Cathy 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.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
I looked into the bright blue eyes of my six-year-old grandson. My separation from his mother during her first eighteen years looms from a distance in my mind. The punch of the memory’s sad echo fades next to his beautiful pink cheeks. I follow his tracks as he looks for a piece of wood to whittle, his new obsession. He is as manly as he is beautiful in his nimble six year-old body and his mind is quick and curious. My husband is one of his heroes. They have bonded over dead snakes and dragonflies and they crow back at crows nagging them from wires overhead as they walk the neighborhood together.
I ponder my grandson’s gait – proud and self-assured. He is confident. He knows who he is underneath the monkey-covered pajamas he has put on after his bath with his little brother. He is who he has always been since the day he was born.
I love him and cherish his strength. His mother is strong, too. So am I. It’s in our blood. Fierce with life. The bloodline we share has been traced through the centuries to scholars, artists, poets, ship captains; blacksmiths from Cork and cops from Edinburgh – and women who sailed high seas, who knew their own minds and used them to navigate the unexpected lives they led. There wasn’t a shrinking violet in the lot.
The exploits of our ancestors describe a swath of experience over time so colorful and far-reaching that my fickle imagination holds fast to each winding thread that curls through the weft and weave in the tapestry of our family’s history. I can almost feel the grip of ghostly relatives as their risks and achievements set the stage to reveal an adventurous prequel to now and the lives we find ourselves in. We have come far and new acts play out from within each of us daily. There were many stories before ours began.
Immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Sweden, England, Austria, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland found their way to Boston and took root there, where I was born. I culled their stories in bits and pieces from my relatives and fantasized about who my ancestors were underneath their rogue memories. As a youngster, I dressed them up in their worldly roles and they grew into vivid characters in my mind.
The ancestors I imagined may or may not bear a true resemblance to the people they were but each one of them piqued my interest with flavors and traits I recognize in myself and members of my family. My daughter is thick with them.
My understanding of my ancestors helped me to form answers to the question of who I was, where I came from and what I was made of from an early age. I have tried to pass their stories on to my children and grandchildren to help them understand the rich heritage they come from.
It never occurred to me that I might be anything else, different or apart from my ancestors; they were mysterious predecessors to my life and I was a result of theirs. My complexion, my voice, my laugh, my wit, my constituion – all carry elements of these people in the past. We may not have crossed paths in real time but we are kin nevertheless. Traits that made my family, and made me, recognizable as one of the clan, grew into a unique code mixed with the experiences of many generations.
As different as we may be, my daughter and I understand each other in a way that can only be explained as genetic. I accept that. She does too.
Quinn rouses me from my reverie with a pirate yell as his imaginary sword switches back and forth over his little brother’s head and cousin Lucy looks for a cue to dive into play. The three children step into character letting go with shouts while they unleash their pirate selves and circle around the tent again and again.
Right now, the children are free from worry and time – they chase each other and make up games that children have been making up since the beginning of time. A day will come when they will need more to go on. They will learn to read and write and think things through. The truth of the past will complicate their innocence and unveiled trust. They will need honest answers to quell the questions that arise. It may not be simple to explain. I know they will be affected by the story of my past and the truth I share with their mother.
When I ask the ancestors to give me the answers I need, they echo silence like a muted song rising in my mind’s ear.
“We have turned to dust. It’s up to you to answer your Life.”
So I will respond to their questions in my own way and hope that the children will recognize my love for their mother in the answer.
Future generations who carry our resemblance may not know any more about us than we guessed about our ancestors. If something in their blood compels them to play out the stories we started here, Life will keep us in the mix and what we do now will matter. From here in the middle between what was and what will be, anything is possible.
Under the calm of my face, a small wave of anxiety falls and rises to slap the sides of my boat, still on course from last night’s dreams. My body rolls down into a spinal curl, down and up again. My mind steps from the dream boat onto sand. My body adjusts to the weight of the motion and lands. My toes find the back of the mat and I roll to the floor, my hands splayed below my shoulders to push off into pushups. My breath calibrates to the movement and galvanizes my mind in sync to the rhythm. I can measure my strength by sets. I’m stronger than I was a year ago. Residual scenarios spin free from the open can of my dreams that beckoned new beginnings from old places filled with family, friends and new strangers and spill into the awakening consciousness of my morning mind. I let my body begin its work to strive toward the day ahead as the evidence of dreams roll into the corners of my room.
