Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. ~John Ed Pearce

The Tibbs family is moving back to the US!

Well. . .most of the Tibbs family.  The children and I will move to Atlanta this summer and Sam will return to Sharjah in late August to complete his first year of teaching at the American University Sharjah.  It's not the best of circumstances, but we will find a way to make it work.  That's what a family does.  And we're hanging in there.

An update on school:  I was not accepted into a gender studies program.  And, interestingly, I found myself ambivalent to that rejection.  This was a revelation--in that I truly thought I wanted an academic career.

Sam and I were discussing the "rejection" and how I was a little disappointed, but not upset.  We followed that by discussing why I wanted to go into academics and study LGBTQ issues and my response dealt with equal rights, and he asked, "Have you considered law?"  Admittedly, a flash sort of went off in my brain.  No, I hadn't even thought about it.  Which is rather ironic, given my penchant for arguing (yes, a little self deprecating humor, although very true).  It had crossed my mind several years ago, but I just snorted and shrugged it off.  For some reason, when he suggested it,  I was like, "Yeah, I could do that.  Wow.  That makes a lot of sense."

When I went to the States last February, I toured Emory University Law School and had the great fortune of meeting some professors in the International Humanitarian Law Clinic.  They were gracious in offering their time, support, and wisdom.  They have been most encouraging in regards to the LSAT and also very generous in their time as we continue to correspond regarding LGBTQ and human rights issues (especially in South Africa, east Africa, and the Middle East).

So, my Plan B (or rather, Plan A?) is law school.  I'm taking the LSAT this June and will apply to schools this September-December.  I'm sure it will surprise no one that I'm continuing my interest in LGBTQ equal rights and HIV status rights.  Now, this?  Law school?  This is exciting.  And it's something I can see myself doing.  Well. . .forever (being an attorney I mean, hopefully not law school forever). 

I'm under no delusion I can save the world, but maybe I can change someone's mind along the way.  Education is the key.  Edward Everett said, "Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army."  And as the nation strains under the pressure of equal rights (or lack thereof) and the upcoming election, education is more relevant than ever.

Continuing my education was not the primary reason for our returning to the States, although it does provide an excellent opportunity for this new venture.  Thomas had a better year than last, although he continues to struggle in certain regards.  We discussed moving back with the guidance counselor at his school and asked for her opinion and she replied, "I think you need to consider it."  This is a multi-faceted issue and no one person is responsible for the move.  This has been a difficult family decision, but it's what's best for us currently.

I realize that participating in the "blogosphere" does open your life to your family and friends on a global level (and apparently the world?  How have I had almost 3000 views?!) in a way that just sitting around a kitchen table drinking coffee does not.  And from this realization, I understand this allows people to make comments and suggestions I might find offensive and brazenly off the mark.  However, I try to remember that quite often people will email or text things they would never say to you in a conversation.

That being said, I/we (Sam and I) have given a lot of thought to what my change of career would mean for our family.  My long term plan was never to be a stay at home mom.  In fact, I've done this longer than I ever expected.  But, it's not what I want to do and I'm not happy being a full-time, SAHM.  So, I'm changing it.  My children will be happier seeing me happy and fulfilled.  My children are part (admittedly, a BIG part) of my life, they are NOT my life.  When you make something your life, you lose your identity.  And, I don't want to be invisible.  To my children, to my friends, to society, but most importantly--to myself.

But, I'm a little nervous.  Okay, a lot.  Really.  A LOT nervous.  It's a big change.  Moving back across the world with four children.  Single parenting for at least the next year (although, not exclusively solo during the entire year--thank goodness for the academic calendar) and hopefully, starting school next fall.  It's daunting (maybe I'll blog about law school with children--lol).  But, I'm lucky that my immediate family understands my need and is willing to support me in this endeavor.  Oh yeah, did I mention Mom is moving in, too?  Welcome to the "Sandwich Generation."

So, we're going for it.  For better or worse, guts and glory. . .all that.  And, I'm happy the people I love support me.  Because it'd be exceedingly difficult doing this without them.  I'm not trying to build the world, just renovate myself.

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself. ~Rabbi Sofer

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reflections on World AIDS Day: Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember. ~Seneca

I wrote this on the 1st, but somehow never published it.  Forgive the almost six month delay. . .

