Category Archives: mother and child

Integration: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 6

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Below is Part 6, the final installment in this series of our blog – a series to share excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen as read for the American Adoption Congress Conference in San Francisco in 2014.

Last week’s excerpt from the  “Therapy” chapter of Kathleen~Cathleen, we shared discoveries that shed light and gave us a new perspective on the core of our reunion experience. It also validated our experience which made us stronger, and fueled our desire to continue.

Below is my excerpt from the Integration chapter of the memoir (then read Cathy’s Integration excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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Kate’s Reading…

Cathy established herself in Portland and created a life of her own that also allowed us to remain connected. I had fallen in love with the owner of a little musical instrument shop, Artichoke Music, and my youngest daughter and I moved into a shared household with he and his two sons.

In what would become our blended family, Cathy was treated as an emancipated eldest sibling and she was considered a member of the family from the beginning.

At this point in time, Cathy helped me part-time in my office at the music store. We had become more comfortable with each other and I relished her participation in our life in Portland.

In 1995, Cathy joined an adoptee-in-reunion group that was facilitated by a therapist who was also a birthmother, with her reunited relinquished daughter.

At Cathy’s suggestion, I decided to go to the counter-group for birthparents led by the same therapist. She introduced herself as Sharon, and led me into the room where the group meets.

People were seated in all but one of the circle of chairs, and I took it.  Sharon sat in her tall, rolling, tweed office chair next to her small desk . She ( and ) began by asking us to introduce ourselves by our first names and to briefly share our reunion status with our birth child.

I was suddenly aware that I had never knowingly been in a room with another birthmother, much less a roomful of them.  As stigmatic birthmothers, we were there to talk about the very thing that made us the invisible character in the triad.  None of us had ever talked about ourselves in this role within a peer group. Birthmothers were invisible. Talking about it was a rare confidence with a friend or family member but never like this, in an open room filled with others who had  come here to talk about reunion and reconciliation with the children.

Each woman had her story.  Some were local Portlanders whose history remained within the proximity of the region.  Others, like me, were from other places and now living in Oregon.  Each person was in a different phase of reunion.  The emotional makeup of each story revealed common threads between us.

Characteristics in common included independent, middle-aged women with a matter-of-fact and serious tone about the past as the stories unfolded one by one around the room.  Strong women, accomplished women. Knowing that the our group leader and facilitator, Sharon, was a birthmother in reunion with her own daughter helped me feel safe.

As the women shared their experiences, I related to their feelings based on my own times and reflections with Cathy.  The highs and lows that I had felt as a birthmother, before and in reunion, existed in each woman’s tale. As we focused on each story, and both the dilemmas and connections arising from our reunions, our stories pointed to the place we shared outside of the social norms .

These were places where we had been quiet and invisible until now. I moved this following bit to Therapy chapter with Deborah…20140621kp To tell my story was an act of making my secret known.  To say it outloud made the act of relinquishment, and all that followed, real. Once said, it existed outside of that protected place inside of me where it had been lived so quietly for so long.

Being the carrier of this long secret inside my identity, I was fascinated to hear people’s stories.  They were so honest.  No matter how the story went, the taboo behind our roles as birthparents bonded us. We were saboteurs subverting the dominant paradigm by sharing the truth about our lives since we had let go of our children.

Words for what we described weren’t built into the idioms of our social vocabulary, nor did they exist in the dictionary.  New words like “birthmother”, “relinquishment”, “in reunion”, “triad” were added to the few phrases we had.  The phrase “Giving up the baby” was loaded with shame as a conviction of abandonment for the birthmother who had let go of her child.  As taboo as murder, it was an unspoken act.

As difficult as the topic was, the end of each weekly group left me with a significant feeling of relief.  Just knowing there were other women out there facing a similar set of feelings was comforting.  The feelings remained but I was able to recognize them.  I was part of a collective of birthmothers and no longer strived for answers in isolation, completely alone.

Cathy and I had started our therapeutic assignment to find a neutral place to meet once a week. Cassidy’s Restaurant became our weekly rendezvous.  It had been a favorite haunt of mine since the early 80’s. With its mahogany bar, oak floors and low lights, it’s a perfect place to talk and Cathy liked it there as much as I did.

