Tag Archives: adoptee

Moving Home to Portland

One of the only times I ever heard my oldest daughter cry was on the telephone when I told her I was leaving Portland to move north a few years ago. I can still hear her voice tremble on the phone, “But it will mean that I won’t see you and losing you when I was a child just makes it really hard now. I want my kids to know you.” I heard her words and felt the pain inside of me roar back up my spine as I responded from a parking lot hundreds of miles away in my RV parked after a gig in Wallowa County in far eastern Oregon.. “I know. I will miss you, too” and the dull ache of the all too familiar loss took its seat back in my gut. Family needs compelled us to break away from the familiarity of home to try a smaller place near my youngest daughter who was putting herself through college with our granddaughter who was turning six.

We made the move and when we weren’t traveling with work as musicians, we were nearby to help and to be close with our daughter and granddaughter in Olympia. It was a special time for us, exploring life outside of the home we had known for thirty-five years in Portland. Then a back injury took me off the road and I took a job offer in Seattle. We moved further north and over the next eighteen months we traveled frequently between west and east coasts to tend to my husband’s parents in declining health. Along with their passing, our motivation to maintain the life we lived in Seattle lost its luster and we yearned for our home, our original home with family and friends in Portland. Our Olympia girls rooted for our return to Portland; they preferred it to Seattle. Our sons in San Francisco and New York City encouraged us. Our adult children strengthened our confidence that we were on the right track.

I had told Cathy on the phone that we were looking to come back to Portland and my ears felt around for her response. Her voice seemed surprised but was a little reserved about it. In the weeks that followed, she didn’t ask about our hunt for a place in Portland. She was quiet. I imagined she was holding her breath to see what I was going to do next. After being born to relinquishment, how could trust be expected to be her first response? I began to worry. What if she likes it better without me there? Will my return feel complicated? Is life simpler without me within reach? Our visits since we moved away had been warm and happy times with Cathy – and with her husband and our two young grandsons. We missed them, and seeing them on the fly from down the street when we were neighbors in Portland had been one of the great joys of being in the same town. Time passes so swiftly; children grow so fast. She was quiet from week to week.

Our old friends were looking out for us and we heard about an apartment through the grapevine. Pete texted me on my phone that it had just opened up for rent. On the way back from teaching on the Oregon coast on the equinox weekend, we stopped in Portland to see the place and fell in love with what would become our new home in the heart of our old neighborhood where many of friends live within walking distance. Cathy’s house is a straight shot up the hill, just a few blocks further from where we used to live. The 1906 wood frame house painted barn red reminded me of my in-laws’ place where we gathered over summers past in Sag Harbor. Divine Intervention seemed to come into play and our destination in Portland was realized. I couldn’t wait to tell Cathy!

I called her to let her know as soon as I got home. She was quiet at first and sounded like she didn’t quite know what to say. “That’s great!” she said but I wasn’t sure I could hear the exclamation point in her voice. Maybe it’ll take a while to sink in that Steve and I will be right down the street before long.

After I handed the phone to Steve, she told him that she had had a dream the night before about his parents. Our beloved Anne and Marvin were in the middle of the dream and all of the family was gathered in a house that held shades of the houses we had gathered in with them over the years: Sag Harbor, Woodstock, Manhattan. Every member of the family came together and it was a great celebration.

Cathy had dreamed the truth before I could tell her, and I felt the blessing of that dream that includes all of us, draw us close to heart and hearth as it shimmered inside to spread its love across all boundaries, visible and invisible, to the core of our beautiful family.

I am so thankful.

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

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Strength & Weakness

leaf in crackThe characters portrayed in adoption triads are strong. The birthmother is seen as strong because she has made the counterintuitive decision to go to term and then release ownership of her child to other people. The child is automatically perceived as strong because she is perceived as adaptable from her original family to another, and can co-exist as being “different” from the other members of her new family. The adoptive parents are strong people because they have made a socially admired decision to take care of someone else’s child as if she were their own. The birth family members are also strong because they hold the façade together of continuity in the family when the pre-born has been reassigned to live outside of the family because “it’s better that way.” Strength is confusing.

Strength is an inherent characteristic of each member of the adoption triad. The social cast is so strong in the adoption culture that signs of vulnerability, loss and tragic sadness are avoided, overlooked and often perceived as weakness or brokenness.

