Tag Archives: reconciliation

First Read – The Truth

Kate 12_24_70_1_smallWhen I left work for the train station to pick up my daughter, Cathy, in Seattle, I didn’t know what to expect. My husband was in New York City and I was on my own for the week. Cathy and I were getting together at my apartment for the weekend to prepare for our upcoming presentation at the AAC conference in San Francisco. For the first time since we started our collective memoir ten years ago – Kathleen~Cathleen – we were going to read some of what we had written to each other.

We chose pieces from four chapters that would represent turning points in our relationship – Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy, Integration – chapters that each describe the emotional weather of a birthmother and a relinquished adoptee post-reunion and further down the road to a long-term relationship.

We had shared a couple of brief excerpts for our feature article, “Being the Secret” in the Spring 2014 edition of the Adoption Constellation magazine for Adoption Mosaic. That share made us eager to hear more from each other’s writing.

What follows is the aftermath of what I learned from that first share between us.

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There is no substitute for being somebody’s mother. There is nobody else who can be that. Having a baby means being somebody’s mother. When mother is not present after baby is born, baby knows , and wonders where you are. No matter how good the substitute is, there is no substitute. The baby knows its mother and feels the loss of her when she is gone.

This is the truth of what my daughter told me tonight. Tonight we read previously unshared chapters aloud, and to each other. We are preparing for a conference where we will read our excerpts to a roomful of strangers. It was time to uncover our secret writing to each other.

Listening from where we sat on my living room couch in Seattle, I heard her younger self reacting to the me she met on that exploratory summer in 1993. I also read back to her from the same place in time and we surprised each other with our synchronism. Our take on each other, and the confusion that chased our courage was vivid and honest. To listen and experience her written take on me was painful, sometimes brutal, and made me bark with laughter and quietly weep. Nothing surprised me , but it was still a shock to hear her descriptions filled with snapshots that rang true. It was wild to hear her read aloud what she had written in secret. I felt intimately included and exposed at the same time, trapped in the words of a twenty-two year old witness as to the person she found in me.

We listened to each other read on the couch as we sipped the champagne we had poured to celebrate this turning point. We had waited 10 full years to share these few selected parts of what we had written about each other. The words both shocked and soothed me. The excerpts we chose for the conference came from the Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy, and Integration chapters. As we read to each other, we find that we have unwittingly written about many of the same exact moments in our remembered history. The conversation that followed what we read went deep into the night through gullies of tears, gulps of surprise and connection, laughter and horror that stirred us to more questions. Our thoughts chased each other aloud, and whipped eddies around the rock embedded in the riverbottom of our story as we stepped from stone to stone.

Our words, wet with memories, stirred the ingredients that were suddenly unsettled beneath the lives we led and now shared. The original question kept beckoning in the call and response of our story as we read.

For Cathy, there was no excuse that I chose to leave her and she felt that my absence had inflicted irreversible damage. Even sitting in front of her after all these years in reunion, I could not give her what she wanted, what would have been her birthright – those early years with me as her mother. The mother sitting here beside her now was not the one she had needed – the one that would’ve held and comforted her in the beginning when she was new. We cried as she told me that my youth and lack of experience didn’t excuse me from what she was forced to endure without me. She wanted me to have changed my mind, to have done what I didn’t think at the time I could do and raise her beside me – not leave her alone, parted forever from me and the beginning she might have had in my company. She told me that she felt certain that I would have given her everything she had needed, and nothing would have been too big to overcome. We would have made it. I could have done it. She knew me well enough now to know it. And now, so did I. It could have worked out differently.

She may have been given the best situation possible given our circumstances, and she was loved as kin by her adoptive parents, but that didn’t make it easy or okay that she was put there. She was made to become the child of strangers, and she had an innate sense from the beginning that she had lost her way. She came to learn that it was just the way it was.

