Tag Archives: blended family

The Wish List

When I first invited Cathy to join me in Portland during the summer of 1993, it was to give us both the chance ‘to rub elbows with our genes’ for a few weeks and to allow her a chance to expand her perspective about where she came from. I thought it might be helpful for her to take the time to discover what being my daughter meant for her deep down inside.

It also meant that I would get the chance to find out who she had become without me. I wanted to know my daughter. To bring Cathy into my life was risky and, although I didn’t know if it was really a good idea or not, my desire to take the opportunity to know Cathy was stronger than my fear.

She said yes.

We took an open approach. Unsure of who she really was, I tried to make her comfortable and to give her the freedom to express her thoughts and personality honestly. I was also eager to introduce her to the elements of Portland life that had nurtured me, and to reveal myself to her as the person I truly was within the life I lived.

She stayed.

My move away five years ago was a big adjustment in our relationship. This past winter when I announced that I was ready to return to Portland, Cathy hit a wall that she didn’t know was there. Neither did I. We had come a long distance since we met in 1989 but suddenly I couldn’t be retrofitted back into her life.

I had left her back in the beginning of her life, and now all these years later, I left again and for Cathy, I had broken trust. By the time I returned, my orbit might as well have been around the moon because the connection I had come to expect with Cathy was nowhere to be found.

But nothing lasts forever.

Last night, Cathy and my laptops were back-to-back once again at the Barleymill. My heart was happy to be back to writing with her again. My excitement stayed mostly under wraps as I focused my eyes on the screen and wrote for a while. In truth, I knew deep down that I would do whatever it took to win my daughter’s trust and strengthen our bond back to its healthy self.

Our past few blogs on mothertone and reunioneyes had been about the impact of my return to Portland, and the barriers that arose for my daughter. She still wrestles with emotions that my return unleashed in her, but we are starting to talk about it now. I think I understand the conflict my presence brings to Cathy’s peace of mind. It’s just part of the nature of our situation.

Now we’re under a deadline. Tasks often take our minds off of our feelings and I was grateful for the work ahead.  Kathleen~Cathleen’s latest draft is scheduled to be finished by the end of August. We are both in the thick of our mutual chapters and we are on track.

Our “Return to Portland” blogs had been parsed into parts to reflect our current experience. This fourth part, delayed up until now, was to post a wish list; hers and mine, to remember what’s possible, and for both of us to share the personal goals we harbor, the goals that loom large within the complexity of our twenty-six years in reunion and motivate us to persevere. Here are a few of mine.


I wish our relationship to become normalized beyond our traumatic separation.

That the trauma for us – and for future generations – be reduced by the commitment we have made to each other, and the work we share in the book we are writing.

Whatever words are chosen to name my role in her family or her role in mine, that we know and accept that we ARE family to each other, no matter how many ways we have been separated. As branches of the same tree – that we grow true to our core connection, both biological and environmental – from our own perspectives, and come away with knowledge and respect that comes from the truth, we are related.

That our growth be felt as non-threatening, and free us to develop positive relationships with all the members of our family – biological and adoptive, and our community.

I wish that the dichotomy between “core” family, “adoptive” family, and “birth” family disappear, and instead make us one family – a manifest of connection, respect and relationship.

As acceptance and forgiveness grows, that our relationship be anchored in a love that is stronger than the loss we have suffered – and becomes sustainable and fearless.

That as our relationship becomes stronger, we grow confident and more relaxed together, and have more fun and less sadness.

That we share our writing in ways that engender hope and healing for others.

That the bruise of our unbearable feelings of loss fade as we grow healthy new skin made of the relationship we have built, know and trust.

That Cathy experiences me and the love between as something that is healthy with room to grow without competing with her love for her adoptive family.

That the concept of receiving more than one mother is one that opens her heart, not closes it.

That we will both be healed.

That Cathy learns to love my side of the family she springs from, and come to place where she can embrace and claim us for her own, free of resentment, distress and fear, and celebrate her birthright without compromising her adoptive family connection.

That Cathy will learn to love and accept me as I am.

That we laugh more, cry less.

That our “normal” will be enough.

That when I am old and on my way home to God, my daughter will know me and my love for her beyond doubt, and love me in return.

