Day 31 Part 2: Before The Storm

Before a storm, there is often this slightly ominous change in the atmosphere. There is a sudden calm, quiet stillness as pressure builds into a storm. You can't see the pressure building as much as you can feel it. This is very much what October feels like for me. Throughout the month there is a slow build, an atmospheric shift within me. November 1st is usually when the storm hits and finally all that building tension is released.

There are a number of factors involved in this phenomenon, I'm certain. The pressure I put on myself to close the month out with something meaningful, moving and poignant as well as exhaustion from a month of spilling my guts and the subsequent vulnerability hangovers... on top of my normal life with five kids and a literal mountain of laundry to do at all times. This year, however, the pressure built earlier in the month than it has before. The storm came fast and furious last week.

There has not been any violence in my home for almost two years. This probably doesn't sound like much of a victory to the typical person, but in the world of Reactive Attachment Disorder and adoption trauma a two year stretch is a massive deal. We went from daily rages, violent outbursts and extremely disturbing behaviors to two years free of violence. Sure there have been close calls and some damage to clothing and property... but no physical harm. 

Until last week. 

I have been at a pretty low place the past several days. It is discouraging to feel like I am being pummeled by life and grief and once again, by my kid. It reminds me that the grief/trauma recovery process is more cyclical than it is linear. As much as I expect myself to be further along in my process, I always seem to find myself feeling all the same things over and over. As much as I expect my son to be further along in his process, I find him struggling with the same behaviors and feelings over and over again. I don't expect myself to "relapse" back into stages of anger or unforgiveness, but it happens. I don't expect my son to regress back to violence and aggression, but it happens. We cycle back into old patterns and long-held coping strategies of self-protection, shame, control, anger and denial. 

I have cycled through these things myself so many times that nothing seems to surprise me anymore. Yet, this past week I found that I was surprised. I was blindsided in fact. Much in the same way that my son regressed back into physical aggression, I found myself back to being a young girl trying to comprehend the gravity of Adam's death. This happened when the Grand Haven Tribune (my old hometown newspaper) published some photos of Adam from his last day on this earth, photos I had never before seen.

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First of all, I have to say what an unmatched treasure it is to discover something new. When somebody dies, there is very rarely anything new. Whatever time you had, whatever memories, the jokes, the moments, the photos... whatever you had is all you'll ever have. There is no more. Only rarely, if you're very fortunate, will you discover something new. Someone will share a memory or a story you hadn't heard before. Or someone unearths photos you've never before seen. That is what Matt Deyoung of the Grand Haven Tribune did for my family. And it was truly a gift.

But, even gifts can trigger that old cyclical grief. And that is what happened when I saw these old pictures for the first time. Without warning I had regressed to that eleven year old girl who could not comprehend this loss. There was one picture in particular that wrecked me. 

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I still don't fully understand it myself, but my response was so peculiar and irrational, as if my brain is trying to solve Adam's death or make sense of something so senseless. I can't explain it but when I saw this picture of Adam sort of coughing in the background, I had a brief unbridled moment of hope. I gasped and thought "Maybe he's just sick!" Seeing Adam doing something so physical and bodily as coughing - for one brief moment - allowed my brain to file Adam's absence as temporary and explainable. Not gone forever, just somewhere else getting better. The foolishness of this lapse is almost embarrassing to me. But there was something about seeing my poor sweet brother - my hero, my buddy - so alive and still present in his physical body that allowed my unguarded mind to dream of a boy who was not gone afterall.

It was only a moment that I regressed to that childlike way of thinking. Like my own son backsliding after two years of progress, it was a fleeting, irrational moment. But there was a world of pain that rushed in after his folly and mine. I simply cannot look at that picture of Adam coughing without being absolutely wrecked. 

My son and I are a lot alike. We have both been through hard things, experienced some trauma, learned some unhealthy coping mechanisms. We are both afraid of love, because we are afraid of loss. He has Tom and I - who have adored him since the moment he joined our family and we have met every single need since then. I spend the majority of my time each day chasing him down with that love trying to prove that he can trust me, that I will never leave him. And here I am, with a perfect heavenly Father who chases me down with his perfect love and restorative kindness, proving time and time again that he will provide for my every need and he will never leave me. He asks me to trust him, to love him back, to draw near to him. 

And still I pull back. I always pull back.

