Tag Archives: communication

shaken and stirred

My DD took offense at an impersonal pronoun in my last post. I screwed up. I was tired when I read her comment and should have left it alone. But I was going to be offline for at least five days and didn’t want to ignore her. So I jumped in and said something really stupid and hurtful.  I’ve been re looking at it for the past 5 days.

That would be HER, not IT, thank-you.

At first I didn’t read carefully enough to distinguish between her comment (above) and my own words (below) which were posted along with her comment.

“Or if they really loved their first grandchild they sure had a strange way of showing it, huh? If they loved that baby unconditionally they would have clung to it and kept it safe themselves rather than cast it out to the unknown world of people in better circumstances, better able to provide for this healthy white infant. That’s what some people say.”

It was late and I was shaken by the  capitalized pronouns, (representing a frequent accusation that I’m thoughtless and lack empathy).  I reacted foolishly. In the morning I quickly edited the post without grasping what I was doing before leaving town.

In a rush and feeling awkward and misunderstood, I had changed that paragraph from talking about my parents and an abstract baby, to be more directly about her. I hadn’t intended to be that personal.  Becoming more personally about her, I took it personally too, which can be quite troublesome. I hadn’t wanted to touch into the rawness of my reunion.

That is exactly what I was  looking at when I started the previous post. How to love unconditionally and personally? How do I love what is just the way it is? DD, just the way she is? Can I love my whole family unconditionally? Without getting confused trying to suit other people’s desires or distracted by conflicting requests?

I know from long experience feeling *guilty* is more disabling than motivating. The burning regret that I had misunderstood her and reacted inappropriately again was overshadowed by getting my feelings hurt too, feeling ignored and  insulted when I thought reaching out to her would be easier than it is.  I keep moving to find the sweet spot where I can see what’s going on and interact with compassion rather than guilt.

It takes a lot of attention. I have to stop comparing myself to any measure of reasonableness – stop  justifying choices made out of fear, jealousy or greed. Being afraid of losing her means I’m losing myself. She will always be a part of me. I just have to be open to who she is, whether she *likes* me or not.

When I am secure with myself, I see her with compassion. When I’m out of balance, the shaking wakes me up to how far I’ve drifted. I have to steady myself to look and see who my daughter is, to accept our reunion as raw and awesome and changing. Our differences, our similarities are all valuable. The beauty of who we are stirs me. And I can see her more clearly.

Reaching out and touching no matter what, that’s part of it. There is something about shaking it off and getting up and getting going that is refreshing too.

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In and ex clusion

I wish there was a guide, a handbook, a Miss Manners for reunion. Some thing to refer to when everything is upside down. I wish I had the presence of mind to realize no means yes and what we say about each other reflects what we think about ourselves. Maybe some of my mistakes can clear the way for someone else.

A couple years into reunion, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Two years to live. Those next two years were rocky ones for DD and me with a lot of mixed up memories– trying to look like we were handling things and mistrusting each other. Our families thought we should have one meeting and put it behind us. I suppose Joy was quite frustrated; trying to bring me out of my “fog” about the way adoption worked.  I was preoccupied with Mom’s stoic and optimistic outlook.

Looking back I see the foolishness of expecting Joy to trust me. She had a lifetime of feeling abandoned by me.  I hadn’t proved  trustworthy. She withdrew from her mother/stranger, cut off contact for periods of time, and accused me of neglecting her. Last fall she described it as not having anyone on her side, as though we were opponents.

The first summer Mom was sick, Joy and I had a very unsatisfying visit.  I was bewildered with grief for both my firstborn and my mother.  I had expected Joy to accept the complications of my family with grace and ease, which was ridiculous. Joy had PTSD. Mom had cancer.  I just crashed into it.

After our “visit” I holed up in my folks guestroom until morning, scaring my dad into talking about adoption for the first time.  I listened as he explained his views on family loyalty. His views from the Great Depression as well as being drafted into WWII. He knew @#$# happened to women and children. DD and I had been protected. He had dealt with considerable family upheaval due to emotional/mental depressions.  He didn’t want to lose me again. I appreciated his concern and continued to feel disconnected.

Joy said “She’s not really dying.” I thought she meant mom’s illness was just an excuse, diverting attention away from her. (She later explained that she didn’t think Mom acted like she was dying.)  Knowing that I wasn’t going to get to spend much more time with Mom hurt. That my daughter resented my focus on Mom hurt.  Joy’s skepticism was still on my mind when Mom died.

She almost made two years after diagnosis.   She planned to visit us in Kansas in the springtime. I called to wish her Happy Birthday three times on April 19th. The tulips were blooming. When she couldn’t come to the cordless phone, I figured out she wasn’t going to make the trip. My brother and I were standing by her bed in the early hours of the 27th as she passed over. The day before her scheduled trip to KS.

Dad’s blood pressure was sky high and he had two herniated discs. There was too much to be responsible for at that point. I drew a picture of amaryllis blooms for the memorial program cover, borrowed a dress to wear and picked a song I’d been listening to throughout her illness, You are a Flower by Greg Brown. I love that song.  My brother, the Golden Boy, and I both did eulogies. I didn’t even call Joy.  She had not been able to make the trip to visit when Mom was alive and I didn’t realize her death was more significant than her life. But mostly I didn’t want to deal with criticism of the mother I was saying goodbye to.

