hard learned lessons  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

If you have read previous posts here, you know it has been an eventful time for us. So many walls were torn down, mysteries solved and demons faced and conquered. I truly believed that our family, all of them, adopted and biological, were on the tail end of a long adoption journey. We had went from strangers to family. It took a long time, but once the ball started rolling, it rolled at warp speed.

I had a phone conversation with my parents the other night. Mom called just for the reason to tell me how much she and Dad enjoyed meeting Lori and my brothers. She thanked me for allowing them to be a part of it all. But mostly to express how relieved and happy they were that this finally took happened. I was on cloud nine, she spoke of future visits, including meeting my biological father Jim.

Overjoyed with how positive this experience was for all of us, I called my sister. I wanted to share with her what Mom had said and catch up with her. She had her final surgery connected with her cancer and was on the mend.
The talk was filled with memories of our childhood, my issues as a teen, my new found peace with just being me and the huge impact 2008 had on all of us.

As we wandered down memory lane, sister said something to me that struck me like a sharp blow to the head. She said we should be 'grateful' for our life. Any adoptee knows what this word evokes. Not that I am NOT grateful, trust me I am. I had a great life, Mom and Dad gave us more as kids than most will see their whole life. I took this opportunity and new found open door policy that we seem to have utilized and stopped her. I told her I was grateful...but no more than she was. I think I lost her for a few moments, but I wanted her to understand, I needed her to understand.
I began to tell her how I had heard these words my whole life. Perfect strangers telling me I 'should be' grateful. Grown adults looking at me with expectant eyes informing me how 'lucky' I was for not being aborted. I left it at those few things. I could hear in her voice that she did not like the idea of someone saying such things. She really seemed to understand that-yes I should be grateful, just as much as she was. Not for my adoption, just for having good, solid parents that loved us. Both of us, equally and individually.

This opened the conversation to things that I don't think she was prepared for. But like I said, I needed her to know. I could not let her continue through life thinking our adoption story was the way all adoption stories were. Because its not the norm, I am an rarity in the adoption world.
I preached on and on about abusive adoptive parents, rejection by both adopted and biological parents, lies told by agencies and just some really horror stories of people I have come into contact with over the years.

She was appalled. She was shocked. She was hurting for those whom did not escape as easily as I did. She was sickened by the processes and procedures that were practiced in the real world, right under our noses, not just some foreign place a million miles away.
She quietly asked me why they always thought Lori was a 12-13 year old runaway with a serious drug habit. I told her why we thought that....MOM AND DAD WERE TOLD THAT. The agency lied to them. They lied to Lori. And we were not the only ones. It had been going on for years, decades.

Overall, our adoption was tame. The lies were minimal and it all worked out in the end. But others.....oh the others that live every day with the pain.

Sister was intrigued by the stories that poured out of my mouth. I gave her this blog. I have never told her before that Lori and I had this. This was ours and only ours. But she should know. I gave her the website address to the site Lori and I are members of. It is commited to adoptees and anyone involved in the 'triad'.
I want her to see. I want her to know and understand.
I told her about the protest coming up this year in Philly and about last years protest in New Orleans. She was interested. She feels this is something we should fight for.

I think she gets it, more than she did before. The puzzle pieces just keep dropping.

My family is making more of an effort to see what I came from and what I experienced. They are more open than ever to hearing the stories and they are receptive to what adoptees are doing to change things. I feel its finally sinking in that I am not out to replace them, I am just out to find out where I came from and who I am. No one will ever replace them in my life. But there is room for everyone, and they can see that now.

I will talk more to sister another day. She is extremely intelligent and respected. Maybe if she learns more, she will pass along her knowledge to someone else. Then maybe they will pass that along. Its a small thing, but a start.

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And it doesn't end there  

Amidst all the meetings, greetings, how have you been's, something else happened. Something that had been said in the past but I thought was out of sheer politeness.

