone drive?

When people would ask me my nationality, I would say that I was Mediterranean, because that was the answer for a while. After someone told me I looked French, I would say that I was part French. People would ask me if I was Italian. I didn’t think so. When I was in college I was asked if I was French Canadian. At the time people weren’t crazy about French Canadians so I didn’t want to be associated with that dislike. “Nope, the other kind of French.” I would reply, even though my looks said otherwise.

A few years later I went to Montreal with a friend. One night we were on the Tube, and I saw the reflection of a beautiful girl across from me in the mirrored glass. She had greenish eyes, reddish brown hair, and a medium complexion. I thought she was very pretty and was a little envious. Then my eyes caught my reflection right next to hers and I realized that we looked alike. I had the same complexion, hair color and eye color. Our builds were similar. Until that moment, I had been surrounded by people who did not resemble me whatsoever. I felt ugly until that moment where I realized that I shared this look with everyone around me.

That was a great day.

Earlier that summer, my cousin Larry helped me gain access to my birth certificate and I saw my birth mother’s full name for the first time. Patricia Therese Frappier. There it was. My French identity had been sealed with an accent ague. According to the papers, Patricia was living in Newburyport at the time. I was told later that it was a home for unwed mothers. This tells me that she was most likely from a Catholic family from the area. The blank signature line for the Father’s name also told me that she was alone. She took an ambulance to deliver me at the hospital because chances are she didn’t have anyone who could be with her. Her name was the only one on the certificate. He is a complete unknown. I had an idea of what half of me was, what was the other half made up of?

About 5 years ago, I decided to see what my DNA compilation album is and took the Spit Test that comes in the kit. I sent off my vial and didn’t think anything of it until an email found its way into my inbox with the results. 21% Native American. 20% Irish. Well, certainly explains a lot if you know me at all. Took “born to be an alcoholic” to a whole new level. I didn’t see ANY French Canadian, or a lot of Mediterranean. I did see some Greek, small percentage of Italian, and the token below 1% of African which supports the theory that modern humans began in Africa. Irish? Really? Wow. Native American? Even better.

Unfortunately, I know this is just a representation of what my makeup could be. I won’t really know anything until I hear more of my story. The DNA Pie does solve a few puzzles that I struggled with growing up so that was worth the $99 alone. Seeing a glimpse of who I am in such a unique way was truly breathtaking. The years of obsessing about Ireland makes sense to me now.

St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland, as the legend goes. Snakes represent old ideas and practices that are considered undesirable and mostly likely were the Pagan religions that were competing with Early Christianity. St. Patrick drove away the snakes and darkness, and brought in the light. My snakes are self-doubt, depression, self-loathing, and insecurity. I want to continue this journey to find out more about my origins but I can sense the fear growing when I see possibilities of where I can find the truth. I don’t want fear to keep me from asking a retired OB questions about Patricia, even though he may be bound not to answer them. Either way, the snakes of discontent need to leave this island. They need to be driven out from under the rocks and dark corners. Today, on this St. Patrick’s Day, I am ready to drive them out.

 

 

 

Inviting in Compassion while shutting the door on resentment

When she awoke the next morning after a very restless night, she realized that she still had blood in her hair. Wincing as her arm slowly moved upward to the source of the pain in her head, she was still trying to piece together the events that happened the day before. The strap of her bra dug into her shoulder. She went to adjust it and realized that she still had on her sister’s white bathing suit. They were supposed to go to the beach. “That was how the day started,” she thought, “we were going to go to the beach after we picked a few things up for my bat mitzvah.”

The events began to knit together. We went to Paperama, where Christy and her practically wetting her pants laughing over the silly books we were reading. We stopped for ice cream. Christy had Cherry Vanilla. She had Heavenly Hash. Then the next thing she knew, a woman’s hands were reaching toward her through the glass window and her mother’s head was at an unnatural angle in front of her. She could hear her grandmother crying out. She turned her head to the right and her eyes met Christy’s.