Each World AIDS Day is a sort of Memorial Day for me.  Remembering those I've lost and watching those I know continue the fight (either for their health, neutral status rights, anti-discrimination, and frequently all of the above), and respecting those in health care meeting the daily challenges of conscientious care and life (and sometimes death) with dignity.

Although he's been dead for almost 15 years, one person is a constant companion.  I met him when I was a senior in high school and it was one of those rare relationships that you know each other when you meet.  Actually, when I walked into his hospital room, we stopped talking to the people we were with and just stared at each other.  It is a moment I will always hold with clarity.  From that moment, we were fast friends and almost constant companions.

He was the first person that "got" me, somehow understood me, and didn't judge me.  And he told me, I was the first person who saw through the status and saw the person.  Actually, the status never really mattered to me.  I mean, of course it mattered.  In that it was the early 90s, and people with HIV didn't have the life expectancy they have now.  HIV/AIDS was still a death sentence then.  And for him, he'd been diagnosed years prior in the mid 80s, so there was limited time.  But, it was never an identifying factor.  We were committed to making the best of the time we were given.  And, in the end, the status, was only a very small issue.

As is common in those relationships with limited time, you find ways to overlook the "normal" things that would bother you.  It doesn't seem worth it to argue over the dishes left in the sink when you're just grateful to share a meal.  And you find that holding hands and talking can be the most intimate of moments.

We had a very limited time together.  Only three years.  But in that three years, we learned, laughed, and loved in a way that I've never recaptured.  I miss him.  Everyday.  But, on World AIDS Day, I reflect on him, us, and what we learned:

1.  Appreciate every single moment you have with the people you love.

2.  Be happy in what you're doing.  If you're not, try to change it.  If you can't change it, float through, until you can.

3.  Find your peace.  And take a minute to enjoy that everyday.

4.  Look outward with love.  What you put out is what you get back.

From the outside, reading this list. . .it sounds pithy.  But, the older I get, the truer I find it.  Of all the people I've lost, this was the most devastating.  But, it was also the most peaceful loss in that we loved what we had, shared what we could, and became better people because of each other.

Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever. ~Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time is the fire in which we burn. ~Delmore Schwartz

It’s been two months since my last post.  And since I’ve received a complaint from a follower that he’s tired of rereading my September 17th post, I’m motivated to write a new one.  My first thought is, Where have the last two months gone?  And for most people, the same answer applies:  just day to day “stuff.”  The daily (sometimes mind numbingly boring) details of running a household and parenting four children.  A few points of excitement:  Lucas broke his arm jumping from the playground equipment at school, Thomas enrolled in judo, and I took a girls’ Eid holiday to Istanbul (which ranks as one of my new favorite cities—blog to follow on the trip soon).
I follow a friend’s blog on Facebook and he’s an unofficial accountability person, of sorts.  I’ve known him for 15 years (that in itself is an appalling fact), but he’s one of the two people I go to for advice.  He’ll happily throw the “bullshit” flag.  Think about it, how many friends will give you the benefit of total honesty?  Support you--yes, but not let you wallow in self-pity when you’re fully capable of pulling yourself out of the mud.  This much wiser friend writes an incredible blog on happiness and inner truth.  The Ministry of Happiness page on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Ministry-of-Happiness/155023134520961.  Quite often, I use it as a guide when I need a little help figuring out what I want, what I can change, what I can live with, and what will ultimately bring me the most happiness and allow me to be most at peace.  There’s a reason almost every culture has the adage, “If mama’s not happy. . .”
And as I review my last post, I'm slightly more encouraged.  I took some time to look at the issues I was unhappy with and tried to determine whether: a) I could change them b) if I couldn’t change them immediately, when would I be able to change them (as with most things, I find I work best with a timeline—perhaps the OCD in me just likes to check off things?).  Regardless, I’ve made a plan.
For starters, I’ve enrolled in a distance learning program at the University of Georgia in a reading education program.  This will fulfill the credit hours I need to reinstate my teaching license. 
But most importantly, I’ve taken some steps toward my goal of obtaining a doctorate in gender studies (the application’s finished, the GRE is scheduled for December 5th).  One of the main benefits presented in moving to Abu Dhabi was the suggestion that I would finally have the opportunity to go back to school.  Although, the idea has been met with a lukewarm reception.  I would have to take partial blame for that.  I work incredibly hard to make sure my family is comfortable.  And understandably, while I pursued a degree (and afterward, a career—hopefully, in six years, the job market will experience an upswing); this comfort level would inevitably change.  Perhaps that is for the best.  Millions of women have returned to the work force (or never left), and the family unit continues.  The family is forced to take on more responsibility (or rather divide it equally), the children become more independent, and hopefully everyone is happier, simply because “Mom” has a fulfilling career that involves something outside the home.
I’ve come to realize my children will not necessarily appreciate I’ve put off goals for parenthood.  Maybe they will as they age and maybe it won’t happen until after they become parents and realize how much is required to keep everything afloat, while madly treading water to prevent your own drowning.  My hope is: they’ll appreciate the independence they developed, they will admire the strength it took to start something new and only slightly terrifying, and finally will emulate the perseverance it takes to finish a task, while having to temporarily compromise other aspects of your identity.  Yes, my time as an active mother will decrease for a while, but ultimately, my goals will be met and I’ll have something that I can be excited to wake up to every morning.  To close, I read this quote and realized, this is what I want—respect for mad courage.  Mad courage is what it’s going to take to keep all these things afloat.
One of the very few reasons I had any respect for my mother when I was thirteen was because she would reach into the sink with her bare hands - bare hands - and pick up that lethal gunk and drop it into the garbage. To top that, I saw her reach into the wet garbage bag and fish around in there looking for a lost teaspoon. Bare hands - a kind of mad courage. ~Robert Fulghum

