Monthly Archives: October 2009

Keep Looking

Grown in My Hearts Adoption Carnival this month is about ‘treasured adoption photos’.  This is really hard for me to grasp. Treasured would be something I like, right? The only adoption photos I have are the poorly lit fuzzy polaroids taken of me holding Joy before signing the relinquishment papers. The best one went to her father. I wanted him to have some remembrance as he never saw her.

I’ve been ashamed that that was the best I could do.  She was an absolutely beautiful baby, and fuzzy polaroids  didn’t do her justice.  They are the only photos.

If there are no images of the tender beauty of her infancy, maybe the wrenching separation is my favorite. It is the most impactful. I remember a video of two figures running away from a burning village, one smaller than the other. A sudden violent separation from home through a personal bomb blast.

My British heritage objects to this sensational image. But in closed adoption there aren’t really applicable  “treasured adoption photos”.

Looking Good

Last night Joy mentioned how I portray myself, suggesting my motivations are often to “make myself look good”.  She said that based on my answer to an earlier commenter’s question  I am pretty naive about how I look to others.  How did I think that me makes me look? Not good.  Then why did I say it? Because it’s the truth. I like to keep it simple. I don’t want people to approve of me based on erroneous information.

I have been overly concerned about what she thinks about me.  By not raising her, I missed out on the lovely assurance that no matter what; I am her mother.  I  have feared her judgment against me could separate us forever. How bizarrely I’ve handled that concern illustrates why worrying about what other people think of me just doesn’t work.

One of my references for a good life is an image I got from a side bar commentary running throughout much of the Last Whole Earth Catalog by Ann Herbert. It’s where the quote “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” came from. She described the way running for the bus with your scarf flying can be a senseless act of beauty  contributing to the well being of all. ( I can’t find the article of my memory but you can see some of her writing here.) Joy is a great appreciator of beauty. I think she would appreciate me looking good. Maybe fleshing out the circumstances of how I came to have the painting I had been assigned to give to my uncle can make for a nicer picture.

In 1995 my mom died of cancer.  I had flown to CA from KS just 5 days before to be with her as she completed her life. I stayed on for another couple weeks for the memorial service and to help make arrangements for my dad who had two herniated discs and high blood pressure.

Both his parents had lived to be 97 and I fully expected him to recover from his back problem and his high bp.  So when he asked me to be his trustee in the event of being incapacitated or dying I said sure, without giving it much thought. Five months later he had a series of strokes that left him totally dependent. He had letters in the midst of being printed in his computer to people all over the country. There were thousands of reel to reel tapes he archived for the local chamber music society. There were decisions about how and where to care for him physically, emotionally and financially.  And I lived 1500 miles away.  That could be blog fodder for years.

Nearly a year later he moved to  a nursing center in KS. Another year later I sold his house, after emptying it. There were lots of oil paintings, all but two done by my grandmother. Two of them went up in his room at the nursing center, a portrait of his wife and one of his childhood backyard in Lansing. I shipped a sunset over Wing Lake to my cousin in MI. Most got boxed up and stuck in the garage. I sent Joy photos of many of them.

I was instructed to ship the portrait of my grandmother to my uncle, upon my father’s death. It was the one of the two paintings  I would have liked to hang in my house.  Meanwhile, my dad was alive and kicking (and biting) and keeping me busy in addition to substitute teaching, raising two kids and reunion.

In 2000 we moved it all back to CA, from 3000 midwestern sq ft to 1100 CA sq ft, leaving Buster behind as a freshman at KU.  Neither my husband or I had jobs, but we still had two mortgages.  It felt a little tight. My dad was in a nursing center just a 12 minute bike ride away.

DH got a job pretty quickly. Ezzy was making new friends and falling in love and learning to drive. There was considerable tension between me and DH completely apart from reunion. Joy’s and my relationship was still riddled with ambivalence to put it mildly.

Anyway, when Joy said “Send me the portrait.” I was still under obligation to Uncle, my dad’s brother.  I didn’t know his interest. I hadn’t asked. He was 7 years older than Dad. Ezzy and DH and I had talked about hoping we’d get the painting eventually.  If Dad died first, we’d probably get it back when Uncle died, no guarantees.

Dad died in 2004.  My brother & I went back to visit Uncle & family after the memorial service. Their health was failing.  My brother was aware of the dispute between me and Joy. He didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask Uncle about the portrait beause they were concerned with bigger issues. They were barely able to navigate their current situation. Aunt died the following year.

About that time Buster helped me unpack the portrait and start making arrangements for it to be copied.

