Tag Archives: reconciliation

A Birthmother’s Perspective on Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea

2015-09-02 09.44.46Cathy and I wrote letters for fours years after we met in 1989, while she was in college. One of her first written requests was for permission to ask me anything, and that I answer her with honesty and not hold back. She really wanted to know what I could tell her and the circumstances that would fill in the blanks in her past to form the true story of her family of origin.

Highlights in our correspondence became the “Letters” chapter in our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen, and documented our mutual exploration during those first few years in reunion. We savored the letters that arrived in each other’s hand and took our time to soak in every word, and then respond.

In closed adoptions like ours, relinquishment forbids first mothers from contact with their child or their family. Although this rule of detachment is seen as self-imposed, trespass into the adoptive family and one’s child is forbidden and illegal.

This is a hard place for both mother and child to be in.

One of the last letters Cathy wrote when she graduated from college expressed her insecurity about what she should do next. My response was to invite her to come to Portland, Oregon that summer “to rub elbows with her genes” for a few weeks to take advantage of the freedom she now had to decide for herself.

My next letter back from Cathy had a big “YES!” handwritten on it. She began to make her plans to visit.

She never went back.

So when Chelsea, Rosie O’Donnell’s adopted daughter, turned eighteen and opted to live with her birthmother, it struck me as natural. I don’t watch television or know anything about them, really, but at eighteen her decision to live with her birthmother and “rub elbows with her genes” was normal and predictable.

The only reason Chelsea’s story was portrayed as news is because her adoptive mother is a highly visible celebrity and ready fodder for footage in the public eye. The news boasted Rosie’s anger with captions of cutting Chelsea’s financial support off in dramatic “all or nothing” style. True or not, it was a media spin clammering over an adoptee who had come of age and simply wanted to experience her roots.

There were no television cameras when Cathy left New Jersey at twenty-two on the Green Tortoise bus for Portland after college. Her adoptive parents understood that their daughter needed something more than they could provide her with – she needed to know and understand more about her lineage, heritage and family of origin. They got it, and responded lovingly. Although I’m certain they worried, they supported her decision with confidence and didn’t interfere with her pilgrimage.

My job was to fill in the blanks.

In his Book of Forgiving, written with his daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu on transformative healing, Desmond Tutu described the long-term effects of trauma from a study that followed war-affected children to measure their stability and mental health following the genocidal events in their homes and villages in South Africa.

They found that the group of children who had heard the true stories from their relatives about what had happened to their kin – in every grisly detail – proved to be well adjusted and exhibited stable emotional health, and were found able to handle conflict, decisions and crisis to a far better degree than the children from the same circumstances who had been protected from the truth of what had happened to their family.

Tutu says, “We are all in a relationship with one another, and when that relationship breaks, we all have the responsibility to roll up our sleeves and get to the hard work of repair” and summons us to “listen to what the heart hears.”

“We cannot begin again
We cannot make a new start as though the past has not passed
But we can plant something new
In the burnt ground
In time we will harvest a new story of who we are
We will
Build a relationship that is tempered by the fire of our history
I am a person who could hurt you
And knowing those truths we choose to make something new
Forgiveness is my back bent to clear away the dead tangle of hurt and recrimination
And make a space, a field fit for planting
When I stand to survey this place I can choose to invite
you in to sow seeds for a different harvest
Or I can choose to let you go
And let the field lie fallow.”

To withhold the truth – or a mother and child from each other – is a deliberate decision, not an act of love. For better or worse, it’s an act of power. Once the child grows into adulthood, the journey becomes theirs alone to explore. Loving parents, adoptive and biological, who find ways to “listen to what the heart hears,” will aim to support the health of their child by helping them to explore from the heart to determine what is true and meaningful for them, and leave the façades behind. Love nourished multiplies.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Integration: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 6

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Below is Part 6, the final installment in this series of our blog – a series to share excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen as read for the American Adoption Congress Conference in San Francisco in 2014.

Last week’s excerpt from the  “Therapy” chapter of Kathleen~Cathleen, we shared discoveries that shed light and gave us a new perspective on the core of our reunion experience. It also validated our experience which made us stronger, and fueled our desire to continue.

Below is my excerpt from the Integration chapter of the memoir (then read Cathy’s Integration excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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Kate’s Reading…

Cathy established herself in Portland and created a life of her own that also allowed us to remain connected. I had fallen in love with the owner of a little musical instrument shop, Artichoke Music, and my youngest daughter and I moved into a shared household with he and his two sons.

In what would become our blended family, Cathy was treated as an emancipated eldest sibling and she was considered a member of the family from the beginning.