After going to the birthmothers group, I was able to tell Cathy about the experience of that night and some of the impressions it left me with.  I loved those times together.  We confided in each other and I left feeling connected with her on a deep level. Like for Cathy, the group gave me some perspective on how far she and I had come in the life of our relationship next to the struggles in the stories the others shared in that room.

Cathy and I were new veterans on a horizon that had narrow access for exploration.  We felt like a pair of pioneers in uncharted territory.  Our exploration had been conscious and vocal since the beginning with an openness that was natural to our personalities, a trait we shared. We continued to track our feelings as we unfolded in new ways, and revealed deeper versions of ourselves with each other.

My pride in Cathy, who she was and the woman she was becoming, was strong.  I could feel maternal responses and it felt wonderful to express it.  The undercurrents in my emotions rose more quickly to the surface as my ability to claim my daughter grew more real.  She gave me permission to love her and I began to feel the maternal feelings I had for her without its guilty partner, shame.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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American Adoption Congress 2015

24 Esther Anne PowerCathy_AAC2015Cathy spoke as one of the Lost Daughters panel at the American Adoption Congress 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts this past weekend in the full-fledged voice of the adoptee speaking out. I see relatives and ancestors instantly recognizable in her face, her work, her bearing and her articulate mind.

Bravo, daughter! You are a champion.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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“The M Word”

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Sometimes, one little word can change everything.

Language has always been tricky for Cathy and I to find the right words to describe what we are experiencing and who we are to each other. Others box us into words that don’t fit very well and the daunting truth remains quietly in flux with our paradox, unattended by the right words. The love that anchors us is stingy with words but we are grounded at the core even without them.

They’re just words. Words to describe us are often are contradictory, bordering on the ironic and suggest complexity bigger than our connection. Mother-daughter. Relinquishment-reunion. Adoption-birthright. Lost-found.

We’ve tried to respond to each other with honesty even when we’re at a loss for words. The people we were when we were younger remind us of where we’ve been as we look for ways to talk about where we are now with others like us and around us. We both go through this, it’s two sides of the experience we share.

After Cathy’s firstborn arrived years ago, she announced to me over brunch that she didn’t want me to use “the M word” anymore in relation to her. In a soft voice she listed the reasons with a firm but practical tone. She was a new mother and now she knew the difference. I hadn’t done any of those things with her. Her mothering came from her adoptive mother and that word belonged only to her. I took in what she said and nodded without argument. “It’s only a word” I said to myself. I asked her if it was okay to continue to call her my daughter. She nodded yes, and said that was fine. I was relieved. She was all that mattered to me in that conversation.

I was careful not to use “the M word” after that day. Nothing closer than the more acceptable (there’s that paradox again) assignations of “birthmother” or “first mother” came from me. I don’t like those names but it didn’t matter. It didn’t change who I was or what I felt. I didn’t care what she called me. I dropped the qualifier and referred to her adoptive mother as her mother from then on, and took my place in the language of our relationship. In my heart I knew what I knew – that we were more – and I didn’t need a name. She would know me by who I was – by my voice, by my laughter, by all we shared – not by a moniker that only reminded her of someone else and who I hadn’t been to her when she needed me most. It made me sad and I understood.

The surprise came on my birthday in late October. I arrived home from work to a lady on my wet doorstep holding a delivery in the rain of an outrageous bouquet of flowers tied up in brown paper from the exotic florist on the corner. Birthdays and holidays were often a source of discomfort for Cathy and I had learned not to expect anything. Mystified, I thanked the woman and carried them into the kitchen and turned on the light. When I saw the card I started to cry.

“Happy birthday, Mama! Love, Cathy” was written with a flourish in a confident hand.

Stunned, I looked again to be sure I was seeing it right. “The florist must have gotten it wrong” I said aloud. It even looked like her handwriting, though I knew it couldn’t be. “Maybe Cathy had a drink and felt mushier than usual and dared to say this because she knew I’d like it?” I knew that wasn’t like her but scratched my head. “Is it a joke? Did she mean to do that?” “Is this real?” I put the flowers in a vase from the cupboard and loosened the arrangement. “Should I call her and thank her, or wait to see if she meant to do this?” “Will she be embarrassed if I love this?” “Did she really say this?””Is this her? Are these her words?” The flowers were incredibly beautiful but my eyes were glued to the card. I went from exhilaration to confusion to doubt and looked again. Yet there it was. The M word.

