Tag Archives: birthmom

Writing Solo Together

Two weeks after Dr. Phil called in the winter of 2004, (scroll to bottom for that story) Cathy and I met to talk about writing a book about our reunion and turning points in our subsequent relationship. Drafts later, the finish seems closer.

We started autonomous blogs, mothertone (mine) and reunioneyes (hers) that tell the story of our story. Following the same premise as our collaboration; we write on the same topic from our unique views without sharing blogs.

We have been writing mutual chapters to describe our experience. Starting “At 18” with snapshots of who we were at that age. Me, an eighteen year-old pregnant with Cathy in 1971. Cathy, a high school graduate who decided to look at her birth records for more information about who she was the day after she turned 18. That was in 1989.

Now, it’s 2012. The day we met as strangers twenty-three years ago set a stage that has reconciled characters we had only imagined until then with the people we are. An overlay of compassion and respect imbues a simmering pot of ingredients we share. We recognize our differences and explore them with sensitivity and curiosity that reminds me just how lucky we are to have come this far, or not. It is not without gratitude that we write.

We are also grateful to those who hold our story and encourage us.

Still, the truth can be delicate – not how we wish it was or how it might have been if things had been different. We write our sides as they went. I don’t know what she has written but that doesn’t bother me, nor does it matter as much as the fact that we get to do this together. We are collaborators.

I get to partner with my daughter in an uncanny act. To tell our story through the lens and voices of our tale’s characters, Cathleen and Kathleen, she and me. Behind my apparent confidence, I certainly wonder who I’ll see in her eyes and guess that she wonders who she’ll find in mine. It’s scary but not enough to stop.  We trust it. We trust each other. That’s enough.

Our project has been a touchstone between us for eight years now. We slog forth and do the best we can to get the writing done and to meet draft deadlines in between marriages, babies, business shifts and a traveling worklife. No matter how much we each procrastinate and grumble, we are eager to complete what we started.

When we come together, we sit facing each other – laptops to laptop – and write, sometimes for a few hours, and on rare occasions for days with breaks for meals and sleep. Once in a while, one will ask the other a question (usually related to chronology or food.) The rest of the time the only sound is that of the keys on our computers tapping. Sometimes one or the other wipes a watery eye; other times a “Yes!” squeals out approval in the air for a piece that finally unfolds just right. We cheer each other on unwittingly and then zoom back in to our screens….tappity, tappity, tap. Time passes too quickly, always.

So far the only real cost has been in time and discretionary privacy – the fee for serving a demographic that has had little to no voice in modern literature. We hope that this story will help people discover useful truths about what it’s like to be in our roles as we point to the practical and miraculous as it happened to us.

As long as we don’t share our writing with each other, it is you, dear reader, who will know better than either of us, how it goes. Comments would be most welcome.

When we’re done, it won’t surprise me to miss this work with Cathy. Even unread and ignorant of her chapters, I love the bond of our work together; it makes me relish what would otherwise be too hard.

If sharing our complicated (or are they simple?) sides brings a new level of understanding to those who might benefit from hearing one true story of a secret daughter and a secret mother who found more than each other in reunion – it will have been worth it.

To view my daughter”s blog on the same topic, go to http://reunioneyes.blogspot.com

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An Ordinary Act

Here we are at Starbuck’s writing together, laptops touching, our coffees on the side, her sneakers tap in secret code out of the corner of my eye. The sun is shining as skinny green tips point from the ground in a dress rehearsal for the real thing and false spring charms us into forgetting the dump of snow just weeks ago.

My daughter is so unpretentiously pretty in her warm pink thermal top and jeans as purple-colored locks fake out her otherwise reddish brown hair and dance like freestyling loosestrife on the perimeter of her heart-shaped face. With the uncanny beauty of wild roses, she is so lovely without trying – zero makeup and no time to primp with her two young sons tugging at her from either side. After delivery of a cup of juice to the three year-old and a sketchbook for the five year-old, they are left in the open arms of “Uncle Grandpa” (Steve’s beloved moniker) and we dashed out the front door to steal up the street on foot for an hour of writing together in the closest coffee shop with wi-fi.

It’s Sunday – a gorgeous day that makes me homesick for my thirty-five year-old hometown here where I used to live just ten blocks from Cathy’s house. Now its a hundred miles to get to this familiar spot. That I get to be with her this way is no small thing for me and I am happy, thankful to be here.