The face of Red-Spider Woman, Grandmother Margaret Behan, one of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, comes into focus. Her wizened face beamed to hear my Sandhill Cranes song; Father Sky, Mother Earth, Sister River and Brother Trees. It spoke to her and her face was alight with love, I felt its warmth. I watched her hear the song with her heart. Her grandfather had sung a song for her conception. Song brought her to life and she is tied to its music. She understands deeply, as grandmothers do, and responded to my earlier questions of attachment to loved ones who no longer ask for me and told me to let it go.
“They have already let you go,” she says with a gentle expression as befits her beautiful grandmotherly face. Her words ring true and tears drop bittersweet as they swell under my skin, over my heart and through eyes of the child in me who still begs to be loved.
I am afraid to let go. The feeling is so strong, the need to let my loved ones know that I love them, that I have not forgotten them. Years ago, in my strike for independence as a youth, I neglected them to emancipate. Then I remembered who I was, who they were and the place where I came from and scrambled back to the ledge, looking for the path that leads up the sides of the crooked, rocky mountain back to the love that gave me to the world. I search in dreams. I have forgotten the way, or they have forgotten the weight of the love they felt and I have floated away, out of sight and mind, back into the ether of beyond memory where everything without body or heart attached to it is nothing – gone.
I feel lonely in this thought and my mind scurries to the beautiful smile I remember on my mother’s face when she was a young woman and delighted to see me, her baby. I laugh at myself. I am a grandmother three times over now. I am still such a baby. I try to be kind to myself and breathe again to keep the rhythm of my motion centered so I don’t hurt myself as I roll, feet overhead and back again. Breathe.
I remember the sumptuous summer that Cathy and I wrote together in the basement studio of my Portland house. It was a delicious time for us. We were under protected time with the door closed to the outside world as we wrote for hours several days a week all summer long. I still feel warmth from the gift of that time. We had such purpose in our autonomous co-venture. We are the irony we write of and we have come to love each other in new ways in the work we continue to do to provide the world with our story.
A poignant moment that summer happened as we debriefed the work we had just finished for the day. As Cathy talked about our next practical steps, I had a sudden rush of fear and sadness that chased her words out of my ears as they hammered and pounded with the pulse of urgent dismay and my eyes filled with tears.
“What’s the matter, Kate?” Cathy asked, her face suddenly concerned.
I could feel my eyes stretch wide in an attempt to contain the feelings overwhelming me. My mouth opened and I cried out in a small, high voice as tears broke free.
“What if we finish all this and we finally get to read each other’s sides and I find out in the end that I am a roaring disappointment. What if you don’t even like me? What if you really can’t stand me and I didn’t even know it. What if I was too stupid to see the truth. What if all this work to tell ‘our truth’ just turns out to be everything I ever feared? What if I’m just a loser in your eyes. What if I’m the jerk I think I am? What if I’m not anything you had hoped for and in the end I lose you again, only this time it’s because you know better and you just choose to let me go? What if I’m just not good for you after all?”
My voice choked on the last words as my heart broke in my words and I just cried. Embarrassed, my eyes lifted to find hers looking back at me with tenderness.
“But Kate, I love you. We’ve been through it all. We know what our story is. I love you. It’s going to be all right. You don’t need to worry. I’m here. I love you.”
I looked back at her, “Really?”
“I love you, Cathy.”
“I love you, too.”
The chanting voices of Tibetan nuns fade with the memory as the timer beeps. My body has done its work, recalibrated and aligned with the ground beneath me. My mind is awake with daybreak. I thank God for another day, for feet that walk and hands that play. I am ready.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
The story and lyrics to…
The story, gathering and journey of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, combined with sandhill cranes in migration at the mesa up in Paonia in the Colorado Rockies, inspired this song. There was just enough battery for this take, set up in a small sea cave in Otis, Oregon last Saturday, September 22, 2012. My husband and I faced each other and with just enough room for our hands to play our ukuleles, I sang into the tiny recorder. You can hear the ocean outside the cave in the quiet in the beginning and at the end.
