Tag Archives: adoptive family

A Birthmother’s Perspective on Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea

2015-09-02 09.44.46Cathy and I wrote letters for fours years after we met in 1989, while she was in college. One of her first written requests was for permission to ask me anything, and that I answer her with honesty and not hold back. She really wanted to know what I could tell her and the circumstances that would fill in the blanks in her past to form the true story of her family of origin.

Highlights in our correspondence became the “Letters” chapter in our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen, and documented our mutual exploration during those first few years in reunion. We savored the letters that arrived in each other’s hand and took our time to soak in every word, and then respond.

In closed adoptions like ours, relinquishment forbids first mothers from contact with their child or their family. Although this rule of detachment is seen as self-imposed, trespass into the adoptive family and one’s child is forbidden and illegal.

This is a hard place for both mother and child to be in.

One of the last letters Cathy wrote when she graduated from college expressed her insecurity about what she should do next. My response was to invite her to come to Portland, Oregon that summer “to rub elbows with her genes” for a few weeks to take advantage of the freedom she now had to decide for herself.

My next letter back from Cathy had a big “YES!” handwritten on it. She began to make her plans to visit.

She never went back.

So when Chelsea, Rosie O’Donnell’s adopted daughter, turned eighteen and opted to live with her birthmother, it struck me as natural. I don’t watch television or know anything about them, really, but at eighteen her decision to live with her birthmother and “rub elbows with her genes” was normal and predictable.

The only reason Chelsea’s story was portrayed as news is because her adoptive mother is a highly visible celebrity and ready fodder for footage in the public eye. The news boasted Rosie’s anger with captions of cutting Chelsea’s financial support off in dramatic “all or nothing” style. True or not, it was a media spin clammering over an adoptee who had come of age and simply wanted to experience her roots.

There were no television cameras when Cathy left New Jersey at twenty-two on the Green Tortoise bus for Portland after college. Her adoptive parents understood that their daughter needed something more than they could provide her with – she needed to know and understand more about her lineage, heritage and family of origin. They got it, and responded lovingly. Although I’m certain they worried, they supported her decision with confidence and didn’t interfere with her pilgrimage.

My job was to fill in the blanks.

In his Book of Forgiving, written with his daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu on transformative healing, Desmond Tutu described the long-term effects of trauma from a study that followed war-affected children to measure their stability and mental health following the genocidal events in their homes and villages in South Africa.

They found that the group of children who had heard the true stories from their relatives about what had happened to their kin – in every grisly detail – proved to be well adjusted and exhibited stable emotional health, and were found able to handle conflict, decisions and crisis to a far better degree than the children from the same circumstances who had been protected from the truth of what had happened to their family.

Tutu says, “We are all in a relationship with one another, and when that relationship breaks, we all have the responsibility to roll up our sleeves and get to the hard work of repair” and summons us to “listen to what the heart hears.”

“We cannot begin again
We cannot make a new start as though the past has not passed
But we can plant something new
In the burnt ground
In time we will harvest a new story of who we are
We will
Build a relationship that is tempered by the fire of our history
I am a person who could hurt you
And knowing those truths we choose to make something new
Forgiveness is my back bent to clear away the dead tangle of hurt and recrimination
And make a space, a field fit for planting
When I stand to survey this place I can choose to invite
you in to sow seeds for a different harvest
Or I can choose to let you go
And let the field lie fallow.”

To withhold the truth – or a mother and child from each other – is a deliberate decision, not an act of love. For better or worse, it’s an act of power. Once the child grows into adulthood, the journey becomes theirs alone to explore. Loving parents, adoptive and biological, who find ways to “listen to what the heart hears,” will aim to support the health of their child by helping them to explore from the heart to determine what is true and meaningful for them, and leave the façades behind. Love nourished multiplies.

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

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The move from Seattle was a lot of work and tightly timed. The movers marched back and forth to fill the big truck with my concert upright piano and all of our things, schlepped in full circle from Portland to Olympia to Seattle and back home again to Portland in almost five years. “This is our last move!” was our mantra as we wrapped, packed, loaded, unloaded and now, finally, nested. The boxes and bins have been emptied and put away. Our house, lovingly restored by the next-door neighbor, saw the last stroke of paint brushed on my studio window trim yesterday. All that’s left to do is live.