“Are you ok??” Christy shouted, in complete shock and bleeding from the back of her head. She had been wearing her father’s oxford shirt. It was a complete mess now. The ambulance ride consisted of her trying to remember what happened, and what was happening to her mother. Where was her grandmother? And Christy?

She smacked her lips together and reached for the tepid water that was next to her on the stand. It felt good going down her dry throat. Her head hurt so much. She could barely handle the sunlight in the room. Did she still have her period? Oh crap. She paged the nurse to help her get out of bed. Slowly she swung her legs to one side. Stepping down gingerly, she began to make her way to the bathroom. A wave of nausea overtook her as she stepped forward. She saw her when she looked up and out of the door into the hallway. Instant rage trumped the nausea and her eyes narrowed. Her fist clenched around the IV pole and she could feel her palm pressing so hard on the metal it was turning white. She regained her balance immediately and stepped towards the hallway.

“If anything, anything happens to my mom, I will fucking kill you.” She managed to spit out through her clenched teeth. Her voice became louder. “If she dies, I will tear you apart!” She took another step towards the hallway. The nurse quickly pulled her back into the room and sing-songed her into the bathroom. When she opened the door to leave, the girl was no longer visible.

“That bitch better stay the fuck away from me.” She said to no one in particular. She heard the door shut across the hallway. Exhausted from the bathroom trip, she closed her eyes.

True story.

This is actually what happened to myself, my mother, grandmother and my best friend on a beautiful summer day in August. A 16 year old without insurance was drinking with her mom and blew through a stop sign doing 65 mph. She hit us without hitting her brakes. My mother’s neck snapped with the force of the impact and I was knocked unconscious. The impact hit my grandmother’s ribs and broke them. Christy fell on top of me and was ‘lucky’ enough to catch all of the glass.

My mom was almost taken out by a drunk driver. Thank God she wasn’t, but she could have been. I could have been sent to live with my dad, which would have been disastrous since he disappeared over a year later. My sister was in Israel and had no idea this had happened. Today, even talking about it still gives me feelings of anger and I think I may be onto why I get so turned off when people drink with their parents. If I want to be honest, my mother was in fact taken from me that day because the woman she became after that is not the same person. She lost full rotation of her cervical spine, and was in a neck brace for what felt like months. She was afraid when she rode in a car. She couldn’t play golf anymore and struggled with the intense pain her surgery had left her.

Throughout the years I have wondered if I would meet this girl or woman in the halls of AA, if they ever learned from their mistake. A close friend made a similar mistake the other night and is facing some serious consequences. Since Sunday, I have been angry at how thoughtless this person could have been. No one was hurt but still- what the fuck are you thinking when you get behind the wheel after drinking a decent amount? The resentment and disgust stayed with me until this morning.

This morning, I realized that I wanted to invite compassion in because I know that is what this person needs at the moment. The last thing they need is another person telling them what a piece of crap they are. I have been shown compassion by those around me who choose to be in my life in spite of what I did to them while drinking. Wouldn’t I have wanted the same when I was in a similar pickle?

When you love someone, even as a friend, you accept them exactly as how they are. You don’t pass judgment, you pass on love. You don’t try to make them pay for their mistakes, you forgive them so that maybe they can forgive themselves. I care about this person very much and I know that with each minute they are praying that they could go back and make a different choice. We can be harder on ourselves than others are on us.

The girl who hit us in 1985 could have used some compassion too. She was young and probably thought she would never get into such a horrible car accident. I remember how frightened her eyes became when we saw each other. Her muffled sobbing could be heard through the door.

Justified anger is just anger. It doesn’t do anyone any good to hold onto it. As I flowed through postures that were designed to open my heart and chest, I breathed in the intention to welcome in compassion. I have to say that today has been an incredible day and I hope to do it all again tomorrow.

 

Half the Heart Mom I Used to Be

Heart month is coming to an end and I totally slacked off spreading CHD awareness. No pun intended, but my heart wasn’t in it this year for some reason. Maybe it’s the melancholy I have been experiencing since my father’s passing, or just the fact that we have been blessed with a relatively ‘normal’ life in spite of what has been handed to us. Either way, there is no excuse for me not doing my part or maintaining my commitment to congenital heart disease.