When we were in the bar waiting for Jim to show up, Greg, Jim's sister's husband, who's house we invaded when Rach met Jim, his mother and one of his sisters for the first time, grabbed my arm and told me that I was being silly. I told him I was trying to put some space between myself and Rach's reunion. He insisted that I was already told that no matter what, I was now family and so were my boys. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I went from little to no contact with my own family, to trying to invision a get together that would include Jim, (who I adore) his tribe, (because there are a lot of them) my husband, his daughter, my boys, their father, (who is one of my dearest friends) and Rach's parents, sister, and all associated with them. I have no idea if it's possible to get all those people together, but it's fun trying to imagine it. At least I have faces to play with, and it's all made possible through the "other people" in my illigitimate children's lives. "My family" may want little to do with me, but my family has grown exponentially through the other people in my childrens lives. Rachael says I have every right to thumb my nose, as it was my illigitimate children, my insistance that we would meet again, and my relationships with their fathers, that set me apart from those who were supposed to love me unconditionally.

If it never happens it will be okay. It's enough to know that I am accepted and included.

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I'm on the rouster  

I have needed time to process all of the things that happened during my first ever sleep over type visit with my daughter. There wasn't one piece of it that I would have traded for anything in the world. We spent our first new years together. No big gushy hugs or kisses, mostly watching the younger kids throw crap all over the house. You call it confetti, I call it a mess that needs to be cleaned. Don't get me wrong, I'm a slob. My house could be way cleaner. But the amount of confetti that was being thrown and the places it was getting into just made me shake my head. I did enjoy the fact that Rachael didn't bat an eye over it. She just let them fly and when it was over the broom came out and it was cleaned up. One of the many conveniences of hard wood floors.

The older kids came home shit faced. I thought that was pretty funny. They were only gone for 3 hours and two of them could barely walk. They did the right thing though, they called and Rach went and got them. The buckets and towels arranged strategical next to the sleeping arrangements with a wet wash cloth hung on the side was a sight to behold. Rach put her brother down on the couch and tied his long tresses back to make it easier for him to utilize the bucket. I started to get up off the couch to take over since it was my responsibility to tend my drunken son, and I immediately sat back down. I figured it was nothing less than a pleasure for her to tend her baby bro after all these years. She got his settled and I arranged the towel with the bucket and wash rag. After a good vomit there is nothing like a cool rag to either wipe the mouth or the forehead.

My grand daughter was being tended to by her boyfriend up stairs. No worries there, he is a fine young man very capable of handling my sometimes over bearing grand daughter and that in it self was a treat to see. Two down two to go.

We went into the kitchen with the remaining two who were still on their feet. the fun never stops with intoxicated teens around. I learned so much that night. My other son's aversion to the room spinning is to spin himself. So on his toes (which is natural for him, he lives on his toes) he spins like a ballerina or his mother on the dance floor in her younger and drunken years. I was very afraid he was going to land on his face. We already have one kid with a permanent bonded tooth, no need for them both to have one. When he finally wound down and got ready for the other couch where his bucket, towel and wash cloth await, he had the sense to pull his own hair back and pony tail it. Not long after being in the horizontal position, he started to utilize his bucket. Instead of leaning over the edge of the couch like his brother who couldn't move if he wanted to, this one gets off the couch, on his hands and knees and actually starts spinning in circles from the waist up around the top of the bucket. Too bad we didn't have the sense to film it as he denied it the next day. All in all it was an awesome time. Family at it's finest. Sharing and caring for one another in a way that only people who really love you will. The next day was less fun but still good entertainment. Watching a hang over is much better than feeling a hang over. At least it was for me. It took most of the day for the really wasted two to get up and moving. Poor T, hung over as he was, there was still no escaping the throws of being an uncle. He was hung on, tugged at, hair pulled, loud in your face children everywhere and it was probably killing him. D got the dogs. He went to bed with them, and spent most of the day with them as they too would not leave him alone. Too much entertainment for me. I was loving every bit of it.