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


Back in Portland

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.”

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

Family Vacation

Kate Two Fish_CapeCodFamily vacations are one of the anchors of recall that floods me with sweet and salty memories of noisy excitement, laughter and resting in a sandy wet bathing suit drying on a towel to the soundtrack of waves rolling in and out on the beaches of Cape Cod and New Jersey. I can still taste the lobster and clams dipped in bowls of warm melted butter, Este’s fudge, saltwater taffy, and marvelous fish caught by our own lines off the side of my father’s boat. Burnt Irish skin slathered in noxema at night and cousins chasing the days in and out, carefree and wild – free to explore the expansive world of sand, marshes and beach stretched all around us. First cigarettes and going to the arcade for “something to do” and passing the time just looking for fun together.

I fervently wish to reproduce that for my children and grandchildren and am stymied by the blocks of circumstance, distance and timing that make it so challenging to achieve. Sheer determination isn’t enough. I hope to figure it out while the grandkids are still young enough to initiate memories like these. Cathy’s recent trip to New York brought the family vacation quest back to mind. Her family was only a block away at the Museum of Natural History from my beloved in-laws’ apartment on West 79th Street.

My in-laws passed away recently. Their absence as my New York “Ma and Pa” is starkly felt, knowing how much joy they would have had to receive Cathy’s family after their trek to the museum. The normal scenario would have been loud and joyous hugs just off the elevator inside the open door to Apt. 6-A. Grins would take over and Quinn and Reed would be admired for their marvelous height at almost 8 and 6, their handsome looks, innate brightness and they’d be called “sweetheart” and “darling boys” with gusto. They would be awed by the welcome and feel it down to their toes. Proud smiles would fill Cathy and her husband’s chests and they would all sit down together at the table laid on a blue cotton tablecloth spread with plates of food from Zabar’s under my husband, Steve’s large gold and amber collage that hung on the wall.

Anne would have asked every kind of question to the boys, and poured exclamations of pride and admiration into the long well of happy ears as my daughter and her husband would preen from the perch of this stop on the map that was a place of home and extended family that stemmed from our mutual connection as mother and daughter.

This scenario that would have been natural, honest and predictable – a common area Cathy and I got to share in our family. My chosen family by marriage, these parents, grandparents and great-grandparents thrived on being involved and present every step along the daily way and we held them close to the heart of people we shared. They knew we had a complicated history but they didn’t care. We were mostly loved just as much, just the same.

The only exception was the in-laws’ annual family gathering for immediate family and their spouses and children to converge for a week at the whim – and as a gift – by the grandparents. The stepchildren and relinquished-reunited children and their children were excluded from this invitation. It was an odd and treacherous line of demarcation that disturbed the family peace for our little cobbled together family every year from our west coast perch. Interventions on my part did nothing to open the door nor to prevent the feelings of hurt, rejection and exclusion for my two daughters. The three of us were well-practiced at being outsiders from an early age, and we each found coping mechanisms that allowed us to come to terms with it and to accept the circumstances gracefully. None of us allowed it to interfere with the genuine loving exchange at other family gatherings when we would all come together over visits and family occasions that had room for all of us. It was just the way it was.

It was not unlike the dilemma I’m faced with as a birthmother, and as a divorced mother – there are just times when it doesn’t fit to put everybody under the same roof. The intention remains with the elders to decide who is invited to their party. We all get it and life goes on. There is still love in the family and it is protected as sacred in spite of the gaps.

In my case, now that I am an elder, I would like my invitation to become a family gathering in some natural setting once a year for my true family (which includes my first daughter, my youngest daughter, their families, and my stepsons) to provide an enjoyable space and a sense of untethered welcome. My children and grandchildren can be together and relax – to enjoy each other on a family vacation so that decades from now, long after I am gone, they will remember the sweet and salty love of being together as a family members – sisters, brothers and cousins – that no social condition or outside person can ever untie from their essential memories of true familial love.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.

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.

To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.


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

Letters – Mother’s Day

portland-oregon-signJanuary 17, 1993

Dearest Cathy,

Your letter was so potent, honest and welcome. I’ve been thinking about you so much. You’ve worked so hard and long and now on the home stretch to finishing your college life … you find yourself itching to scratch your right brain for balancing the academics with the rest of your self. The plateau is a restless springboard to new chapters, phases, and directions – mastering fears of the unknown and risking the familiar to learn about the new.