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. ~Boris Pasternak

This is an incredibly difficult post to write and touches on two main subjects: homesickness and happiness. However, anytime I take a moment of reflection, it is extraordinarily difficult to look at myself with the same kindness as I do others. This is not a phenomenon. We are all kinder to others than ourselves.

When I was visiting, a friend told me much she enjoyed my blog and how positive she couldn’t believe I was and how she’d never have been able to do it. Which I doubt—you do what you have to do and I have been blessed with strong people in my life (there are no doubts she could handle anything thrown at her).

But, truthfully, I’ve had a horrible time adjusting. Sam went from a job in the States to a job here; the children went from a school in the States to a school here, and me. Well . . . that’s a different story. I went from a place where I had great friends and family and activities that I enjoyed to nothing.

That’s not to say there are not enjoyable things here (the earlier posts explore that). I’ve made friends (some of which have become close friendships) in the expat community and I am struck by the fact that moving to such a strange world for the purpose of having a completely different life experience—what you end up truly wanting is “home.” Think about anytime you’ve traveled overseas and how you’re more than a little excited when you find an American.

I was told by many people that going back to the States would assuage that homesickness and I’d be so glad to be back in the UAE. But, driving through the Smoky Mountains, I had to fight back the tears just a bit. Then, I found an intense irony in how I’d worked all my life to get out of the sleepy town I grew up in to find myself desperately wanting to be back. I miss the South with an intensity I didn’t know possible. At the heart of it all, we crave understanding and people who know us. There is a comfort in being around those who have known us since early childhood. The friendship that Edith Wharton describes as, “There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one's self, the very meaning of one's soul.”

Those are the people we miss most when we’re gone. Everyone has that friend that despite them being apart for years, always seems like no time has passed when you see each other.

Ultimately, I’m a fake. I’ve put on a marvelous show of keeping my head high and maintaining my positive attitude, hoping it would be enough to dislodge this perpetual lump in my stomach. There are certain things here that I find mortifying as an American woman: in order to go back to school, I have to submit Sam’s financial documents. And I can’t even open my own checking account without actual employment. Finding a teaching job has been a nightmare. These are all things outside my control.

Although, the most aggravating factors are those that were within my control: allowing my teaching license to expire, not going back to work when I truly wanted to do so, allowing myself to be persuaded that unless a career made a lot of money, it really wasn’t worth doing, allowing important issues to fall by the wayside for fear of “rocking the boat.” These are my fault, but fortunately, not irreparable. With time, they will be remedied. It’s not to say I’ve regretted the use of my time—I stayed home with the children. I’m a good parent, an excellent wife, and I maintained a comfortable life for my family. A certain amount of this was at expense to me, but the sacrifice was usually made willingly. But, I’ve reached a point where the resources have been depleted and I’m ready to find something that makes me hop out of bed in the morning.

