Dog Goes to California

Not long ago I sat in a board meeting while a debate of definitions carried on like determined ants getting their sole piece of kibble up a hill.  All on the same side, yet a struggle when the hill is steep and the load is heavy.  My mind wandered as the voices ran together.  I put my pencil down and turned the page as these words did not need to be written, their dialogue dance was not needed in the minutes of the meeting.  I looked down at my notebook and noticed something written on the divider.  A last-minute addition to my notebook, it came from one of Hayden’s old high school binders.  Thankfully it had been easy to snap, grab, and put into place. I had renamed it, Board Minutes.  On the back of the divider there were lines for notes.  Hayden had written, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”  *GREAT!!!

Huh… I wonder what that is, and I grabbed my phone and Googled.

It’s a book written in 2000 by Thomas Friedman.  I read the synopsis and learned a bit. As the Foreign Affairs columnist for The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman has traveled to the four corners of the globe, interviewing people from all walks of contemporary life – Brazilian peasants in the Amazon rain forest, new entrepreneurs in Indonesia, Islamic students in Teheran, and the financial wizards on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. Basically, it’s about globalization.

I sat there at the table with a perplexed look on my face reading from my phone as the President asked if it was a good time to take a break?  I agreed, and closed my book on the minutes and the curiosity of what Hayden was reading ended, until now.

As I sit and text with him about “Floaters” from Iowa, I’m reminded how vast his experiences are and his depth of knowledge for being a young man of just twenty-two.  Not to mention his sense of humor, love of movies & TV, history, and all the small things about him that only a few know.  He’s really complex, one in a bazillion-million and I love him beyond measure.   I can offer up this one question and you will also understand his uniqueness.  How many people do you know working a retirement plan with a financial planner at twenty-one?  Not many, right? That was him about a year ago.

He often reminds me about what he wants to do, and that is to make a difference.  Does he want a great job, work hard,  make money, and one day retire with plenty of money?  Of course.  But, I’ve never seen him go too long without witnessing that special part of him that  reaches out to do something for someone else.  He’s a “Pay It Forward” believer and owns, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” — John F. Kennedy  I know he’d love to be some what of a Oprah, a game-changer.  It’s true, I’ve heard the words come out of his mouth.

OKAY, this is not, “Look how cool my kids is!”  I promise!  I’m saying, “Look at what a difference anyone can make in the life of a young person. ”

Many have made a difference to Hayden and in a short time created this special person who’s about to set off for the beginning of his career in film/media production. From his teachers,  friends, neighbors, coworkers, parents,  foster siblings, auntie, sister, girlfriends, aunts & uncs, cousins, to Holocaust survivors and his Japanese host family; each person left an in print that has shaped him.  Hayden is who he is because of what he’s learned from so many and how they’ve impacted his life.  From his childhood nick name, Dog (which came with a great logo drawing of a flaming claw) to his proud professional name Hayden M. Bennett, he has been touched by many great individuals.

Lessons come in all shapes and sizes, and growth happens from nurturing but also from pain and heart ache.  You know, it’s often the refugee from a war-torn country who makes magnificence from his life.  It’s the great American dream proven over and over again by immigrants. In upper and middle class America many young people have lost sight of the American dream and the hard work it takes.  It’s often hoped for as the American hand out, or “I am, therefore I deserve.” In many instances parents take pride in choosing to do things different, and give their kids everything they didn’t have.  Mike and I did that, daily.  We often did/gave too much, and therefore life was pretty easy for our kids.  So, we sent Hayden away.

Hayden in Japan

Okay, we didn’t.   I just thought that would be a great shocker to write.  We were spoiling him, realized it, and then sent him to another country to dig deep and find his American spirit!  Noo, but we did encourage him to find what he loves and what he’s good at and work at it.

These pictures are from when he lived with a family in Osaka, Japan.  He  competed and won out of thousands to be the state’s Sugihara Scholar.

A Special Fate

On that journey he learned from a great teacher/mentor and many masked Japanese students.  But it was the planted seed of Sugihara’s story that grabbed Hayden’s attention.

His host family listens to him speak about diversity at the local school

“Even a hunter cannot kill a bird who comes to him for refuge.” ~Japanese Proverb.  Sugihara was the Japanese Schindler of his time and saved thousands.

The event at the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC ignited a humanitarian passion.  Hayden met so many incredible people and I know the trip had a role in shaping this young man.  The stories he shared when he got home moved me to tears.  Such a fortunate young man to have this experience that he will remember always.

Paul (mentor) and Hayden at the airport.

Hayden and Senator John Lewis

Being congratulated by Dr. Santa Cruz, Principal

Hayden has experienced so much, and learned lessons from others.  And maybe we did give him a lot or helped in too many ways, but he is still able to feel what is right in his heart.  Greatness doesn’t come from how your parents see you or treat you.   It comes from how you see the world, and what you do with your talents.  And I truly feel like this guy is going to be great.

