Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ode to a Red Warm-Up Suit

When I was a child of eleven or twelve, I decided to buy a warm-up suit. Back in those days, warm-up clothes, sweat suits if you will, were highly specific items of clothing. No one owned multiple pairs of sweat pants or piles of fashionable "hoodies". Athletic clothing was mostly confined to athletic activities, and non athletic people like myself, just did not own such a thing, much less wear it out in public. I would have just as soon turned up at school in my nightgown. For gym class, you rounded up a pair of shorts from the previous summer, with a T-shirt nobody cared about, and these were your "gym clothes".

May I say, right off the bat, that I hated gym? I would wake up on "gym days" with dread in my gut. There were several layers to my dread. First, I hated to exert myself. Not in general, but for the forty minutes between science and history. It interrupted the flow of my day, and made me feel all distracted and disjointed. Plus I hated to go back to class all sweaty, but in elementary school, no one had the option to take a shower. I think there was a shower, but I never saw it used, ever. And then also, I hated most gym class activities. I wasn't terribly good at them, and people got so worked up and even mean about them. And it was cold. I grew up in New England, where our school buildings were drafty and cold. Every day I bundled up in corduroy, turtlenecks, and woolen sweaters and tights. Undressing for gym was torture. I would put on those shorts, and stand in the drafty gym, clutching my arms around my middle, my legs purple and goose pimpled. The gym teacher would cheerfully exhort us that if we would "get moving" we would warm up, and it was true. But there was no middle ground. One moment I would be shivering convulsively, the next minute my hair would be plastered to my forehead with sweat. Even worse were spring and fall days, when the cheerful gym teacher would desire to "get us out into the fresh air". Those were fifty degree days, out in the stingy sunlight, running across soggy fields. The brisk breeze cut through the worn T-shirt like a knife and numbed the bare limbs, and no amount of "moving" warmed one up.

And then the most brilliant idea came to me. I was reading the Sears Wishbook, and my eyes fell upon the picture of a happy, athletic girl wearing a warm-up suit. It really was a marvel that my mind even registered the picture, since I usually skipped past the athletic section of the book, but somehow fate was with me. I stopped to consider the knit jacket that zipped up the front, and the straight knit pants with elastic waistband. I pondered the color options of navy and red, and the triple white stripes down sleeve and pant leg. Like a message from heaven itself, the dress code for gym class flashed before me, and I realized that warm up suits could be worn in place of shorts and T-shirts. I became a woman on a mission. I would buy a warm-up suit.

I told everyone about my plan. I quickly checked my resources. I probably had a dollar or two in change. But Christmas was coming, and I knew I would receive cash gifts. I could probably rely on a few dollars to come directly into my hands, but the key was the check from Grandma. Grandma would send a check to my mother, and my mother would decided what to buy with it. I knew I must persuade my mother to order the suit, or all would be lost for another school year. For weeks, perhaps months, I mounted my persuasive campaign. For weeks, perhaps months, my mother tried to dissuade me. She could not see the sense in spending all my Christmas money on such a specific item of clothing, when there were so many other things I might need or enjoy.

In the end, I stuck to my plan, and either I persuaded or annoyed my mother into ordering that suit for me. I chose red, and stood anxiously by while my mother phoned in the order. I chewed down my nails, waiting for the call that would say the parcel had arrived at the store, and was ready for pick up. I anguished through the days, waiting for my parents to make the drive into town to pick up my precious package. It seemed as though it would never happen, but finally it was in my hands, a surprisingly small, light weight sack. I rolled it out of the bag with something akin to wonder. There it was, in all its fire engine red polyester glory, and I knew that I loved it.

My mother looked at me and sniffed. "I hope you're happy with it." Her tone implied that she did not believe I would be, but she was wrong. I was happy for every gym class until I went off to high school. It never made gym class fun or enjoyable. It didn't make me less sweaty when I got overheated. But every time I hurried out of my warm clothes and into those soft ,warm long pants and sleeves, I was happy. Every time I lined up in a chilly gym, or on a windy playground, next to shivering classmates, I was happy.