“Sandhill Cranes” is dedicated to The Global Grandmothers in thanks for their courage & loving prayers.
Sandhill cranes gather in the field;
Lift in the wind, turn and reel.
I can tell the sound by the way it feels;
It fills me with wonder and delight,
It fills me with wonder and delight
Hey, heya, heya-ho,
Grandmother show me what I need to know.
Hey, heya, heya-ho,
Grandfather show me where I need to go.
Hey hey heya heya
Father Sky, watch me from on high
Hey hey heya heya
Mother Earth, carry me below
Hey hey heya heya
Sister River, run beside my side
Hey hey heya heya
Brother Trees, reach and rise.
Sing in antiphon! Fill up the air,
One starts to go and they follow him everywhere.
I would go with them if I wasn’t planted here
With my feet on the ground I walk and go;
With my feet on the ground I walk and go.
Recorded 9/22/12 , Sea Cave, Otis, Oregon
Kate & Steve
kate power/voice, six-string tenor uke
steve einhorn, uke
At my invitation, Cathy arrived in Portland, from the home of her upbringing in New Jersey, on the 4th of July, 1993. My arrival to Portland had been sixteen years earlier to the day, July 4, 1977. We were both Jersey girls who had come of age in “metropolitan New York” and sought the new world in the Pacific Northwest – me, to find the last of the new frontier to plant my roots and grow my family; she, to rub elbows with her birth genes and to see who this first mother of hers truly was.
To this twenty-two year-old college graduate fresh from home, Portland was an exotic difference. Being my adopted hometown, Portland was a multi-faceted jewel for me to introduce her to. It was a gift to guide her to the people and pieces I loved most about Portland life. My daughter and I were almost strangers then. She came to find me out.
Now, almost twenty years later Cathy has created deep roots in her Portland home ten blocks from where I used to live. She has a house, a husband and two beautiful sons, six and four years old. I am a proud grandmother and my husband cherishes his grandsons in his role as “Uncle Grandpa”. I have lived north in Olympia for the past two years now and accepted a new job last week that will move me to Seattle.
Cathy and I have gone from the bare beginnings of our mother-daughter reunion into a deeper kinship than either of us ever imagined. We struggled to find this peaceful place between us. The urgency of our parallel youth has ripened and mellowed with age. We are close now and it is natural for us to talk about anything. We risked everything to have this and it was worth it. For that, I am grateful.
Looking back on the youngster who came out on the Green Tortoise to check me out, I now find a mature woman with a strong sense of self and her place in the world. It makes me proud to watch her navigate through the challenges, even though I know I am one of them. Her take on life is different from mine and I cherish that too.
After all these years we now find comfort in our time together. We have come to terms with the deficits of relinquishment and we have accepted our journey our way. She loves her life in Portland and I love that she has claimed Portland and me for her own.
When I forget how remarkable that is, I recall how vast the gap between us was in those first years. Portland was a beautiful place for our relationship to grow. The kindnesses that my Portland community extended to both of us made it possible for us to proceed as though we were normal and gave us room to breathe through the barriers and harsher realities of our loss and reclamation of each other.
Cathy came to town looking for answers. I did the best I knew how and I know that there were times when that wasn’t enough. Still, we made it through all the days, weeks, months and years. Now we are familiar enough with each other to lean on one another in ways that weren’t possible before we knew who we were reckoning with. Cathy is a stunning human being. Her differences from me are as interesting as the similarities. She’s as strong as I am, maybe stronger. I love who she is. She is unique. I suppose I am too.
I feel her love for me grow from a place of suspicion and distrust to one of acceptance and understanding. Even though she knows that I’m not what she expected, she has accepted the mother I am and the mother I am not. We have created a place together that is current, honest, warm and open. Our relationship is real. The fantasies of who she might be in my mind or what I might have done differently in hers have faded as our true faces turn to greet each other by heart.
