Tag Archives: birthday gift

“The M Word”

2014-10-25 07.37.29
Sometimes, one little word can change everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



MotherChild by steve einhorn©2008

Mercy High, Mercy Low (Cathy’s Song):

It’s been a wordy year for mothertone. Looking over past posts, I see where words fail me. No matter how exquisite the words I find to describe, they still nip at the heels of what I’m trying to say. Much of what’s in my heart gets lost in the translation to prose.

All the way back – as far as earliest memories of childhood go, I remember times when my heart was ready to bust with feelings bigger than me and rather than talking to my mother, father, sisters or brothers, I would sing.

I discovered an ancestral gift early on. Singers in my family went back generations. My father says I sang before I could talk. Whatever becomes of me, my songs leave a map of my journey.

As a youngster, I would quiet myself and sing when I needed to let my feelings come out from under my skin. I’d sit at the piano and my fingers would look around and in my young voice, melodies would unwind tangled emotions tied up inside my small world and I would sing them until a sense of peace filled me. Sometimes I was left with a little ditty, sometimes it left me with a song.  It was instinctive and became my practice to seek a kind of peace this way.

It never started with words; a hum opened up with an idea for a melody that would poke around for the story while my fussy mind took a break. I never knew what would come but I trusted it like fishing and learned to wait patiently for my catch. Songs manifested by heart tell what can’t be said any other way.

I look at all the words in my mothertone blog for Kathleen~Cathleen and realize that songwriting is easier for me. So, in honor of the occasion of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share one that found its way out of the thicket as our story unfolded. I wrote it for Cathy and it speaks my heart better than anything else I can say here.

This is a happy mother’s day. I am grateful for all of my children – and to my firstborn child for having the courage to be mine.

(Click “Mercy High, Mercy Low” under the photo on top of this post to hear. Drawing by Steve Einhorn)

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.

Precious Things – Part 2

Email response to Cathy (link to Cathy’s blog)

Hi Cathy,

You’re welcome to do whatever you’d like with the pens. They are a gift and intended to make you happy – however that works best. Being “just yours” was just a fantasy in the context of all you do for everybody else. I love the image of the three of you drawing together. All that you wrote about it here was lovely.

I don’t relate to it as a blog topic because I, too, was raised that everything is shared – with so many siblings that may be what turned me into wanting something that’s mine alone – so I don’t see a parallel that will be any different – the reason had more to do with honoring your desire to have them.

So I’m not sure how to tango and would love a different topic to consider.

I love your thoughts around it all and feel your response is so loving – we’re both glad for the joy it brings you and your comments are full of the loving person and mother you are.

Your email was amazing to read. Thank you for your beautiful explanation. You’re such a good writer, Cathy! I love you. ~kate

Next email (Kate to Cathy)…

Well, now I’m streaming in thoughts from your idea.

I guess another take is that “Precious Things” might relate to other things too – like the cape – that I don’t wish to discuss publicly because they are precious and the dilemma doesn’t feel like one that belongs to the public when it’s unresolved between us.

Still, there’s a lot of interesting fodder in what you say.

Send me your thoughts. If we can find a place to point to the dialogue, I’ll be game but it’s sensitive territory so I’d rather express it with you first and then decide.

The pens were simple – we’re broke, you’re precious and it was a sacrifice to buy them and a labor of love with an invisible touch of O’Henry. Maybe the difference would be seen as your parents had money and currently we don’t – I don’t want to get into a class difference or seem petty or stingy or pathetic.

So what is it about? Possession vs. Relinquishment? The have’s and the have-not’s? the sensitive and the insensitive? The caring and uncaring? What’s mine? What is valued as a gift? Does reception of a gift reflect the value of the giver as well as the receiver? Hmm.

Let me know if you want to pursue this. I’ll continue to chew on it. You may have struck an interesting chord.

I love you, Cathy. You’re response was beautiful (and you are a rascal!) ~kate

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.

Precious Things – Part 1

The following is (one of two parts) an email exchange between Cathy and Kate this week that relates to the reception and disemination of Cathy’s birthday gift; the meaning of meaning of the gift – distortion clarified and the revelation of threads from differing origins … (please click to ReunionEyes blog  for Cathy’s response…) This set of two blogs, part 1 & 2, will be parallel blogs – call & response emails to issues that arose around birthday love. Happy birthday, Cathy! 41 years ago today, I was in labor to deliver – born April 16th.

Hi Cathy,

Everything was so busy this morning. When we gave you your birthday gift of art pens, we had wanted to present them with the caveat that they are only for you – not the kids. This isn’t because we’re stingy but because you are special and they are high end art pens (expensive) and we took an hour picking them out for you. We didn’t want to interfere when you so gently and magnaminously let Quinn and Reed rip into them but they have their special art pens and now this was for you.

Being two humble artists who are sweating for every dollar we make to pay our way – we wanted to give you (who deliberately is not buying maple syrup or parmesan reggiano) something you really wanted for your birthday and something you wouldn’t go out and just get for yourself because it’s too spendy.

We’d be happy to bring the boys more art supplies but if you could hold your art present from us for your exclusive enjoyment, that would mean a lot to us. It was intended to be a meaningful gift (and the kids can get their expensive pens when it’s their time 🙂

I hope this doesn’t dampen the joy your gift was intended to give you. We love you very much and are big fans of your artistic side.

Happy birthday!

I love you.



To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.