I learned a lesson with that purchase. I learned that sometimes you just have to spend all your Christmas money on the thing that will help make life bearable. Sure, I could have economized and kept on shivering. Would I even remember the thing my mother would have talked me into buying with the Christmas check from my grandmother? I learned that most of the time, nobody else understands what you need, or how much it matters. My mother never understood my horrible fear of the warm-up suit getting delayed in the laundry, the fear of being reduced to a worn out pair of shorts. I guess it was the first time I learned a little something about self care. Even now, I often equate self care with selfishness. I wasn't selfish by buying that suit. Sure I could have sent my Christmas check to starving children in Mexico, but we all know that wasn't going to happen. My mother would have discouraged it. My Grandmother already sent money to starving children in various locations. She meant this money for me.

Sometimes God sends me a Christmas check, and often I try and send it to starving children or give it away, but God doesn't always want me to do that. Sometimes He intends it to be just for me. Sometimes, I believe, He wants me to order a fire engine red polyester warm-up suit and stay warm.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Coming to Peace...

I am slowly coming to peace with some choices we have had to make. From my viewpoint, we were presented with several options, none of which I liked. The only option I did actually like, is not an option. No go, off the table. Nothing I can do will make it an option at this point. So I sat down with my other options, and weighed out the pros and cons of each. The problem is, that most of the options I felt I could live with, had huge cons for myself and beloved husband. Probably the kind of cons that would have us checking into a double occupancy rubber room. The options that "worked" in any way for us and the family as a whole, seemed to not work for one of our especially challenging children. I have been circling, and researching, and filling out forms, and scratching my head. I have had endless emails and phone calls. Every night I have gone to bed discouraged and restless, but each morning I have awoken full of resolve to make the right choice, regardless of the cost.

The funny thing is this. Every time I would get going in a track, and would be getting excited about the possibilities, something would come to light regarding this challenging child. Something that would stop me in my tracks, and make me question the track I was currently on. Again and again it has happened, to the point that I am able to predict that if I get an energizing phone call or email, I will also get news of some wonky behavior within the hour. It might be new wonky behavior, or just old stuff coming to light. But invariably, the new awareness always seems to put the current proposed course of action in serious question.

The other morning we were dealing with wonky, and it just came over me, that we should not change anything at all. That we were to just stay the current course, even though it has all the earmarks of failure. That's the matter what we try, once the novelty has been wrung out of it, it always begins to look like failure. And like any parent, adoptive or otherwise, I start to put things under the microscope and look for alternatives. What am I doing wrong? What do I need to change? How can I rally the resources to make the needed change?

The other day I was visiting with a missionary friend, who is currently contemplating change, and had been really unsettled about what course she should take. She was so afraid that she would go her own way, and miss God's will, that she was actually propelling herself toward that which was hardest, and even most distasteful to her, in fear of shirking the difficult call. In a time of intense prayer, a friend told her they felt impressed by God to ask her, "What do you want to do?" This was so shocking to her system, that her reaction was actually physical.

I felt, the other morning, in the midst of chaos, that same impression. "What do you want to do?" I realized I didn't want to do anything at all. I wanted to stay the course we had begun, in spite of the fact that on many levels it appears to have failed. I realized that I was willing to make a change, even a change that would cost me dearly, but that my willingness was not confirmation that change should occur. I also realized that every bit of what appeared to be failure, had nothing to do with me or my choices. It had nothing to do with me shirking hard work, or my willingness to love or serve my daughter, or the rest of my family.

Most, if not all, of the failure results from my daughter's inability to make good choices for herself. It isn't even for me to try and sort out how much blame should sit on her shoulders, or how much of it she is led to by her traumatic history. I just know it doesn't rest on my shoulders. Not that I don't feel the weight of it. I do. And I am willing to continue helping to carry that weight, as any mother, adoptive or otherwise, would.

And anyhow, I'm getting used to this looking like failure gig. I realize that what looks like success in so many young people is just smoke and mirrors, and what looks like failure is often the building blocks for something real and good. I'm willing to bet on that, even though at times it's hard to believe in.