The grand daughter awakes, looking like someone who was shot at and missed, shit at and hit. My heart over flows with excitement. I can't wait to watch her struggle through the day. Needless to say it was a slow moving, less than quite, aspirin filled afternoon and evening. The dead awake after 5pm.

When we got home, I had little time to reflect, there were things to do around the house, things to take care of with friends, pictures to select for an audition, and colleges to finish up applying for. As wonderful as it was, the visit with Rachael's sister, her parents, the seeing where she was for so many years and how safe she was, the finally laying eyes upon the people who took my daughter in as their own. I still felt something was missing. I actually felt guilty about it.

A week had passed and not a word about how her parents felt after the meeting. Nothing from her sister passed on through Rach about how it made her feel to sit in the same room with the mystery woman who was 13, on drugs, a run away, and clueless as to who she had slept with all those years ago, compliments of the agency we used. I don't know why I expected more, I just did. It was so monumental for me. I was hoping the feeling was the same for them, but it seemed that it was exciting at the time and now it's over. No fan fair, no big revelations, nothing. I was expecting more and trying to tell myself not to be disappointed. Maybe it was that they needed to keep their distance. Maybe I was still capable of taking something from them and they needed to keep some of their guard up. Maybe I just didn't want it to end and it had.

Then it came. Rach called me last night and had finally gotten a hold of her sister and her parents. Her parents called to thank her for "allowing them" to be a part of her reunion. There it was, the thing I had been expecting and thought wasn't going to happen. The thing I thought I was the only one feeling. It had affected them. They feel the same thing I do, a connection, a link, an answer to the mystery of why their (our) daughter thinks and acts the way she does. The inner working of what makes her tick. They saw it, and it made sense, for the first time in 36 years. Just like I saw where she resided, how farming was a big part of who she was. How could I understand that? I have no connection to farming what so ever (growing pot maybe). But in her family, farming is everything. It is the profession that makes all other professions possible. It is the pride of who they are as a whole.

Her sister told her that Rachael seems more at peace than ever before. It was visibly noticeable. Rach agreed. No more secrets, imagination putting faces to that which we had not known, trying to piece together stories without actual puzzle pieces. And best of all no more silent panic attacks. No one has to worry any more. We met face to face and no one died.

Now the evolution of phone numbers. Rach's sister talked to her parents and agreed that it is important that they have my phone number. In all actuality it makes sense. They will know long before I, if something were to happen to Rach. I know Rach's husband would let me know as soon as possible, but what if; what if something happened to both of them. Funny how that happens. Her whole life thus far has gone by with never a thought of me being on the roster of contacts, and now after one meeting my name and number are being requested. That's something I never expected or even thought about to be honest. I had once hoped that we would one day meet. I gave up. I wanted it, but felt that it would not be a realization. Now I'm on the roster.

How unbelievable awesome is that?

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 was a year like no other for me. I learned more from the last 12 months than I have in my entire 36 years.

The year started off with a blazing vengeance. I prayed the adage "in like a lion, out like a lamb" was true. My husband and I were in financial ruin, like so many other American families. Our children were going without, our house was in the process of foreclosure, the cars were set for repossession. Food was becoming more and more of a struggle to provide and to add insult to injury, our company that both of us were employed by was going through a very nasty contract with a new company that bought us. It appeared that it was going to close the doors, like so many others had.

Later in the spring my best and dearest friend lost his older sister. She was the glue of the family. His mother passed when he was a very young teen and his father followed only a couple of years later. She was the one that stepped in and filled the shoes of head of household. To see him so broken was hard on me. I had nothing but hugs and tender loving words and it just didn't feel to be enough. I held this hulking man as he sobbed on my shoulder. My heart wept with him.

Other things have happened over the early months, but they all shadow in comparison to the news my sister delivered to me over the phone one normal day. She called to tell me she was having some tests, she had found a lump during a routine mammogram. Nothing to worry about. Our mom had some similar things in the past.
I put it out of my mind, after all, my sister was a good person. She always played by the rules, no way would she be the one to be struck with such an awful disease.

