Acceptance

I don’t often remember my dreams.  I don’t know why that is.  I just don’t.  But every so often a dream comes through that I do remember, and is so vivid, I truly do believe that it is trying to send me a message from somewhere.

I have dreams about my mother like that. Maybe once a year or every two years.  Almost always the same….in the dreams, she somehow lived through her initial illness twenty years ago, but we’re fighting it again.  Reliving the journey to her passing, somehow.  I can still recall bits of these ultra vivid dreams as if they actually happened.

Sometimes the dreams are different.  I don’t know why I have them.  There’s a dream I can still recall of a house I never lived in, but I can see the house and it’s layout in my head as if it did exist, as if it was part of my experience.  Even though it never was.

Two nights ago I had a dream like that.  A dream of a conversation that never happened, but was so real that I will never shake it.   Earlier that evening I ran into a friend who is a single mom.  She has one daughter from a marriage and two adopted children that she adopted after the marriage was over.  In the dream, she was asking me how to talk to her adopted children about their absent parent, how to help them understand their situation.

And just like that, in the dream, I answered her:

“First, you need to let them know that no matter what their background is, what happened to them from their biological parents, that you love them.  You have to make sure that is so crystal clear in their heads that they know it as part of who they are.  They can’t doubt it.  That you are their parent and that you love them more than you could love anything else.

Second, you have to be sure to never, ever talk negatively about that absent biological parent.  Even if you have super strong feelings about what they may or may not have done for your child.  At the end of the day, they know that parent exists and if you talk negatively about that person, you’re talking negatively about a part of who they are.  Ideally, some day, you’ll let that anger you may have go….but until that day, you have to keep it away from your children.  That’s your burden, not theirs.

Third, you have to acknowledge whatever feelings they may have about that parent.  They are real, and they’re allowed to have them.  Those feelings have nothing to do with you, as hard as it is to realize that.  Missing an absent parent, wanting to know more about that parent, this is a normal part of what an adopted or child with an absent parent goes through.  They know there is a piece missing and they want to know who they are.  You have to support their feelings and allow them to explore them.  If you have history with the absent parent, this is a very hard one, but it is vitally important to the child having a healthy sense of self.  They will mourn the parent that isn’t there, and you have to be there with all the love and support you can when they do.  But if they want to go searching, if they want to reach out….if it is safe for them to do so….you have to let them.

Fourth and finally, you must always be truthful.  Don’t lie.  Take the questions as they come, don’t offer more information than they can handle at the age they are, but always be honest about who their biological parents are.  But the second rule applies here too:  be honest, but don’t be negative.  If the parent is absent because they are in jail, or a drug addict, hold that information until the child is older.  When they are younger, say something like that the absent parent just ‘wasn’t ready’ or ‘was so sick she couldn’t take care of you’ or something more general, but also not negative.  If you have photos of the parent, show them to the child.  They should always know who they are.”

I woke up from the dream with such a sense of peace.  And then I realized….I am at peace.  I’m done waiting for my son’s biological father to finally figure out that he’s this amazing kid’s parent.  It doesn’t matter any more.  I did everything I could for my boy to fill the gap.  And I know that, as unfair as it is, some of that gap will never be filled, because he knows (because I have always been truthful with him) who his biological father is and that he has never been a part of his life.  But I also know that I have done a great job despite the challenges.

My son is working, thriving, married and expecting his own child.  He is a credit to me and my husband, who from the moment we met, took my son in as his own.  We are his parents.  We have helped him grow into the man he has become.  And while I am sad that my son’s story doesn’t have the happy ending that I had always hoped it would, I am done with wishing for things that I cannot control.  There is nothing I can do to lead that horse to water.  Did I make mistakes?  Yes.  Of course I did.  But none of them merit living as if your own son doesn’t exist.  I’ve done all that I can do to make it right for my son.  And I can finally, finally say that I am at peace with it.

I hope someday my son will be as well.

