I should have known when I saw the word, “Mama” on the birthday flowers that it was a trick of the heart. When I read it the feeling of a dangerous game in play rose in my chest. Cathy had tried the word on for size for my birthday and once she threw it out there it ripped on contact. It made her afraid and I returned to my nameless state, one dropped hot potato.
Seven weeks later it’s the week before Christmas. I’m in her neighborhood to find things for the new house we bought nearby. She writes that she needs a break from adoption stuff and doesn’t want to talk to me. Her plans don’t include me, and she can’t handle the thought of dealing with anything more on her plate. Mixing us with her family and mother is more than she can do. It feels too complicated. I hadn’t been able to make direct plans with her but Steve and I had driven to town with presents for her, her mother and our grandsons. Now the hope and excitement of seeing this part of our family will sit wrapped in suspended bright colors in the back of the car until we can box them up in brown paper and send them from a post office hundreds of miles away back in Seattle. The gifts will be late for Christmas now.
We are preparing to move to Cathy’s neighborhood in little more than a month. As of yesterday she has asked that we not to come to her house nor attempt to mix “this time.” Her birthfather will visit her this weekend. My heart sighs. It’s her perogative. There’s nothing I can say.
Our experiences have conditioned us for the better part of fifty years to be disconnected. Our loss has been reinforced from the start. Since the beginning we have come to expect the grief of loss over the gain of our connection. Her resentment, anger and sadness seems to be growing. My presence only makes it worse. Cathy lives outside the ring of my life and I live outside of hers. That’s the way she needs it to be.
If Cathy is phone-reluctant, tongue-tied or unresponsive, it may be because she learned it from me. If she is nowhere to be found, neither was I. So what’s the difference? It’s the way it is.
The absence of the sound of her voice rings loudly in my mind’s ear day after day, week after week, year after year. In a twisted way, I’ve grown more used to missing her than almost anything else about our relationship. We’re different but we also get each other on a gut level that feels like blood. I’ve loved those moments and hold them close in my heart. She knows me in her way. I know her in mine.
Mothers carry a treacherous role with daughters, no matter where they come from. It’s natural and there is a time when it comes to a head before it blows into the next layer of being in an adult relationship. It’s part of the maturation between generations. For a mother who relinquished, I fear this tension may never end. Acceptance is not resolution.
In our forties and sixties twenty-five years into our reunion, we still struggle. For me, there will always be a rush to see, feel, hear, or in any manner connect with my daughter. The surge of my gladness is genetically irrepressible. My feelings of recognition leave the loss that’s steeped in my bones and rise in surprise to take form in a song, story, or drawing.
For her, there is a sense of hesitation and suspension that never lets go of the large hooks our connection rests on. Sharing family news is alienating so she never asks – and doesn’t want to know. She doesn’t share anything with me in a day-to-day way about her family or her children. My place in her family is not one of belonging. Her family watches me guardedly as a thief in the room.
Coming together hasn’t been easy for us. We both have worked to lift and lay every step we’ve taken. When it starts to feel easy and good, the picture of what we missed becomes vivid enough to feel and the sadness returns. My wish is that she will enjoy knowing me. My fear is that she never will.
So she avoids me, her sibling, her aunts and uncles, grandparents, my husband – most anybody related to me but mostly me. We parlay our relationship as best we can around it all.
It has always made me cringe to exclude Cathy from holidays and life events but I’ve learned to hold back out of respect for her need for boundaries, balance and her own family needs and expectations. I am careful about what I choose to share with her and when to invite her inside a personal family event. I know that there is no welcome mat at her house for me to go knock on her door. Relinquishment is never over. I must wait for her to invite me in.
It sounds peculiar, doesn’t it? It is.
It’s also part of how we’ve acclimated to each other. Truth be known, she doesn’t seem to have room for me in her life. Perhaps she just wants to know that I’m there. That may not seem very different from my other children, but the charge in Cathy’s disconnection feels volatile in new ways. My fingers cross that it’s a sign of healing that she is letting her feelings become known. I quietly hope I won’t be asked to leave forever.
Even after twenty-five years in reunion, the consequences of relinquishment rise again and again. There is no place to air complaints about my discomfort from the excision between us. My hurt feelings watch from the distance in a vacuum of powerlessness. There is no space that breathes freely in her heart for me. In the void, I’m left to guess what she feels. My guess is that I am frozen in her heart as the teenager who turned her premature call to motherhood into relinquishment, unready to make a lifetime commitment to raise her as my child. My daughter finds that inexcusable. I don’t blame her.
Somewhere, empathy waits.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.