What my daughter told me translated into the opposite of what I had believed for all these years – that I was giving her to a better life than she would have had with me. From her perspective, that wasn’t true. Just because I didn’t have the confidence to raise her as a teenaged single mother in 1971 didn’t mean that it wouldn’t have worked out for us to be together. In her eyes, she thought I should have tried. In her eyes, if I loved her, I would have tried. Her secret wish all these years was that I would have tried, and now – looking back with honest and older, if not wiser eyes, I know that it probably would have worked out, one way or the other. Everything does. I thought at the time that I was doing the responsible thing. I learned that night that she thought that I abdicated my responsibiiity and that it was inexcusable, irreversible and, yes, she was very angry. By the time we finished talking, I didn’t even think she liked me and now I see, for the first time really, that the upset is still so fresh , and it’s because she couldn’t be with me, be mine, from the start – to finish.

I told Cathy that I didn’t have thoughts of raising children when I was a child – that I longed for a more interesting world than the one I saw my mother living in. I had wished I had been a boy when I saw my brothers go on a fruit boat to Panama with our grandfather, while I stayed home with my mother and younger siblings “because I was a girl”. I wanted to be independent and to do whatever I wanted about anything and everything. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of my childish dreams.

Cathy looked surprised, and maybe even relieved, and said, “That’s important! That needs to be in the book” as though it explained the confounded truth. Maybe she was able to see that my errant decision to live without her didn’t have anything to do with her or who she was. I wondered if she really thought that I had given her up because I didn’t like her – that I had thought there was something wrong with her? I always felt love for her and had never thought there was anything wrong with her; from the very beginning moments of her life, she was perfect. I knew she was perfect. I may not have developed my maternal instincts yet and being a mother would be something I would have to later choose to become.

When I asked Cathy, as we faced each other on the couch, what she thought I should have done, she looked me in the eye and said, “Termination.”

I lost my breath and quietly let out the words that hollered in my head as I asked her. “But what about the fact that you are living? Doesn’t that have value? Doesn’t it matter to you? Don’t you want to be alive? What if you make a difference, for you or for others or for your children, that couldn’t have happened without you?”

These unanswerable questions held no weight in her answer, nor any conviction in her eyes. She wasn’t sure that any of that really mattered. Her look made me feel foolish and naive. I held on to her gaze and she looked back quietly as though it was just a fact… As though the fact of her living self was irrelevant. How can that be? She was important enough to come this far. The irony of the blessing and the curse didn’t escape me.

“I’m sorry” I said as we held each other, crying.

Now we are left to trust that what’s done is done. We can only make the best of what we have, where we are, who we are with. I am grateful for what we have together. My sorrow is real, but so is my joy. I sense that this kind of conversation has to happen between two people who really care about each other, as well as the truth these conversations uncover. Maybe it doesn’t matter if the answers aren’t clear. Our mindful relationship outweighs what we could say about it. The fact that my mother and I don’t talk as openly as my daughter and I do reassures me that we are on the right path.

I may never be able to fill the gap she feels anymore than my mother can fill mine. Feelings of disconnection are part of the human condition and persistant, consistent, and steady unconditional love is what heals the gap.

I reach to understand – on an intellectual level – why her perspective that termination would have been easier for her; is it because then there would have been no “her without us?” to concern herself with? That has such an empty ring to it when life is so full.

Her pragmatism and anger makes me sad as I ponder the consequence of my relinquishment, an act that was based on my teenaged, Catholic-raised perception of love.

I love my daughter. The ironies in our lives have conspired to synchronize over and over again because we are connected – even when we’re not.

I want to believe that my child’s capacity to feel loved will open up wide and fill to the brim with answers to her heart’s desires so that she may get to live her life – heart, body and soul – to the fullest, with or without her mother, and that our bond will rebuild the trust that was interrupted at birth, creating ties that weave us freely and inextricably together.