A few things have happened this year that were completely unanticipated. In October, my father became sick and the time I thought I had with him was taken away in a flash. This January, I was able to land an incredible contract in healthcare doing what I love, but now I have less time to focus on my prior commitments. This past fall, I finally answered the call that has been inside of me since I first rolled out a yoga mat 15 years ago and started yoga teacher training. November was when Izzie had her fenestration closed but lately we have had a few vomiting spells to keep us on our toes.

You could say that I am a little busy. It’s a good busy, but I am disappointed that I haven’t been on top of things like I wanted to be. Some days my heart feels so heavy. I keep forgetting that it will take time for me to embrace this grief. When the negativity does enter my space, I send it back out to the Universe from my yoga mat. Life is too short to worry about things that are completely out of my control. If anything, life has taught me this over and over again.

I do worry about Izzie’s future. Just because she has had incredible numbers since her cath doesn’t mean that I am able to let go completely. She still has half of a heart, her circulation is still not ideal and she will still need a transplant when her function decreases considerably. God willing that won’t be for a long time. We have been encouraged by the stem cell research that is coming out of the Mayo Clinic and Boston Children’s. Our hope is that will be an option for us when the time comes.

This year I was not the Heart Mom I have been in the past, with lots of facts about congenital heart disease and pics of Izzie recovering from her surgeries. This year, I wanted to focus on what was in front of me – my family and my relationships. I want to help Addie adjust to life with a chronically ill sibling. She needs to feel just as loved as her sister and I know I fall short of that. My attention is always on the youngest- her coloring, her sats, has she drank enough, or is she coming down with something. No wonder Addie feels left out. There isn’t a lot of resources out there for siblings and that is something I hope to change. At least in my house anyway.

Until then, I will keep my focus on what I can manage instead of what I would like to.

 

 

 

The power of having a choice, and the hope that comes with it

I am regretting not attending the Women’s March in Boston this past Saturday. I knew that it would have been crowded, and worried about taking my younger two with me. Ever since I started working through the week, I am back to weekends being the only time I get to spend with them. I would have taken them if I was going. Frankly the idea was very overwhelming but I stayed connected via Facebook.

What a mistake that was.

On Facebook, people were attacking the march saying that it was about sore losers. Other women kept saying “These women do not represent me!” or “Last time I checked, I still had my rights.” It makes me want to vomit even now. Who do you think got us those rights we enjoy today? Who marched so that women could be treated more equally in the workplace? Who carried signs supporting a woman’s right to choose what happens in her body in the early 70’s? How do you think we got here?

Like many others, the phrase “Making America Great Again” made me think that the goal was to make America the way it was during the days before sexual harassment became a “thing.” The comments made by my president about women make my stomach turn. It reminded me of when I was assaulted as a young woman, the response was “Well, were you drinking?” It was my fault that three boys decided it would be fun to have their way with me. I didn’t say “No” loud enough I guess. I guess the tears running down my face meant that I was having a great time. The irony is one of these boys grew up to have a daughter so karma does exist. Sometimes I wonder what he would do if someone did to her what he did to me.

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by strong women- all incredible examples  of strength, poise, and intellect. All worked hard for what they wanted in life. The values I have stem from their determination to make the world a better place for future generations. None took no for an answer.

One of my favorite books growing up was “Free to Be You and Me.” It was a book about female empowerment and what it meant to truly be equal to the opposite gender. I have fond memories of my Mom reading me the dialogue between two babies, one male and one female talking about stereotypes. Another favorite was the story of a girl who instead of freeing herself, passively waits for a man to save her from tigers. The end of the story shows a picture of the tigers wearing her shoes, dress and hat.

The moral of the story? Don’t wait to be saved when you can save yourself.