Last year I visited again and Uncle talked incessantly about the sweethearts of his youth and how much nicer the house in Lansing was than where he currently lives.  He moved out of the house in Lansing before WWII. These days when I call, he doesn’t answer. Cousin says he doesn’t hear very well but is “doing fine”.

I asked him about the portrait. He said he doesn’t want it.  So yeah, I held onto it long enough and now consider it mine. For some reason Grandmother covered her face with lacquer, which has yellowed over the years making her look severely jaundiced.

The first symptom of my mother’s cancer was jaundice. Whoa, that didn’t look good.

What am I trying to prove?

Three years after Joy was born my best friend shocked me by asking me, “What are you trying to prove?”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  Moi?  Trying to prove anything?  Looking back from here, I’d been trying to prove I was worthwhile, trying to earn a place in the world.  Theme of my youth.

Relinquishing my baby to adoption was the greatest trauma of my life.  I lost both my baby and my fragile sense of worth.  I had been convinced I couldn’t care for her and told not to speak of her again, when my parents  took me home from the hospital.

I insisted my mother take pictures of me holding my baby girl before signing the termination of parental rights.  Holding her again was similar to her birth, a sense of heaven, suspended in joyful knowing beyond anything slse.    Then she was taken from my arms and I was ushered into a small office to sign the prepared paperwork. I couldn’t see what I was signing for the tears.

There was no discussion of “feelings”.  There was a lot of silence.  I cried in my room for a couple weeks or so…  The opinion of the world as I knew it was that my baby and I did not deserve each other.  She was pure and good.  I was unworthy of her.  The world hadn’t made much sense to me before that.  Giving my baby to strangers stood my sense of right and wrong on its head.  At this point I really didn’t care to live in the world I’d known so far.  Losing my firstborn daughter to adoption through submitting to the idea that I wasn’t good enough to be her mother devastated my self esteem.  I was supposed to suppress my grief in favor of shame.  Finding myself waking up alive day after day was a bit of a surprise.

It shifted to seem I was playing Rapunzel, waiting to be rescued from my parents’ protection.  I realized it was time to leave my parents home and find my way in the world, to make a new life.  The next move was up to me, to get up and go back out in the world to see what I could find.  For about a year, I told everyone I met about losing my baby, until a young man looked at me with a shocked expression and told me my baby needed me and that it was wrong to leave my own flesh and blood behind.

I started trying to push this significant point in my life story back as far as I could.  Sex, drugs and rock were no replacement.

Inwardly I was both at war with and worshipping the god of opinion.  Others opinions and even my own, conflicted with my true inner goal of living as a divine creation of God. Jesus was my secret role model.  I grew up in the sixties and attended Love-Ins with the youth minister from my family church. “Hippies”, free love and the “spiritual” aspects of the popular culture appealed to me.  I was both baffled and curious at discussions about “the purpose of life”.  People were studying meditation and experimenting with psychedelic drugs to uncover life’s meaning.  My sense of spirituality was that it was way more mysterious than I was.  Privately I contemplated  and processed these messages.  My personal answer to “What is the purpose of life?”  was “To have fun.”  It sounded too simple and maybe sacrilegious, so I kept quiet.

It was beginning to discover my purpose, expressing my worthiness as a child of God.  Just like everyone else.  I am.  That’s what I was trying to prove.

Trying to prove it is counterproductive. It’s something to be experienced, not proven. Trying to prove my worth indicates  I’m not experiencing it. Trying to prove my worth is siding with the devil of separation.

I want to fulfill my purpose of living and loving who I am.

Vote for Dawn

This is my little bit of political action. VOTE FOR DAWN over at “the Bump” where there is a contest for BEST ADOPTION BLOG. Remember her blog’s name is “this woman’s work” and if you’re reading me I’m sure you’ve read her.  Her blog is head and shoulders, knees and toes above the others competing, if you have any interest in adoption reform or ethics or learning or…. Please go vote for her. She’s barely ahead right now. I think you can vote multiple times. In fact I’m going to go back right now and vote again. Click on the purple words above.  Ok? Then just scroll down until you can click on the little circle next to This Woman’s Work. Yeah.

Crazy Weather

Yesterday we got nearly 7 inches of rain with terrific winds swirling around the house. This morning there are little branches from the neighbors trees in our yard and the new Chinese pistache out front was bent way over. The underground stream running through the backyard will be flowing for the rest of the season!

As the winds roared I thought about leaks. Two winters ago a small dampness appeared in the NE corner ceiling. When I tried to assess the damage I saw a vent in the shallow eave very near the wet spot and imagined the rain swirling into the opening, soaking the insulation and gradually dripping down through the drywall. I enjoy standing in the laundry porch watching the gusts of rain switching directions, but worried about it getting in the vent. Then last winter it bloomed into an ugly patch of mildew over 2′ across.  It had been my youngest’s room, now used as a guest room. I tried not to look at it all winter, but the image of the rain swirling up into the vent every time it rained nagged me.