Like my son, I'd rather maintain some illusion that I am in control. I push back on God's perfect plan just as my son pushes back on my good plan for his life - a life of privileges and responsibility and blessings. Just as my son will push me away, but superficially bond with anyone and everyone he meets... I reject God's perfect and fulfilling love in favor of some cheap, artificial, temporary comfort. 

This month has torn my heart wide open for a bunch of different reasons. The unexpected criticisms, the setback in my son's therapeutic process, this moment of irrational hopefulness upon seeing my brother cough... these were all painful moments that contributed to the building pressure before the storm. But as I sit here and contemplate closing out #AdamsActs for the year it occurs to me that maybe it wasn't my traumatized 11-year-old brain that gave me that moment of hope. Perhaps it was that perfect heavenly father of mine, reminding me that Adam isn't gone forever. He IS somewhere else getting better. In fact, he's already better. He's with his father in heaven and is completely and perfectly healed.  

In loving memory of my big brother, Adam H. Provencal. I have wished for you to be here, to meet Tom and my kids... Oh how you would love my kids. I have longed to hear your voice, please forgive me for not remembering the sound of it. I have longed to hold your hand, to see you wrestle, to hear you rap or say "ghostman on third" just one more time. I love you and I miss you and I am so glad you are whole and healed in paradise with the God you loved. I'll see you when I get there, save me a spot.

In loving memory of my big brother, Adam H. Provencal. I have wished for you to be here, to meet Tom and my kids... Oh how you would love my kids. I have longed to hear your voice, please forgive me for not remembering the sound of it. I have longed to hold your hand, to see you wrestle, to hear you rap or say "ghostman on third" just one more time. I love you and I miss you and I am so glad you are whole and healed in paradise with the God you loved. I'll see you when I get there, save me a spot.

 

 

Day 31 Part 1: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

If I attempted to conclude this month of #AdamsActs in my current state, I assure you that it would be found lacking. I will reflect on this month and everything I learned and grappled with in a final post tomorrow. In the meantime, I thought I would give a quick update from yesterday's post... I did deliver the pecan pie to Mr. Al and he said the words "barca lounger" a record number of times. We chatted for over an hour and was thrilled to have someone sit and stay a while. He also chastised me for not buying stock in Microsoft, because if I had just done that then, well, I would have made enough money in one week to fix my teeth by now. I didn't take the pie back after this remark even though I sort of wanted to. So, I am counting this as a bonus kindness.

I will write more tomorrow but to hold you over, I have included some pictures of our family's Wizard of Oz themed costumes. I make these all myself as a grand overcompensation of grief and baggage! Enjoy!

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ON the far left we have Marlie as Glinda the Good Witch. 

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Next to her we have Scout as Toto, then me as the Cowardly Lion. 

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Tom "Always a Good Sport" Capuano comes in as Scarecrow.

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London was Dorothy, Harper the Tin Man and Jay was a Winkie (The Wicked Witch of the West's little helper.) 

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Annalee was the Wicked Witch of the West and her friend Paige popped in as a bonus addition of Oz himself (as seen in back middle.)

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They had a great time and then came home to work out all their OCD issues right on the living room floor. 

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My real post will come tomorrow but for now, I plan to follow the yellow brick road straight to bed.

 

 

Day 29 & 30: Loving My Terrible Neighbor & Seeing the Invisible

I used to have this old crotchety neighbor named Mr. Al. He was hands down the second worst neighbor I've ever had. (The only neighbor worse than him was the lady who got drunk and drove up her brand new deck and smashed into her own house in the middle of the night while I had five little girls camping a few years away in my tent for a sleepover birthday party.) That was a little worse than Mr. Al who's just being old and bossy. It's taken me a lot of years to learn this about myself, but I don't like to be bossed. If you tell me to check my email I will not check my email. I will likely throw away my computer and end our friendship. I'm working on this by the way. (Except that I'm not.) The point is that Mr. Al really bumped up against my personal pet peeve of being bossed around. Literally every time I had a conversation with Mr. Al he was always telling me what to do.

He (aggressively) told me who to vote for, he told me how to invest all the money I still don't have, he told me where to put my mulch and also to have an abortion because I was really sick during my pregnancy. He was always so grouchy and bossy and unapologetic that I couldn't take it. Still, I tried really hard to be nice to him. We made a lot of effort to serve him and show him love, kindness and patience... even when I secretly felt violent. Even when we explained why were were okay with "the blacks" moving in. 