My mother was one of the few female administrators in a male-dominated office. Dinner time included stories of how she had to approach certain issues with some of the men at work. She fought (and I use this term because to me, it what it was) to gain respect from her colleagues and staff. Not everyone was thrilled with having a woman for their boss. When she retired, she was one of the most respected educators in the area.

My grandmother Adeline Keller was a stay at home mom who built schools in her spare time. She sat on the school committee for over 25 years and pushed for better facilities to house the future generations of Plymouth. She was petite, but her voice made it clear that she was a force to be reckoned with. In the evening after dinner, the apron would come off and she would attend meetings on how the town could improve education. PCIS, South Elementary, Federal Furnace, former Plymouth-Carver High school, and West Elementary were the fruits of her efforts. She owned real estate in Boston, was the bookkeeper in my grandfather’s dental practice, and was a savvy businesswoman in a time when women were not encouraged to learn business.

Helen Levin was another incredible woman I had the honor of being related to. She fought to raise money for the State of Israel and for Hadassah, a women’s organization that helps communities around the world get access to better healthcare. She spent time driving to local businesses in the Garment district in Boston to get donations for her Hadassah thrift shop . She did not take no for an answer. I had the pleasure of talking with a woman who went on an excursion with her and heard how she would not back down. She channeled her ambitions to raise an incredible amount of funds for Israel and the hospital in Jerusalem.

My birth mother was a strong woman in my opinion because she carried me to term and enduring the pregnancy alone. She made the difficult choice of giving me up for adoption. I am so glad she did. That was her choice. When I was in a similar situation I made a different choice. I remember the sinking feeling of knowing what I had to do and being sick about it. That was my choice, and thank God I had one because the other party ended up overdosing years later.

I never felt like I was strong like the women I was related to. I felt frightened about 90% of the time when I was in school. In today’s standards, you might say  I was bullied for being different. My classmates made fun of my clothes, my hair, my face, my size and my religion. Perhaps I was an easy target since I reacted every single time. I tried to be tough but people could see right through me. My need to be accepted was stronger than my need to express myself. That changed the day after I was assaulted. I haven’t quieted down since.

The march that took place on Saturday was about keeping those and many more options open for women. It was about reassuring one another that we have each other’s backs, and to show the world that we can unite regardless of backgrounds. It was a statement that we were not objects for people to do whatever they want with.  To me, it was about progressing and moving forward instead of backwards. It was also very empowering and gave people hope. I know that was the effect seeing all of the posts and pics my daughter was sending gave me. Hope is what nourishes my soul in times where light is absent. Seeing all of those women standing up and saying “No, we will not give up our rights to medical care, equal pay, and social justice” gave me hope 45 miles away.

Tales from the Pre-Op Scavenger Hunt

It’s interesting when what is supposed to be simple, becomes difficult and challenging. The procedure Izzie had recently was described to us as a simple catheterization, where they would close the hole and maybe coil a few collaterals if need be. It was an overnight stay with discharge in the AM. We packed light. We encouraged her that she could do this, that soon everything would be over and she would feel better. Problem is,  four year olds do not care if they feel better, they only care about getting poked by needles and how much that is going to hurt.

I knew it was going to be harder than we initially thought during the Pre-op Scavenger Hunt. We call it a scavenger hunt since we have to go to various places within the hospital before we can sit down and discuss the procedure. Labs were first and to make Izzie a little more comfortable, numbing cream was placed on both arms. The mere act of placing cream onto her skin terrorized her. She shrieked and tried to squirm her way out of our laps. Eventually we were successful, but only because she saw a little boy having the same cream put on his arms and he seemed to be fine with it. Whew! Thank goodness for peer pressure.

The moment of relief quickly dissipated when her dad and I realized that if she was that upset about cream going onto her skin, what would she be like when we would have to hold her down so that her veins could be accessed? My heart began to beat faster and I breathed in deep breaths to calm this growing anxiety that threatened to remove my sanity. I looked at the white board that had our Scavenger hunt written out. Oh my God. Not only did we have to have labs, but an echo? Chest X ray? And and EKG? Holy crap.