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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 Adoptee’s Right to Search

rose

The four sisters sat at a sidewalk café to take in the Floridian breeze over drinks and dinner. Even with the contrast in our looks, anybody walking by would have known we were sisters and our laughter broadcasted our comfortable repoire. We had converged from the west and east coast for the weekend near Fort Myers to celebrate our father’s 90th birthday. The day had been spent with our parents in their assisted-living facility and now we relaxed under the setting sun and soaked each other in, hungry for the chance to commune and confide.

We are different from each other but close. No matter what, our truest selves come out when we are together, for better or worse. We cherish time together as sisters.

I am the oldest sister after three sons. Mary came after me, between the next two brothers; Deborah followed and finally, the baby of the family, Gina.

Mary and I shared a room growing up and Deborah and Gina were roommates. Our family moved several times over the years and our memories are highly contrasted by timing and context. While I have fond memories of my grandmother’s aromatic cooking and cheerful Yankee humor, my youngest sisters remember a scary alcoholic with burnt food in the kitchen and mounds of cigarette butts in ashtrays by the roaring television.

Our memories and points of view are tightly rooted in the timing and evolution of our growing family. My parents waxed into their prime during my youth while my youngest siblings felt their stamina wane at the tail end of the large family we inhabited.  As a teenager, I was grounded regularly for coming home late after midnight. When the younger siblings came in after curfew, it was barely noticed. We lived in different chapters in the family story.

When the status of Kathleen~Cathleen, the working title of the book my first daughter and I have been writing for the past eight years, came up in the conversation, I told them about the “Lost Daughters” blog that my daughter had participated in recently that had resulted in a controversial dialogue that was still under debate weeks later.

The nature of the debate started with the pros and cons of open adoption and evolved into the adoptee’s right to search and access their original birth certificate and information that would reveal the identity of the original mother and birth family.

One of my younger sisters smacked her lips and without hesitation said that the records should remain closed; the birthmother had no right to intrude on the privacy of the child they had given up nor the adoptive family and the information could be harmful to the child. The other youngest sister defended the right of the child to be protected from the birth mother’s identity and possibly unseemly circumstances. “What if she was a prostitute or worse?” “Why should the innocent child suffer information that would just make them feel bad about themselves or their situation if they knew the truth?” and “What about the woman’s right to privacy when she has signed a legal agreement stating that she doesn’t want to be discovered by the child?” “The woman should be protected, too.”

My relinquished daughter and I have been in reunion for almost twenty-four years. I was eighteen when I became pregnant with her in 1970Abortion was barely legal and was still considered a crime. My siblings were still children themselves back then and had no idea that I was “in trouble.”

Then Cathy and I came together in 1989 and my siblings were included in the revelation and celebration that unfolded with the truth. Cathy was welcomed into the family by my most  and the anomalies of her previously invisible existence became part of the family story. My siblings seemed happy that Cathy was part of the family now. As Cathy and I learned how to be together and grew closer, my family seemed supportive and open. In retrospect, my idealism and optimism may have been hard at work. Suddenly I wasn’t sure of anything.

The same sister who welcomed Cathy into her first family gathering at her house pursed her lips tightly and was indignant at the suggestion that an adoptee might have a inalienable right to search and access their birth records. Not only did she reject the idea of the right of an adoptee to search for their birth mother but, in her view, chances were high that the child was better off not knowing. If a mother could give her child away, then there was a reason for it. That woman had made her decision and it may be that this mother should not be allowed access to the child. That child now belonged to other people and they deserved better consideration.

I froze and curled my toes into my sandals as I grappled for words. We had been having such a nice time and then, all of sudden, I was a birthmother trapped in the worst of stereotypes, an unworthy mother with all the scars left by feeling judged as “bad”. Even as witnesses to my own experience, I didn’t hear any compassion in the tone. The adoptee was a commodity, up for grabs in their eyes and the birthmother was just out of luck. I felt sick.

My closest sister watched silently from across the table and didn’t speak as the youngest sisters tossed their argument back and forth. I told them that a legal agreement signed by a young mother does not mean that she doesn’t think of her child every day and might wish to change her mind and be allowed the chance to meet and know her child in an appropriate way. If that child wants to know where they come from and the mother agrees to it, why should anyone interfere or refuse them their right to reunite?