At this point in time, Cathy helped me part-time in my office at the music store. We had become more comfortable with each other and I relished her participation in our life in Portland.

In 1995, Cathy joined an adoptee-in-reunion group that was facilitated by a therapist who was also a birthmother, with her reunited relinquished daughter.

At Cathy’s suggestion, I decided to go to the counter-group for birthparents led by the same therapist. She introduced herself as Sharon, and led me into the room where the group meets.

People were seated in all but one of the circle of chairs, and I took it.  Sharon sat in her tall, rolling, tweed office chair next to her small desk . She ( and ) began by asking us to introduce ourselves by our first names and to briefly share our reunion status with our birth child.

I was suddenly aware that I had never knowingly been in a room with another birthmother, much less a roomful of them.  As stigmatic birthmothers, we were there to talk about the very thing that made us the invisible character in the triad.  None of us had ever talked about ourselves in this role within a peer group. Birthmothers were invisible. Talking about it was a rare confidence with a friend or family member but never like this, in an open room filled with others who had  come here to talk about reunion and reconciliation with the children.

Each woman had her story.  Some were local Portlanders whose history remained within the proximity of the region.  Others, like me, were from other places and now living in Oregon.  Each person was in a different phase of reunion.  The emotional makeup of each story revealed common threads between us.

Characteristics in common included independent, middle-aged women with a matter-of-fact and serious tone about the past as the stories unfolded one by one around the room.  Strong women, accomplished women. Knowing that the our group leader and facilitator, Sharon, was a birthmother in reunion with her own daughter helped me feel safe.

As the women shared their experiences, I related to their feelings based on my own times and reflections with Cathy.  The highs and lows that I had felt as a birthmother, before and in reunion, existed in each woman’s tale. As we focused on each story, and both the dilemmas and connections arising from our reunions, our stories pointed to the place we shared outside of the social norms .

These were places where we had been quiet and invisible until now. I moved this following bit to Therapy chapter with Deborah…20140621kp To tell my story was an act of making my secret known.  To say it outloud made the act of relinquishment, and all that followed, real. Once said, it existed outside of that protected place inside of me where it had been lived so quietly for so long.

Being the carrier of this long secret inside my identity, I was fascinated to hear people’s stories.  They were so honest.  No matter how the story went, the taboo behind our roles as birthparents bonded us. We were saboteurs subverting the dominant paradigm by sharing the truth about our lives since we had let go of our children.

Words for what we described weren’t built into the idioms of our social vocabulary, nor did they exist in the dictionary.  New words like “birthmother”, “relinquishment”, “in reunion”, “triad” were added to the few phrases we had.  The phrase “Giving up the baby” was loaded with shame as a conviction of abandonment for the birthmother who had let go of her child.  As taboo as murder, it was an unspoken act.

As difficult as the topic was, the end of each weekly group left me with a significant feeling of relief.  Just knowing there were other women out there facing a similar set of feelings was comforting.  The feelings remained but I was able to recognize them.  I was part of a collective of birthmothers and no longer strived for answers in isolation, completely alone.

Cathy and I had started our therapeutic assignment to find a neutral place to meet once a week. Cassidy’s Restaurant became our weekly rendezvous.  It had been a favorite haunt of mine since the early 80’s. With its mahogany bar, oak floors and low lights, it’s a perfect place to talk and Cathy liked it there as much as I did.

After going to the birthmothers group, I was able to tell Cathy about the experience of that night and some of the impressions it left me with.  I loved those times together.  We confided in each other and I left feeling connected with her on a deep level. Like for Cathy, the group gave me some perspective on how far she and I had come in the life of our relationship next to the struggles in the stories the others shared in that room.

Cathy and I were new veterans on a horizon that had narrow access for exploration.  We felt like a pair of pioneers in uncharted territory.  Our exploration had been conscious and vocal since the beginning with an openness that was natural to our personalities, a trait we shared. We continued to track our feelings as we unfolded in new ways, and revealed deeper versions of ourselves with each other.

My pride in Cathy, who she was and the woman she was becoming, was strong.  I could feel maternal responses and it felt wonderful to express it.  The undercurrents in my emotions rose more quickly to the surface as my ability to claim my daughter grew more real.  She gave me permission to love her and I began to feel the maternal feelings I had for her without its guilty partner, shame.

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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

American Adoption Congress 2015

24 Esther Anne PowerCathy_AAC2015Cathy spoke as one of the Lost Daughters panel at the American Adoption Congress 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts this past weekend in the full-fledged voice of the adoptee speaking out. I see relatives and ancestors instantly recognizable in her face, her work, her bearing and her articulate mind.