It was a few days later when she called again, this time her voice was somber. She had the results, and it was cancer.
The big 'C' word. My sister. The one that took care of herself, never did drugs or drank. Ate healthy and watched her salt intake. She was sick. Her body was eating itself. I stood there in total silence, listening to her voice like it was coming through a tunnel.
"don't worry, it's gonna be FINE. I have more tests next week....." I honestly don't know what she said after that. My mind was reeling, my heart was racing, I could hear the blood whoosh in my ears.
The cancer was very aggressive and spread extremely fast. Within a month it was infecting the tissue all around. Within 2 months it had eaten into her pectoral muscle and consumed lymph nodes in the armpit area. It was eating her faster than they could work to get the surgery set up.

After surgery, chemo, radiation and one more surgery, she is cancer free. But the toll it took is still very alive and well. I cry at the drop of a hat when the conversation comes up. Not out of fear, but relief. I know how close I came to losing her.

Summer came and with it came a nasty bankruptcy that left us with nothing. I watched them take my cars away on wreckers and felt the panic set in. I read the letters stating how long I had to be out of my house and my insides turned to a whirlpool of bubbling acid. I had no idea where I would take my family. With 5 kids the places to rent were limited and the cost per month were more than we were paying on our mortgage. I had almost lost hope, but I am a swimmer. There are 2 kinds of people in the world....ones that sink and ones that swim. Thanks to my genetics, I was born to be a swimmer.
Husband and I put together a plan. We would tap out our retirement savings and see if we could capitalize on someone elses misfortune. We filed the paperwork and called a real estate agent. Surprisingly, there were several houses we looked at. We were still unsure how we would fund the payments, but we were determined to do this with a large down payment.
Then the market dipped. We lost a few hundred dollars but pushed even harder to get it all done. The paperwork was finalized and signed the day before the market actually crashed. We made it under the wire by less than 24 hours.

We thought that this was an omen, a small stroke of luck in our favor for once, until my husband lost his job.
Now the house was paid off completely with our savings. So we will always have a roof over our heads, but it was closing in on Christmas time and the task of feeding 8 (we 'picked one up' along the way) was daunting for me. One income for that many is a real struggle.

The year was coming to a close, the kids had a slim Christmas, but they were happy. Lori and my brothers came to visit a few days after the holiday and stayed for several days.
We laughed, shared mirrors, visited her family and my family....it was one event after another. All of them positive. The first meeting with my parents and Lori was a huge success. My sister thoroughly enjoyed her time telling stories of my brattiness. My sister in law also came to stay a night and I got to hug, kiss and just plain out harass my younger brothers.

On New Years Eve, we sat and watched the ball drop, ending one of the most emotional journeys of my life. My kids threw stringy paper confetti in the room until it looked like a thick blanket of snow. Everyone had it plastered in their hair and clothing. Dick Clark droned from the tv, and I sat and took it all in. I didn't parade around screaming, I didn't toast the new year in a drunken haze. I didn't feel the flutter of anticipation in my stomach.

I just took it all in. I felt a calm, serene aura come over me.

No the year itself did not go out like a lamb. It was filled with emotional roller coaster rides. It was hectic and explosive. It was riddled with anticipations and worries, first times and good times. It was loud, messy and covered in paper snow.

And I have never felt so at peace in my life.

I learned how impotent my family is. Be them blood or not is unimportant. I love them with the same fierceness. I learned that just having them there is a blessing within itself. I learned that even if people are timid on the surface, their spirit and fight can not be underestimated when dire times stares them in the eye. I learned how much I was loved.
That was a big one for me. I knew people loved me. But I never realized just how much. To see both sides of my family come together was very healing. To hear the words my biological father had to say to me solidified my place in his world. To have my brothers just reach out to me for a hug or put their arm around me just because I happen to be walking past. To know my husband is willing to open his house and heart to all my family. To see my children's faces light up when any of their grandparents enter the room. To sit on the couch with Lori and just be with her.
To see my sister and finally, after all these years be able to tell her I love her.