Our capacity for new experiences is flexed by our need to move forward… We have to take care of ourselves on so many levels – like a garden; mulching here, pruning there, building up the soil, transplanting so the roots can spread out, moving to deep places as we grow.

I can’t help empathizing to your resonant feelings for similar thoughts have worked their ways through me over the years. If you don’t mind, Cathy, I’d like to speak openly about my impressions of your dilemma and a few thoughts and ideas that came to me as I read your words.

Number one – your self-esteem is shot. You feel like a scramble of accomplishments and what you want to accomplish. You’ve been in a long stretch of educating yourself toward a defined line of work through which you can participate and contribute to the society you live in, while at the same time realizing that on many levels you are as yet untapped in the ways that really bring you out and express your gifts.

How to be who you are when you’re not really sure who that is? Sometimes this catalyzes rubbing against experience, chosen or not, that help us define aspects of ourselves in ways that put old insecurities to rest and generate new ones. The trick is how to make the best of it. One way is to choose things that reflect your dreams and don’t wait for someone else to let you do it (i.e. parents, husbands, boyfriends, bosses, ideas that start with should instead of could).

The reason I say this is that life often puts us in a place that makes us wait, puts us on hold from the things we want to be learning about by experiencing them. Instead we’re somewhere else very busy, hopefully productive and making our way through the day-to-day.

Much of life is spent in what I call a gathering time; gathering money to live, things to get by, neighbors, friends and community, living environs, nesting routines. The quality of the lifestyle is going to depend on how you think about what you want – deciding what’s okay, what’s in and what’s not. What constitutes fun vs. someone else’s fun? This was a long and difficult dilemma in my marriage and relationships.

It took an awful long time to realize that if I did what I thought about I would have more respect, not less, from the people who mattered to me. I may disappoint by someone’s measure of what they expected but heck, their expectations are attached to their dreams and pasts and experiences and though we learn from everybody (no exceptions) we have to live our lives ourselves as true to the bone as you can get it. When you’re driven by personal direction/choices, life has integrity and its meaning ever deepens in small and vast ways.

You don’t need to know everything or even what’s coming next. What you need is the flexibility to enjoy your choices and take the options that enrich and enhance your life. Sometimes this means making a choice upfront and then making (and letting) it happen. These are often the more dramatic choices because they’re cased by faith, declaring the idea, giving it tangibility by speaking it and the dominoes begin.

Much of life we spend reacting to what comes our way. If I’d had the foresight evident in hindsight, I would have been less afraid to follow my real instincts and believe in the good about myself. I’d have said yes to the unexpected and no to the mundane. The best decisions I ever made to date were like that (like you!).

The color in the tapestry before us is produced by the richness of spirit of the piece. You are from a high-spirited clan and I imagine life has many very special and significant crossroads for you to be blessed by. There’s one around every corner for travelers as we.

‪Okay. Here’s what I think. I think you should come out here for the summer. I think you should rub elbows with your genes.‬

‪You could stay in my flat. It’s small, but easily could be done. If you wanted a summer job you could do a variety of things, but the one that comes to mind is the Hawthorne Street Café. It’s a humming neighborhood café within walking distance of here, with good food, good tips and lots of interesting folks. This is not a career opportunity but a people-watching summer job. There are several other places where I know the merchants well there on Hawthorne Boulevard. Or downtown for that matter. Or in social services as well. Depending on what you wanted, I could help with this.‬ ‪

Meanwhile, basics covered, you could explore. Portland’s a beautiful city, my personal favorite, with a great deal to offer. I could take you to all the little places in my life. We could while away many an hour at the beach, on the island, heading to the mountain, hashing out the finer points of any given topic and discovering new and old ties.

You could meet my friends and they you. Your name comes up as one of the family here. You’d be so welcome.‬ ‪We could have dinner at the Vat & Tonsure, drink Rioja to the opera in the background and talk about any and everything. Or down to the East Ave Tav, the Irish community pub where the best music’s happened in the wee hours of the past dozen years. Or to the ceili on 3rd Fridays.‬ ‪Sauvie Island on a July weekday, warm water, Columbia River tugboats pulling logs, ships going by. Surreal in the landscape, Mt. St. Helen’s straight across on a clear day; salmon grilled.