Bravo, daughter! You are a champion.

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

exposureWhen I see myself in home movies as a child, I can see my gregarious side. I was in love with life and responded to my surroundings, my many siblings, and the turning wheel of events with a zest filled with positive charge.

In my childhood memories of being sad or blue, it was my quiet side that took over – a contemplative, more pensive self – and my reflective nature developed in the privacy of my thoughts.

If I dug deep enough, the answer to my distress was usually waiting there beneath the restless confusion that puzzled me. Once claimed and digested, my emotional balance and sense of understanding increased, along with my ability to either take in more deeply, or let something go that no longer rang true. When I felt caught in between, I cogitated – and pushed at layers that covered the truth like a dog dug for a bone until the answer began to reveal itself. I was a young philosopher.

If my parents sensed that I was stuck on something, quieter and more perplexed than usual, one of them would casually ask how I was doing. More often than not, I would gush my questions and tell them what worried me. They each had a gentle side to their strength. Sometimes my reception to that deeper query into my interior life was better coming from my father, or my mother, depending on the phase I was in.

Looking back now, I appreciate the strategies they must have conspired to keep up with the wild imagination of their daughter as they tried to support my quest to understand life and how I fit in as I found my way.

Talking about it, whether in my thoughts or out loud, was one way I worked it out. The edge of what troubled me eventually found its way and reabsorbed back into my system, like a ruptured disc back into the spine, and I maintained my balance with some discomfort but found myself able to sustain it and move on. I compensated for the dissatisfaction of unanswered questions with thoughts like “it’s just the way it is” or “it’s more than I can understand right now”. As I got older, the margin of things I couldn’t grasp lost gravity or gained weight depending on its importance and wisdom anchored in truth grew in the middle of the person I turned out to be.

When Cathy and I decided to write Cathleen~Kathleen, we knew we were exposing ourselves and writing at great personal risk. We wrote an entire ten years of chapters without sharing a word with each other to answer to the questions that our situation begged in each other, and in the world of adoption and reunion. The privacy of not sharing our chapters with each other was the key that would allow us to replace fear with complete and uninhibited honesty. The unshared chapters are still a largely a secret between us that other people, mostly unknown to us, have read in our blogs and a couple of isolated public readings.

It’s those readers and listeners who have hints of the collective truth of our tale, while we wait until the final edits by our editor to engage and fully share our sides with each other, and in some ways, deliver the truth to each other.

In the negative light of being a birthmother who relinquished her first child, I gave my reunited daughter my unconditional and unedited permission to expose her view of me and all she experienced – complete with my failures, vulnerabilities and weaknesses – to the entire world.

Why on earth would anyone do that?

In our case, it was the only way to uncover the experience of long-term reunion that would allow others to learn the truth of adoption and reunion in its authentic form. It was also a way for me to love her in an unconditional act as her mother, no matter what the world thinks of me.

Is it worth it?

We’ll find out.

If it isn’t, my daughter will still have the inside-out guts of my story of us to digest, and wisdom anchored in truth will grow in the middle of the person she turns out to be.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Photo: themindblowing.com

Moving Home to Portland

One of the only times I ever heard my oldest daughter cry was on the telephone when I told her I was leaving Portland to move north a few years ago. I can still hear her voice tremble on the phone, “But it will mean that I won’t see you and losing you when I was a child just makes it really hard now. I want my kids to know you.” I heard her words and felt the pain inside of me roar back up my spine as I responded from a parking lot hundreds of miles away in my RV parked after a gig in Wallowa County in far eastern Oregon.. “I know. I will miss you, too” and the dull ache of the all too familiar loss took its seat back in my gut. Family needs compelled us to break away from the familiarity of home to try a smaller place near my youngest daughter who was putting herself through college with our granddaughter who was turning six.

We made the move and when we weren’t traveling with work as musicians, we were nearby to help and to be close with our daughter and granddaughter in Olympia. It was a special time for us, exploring life outside of the home we had known for thirty-five years in Portland. Then a back injury took me off the road and I took a job offer in Seattle. We moved further north and over the next eighteen months we traveled frequently between west and east coasts to tend to my husband’s parents in declining health. Along with their passing, our motivation to maintain the life we lived in Seattle lost its luster and we yearned for our home, our original home with family and friends in Portland. Our Olympia girls rooted for our return to Portland; they preferred it to Seattle. Our sons in San Francisco and New York City encouraged us. Our adult children strengthened our confidence that we were on the right track.

