Tag Archives: Kathleen Cathleen

Therapy: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 5

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Below is Part 5 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week in “Going Dark – Dusk,” we shared an excerpt that described a dichotomy that challenged us, divided us and polarized our ability to experience peaceful union in our reunion. Below is my excerpt from the Therapy chapter of the memoir (then read Cathy’s Therapy excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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KATE Reading…

Cathy revealed something in therapy that changed everything. She told me that explanations didn’t matter. She didn’t need me to have the answers. She didn’t need me to be brave. She needed to see me feeling pain.

In order for her to believe that she meant anything beneath the surface, she needed to see my tears. She needed to see me cry. She needed to see me in a state of pain over her. For her, my tears made it real. If she was to believe that losing her was my loss, she needed to hear the pain behind the talk.

For her to have lost me at her birth had left a mysterious question mark that haunted her. She needed to feel my haunted heart, the distress of her absence in my life. Every rational reason for the decision behind our separation – my young age and lack of experience, none of it meant anything next to seeing me cry over it.

Witnessing my tears told her far more than my words. She didn’t just want to know why I felt something, she wanted to see me feel it and to know that everything that happened between us really meant something, that it – all of it – really hurt; that she has always meant something to me and that she has always been important to me… even from the beginning… and that she will always matter, no matter what.

We began to talk about ways to reclaim each other. For the first time, I was encouraged by the therapist to take Cathy as my daughter. For the first time, I’d  become aware that this was something that Cathy wanted me to do.

For the first time, I was enabled to BE her mother and she was enabled to BE my child.

We imagined how it could have been. I was allowed to feel my regret. I was allowed to remove the honorable mantle of my noble sacrifice, and to replace it with a shawl of grief for my lost baby.

One of my the assignments our therapist, Deborah, gave us encouraged me to write a new contract to replace the one I had signed in the attorney’s office. I rewrote it in reverse.

Instead of taking myself out of the picture and forfeiting my rights, I put myself into the role of possessive mother and reclaimed my child in legal language. Instead of relinquishing my rights to my child, I committed myself to taking the power of responsibility for her. I swore my loyalty, my heart, soul and body back to my daughter. I was hers to have now. I would never abandon her again. My promise was a doorway into the next leg of our relationship.

Those Tuesday hours that year with Deborah brought us through many places and I noticed new things were happening inside me. Driving home from work, or on an elevator between floors on the job, I would start to cry for no apparent reason. Pieces that had been sealed in place for so many years broke apart, and the feelings underneath them rose with the tears that fell.

I began to understand that hiding behind my strength had been an excuse for resisting the pain. This numbness began to lose its grip in my heart. My bravery had been an excuse for paralysis. I started to feel more. At first that alarmed me. Then I started to allow myself to feel even more. I began to cry, not only from buried sorrow, but also from recently found joy and gratitude. I felt myself more alive in new and unexpected ways.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Going Dark – Dusk: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 4

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Below is Part 4 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week in “Going Dark – Deepening,” we shared an excerpt that described the challenges as we navigated our inexperienced reunited relationship and grappled with the distance that grew between us.

The alienation in our struggle comes to a peak in “Going Dark – Dusk,” and forces us to face what we fear most. Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled “Dusk” (then read Cathy’s Dusk excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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KATE Reading….

The weather was fickle in more ways than one. The mood that had lightened between Cathy and me resumed its drift into dark and unknown territory. Days would go by, and then weeks without any word from her.

She had moved to the apartment upstairs, and only lived fifteen steps from me. I had imagined us borrowing sugar from each other, sharing meals, and the offering of a confidence here and there.

I had hoped for  a closeness between us – a mother and daughter kind of understanding – that would follow after the drama or tension that so often comes in the teen years of rebellion. She was older than that now, but her resistance felt similar to the antics of an emancipating teenager. I hadn’t parented a teenager before. I had just shared as much as I could of who I was and some of what I knew.

I thought my heart had already paid the cost of relinquishing my daughter with all the sadness, guilt and isolation I had lived with for the past twenty-two years.