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Love In Many Forms

My son and his wife of seven days (typing that just seems amazing) are somewhere in Jerusalem right now.  In Israel.  Yes, the one that is seven hours time difference from where they live in Alexandria, VA and where I live in Connecticut. I was pondering that the other day.  For my honeymoon, my husband and I went on a Carnival cruise.  We went to Grand Cayman, Cozumel and New Orleans.  It was the first time I’d been outside of the US save for Canada (because every good Detroiter has gone drinking in Canada).   My son has been now to Spain, to Croatia, and to Israel.  He’s passed through France for connecting flights, twice.  What a different life has than I did.

What a different life he has than I ever imagined for him.

At my son’s wedding last week, after he and I shared our emotional mother/son dance, I walked him back to his new wife and hugged her hard.  Then I went back to sit at my table, with my husband and our two much younger children.  Within a minute, there was my father, red in the face and clearly just as emotional as me.

Maybe more so.

“I remember the day he was born,” he struggled to tell me, tears flowing from the corners of his eyes.   And he was right.  Of the hundred or so people standing in this room with us, there were only three of us who were there the day Zach was born.  My sister, myself and my father.  My brother was in the Navy in basic training at the time, and met him about a month or so after he was born.  Everyone else in the room met him sometime later in his life.

It was hard, at that moment in time, staring at my son and his lovely wife in this gorgeous hotel ballroom, with everyone dressed in their finery, to imagine what those days were like.  My father had literally been there since the moment this boy was born; he’d been my Lamaze coach.  He’d watched this young man come into the world, take his first breaths.  He’d been ultimately supportive after his initial skepticism  regarding my “situation”.  I was 18 and alone when this little baby came into all of our lives, and life could have turned out very, very different than the moment we were all experiencing together.

But what was overwhelming all of us, as my sister had now come to join my father and I, both redfaced in the front of the room together, was my mother’s absence.  “She should have been here,” my father said next, putting his head in his hand.  “She would have been so proud of him.”

Seeing my father cry about my mother is truly a humbling experience for me. While my father has been with his partner since before my parents’ marriage ended, it’s clear to me that he truly did love my mother.  While the demise of their marriage was fraught with difficulty, fighting and anger, eventually everything settled in to the way things were supposed to be.  In fact, I always kind of thought that my pregnancy at 18 and my parents banding together to support me and my child truly was the last step of pulling them back together as a family unit, if not a married one.  And when my mother passed, my father was there to hold her hand along with us kids.  It was my father who helped us eulogize her at her memorial.  They had a clear and deep connection, and it is easy for me to forget that on a day to day basis.  I suppose I deal with my grief often about my mother, but my father likely doesn’t.  So it is in these family moments where it comes roaring to the surface for him, still raw and harsh, even twenty years later.

In some sort of awful way, it made me feel good to see him that affected by her absence.  That while his life is very different now, the affection he had for her was real and true and honest. I held him and told him about the wedding song, and how sure I was that she had a role to play there.  That I was sure she was watching all of us here, this night and smiling from wherever she was, happy to see her beloved first grandchild so successful, so sure of himself, so clearly in love.  “She loved him so much,” I said to my father and my sister, which gave them both a fresh set of tears, but gave me a strength and surety that stopped my own.

Meh

I have tried to write several posts in the last several weeks here and each time, I just come up blank.  It’s not that I’m in a funk, or not doing anything interesting or anything like that.  It just doesn’t seem like I have much to say about any of it.

Meh.  Who cares about this stuff.

I’ve been working on a local 5K here in town.  Truth be told, I’m running the damn thing this year.  It’s a 20 year race that used to be run by a chiropractor here in town who is an avid runner, along with one of our police officers.  Originally the money raised went to our local DARE program and the Jaycees.  But then our DARE program disbanded and the people running the race got kind of tired of putting it all together.  Enter me and my fresh face last year, trying to raise money for our schools.  Long story short, I got the unpaid gig.  I’ve spent probably 15 hours a week for the last six weeks working on the thing, and it promises only to take more and more of my time until the race happens in June.  On the one hand, I’m super excited and proud of the work I’m doing.  But on the other, I’m pretty much doing it single handedly and that’s never fun.