When an aunt, uncle or grandparent steps in after the of a loss of a parent, the child is regarded as the child of their natural parent and the substitute parent, while greatly respected for their loving care, doesn’t usually reassign the child’s identity to an unrelated one. We are known by and associated with the families we come from. When a child is reassigned outside their family of origin, the original, natural connection is rendered null and void. To bring it up weakens the carefully built illusion that everything is normal. The birthmother and the child disown their mutual history and although it is part of their story, ignoring it is part of their survival. The original link between mother and child is legally unbound but the natural ties live and exist inside us. The ones most affected are quiet because to question it is considered weak, unfair, and irreversible. So we adapt to be accepted. We carry on as though nothing is out of order and the more normal we appear, the more we are accepted as we are. Birthparent, adopted child, adoptive parent.

But underneath?

Underneath a quiet roar of insecurity, loss and separation is felt and re-absorbed over and over, day after night. This is true for all the members of the triad. To express this discomfort makes one appear weak and wanting, and supplants the apparent confidence in ourselves with doubt that exposes a deep fear of being wrong, or even being a mistake. Nobody wants to be a mistake.

But maybe being a mistake is what we all are – conception is a surprise, the creation of a new person where there once was none; each person unique and complete. The disconnection in adoption lies in pretense. If the adoptee is recognized for who they really are; and the birthmother, the extended family, and the adoptive parents share a mutual focus on the true wellbeing and honest heritage of the child as she is, there may be less room for confusion inside the adoptee as she grows into her identity. She would spend less time compensating for being who she’s been told she is now, and more time being herself, unique and complete.

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

Old Family Photos

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After I had relinquished Cathy, I received three small photographs of Cathy as a little girl. Sr. Alice, my liaison in the adoption, had become the surrogate grandmother in Cathy’s adoptive family. Sr. Alice and I had been close during my pregnancy and she was the one who prophetically told me that “twenty years from now, the laws will have changed” and cued me to let the agency know where I was if I wanted my daughter to be able to find me when she turned eighteen. This became a turning point in the reunion story what would become our shared book, Kathleen~Cathleen.

Meanwhile, three small greeting cards surprised me in the mail over the first ten years following Cathy’s birth with a snapshot in each one that gave me a hint of my daughter’s face. I preserved them in such a good hiding place, that at one point they became lost to me until my husband uncovered them while putting our things away after a move a few years ago. Those three little pictures of Cathy were my touchstones during the years of our separation and proof that told me she was alive and growing – and hopefully thriving. I pondered deeply who she was under the face of the little girl in the pictures.

Ten years ago, Cathy and her husband and parents, Dottie and Pete, came to our house for Christmas dinner in Portland. Cathy had bought a house down the street with room for her parents, and they were still in the chaotic mix of moving in. Her parents were on their traditional visit for Christmas, and her mother had brought a handful of pictures of Cathy while she was growing up. Dottie and I sat with our heads close together on the couch and she described each photo as she handed it to me from the top of the pile in her hands. I tried to hide the swoon I felt in my gut as snapshots of Cathy’s past were delivered hand-to-hand from her mom to me. My eyes scanned each scene like a pair strong magnets to find signs of happiness and sadness in the face of the girl we both loved.

I was moved by Dottie’s generosity. I had asked her on a prior visit to Cathy’s if she might bring a few pictures to show me someday. She not only kept her promise and brought them, but she passed them on for me to keep.

When we finished with the last photo, she handed them to me and said, “These are for you.” I slowly folded them back into the plastic bag she had brought them in and held it with both hands on my lap like a delicate and sacred artifact. I looked at Dottie and thanked her for the gift of the photos and got up to put them away upstairs where they would be safe.

I opened the top drawer of my dresser and slipped them under my folded clothes like a hidden treasure and felt my face heating up in a threat of tears. My stomach clenched and chest tightened like a balloon filling to burst. Laughter rang out from downstairs over the holiday music playing in the background. I looked in the mirror on top of the dresser and my face looked back in sad distress. A few tears splashed on the cherry dresser top and I wiped the wet runners that raced down my cheeks. Crying always made me mad. I pulled for air deep into my lungs and said to myself, “Stop. It’s okay. She’s okay now. She’s here in my house now. We’re celebrating. She’s happy. We’re here, all together. It’s okay now.”

I dabbed my face, ashamed at the stab of deprivation and jealousy that screamed to explode into a tantrum between my ribs. Not now. This was not the time to let feral feelings run wild. I locked eyes in the mirror and wiped the smeared mascara underneath my eyes and slowly exhaled. Checking the mirror again to see if the redness in my face had subsided, I practiced a smile to reset my face back into a festive expression, and then turned to walk back down the stairs and rejoin my family drinking toddies by the crackling fire. There was much to be grateful for. There was so much to be grateful for.