Okay, I totally take credit for drilling in:  A.  Do your best, and then some.  B.  This too shall pass.  C.  Fit most of the moments in your life into one of these three categories; Acceptance, Enthusiasm, Enjoyment.  And D.  Follow your heart.

But the rest is him – his life, God’s plan, and every single person he’s met along the way has nothing to do with me.   Of course I’m proud and excited for him; one of the greatest things in my life is watching my adult kids and how they live.  But I’m also joyful down deep in my soul for the differences he will make in other people’s lives. I’m grateful for those of you reading this that had a part in Hayden’s life; whether big or small, your kindness to my son means a lot to me.

In a short time he’ll be off to get a job in the industry he loves and hopes to impact one day.  No big farewell party, just a M.A.S.H. dinner to reconnect, have the original four back together.   I hope no one has their feelings hurt, and can understand what it may be like to be excited, hopeful, and nervous at the same time.

Ashleigh and Hayden

The goal is set, his game clock starts very soon and all focus/attention is the starting line.   He’s gathered love, ideas, courage, strength, and a sense of purpose from many.

And yet, I must share that it seems like such a short time ago we were yelling from the bleachers, “Throw ’em the CHEESE, Dog.”


(He even had a flaming claw stitched into the back of his baseball hat!)

Ashleigh & Hayden, 17 yrs ago... just about as great as TODAY!



She’s still here; I still hear her voice in my head.  She’s with me sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.  It’s like the mother/daughter marriage that does not end with, “Until death do us part.”


Hayden M. Bennett, graduate

When Hayden graduated from ASU, “Go get’em Hayden,” my mother’s voice merrily skipped through my mind.  She really loved him, and hoped to see him graduate.

Her ultimate goal was to see my kids get married, but that wasn’t meant to be.

At times I’m chased by her words  or advice, like an anvil falling on me; I feel flat as Wile E. Coyote.  She spent significant time spreading thick layers of doubt about what I couldn’t be, how I should look, and how early I should wake in the morning.   It was clear she wanted me to be like her, and I could not have been more opposite as a child or an adult.  I always thought there was something wrong with me.

However, rounding out the memories of Mother is the clear message she gave to me within a dream over a year ago.  It was like a precious gift.   She was the very best version of herself, happy and carefree with her mom and gramps by her side.  That would be her ideal eternity.

In my dream she wasn’t angry or rude in any way.  No signs of controlling things or being passive aggressive. All the bad behaviors must have been left here on earth.  Maybe in her belongings encircling a ring, or folded into a pocket-book.  She was as clear and warm as Arizona in early June.  I’m not gonna lie, the dream was the turning point for me.  Whether it was created in my mind, sent from my mother, or God – it was the single most important moment for me since my mother passed away.

It’s been over two years that she’s been gone.  Some may feel like that’s a lot of time passed and others who have lost a loved one believe it’s still early in the healing process.  I can say that remnants remain from years of my mother plastering me with negativity and doubt.  I recognize what she did (and why), but still there are times where I roll along like an unbalanced wheel on my car.  I go through the motions with an odd jiggle or shimmy.  Usually, it’s only a big issue when I try to go too fast.  If I’m taking things slow, there’s a tiny shift, slight bump in the road (so to speak) on occasion – that’s it.  But it’s there.

Now is the time I find it necessary to proclaim to the world that I am WINNING.


No, not like Charlie Sheen,



Rather more like a qualifying round for the LDA Survival Trials at the next Olympics.  My parents did what they did, for whatever reason… right?  Right.  My mother treated me many different ways for a host of reasons, and it’s in the past, Right?  Right.

I’m thankful for all I learned, the things I understand better, and knowing I am still somewhat unbalanced.  I own my jiggle or shimmy.  And that’s okay.  It has all shaped me.  Yeah, it would have been a bit simpler to start out with a better shape, but… what can I say?  Only, onward and that’s winning.

It is difficult to hold dear only certain things, the good things about my mom.  I can report that I try recalling only the best, as  I am never without my “Rosy’s.”  (You know… my favorite glasses.)  Even if I have to put mom away for a while, aka out of my head, I choose to be happy.

This HAPPEIGH reminder hangs in my office.