Meh.

My son’s wedding is getting closer, and I’ve been putting together the rehearsal dinner and shopping for dresses.  It is all very mother of the groom stuff to do.  The dress thing was insane.  My choices were either sexy teenager prom dress or dowager sixty year old beaded top and loose skirt with too many sequins to distract from the wrinkles of the person wearing it.  It was all just depressing.  I’m 42.  I get that I’m a young mother, and certainly everything about putting this thing together has reminded me of that every step of the way.  Not in a really great way, I might add.  More in the “yep, we’re all very aware you had this one under less than ideal circumstances” kind of way.

Meh.

I’m working on my freelance web stuff fairly steadily, which is good.  It’s just enough work and income to make me feel like I’m not some slob sitting on my sofa watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns because there’s nothing else to do.  Except when the freelancing grids to a screeching halt, as it has for the last several weeks.  I’m chasing, chasing these clients trying to get them to respond to questions, offer up opinions, meet with me so I can finish their sites and of course, collect my paycheck.  I hate that part of freelancing.  You’re either on the client’s radar 24/7 and you find yourself working at 10am on a Sunday morning because they had an idea that had to be addressed Right. This. Second. or you’re the last thing on their to do list and you’re like an afterthought after all the other Very Important Things get done.

Meh.

My husband has been traveling for three weeks now.  Normally not a huge thing, but after the first week he came home and threw out another possible job transfer, this one potentially overseas.  I don’t put a lot of credibility to it because it has happened so, so many times before and hardly ever pans out (especially since we moved to CT).  Still, the idea introduced just enough tension into my thought patterns of next week, next month, next year.  Will we be here?  Can we count on that?   Can I start making plans for the fall or next winter?

Meh.

Only I could take these things in my life, all good things, and be so blase.  I’m working on an important community event and doing a good job, my son is getting married, my husband’s job is going well and so is mine.  Maybe it’s this interminable winter and it’s long, grey, snow filled days.  Maybe some sunshine and warmth would help me shake the meh.

Blame Game

Blame.   I just want someone to blame, sometimes.  And the older I get, the more I realize that often there is no one to blame, nothing to do, no choices to be made.

So what do I do then?  I blame myself.

The latest round of blame game in my head comes home to roost in a familiar place.  My son’s non existent biological father.  Sure, I’ve beat myself up for the last 24 years about how I must have done something to keep him away all of this time.  It’s one thing to have it going on in my head, alone, with only me to witness my own personal level of crazy self talk.

It’s quite another when I see the pain evident in my son, as well.  That brings a whole new round of it.

My son’s fiancee talked with me a few weeks ago about Z’s biological father’s family and their wedding.  It was a conversation I’d had with him a few months ago, when he expressed the fact that he really wanted a representative of that family there.  He hasn’t mentioned it since.  I had advised him to do a lot of self examination before deciding whether or not to invite the one member of the family he has contact with.  I told him he needed to be OK with any of the possibilities of her responses, and to be honest with himself about the whole idea being a longshot.

What I didn’t put on his shoulders was how awful and awkward her presence would be for me, and for everyone else who has been a loving and supportive person in my son’s life throughout his life.  It isn’t his burden to bear, and frankly, I know that we would all swallow any amount of bile in our throats to give him what he wants on this one.  He wants a connection.  He wants to know that part of who he is.  The parts that aren’t me and can’t be explained any other way.  It hurts me greatly, even though I know it’s not his fault and not intentional in anyway, so I button that up and move on.  Or try to.

So he spoke to his fiancee about the whole situation to get her thoughts.  And she was so disturbed by how upset he was, that she came to me.  She asked me what I thought could be done, should be done.  How could we make his biological father choose to be a part of Z’s life.  Because it is making him doubt that important part of who he wants to be:  a father.  How can he be a good father if he knows it is in his DNA to walk away and never look back.