“What if the adoptee wants to establish themselves as an heir entitled to inheritance from their birth parent?” Now the adoptee was presented as a threat to the biological family assets.  “What if the family prohibits the mother from acknowledging the child because of the shame of the circumstances and the culture of the family?”

It’s complicated and it only gets more complicated: in-vitro births, surrogates, alien children from other countries and cultures. What is the answer when there are so many questions?

Underneath I pondered the real question. If a birthmother feels safe because of the privacy veil, it may give her the strength to follow through with the birth. If the child’s birth means a vulnerable future of exposure and shame, that child might not have a chance of birth at all. How much can a woman be expected to bear at a young age before it becomes too much to handle. Confusion in an unwanted pregnancy is a binding dilemma, whatever the answer is. Whether it’s abortion or relinquishmet, you can’t take it back.

But the child born from that decision bears the cost of her heritage. A parent’s decision to relinquish responsibility for the child is a decision of the parent, not the child. Should the child be punished and withheld the right to know? Does an adoptee have the right to their past, positive or negative? I believe people are defined by the generations who came before them, and that generations ahead of them experience the impact of the life they live. More than environment and circumstance, they are defined by their actions and the actions that brought them to bear. To disallow anyone the right to know their origins is to cast them as second-class citizens by the default of adoption. Is that right? If there is hope that the child may seek when they come of age, is there more chance that the child will not be born at all?

There may be harder decisions but I don’t know what they are. Circumventing access to birth records denies a basic human right for that information. There are many reasons for adoption after birth, but in my mind, none of them preclude the child’s right, when they are ready, to know who they are and where they came from. Even if its uncomfortable, there is no substitute for the truth. Hidden or revealed, the truth remains. To impact the true identity of a human being by untying all that connects them to the past condemns them to illusion. I believe that all human beings deserve to know their truth. It may be hard but it’s right. What happens then can go anywhere. That is the moment when the child becomes the author of her story.

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

Peace Sign People 1968
The decision to come to term and relinquish my first child in 1970 was excruciating and, except for my confidantes through the years, it was a secret I held close for decades. Most of the people who knew me didn’t know this.

I made my choice in 1970. Forty-three years later, the truth of my decision is permanently etched in my heart. I examine the markings like a fossil, deep reminders of how the course of my life shifted from the moment I broke trail with my life as a happy, songwriting flower-child and brought me here; a grandmother caught by surprise by the offer of a young man’s seat on the bus.

I take his seat and smile. I was on the same bus the day before on an adventure to the zoo with my daughter and two grandsons. If not for the brief affair that brought her into life, my yesterdays would have been filled with other people. Until we met twenty-four years ago, her presence was like an invisible friend; a figment of my past I tried to reconfigure into the child I could wish into seeing beyond my mind’s eye. I am grateful her sweet face has come to light; the sight of her fills my heart every time. She and her children are treasures. I get to love them now and their smiles glow on my soul like precious golden sunlight.

It was hard to let my daughter go. I paid the passage to be with her this way now. We will always be catching up but our love is grounded and alive. I have traded my secrets and regret for connection and can feel the layers of my heart heal under and around the scars. I’m not afraid of who I am anymore, of what I did or what it took to get here. My choices brought me here and I choose to be present in our relationship.

I can only embrace my choices – right or wrong – they have defined me, flaws and all. When I decided to have Cathy and relinquish her for adoption, I accepted that it was complicated and focused on the joy of her possibility, not the sorrow that lay in my loss ahead. Grappling with that came later. I believed that her life was more important than my comfort-zone for a while. My optimism got me through it and, inherently perhaps, gave her a sense of the young, happy mother she sprang from, out and into the world.

If I could do it all over again, I would have made another choice. The fruit of our history and love for each other is bittersweet for the years we didn’t share. My love for her was alive all along and would have existed in nebulous longing if we had never met.