I didn’t know what to do so I took a picture of it with my phone. My heart lilted as a swift of joy winged up from some secret tunnel deep down under the skin of my heart. Even though I was still uncertain, it’s magic began to sink in. It didn’t matter. What’s in a word, right? Even if this was a mistake or some kind of hoax, something unlocked in that moment. The truth was that the gift had been given. Her acknowledgement was embedded in an armful of flowers on my birthday. It was intentional. She had given me a name. There it was, a boldly written word that had never been uttered before. Mama. I am mama. I’m her mama. She called me mama. Call me Mama. That’s who I am.

One little word can change everything.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Exposure

exposureWhen I see myself in home movies as a child, I can see my gregarious side. I was in love with life and responded to my surroundings, my many siblings, and the turning wheel of events with a zest filled with positive charge.

In my childhood memories of being sad or blue, it was my quiet side that took over – a contemplative, more pensive self – and my reflective nature developed in the privacy of my thoughts.

If I dug deep enough, the answer to my distress was usually waiting there beneath the restless confusion that puzzled me. Once claimed and digested, my emotional balance and sense of understanding increased, along with my ability to either take in more deeply, or let something go that no longer rang true. When I felt caught in between, I cogitated – and pushed at layers that covered the truth like a dog dug for a bone until the answer began to reveal itself. I was a young philosopher.

If my parents sensed that I was stuck on something, quieter and more perplexed than usual, one of them would casually ask how I was doing. More often than not, I would gush my questions and tell them what worried me. They each had a gentle side to their strength. Sometimes my reception to that deeper query into my interior life was better coming from my father, or my mother, depending on the phase I was in.

Looking back now, I appreciate the strategies they must have conspired to keep up with the wild imagination of their daughter as they tried to support my quest to understand life and how I fit in as I found my way.

Talking about it, whether in my thoughts or out loud, was one way I worked it out. The edge of what troubled me eventually found its way and reabsorbed back into my system, like a ruptured disc back into the spine, and I maintained my balance with some discomfort but found myself able to sustain it and move on. I compensated for the dissatisfaction of unanswered questions with thoughts like “it’s just the way it is” or “it’s more than I can understand right now”. As I got older, the margin of things I couldn’t grasp lost gravity or gained weight depending on its importance and wisdom anchored in truth grew in the middle of the person I turned out to be.

When Cathy and I decided to write Cathleen~Kathleen, we knew we were exposing ourselves and writing at great personal risk. We wrote an entire ten years of chapters without sharing a word with each other to answer to the questions that our situation begged in each other, and in the world of adoption and reunion. The privacy of not sharing our chapters with each other was the key that would allow us to replace fear with complete and uninhibited honesty. The unshared chapters are still a largely a secret between us that other people, mostly unknown to us, have read in our blogs and a couple of isolated public readings.

It’s those readers and listeners who have hints of the collective truth of our tale, while we wait until the final edits by our editor to engage and fully share our sides with each other, and in some ways, deliver the truth to each other.

In the negative light of being a birthmother who relinquished her first child, I gave my reunited daughter my unconditional and unedited permission to expose her view of me and all she experienced – complete with my failures, vulnerabilities and weaknesses – to the entire world.

Why on earth would anyone do that?

In our case, it was the only way to uncover the experience of long-term reunion that would allow others to learn the truth of adoption and reunion in its authentic form. It was also a way for me to love her in an unconditional act as her mother, no matter what the world thinks of me.

Is it worth it?

We’ll find out.