In place of the sadness, I had hoped for a piece of common ground that Cathy and I could plant and tend together as harmony grew between us. I was a dreamer. That was not what was happening. Before long, it became clear to me that Cathy was not only ignoring me, she was avoiding me.

One night , I encountered Cathy coming into the entrance to the front foyer as I was locking up for the night. I said hello and asked how she was doing. Her tone was cold and short. I felt her intolerance as she went up the stairs and shut the door.

What had I done that had turned her so far away from me? Was it just that her focus was now on her lover , so  she didn’t need me or want me in the picture? Was it territorial? Was it me?  Had I done something particularly disappointing?

Had I failed the test of the mother she was hoping to find? Was I doomed to my fate as a mother who committed an unnatural act and had rejected her perfectly good child?  Was my child rejecting me to pay me back? Did she need to dismiss me to regain self-respect?

I told myself that it wasn’t her job to make me happy, but feelings of guilt taunted me and I wondered if she would always want to hurt me in return. I could feel the line she had drawn.

I wondered. Do I sacrifice myself again, only this time, to allow her to hurt and reject me?  What should I do?  My head hurt. My heart ached. I couldn’t breathe.

A few weeks later I asked Cathy for a ride to the nearby Clinton Street Theater to hear one of my favorite folksingers in concert. I asked Cathy if she’d like to join me. She was not at all interested in the show but she offered to give me a ride. She was quiet as she drove me there. I hesitated and then asked her out loud, “Are we okay?”

Her expression was surprised and confused. I could tell this wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She pressed her lips and leaned into the steering wheel as though doubling her concentration on the road ahead. I pointed to the theater on the left and she pulled into a parking space across the street.

I leaned over to hug her. She held herself back as hard as a mannequin in resistance. She was stone cold in a place that I was not allowed to enter. I looked at her and blinked. I knew the pain on my face was plain and uncovered. I mumbled thanks for the ride and told her I’d get a ride home.

My heart burned a hole in my chest as I left the car. There was no more doubt. She hates me. She really does. I blew it. Our relationship was derailed. Her disdain soaked the skin off my heart like acid and everything hurt. The disconnect between Cathy and me was glaring and she wasn’t pretending otherwise.

She had opted out.

If we were going to save anything between us, it was time to talk.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Going Dark – Deepening: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 3

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Below is Part 3 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week we shared an excerpt from when we were first transitioning from Honeymoon into a harder time in “Going Dark – Sundown.” Here we go deeper, darker and realize there’s more to reunion than meeting and going our separate ways.

Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled “Deepening” (then read Cathy’s Deepening excerpt at ReunionEyes.
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KATE Reading….

It was hard for me to tell sometimes whether she was enjoying what we were doing or just going through the moves. In my mind, I knew that it must have been tricky for her to decide how she wanted to be around me. I was a different kind of bird than what she was used to.

I also found myself unsure of how much of a guiding force I was supposed to be for this grown young woman I had taken in as my daughter, twenty-two with a mind of her own. We were using words like “mother” and “daughter” but the truth was clear: we were intimate strangers.

The fresh feeling of Cathy’s arrival faded with daily life, and our celebratory feeling began to gain some weight. Between my work schedule on weekdays and the lack of personal time and money, I began to feel frustrated.

I wasn’t in a position to just slip her the money she needed to help her explore her next steps, the way a parent would for a child who is entering the world on their own. I wanted to give Cathy more than I had to give, and it was frustrating not to be able to provide her with things and treat her to special gifts.

Not only that, but I couldn’t afford to carry another person on my hourly wages. For the past year I had been paying off high phone bills and debt from my ex-husband’s easy spending habits, and lived from paycheck to paycheck without any savings to fall back on.

Guilty feelings started to rise inside me. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do – whether to act like a mother of a grown daughter or the gracious host of a B&B.

I opted to be the host most times because it was the safest and least complex. Underneath my steady composure, feelings of inadequacy kicked into gear and started to erode my confidence.

I wanted my original portrait as a pregnant teenager with no options to evaporate and be replaced by a mature woman with resources and experience and money to lavish on her daughter.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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All Rights Reserved
KathleenCathleen©2015

The Wish List

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

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

She said yes.

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

She stayed.