I had told Cathy on the phone that we were looking to come back to Portland and my ears felt around for her response. Her voice seemed surprised but was a little reserved about it. In the weeks that followed, she didn’t ask about our hunt for a place in Portland. She was quiet. I imagined she was holding her breath to see what I was going to do next. After being born to relinquishment, how could trust be expected to be her first response? I began to worry. What if she likes it better without me there? Will my return feel complicated? Is life simpler without me within reach? Our visits since we moved away had been warm and happy times with Cathy – and with her husband and our two young grandsons. We missed them, and seeing them on the fly from down the street when we were neighbors in Portland had been one of the great joys of being in the same town. Time passes so swiftly; children grow so fast. She was quiet from week to week.

Our old friends were looking out for us and we heard about an apartment through the grapevine. Pete texted me on my phone that it had just opened up for rent. On the way back from teaching on the Oregon coast on the equinox weekend, we stopped in Portland to see the place and fell in love with what would become our new home in the heart of our old neighborhood where many of friends live within walking distance. Cathy’s house is a straight shot up the hill, just a few blocks further from where we used to live. The 1906 wood frame house painted barn red reminded me of my in-laws’ place where we gathered over summers past in Sag Harbor. Divine Intervention seemed to come into play and our destination in Portland was realized. I couldn’t wait to tell Cathy!

I called her to let her know as soon as I got home. She was quiet at first and sounded like she didn’t quite know what to say. “That’s great!” she said but I wasn’t sure I could hear the exclamation point in her voice. Maybe it’ll take a while to sink in that Steve and I will be right down the street before long.

After I handed the phone to Steve, she told him that she had had a dream the night before about his parents. Our beloved Anne and Marvin were in the middle of the dream and all of the family was gathered in a house that held shades of the houses we had gathered in with them over the years: Sag Harbor, Woodstock, Manhattan. Every member of the family came together and it was a great celebration.

Cathy had dreamed the truth before I could tell her, and I felt the blessing of that dream that includes all of us, draw us close to heart and hearth as it shimmered inside to spread its love across all boundaries, visible and invisible, to the core of our beautiful family.

I am so thankful.

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

Grandchildren

WaldmuellerMy grandson Quinn just turned 8. His brother turned 6 last month. I love them both and they are easy with me – there is complete acceptance. It’s a lovely thing. They have no idea how significant that gift is for me. They just know we love each other and that’s all that matters. They also love my husband and call him their “Uncle Grandpa Steve”. He is a special person to them and someone they cherish. We are their artistic grandparents. They are quite at home with my hugs and laughter. They know I love their mom.

I don’t know if the complexity of who I am to their mother has hit yet. They are still young enough to take me at face value. I don’t know if they ask about why I am called her birthmother instead of her “real” mother. I’m sure they know what the word adoption means and that their mother’s life has been the journey of an adoptee.

They look at me freely, sweetly with clear open eyes. They trust me. They know who I am and they love me. Trust between us has not been broken. Their eyes don’t yet have the guilty weight of questions that contradict our trust. They know the truth but the love between us is a strong and an unquestioned bond. The love between grandparent and child is reinforced by their mother’s tie to both from the middle but it’s also a love of its own unlike the others, unconditional and freely felt.

Maybe they are young enough that the past is still a story. The person they know as me is familiar and I have always been someone in their lives. I held each of them on the day they were born, and have been peeking from the seams of their daily family life ever since. They don’t mind me.

The wound between my daughter and me is still being tended. Layers of skin have recovered the gap over time but the gnarly scar that bridges us together pronounces what happened and what cannot be undone. We have grown together from the moment of our reunion and the cells of the skin we share continue to grow.

The gift is that my grandchildren knew me from the start. I was never gone to them. Underneath the fear that my act of relinquishment could stir in them is the truth that I am here now. I am not gone. I came back. They know me. The story of loss is a puzzling story of the past. It’s relevant, scary and interesting but it’s not what they experience now. In the present, I am in the family picture. For them, I’ve been here all along.

They will know underneath all that scares them that love can overcome loss and that even the saddest beginning in one generation can find its way to begin to heal in the heart of the next where there is love. I am thankful for my grandchildren. Their mother’s tender care allows their innocence to return hope to all of us. They are in the middle of our bond and from there, love will teach them.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Family Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SophieAndersonTakethefairfaceofWoman_72This week, my daughter brought her family to the Museum of Natural History – a block away from my in-laws’ apartment in New York City – and on Long Beach Island at the Jersey shore where I spent many summers growing up, and in recent years with my husband’s family. Reflections of those places sparkle like sunlight on water and warm me with bits of light that merge in and out my memories of being there.

