Tag Archives: grandchildren

St. Francis Park

stfrancispark_waterWe pulled up to park the car under sunny blue sky in Portland, got out and hitched our instruments over our shoulders to walk across the street where volunteers were running back and forth to set up for the neighborhood party. Portland weather was at its most glorious and a gentle breeze ran free and full of itself in fragrant wisps to tease the varietal mix of adults who greeted one another as their kids splashed around in the shade of the steel river-fountain play structure and waited for the festivities to begin.

Steve and I were there to open the party with music under the tent to celebrate the last summer on the block as St. Francis Park. The Catholic Church owned the city block that housed the church and long defunct brick school. The park in the corner of the property had been developed forty-five years earlier by the neighboring community, but had grown sketchy in recent years as an adjunct to St. Francis Dining Hall where the hungry and homeless came for meals. The land was bought by Catholic Charities, and now they had plans to build affordable housing in its place.

This gathering would be our last stop before heading home to Seattle. We had made the decision to move back home to Portland and this had been a trip to scout for a place to live. We had hiked with Cathy and the boys earlier in the week on a trail we had taken with Cathy twenty years before. She had surprised me with a text that she and the family were coming to St. Francis Park so the kids could hear us play before we left. We were so happy to see them all once again before the long ride back.

During the sound check I saw them file in with the crowd and sit at a table near the cubist water sculpture. Even Cathy’s mother, Dottie, came with them. Looking out from under tent, I saw Cathy sit next to her mom, and Dane took his stance by them with muscled arms across his chest to watch his sons, Quinn and Reed, as they chased each other to the water and back. I couldn’t tell if the tension in Cathy, Dottie and Dane’s faces was from the strong afternoon sun, or if they were anxious as they took in the odd mix of characters settling in around them; shirtless street people with skin burnt umber who sat next to families of all generations joining the party from their houses in the neighborhood. They had walked in to a diverse crowd.

Steve and I broke into “You Are My Sunshine” for the sound check and people starting to sing along. Dottie looked introspectively in another direction from where she sat at the table. Cathy’s forehead was scrunched tight in an expression that looked like she was holding her breath. I wondered if this was fun or hard for them? The kids were playing as normal and Quinn and Reed came up to give us a big hug and to say hello before we began to sing. Seeing them there was the sweetest gift. Grateful, I said a little prayer that this would be a nice experience for all of them – without burden. We were all together but separated by our roles in this odd setting. They were in the audience and Steve and I stood in front to deliver a performance of songs for whoever showed up. It was a little disconcerting and I began to focus on getting my instrument in tune.

Sound check over, we were introduced by the emcee and sang a string of songs on ukes and guitars while my banjo waited patiently in its open case. Without monitors our ears could only guess how it sounded coming out of the speakers. People seemed to listen attentively and mentally I crossed my fingers that it was going over well.

Announcements spontaneously interrupted a couple of times between songs and we were given the “one more” sign early, so we skipped to our chosen finale with regrets for the fun banjo song and “Well May the World Go” lost its place in line to the hurried-up ending of our set. “Shucks, the kids would have liked that one” I thought to myself. Live performance has a life of its own and always teaches me something. This time it was: do the fun songs first because you never know how long you’ve got!

Underneath my smiles and nods afterwards, I fretted whether it had been good enough as we walked into the crowd. Did we sing the right songs? Were they being polite? Did it sound okay? Was Dottie alright? Was Cathy okay with Dottie? Dane was unflappable at being in charge as he anchored the kids, one in each hand, and we all hugged and said goodbye.

As the next act took the stage, my eyes rested on the Portland friends, neighbors and my daughter’s side of the family. I felt so much love for every one of them – and Cathy was so beautiful. She had brought her mother, husband and children with her to be with us, to take us in with our music. Her courage and intention humbled and grounded me and I felt the whispers of self-doubt back down. We each have a part in what has become our family. There is room for all of us. Having stepped from behind the veil of old secrets, we see each other in the light and find ourselves welcome at the table. Whether the performance itself was worth the trip didn’t matter so much; hopefully, the songs did their work. Cathy’s brood came with her because they wanted to be with us as family and that was worth singing about all the way home.