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

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

But nothing lasts forever.

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

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

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

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

KATHLEEN’S WISH LIST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That we will both be healed.

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

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

That we laugh more, cry less.

That our “normal” will be enough.

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

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Back in Portland – Part 3

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Steve and I will hit the six-week mark back in Portland when we throw our housewarming potluck. We opened the barn doors for this one and invited everyone we could think of to come celebrate our homecoming, Steve’s birthday and to kick off St. Patrick’s week together.

A red flag went up when I heard from that my California sister that she had invited Cathy to our housewarming on facebook before I had sent any invitations out, and then another when Cathy visited my brother on the coast with her family – but didn’t volunteer to share her plan to do that until I asked her if she would be stopping by his house. She is cagey about sharing with me – even when she is making my own kin part of her world.

I find myself outside of yet another ring from the circle of Cathy’s life – this time with two of my closest siblings. I walk outside a roundhouse with no doors or windows that open to my track – no access. Am I glad that she wants to spend time with them? Of course! But right now in combination with her alienating behavior, it feels unfair and tricky. I am the last one to hold anyone back from having an open relationship, but for her to take her prerogative to engage with my family while holds me at arms length as non-family? I’m not sure where to put my feelings about that.

Now they are all making plans to come to our house – along with a zillion others.

Another red flag was raised when, after telling me months ago that she looked forward to our return to Portland so we could teach music to her children and be “full-fledged grandparents” she turned down my offer to arrange and pay for piano lessons with her musical youngest in my studio because she didn’t want to get a keyboard in her house and that she herself had “hated her piano lessons as a child.” Her theory that our relationship with her children would be wide open because “they don’t have any of the baggage of the adoption” doesn’t work now.

After my Christmas dis-invitation, I asked Cathy if we could go into therapy to talk it through. She refused, disinterested, and continues to hold that line. The bricks in the wall she is building are getting bigger. She calls them boundaries. I call them walls. I tried to talk with her about it on the phone last week but the only thing that was clear was that we were having two different conversations, hers and mine – and then my phone died in the middle of the conversation. If we could agree to talk I think we would get somewhere. I hate computers right now.

We text each other about this blog (have you posted? mine is ready), as though we are just doing the work we have chosen. The blog, the book – they are intentional expressions of our experience. We work on it consciously but apart, and present it to the public instead of each other. It’s so obvious that we need to talk but “the experiment” of the blog seems to feel safer for her right now. There was a lot of hope in our combined effort to allow our experience out to be helpful to others, but my deeper goal has always been for us to come to understand each other better – and with that understanding, trust.

The experience I’m having right now is conflicted and confusing. The relationship we’ve worked so hard to have will need to hold strong to  sustain the current shifting gap. I will do what I am most practiced at with this untethered daughter – back off and give her the space she requires. Perhaps if I am not in the landscape of her life, she will feel safe again. My relatives can fill the void while she figures out what she wants, or doesn’t want, from me. My myopic heart may need a corrective lens to restore its longer view and regain a balanced perspective. Sometimes in our situation, the closer we look, the harder it is to accept because it’s too much to balance what happened, and what could have happened, and know how to accept that.

She says in a recent email that she is calmly trying to establish boundaries and that I am hearing that as anger. What’s true is that this experience makes me feel like an invader, a bug freshly pinned against the wall while she protects herself from me. I don’t like being a bug. There is nothing else I can do here but squirm. We choose to build a loving, authentic relationship that is inclusive and positive – or not.

My gut informs me that my best option in this moment is to wriggle the pin from my chest, remain open to what’s next, find my wings and move into larger space, free from the landmines, traps and triggers. We will talk when she’s ready. She is in my heart where I love her without limitations, and she has the freedom to come and go as she pleases. There is no lock on the door.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit Reunioneyes.
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Next up: Back to Portland – The Wish List – Part 4

Back in Portland – Part 2

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There was no guarantee from Cathy, nor in my gut that, when I came back to Portland my connection with Cathy would deepen, but I didn’t expect it to flatline altogether. My mind marches all the way back to the core moment in 1970 when I made my decision to bring her to term and relinquish her for adoption. Why was that a good decision if it causes her to suffer? Why is it worthwhile if forty-four years later I am so easily triggered with post-traumatic responses that steal my breath away and spin me with anxiety, pounding potholes in my self-esteem and leaves me flat at the bottom of a deep well in a drying season, fed by dwindling springs of hope?