He’s 23 of course.  When I was 23, I still believed such things to be true.  I didn’t realize that a lifetime alongside a person can change who you are, make you different than maybe other circumstances might have formed you.  And, being 23 of course, he still believes in things like miracles and happy endings and neat, simple closures to messy situations by the end of the movie.  He doesn’t have the years of the world showing you different tucked neatly under his belt like I do at age 42.  Hell, at 42 I still don’t believe that his father has stayed away all of this time.  I still wonder if a hangup call is him trying to connect with us.  Even after all of this time, I hope that he’ll make things right.  And if I feel that way, I certainly can’t blame my kid for feeling that way.

Even though, as I told this young girl who will be my daughter in law soon, I know that he has already chosen.  Z’s father has chosen every single day of his life.  He has stayed away.  Even though I lived for the first ten years of Z’s life in the same place that Joe knew.  Even though when I did move away, there was the Internet, and with my work online I was always easily found.   Even though I made a point of attending my 20th high school reunion with the hopes of finding him there.   Even though now his own aunt maintains an email correspondence with Zach.  If Joe really wanted to know his son, be a part of his life, he would.  He has chosen, very clearly.  We just don’t like what he chose.

I’ve been in a funk the last little while about this, mulling over what, if anything, I should do here.   Because I could, if I really wanted to, pick up a phone right now and speak to Z’s biological father.  In a fit of obsessive Googling and sheer dumb luck, I found some contact information a few years back that I believe may be credible.   Should I reach out to him?  Appeal to his conscience?   Absolve him of his 24 absent years?  Talk of what a credit this amazing kid is would be to him?

I think back to all of the things I wish I’d done differently back when I discovered I was pregnant and the ensuing difficult months where we ended up splitting up.  All of the lost chances to make this right, to be the bigger person, to think of my son before myself.  So many mistakes I made.  Could this be the chance I have to fix all of that?

Or is it just simply time for me to grow up and realize that I did the best I could, under difficult circumstances?  That my self blame doesn’t take away the fact that at the end of the day, Joe left his pregnant girlfriend to raise his son alone.  Without any financial or emotional help.   That sometimes people just are really awful, and that they only have themselves to blame.

I just don’t know.  I just don’t know what to do here.   I don’t know who to blame.  I don’t know who to be mad at.  I don’t know how to make this better or right or make sense.

 

It Never Stops

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my son has recently become engaged to his girlfriend.  They’ve been dating for a year and a half, and no one is terribly surprised that this next step has been taken.  She’s a lovely girl, we like her parents, they’re both working and college graduates, there’s nothing wrong at all with this picture.

Except.

Well, the guest list.

There are days and even whole weeks that go by when I forget that my son has never met his biological father.  That we parted ways when I was eighteen years old and three months pregnant, never to hear from him again.  He’d actually said those words, they might have been the last ones he ever said to me:  “If that’s the way you want it, you’ll never hear from me again.”  It’s been more than 23 years since that day so long ago.   Ever since then, life was about my young son and trying to build a family for him.

It was a bumpy road.  I lived with my mother, who supported me while I went to college for my teaching degree, until she got sick.  She passed away just a few months after I got my teaching certificate, and then my father moved away six months after that.  It was just me and my little guy against the world, and the world was a lonely place.  It was during that time that I reached out to my son’s father’s family in the hopes that I could build some sort of a bridge for him.

In the meantime, I worked.  I taught in the inner city and built a life for my son.  I had a few relationships, nothing serious, until I met R.  We dated for a year but immediately knew that this was the Real Deal.  We married quickly and started a life together.  After a few years that tested our mettle as a couple, we added a daughter and then a son to our little family.  He got a big job and I downsized mine.  We moved a few times.  Life got busy.  Life was full.  We were a family.   So much so that I kind of forgot to keep up maintenance on the bridge.

When I finally reached back out to Z’s aunt, he was 16.  I thought for sure by then that any worries the family had over me coming to them asking for money or help were long gone.  I explained what life looked like these days, and she was glad to hear it.  However, she was still very clear that there would be no relationship between Z and his biological father.  She stated that if Z wanted to have some sort of connection with her, that would be alright.  It took him years to act on it, but finally Z contacted her and they met in person.  It was hard, very hard for me to watch that relationship build without having any input into it.  But I knew it was the right thing for him, so I stepped aside and allowed it to grow.