We had a breakthrough several years ago with Mr. Al when I brought him a meal and he Disney-frenched me in excitement. That upsetting kiss showed me that even the loneliest and grouchiest among us need a little TLC. And when they get the TLC they might respond with a little PDA. 

We no longer live next to Mr. Al, but since we have been back at our old house repairing damages, he has been on our minds lately. So, we invited him to join us for Grandpa Day. If you aren't familiar with Grandpa Day, allow me to explain. Grandpa Day is a fictitious holiday where we all gather to deep fry various foods in oil, under the guise of celebrating Grandpa. It's not a real thing. It's just something we made up so we can eat donuts. Mr. Al did not come to Grandpa Day. Because he hates joy and fried dough and babies and black people and all the other good things in the world. Still, I brought home a piece of pie to bring to him later. I am counting that and the impending geriatric makeout sesh as my #AdamsActs for Day 29.

For Day 30, I participated in a great opportunity to connect with some of the homeless population in Rochester. My friend Allie heads up a community organization called Supports on the Streets.  What I really appreciate about their vision is that it is all relationship-based with an emphasis on helping without hurting. Sure, we brought some care packages with essentials (see list below for needed items) and some dental hygiene kits, but more than that... we simply connected with people who are often marginalized. The best part of the evening for me was connecting with a man who also considers himself a writer. He told us about his poetry and about a book he is writing. I told him that his story is an inspiration for me to keep writing and he asked if we could exchange our writing sometime. I'm about 99% sure that this guy is a better writer than I will ever be, so I am looking forward to that exchange - not just of our writing but our experiences. 

The homeless population in our country is often invisible. Please consider how you might be able to love on the most under-served people in your community. I hear a lot of Christians talk about "being Jesus" to others. But in scripture Jesus refers to the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and imprisoned and says that "whatever you did for the least of these you did for me." Followers of Christ hear this and the takeaway is to "Be Jesus" to those who are marginalized. But I don't think that is what Jesus is saying. He didn't say to be him. He said that how we treat the marginalized is how we treat him. We aren't supposed to "Be Jesus" to the marginalized, we are supposed to treat the marginalized as if they were Jesus. However we would interact with Jesus himself if he was living in a tent off the inner loop is exactly how we should interact with the poet I met tonight. With honor, with humility, with genuine interest. We were never called to be the savior, but to honor the savior by loving those who are most often overlooked.

Here is a revised list that I compiled last year of some things that I have learned over the years about homeless outreach.  

  1. Due to the lack of consistent dental hygiene, many people have sore or missing teeth. So, stick to softer foods that are easy to chew - bread, soft cereal bars, pudding, applesauce, bananas, soups, cheese sticks, even pizza. :) Avoid foods like apples. A lot of people cannot eat raw apples. 
  2. Keep clean socks in your car. The health of your feet is of utmost importance when you spend your life walking from place to place. Limited access to showers or fresh socks can often lead to foot issues and pain. 
  3. Chapstick, disposable toothbrushes, trial size deodorant, travel size packs of baby wipes and other small personal hygiene essentials are very helpful. And don't forget to supply the ladies during that "extra special' time of the month. Can you imagine dealing with all that on the streets? 
  4. Some helpful items we may not think about are large, sturdy ziplock bags, a waterproof tarp, hats and gloves, rain poncho, and those rubber shoe cover things that protect shoes from water. 
  5. Touch them. Living on the fringe of society often means these people are overlooked. If you are invisible, you are probably not being affectionately cared for. So look into people's eyes, say good morning, ask how they feel, ask if there is anyone you can call for them. Give them a hug, touch their shoulder, hold their hand. Ask what their name is. Ask if they'd like to tell you how they ended up on the street. Ask if they need to go to the hospital. Ask if they are in touch with anyone for services/supports. If you can, sit and eat a meal with them. Treat them like an equal, with value and a little dignity. 
  6. Expect to see a lot of mental illness. Contrary to what most people believe, a large majority of homeless people are in that position because of mental health problems. Expect a lot of confusion. Just be compassionate, and let them swear a little because they think you want to steal their cat. (They don't have a cat.) Just tell them you love them and get then get the crap outta there. 
  7. Remember that it could be you. I try to remember that with each lost soul I see, that I am not better. I am just as capable of losing my mind. I am just as capable of losing everyone I love in some freak tragedy. I am just as capable of making a terrible choice that leads me down a path of destruction. I am not better. You are not better. We all need Jesus. So don't judge, don't make assumptions, just help without hurting and be grateful for your teeth.  