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

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Ancestors

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.

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

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.

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.

Expectations

Sisyphus by Titian, 1549I asked Cathy pick the blog topic these last couple of times, partially to see what themes are on her mind (since I can’t read it) and to give her the lead for this installment of our autonomous, mutual blogs.

I didn’t expect the header “Expectations” to come back. That’s a big word that leads us up and down the map of our relationship and juxtaposes our position and balance in each other lives.

When I was pregnant with Cathy in 1970, the expectation was that I would disappear long enough for her to be born, give her up for adoption and then return to life “as I knew it.” I relinquished her with the expectation that Cathy would be adopted by nice people who were mature compared to me at eighteen years old, stable in every way and in a good position to add a beautiful new baby to their household. I expected that they would love her. I expected that, with luck, we would be given the gift to meet one day. I also had a core understanding, based on the papers I’d signed at the attorney’s office and the rules of closed adoption in 1971, to expect nothing.

Every season that passed through Mother’s Day, birthdays and holidays, a quiet sadness marked my internal calendar.  I kept a positive face on my history and did what I could to live in the present. I didn’t expect my daughter in my life.

Then we met in a way I never expected. It was serendipitous, even miraculous.

I had been conditioned through almost two decades to dismiss my feelings of attachment to my first daughter. Breaking the rules by going into reunion brought me into an unexpected realm of freedom that birthmothers do not experience. It’s taken me many years since we met in 1989 for me to adapt to Cathy’s way of allowing me a place in her life. I didn’t expect to feel so close to her after being so removed. It’s a closeness that I protect now even when I don’t realize it.

That feeling of closeness also houses some unexpected pressure from both sides of my heart. On the one hand, I expect myself to be patient because no matter what happens, I am a participant in Cathy’s life now; she affects me and I affect her and that alone – our ongoing relationship – is more than I ever expected.

My feelings are different from straight maternal feelings. My feelings as her birthmother (I still hate that word) are woman to woman, not quite sisters or aunt and niece, not quite mother since I signed off my right to claim that role, but somewhere in between – I am like an invisible mother incognito who follows her daughter by heart. She is my child even though I was not the one who raised her. That sentence is a paradox that causes a thousand streams of possibilities between us to sing “what if’s.”

Sometimes uncomfortable questions arise on the other side of my patience that cause me to wonder.  Am I being tolerated more than included? Am I fooling myself with wishes and expectations that go nowhere? I do get to participate in her family as grandmother to her children and (yet another) mother-in-law to her husband.  But often the reality is that the gifts I give are left unacknowledged, earrings still in the gift box on the windowsill in the kitchen months later, a gift certificate fussed over at a local gift shop in time for her husband’s birthday only to be left unpicked up. Invitations arrive last minute, if at all, as an afterthought.

This happens so frequently that I wonder if it’s just their own personal culture to receive gifts as though they are beside the point and don’t warrant or expect to respond? Is it a generation thing – manners forfeited as unimportant? The amount of care or money that goes into those gifts lies mute instead of striking the happy chords they were intended for – gifts to express love between loved ones.

The disconnect of no response begs a question – how are we connected and who am I to take it to task now when I gave her up back in the beginning, the biggest gift of all, to a family of strangers? Who do I take myself for? Does it matter? Maybe not. Is it my fault? Maybe.

Expectation riding anticipation flattens into disappointment and eventually shame, lack of self-worth and default birthmother sadness take over. I hum and busy myself about other things enough to quash the noise in the corner of my heart that’s yelling “What the heck? Am I talking to the wall?”  Yes.

The happy feeling of love expressed is replaced with slowed down communication, detachment and practical conversation about any and everything else – certainly not neglected gifts. I reestablish my voice in the loving, caring tone of a mother-person with infallible, unconditional love for her found daughter no matter how hard she pushes me away. Like Sisyphus, I come to realize the absurdity of my situation and attempt to reach a state of contented acceptance. Not an easy trick for a human, much less a mythical god.