The irony is almost too much to look at. The adoption was intended to be a noble result of a situation that was considered out of bounds at the time, doing what was best “for the child.” The secrecy around it was supposed to protect us both from social shame and stigma and provide happy endings for two lives in a difficult reality.

Although we’ve built a special closeness in the past twenty-five years since our reunion, there has also been a quiet tension in Cathy that I had accepted as part of her nature. She is more reserved and quiet where I am not. Now at almost forty-five, I can feel something brewing in her that feels like a storm about to break. Somewhere inside I instinctively prepare for a tsunami to hit the shoreline and sense it building from her direction and look for higher ground so it won’t swallow me whole.

There have been a lot of triggers in the past few months. National Adoption Month spurring #flipthescript, a truth-telling campaign in November, followed by Thanksgiving, the sad anniversary of her father’s still recent death, and Christmas with her aging widowed mother for whom Cathy has assumed full filial responsibility. Then I moved from Seattle to live within walking distance from her house. Tinderpoint.

Even in the heat and confusion we both feel, being in one another’s presence is still a curious salve. Perhaps the deeper truth is that we are connected even if the framework of our lives doesn’t always include the space and furniture to hold us in it comfortably together. What we share is still there. DNA does not exclude soul-connection. We are innately bound together. If souls pick their next incarnation, then Cathy picked a doozy when she came to life in me. Maybe God has a sense of humor after all.

Conflict is a game of hearts and time a great teacher. I aim for love but rejection also has its lessons. The truth is the truth and whatever Cathy decides about me will be the best she can do. Love is a transcendental choice.

Sometimes when I feel Cathy’s angst, I wish I could just hold her close and rock her, and not let her go until she settles in my embrace, and finally feels safe enough to rest easy. Instead she fights me off in the reflux of relinquishment and its distress remains to rub her colicky heart.

I imagine that if words could hug, I would never stop talking.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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“The M Word”

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Sometimes, one little word can change everything.

Language has always been tricky for Cathy and I to find the right words to describe what we are experiencing and who we are to each other. Others box us into words that don’t fit very well and the daunting truth remains quietly in flux with our paradox, unattended by the right words. The love that anchors us is stingy with words but we are grounded at the core even without them.

They’re just words. Words to describe us are often are contradictory, bordering on the ironic and suggest complexity bigger than our connection. Mother-daughter. Relinquishment-reunion. Adoption-birthright. Lost-found.

We’ve tried to respond to each other with honesty even when we’re at a loss for words. The people we were when we were younger remind us of where we’ve been as we look for ways to talk about where we are now with others like us and around us. We both go through this, it’s two sides of the experience we share.

After Cathy’s firstborn arrived years ago, she announced to me over brunch that she didn’t want me to use “the M word” anymore in relation to her. In a soft voice she listed the reasons with a firm but practical tone. She was a new mother and now she knew the difference. I hadn’t done any of those things with her. Her mothering came from her adoptive mother and that word belonged only to her. I took in what she said and nodded without argument. “It’s only a word” I said to myself. I asked her if it was okay to continue to call her my daughter. She nodded yes, and said that was fine. I was relieved. She was all that mattered to me in that conversation.

I was careful not to use “the M word” after that day. Nothing closer than the more acceptable (there’s that paradox again) assignations of “birthmother” or “first mother” came from me. I don’t like those names but it didn’t matter. It didn’t change who I was or what I felt. I didn’t care what she called me. I dropped the qualifier and referred to her adoptive mother as her mother from then on, and took my place in the language of our relationship. In my heart I knew what I knew – that we were more – and I didn’t need a name. She would know me by who I was – by my voice, by my laughter, by all we shared – not by a moniker that only reminded her of someone else and who I hadn’t been to her when she needed me most. It made me sad and I understood.