And now, here we are.  Z is 23 and wants to be married.  And he expressed to me a desire to invite this aunt to the wedding.

I just want to scream.

It’s not right that these people can’t get their shit together and just let my son into their lives.  The more this aunt communicates with him, the more he wants to know his father, his grandmother, any other family that he has floating around out there.  He loves having that connection, and I get that, but in so many ways it makes it so much harder for him.  He wants to be a part of their lives.  And he has this tenuous connection.  But it’s not enough.  It’ll never be enough.

So he wants to have “someone from that side of the family” there at the wedding.  In my head, I understand.  I am sure he is hoping beyond hope that the aunt will tell his father about the wedding and by some miracle, Joe will show up at the church and somehow the last twenty three years will melt away.  All the questions Z has will be answered.  All the angst, the anger, the lost hope will somehow vanish from his world.

But my heart knows that these things will never happen.  It knows that when Z sends out that invitation, the aunt will likely not only politely decline, but never mention it to Z’s father because he apparently made clear to her long ago that he never intended to be a part of my son’s life.   And Z will be looking over his shoulder all day for something that won’t ever happen, and he’ll be sad on the day that is supposed to be all about him and his joy and his life going forward.

I told him I would support him, no matter what he decides.  I can’t possibly put in my two cents on this one, because all of my emotions will messy up the whole thing.  If he invites the aunt, I will smile and hope for the best.  And if she comes, I will be surprised but pleasant.  And if she doesn’t, I will console him and help him focus on the many people who came who are also his family.  Family who have been there for him, always.

I wonder when this will stop hurting as much as it does.  It’s been 23 years, after all.  I go days, I go weeks (never more than that) sometimes without it hurting.  But then boom.  Here it comes again, raw and red and white hot, all over again.

 

The Hardest Thing

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took our children to Mass, as we do every Sunday.  I wasn’t born Catholic, and I haven’t always been a regular churchgoer even after I became one.  But we love our church here, mostly thanks to the wonderful priests who run the place.   I originally became a Catholic because I felt that there was something I got during a Mass that I never was able to find anywhere else.  Our current parish carries that sentiment to the nth degree for me.  There’s always a peace, a message, a hope that comes over me during the service.  I’m able to put the petty worries of my life aside and just breathe.

During this week’s service, our priest talked about how so much of our time is spent running.  At first I thought he was going to rail on about the evils of this high impact exercise that I’ve come to love, so my dander was up (plus we went to the 7:30 service to avoid the crowds, so I was uncaffeinated as well).  But then as he continued, he made it clear that he was talking in much more of a figurative sense.  We’re running towards a financial goal, or a material one; we’re running from some horrible event in our past, or a person we were hurt by; running so fast, all of the time, that we don’t take the time to do what I do at church.

Breathe.  Reflect.  Be calm.  Remove the cobwebs and prioritize.  Figure out what is truly important.

Later that day, my husband asked me what I was running from.

“Excuse me?” I asked the tone I always assume when I feel my husband is making an accusation or a critical statement.

He was referring to the amount of traveling I’ll be doing in the next little while.  In a few days I am loading my children into our SUV and driving out to Michigan to see my brother and sister.  And I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of sense to him that I am doing this.  After all, neither of my siblings ever comes out to see me.  And most of the time when I drive out to see them, my brother and I get into some sort of fight that ends up in months of silence between us.  Why would I want more of that?

But my brother and sister have both had some trauma in their lives recently.   And frankly, they somehow seem less equipped to deal with the hard stuff that I’ve always been.  I’m not sure why that is.  For me, I thought the hardest thing I would do would be having gotten pregnant and 18 and have the father leave me.  And it was, until three years later.  That was when the woman who had supported me and helped me through that experience, my mother, was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.  I was her caregiver at home, while finishing my student teaching and raising my two year old son alone.  She died eleven months after being diagnosed, and then I was left alone with a college degree, a part time substitute teaching job and a pile of bills.  My father moved across the country six months later, weeks before I started the only full time teaching job I could find; teaching in the inner city.   The next few years were a mixture of fear, despair and worry that covered me and everything I did like a blanket.