Day 27 & 28: Wrestling With Pain

Warning: ***The following is a bit graphic, so if you are an enormous babychild you may want to skip this first part.***

Several years ago, after having my second daughter, I had excruciating pain on the right side of my abdomen. I could feel a relatively large mass just below my rib cage and it was not only strange and worrisome, but it seemed to be the source of my discomfort. The pain wasn't constant, but when present, it was often unbearable. At one point, after a long car ride, I was in so much pain I started feeling quite dizzy and nauseated. When Tom finally pulled into the driveway I was so eager to get out of the car that I immediately opened the door the moment the car stopped moving. It was too late though. As soon as my door opened I passed out onto the driveway. I still remember "coming to" and Tom saying, "I don't know what happened, I put the van in park and looked over and you were gone!." It was all very mysterious and a touch dramatic. 

To my frustration, my doctor couldn't find anything abnormal. The ultrasound and CT scan results were totally normal. No mass. Nothing inside me that was out of the ordinary. I was asked a lot of questions that made me feel that doctors believed that these might be psychosomatic symptoms, or postpartum depression. Still, the pain persisted. In waves. It was sometimes there as a dull ache, and sometimes it was sharp and acute. Desperate for answers, I started paying very close attention to the pain. What positions caused me the most pain? What actions or movements were more comfortable, or less. Was my body reacting to something that I wasn't paying attention to? When was the mass there (sometimes visible!) and when was it gone? I would make Tom feel the mass when it was there so he didn't think I was crazy. This went on for close to two years. 

In this process I determined that sitting for any amount of time was the most painful. I went to yet another doctor with my observations and she listened to me and got creative. She did an ultrasound, but instead of just lying there on my back, she had me lay on each side. She had me sit up, she did an ultrasound on my abdomen while standing up and contorting myself in all different directions. 

And ya know what, she found it. Wanna know what that mass was? It was my kidney. Except it was floating around my body instead of staying up where it belongs. When I was laying down it would swim up where it belonged and was, therefore undetectable during a CT or typical ultrasound. She sent me for a kidney function test, and also a sitting and a standing CT and the images were clear - my right kidney was dangling below the protection of my rib cage. When I was sitting, my rib cage would jam into my kidney, restricting blood flow and causing a great deal of pain. My right kidney was functioning at just under 20%. The official diagnosis was Nephroptosis or floating kidney.

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I ended up having a surgery called a nephropexy - where they litterally stitched my kidney up to my back muscles. To this day it feels super weird to run or jump on a trampoline or do handstands and cartwheels. Not just because I am 36 or 37 and am probably too old to be participating in these shenanigans, but because I can actually feel my kidney tugging on my back muscles. No matter how much time passes, no matter how much I choose to live an exuberant life, I can always feel the pain tugging inside me.

That is grief. 

I have always lived an exuberant life. I am loud and spazzy and embarrassing. I bust out handstands and loudly sing (incorrect) lyrics in my unfortunate singing voice. When I make people laugh it's like a power-up on a video game for me. Laughter makes me louder and spazzier and more embarrassing. I am like a toddler up past their bedtime. I am not unhappy. I am full of life and I have so much joy and am able to dance with such reckless abandon that it might be my spiritual gift. 

Still. No matter how much time passes, no matter how much I choose to live an exuberant, full life... I can always feel the pain of grief tugging inside me. It doesn't stop me from doing cartwheels. But it's always there.

For Day 27 we were supposed to have Frank over for dinner and a cake presentation. If you don't know who or what I am talking about, you might want to watch this video:

We ordered the cake and I have to give a shout out to my friend and neighbor Maggie for understanding how computers work and for using one to create the bird and milk carton graphic that we put on the cake. 

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Sadly, Frank and his family were not able to come. He was under the weather, so we have to reschedule. :( We were very sad that we couldn't present him with his beautiful baptismal cake, but I don't think he'd mind me telling you that when we connected over the phone for the first time he said how touched he was that Tom remembered him and his kind actions so many years later. We look forward to reconnecting with Frank soon. 