From the first hello on the streets of Portland, we knew we were home. Strangers greet us here like old friends. Friends greet us like family. It’s a native phenomenon. Since my arrival in 1977, my experience of Portland has been a place where people practice love and community as a way of life. Of all the places we’ve traveled and lived, I am most at home here. Isolation from our travels quickly evaporates and we are back among friends who are joyful that we have returned. We soak in their embrace, thankfully renewed.

I wonder if Cathy will call. My phone is quiet. Antsy, I wait a bit and then send a text that we have arrived. “Welcome back” comes in. We arrange for Cathy and her husband, Dane and the kids, Quinn and Reed, to come over with pizza in a couple of days to see the place. When they visit, Dane is as talkative as Cathy is quiet. She doesn’t seem to look me in the eye and is more at ease conversing with Steve. I can’t tell who is more nervous, Cathy or me.

A week later I text her in the morning to wish her a good day and she invites me to meet her for coffee at Starbucks before she goes to work. I rush to meet her, happy at the invitation. A tattoo on her right upper arm surprises me; a blue-winged swallow surrounded by wild Oregon roses. It’s new and she tells me its just beginning to peel. I admire its colorful beauty and asked her if it hurt. It did. I don’t say it but wonder if it’s coincidence that both of my daughters have tattoos of a blue swallow permanently inked on their skin. The irony sits with me quietly as we talk about the kids, her work and touch only briefly on Christmas.

I’m so glad and nervous to be with her, just talking, that I don’t want to get heavy or tell her how hurt I was when she asked me not to come by her house at Christmas. After all these years, I’ve only begun to realize that even after the reunion, the therapy, the reconciliation of the past twenty-five years, that I exist outside of her core family, not as a participant. Her emotional range of vision in daily life does not include me. It’s likely that it never will.

This truth reverberates against my grain. I had never lost sight of her as my child – but in truth, our moment of separation dislodged her from me irretrievably. The decision of my eighteen year-old self haunts and taunts me and I search for ways to accept Cathy’s truth.

For all these years I was trying to find ways to bring us together. Portland is the kind of place that accepts us as we are, and I took it to heart that we could integrate all of our family here. It worked up to a point, but now a fierce critical boundary has surfaced. My lesson and task now is to acknowledge that which divides us and to learn how to move into a new place of acceptance that doesn’t include Cathy. Emotionally, this is counterintuitive and will take practice. It is a painful practice.

When I ask her what she’d like to see happen now that we are back in town, she says that she wants me and Steve to be full-fledged grandparents to the boys “because they don’t have any of the baggage.” I wonder if grandparenting will thrive within my relationship with her, or in spite of it? It feels compartmentalized, a reassignment, but it is the only avenue she opens to me and I take it. “Of course.”

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

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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.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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What It Means to #FliptheScript

Peace Sign People 1968I was a full-blown flower child and came of age in the counterculture of the 1960’s. I questioned authority, sang folksongs, wrote a few, marched for peace, and learned truth telling and non-violent resistance from mentors like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Joni and Gandhi. I felt music synchronize my heart with a half a million others at Woodstock and the power of love became the anchor of my faith. Yogananda, Edgar Cayce, the Tao, Rudolf Steiner, macrobiotics, herbalism and the counter-ego teachings of Jesus and Buddha stirred my worldview into a lively New Age stew from the Boston Catholic mix I had started out with.

When I became pregnant at 18, it became a personal act of radical love for me to decide to come to term and relinquish undercover in my hometown. The truth and consequences of my ‘free love’ passed from my bloodstream into my healthy unborn daughter to wrangle and reconcile with in her post-embryonic journey without me. Her life as a reassigned child made her truth unspeakable. While I was marching against war and injustice, she was growing up a banished child with the myth of her first mother’s surrender under the nobless oblige of adoption. Guesses at the truth were uneasy and elusive for the many years that followed. Questions discouraged, I had been sworn not to ask or seek. My daughter was fated to harbor innate questions whose unrequited answers would taunt her truth at heart. We followed the script for eighteen years.