So mid morning had I started worrying out loud about that vent that we still hadn’t done anything to block it. And my dear DH looked at me through  bleary flu clouded eyes and said, “Remember it was the flashing around the electrical pole where it comes through the roof. We put roof tar on it last spring.”

DUH. That’s right. Last spring when we checked out the situation  we discovered that my concern for the vent was mistaken.  We just pulled out the roof tar and fixed the leak so fast it was completely forgotten. But the memories of the worry lived on and were front and center when it started to rain again.

Memories playing tricks on me. If I am so easily deluded, I think others may be too.

ETA: I posted my remembrance of “the painting” debacle a couple months ago.

Whose Fault?

Aerial view of the San Andreas Fault slicing through the Carrizo Plain just east of S L Obispo, California

Aerial view of the San Andreas Fault slicing through the Carrizo Plain just east of S L Obispo, California

My youngest came home for her birthday this week, preferring a quiet time for introspection after a hectic month of transitioning from one coast to another, finding a place to live and work and school, again.  It was a treat to hang together for a day. I told her that Joy and I are doing well and took credit by saying our reunion was better because I was doing better. Ezzy looks at me and says, “You’re not guilt tripping yourself anymore?”

Uh, I guess not. (?) I was surprised by her words and felt a tad foolish.

No, I’m not guilt tripping myself.  It sounds much easier than it is. It’s like walking a slithering tight rope.  Not just a balancing act but attending to and being present with a constantly moving line of truth. I have easily slipped into blaming or defending at any subtle hint to discredit me.

But that last word on Ezzy’s question, “anymore?” We’ll have to see about that.

A recent revelation is the way I tried scapegoating Joy’s father. It was easy to do, but the payoff was sour. He and I broke up immediately after signing the TPR. He felt a duty to maintain a facade of support until then. But when I was confronted by him dating someone 6 years his junior I was devastated.  I knew our relationship was a dead end. But I still loved him and was furious that he found it so easy to “move on”.  Moving on seemed so different for him than me.

I kept loving him, thinking of him, doing things for him.  An older guy took me in like a wounded animal he cared for.  He envied the love he saw me continuing to send towards my baby’s daddy.There was a year of wild living after that before I gradually started to clear my head.

I’m lucky to have floated up to safety after having given up on myself.

Many years later, Joy’s call from 2000 miles away, awakened old memories. I told her his full name and his married sister’s name. And off she went to find him.

The little bit I heard about him from Joy triggered some old resentful feelings. He wasn’t who I wanted or needed back then. He just wasn’t. But even after all that time apart there were remnants and feelings of betrayal from his romantic notions and suggestions. I was annoyed that he might do that to her or for her and come across looking better in our daughter’s eyes than I ever would. Jealousy.

There were so many questions to answer. How? Why? Why not… One plausible story is that I fell for a guy that was not there for me.  We lived in a society that expected the father to step up and provide for his family. And he was MIA. It was easy to see he failed his responsibilities to me and to her.

Did he really know any better than he behaved?   Were we the only pressure in his life?  We had come sooo close to breaking up after 3 years of a steady relationship.  We started heading off in different directions and BOOM, I was suddenly pregnant.

I didn’t want to involve him.  But his sense of doing the “right” thing interfered for a few fateful months turning my plans around. Then we lost our jobs and therefore our room in a rundown beach hotel. “Morning” sickness manifested as morning, noon and night sickness.  Living in the van was plain uncomfortable and indiscreet with me throwing up unpredictably.

So he turned me over to my parents. When I asked him why he didn’t show up for his job interviews he was evasive, just like when I asked him where he was living. I don’t know what was going on in his life, his head or why. I think he was spending a lot of time stoned and I was tired of that.

I tried blaming him for a while, trying to deflect the guilt trips. But I was only using him as a scapegoat. His actions were  his best efforts to cope with growing up in the 60’s in a dysfunctional family. He’s got a couple other excuses too.

It gets down to a couple of almost adults interacting, in a changing society that didn’t support us taking care of our child, and learning some hard lessons. One of the things I’m still learning is to stop looking at what I or anyone else did as wrong. I don’t get a “do over”. My life is my life. It’s mine and I’m doing the best I know to express loving to all my family.

When I let go of my ego demands, my personality, my opinions and points of view, a feeling of joy and peace expands inside me. That’s what I want to share. I get a loving consciousness and awareness that I am loved by Spirit and by God and that I am safe.