Steve and I played the Winterfolk Concert last night at the Aladdin Theater amongst a stellar lineup of musician friends.  Our songs transcended the oldest of bonds and grew a few new ones, both in the audience and backstage. Musical memory took me all the way back from 1981 and the Irish sessions in the East Avenue Tavern to last night thirty-years later. We joined once again over music and raised money to feed the hungry and inspire community on one of the city’s most historic stages. The folk element of Portland came out; the connection was strong, the music was alive and it was one fine night.

My daughter was amused this morning by the role reversal at play as it was we who arrived home to her house at 2am while she and her family slept a full night’s sleep on a Saturday night.

I was a thirty year-old playing those sessions back in 1981. Cathy was ten and growing under another family’s roof in New Jersey.  Thirty years have passed since then and we have become closer with time.

At almost forty-one, my first daughter sits across from me, pounding out her thoughts in her own words while I face her and search for mine. Being together this way thrills me. We have been given one precious hour alone together. After that she will return to Sunday with her family and Steve and I will head north on I-5 and home in Olympia.

I take it all in from behind my sunglasses. People swing through the door just beyond Cathy’s left shoulder. They come and go like crows sweeping in to feed and settle inside and out with caffeinated cups held carefully in their clutches as they perch to sip and talk.

To passersby, we look like two women involved in what has become an ordinary act of writing on computers together at a little round table in the window with only the sun connecting them in the light of afternoon sunshine. Our postures suggest a routine between two women who bear a resemblance to one another and seem otherwise disengaged, synchronized, non-attached.

I peek at her behind my sunglasses and cherish the furrow deepening in her brow. Her eyes dart back and forth across her computer screen, scanning the map she has choreographed from her tapping fingertips.

I love that my eyes are invisible to her just now. She is unaware of my eyes holding her as she freely watches her thoughts tumble into words on screen and reflects on whatever she might be saying about me, us and this. I’m not curious. I just want to be here.

My heart blooms in the ingredients of this moment. Doing what we are doing together, is something that, no matter what direction it takes, belongs to us and only us. It is so delicious. My eyes smile through dark lenses on my poker face as I take hers in. I want to draw it, paint it, frame it, hold it, kiss it, keep it. I wish it was a sketchpad instead of my computer under my fingertips but I don’t mind. It’s good to be here, doing this work we’ve made up together.

I feel all this and she doesn’t even know.  Like a baby whose mother croons and kisses her child’s temples and cheeks, I sit and watch her serious expression shift in and out as her thoughts dance and recede with the furrow on her brow. Baby’s have furrowed brows sometimes, even middle-aged ones.

It would be so easy to list why this simple act is so freaking wild. Instead I hold my head in my hand and act as though this is just another routine on just another day in just another town with just another daughter – and all along my heart beats, bare-assed and yelping on the roller coaster ride inside my skin.

My daughter sits on the other side of the table and doesn’t hear my holler echo, “I love you, Cathy!”

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

Wist and Wonder

By the south shore of the Sound, tidal waters came and went, salty and teaming with life in motion. High water from record snowfall rose and fell under the 4th Avenue Bridge in Olympia and stories of otters, heron and marine life returned with my husband’s daily walkabout on his errands to town and back.

My back injury would take a while to heal. Fall turned to Winter, and with it a season of stillness held my body in place as my mind traveled across far-reaching deserted memories I had left for lost.

Chapters for Kathleen~Cathleen tap their feet, waiting to be redressed. I’ve only told my side of the story in starts and pulls.  Finished, it awaits refinement. The story begs to be told – the way only Cathy and I can tell it.  Our story is held private by all but ourselves, even from each other. As we approach the tale, we find our own truths embedded in pearls of synchronicity and along the edges of conflict.  The glue that binds us together is a gooey mix of pain, hope and surprise. There is tenderness but that is kept in a safe place where none from outside can touch or steal it. What we have is ours, it belongs to us and we have come a long way to claim it, in each other and in the world. It is our love.

Cathy is my firstborn child. I am her original mother. She joined the physical world through me, if not with me, when I was eighteen.  She was delivered from my body to another family through adoption. We met eighteen years later. Our overt relationship began then but we have always been in relationship.  Cathy was part of me and I was part of her, we were invisible but keenly felt in each other.

Now we are working, together and apart, to tell the story.  In between the husbands, children, jobs and quirks of daily life, we steal to our corners and write our sides as we can in hope that we will deliver the story as it was delivered to us in time to help the people it’s intended for.

One of our mutual topics is dealing with the holidays. I’m not sure what hers will say but I’d guess her version might contain a similar mix from her end…

Christmas holidays came and went. It used to be, before we met, that we thought of each other with wist and wonder, imagining how the other might be celebrating. Now, twenty-two years into our reunion, we still think of each other wistfully and wonder how it is for the other. The main irony between before and after our reunion is that the invitation that was impossible before is still left unexpected.