I left my childhood when I left her behind without a clue of what ‘a better life’ looked like. I was too young to know. Now I know I should have taken her with me. I didn’t know the most important part at the time – that it all works out. Now that I’m old, I know that it’s true, pretty much down to my bones. It all works out when there is love.

If somebody had flipped the script back in 1970 and said, “It’ll all work out, go for it” I think I could have believed it. I think it would have worked out. The flower child in me knows now what she always knew then – the truth when she hears it, and that the truth sets you free.

The stories from #FliptheScript give me new hope and I believe that the truth telling about adoption – from the adoptees and the birthmothers will deepen understanding and with it –  make way to a better life for the children it affects the most.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Thanksgiving Thoughts #flipthescript

Cathy SF Throne
I am thankful …

That my first daughter is present and in my life;

That when holidays come she already knows my wish to connect will trigger my insecurities and she reassures me;

That even in her anger and loss, she is grounded in love;

That when her mother comes to stay with her, their time together makes me happy;

That many of the feelings that pester me about the lack of communication with my first daughter are normal for most parents – and not so different from my other children;

That even as a first mother in reunion, I am accepted more as family than as an outlier;

That my daughter is a beautiful mother and reflects love fully with her children;

That my grandchildren love me and I get to love them back;

That their birth-grandfather gets to experience that love too;

That my husband is “Uncle-Grandpa” and that is the best thing ever;

That all of my children, daughters and stepsons, are freely in relationship as siblings and bring love to the connective tissue that makes our family one;

That my daughter has the courage to be open and honest about her journey as she writes her chapters for Kathleen~Cathleen and Lost Daughters, as an adoptee with the motivation to open the doors for others;

That my daughter’s reunioneyes blog has received more than 10,000 ‘views’ – evidence that speaks for the many she represents;

That I write for the first mothers in mothertone; and with less than half of my daughter’s views have evidence that mine is one small voice in the silence for those I represent, especially those who live quietly behind relinquishment;

That I’m here and so is she.

That the potential for beauty, connection and love in life continues to expand in unexpected ways. No matter how limited life may feel, there is always a place to grow – and we do.

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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.

Cathy’s Wedding

peach1rose5394The day before Cathy got married I had a meltdown. Steve and I had been asked to host the champagne reception on the mountain following the ceremony. Her parents would host the big party back in Portland in a chic ballroom on Alberta Street. Cathy wanted all sides of her prismatic family to attend her wedding: her parents, her friends, her birthfather, my side of the birthfamily. Cathy’s quirky humor extended to assign her ex-boyfriend (and now best pal) as a bridesmaid, and her groom’s ex-girlfriend was best man – this was Portland, after all. My kin closest to Cathy would be there.

The preparations were cheerfully coming into place. The sunny August weather boasted Portland at its best. Two of my sisters, Mary and Gina, and the wedding minister, Janette – who had also married Steve and me – were lined up in my kitchen to dunk strawberry tips into vats of warm chocolate and set them in dozens of rows on foil-wrapped trays to refrigerate. Mary and I had gone to Pastaworks to pick up the bags of cheese, tapenade, fruit, olives, and baguettes to go with cases of Italian Prosecco ordered and ready for pick up. Everything we needed was lined up by the door in bags and coolers to caravan to Ross Mountain the next morning. There we would lay the tablecloths, garlands of flowers, and platters to receive the bride and groom in the meadow below the sacred grove, and raise our glasses in the first toast to their union.

Steve and I had celebrated our winter wedding party in the same spot a few years before; a potluck of love dishes, we danced to the music of 3-Leg Torso on violin, accordion and cello among the exuberant cluster of family and friends on Valentine’s Day in 1998. Our hosts had generously invited Cathy’s wedding into their magical grove on the mountaintop. This time the celebration would be for my firstborn to exchange vows with her chosen beloved in the circle of trees surrounded by family and loved ones.