For Day 28, we livestreamed (I don't really know what live streaming is, so I might be using it wrong.) our girls' final cross country race.

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It was the county championships and Annalee and Marlie did awesome, both breaking personal race times. We haven't yet received the official results for the whole race, but we do know that Annalee (our 8th grader) came in 6th in the county!

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This is my blog, and I reserve the right to shamelessly celebrate for a sec because I am beyond proud of my kid that can run a 5:53 mile (and smokes the boys on a regular basis.) ;) Our family in Michigan and Chicago don't get to see the kids' events so using Facebook Live to make a fool of my spazzy, exuberant self while recording their events is a gift to our family. 

We also bought the girls a county race shirt. These shirts are ill-fitting and over priced and parent confession: the girls usually buy their own merchandise if they really want it. They do not ask us to buy stuff. It's a reflection of who they are, and their perspective and understanding of life with lots of kids in the family. We simply have to say no to the extras. Even though they came prepared to purchase their own shirts, we surprised them by buying them. It sounds like a small thing, but $56 bucks for two long sleeve shirts that are way too wide for my little slim babies is a big deal to us.

Watching some sports impacts me more than others. There is something about wrestling and cross country that makes me wistful. Wrestling - in part - because Adam was such a wrestling phenom and I grew up in the gym watching wrestling meets.

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But also because wrestling and long distance running take so much discipline. Both sports take a tenacity and endurance that other sports don't seem to require. Yesterday, I watched my girls push through their pain to run their best race. 

That is grief. That is life really. That no matter how much life we live, no matter how much ground we cover... we cannot outrun our pain. It stays with us, and it requires a tenacity and endurance that many of us have no choice but to develop. The pain is a non-negotiable. Running the race well is the choice. The pain isn't going anywhere, but whether or not we press on, and still laugh and eat cake and do cartwheels... that is the decision we must make. 

 

Day 26: Pep Talks & a Painted Pup

I went to sleep last night feeling drained and down in the dumps, and also like a hideous beast because my eyelids were so puffy I didn't even need a pillow. When I woke up this morning I was bolstered by the love and support (and violent threats against anyone who crosses me) that so many of you expressed. I feel loved today and I am so thankful that you are all my people. (Still working on a group name, still trying really hard not to keep saying kittens.)

The critics were silent today, and probably will be for a while now. But I am not even mad about it. Here's why: for Day 26 my act of kindness was to speak to a group of students at Villa of Hope which is a school that specializes in trauma-informed care for students and families who come from hard places. I shared about #AdamsActs and how kindness is restorative and vulnerability is terrifying, yet healing and empowering. The first question I was asked by a student was whether or not I get haters for being so open. 

And that's why I'm not going to let the harsh or hurtful comments weigh too heavily on my heart... because I will take that criticism and I will use it to empower kids. I was able to tell that girl the truth. I told her that I absolutely have some haters and that, in fact, I had just blogged about it yesterday! I told her that I was just like them and that people hurt my feelings all the time. I also told them that this world thinks that kids from hard places won't succeed. I told them that this world thinks that kids who are abused or experienced trauma can't recover. I told them not to listen to critics or haters, but to rebel against them instead. 

And I told them that I have a few haters it's true, and some people just want me to shut up. But I can't and I won't because I am a rebel. And I will rebel against the negativity every single time. And I told them that they should too. (I actually told them to be ballsy. And then I retroactively asked the social workers for permission to use the word ballsy, and then I regretted everything I ever said or did out loud forever and ever amen.) Permission was granted and we were collectively ballsy. And then I played "We are the Champions" by Queen while doing an interpretive dance.

Ok, that part didn't happen until I was in my car. But it was pretty glorious. 

After that speaking engagement I surprised my friend Lexi with breakfast because she is the world's most helpful manager/lady's maid/respite care provider/friend/supporter and so she gets french toast. While out, I also sneaky-paid for a stranger's breakfast as well. As a kindness to my children, I started working on our family's Halloween costumes. And my final #AdamsAct was not harming my four-year-old son even though he spray painted himself silver.

Along with the puppy. 

He must have heard my speech, because spray painting the puppy was pretty ballsy... just not exactly what I had in mind. 

In memory of another mischievous little boy I knew.

In memory of another mischievous little boy I knew.