Relinquishment rejects the child. No matter what the reason behind it – youth being mine – it is the most primal rejection possible for a newborn baby. Could it be that her offhanded rejection of my gifts now plays out the deeper story of a gift refused as she cried in the arms of her adoptive mother all those years ago?

If that’s the case, then I expect to hold her in the arms of my heart with love and understanding – even at a distance – until my love becomes real and sinks in. Perhaps she can grow to expect my love more than the gifts and loving words that pale next to expectations to be with me when she was born. Maybe she doesn’t even know why she feels this way and I do – as is sometimes the case with mothers and daughters.

Maybe I’m off track here but maybe not. It makes a weird kind of sense that we are still on tender ground when it comes to gifts we wish to give to and receive from each other. The original gift of life has been received. The gift of each other is still in delivery.

If we are as honest underneath as we attempt be in writing, perhaps someday we will get to exchange gifts of all kinds with the joy, love and delight that embodies them.  I expect is that love will answer what questions remain in our hearts in time. My deepest expectation is that that will be the best gift of all.

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

The Priority of Writing

Railroad Uke drawing by Steve EinhornThe priority of writing has become a full-fledged player in my race for time. Everybody I know is chasing tasks and goals and the convenience of modern technology both helps and hinders getting to home base. Buzzing blackberry, the ding of new email arrivals. What to answer, what to wait on, what’s right in front of me as the seconds on the wall clock tick-tick-tocks.

Sitting in my bathrobe here at the kitchen table when I should be packing for the gig – we’ve got to be on the road to Hood River by 1o o’clock and there are a million things to do. A song I really like, half-written on my granddaughter’s art board, yells at me not to forget about it behind where I sit. My suitcase is open from the last trip and awaits a fresh refill of clothes and I still need to take a shower! Where’s my coffee? If I wait to finish packing, I won’t get back to this. So I rush and race to find these few words in stolen moments. I need to remember to breathe and as I do so my grin comes back.

Cathy and I are neck-and-neck in a race for getting our writing done in parallel and on time. We’ve been eight years into this book. It needs to be done soon. We’re in the middle of our final draft. The chapters we’re working over now haven’t been touched in three years. We’ve learned so much since then – this draft is thick with rewrites and revisions – to simplify and tell it better and better each time. The story’s there.

Our story holds a lot of power over us to be told. It never gets boring and the motivation grows stronger with time. We encounter people who would benefit from our experience every week. It also brings up things that would be quite happy to sleep quietly in our psyches if we didn’t have to do this. But the truth is that it’s worth it and we’ve been given too many gifts not to share what’s happened with us because it can happen for others and they don’t know it yet. Reading our story might give them the insight they need to explore and discover as we have. Love has multiplied and continues to grow between us. It’s worth the pressure.

Before I moved to Olympia, Cathy and I had a summer filled with writing together in my basement writing space. It was a protected spot. I’d make snacks and be sure we had things to drink and comfortable music to listen to as our keys tippity-tapped. It was a luxurious season of shared time for us in Portland.

The one time I broke down suddenly tearful, afraid that in the end, when I finally get to read her side that I would discover how disappointing I was for my daughter, she told me that she loved me and my fears disappeared. Now it doesn’t matter how hard it gets. This is something unique we get to do together and we offer our story knowing there are people who need it more than we need to keep it to ourselves. Life is confusing but the answer always seems to boil down to love.  I guess I still am that flower child I was back in 1969. Some things don’t change and the truth promises to set us free. “Love is the answer” is my mantra.

Far from that summer in the writing space, Cathy and I chase our time and doggedly grab for the next words begging attention to keep the true story gestating in its own ingredients, healthy and growing, until it’s ready to be in the world.

I take the train to Portland to write with her, she takes the train to me to do the same. We are on the rails and moving, separately and together, committed and dedicated to share a most unusual tale that, in the end, once it’s done and out in public hands, will touch others who are connected in parallel with some part of our experience.

Maybe then, a new level of understanding will come to the forefront and the shadows that wrap us all will flee and what remains will be the truth and renew a million opportunities to connect and love one another.

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.