Tag Archives: hero’s journey

The Quest of Kathleen~Cathleen

Quest - Theodor_Kittelsen,_Soria_MoriaIn April of 1997, Joni Mitchell revealed that she had found and reunited with her relinquished daughter, for whom she had written “Little Green” on her “Blue” album.
On that same weekend seventeen years ago, Cathy and I were attending the American Adoption Congress Conference together in Vancouver, WA. There was a special announcement at the conference as the news broke and told the story worldwide that Joni Mitchell, the famous musician, had reunited with the baby whom she had given up at age nineteen. Joni and I had both been female musicians facing a turning point decision at the same age. The fact that she had let the world in on this most personal event rendered new courage for me to be open about my experience, and to share the truth about me and Cathy.

When we got to the conference, Cathy and I found that there weren’t very many attendees who had been in reunion for more than a few years. Being in reunion was still a new concept. We were among the few who had come as a reunited pair to explore what was there for us.

The featured presenter, Betty Jean Lifton, had inspired us to overcome some of the challenges we had faced in our relationship with her book, The Journey of the Adopted Self. Now after eight years in reunion, we were in a new phase without a map. When we asked Betty Jean if she could write something on long-term reunion, she said that we were the ones who should write that story.

So we did.

We drew up our outline ten years ago and decided to write our chapters without sharing with each other until we were done so the reader could integrate our experience as a whole and come to their own conclusions. As we approach the final draft of the final chapters, we also begin to prepare ourselves to share its pages with each other, with you and with the world.

Now, Cathy and I return to the American Adoption Congress conference – themed “Building Bridges for Changes” – as presentors to read from our book, Kathleen~Cathleen, and describe the experience of the birthmother and the relinquished adoptee in long-term reunion. This is the beginning, the first time that we share our story with each other, and with the world.

In light of the new birth record access laws in Oregon that affect not only adoptees, but for the first time in the nation, first mothers, we are encouraged to be brave and deliver our efforts in the hope of deepening understanding. We appreciate your support, your comments and your heartfelt thoughts as we open the book on Kathleen~Cathleen.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Our First Magazine Article

AdoptionConstellation1The Adoption Constellation magazine, an outcropping of Adoption Mosaic, will publish our article, “Being the Secret” in the March 2014 issue. This piece will be the first printed publication from excerpts of our book, Kathleen~Cathleen.

For the first time in the ten years we’ve been working to co-author our story, Cathy and I shared excerpts of our writing with each other.

We chose four pieces, two from each side of our story, to reflect the theme. The editor also asked for a photos for the article. In a moment of blessed synchronicity, I found three faded photographs that were taken of me in on the very day I first wrote about.

In all this time, there is little doubt that we should continue what we have started. It is our intention to finish and share Kathleen~Cathleen in the next couple of months, in the hope of deepening understanding for those separated by issues of identity and social standards. This article in March edition of the Adoption Constellation magazine will be the first share from our book, both with each other and with the world.

Thank you for sharing our journey with us as we begin the climb to the finish line.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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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,
‪Kate
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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The Narrative

Excerpts from Kate (Chapter Two: Backstory)
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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.
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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.

“Okay.”

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.

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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.

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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

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

“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.

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

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.