It’s an exercise. I have to do it daily, just like someone training for a marathon.

Wear Your Love Like Heaven

Joy asked me how I experienced growing up in the ’60s. Was I inspired by the radical activists in the news? My sensitivities ran more to Frank Zappa than the Weather Underground. I wanted to explore and see things from as many different perspectives as I could. The causes of the day elicited my sympathy, but perpetuating violence didn’t. I really did want to love everybody.

Her father scoffed at me as being both arrogant and naive to have such a dream.   Relying on his emotional support,  I chose to hide my ideals away along with his judgment that I was unworthy of them.

So now, remembering is part of reclaiming my experience. I was mystified by desire to be with him. Our relationship didn’t match who I though I was and who I would choose for company. Joy says he is charismatic which was news to me. Was it his charisma that overcame my resistance to his views and his selfishness? Whatever it was, I loved him, despite “knowing better”.

I explained that I would not have sex with him because  my intact virginity was my priority.  However I understood young men had very strong sexual urges, so I would not object if he chose to have sex with anyone else. Unfortunately my own sexual urges combined with lack of practical information got the better of me and suddenly I discovered I was not a virgin.

( Wish I’d heard of reclaiming virginity. I thought once lost, forever lost but now I prefer to maximize options not surgically, just psychologically.)

I felt I had lost control of myself, my choices and who I could be, that there was no going back. Back in the day it was not all free love and roses.  In my community, in my head, being a virgin was necessary to be worthwhile. By losing that, I lost connection to my community and became dependent on my boyfriend to escort me through the rest of high school lest my indiscretion be exposed.

… back to  my political inclinations. I was uneasy with the “off the P*gs” rhetoric.  My instincts were not aligned with condemnation, a variation on the current theme of fighting for peace in Southeast Asia. Big talk without a foundation of understanding. Illusions? Nixon looked like a creep, but trying to reconcile vilifying him with peace and love didn’t work.  It was a larger demo of my own drama. The world was an angry rather than a supportive place.

All this reminiscing and trying to communicate my experience parallels my present awareness of the circle of blame/shame  riding around adoptionland. I habitually blamed/judged myself, for failing to figure out how to operate in society, how to raise my first born child.  The world was hard! I blamed her dad in part. But that just came back to the fact that I chose him. My parents forbid me to see him. But I did it anyway.

Entering blogland in 2006 I found there was lots of other ways to place blame.  My favorite was the evil adoption agencies. Money, greed, commerce were all familiar evils to me. I still carried a torch for blaming her father, feeling wronged and betrayed by him.

The real novelty was blaming aparents in general– victims of their baby lust as well as society’s expectations. I can carry that as far as blaming my own daughter’s aparents (although I do respect that, THEY were the ones that took her home and cleaned her bottom, and fed her and wiped her nose etc.) But still, it’s easy for me to blame them for not living up to my expectations.

In the long run blaming anyone as an escape from my pain is running away from myself. No matter who I blame or where I go, the pain comes along for the ride. The pain is the response inside me.

It may seem like someone else is hurting me. My boyfriend abandoned me. My parents turned me out. Her parents let me down. But it’s bound to look different from their point of view. The pain I experience is inside me and that’s where I have to deal with it. Blaming anyone avoids dealing with the source of it.  It hurts inside me. Deciding some else caused it doesn’t make it go away .

Accepting what is going on without judgment or blame, including for myself,  I gain authority over my pain. I don’t have to change. Nothing has to change. If and when things do change, that’s ok too.

I’m here with what I’ve got and so is everyone else. We’re doing the best we know how  with what we’ve got to work with, and there’s no need to blame anybody.  I didn’t have perfect parents. They didn’t have perfect parents either. Nor were we perfect children.

Playing the victim, belies that I am responsible for my life. It’s the one thing I’ve got. Empowering something or someone else through blame is taking my life away from me; to live in castles in the sky, the way I think it should be — cheating myself out of my own life.

I am not to blame for my experience. My experience is my resource. I am in reunion with my exquisitely perfect and beautiful first born adult child. I am cooperating with the process of uncovering the blocks and obstacles in our path.

The loving between us is always present waiting for us to return and pay attention to it. Our separation can dissolve instantly when we turn to our connectedness.  We can relax, enjoy the respite of our caring for ourselves.

The past is a reference point. I’m looking at it with awareness – for information, not for blame or judgment.

Blogging is an opportunity to grow in peace. Looking through eyes of peace, I don’t see enemies or opposition. I see opportunities.

Happiness is a state of mind. Happy thoughts have power. Regardless of what I’m doing or what has happened, I’m choosing to be happy and share that, by cooperating with what is present.