Do I feel different about family now?  YOU BET.   It is uber-complicated to explain?  I didn’t think so initially, but alas… it is.  To the non adopted crowd, please don’t react coldly to what is an emotional issue.  Really, for any circumstance, not just adoption.  Take a moment and think what it feels like to be in an adoptees shoes.  Or a mother who lost a child to adoption, what difficulty she must have moving forward.   Do I want to know things, like who my dad is?  YEP, SURE DO.   And finally, the big question:  Why can’t I be happy with the family I knew and focus on that?  Well, because you can’t be lied to for 43 years about who you are and your beginning and not be affected.   Whether you’re unbalanced, off the charts pissed, accepting, or have “those” days lying down with a tear soaked pillow, being a late discovery adoptee is being twisted at your core.  Think wet towel… rotate it in opposite directions until all the moisture has dripped off.  And then freeze that center twisted part.  Now your twisted core remains that way and you move forward with the uncomfortableness inside.  That’s how it feels.  At least how I describe it.

I believe many of us grab hold of the things that are near and dear in order to survive.  For me, faith is the core and I hold on to what I’ve been given.

What's your life saving ring?

In addition to Mike, my white knuckle grip is on my kids.  They are my only blood relatives, and while I know family means all sorts of things to many and comes in all forms, my two kids are golden.  It means something to me that I have this special connection to them, in addition and over and above the rest of my non blood family.  They will never be strangers who blow me off, they will fight to understand and care for me, no matter what.  What I have with them is priceless.

Not to mention my kids are incredible adults!  Take a second to read, you’ll see what I mean.

Ashleigh, Teri, Little A, and her Sweet Baby Brother are a family, for now.  And while this foursome is in place, I know in my heart that Ashleigh (and Teri) do their absolute best for the kids and love them totally.   Ash and Teri have created a very special foster home.  They both spend a significant time planning what would be best for two of “Gods greatest gifts.”  From trying to get pics of the kids parents for the fridge, to services that both little ones need.

I often hear from people whose view-point is that CPS isn’t fair to parents and that children should be kept at home and the family supported.  They feel the money used to support the child in foster care would be better served supporting the family.  To which I say, every circumstance is different and the best thing we could do is advocate for the best child protective service program in every state.   We have a VERY long way to go!  I think the parents who get the shaft is far more infrequent that the hundreds of children who are subjected to a different kind of abuse by CPS.  Whether it’s due to lack of quality case managers, or social workers who simply see this as their first job, or the issue of funding an acceptable number of case managers… they mostly do a disservice to the group of people they are supposed to serve.  Just because a child is now safe does not mean they don’t need anything else.

I can promise that my daughter and I are advocates for one reason, the child who finds themselves in care and become wards of the state.  We’ve both advocated for swifter returns home, when it’s appropriate.  It all comes down to what is in the child’s best interest.  Please, feel free to pose any questions or share your comments and continue this discussion.  Maybe there are things I can learn from you, and you may be able to gain insight from me or Ashleigh.

And next up is Hayden.  Have you ever known anyone to own a dream, one they will never give up?  I really haven’t, until Hayden.  Not only is he smart, committed to his dream, he’s an amazing person who’s filled with a great sense of humor.

He graduated Cum Laud with a Film degree from ASU, Herberger Theater of Fine Arts.  He studied film and media production and made many shorts, music videos, and his final documentary short project, denied.  Along the way he has taken incredible photos and even shot the cover art for my book.  Check out videos, or the rest including photos at,

Hayden loves the entertainment industry and has an understanding of the future in entertainment and what’s possible, where things are going, and how it can change people’s lives.  I’ve met some co-workers and teachers, and they all say the same thing, “He’s going to make a difference in this industry one day.”

I love my family, but I am unconditionally bonded to the greatest treasure in life:  M.A.S.H. (Mike, Ashleigh, Susan, Hayden)  The treasure began with Mike after high school, and then in 1986, and the last addition joined in 1989.  Over the past 25 years I can honestly say that God created something unique in us as a unit.  No matter what the four of us do over the rest of our lives, the blessing of M.A.S.H. will go un-paralleled.   I know my kids have already made a difference in people’s lives, and the best is yet to come.

The MASH unit from a few years ago.

Life’s a process, and the processes in my family are swirling around these days with so much hope and optimism. 

Mike is our rock, our core, a great husband and father who’s career has been… well like this:

For me, I’m a mom, a wife, a friend, a fellow late discovery adoptee and FOLAB, an advocate, and soon to be a published author.  For my kids in their lives and their life’s work, it’s a time of change and sometimes chaos.  Doing your best and letting your actions show what you stand for is not easy and sometimes messy.  It’s called “hard work” for a reason.  They don’t call it, “Whiny baby easy stuff.”  You know?

Having the best possible understanding of my beginnings has increased this special bond with Ashleigh and Hayden.    If I didn’t know the wrong things; the detrimental behaviors, and dream flattening hold from my mother – I couldn’t be who I am today, for me or them.

As Glinda the Good Witch explained to Dorothy, “You always had the power.”  Sometimes it takes a big event in one’s life to see what or who was keeping us from our power.

It's all about fine tuning it!