A month or two later, when we did talk about it, Joy was indignant that she hadn’t been informed/included/invited. I mistakenly took it as interest in her grandmother.  I thought feeling left out meant she wanted to know what happened. So I sent her a program and a cassette recording. It wasn’t until this year that I finally grasped that  her indignation was at not being included as part of the family. She wasn’t interested in my mother, her grandmother, as a person. That was me.  She wanted to be recognized and treated as a granddaughter at a family gathering.

She wanted to know why I didn’t do that.  Simple incompetence is my answer; or lack of awareness, as my grandson so eloquently said. Spring of ’95 I was self absorbed and clueless and on my own. The internet has it’s pitfalls but it’s the closest thing I’ve got to a mentor re reunion.

Scarlet Alphabet

Yesterday I was helping get a mailing out at the botanical garden where I volunteer weekly. There were 7 other people sitting around, two of which know the bare bones of my story. A woman who has been very open with me asked how many children I had altogether and I told her (and everyone else at the table) that I hadn’t raised my firstborn who was adopted. It was the first time I’d even met one of the people there. A ripple of silence went around. Then a woman with a strong leadership style said her friend in birdwatching group recently reunited with her “first daughter” which invited me to share that my daughter and I have been in reunion nearly 20 years, said with a smile, followed by another ripple of silence.

 

We turned to talking about good books and literature which turned to Am Lit and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The woman next to me said she saw someone on Halloween with a scarlet A on her dress and standing next to her a child wearing a B. The group cracked up laughing and I sat quietly not getting the joke. My sense of humor was so absent! Why would Pearl be wearing the letter B?

Later thinking about it, I thought B for *astard, which made sense but the humor in that was a bit too harsh for that crowd. This morning the thought was B as in the second letter of the alphabet. A,B,C indicating the scarlet A no longer had the meaning it originally held.

 

Writing this all out gives me a fresh perspective. They were shocked, startled, to briefly hear my story. They haven’t shared that experience, but the experience we shared yesterday was one of acceptance, even though it took me 1/2 a day to figure it out.

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.

Face to Face

Weird how much time I spend wondering about the next time I’ll see, or talk to Joy again.  I entertain a sense of  unfinished business, that I should do something for a greater feeling of peace between us.

Reviewing Joy’s and my first face to face still gives me goosebumps.

My grandpa died a couple weeks after our first phone call.  A memorial was planned for sometime in March, meaning I was going back to California and would be able to meet Joy in person!  In my memory she wanted to meet me too.  (Sometime this past year she corrected that misinterpretation.) We met  at a place of her choosing.

I worried about what to wear, desperate to look respectable, comparing myself to her description of her adoptive mother, petite and sharp.  When I was skinny dipping in college a friend “complimented” me on my fertility goddess appearance, which I was hoping to camouflage because Joy had mentioned the importance of a slim figure.

Atypically I wore lipstick and curled my hair for the memorial service and to meet Joy. I remember checking out my pink shorts and white sweater in my mom’s mirror after explaining that I wanted to borrow their car so I could go meet my daughter that had contacted me and lived nearby and  that yes I was sure I wanted to meet her.  Yes I am.  I don’t know when I’ll be back.  At a coffeshop near the freeway.  Thank you.

Looking back, my folks handled it ok.  It came out of left field for them. They didn’t know Joy and I were “in reunion”, or any idea of such a thing as reunion. They were in the midst of handling a death in the family, hosting their children, grandchildren, inlaws and visiting with guests from out state.

I left all that  behind and arrived at the coffeeshop.  I don’t remember if we met inside or in the parking lot.  I do remember looking across the table and being stunned to see her father’s eyes.  Ok, that should be normal.   I look like my father.  She says I talked a lot.  I probably did.  But the only things I remember saying are things she’s reminded me I said.  I’m sure I talked about her blue eyes.   My younger children’s father had looked for his blue eyes in his kids but they are hazel and brown like mine.

I also know I made a rude comment trying to cover my embarrassment at not having a gift for my baby grandson.  It was surreal. I remember (?) that.

Learning that Joy had uncertain feelings about even meeting me makes sense as I recall our interaction.  I plowed ahead with unprepared enthusiasm despite self consciousness and doubt about my worthiness.  She was more hesitant and held back, perhaps more thoughtful.

What I most remember was being stunned by our differences. She was my daughter but we’d lived differently. She was also her father’s daughter and he was a stranger to me now.  She was her afamily’s daughter and their influence was so unfamiliar to me.  She was married– husband and child to boot.

She didn’t want to touch me. Although I was accustomed to my family of origin not touching; hugging and cuddling have been constant with my younger children. I wanted it, but didn’t push it on her.

I went back to my folks house and started wondering about when I would see her again.

Conditioning, expectations, misunderstandings and fears  interfered in our communication.  I am most rewarded when responding from my heart, because at least then I get it.