I looked at Izzie sitting on her father’s lap with tears still on her face from the cream application. This was going to be a long day. I sighed and sat down next to Chris, both of us sitting in dread. We went down to the outpatient blood lab. We watched the Teletubbies as we waited for our turn in the torture chamber. At a conference about Congenital Heart Disease that we went to I received a coloring book on catheterizations to help explain the process to a child. Unfortunately, there was nothing in it on how to deal with the fears and trauma that a child has from a lifetime of procedures. The book had a page about blood drawing, but I can guarantee you our experience looked nothing like what was in the coloring book.

We had to hold her arms down as the technicians searched for a vein. She screamed and looked at us through tears and disheveled bangs. “Make them STOP! MOMMY, DADDY! MAKE THEM STOP!” As soon as they got what they needed, I picked her up and began soothing her. I rubbed her back and she melted into my shoulder, her little hand looking for my ear to play with. We held her for a bit while we headed back to the Pre Op Home Base. The EKG wasn’t much better. Neither was the echo. Telling her that you are just putting stickers onto her doesn’t make the fear go away. She doesn’t want the stickers. She wants you to take those stickers and shove them up your ass.

Our last stop was a room in cardiology. We had seen Izzie’s cardiologist after the echo and were confident that we were ready for the next steps. We knew that she was going to have a cath, but we weren’t sure what the closure entailed. The attending drew a diagram that Einstein would have struggled with deciphering and then explained how they were going to close the hole.  He was trying to engage Izzie but she wasn’t having it. She wanted to go home. She was done.

We signed the papers, shook hands and said ‘See you tomorrow morning!”

This was all stuff for Pre-Op. This wasn’t the real deal yet, and already I was having palpitations thinking about how scared she was going to be the next day. Nothing I said or did comforted her and I think that was what was scaring me the most. The fact that I wouldn’t be able to pull her out of it. I had to be there and allow her to feel what she was feeling, no matter how much it hurt us to.

I will be writing about the procedure in a different post because this entire experience was so overwhelming for us I don’t want to do the same to my readers. Today she is enjoying watching her iPad, having tea parties and having Cinnamon Toast Crunch. We are hanging in there and she looks amazing. Her numbers have stayed in the high 90’s and we feel so blessed.

 

And then there were two…

For years, my father, sister and I would spend weekends, school vacations and a few evenings a month together. We lived with our mom in Plymouth and he lived in Braintree. The car rides seemed to be so long back then, with little to entertain small children. They became even longer when he moved to Stoughton. Today, those car rides feel like seconds in my memory.

My father and I had an interesting relationship. He never lived with me so we didn’t have the same opportunity to bond like he did with my older sister. Instead, we had a kind of friendship that had a level of respect that was different from most typical father-daughter relationships. Our relationship also evolved over the years as circumstances around us changed. It was unique, and special because it was perfect for us. Don’t get me wrong- I would have liked a closer relationship but looking back I realize that it was the way it was supposed to be.

My father was a compulsive man who needed immediate gratification. He made a lot of decisions based upon impulse and those decisions caused a lot of pain for me. He was a huge reason why I drank and when I sobered up I was able to deal with that pain. Sobriety helped me see it with clear eyes and an open heart. I saw him as a human being who loved me in spite of the self-made obstacles. We became close, then not so close. Ebbing and flowing like the tides he loved to watch.

Today, we are preparing for his funeral. The dark, rainy weather is perfect for picking out caskets. Later the rabbi will be meeting with us to discuss our father, and we will be getting ready to say our final goodbyes. As the hours pass my thoughts will be sorted into our life before 1987, and after. I think it is important for people to know what an incredible dad he was to us, how much fun and joy he brought to me personally. Our relationship wasn’t always difficult. It was extremely rewarding and I plan on reflecting that in my thoughts.

I want to take this moment to thank everyone who has sent me condolences and thoughts. I can’t answer them all right now, but each one has lifted my heart during this impossibly heavy time.

 

When Running for Faith gave me a run filled with hope.