If it isn’t, my daughter will still have the inside-out guts of my story of us to digest, and wisdom anchored in truth will grow in the middle of the person she turns out to be.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Photo: themindblowing.com

What’s Normal Now

Otters by steve einhorn©2008Cathy and I have been through countless ups and downs, close times and gaps in the flux and flow of our active twenty-five year relationship in reunion. When we first met she was eighteen years old and I was thirty-seven. What was normal then was to meet as two people apart from each other. I was a younger mother than the one who had raised her, and she was eight years older than the daughter I was in the process of raising. We were awkward at first – what had been normal now felt out of place. We had unexpected pieces in each other’s puzzles – some that fit and some with uneven edges. We were more different than the same. With time and experience, we came to embrace the differences as beautiful characteristics that made us uniquely ourselves and our fear of being different leveled out. We have learned enough about each other to accept who we are and now it feels normal to be comfortable with each other – in both the confident and insecure moments. This is a big change from the beginning, and signifies that the healing we have hoped for is happening. It doesn’t ‘make it all better’ but it helps a lot.

At first we were shy and skittish. Now the mix of our similarities and differences have combined into a unique blend that is our love for each other. Our comprehension is growing and our love is deepening. Our hearts grow stronger, less afraid. What used to be abstract love hidden in dreams and tucked inside our muscle and bone, is now awake, alive and courses through our lives in real time, face to face. Our families accept us and circle us with support as we have accepted each other. We are a beautiful family. My grandchildren are growing up knowing that this is love.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

Aging Mothers

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My mother turns 90 today. Her smile brightens her worn and faded self as she shuffles and nods hello as she passes resident neighbors in the hallway at Lexington Manor. My memory is quick to recall her young face, cropped with dark auburn waves, sharp bright eyes and strong beach tanned arms that held me tucked on her hip while she stirred the supper on the stove. Her warm intelligence was clearly present and without saying a word she exuded confidence and wellbeing in her petite body. She had mothered nine children and I was her first daughter, fourth in line when she was twenty-eight. She awed me. My brothers and sisters beheld her as a dazzling rare bird among urchins. She was the light of our days and made everything work from sunrise to nightfall. We loved her without end.

As the lines begin to creep in around her eyes and mouth her beauty was tied to the track of time and our mother aged and grew more somber with the passing years. Things that had delighted her turned to relics in her memory of the life we knew with her when we were all so young and the world around us so bright with color and the adventure that came with every day. Routine supplanted surprise and we scattered to both sides of the continent; in contact by phone, mail and the trails from our hearts back home to hers in our thoughts.

            When I think of my mother, I am a youngster. When my daughter thinks of me, I am an elder. Although she is middle-aged now, and assumes the responsibilities of order in her household with grace, she appears in my heart’s arms as the baby I held so briefly, swaddled and close, to croon into her ear and kiss her little face hello, as my mother so often did with me.  We circle round and round as babes-in-arms in our forties, sixties, and now ninety – waiting to be held and kissed hello by our mother – the one who knew us, bore us, held us, cherished us and let us go.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

Portland Memories

CathyKate_June 2014_Portland

When Cathy came to Portland in 1993, I couldn’t wait to show her around. I had been in love with the place since I moved there at twenty-five in 1977 – she would have been six years old. My heart warmed to the task of sharing my adopted northwestern home and the wonderful people in it with my daughter from New Jersey. She was twenty-two when she arrived twenty years ago now.

Home base was in southeast Portland and the neighborhoods that radiated off of Hawthorne Boulevard. My apartment was in a Victorian house near Belmont. It was an easy neighborhood to walk to nearby shops with breaks in the city parks. We both worked in the neighborhood off and on over time. Laurelhurst Park had a nice walk around the duck pond with benches that invited walkers to rest a while.

The list of places that became stops for us on our adventures in Portland began with eateries and bars – The East Avenue Tavern on Burnside, the Barleycorn – the first McMenamin’s, the historic Vat & Tonsure, Huber’s, and a favorite for us – Cassidy’s downtown. Artichoke Music was in the conversation from the beginning as my stop for picks and strings. Treks to the Portland Saturday Market opened up the vast wealth of creative craft talent and local food and markets; hikes up to the Audubon and the trail to the Pittock Mansion that brought us into view of Portland and the valley west of Mt. Hood and the mouth of the Columbia Gorge. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place. Watching Cathy take to the land, the city, the people and lifestyle of Portland was a joy to behold – even when she wasn’t so sure about me, she was very sure about Portland.