The gift of reunion – another choice – is that my love for her gets to shine and grow every time I see her, think of her and hear her voice. There is comfort I can give her that can only come from me, my voice, my eyes, my arms. It may be small by comparison in the landscape of her life but it has its power and grace. This is the gift of my reunited first daughter; one whom I cherish with a love that I know in my heart will always burn bright and never, ever fade.

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

In the last few days, Cathy has come back into view. I listen for what her heart tells me. Her few words have been honest and tender. I am making preparations to leave for my father’s ninetieth birthday in Florida, and she has just returned from her father’s funeral there. Peter John was eighty years old when he died. He’ll be missed. He was a lovely man with kind blue eyes reminiscent of my own father – the Irish brows. Our fathers are ten years apart. I can only imagine her loss. Her biological father is much younger, but the father who raised her is the one who counts.

Cathy and I were in the midst of an unusual Open Adoption Interview Project this past November to raise awareness by pairing interviewers from all participating perspectives – when events intervened and delayed posting. Cathy and her interview partner, a birthmother, have just posted the interviews on their blogs. They are interesting and frank.

Cathy invited me to read. I get to hear her heart out loud when I read Cathy’s writing, so I was glad for the invitation. I went to the first link to read and then the other. A flurry of unpremeditated email responses followed and today we decided to share them with you for our take on this week’s topic.

Remember, I don’t read Cathy’s blog, so please excuse any redundance on my part. I wrote Cathy’s song, “Mercy High, Mercy Low” at another moment much like this one years ago and so, bears repeating with the theme.

Comments are welcome. Please like kathleencathleen on facebook, if you like. Thanks for reading.
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(Cathy’s email to Kate)

Kate,

You can go to Lost Daughters
http://www.thelostdaughters.com/

and the Great Wide Open
http://thegreatwideopen-openadoption.blogspot.com/2012/11/2012-interview-project-reunion-eyes.html

– if you want to read the interview that I did for the Open Adoption Interview Project.

I’ll be curious to know whether you think she’s just fooling herself (about being fine with relinquishing the child) or if open adoption just made it okay for her. Because, really, although you say now you wish you kept me, it’s true too (and okay) that you didn’t want to be a mother at 19. So, you had your options. I wonder if open adoption would have made it different for you or if you think, knowing what you know now, you still think you would have kept me?
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(Kate’s response)

Darling girl,

There is no doubt in any nook, cranny or cell of my being that I would have wanted to do anything but keep you near me, with me, all the way, through thick and thin, no matter what. Nineteen was young and I wasn’t prepared but I would have figured it out given half a chance.

Open adoption, for me, may have been harder than full relinquishment because I don’t think I could have succeeded emotionally in a setting of monitored access to you. It’s one thing to feel the loss and feel like a freak without anybody else really being aware of what I was going through. Stepping into the role of birthmother with visitation rights would have been excruciating. At least that’s how I perceive it. In those shoes, I probably would have had constant feelings of deprivation of my child and fantasies about kidnapping you rather than relinquishing you over and over and over again. No thanks.

If I had it to do over, I would have accepted it and kept you right there in my arms and never, ever let you go. Ever. At least until you were old enough to look both ways before you crossed the street and then I would be watching you like a mother hawk.

I’ll read your post after my workout and write you a long one this afternoon to catch up. I’m so happy to hear from you and look forward to writing you back in a little while.

Love you,
Kate
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(Kate’s response to Cathy after reading the interviews)

Wow. I just finished reading the two sides – Lost Daughters and The Great Wide Open. What a good bunch of hard, honest questions and remarkable answers.

I think she has a disconnect that is securely fastened to her intellect. But I also think that sometimes we need to forge ahead with positive energy or we will die from the sorrow that lies under the optimism in our hearts.

I would never give you away again. I don’t care how nice people are, I feel like you do and would keep my right to be your parent.

I think your side was so eloquent and brave. You are beautiful and I’m so proud of your honesty. I love you, Cathy.