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

St. Francis Park

stfrancispark_waterWe pulled up to park the car under sunny blue sky in Portland, got out and hitched our instruments over our shoulders to walk across the street where volunteers were running back and forth to set up for the neighborhood party. Portland weather was at its most glorious and a gentle breeze ran free and full of itself in fragrant wisps to tease the varietal mix of adults who greeted one another as their kids splashed around in the shade of the steel river-fountain play structure and waited for the festivities to begin.

Steve and I were there to open the party with music under the tent to celebrate the last summer on the block as St. Francis Park. The Catholic Church owned the city block that housed the church and long defunct brick school. The park in the corner of the property had been developed forty-five years earlier by the neighboring community, but had grown sketchy in recent years as an adjunct to St. Francis Dining Hall where the hungry and homeless came for meals. The land was bought by Catholic Charities, and now they had plans to build affordable housing in its place.

This gathering would be our last stop before heading home to Seattle. We had made the decision to move back home to Portland and this had been a trip to scout for a place to live. We had hiked with Cathy and the boys earlier in the week on a trail we had taken with Cathy twenty years before. She had surprised me with a text that she and the family were coming to St. Francis Park so the kids could hear us play before we left. We were so happy to see them all once again before the long ride back.

During the sound check I saw them file in with the crowd and sit at a table near the cubist water sculpture. Even Cathy’s mother, Dottie, came with them. Looking out from under tent, I saw Cathy sit next to her mom, and Dane took his stance by them with muscled arms across his chest to watch his sons, Quinn and Reed, as they chased each other to the water and back. I couldn’t tell if the tension in Cathy, Dottie and Dane’s faces was from the strong afternoon sun, or if they were anxious as they took in the odd mix of characters settling in around them; shirtless street people with skin burnt umber who sat next to families of all generations joining the party from their houses in the neighborhood. They had walked in to a diverse crowd.

Steve and I broke into “You Are My Sunshine” for the sound check and people starting to sing along. Dottie looked introspectively in another direction from where she sat at the table. Cathy’s forehead was scrunched tight in an expression that looked like she was holding her breath. I wondered if this was fun or hard for them? The kids were playing as normal and Quinn and Reed came up to give us a big hug and to say hello before we began to sing. Seeing them there was the sweetest gift. Grateful, I said a little prayer that this would be a nice experience for all of them – without burden. We were all together but separated by our roles in this odd setting. They were in the audience and Steve and I stood in front to deliver a performance of songs for whoever showed up. It was a little disconcerting and I began to focus on getting my instrument in tune.

Sound check over, we were introduced by the emcee and sang a string of songs on ukes and guitars while my banjo waited patiently in its open case. Without monitors our ears could only guess how it sounded coming out of the speakers. People seemed to listen attentively and mentally I crossed my fingers that it was going over well.

Announcements spontaneously interrupted a couple of times between songs and we were given the “one more” sign early, so we skipped to our chosen finale with regrets for the fun banjo song and “Well May the World Go” lost its place in line to the hurried-up ending of our set. “Shucks, the kids would have liked that one” I thought to myself. Live performance has a life of its own and always teaches me something. This time it was: do the fun songs first because you never know how long you’ve got!

Underneath my smiles and nods afterwards, I fretted whether it had been good enough as we walked into the crowd. Did we sing the right songs? Were they being polite? Did it sound okay? Was Dottie alright? Was Cathy okay with Dottie? Dane was unflappable at being in charge as he anchored the kids, one in each hand, and we all hugged and said goodbye.

As the next act took the stage, my eyes rested on the Portland friends, neighbors and my daughter’s side of the family. I felt so much love for every one of them – and Cathy was so beautiful. She had brought her mother, husband and children with her to be with us, to take us in with our music. Her courage and intention humbled and grounded me and I felt the whispers of self-doubt back down. We each have a part in what has become our family. There is room for all of us. Having stepped from behind the veil of old secrets, we see each other in the light and find ourselves welcome at the table. Whether the performance itself was worth the trip didn’t matter so much; hopefully, the songs did their work. Cathy’s brood came with her because they wanted to be with us as family and that was worth singing about all the way home.

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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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The Many Sides of Mother’s Day

Kate1956Mother’s Day is confusing for me. When my mother-in-law was alive, I focused my good wishes on her and felt the warmth of her radiant smile over the phone right to the root through the layers of chilly damp dirt that covered my heart.

I had come to her late but when I married her son our two hearts snapped together like Legos. As artists, me with my music and she with her theater, we played our parts for each other in perfect counterpoint. As mother and daughter we filled an unexpected place in each other’s puzzle and there was no question that we adored one another. We shared our secrets and were confidantes. I was her Irish daughter and she was my Jewish mother and we were a perfect pair of hearts. “You are not my daughter-in-law, you are my daughter”, she declared as she sat for the last time on her bed before she died.