A million pictures come to mind but what I want to emphasize is that I think it would be really good for you, and the time would be full and fast-flying as summers are inclined to go. But you would have afforded yourself a chapter that might help a ways towards knowing yourself better. Through a different frame of reference we grow aware of what we didn’t see before.‬ ‪The light is beautiful in Portland, much like Paris I’m told.

Please just think about it, Cathy. It’d be natural as pie—and a great contrast to life in New Jersey. Believe me, I know. That’s where I left. Come for the summer, C’mon!‬

With love,
To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.

The Narrative

Excerpts from Kate (Chapter Two: Backstory)
Eighteen. St. Louis was supposed to be “what I did on my summer vacation,” not this. I called my parents and told them things weren’t working out and I wanted to come home. My car had stopped running and I didn’t have the money to replace it. They sent me money for a plane ticket and I packed my bags. My friend, Joan was sad and worried about me as we drove to the airport.

“Whatever happens, tell Woz the opposite of what happens, okay?” I said as we hugged goodbye. If I’m pregnant I don’t want him getting in the middle of it, I’ll deal with it by myself. Promise me.”

“Okay, I promise.” Joan looked like she was going to cry. We hugged hard.

“Don’t worry, it’ll all work out” she said as I turned to board the plane.

Our eyes met. “I hope so” I said and walked away.
On the face of it, my parents teamed up and said they would support whatever I decided. They set up a time for me to talk with the pastor. Fr. Bill Sullivan had eaten many dinners at our house over the years and he was at home with our family.

My pregnancy was an awkward topic but I was open to some practical input. Fr. Sullivan told me about adoption services. He didn’t tell me not to have an abortion but he gave me the alternatives that he was familiar with and told me he knew people who longed for a child more than anything and couldn’t have one except through adoption.

As my dad drove me back to my apartment, I admitted that I didn’t want to be a mother from being with a man I barely knew, didn’t love or planned to ever see again. To begin a family from a beginning like this seemed stupid and disastrous. I didn’t want to have a child. Abortion seemed like the only way to deal with it.

“It’s really up to you, honey.”

It had always been easy for me to talk freely with my dad. He brought me home record albums of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Weavers and Ian & Sylvia. He showed me how to play music, drove me to auditions and bought me my first guitar in New York City. He was interested in what I thought and didn’t pressure me to be anything but myself.

Life to me was magic. With my surname, I was teased with nicknames of “flower power” who wrote songs of internal struggles with happy endings. Love was my code. I’d been to Woodstock. Was this a call to love a complete unknown? How far do I go with this? It’s in my body, not my head. What do I do with it? I was eighteen years old.

In a gentle voice, my father began to tell me what it was like for him when my mother became pregnant for the tenth time. Each of us was special in our own way but my mother’s news of one more pregnancy put my dad into a crisis. He didn’t know if he could love one more child. He had worked hard and loved us all but he felt like his plate was full. There wasn’t any more room in his heart for one more.

As my mother grew with my baby sister, my father’s anxiety grew, unconvinced. Then Gina was born, a cheerful baby girl with the face of an angel, bright and spirited. We all vied to take care of her because she was the littlest one, named for the Blessed Mother – Regina Maria or Queen Mary. Our littlest sister became the apple of our father’s eye. He loved this little one so much.

“Now,” he said, “I can’t imagine what it would have been like without her. She was the last piece in the puzzle of our family. If I had turned away from my last child being born, life would have been different in a way I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.”

His eyes crinkled into a half-grin made me half-think he believed that I could do this – that it would be hard and not what I had planned for – but it might turn out better than I ever expected and I’d never know unless I tried … and that’s life, isn’t it?

I took in a breath and let it out. I guess I knew what I was going to do.


I announced my decision to come to term and give up my baby for adoption. My parents accepted my decision and made plans with Sister Alice Faherty at Catholic Charities. Sister Alice was a pink-cheeked radical, peace-activist, post-Vatican II Sister of Mercy. She had handled five hundred adoptions and cared about every person she worked with.