That afternoon before the big day, I ran out to the neighborhood dry cleaners to fetch our clothes freshly pressed for the occasion. Driving the short mile home, my hands tightened on the steering wheel and my chest began to fill up like a balloon. Tears started to fall out of nowhere. I pulled over to the side of the road to wipe my eyes and try make sense of what was happening. When I closed my eyes to find a clue in my distress, the answer came quickly. I wanted my mother. I wanted her to recognize my reunited child, her first granddaughter, as we prepared for her marriage. I wanted my daughter encircled by all of her family. My mother was nowhere near. She hadn’t called and it was almost too late.

I had written my mother two months before to let her know about Cathy’s upcoming wedding. The letter had turned into an apology for the distance that had grown between us. The one-sided conversation unfolded the love and regret in my heart as the words dropped to the page from my pen. I apologized for the dashed hopes I had left in the wake of my sprint to adulthood. I wanted to be the daughter my mother had wanted to have. The contents of the letter was deep but gentle in my attempt to reconcile.

Traditionally my mother wasn’t one to write or call back. Unless she picked up the phone when I called, efforts to connect with her over the years went largely unanswered. We had grown up with a strong sense that our mother’s feelings were a private affair. She was shy, quiet woman and, beyond the endless tasks of raising eight children, she was drawn to solitude.

My heart cried with the heart of a child. I wanted my mother there as my firstborn prepared to approach the altar. I wasn’t sure if she was even aware of how special this day was or what it meant to me. My heart had been wide open on the sleeve of that letter but I hadn’t heard back. I had tried not to let it matter but underneath I hurt like a baby.

I pulled up in front of my house and wiped my face, flustered, embarrassed and hurt by the attack of emotions that had overcome me. I grabbed the hanger of clothes from the back of the car and walked up to the front door. The playful chatter in the kitchen stopped short when I entered the room. The hanger of clothes was taken from my hand and they drew closer so I could tell them what was wrong.

“I want my mom. I want her to wish her first granddaughter well on her wedding day. I want her to bless my Cathy.”

I started to cry as they looked at each other with worried faces. Janette handed Mary the yellow enamel bowl and asked her to gather rose petals from the bush in bloom she had planted as a surprise at the foot of our backyard fence years before, then she ran upstairs to run a hot bath with soothing oil for me.

The tears were relentless. Hundreds of peach-colored petals swooshed the surface of the bathwater as I reached with my foot to turn the faucet on and off and mask the sound of my crying. Mary came back upstairs a few minutes later and walked in with a caring look.

“There’s a phone call for you” she said as she handed me the phone and turned to go back downstairs.

“Hello” I whispered.

“Hi Kathy”

It was my mother. She had never gotten used to my name change from Kathy to Kate when I turned thirty, and she always called me by the name she had given me. There was comfort in the sound of her voice calling me by my childhood name.

“Kathy, it’s Mom. I just wanted to call to wish you a beautiful day with Cathy tomorrow. I’m really sorry I can’t be there. I hope it’s everything you hoped for.” I heard her pause and then she continued, “I want you to know that Dad and I are saying special prayers for you and Cathy and for everybody in the family as you gather for her wedding this weekend. I love you.”

I was shocked. How could this be? One of my sisters must have called her? Nevertheless, here she was. I settled back into the water and held the phone close to my ear.

“It’s good to hear your voice, Mom. Thanks for calling me.”

She continued, “I’m sorry I haven’t written you back. I got your letter. I want you to know, Kathy, that I love you. You were my first daughter and there will always be a special place in my heart for you. I’m so proud of you, Kath. I want you to know that all is forgiven. I forgive you, Kathy, and I love you. I really do. I want you to know that. I love you, honey.”

I started crying. I could hear some urgency in her voice that I could hear what she meant behind her words. The weight began to lift from my chest and I started to breathe.

“I love you, too, Mom. I wish you could be here but I’m so glad to hear your voice. Thanks for calling me, Mom. I love you.”

We hung up. I let out a long sigh, took a breath and slipped under the rose petals in the warm water. When I came back up the air had cleared and the grief storm had passed. What family could come would be there. The rest would hold us in their hearts. With my mother’s blessing, I got ready to take my place in the circle in the sacred grove as one of the mothers, the first mother, in the family we had become.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

Aging Mothers

51 Lennie Power new baby Kathleen

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.