I’ll write more soon. The sun is out and I need to go for a walk and visit the elephants and gorillas at the zoo.

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(Cathy to Kate)

Oh, good. That’s what I was hoping you’d say : )

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

“Castle of Dromore” (performed by Kate Power & Steve Einhorn)

I’m sitting on the sixth floor on West 79th Street in Manhattan. My in-laws are sound asleep in the next room. My husband is playing gently on his ukulele in ours. I’m considering the chapter I’ve been working on from where I sit at the dining room table and close my book of notes; I have finished for tonight.

In little more than an hour, the clock will strike midnight and it will be my birthday. I took a call from my eldest daughter an hour ago. Her voice was cheerful as she asked me what my birthday plans were. Our phone conversation was lined with the sounds of my young grandsons in the background and the normalcy of all this made my heart ripple and sing.

It’s never been like this for me before. “Normal” is more unusual for me and I notice when it happens. The edges that used to protect my feelings of loss have softened with time since Cathy and I reunited. I used to hold myself tightly inside at the sight of a baby on my birthday (or hers), on Mother’s Day, holidays, schoolyards filled with children at play. Our relationship has seasoned and mellowed over the twenty-three years since we met. The portal of my daughter’s love has opened a place that allows my joy to snap like happy fingers to the sound of children now. I embrace this time and cherish my role as mother and grandmother. I savor each second and each of them. In my eyes, they are the most beautiful beings on earth. Something in me believes says that angels hang close by the children of the earth. Children are the closest to God in innocence and purity, and only one step removed from the divine as new inhabitants to their human form. Innocence awes me.

As my dearly departed friend, Hazel, used to say, “If you live long enough, all is forgiven!” She may have something there. I chuckle to remember the warm gravel of her voice under shining eyes in her wizened old face, etched deeply with loveliness and time. If anybody knew the truth about life, it was Hazel. Perhaps aging is a gift after all.

Our phone call was interrupted as Cathy’s cell phone dropped the call. I held my mute phone and laughed out loud to no one in particular, “I was just telling her the best part!” and let it go. We emailed back and forth where we left off and both went back to our writing. Even three thousand miles away, there are things we do together when we are apart: the book and our blogs.

We’re working on chapters ten and eleven. Ten is the “Honeymoon” chapter and filled with mutual exploration four years after we met. She went to college, graduated and then decided to take me up on an invitation to visit me in Portland for the summer. Chapter eleven is “Going Dark” and the turning point from the bliss of innocence in reunion to the bleak depths of disappointment, anger and anguish that followed. The two chapters describe two sides that are markedly different and indelibly bound in the middle with the truth – two sides of a coin that paid our passage into discovery, delivery and ownership of our truth and our place in one another. I don’t know yet what my daughter has written in her side of these chapters but it doesn’t matter. Underneath whatever comes, I am a lucky mother, a proud first mother and a grateful birthmother.

I’ll be sixty-one in less than an hour. I was eighteen when I conceived Cathy and eighteen years later, at thirty-seven, we met again. I have been twenty-four years in reunion and connection in real-time with my daughter. It’s had its ups and downs, easy flow and rough patches – just like normal mothers and daughters – and she just called to wish me a happy birthday.

That’s just about the best birthday gift I can think of.

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

When we write together, Cathy is there across the table from me and responsive. We get to joke and puzzle for answers to the odd and interesting questions that arise between us. She calls me by my name and it feels normal that we are together. We enjoy each other while we work and write. She accepts my affection with smiles.

When we write apart, Cathy is invisible and remote. I can’t see her or hear her. Long awaited emails she sends me don’t usually include my name and never, ever sign off with any words of affection.

The ghost I was in my invisible role as first mother before we met again comes back to haunt me with the truth of what is felt but can’t be seen.

I fight the ghost back by making phone calls, sending affectionate emails, wondering about my grandsons and asking about how my daughter is faring in her life. My visibility wins over the ghost but does not penetrate the object of my heart.