We delineated the journey in this book we’ve been co-writing these past eight years. We haven’t shared our sides yet but I’m not afraid – no matter what her truth is. To share our truth with the world is an offertory of trust. Her arrival to Portland was a turning point and we never looked back. There are no regrets for coming together. I have watched her evolve from an innocent, immature young adult into a seasoned woman who knows her mind and whose compassion has grown with every corner we’ve broached together.
I’m proud of my first daughter’s courage to say yes and come to the place of discovery and her first mother in Portland. Now it’s she who is the Portlander and I, her first mother, recognizable without disguise, who lives in her orbit – a satellite in her world and easily found. She has only to reach to find me there.
The bonds of this love belong to us in its unique color, depth and texture, and springs from a life force that grew from my heart to hers when she was conceived and, given the space and connection it craved continues to grow from the roots in her heart to mine and back again. This is the natural course of love, as it ever was and always will be, in all its flaws and perfection between this mother and child.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
Daybreak lashes and flashes, wet and stormy this morning on Spray Beach. I woke at five o’clock and slipped out of bed to tiptoe down to the kitchen and coffee. Fifteen members of my husband’s tribe (and mine by marriage these eighteen years) are spread asleep in every room and nook but this. I pull up to a small round table tucked under a porthole on the third floor as lightning cracks every few seconds and thunder thrums the wooden floor under my bare feet. The only other sound is the cast of rain against the house and the soft snores of dreamers who remind me that I’m not alone, just awake.
My family used to gather this way in beach houses every summer. The family tradition grew into the ten of us, stuffed into the station wagon to drive to our summer destination of sand, saltwater and sun. My Boston parents were both raised by the ocean and we could feel the pull of their excitement as they returned with their brood to their salty origins. We saw the secret smile they shared in their eyes, like silkies itchy to shed skin that held them back and swim free.
Our father would join us on weekends and our mother ran the house in between breaks of quiet with a book on the beach as we ran wild. We chased briny adventures to the rush and ebb of the tides and only stopped for meals, sunburnt under Noxema in our damp suits and bare feet. Dinners were served on long tables cobbled together that often accommodated relatives dropping off cousins who stayed for days and sometimes even weeks, and we happily absorbed them into the dance of our family at play. Platters of spaghetti, lobster, clams, mussels and the catch of the day still get my juices flowing as the memory floods me with the childhood happiness I felt to feast with my family this way.
A relative newcomer to my husband’s family tradition, I am grateful for the retreat amongst family. I come as an in-law and know the difference between blood and marriage. My heart goes out to one of my stepsons who has joined us from his new job teaching in China. He has never experienced being an outsider; a minority cast in another race, language and country; he is stared at on the street for being different and the lonely role of his new solitude has dislodged his sense of connection. He soaks his family in, even me, and absorbs us with the reverence of communion as he watches and feels us surround him and bring him into the cluster of kin he craves, home from his isolation overseas. I am grateful to be part of his solace and understand what it means to be outside. He knows.
I am reminded of my first daughter’s bravery when she came to my mother’s 80th birthday and family reunion eight summers ago. My daughter had been raised with one older brother, also adopted (and who had since died) and no relatives in her generation from her adoptive family line. For her to enter any family scenario of mine was high contrast to her life experience. I am one of a family of ten. All of my Boston-Irish relatives had large families and most of my siblings have produced children and a substantial thicket of cousins. It’s easier for a large family, raised on the organic network of bloodline, to absorb one more without a second thought – than it is for a solitary person to walk into a large clan by blood and feel like one of them.
I was proud as I watched my daughter’s grace under fire but didn’t quite understand until later just how hard that day was for her. Her life had been so different from mine and bloodline without connection didn’t cross the gap. She had to hold her own inside her skin and take in the culture of my family as though one of them, while for her it was as foreign as China to be immersed in. She looked like us but inside she was someone else. My family couldn’t and didn’t see the difference. Her points of reference were from other places. She had come from other people and none of them were us. They were another family and she belonged to them as much as they belonged to her.
Our ancestors and heredity travel in the blood we share alongside her birthfather’s side. Where they deliver her remains to be seen but when she comes to my door, wherever that is, she will be welcomed home.