Despite the incredible changes the last year have brought, I find myself the same. And I’m tired. I’m ready to do more and be more, and over time I’m ready to take back the things I’ve given up and choose to make myself happy. The children don’t want a miserable mom any more than I wish to be one.

For now, my friends are my buoy. My new friends here, my friends back home: thanks for keeping me centered and encouraging me. Change is a good thing.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions. ~Ellen Glasgow

Monday, September 12, 2011

There is a time to take counsel of your fears, and there is a time to never listen to any fear. ~George S. Patton

As I look back on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I (as I'm sure many) have very complex feelings. This is somewhat compounded by the fact that I live in a Muslim country. And I continue to realize how much of our fear is motivated by misunderstanding, which quite often turns into prejudice. I've had an opportunity to have many conversations with people regarding this issue (American and otherwise). Certain things I heard growing up from teachers, parents, religious leaders I have found to be only slight shades of truth, if not complete and total falsehoods. But, I’ll leave that for another post as there are more pressing issues. . .
While I have grieved for the people killed, their families, and our nation and world, my thoughts often turned to those intimately involved with 9/11. For those interviewed in positions of responsibility and power in the wake of 9/11, there have been determinations there was “nothing” they could have done. They did their jobs and when they realized the magnitude of terror, they continued to do their jobs (oftentimes putting aside their own fear and concern, and sometimes lives, for themselves and families) in the hopes that as many people could be saved as possible.
9/11 forever changed the scope of our world. While it happened on American soil, there were victims from over 90 nationalities. We were united as a world: disbelief, horror, grief, compassion, sincerity. We were brought together by horrific circumstances and over time as our collective psyche healed, we resolved ourselves to the idea “There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them (Andre Gide).”
Some have continued their lives by simply putting one foot in front of the other, realizing “today is the worst day you’ll ever have. Tomorrow will be a little better and each day will continue to improve.” This is not to discount the horror, but to simply understand how grief and disbelief are intertwined. Some continue to seek help for stress. Some have never been able to return to their jobs.
As I continue my introspection, I am choosing to keep an open mind. That is not to say I don’t experience fear, uncertainty, hesitancy as these are quite often useful emotions that will protect you at a primal level. But, I will travel, I will meet people, I will experience the world. Living in fear is simply no way to live. And I can’t be held hostage by the possibility of what might happen.
To close, I’ll continue to steal from another wise person; I’ve copied and pasted TG’s status update from September 11th:
“Today is not a day for memory. Everyday is.
Remember to not be filled with hate.
Remember to not treat people like things.
Remember that it is the collective sum of all of our choices that create the world we live in. Your choices are important. Even the small ones.
Namaste'. I honor that part of you that is also in me."

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends. ~Shirley Maclaine

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ethiopia Revisited--It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons. ~Johann Schiller