The surprise came on my birthday in late October. I arrived home from work to a lady on my wet doorstep holding a delivery in the rain of an outrageous bouquet of flowers tied up in brown paper from the exotic florist on the corner. Birthdays and holidays were often a source of discomfort for Cathy and I had learned not to expect anything. Mystified, I thanked the woman and carried them into the kitchen and turned on the light. When I saw the card I started to cry.

“Happy birthday, Mama! Love, Cathy” was written with a flourish in a confident hand.

Stunned, I looked again to be sure I was seeing it right. “The florist must have gotten it wrong” I said aloud. It even looked like her handwriting, though I knew it couldn’t be. “Maybe Cathy had a drink and felt mushier than usual and dared to say this because she knew I’d like it?” I knew that wasn’t like her but scratched my head. “Is it a joke? Did she mean to do that?” “Is this real?” I put the flowers in a vase from the cupboard and loosened the arrangement. “Should I call her and thank her, or wait to see if she meant to do this?” “Will she be embarrassed if I love this?” “Did she really say this?””Is this her? Are these her words?” The flowers were incredibly beautiful but my eyes were glued to the card. I went from exhilaration to confusion to doubt and looked again. Yet there it was. The M word.

I didn’t know what to do so I took a picture of it with my phone. My heart lilted as a swift of joy winged up from some secret tunnel deep down under the skin of my heart. Even though I was still uncertain, it’s magic began to sink in. It didn’t matter. What’s in a word, right? Even if this was a mistake or some kind of hoax, something unlocked in that moment. The truth was that the gift had been given. Her acknowledgement was embedded in an armful of flowers on my birthday. It was intentional. She had given me a name. There it was, a boldly written word that had never been uttered before. Mama. I am mama. I’m her mama. She called me mama. Call me Mama. That’s who I am.

One little word can change everything.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Thanksgiving Thoughts #flipthescript

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I am thankful …

That my first daughter is present and in my life;

That when holidays come she already knows my wish to connect will trigger my insecurities and she reassures me;

That even in her anger and loss, she is grounded in love;

That when her mother comes to stay with her, their time together makes me happy;

That many of the feelings that pester me about the lack of communication with my first daughter are normal for most parents – and not so different from my other children;

That even as a first mother in reunion, I am accepted more as family than as an outlier;

That my daughter is a beautiful mother and reflects love fully with her children;

That my grandchildren love me and I get to love them back;

That their birth-grandfather gets to experience that love too;

That my husband is “Uncle-Grandpa” and that is the best thing ever;

That all of my children, daughters and stepsons, are freely in relationship as siblings and bring love to the connective tissue that makes our family one;

That my daughter has the courage to be open and honest about her journey as she writes her chapters for Kathleen~Cathleen and Lost Daughters, as an adoptee with the motivation to open the doors for others;

That my daughter’s reunioneyes blog has received more than 10,000 ‘views’ – evidence that speaks for the many she represents;

That I write for the first mothers in mothertone; and with less than half of my daughter’s views have evidence that mine is one small voice in the silence for those I represent, especially those who live quietly behind relinquishment;

That I’m here and so is she.

That the potential for beauty, connection and love in life continues to expand in unexpected ways. No matter how limited life may feel, there is always a place to grow – and we do.

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

The Men in Reunion

ImageReunion in adoption isn’t gender specific but there seem to be more women in the limelight than men. The truth is that it is a topic that affects all of us and that everyone, women and men alike, have a story or some personal history related to adoption. As a firstmother in reunion, the men in my life took a role much greater than as simple spectators. As I approached seeking, meeting and getting to know my daughter, Cathy, the men in my life played roles that both challenged and supported me in my quest to connect with my child.

Before my ten year-old youngest daughter came to me for the summer, her father trumped my disclosure and revealed to her that my first child, a daughter, had been relinquished for adoption eight years before she was born. When I had shared with him that I was approaching reunion with my firstborn, he broke trust and shared that information without my permission. In my heart, I felt violated by the unexpected breach to the terms we had agreed upon – and that I would be the one to tell my young daughter first. In retrospect, it was likely committed as a compassionate act but at the time I felt betrayed.