I walked to the duck pond at the bottom of the hill in Morristown to meet her over deli sandwiches she brought with her. We sat in her car and as I unwrapped the white wax paper around my tuna sandwich, we began to get to know each other. Then she told me what I could expect.

A room would be reserved for me at the “Home for Unwed Mothers” in a small community north of my family’s town. I would pick an alias (to protect my given name) and within weeks of labor, I would go the home to wait to deliver. Everything else would be taken care of.

“Twenty years from now” she said, “a child may be able to see their records – and you can update the agency with your whereabouts if you want to be found. I think the laws will have changed by then.”

That could be good, I thought to myself. Twenty years was more than I had been alive. It seemed like a long time. Still, my baby could have a good home to grow up in. Maybe by some miracle we would come back together when the time was right. I would be mature and have my life together. If I did this for the sake of love and made the sacrifice for God, anything could happen. If the baby was born, everything was possible.


My mother had conceded to a short visit on Christmas day so I could drop off gifts I had made for my brothers and sisters for Christmas. “Keep your coat on” she whispered, as my brothers and sisters followed her into the foyer to greet me.

My nine year-old youngest sister, Gina, stepped right up and stood in front of me and with an inquisitive expression said “What’s this?” She boldly ran her index finger down the front zipper of my cape from the neck to my waist.

I grabbed her hands with urgency and held them in mine as I smiled into her eyes, “This is my new cape my friend made me for Christmas? Isn’t it beautiful?”

She looked confused, unconvinced and dropped her hands.

“That’s nice” she said.

“I’ve missed you, Gina. Come on, let’s do presents!”

I took her hand and asked her to come sit with me in the living room and we’d hand out the gifts I had brought in my bag.

My mother paced nervously between the living room and the kitchen with tea and Christmas cookies and watched with a protective eye for her charges while I took out each present and handed it out; hand-crocheted hats, macramé beaded plant hangers, homemade jams and toys for the younger ones. A layer of worry underlined her motherly smile as she nodded to my siblings who showed her what they got. The gravity in her face told me to hurry.

Thirty minutes after my arrival I announced that I needed to deliver the rest of my Christmas presents and had better go. My cape draped around me as I stood with my empty canvas bag rolled up in my hands in front. After quick kisses goodbye, I backed out the driveway in my car. Tears broke hold as I shifted gears and pulled onto the road home where I would be a welcome sight, no matter what.

Author’s comment:

After Cathy’s birth, I shared my story with those closest to me – mainly to ensure that if she ever came looking for me, my confidants would be able to tell her that I had been there and she would have a trail to follow. Little did I know that we would find each other the way we did!

The truth became public when we found each other. People were surprised by my openness but accepted it as part of my story – and some had stories of their own. Shared or not, this was part of who I was. It had always been easier for me to tell the truth than to hide it. My privacy and reputation had been protected for the sake of my family and my future. Reunion has forged a live reconciliation that continues to be ongoing, authentic and a source of love and strength for all of us, young and old, in the extended family we have become. ~ Kate

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.

To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
(Painting “Sirens” by Roderick Smith ©1999 for Harbour CD)

“Sirens” by kate power
performed & recorded by kate power & steve einhorn on “Harbour”, produced by craig carothers

Candlelight in the window
Burning brighter than a holy wick glow
Lead my boat into safe harbour
Take me through these rocky waters

Stormy weather winds blow
Toss me off far from my destination
Folding me in blinding weather
I’m in your hands, I’m barely bound together

I’m blowin’ in from deep water
I’m blowin’ in from sea
And I’m holding my eye on the beacon
Bring me in

Sirens sound in the wind
Or is it the bell in the buoy moaning?
There, I hear it again
I’m coming about, I’m rowing

Like a gusty gull in the air
Skimming top of the deepest ocean
Stirring fish in salty water
Chasing fin from seal to otter

I’m blowing in from deep water
Blowin’ in from sea
Won’t you hold me in your line of vision
Bring me in

Sirens sound in the wind
Or is it the bell in the buoy moaning?
There, I hear it again
I’m coming about, I’m rowing

