The first anniversary of my return to Portland passed this week with a feeling of celebration and gratitude. We have come full circle around the sun.
A year ago my daughter was reluctant to trust my return. In her mind it was only “until you go away again.” My move out of town had broken trail in our long-term reunion and served to echo the original abandonment. During the year we had lived in the same neighborhood – even since her arrival in 1993, it had never been easy for either of us to sort through the puzzle pieces of relinquishment, and eliminate the divisive seams of our fractured family. My return signaled a time to reestablish our bond within proximity of the lives we were living. I was back within reach. My time away was over. Renewal of our enduring bond had been challenged and her trust had turned to detachment. In my heart, our bond had always been part of me – together and apart. In real life, our bond lives in a fragile and precarious container built between the two lives we have lived apart.
The losses in the family while I was away had been deep. Cathy’s adoptive father had died around Thanksgiving the year before we returned, and she assumed sole responsibility for her aging adoptive mother. Soon she will move her from Florida into a place nearby to become a full-time family resident of the Portland branch. The health of my husband’s beloved parents faded and, one after the other, died during our time in Seattle. Two months after we resettled in Portland, I lost my father. The deaths of our parents magnified my desire to be closer to our family – children and grandchildren, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. We had learned many lessons in our life away from Portland, and one of them was that with distance comes isolation, loneliness, and an even stronger yearning to be close to our loved ones while we can.
My first year back home had been quiet at first. Over and over I sought to regain some footing in my daughter’s life. She painfully reiterated that we are not “core family” to her. I came to accept the boundary between my family and hers. On one level, I got it – and understood. In another sense, it will never be true for me. It is only true for her. Even without lives lived together, she has been, is and will be part of my core. Relinquishment does not erase being a mother. I was a mother without access to my child. She was a child with a substitute mother. When I explore the boundary that grew its thick skin between my heart and hers, I find gratitude for what we truly share, and sorrow for what has kept us apart.
With the help and encouragement of my husband, “Uncle Grandpa Steve” we have tried to create normalcy with a focus on the grandchildren. Acceptance is the beautiful gift of young children. They know love is the most natural thing in the world. They love their “Uncle Grandpa Steve” – he’s warm and fun and knows a lot as they explore the pond and build things in his shop. They call me “Grandma” in between cupcakes I bake for them and our connection feels complete.
Last week I attended Quinn’s basketball practice for the first time while Steve tended Reed at his guitar lesson up the street. Quinn called out to me, “Grandma! The door is open so you can watch from up there.” He pointed to the door of the balcony for spectators overlooking the gym. I looked up from my knitting on the bench in the school hall and grinned, “Thanks, Quinn!” – gathered my coat and went where I could watch. He’s a natural athlete and my heart swelled up with pride to watch him play. I sensed that he could feel my eyes as his ball swooshed into the hoop or bounced off the backboard. He felt the smile across my face as he ran the ball across the gym floor. Invisible joy filled the space between us and his intuition let him know that I wasn’t going to miss a beat.
Beyond family gatherings and kid-related events, I waited for Cathy to initiate connection. Forcing it is pointless. We both want it to be real, whatever that is. After a hiatus, Cathy came over to write last week. By the time she left, the blog was back on schedule and the next phase of writing resurrected. Even though we don’t read each other’s chapters, we love writing together. It’s something we, and only we, do together. Our motivation to continue our Kathleen~Cathleen project to the finish rekindled and we left each other at the end of the evening with a full-hearted hug.
“In the end, it will all work out. If it’s not worked out, it’s not the end.”
It’s beginning to feel like it will work out. It’s definitely not the end but we’re going in the right direction. However this plays out for us, we’re both doing our best and we accept that in each other. We’ve come this far – a long way. No matter how we struggle, we have to trust that the love we share will help us and carry us through from here.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.