The beauty of the area doubled the pleasure of my daughter’s exploration. Portland became the anchor for our mutual adventure – for me who had let go of my ties to New Jersey and had grown a deeply rooted life in the surroundings and community; and she who had come to explore her first mother in The New Land and had chosen to adopt it for her own. It’s the place where our life was normal, healthy and happy. Portland became the bedrock of our relationship – the centerpiece of our struggle and understanding, our point of reference, and the place we both came to identify with and cherish as home.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Reunion Haiku

mother child tug
underneath ties that bind us
together again

Fra Angelico - Madonna and Child 3

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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fra angelico – madonna and child

Family Vacation

Kate Two Fish_CapeCodFamily vacations are one of the anchors of recall that floods me with sweet and salty memories of noisy excitement, laughter and resting in a sandy wet bathing suit drying on a towel to the soundtrack of waves rolling in and out on the beaches of Cape Cod and New Jersey. I can still taste the lobster and clams dipped in bowls of warm melted butter, Este’s fudge, saltwater taffy, and marvelous fish caught by our own lines off the side of my father’s boat. Burnt Irish skin slathered in noxema at night and cousins chasing the days in and out, carefree and wild – free to explore the expansive world of sand, marshes and beach stretched all around us. First cigarettes and going to the arcade for “something to do” and passing the time just looking for fun together.

I fervently wish to reproduce that for my children and grandchildren and am stymied by the blocks of circumstance, distance and timing that make it so challenging to achieve. Sheer determination isn’t enough. I hope to figure it out while the grandkids are still young enough to initiate memories like these. Cathy’s recent trip to New York brought the family vacation quest back to mind. Her family was only a block away at the Museum of Natural History from my beloved in-laws’ apartment on West 79th Street.

My in-laws passed away recently. Their absence as my New York “Ma and Pa” is starkly felt, knowing how much joy they would have had to receive Cathy’s family after their trek to the museum. The normal scenario would have been loud and joyous hugs just off the elevator inside the open door to Apt. 6-A. Grins would take over and Quinn and Reed would be admired for their marvelous height at almost 8 and 6, their handsome looks, innate brightness and they’d be called “sweetheart” and “darling boys” with gusto. They would be awed by the welcome and feel it down to their toes. Proud smiles would fill Cathy and her husband’s chests and they would all sit down together at the table laid on a blue cotton tablecloth spread with plates of food from Zabar’s under my husband, Steve’s large gold and amber collage that hung on the wall.

Anne would have asked every kind of question to the boys, and poured exclamations of pride and admiration into the long well of happy ears as my daughter and her husband would preen from the perch of this stop on the map that was a place of home and extended family that stemmed from our mutual connection as mother and daughter.

This scenario that would have been natural, honest and predictable – a common area Cathy and I got to share in our family. My chosen family by marriage, these parents, grandparents and great-grandparents thrived on being involved and present every step along the daily way and we held them close to the heart of people we shared. They knew we had a complicated history but they didn’t care. We were mostly loved just as much, just the same.

The only exception was the in-laws’ annual family gathering for immediate family and their spouses and children to converge for a week at the whim – and as a gift – by the grandparents. The stepchildren and relinquished-reunited children and their children were excluded from this invitation. It was an odd and treacherous line of demarcation that disturbed the family peace for our little cobbled together family every year from our west coast perch. Interventions on my part did nothing to open the door nor to prevent the feelings of hurt, rejection and exclusion for my two daughters. The three of us were well-practiced at being outsiders from an early age, and we each found coping mechanisms that allowed us to come to terms with it and to accept the circumstances gracefully. None of us allowed it to interfere with the genuine loving exchange at other family gatherings when we would all come together over visits and family occasions that had room for all of us. It was just the way it was.

It was not unlike the dilemma I’m faced with as a birthmother, and as a divorced mother – there are just times when it doesn’t fit to put everybody under the same roof. The intention remains with the elders to decide who is invited to their party. We all get it and life goes on. There is still love in the family and it is protected as sacred in spite of the gaps.