Cathy does not hear me when I am away. My words roll off her like water trickling down the side of a rock. Even when I lived ten blocks from her house, I was a world apart.

Perhaps to her it feels close, even in all this distance, as I travel leagues between us.

My job is to love her unconditionally. Her job is to be a child in the world on her path of discovery and fulfillment for the potential of her life.

So I pray…and write…and hope… that it won’t be long before we get to write across the table again.

Then I can call her name and she will lift her eyes to mine in answer.

There is no ghost when we are together.

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

First Rejection

Steve and I met for lunch at the Fishbowl in Olympia – our favorite mid-week rendezvous. After morning coffee, “Steve in Shipping & Receiving” fills his backpack with orders for art and music from our world of folky merchandise, along with a water bottle and plastic bags for treasures he might find on his walk. He sculpts musical instruments from found objects and something special inevitably crosses his path.

The post office is a few miles away and it’s become his practice to traverse town on foot, across the bridge overlooking the otters, seals, salmon runs and water birds around Capitol Lake, up the switchbacks to the capitol building and across the ridge to drop off orders at the post office and pick up our mail.

Sometimes after a morning of writing or booking jobs, I’ll meet him on his way back. We’ve become regulars and the waitress, Cheryl, always seems glad to see us and barely needs to take our order, she knows what we want.

During our recent lunch break rendezvous, while I was in the ladies room to wash my hands, a “padunk!” sounded from my blackberry to announce the arrival of an email on my phone. I dried my hands and pressed the pearl to see what it was and gasped.

It was a response to a letter I had sent at the end of March to a famous musician, writer and editor. I knew her in a roundabout way from my days behind the counter at Artichoke Music and wrote to introduce her to our project, Kathleen~Cathleen, and to ask her advice about finding an agent. It was long shot but I felt brave that day and sent the query letter.

There on my text screen were the words “I got your letter about the Kathleen-Cathleen project. Wow. What a fascinating story and idea. I’ve already told my agent about it. Would you care to have an email introduction and/or send her your material?”

I yipped and held the phone with both hands and read it again, mouthing the words aloud before they disappeared – I must be dreaming. Is it possible? Wow. After three times it was clear I was awake and I walked back to our table, hands shaking with the news.

I texted back, “Yes! Thank you for making my day.”

Ten minutes later a text came in from her agent in New York who introduced herself, expressed interest and invited us to send the book proposal to her office.

I forwarded the update to Cathy. I’d been trying to get a callback from her for days with no luck but less than five minutes later, “padunk!” on the phone and my eyes landed on “Holy sh#t!” from Cathy.

When we finally talked on the phone I chuckled, “So I had to go this far to get you to call me back!?!” We had a good laugh and dove into next steps.

The next couple of days was a flurry of activity to put finished revisions on the proposal and send out the latest paper version, to be followed by the electronic version the next week.

The excitement between Cathy and me was exquisite. This was a high-end agency in New York with the best agents. The potential had all the ingredients of a turnstile moment that could change our lives forever. Our confidantes buzzed with “This is it, I’m sure it will be a great success!” “The work you two have done all these years is about to bear fruit” and “Sometimes you get one chance and this could be it so don’t blow it.”

I held my breath. My head was swimming with affirmation. It was a gift to bring Cathy validation from this famous person who felt compelled to introduce us to her own agent with her full endorsement. I couldn’t have asked for more.

I thought, my daughter will get to experience the value of her work and its meaning as she soaks in this in. It was a lightning bolt of light, love and action and hit a deep mark in my belief that our story, exactly as it happened, was meant to be shared.

We did everything we needed to do, the proposal was on a desk in New York. Then we waited.

By the time the electronic version was sent out, Cathy and I had researched “the agent” and began let our imaginations scan the possibilities. We had recovered our balance from the pleasant shock of support from our new superstar ally and went through the motions of our day-to-day with feelings of expectancy and delight. Anything could happen.

It was a lovely few days.