There were no tentacles of regret, sadness, or grief to dement our relationship. We had a pure and a happy run and I am grateful to have had the gift of her love in my life. She was intuitive always knew how I really was before I ever admitted it, the way a mother does. She never missed the mark and I felt like she knew me better than anyone. I miss her.

Now she’s gone and I’m back to my confusion. I have loved my natural mother all my life but a limiter seemed to set her heart on low, maybe from losing her first son before I was born. It felt like I wasn’t the child she wanted. Out of the nine of us, I’m not sure if any of us were what she wanted but she made the best of it and fed and kept us until we could feed and keep ourselves. She is alive in a quiet life with my father on the other side of the country in Floridian assisted living, nearly ninety now. She is pleasant on the phone with me the way an old acquaintance is pleasant.

“How’s life in Seattle? Oh, that’s good” she says. It’s not clear if she can hear me, she hates her hearing aid and refuses to wear it, so I yell about the weather and say “I love you, Mom” and without exception she says, “Let me give you back to your father.” As I wait for her to hand him the phone, a dead tone in my ear tells me we’re back to the sound of nothing and the call has been dropped. This has been going on for years now. It’s not her fault. She does her best and I love her no matter what. I just can’t seem to reach her.

I’ve sent her flowers that should have arrived by now and hope they make her feel happy and loved. I wrote her a card this week full of my news, as though we were sitting at the kitchen table over the Lipton’s tea I remember her drinking fifty years ago. I send cards because she loves to get mail, not because Mother’s Day was looming. I just missed her and wanted her to know that I think of her. She doesn’t write me back but that’s okay. She doesn’t have to. I’m okay. I accept the way she is.

My Mother’s Day heart changes direction to see my children. I wet my heart to feel the weather like a finger in the wind. The waves in my heart loosen to rise and fall in the magnetic hold between push and pull and moonlight shines on the surface of my soul. When I close my eyes I can feel the love for my children rise up and fill a thick shell of regret and the brittle sadness softens in the lining under my skin. I stop to relish them in my mind’s eye, the small details they can’t feel me watch and take in. I see their beauty and fears and whisper a silent prayer to protect and nourish them.

I have an insatiable appetite to connect with my daughters. Most of the time, it’s invisible because they look past me to the ones they’ve come to rely on. But my hunger to love them as their mother is there and it has always been there – since the beginning. I learned to contain it when I gave up my first child as a teenager. By the time I gave up my second child ten years later to divorce, I was pretty sure that anyone was better than me to be a mother.

I met my first daughter when I was thirty-seven years old. I had been in reunion with my second daughter for a short time when Cathy came back into my life. A tsunami of conflicting forces stirs between both of my daughters. I can feel the storm brewing to break over the storm wall that holds them back from telling me the truth, like banshees in the wind, and wish me into their lives as the mother they needed and wanted then, not the mother who left them to forage on their own. The mother they have now can’t be the mother they lost. They are two different mothers and I am both of them.

The cruelty of regret is that we are not allowed to return and replay our parts and catch up from there. No matter how good it gets, the damage is done and nothing I can do now will kiss and make it better. The mother I am yearns to tend and heal the cuts of broken trust while the mother I was hides ashamed and sad in a deep well where she will never, ever be found to bother anyone again. She is still in exile underneath my rewoven life. I repeat my vow to be here now and come back to the surface, take a deep breath and rededicate my heart to each of my children, no matter what, to be here for them as long as life is in me.

Even my boys, my two handsome stepsons, know me as a complicated mother. It’s not as hard for them because their mother is in the middle of their lives and I’m more simply an extra, an understudy, an afterthought, who came to love them in her borrowed mother guise when their dad fell for me twenty years ago. I feel gratitude for the love they show me. I don’t nag them with expectations and our attachment is different from what they have with their mother. I adore them and give them plenty of room. If they need me, they know I’m here and I’ve got their backs 24/7. We’re close in a way that works for each of them. I’m lucky to have them in my life. They allow me to love them as sons to a second mother and for me, that is a great and precious gift.