It was different for my brother and sister.  My sister was married and independent.  Where I was 21 at the time of my mother’s diagnosis, she was 27.  She was an adult, and had been for a while.  She had gone to college for a while but quit when she started dating the man who later became her husband.  When my mother was diagnosed it was devastating for her as well, but she wasn’t expected to provide round the clock care.  She was helpful, very helpful.  But not responsible for everything, like me.

My brother had dropped out of college and was floating from job to job when my mother was diagnosed.  He had partied his way through his late teens and early twenties, barely scraping by.  He had friends, and they drank and smoked through the weekends as lots of kids that age do.  When my mother was diagnosed he was working part time at a gas station.  He actually lived with us briefly but found his own place nearby later.  Again, it was an awful thing for him when my mother was diagnosed.  But the only responsibilities he had at the time were to himself.  He would show up, sometimes.  When he was able to.

I think for my brother and sister, while their lives too were sad and hard in the aftermath of our mother’s passing, it wasn’t going to change much in their lives.  They would still live where they lived, work where they worked, and go back home to a house that was going to be the same as it was before.  I didn’t have that.  Everything in my life changed.  It was horrible.  When I read back in my diaries or the words I’ve written here about it, I still can’t believe that I made it through, that I did everything that needed to be done.  That I went on to have a pretty normal life, despite the scars that I carry with me every single day.

Now, both of them are going through some pretty life altering experiences.  Different, for both of them, but still harder than much of what they’ve ever had to deal with before.  They are scared.  They are paralyzed.  They are unable to cope.  And so I am running, I suppose.  Running to give what I can in the hopes that it will help.  The same way that they “helped” me when I needed it, during my most difficult time.  I won’t know what it is like to live in either of their lives right now.  But I can be present, lend a hand or a shoulder or a few bucks, and try to make the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do a little easier.

Dear Pat

Dear Pat,

I was very sorry to hear of your mother’s passing.  It is such a profound thing, to lose your mother.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re twenty or sixty; it is always hard, always difficult and especially so when you share your home and your lives with each other.  I hope that you are able to move forward through the holidays without too much sadness.

I wanted to reach out to you to also let you know that my son was very saddened by your mother’s passing.  He called to tell me about it after receiving your emails.   It is not often that my son cries, but your mother’s death brought him to tears.  He told me that he was so sad that he didn’t get to know her better and that he wished that there had been more of a relationship between the two of them.  He thought she was very kind and was grateful for the opportunity to have met her several years ago.

We had several very honest (more frank than he has ever been with me) conversations about your family in the days after her passing.  I think that your mother’s passing brought into very sharp focus for him that he does want to know more of your family.  Despite how full his life is and despite the many people who love him, he feels that your family is part of who he is.  And as is I suppose very natural for a young man of his age, he wants to explore all of the facets of who he is.  But I believe he is afraid to ask for any more communication than what he currently has, for fear of losing what he has now, which he values very much.  He does not know I am sending this note and didn’t ask me to do it. I hope you can understand and are not upset; I certainly do not mean to add to your stress right now in any way.

He told me very plainly that he worries that the chances to know your family are slipping away each day.  That the someday he always thought he had to slowly build relationships might be taken away suddenly, without warning.  His sadness was still evident when we travelled to Pittsburgh to share Thanksgiving with him a week ago; even my father and husband noticed that Zachary did not seem himself.  It is heartbreaking to watch, and I just wish things were different for him.

I was truly sorry to hear about your mother, and sorry that you are having to go through the loss of a second parent, especially at this time of year.  I wish you much peace and will keep you and yours in my prayers.

Take care.

 

*I sent this email in early December, 2010, after finding Z terribly distracted and quiet during our Thanksgiving visit to him at school.  She never responded to me.  I do know she still keeps in touch with my son, but he has not mentioned the possibility of getting to know anyone else in the family.

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