“Guess what we are doing Sunday?” I texted to Melissa on Wednesday afternoon. “What are we doing?” came the reply. “We’re doing a race!” I messaged back, and then waited for the response. As usual, the response was “Ok.” Fantastic! I had wanted to do this race a few years back and since this was the last year it was being held I did not want to miss it. It would give me a chance to exercise, for us to do something fun, and would keep me from thinking about my girls who are having a blast in Orlando without me.

Running through Chiltonville is amazing, and a little dangerous. There are crazy turkeys who hide in the brush in between houses just waiting for you to run by so they can rush out and literally scare the crap out of you. The sidewalks are warped with the gnarled tree roots, anxiously awaiting to break your ankle. Sometimes it’s almost like they are laying dormant until your shoelace is caught on a random branch that technically shouldn’t be there but is because the tree root is 6 inches out of the ground. Don’t even get me started on the fact that there are NO sidewalks on some of the roads and there aren’t much of a shoulder so if you are running and a car comes from either direction, you better hope there isn’t poison ivy in the foliage you just jumped into.

So why try to run in that area at all? Who on earth would have a road race there? Someone who knows and loves Plymouth. Someone who knows that sometimes good runs are about the views, and not just an easy terrain. Beautiful untouched fields and meadows, brooks, and farm land just minutes away from the ocean. It’s like a piece of Vermont was placed next the beach. Gorgeous.

Of course, it was also one of the hottest days we have had in a while. I’m fine with the heat, but Mel is like Chris- they hate the heat. Both of them come back to life when sat in front of an air conditioner. We still had a great time walking through the trails and by the small brooks behind the houses. People were really friendly and I saw a few friends whom I haven’t seen in a while. It was a great time but something extraordinary happened that I completely did not expect.

Melissa wanted to be more like herself for this race. We went to Kohl’s and found a sports bra that would fit her. As we went through the day preparing for the race, I became anxious thinking about how Mel would do around a lot of people dressed as herself. I felt lightheaded. She asked me what was wrong and I asked “Are you going to be ok with this or are you going to start to freak out and feel like everyone is staring at us?” She looked at me directly in the eyes and said “I will be fine.” I did not share that confidence at all. I mean, we were shopping in the grocery store and she had an anxiety attack while wearing a pink shirt that anyone could have been wearing. This time, she will be wearing an actual sports bra. What if she freaks out and we have to leave?

Melissa assured me that she wouldn’t. I tried to relax but it made me nervous all night. The next morning we got ready and began putting our gear on. I was washing my face when she was getting into the sports bra. I was disappointed that I missed the event – a feat that is very hard to do in the summertime and I really wanted to see the spectacle but she managed to get it on without dislocating a shoulder. She put the yellow tank on over the bra and I could barely see it. I breathed a sigh of relief. We were good, we were okay, and we would blend in. We get in the car,  made our way to Plimoth Plantation and towards where the starting line was.

Here’s where the miracle happens…we get to the race, park the car and debate when to head over to where the runners are supposed to be. People are starting to come in and I am enjoying the growing excitement that seems to spread from one runner to the next. We walk with a few people towards the registration area and I turn to say something to Melissa. I realize that her purple straps are starting to show and I look around. No one was paying any attention. People walked by and said hello. No one yelled out “Are you wearing a bra, dude?” No one cared. All they cared about was getting through this heat, and having a great time doing something they loved.

You see, the running community could have cared less that a transwoman was in the race. They were happy there was another person there. It didn’t matter if that person was 6 feet tall, with a ponytail, who needed a shave and had a purple sports bra on. They were happy to share the road with us. No one said a word. Then it hit me. When you are a participant in a race or part of the running community, we are all on the same road. We each want the other to enjoy what we love so much , it doesn’t matter what you look like or whether you are a speed demon or not.  This aspect of the running community has always been attractive to me, and on Sunday, it shined. It inspired me to not give up on my running, or on us being out. It showed me that there are people in this town who are truly good people and aren’t I fortunate to be part of that.