With my daughters it’s different. So far it doesn’t seem to matter how much I try to connect with them and to be present, day by day, year by year – the visits, the voice mails, the texts, the cards, the gifts – or how much I express my love in the words I say (or contain) to prove it. The hunger, sadness and anxiety is there and it’s never satisfied. Our attempts to be close are distracted by pain. Is this the same disconnect between me and my mother? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I’ll never know and it’s just the way it is. Even in my prayers and dreams, I am left to trust and hope in silence that my true mother love will find her way to slip in and sink deeply into the tender hearts of my beautiful girls, and soak them in warm comfort that no longer feels the chilly void of my absence but instead keeps them swaddled close to my bosom and nourished in lasting mother love; this mother, here mother, first mother, me mother, real, true and connected-by-heart-body-and-soul mother, as the mother they missed most becomes the mother who croons to her babes in their sleep as they slumber softly and safely in her arms at last.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Kathleen~Cathleen Present in San Francisco

kc_bookmark_backThe American Adoption Congress has asked us to present a workshop at their upcoming national conference, themed “Building Bridges for Change” in San Franciso in April.

Our presentation will be, “The Birthmother Experience vs. The Adoptee Experience in Long-Term Reunion”. A birthmother and her relinquished daughter who have been in reunion for 25 years recount their reunion in a memoir where they have kept their individual experiences private from each other. The workshop will involve readings from their memoir, exposing their individual experiences in reunion and
revealing universal themes in long-term reunion that happen simultaneously for the birthmother and adoptee, followed by Q&A.

Cathy and I will prepare by selecting excerpts from our memoir “Kathleen~Cathleen” to reflect mutual turning points in our relationship as a mother and daughter in long-term reunion. Except for our first share for this month’s Adoption Constellation magazine article, this will be the beginning of our impending exchange of finished chapters.

We are thankful for your comments and support as we approach the volcanic rim of ten years of writing together, apart, with you.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit http://www.reunioneyes.blogspot.com
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The Quest of Kathleen~Cathleen

Quest - Theodor_Kittelsen,_Soria_MoriaIn April of 1997, Joni Mitchell revealed that she had found and reunited with her relinquished daughter, for whom she had written “Little Green” on her “Blue” album.
On that same weekend seventeen years ago, Cathy and I were attending the American Adoption Congress Conference together in Vancouver, WA. There was a special announcement at the conference as the news broke and told the story worldwide that Joni Mitchell, the famous musician, had reunited with the baby whom she had given up at age nineteen. Joni and I had both been female musicians facing a turning point decision at the same age. The fact that she had let the world in on this most personal event rendered new courage for me to be open about my experience, and to share the truth about me and Cathy.

When we got to the conference, Cathy and I found that there weren’t very many attendees who had been in reunion for more than a few years. Being in reunion was still a new concept. We were among the few who had come as a reunited pair to explore what was there for us.

The featured presenter, Betty Jean Lifton, had inspired us to overcome some of the challenges we had faced in our relationship with her book, The Journey of the Adopted Self. Now after eight years in reunion, we were in a new phase without a map. When we asked Betty Jean if she could write something on long-term reunion, she said that we were the ones who should write that story.

So we did.

We drew up our outline ten years ago and decided to write our chapters without sharing with each other until we were done so the reader could integrate our experience as a whole and come to their own conclusions. As we approach the final draft of the final chapters, we also begin to prepare ourselves to share its pages with each other, with you and with the world.

Now, Cathy and I return to the American Adoption Congress conference – themed “Building Bridges for Changes” – as presentors to read from our book, Kathleen~Cathleen, and describe the experience of the birthmother and the relinquished adoptee in long-term reunion. This is the beginning, the first time that we share our story with each other, and with the world.

In light of the new birth record access laws in Oregon that affect not only adoptees, but for the first time in the nation, first mothers, we are encouraged to be brave and deliver our efforts in the hope of deepening understanding. We appreciate your support, your comments and your heartfelt thoughts as we open the book on Kathleen~Cathleen.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Our First Magazine Article

AdoptionConstellation1The Adoption Constellation magazine, an outcropping of Adoption Mosaic, will publish our article, “Being the Secret” in the March 2014 issue. This piece will be the first printed publication from excerpts of our book, Kathleen~Cathleen.

For the first time in the ten years we’ve been working to co-author our story, Cathy and I shared excerpts of our writing with each other.

We chose four pieces, two from each side of our story, to reflect the theme. The editor also asked for a photos for the article. In a moment of blessed synchronicity, I found three faded photographs that were taken of me in on the very day I first wrote about.

In all this time, there is little doubt that we should continue what we have started. It is our intention to finish and share Kathleen~Cathleen in the next couple of months, in the hope of deepening understanding for those separated by issues of identity and social standards. This article in March edition of the Adoption Constellation magazine will be the first share from our book, both with each other and with the world.

Thank you for sharing our journey with us as we begin the climb to the finish line.

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

I told her what I had told almost no one. It was important to me that she knew the truth. I revealed myself in that first conversation with my story of reunion and reconciliation. Continue reading