In my case, now that I am an elder, I would like my invitation to become a family gathering in some natural setting once a year for my true family (which includes my first daughter, my youngest daughter, their families, and my stepsons) to provide an enjoyable space and a sense of untethered welcome. My children and grandchildren can be together and relax – to enjoy each other on a family vacation so that decades from now, long after I am gone, they will remember the sweet and salty love of being together as a family members – sisters, brothers and cousins – that no social condition or outside person can ever untie from their essential memories of true familial love.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Jersey Girls – Friends Forever

1964 Power FamilyBeing a Jersey girl in the early 60’s meant that you were savvy, pretty and street smart. My oldest brother hung around with car monkeys who, bent under the hoods of a pair of Mini-Coopers in my parents’ garage, puzzled to turn two beat up cars into one running one. With cigarettes hanging off the side of their mouths, they cannibalized the engines to life fueled on beer and testosterone. Town greasers flocked to the local soda fountain across the street from the Corner Cupboard where I waitressed after school. I would watch them as I stole a smoke during my break, and they would come and go like peacocks up and down the wooden steps, hoods with slicked back hair as they strut their stuff in tight jeans and leather jackets. The hippie movement was afoot and murmured its peace-and-love talk under the radar of the social storm about combust with activism for civil rights in the south and dissenters marching against the Vietnam war on the television news nationwide. Even though I’d left school in a plaid uniform while the public schools girls wore whatever they liked under teased hair and strong makeup, there was a universal default we shared as young women in the metropolitan New York City area. We were Jersey girls.

Looking back now, I’m glad that I came of age there. Coming out of a shy adolescence in New Jersey, I found ways to explore courage, independence and vast variations on the human theme as a budding songwriter. At fifteen, I would act on a dare to myself, skip school and take the shortcut through the woods behind our house to the train station. When the train came in I would hop on a coach to the Port Authority, and take the subway to the West Village where I would walk to Washington Square. After checking out whatever musicians might be busking at the time, I’d beeline from there to the Chock Full O Nuts a few blocks away to buy a cup of coffee and a glazed donut. Then I would perch soundly on a round chrome and vinyl stool to write poetry in my journal and look up to watch the tide of passersby through the safety glass of the window. Once done, I would retrace my steps back to the train and home, composition book underarm filled with insights from of my fresh adventure tightly rhymed within its pages. In my large family, the thrum of my unrevealed journey to the city and back resonated exotically inside, oblivious in the noisy din of family life at home. These dips in the world from the safety of the bedroom community exhilarated my teenaged sensibility and became my prompts to bigger steps as I grew closer to my emancipation from the nest.

Fifty years later, the familiarity of the streets of New York reminds me of those early days. I fly in from the Pacific Northwest, where I’ve resided for the last thirty-seven years, and walk in the Upper West Side from my in-law’s apartment on West 79th to take the subway with my husband to Brooklyn and visit relatives ensconced there. Manhattan is filled with the same charge that excited me all those years ago as a Jersey girl in Gotham. The feeling, the smells, the crush of people in the subway, the rush hour on the streets and sidewalks – it’s all still there in its daily improv with the elements and a cast of millions. The dynamics of just being there in the thick of it are breathtaking.

After blurting out the news of my pregnancy to my mother at eighteen years old, I walked into my bedroom teary-eyed and red-faced looking to escape. My younger sister Mary and her friend, Ruthie, a romantic poet of fifteen, were prone on the floor in the depths of swapping journal entries, dreams and Ouija board speculations. I told my sister I had something important to tell her. From the distressed look on my face, Ruthie picked up her diary and said she’d be downstairs in the kitchen. I told my sister what was going on. Mary would be one of the only siblings to know the truth. We told each other everything and this was no exception.

Fifty years later, this comes back to me as I ponder all of us Jersey girls. Ruth has remained friends with my sister and visited with us during family gatherings over the past few years. She is a seasoned editor and writing coach in Massachusetts and has been a strong advocate of Kathleen~Cathleen since its inception and has cheered us to finish over these ten years. This year she joined us and became our new editor for the project. We three aim to bring the manuscript to completion by the end of this summer.

I am struck by synchronicity once again as the story continues, not only from its history but in the living story today. We all live in other places now but we are telling the tale from the root and branches we stem from – as Jersey girls.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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