Scenarios peeled in layers of what-if’s – as though all we needed was to finish, come to term and deliver; as natural as a newborn baby, born alive and perfect with all ten toes and fingers.

Rejection is most potent when you least expect it.

The words, “Thanks for giving me a look and I’m sorry this didn’t work out. But I was glad to hear about this ultimately happy story” slapped my eyes and my heart began to sink in the sting of tears.

There’s always more to the backstory than anyone needs to know. Disappointment cut my confidence to shreds and I struggled for perspective. This was humbling. I didn’t want Cathy to feel discouraged. I didn’t want to feel discouraged either.

“We can’t call ourselves writers if we don’t get rejected at least once, right?”

“Finish the book, nothing else matters until we finish” murmurred in my head as my heart volleyed between insecurity and despair. We were so close.

Then I heard Cathy’s voice and my heart came back around as I remembered the feel of laptops touching to tell the untold story. Love rushed me back.

My heart pounded the words in with “Don’t be afraid, don’t lose hope, don’t falter. Keep going, finish telling the story. All the pieces will fall in place.”

I flashed back to the beginning to Dr. Phil’s request for us to come on his show eight years ago. I knew then and know better now that it was premature and dangerous for Cathy and I to share our story then.

I’m grateful for time after time at the table with my firstborn girl, sneaking peeks at her beautiful face as it goes through its myriad of expressions as she scribbles unreadable upside-down notes with her left hand on scratch paper. Like a baby unaware of its mother’s watching eye, she stretches to focus and grow into her next inch. I wonder if she knows how little I care how painful anything she writes might be for me in the end. The fact of this covenant we’ve made, what we intend and execute together, is a gift more than gold for her mother-by-birth.

Perhaps this is another rendition of our first time together decades ago as she became a baby ready to be born and I became a mother-non-gratis whose lives split from one into two. Years later we converged in the middle of a bridge we built step by step as we followed signs and clues drawn from a blueprint designed from our truth. It’s a strong bridge.

Rejection is nothing compared to this. We write on. It was exciting to be considered. We’re close. Acceptance is right here. I’m not afraid. This will unfold on its own legs in its own time.

Meanwhile, we do this solitary work together as the story streams out, with all its ingredients of sorrow and bliss, into another way to love.

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

Family Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercy

MotherChild by steve einhorn©2008

Mercy High, Mercy Low (Cathy’s Song):

It’s been a wordy year for mothertone. Looking over past posts, I see where words fail me. No matter how exquisite the words I find to describe, they still nip at the heels of what I’m trying to say. Much of what’s in my heart gets lost in the translation to prose.

All the way back – as far as earliest memories of childhood go, I remember times when my heart was ready to bust with feelings bigger than me and rather than talking to my mother, father, sisters or brothers, I would sing.

I discovered an ancestral gift early on. Singers in my family went back generations. My father says I sang before I could talk. Whatever becomes of me, my songs leave a map of my journey.

As a youngster, I would quiet myself and sing when I needed to let my feelings come out from under my skin. I’d sit at the piano and my fingers would look around and in my young voice, melodies would unwind tangled emotions tied up inside my small world and I would sing them until a sense of peace filled me. Sometimes I was left with a little ditty, sometimes it left me with a song.  It was instinctive and became my practice to seek a kind of peace this way.

It never started with words; a hum opened up with an idea for a melody that would poke around for the story while my fussy mind took a break. I never knew what would come but I trusted it like fishing and learned to wait patiently for my catch. Songs manifested by heart tell what can’t be said any other way.

I look at all the words in my mothertone blog for Kathleen~Cathleen and realize that songwriting is easier for me. So, in honor of the occasion of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share one that found its way out of the thicket as our story unfolded. I wrote it for Cathy and it speaks my heart better than anything else I can say here.

This is a happy mother’s day. I am grateful for all of my children – and to my firstborn child for having the courage to be mine.

(Click “Mercy High, Mercy Low” under the photo on top of this post to hear. Drawing by Steve Einhorn)

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