Candlelight in the window
Burning brighter than a holy wick glow
Lead my boat into safe harbour
Take me through these rocky waters

I’m blowing in from deep water
Blowin’ in from sea
Won’t you hold me in your line of vision
Bring me in

Sirens sound in the wind
Or is it the bell in the buoy moaning?
There, I hear it again
I’m coming about, I’m rowing


“Castle of Dromore” (performed by Kate Power & Steve Einhorn)

I’m sitting on the sixth floor on West 79th Street in Manhattan. My in-laws are sound asleep in the next room. My husband is playing gently on his ukulele in ours. I’m considering the chapter I’ve been working on from where I sit at the dining room table and close my book of notes; I have finished for tonight.

In little more than an hour, the clock will strike midnight and it will be my birthday. I took a call from my eldest daughter an hour ago. Her voice was cheerful as she asked me what my birthday plans were. Our phone conversation was lined with the sounds of my young grandsons in the background and the normalcy of all this made my heart ripple and sing.

It’s never been like this for me before. “Normal” is more unusual for me and I notice when it happens. The edges that used to protect my feelings of loss have softened with time since Cathy and I reunited. I used to hold myself tightly inside at the sight of a baby on my birthday (or hers), on Mother’s Day, holidays, schoolyards filled with children at play. Our relationship has seasoned and mellowed over the twenty-three years since we met. The portal of my daughter’s love has opened a place that allows my joy to snap like happy fingers to the sound of children now. I embrace this time and cherish my role as mother and grandmother. I savor each second and each of them. In my eyes, they are the most beautiful beings on earth. Something in me believes says that angels hang close by the children of the earth. Children are the closest to God in innocence and purity, and only one step removed from the divine as new inhabitants to their human form. Innocence awes me.

As my dearly departed friend, Hazel, used to say, “If you live long enough, all is forgiven!” She may have something there. I chuckle to remember the warm gravel of her voice under shining eyes in her wizened old face, etched deeply with loveliness and time. If anybody knew the truth about life, it was Hazel. Perhaps aging is a gift after all.

Our phone call was interrupted as Cathy’s cell phone dropped the call. I held my mute phone and laughed out loud to no one in particular, “I was just telling her the best part!” and let it go. We emailed back and forth where we left off and both went back to our writing. Even three thousand miles away, there are things we do together when we are apart: the book and our blogs.

We’re working on chapters ten and eleven. Ten is the “Honeymoon” chapter and filled with mutual exploration four years after we met. She went to college, graduated and then decided to take me up on an invitation to visit me in Portland for the summer. Chapter eleven is “Going Dark” and the turning point from the bliss of innocence in reunion to the bleak depths of disappointment, anger and anguish that followed. The two chapters describe two sides that are markedly different and indelibly bound in the middle with the truth – two sides of a coin that paid our passage into discovery, delivery and ownership of our truth and our place in one another. I don’t know yet what my daughter has written in her side of these chapters but it doesn’t matter. Underneath whatever comes, I am a lucky mother, a proud first mother and a grateful birthmother.

I’ll be sixty-one in less than an hour. I was eighteen when I conceived Cathy and eighteen years later, at thirty-seven, we met again. I have been twenty-four years in reunion and connection in real-time with my daughter. It’s had its ups and downs, easy flow and rough patches – just like normal mothers and daughters – and she just called to wish me a happy birthday.

That’s just about the best birthday gift I can think of.

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

Anxiety in Reunion

Sandhill Cranes (kate power ©2012)…story & lyrics at end of blog…My eyes fall on the Buddist Chant CD lying in front of the boombox on the kitchen counter. A cache of vitamins, Wellness formula and a small bottle of Elm Bach Remedy drops “to restore optimism when overwhelmed by effects of responsibility and change” are lined up in a row on the shelf. I squeeze a dropper of the Elm into a tall glass of filtered water, slip the CD in to play at a comfortable volume and set the timer on the oven for forty minutes. If I exercise early, my mind will calm down so I can navigate from a grounded perspective. I prepare the lifeboat of my body to travel into the plans and the inevitable unexpected turns of the day before me.

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…

Sandhill Cranes
Kate Power©2012

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,
Light, light.
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;
Go, 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