When we lived close by, there was possibility for more spontaneity and sneaking time together in-between plans with adoptive parents and in-laws didn’t interfere with the mainstream of life. Offers to babysit were always grabbed with excitement and gave us a place to be with our grandsons – beautiful bits of time.  Now that we are a hundred miles north, opportunity thins to rare phone calls and occasional emails. Attempts to connect spin outside the chaotic chase to keep up with life at hand. Her parents come out from Florida every Christmas for a couple of weeks. Her in-laws live nearby. Even when we were down the street, it was complicated to drop by uninvited and invitations didn’t come often.

The birthmother is still invisible on the official list of celebratory characters and the experience of the past many years tells me that it’s awkward for my daughter to include me without struggle. As thick as the rope might be between us, the sinewy threads that twist us together are not readily mixed with the fibers that make up the rest of our lives. Her primary family is counted without me. Just because I count her as a member of my family (better late than never) that doesn’t mean that the reverse is true. I claim her as my firstborn daughter but in light of her family hierarchy, that holds no weight or semblance of expectation in her plans or her life as she knows it. Our relationship is a sideline to everything else and it’s optional. She calls the shots. I mostly wait.

The question of knowing where to include her and be included by her agitates in rough silence before holidays, summer vacations, school plays, birthdays, graduations, hallmark days, weddings and funerals.

It’s not that we don’t mix with her family members, we do.  We are a varied but likable mix and Cathy is the common denominator. We all played a part in their wedding. We were all in the waiting room when each of the grandsons were born. Three sets of grandparents, hers, hers and his, respectfully waited together in anticipation; cajoling, knitting and looking at the clock. We all came because we wanted to be there and took our place to share in our part as Cathy’s family-in-waiting. Even her birth father was welcome.

Season after season of holidays, birthdays and family events later, I find myself fighting urges to become recluse and to take expectation out of her equation. I don’t expect invitations anymore and stopped looking for it a while back.

I know there’s a place for me somewhere in this. We do have a relationship. It seems so natural when we are together.  In it’s way, it’s motherly and daughterly. I struggle for equilibrium and wander through oceanic feelings that toss and recoil as I reach and pull my way back and forth from where we were nothing to where we are something, from where we come together to where we don’t. I’m never sure where I stand. Sometimes takes mock strength to move forward. It’s still better than nothing or not knowing who or where she is. It’s hard not to want more but I’m lucky to have a turn at all.

She seems to feel close to my husband at times, he is genuine and their relationship has a ring of affection and authenticity. There is no barrier of grief or loss between them. I can’t help but envy how easy they are together. Our grandsons love him and that love is safe, warm, fun and natural. My husband’s voice resonates with stories as he reads from their favorite books. I am tongue-tied but so happy to be near them. It is a gift worth more than gold.

I look on with longing, not sure if it’s okay to love them as much as I do. I cling to their innocent acceptance and affection. Underneath the question remains whether they will shun me later when they learn what I did?  What will allow them to trust me when they learn the truth, that I let their mother go? I was young, not evil, but the consequence was grave, important and permanent. Even if she forgives me, will they? If I’m not on the family list of the invited, then I don’t belong. I’m an anomaly. That’s the kicker and it’s not her fault, it’s mine.

I would rather be their champion. Instead, I carry a terrible role in a tale that must wait until they are old enough to hear it so they can bear its meaning. In order for them to understand who I am and where their mother came from, they will need to know the truth. This is true of all my line; in the beginning it was my siblings, family and friends, and now my children’s children who will need to grow old enough to hear the story that is as sad as it is good. The story is its own riddle and it is my pass from invisibility to having a relationship. That makes it worth the trouble.

Hope rises in spite of myself. I blame this on optimism that seems to refuse to go idle in spite of myself. My daughter’s love and acceptance, or not, is what my grandsons will know, feel and respond to in time.  I would like their hearts to find love inside the complicated truth. I hope for the best.

My fingers drum simpler questions into my knee as I wonder how school is today and whether they have colds or need their jackets zipped up to their chins. I wish I could walk them home like grandmothers do; like a mother would have walked their mother home when she was their age.

“Love is the answer” a mantra whispers as one foot follows the other on a recent walk around my brother-in-law’s block in New Jersey. I called Cathy on my cell phone from our mutual childhood stomping grounds to tell her where I was, that I was thinking of her and that we would be coming to Portland soon. She asks if we’ll stay over when we come and I think I hear a hint of hope in her voice. I grin and say yes. My heart flutters. We will.

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