It's been two years since our trip to Ethiopia to adopt Helen. Wow! Two years already.
I was eating lunch with the children a couple days ago and saw what was obviously an American adoption group at another table. Everyone knows my penchant for striking up conversations with random strangers, so I had to go over. Looking at the new families, I was struck at how I must have looked two years ago. Exhausted, wide-eyed, a little nervous of this little person with whom I was now in charge. . .families that were adding siblings (as ours was) or brand-new parents with infants who were just trying to figure out what in the heck was going on with this tiny person. It was a strange moment, remembering the past, yet living very much in the moment with my Ethiopian daughter.
Then, I realized I was a bit selfish. Thinking only of my experience, I wondered what Helen must have thought when she met us. "Two big Farenjis bringing me shoes, candy, and books" must have been at the forefront. I also thought back on the horrific afternoon when she cried for two hours straight and I could do nothing to soothe her. I have never had a more frustrating parenting experience in my life. It must have been equally horrifying for her. Strange smells, new language, strange looking people, weird food--no wonder the child was scared out of her mind. After two hours of holding and trying to soothe my child, I'm not ashamed to say I just gave up and put her down in bed. A few minutes later, she had fallen asleep, and I looked at this sweet, little pudgy cheeked face, and wondered what in the hell had I gotten myself into?! Why did I think I could do this? I began doubting myself. As a woman, as a parent, especially as a person--who could turn their back on a child, who by what little information we had, had been abandoned?
Then, I understood I needed to give myself a break. We were both way out of our comfort zones. I was reminded of Lucas and what a difficult baby he was. And how, I still didn't feel connected to him after more than six weeks. And he was my biological child. How could I expect an instantaneous bond with a child who was 2 1/2? And I realized how much unrealistic pressure I'd put on Helen and myself. Did I expect gratitude? Or love? Or all of the above? Anyone with children has experienced the egocentrism that only children have.
I saw I was selfish. I expected Helen to automatically love me. And when she favored Sam over me, I took it personally. I left it to him to provide a majority of the affection to her, while simultaneously convinced I could do it myself. Talk about shooting myself in the proverbial foot.
At some point, I realized I was losing myself with my daughter. After experiencing some anxiety issues, I asked for help. Luckily, I found a therapist who had experience with adoption.
At the session, I was surprised. I was reassured I was normal. Bonding takes time, give yourself a break. Stop trying to force a relationship and relax. It will happen.
Two years later, I'm happy to report this is true. Looking at the new families, remembering my own hesitation, looking at Helen now and seeing my amazing, bright, silly, loving daughter, I was able to assure the new families that, "Look, see, this is what happens when you open your heart."
I'm not saying everything is beautiful and wonderful, we still have our moments when Mom and Daughter are not exactly getting along and I imagine this will repeat itself over the years. But now, when we have these moments of frustration and even anger, I look at the core of myself and realize that what I feel for her is love. With that, and maybe a pedicure, we can get through anything.

"The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." ~Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart. ~Elisabeth Foley

As usual, it's been too much time since my last entry (thanks to CC for the reminder/kick in the rear). Sam went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 11th to teach a summer course at the university. I stayed in Abu Dhabi with the children until they finished school and we've since flown to Addis as well. We will be here until July 11th, at which point we'll fly back to Abu Dhabi and I'll spend the next 10 days or so trying to strengthen my resolve for the trans-Atlantic flight with four children.
Coming to Addis was good practice for July and our trip to the States, we managed to carry only four suitcases (one of which was donations), and Jack's playpen. Also, one was a carry-on size--so, who really counts that anyway? Pretty good for five people. And, we only left one thing at the airport. So, it's getting a little easier. People who've traveled with children, please tell me I'm not the only one who's left things behind at the airport. Please?!
As I reflect on the trip back to the States, my mind can't help but turn toward relationships. The real reason we're going back to the States. Although, I jokingly claim it's for Target, Michaels, and Chick-fil-A. The real reason we're going back is for people.
The friends you make that you "click" with and feel like you've know your entire life. Those you HAVE known your entire life and still manage to like, despite knowing all there is to know. And most importantly (and sometimes overlapping), those you know you can call at 3 AM to bail you out of jail, help hide the body, etc.
The one common thing that binds these relationships is that all require nurturing in order to flourish. As a garden, friendships grow and strengthen based on the amount of time you put into it. We've all had friends who swear to KIT. And over time and circumstance, the communication fades, and the friendship follows. Occasionally, there is the rare friendship where you don't often speak, but are able to pick up where you left off (MDB, yes you).
Moving has reminded me of the value of friendships. All of them in their different intricacies have added to my life. For those of you I talk to on a daily to weekly basis, those I talk to on a monthly or longer basis, and those I rarely talk to. . .know you are a valued part of my life. There is a saying that says you can tell a person's character by the company they keep. If that is true my character is: loyal, strong (sometimes stubborn), giving, creative, oftentimes fabulous (SB, you know that's you!), and the list goes on. . .
And as we continue to get settled in Abu Dhabi, I am blessed to find comfort in new friendships. Those, especially, who have been a sounding board with the kids and with adjusting to a new culture. One, in particular, has been a constant source of support and encouragement (thanks, LS). Others have been a much needed oasis of escape for girl chat and drinks out (EB and JE, that's you).
So, to all friends, new and old, near and far, thank you for helping make me who I am. Hope to see you all soon!

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer