Tag Archives: blended family

Cathy’s Portland

Destiny by John Waterhouse

    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.

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

Indigenous

The Lady of Shallot by John WaterhouseDaybreak 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.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes. Reunhref=”http://reunioneyes.blogspot.com/2012/08/indigeny.html” target=”_blank”>ReunionEyes.

Family Tree

Portland Rose on Mason Street
(“bring me a rose” kate power & steve einhorn, recorded by billy oskay, big red studio, corbett, oregon. song by ernie sheldon.)

I woke up this morning to a pair of evening grosbeaks out our window. They have spent the day crossing the backyard between the feeder and the tall grove of bamboo by the shed. Grosbeaks mark an annual highlight in bird migration here in the northwest; marmalade thrushes with black and white markings and beaks like parrots that talk in a foreign tongue, ambassadors of summer ahead.

As the pace ramps up a notch, all but working on the draft is on hold. The arrival of this pair of birds is a gift; fleeting, natural, beautiful and right on time to the tick of an ancient biological clock.

Our family buzzes with activity – two college graduations – Ben and Abby, Quinn and Reed’s birthdays, Abby moved to new digs and Lucy’s first week back at her old school, Eli prepares for China and Cathy digs into a writing class while we scramble for time to work on the book together. My children and grandchildren have each just finished a cycle and begun the next. The seasons turn.

This comes to me as a sign of hope, life and small miracles – like the birds. Like a rose in wintertime.

I am a root in the family tree. Years have added girth and dimension under the bark that wraps its sturdy skin around layers of history and genetics mixed in our own alchemy of sap that rises and falls through thick and thin. It’s more than blood. It’s life. Each branch grows in its own direction and draws from the roots skyward.

I am one root among many beneath branches that crown the ancestral tree and reflex with instinctive gratitude in return for family in bloom above ground.

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

Mercy

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.

Always,

Kate

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

Flashback

Kate at 4After a couple of trains to Portland in the past month, it was Cathy’s turn to take the train north to Olympia to write together this past weekend.  A blog about what happens when we write is this week’s focus. To talk about writing and to re-experience the issues we write about are two different conversations.

The former has to do with the unusual process we devised early on to share topics but not our content with each other. So far, that has given us the freedom to speak honestly and it has lent an element of trust that brings us close together.

Our secrecy surrounding our writing with each other also has given us permission not to talk about the things we write about. The fallout from what we don’t say remains to be felt when we share it all. There’s a good chance we will need some extra care and guidance once we finish to share what it is we’ve created.

What an unusual pact we’ve made! It is an act of trust – to say what is true for each of us in spite of the impact it may have. It scares me to think about reading about ways I have disappointed her. We have based the work of the past eight years on our personal truth. “The truth shall set you free.” The truth is what we perceive it to be and that means there will be flaws in the story that rise to the surface to self-correct as we speak from two directions. The intrigue has become part of the story.

Sometimes the actual experience of writing ambushes us by waking up subliminal unrest and moving us in unexpected ways that tells each of us that even though we have talked about our relationship a great deal over the years, we are still in the thick of experiencing it with all the consequences of our separation and reunion; who we were, who we are, and who we’ve become – to ourselves, to our families and to one another. Our relationship is part of our connection and disconnection with the world around us.

A good example from my side is a small but significant event that occurred last summer at a writers retreat called Fishtrap. I’ve been on the advisory board, presented on panels and taught songwriting at the Fishtrap writer retreats over the past ten years. It is a place I consider a harbor as a writer. I have written some of my best songs there, including “Travis John” “Before You Go” and “Wallowa”.

Cathy and I read from our book for the first time at last summer’s Fishtrap. Cathy was sequestered in a car away from the building while I read. Conversely, I sat in the car while she followed my reading with hers. The audience was the first group to ever hear us read our separate sides to the same chapter. As they listened, they integrated the collective truth that rose from our four-minute excerpts expressed in our own voices from our mutual story.

When I came back into the lodge after Cathy’s reading, I was struck by the feeling in the room and the faces visibly moved by our story. Comments of enthusiastic support rallied around us and we were encouraged to finish the book and get it out into the world. We had crossed a threshold by sharing our words out loud and in public. It was a big moment for us. Victorious. A first.

The next day I approached a publisher at the retreat to ask about finding an agent. I was nervous because this is one publisher I had hoped to send our book proposal to. I had broached our project with him a few years before. At the time, he had said, “Let me see it when you’re ready” and his words stayed with me as we worked and wrote. Now that I was bringing it to him, I introduced Cathy and told him where we were in our process.

What I thought happened next and what Cathy saw happen were two different things.

I thought I was presenting my daughter and our book to him. His response was that our subject was not something his company was interested in. I retreated to make room for the buzzing circle of writers waiting to approach him. My guts felt tight and I held my breath with an odd sense of relief for having tried. Rejection is something writers are supposed to expect and get used to. This was the first.

What Cathy saw was me poking the publisher with aggressive body language that told him about our book project as though he couldn’t have it, that it belonged to us and that there was no way I was going to give him our book. She was confused.

That five-minute interlude turned into a conversation that went on for hours between Cathy and I in front of her tent up the hill from the lodge, watered by tears so deep I couldn’t stop.  My daughter watched me with a serious face and listened to sobs of loss bound up inside her first mother, as they loosened into a river, undiluted by the passing of forty years. I tried to explain myself but knew I was in over my head. I didn’t know how to let go of this.

I was confused. I had no idea I had came off as a bully rather than the friendly herald I thought I was announcing readiness to share our book. Instead, my conversation was seen as aggressive and defensive, as though to prevent our book from being taken by this powerful publisher who could deliver it to the world. I had made a stand, he rejected it and I rejected him. What was happening?

I didn’t want them to take my baby. This was not about Cathy writing a book with me, it was about me giving her up and getting her back and now that book was getting closer to completion, I was giving her up again. The book was the baby. It was a massive bit of transference. I tell myself this isn’t therapy; it’s a metaphor – an emotional artifact. My job is to gather the truth and simply to tell the story the best way I can, simply and as the narrator. Not so simple.

The truth is that the truth isn’t what I thought it was. I thought I was trying to write a story of events as they happened. Instead, I find myself holding on to the baby in the story with my life – and this time, with everything defined and embodied in words, as if she would stay with me – I wasn’t going to let her go anywhere but where she belonged, with me.  The old sorrow takes the baby back again and again as though the story never happened or needed to be told.

I don’t know if I’ve ever lived out a metaphor like this before. Now I wonder if what I think I’m doing may only be a front for what I wish to do; to know her, to love her and to let her go to be part of the world – this time in a world we share to the end. It’s my job to finish my side of the story. The ending will take care of itself.

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, go to ReunionEyes.

Cathy’s Birthday

Today is the first day of Spring. The bunch of crocus off the back kitchen stoop sign “hallelujah!” from thawing ground as yellow stars tip long skinny branches of an old forsythia in back of the shed. Arbiters of warmer weather tickle a wily charge out of nowhere to jumpstart my low mood with possibilities in spite of one raw rainyass afternoon. The flowers wear their colors proudly, bellwethers of sunshine to come after months of wet weather in the rainforest.

Memories seep under the surface like an incoming tide overrunning the shore with fishes from deeper places once thought to be extinct. When the tide and light is right their shapes shift between light and darkness, air above, water below, rampant reflections blinding definition as movements tease my eyes into focus, lost again when I look away.

I sit back up in my seat and roll my shoulders to shake the past back to “before” and resume. Circumstances range the lines of my face caught sideways in the mirror across from my desk. Laugh lines counter the child I once was, now hidden far behind the face of an old lady.

If I had known then what I know now, my life might have been different. For better or for worse, who’s to say? I do know that someday my grandchildren will need to understand the role I played in the family story. As they grow from toddlers to teens, questions of where they came from will rise and curiosity will need answers. I am determined to love them freely now before I scramble to unhook the chains of regret hung across my heart. My story will shape karma in their lives. As I keep praying for happy endings, they will be working through what remains unfinished and it will be them, not me, who determine how the story turns out. My job is to be true and to give them love that is sound and good.

When Cathy’s adoptive parents came to visit years ago, I asked her mother if she had any pictures of Cathy’s childhood that she could share with me. It was an innocent request and Dottie’s response was “Of course. I’ll bring them next time.”

On their next visit that following Christmas, she handed me a wax envelope filled with a dozen pictures of Cathy in her childhood. I gasped with the prospect of seeing what I had never been allowed to see before. Except for two pictures Sr. Alice sent me of Cathy when Cathy was 4 and 6 years old, I had never seen pictures of my daughter as a child. Dottie and I sat down on my living room couch and she recounted each photo in a gentle, matter of fact voice.

“This is Cathy’s christening picture” (Cathy’s a baby is in a perfect white taffeta baptismal gown with satin ribbon, holding her mother’s finger with her chubby hand.)

“Here is one on her first birthday” (the identical feminine of my grandson, Quinn with a paper cone birthday hat tied under her chin and sitting in her chrome throne high chair – Cathy points her finger at the birthday cake with the candle lit to wish on top.)

“These are from her tap dancing class at dance school when she was eight.” (four small portraits in dance costume… Cathy looks so much like I did at that age – her hair is auburn, thick and wavy – her smile is warm, bright and wholesome under a headband adorned with a red and white feathers to match her showgirl outfit trimmed with pearls and bow-tied tap shoes. Her smile is radiant as she poses in long over-the-elbows fingerless red gloves.)

“This is Cathy’s 8th birthday. (Cathy looks a little pale as she blows into a party favor, a top heavy blue corsage hangs on her flowered blouse at a table set for guests with birthday hats, plates and paper cups lined up around her birthday cake.)

“This is her First Holy Communion from that same year” (a tiara-veiled beauty in white holding a sweet bouquet of daisies as she stands in front of the gold-embroidered “Alleluia” background draped behind her.)

“And another communion picture…(It’s 1979. Cathy smiles standing in front of the cake with her mother’s hands resting on her shoulders she looks into the camera with confidence, ready to cut the white sheet cake with two little statues of a child being blessed by Jesus and “God Bless Cathy” scrolled in yellow script.)

“School picture, age 9.” (round cheeks have thinned from little girl to young girl.)

The next picture is a school picture – she looks around eleven with braces, feminine lavender blouse with a high collar. I wonder if she’s started biting her nails – her nails so short on poised hands posed for the portrait.

Then she’s thirteen and looks like she may be getting ready to go to a school dance as she sits on a patio chair in a pink skirt and pink sweater patterned with white hearts under a double strand of pearls. A peanut butter sandwich and a plastic mug of milk rest on a red and white-checkered tablecloth. Everything looks so normal.

Next she’s in her cheerleader uniform with “Captain Cathy” embroidered on her jacket and her hands in her pockets standing in front of an autumnal living room fire. Her face is in the shape of a heart and her smile is serene – so lovely.

Then high school pictures followed stylish blonde-colored hair, more prominent makeup, proms with boyfriends and high school and, finally, high school graduation.

To see her framed in snapshots over various stages of her development of the life she had lived without me had an unexpected effect.

I thanked Dottie for the pictures and carefully put them back in the wax envelope. I brought them upstairs to my bedroom and tucked them deep in the back of my writing drawer and made a mental note not to forget where I put them before I closed the drawer, turned and went back downstairs to finish making Christmas dinner for all of us.

It had been a generous gift for Dottie to share those pictures with me. I didn’t want to appear ungrateful as they opened up a volcanic pile of emotion that I kept forgetting lived behind my sunny disposition. Vapors of feeling steamed at my seams and I felt the volcano getting hot. My heart was racing and I practiced a smile to break the tension in my face. I took a breath and forced myself to forget about it for now and shifted my focus on the turkey in the oven, refilling drinks and passing hors d’oeuvres around the room.

I took out the pictures today to look at them for the first time since that Christmas almost ten years ago. The wax envelope has yellowed to a dry crinkle. In a couple of weeks Cathy will turn another birthday. She’s coming up on the train to write with me this weekend. Maybe we’ll celebrate early.

Maybe I will get to bake her a cake this time. We’ve had a few birthday cakes together now. She’s due for one. I’ll sing her happy birthday on my ukulele. My heart is grateful for all the cakes her mother baked and for the gift in turn that I may do the same. That we both love her and call her “my child” is an enigma of a mother’s heart, first and last.

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

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.