I was surprised to hear she was in New York City. She had texted that she was going east to visit her old friend, Olga. I didn’t realize that her kids and husband had gone too. Then when I saw the new pictures she posted today on Facebook sitting in a restaurant looking all summery, I began to recognize the other people in the picture as her in-laws and relatives surrounding her at the table. They are all there together. Everyone is smiling and looks relaxed – they are a happy family on vacation, just the way it should be.

Ignorance is bliss. Knowing more feels complicated. No blame for that. My role carries a weird element. It must have been too hard for her to tell me it was a family affair. I’m glad her family is celebrating together.

Inside the paradox of being an outsider as birthmother in Cathy’s world, we share a lot – more than most people in our situation. Even if the circumstances were more normal, this would have been her family by marriage. It must have been awkward for her to try to tell me about a natural family vacation when it is so far afield of what we do easily. She has matured into a middle-aged adult with children of her own and motherhood has galvanized her sense of family in deep and natural ways. It’s clear in the pictures that everybody is loved and cared for all around. That is all that matters. Life is good.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Part 2 – Another Side of Mother’s Day

Kathleen~Cathleen

Kathleen~Cathleen

They say that if you smile you’re brain thinks your happy. I love to quote that when I’m working with a group of nervous adults trying play ukulele and sing together for the first time. It sounds like a joke, and it is a playful comment, but there is something underneath those words that resonates for me. I smile often naturally and consider myself a happy person but I do think it also works the other way around. Laughter Yoga blazes neural trails to stimulate laughter on the premise that where there is laughter, there is joy. Alternately, where there is joy, smiles come easily.

When I was getting ready to write my last post in honor of Mother’s Day and the third anniversary of the parallel blogs of Kathleen (aka mothertone), Cathleen (reunioneyes) with my daughter, my original thought was going to write about the lighter side of being Cathy’s original mother.

That angle was deferred when Cathy asked if we could go into “the gritty side” of Mother’s Day instead. Her writing was taking her into that arena and she wanted to follow its thread from her side. I didn’t tell her that I had been thinking about the opposite approach, “the lighter side of” – to gently poke some fun at the irony of being human in reunion.

I like to follow her direction whenever she takes the lead. It’s part of our dance. I wait for a sign or a word that gives me the high sign as to where we might wander next. Sometimes I come up with an idea for a turn here or there, but most of the time, as far as I can, I wait and defer to her whim. It makes me happy to discover how she’s thinking and what she wants. If it’s something I can do for her, it makes me glad to do it. It was her idea to write the book, Kathleen~Cathleen, and I agreed to the idea to please her. It gave us something unique to do together. It was our personal project.

Ten years later, I find I’ve turned a floodlight onto the raw compost of my past and exposed subdural contents of my psyche and our relationship that even some of those closest to me haven’t seen or known about, and it’s out there in front of whomever comes across our blogs to read. That is outside behavior for me, and way outside of my normal container that has kept my privacy private, my secrets secret and my insecurities secure.

Nevertheless, it’s an exercise in trust between us. Hopefully, it will have the power to strengthen my daughter’s dubious faith in my commitment to her. Even though she hasn’t read what I’ve written yet, the act of writing it opens it up, and by stepping beyond the boundaries of the unknown, sets me on a mythic journey to become completely vulnerable on her behalf. It is the stuff of fairy tales.

The irony is that she knows my words are written and out there but hasn’t read them. My confessions will have weathered under the eyes of many before she reads it for the first time – and that’s the way she wanted it. This was the device we used to spit it all out untethered. So the truth is hanging on the clotheslines from her backyard in Portland and mine in Seattle. The neighbors can see our faded garments that remain hanging in our imagination. It won’t be long now before we are folding each other’s laundry – the way family members do – and that our worn pieces will be in each other’s hands to see for ourselves what they are made of and be real.

Meanwhile, the lighter side of the pair of us being who we are is what makes this all possible. The fact that we do connect – on the phone, in emails – and when we do, we feel quite at home. Even though every layer of our connection is out of synch with the social norms of our culture, there is a very nice place where we come together now, a place we have built on our own, and when we connect there we are engaged. We smile, we laugh, we quizzically explore the thoughts and impulses that herd our conversations. We are warm. We get each other. We are still careful but at home. Our connection holds promise.

Maybe someday our connection will be as deep as our disconnection has been. All or nothing, all and nothing – we are both. Closing the distance between the two, we continue to hike up and down every trail and cross the vast terrain between us as mother and daughter. Every step brings us closer. When we meet, we are together. When we smile, we are happy.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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