The door to the true heart of a birthmother and the relinquished child opens and closes on trust. Without trust, the door is set firmly in place to protect the unspeakable wound of loss. I am grateful for the men in my life who, by their love for me, have taught me to love myself and pass it on.

During the recovery of my relationship with my firstborn child, the support of the men who have loved me gave me strength to stand my ground, own my walk, and feel my worth in spite of the shame that dragged behind my optimism. Acceptance and encouragement has been a constant source of courage from my husband, my two stepsons and, most recently, my oldest brother.

My husband was with me through every step since the day he first met Cathy at the Cup and Saucer soon after her move to Portland in 1993. His love for both of my daughters holds no contrary elements to confuse it – it is authentic and freely given and received. Nothing muddies the water of their flow back and forth. I envy the genuine ease of their movements. Maybe someday it will be like that for me too. He has been my anchor – there is no question of his commitment. When the weather’s up, his hand is there to steady me through the many various storms of the heart. He can sense when it’s brewing. “Be true. Be strong. Be who you are. ” he said to me over the phone on one of his many trips home to helping his aging parents in NYC. From the wireless phone I could feel his conviction for my capability to love as a mother, and to love well. His confidence galvanized my hope and trust on contact and the fears that corroded my forward motion faded and fell to the side. The power of love is a strong and wondrous remedy for all that blocks our way in the world.

When Cathy and I finished writing our book proposal under the tutelage of our first editor, we were encouraged to share it with some trusted readers for feedback. It contains a number of chapters of Kathleen~Cathleen from both Cathy’s and my sides, and although Cathy and I hadn’t shared our writing with each other yet, we needed to know that it was cohesive and that what we were doing made sense to the reader.

I asked my father and mother-in-law if they would read it and provide us with some feedback. They were well-read and deeply seasoned in their life in the arts. I had been twice blessed to be called “daughter” by my father and mother-in-law. In my heart I always knew that they were the Jewish, New York parents this Boston Irish-Catholic girl had always needed, and we filled a reciprocal place in each other’s hearts for more than twenty years. They have just passed away – but not before bequeathing me with the magnificent gift of their unconditional love. “Love is something when you give it away” sings Malvina Reynolds in my mind’s ear. Anne had been blind for more than fifty years and, with Marvin as her eyes, they walked hand in hand, ready to engage with the world every day with their true hearts.

Anne and Marv accepted our sealed draft in confidence and kept their role as our readers a secret from their other children. When they were by themselves, Marv would take out the sheaf of pages from the manila envelope and begin to read our alternating chapters from where they had left off the day before. When they had read as much as they could, they would put it back in the envelope and hide it under a blanket in the chest at the foot of their bed where it wouldn’t be discovered by uninvited eyes.

I pictured Marvin reading our chapters in his dramatic actor’s voice to dear Anne as she listened with her head down to take in every word  – words from two open hearts, mother and daughter, who hadn’t yet shared these very words with one another. Marvin and Anne  took in our undressed hearts and felt our sadness and loss, as well as the miraculous moments of reclamation and redemption as we wound our way to a sustaining relationship after the glow of reunion had faded.

“It’s so personal” my mother-in-law said. “You are brave to do this, both of you.” Marvin held my gaze and smiled. He didn’t need to say anything. His heart was in his eyes – I could always find it there – and he loved me. He had taken the responsibility to read our story with gravitas and his wife and he treated it with great care for a precious object. Kathleen~Cathleen was the fruit of two hearts they loved as family. They encouraged us to continue and finish what we had begun. “It’s good” he said. He believed in love more than anything. There endorsement warmed me like a blanket from chilly fear and insecurity. I had been the lucky one to marry his first son – the one who looked so much like him and came from the seed of that most bountiful and compassionate loving man. Marv’s acceptance of me, my story, and my craft was strong and sure. I felt safer now, and stronger than before with the knowledge that he thought this offering was worthwhile – and important – in the world.

The strength of these generations of men in my life has helped to secure my footing along this wild path Cathy and I travel to finish the work of sharing our walk in reunion. I’m grateful that these men have loved me through the real story as Kathleen~Cathleen rises to visibility and to a place where we can share its meaning with love.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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