To not feel alone or like a visitor in my own home any more.

As I reflect back....I would not trade 2008 for the world. It gave me hope, purpose and the drive to do the things I didn't think I had the courage to do.

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Met The Parent  

Saturday, January 3, 2009

It was as nerve wracking as meeting my daughter for the first time.

After spending the day surprise visiting everyone else and meeting Rachael's sister the day before, I was ill prepared for the phone call from her mother asking when we were coming to meet them. I had not given it much thought since Rachael said that it probably wasn't going to happen this trip. I very quickly put it out of my mind.

Once confronted with the idea I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity. So I made a call home and said we would be staying one more day. I was fine until Rachael said "okay turn in the driveway here " my instant reaction was "no I'm not ready." I felt sick to my stomach. Rachael laughed a bit and said "oh well ready or not were here."

We went inside and I could feel the tension in the air, so as Rachael and her parents small talked about the cold temperatures out side, I reached over and grabbed her mothers hand. She immediately said"oh you are cold" and I responded by saying "no I just want to touch you". It broke the ice. As I reached for her fathers hand to do the same thing he instead hugged me. I immediately tuned to her mother and said I want to hug you too.

After a brief hug we moved into the living room where we were given the grand tour of the house my daughter grew up in. It is a beautiful home, with lots of room inside and out. I tried to visualize her running in the house on an ordinary day, getting ready for school functions in that spacious bathroom, hanging in the family room with the pool table and fire place, playing in the ditch that runs between the back and the side of the house. I tried to imagine the pool now long gone an her having fun with friends in the back yard.

We sat on the couch with the kids across from us on the floor looking at pictures of her relatives. There were few pics of Rachael but a few. Her sister has them. She is putting a book together for me. Her dad told us a story about the pastor who told him that he and his wife needed to have another child so her sister wouldn't be alone. Her dad's words were "well if you can find one for us to adopt I will do just that." After filling out the necessary paperwork they had no idea that nine months almost to the day, they would be getting a call stating that they had a girl available and wanted to know if her parents would like to adopt her.

How weird the puzzle pieces fit together. As we left we hugged again and her mother told me that she had wondered for a long time about me. I assured her that I had wondered too. Her eyes lit up as she said "oh I imagine you did" It was a good trip, a great time, and another piece of the puzzle put in it's place. Rachael claims to be lucky for good reason. Her parents are wonderful people, who not only accepted a child as their own but actually wondered about the mother and father of that child over the years. Something I did not expect to hear.

I am feeling pretty lucky myself today. After all the heart ache I went through, its a blessing to know that my daughter got a good home with strong parents who withstood everything she put them through. (which I apologized for upon hearing) She was and still is a strong willed person. Something they were not prepared for but handled. And I can finally put together in my minds eye a real picture of her lfe.

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A long overdue visit  

Friday, January 2, 2009

This last week has been nothing short of amazing for me. I have been on a high like I have never felt before.
This was the week that Lori and my brothers came to visit. Our first time ever spending more than just a few hours together.

It was something I have wanted for many years, but never seemed to work out for us. Finally, the stars fell in line and she was here. I know many people never think twice about spending the night with thier mothers. It is a normal occurance. One they have done hundreds of times. But to an adoptee....its different. She has been a part of my life for years, but the visits were always brief. A few hours here and there. This time...this time it was all ours.

Every night was stayed up until at least 3am. We simply could not bring ourselves to part ways and go to sleep. We wanted the days to never end. Several nights it was well past 5am before we both gave in and slept.

As great as it was to have her, it shadowed in comparison to the events that unfolded during the week. Some of THE most phenominal things happened.

First we planned one day to head to Detroit to do some surprise visits on other family members. No one knew we were coming, it was literally a drop in and say hi trip.
The first stop was to Lori's mom. My bio grandma. She was not expecting company, she had been feeling under the weather, but was gracious and posed for the mountain of pictures I wanted. It was actually a nice visit.
After an hour or so there, we hit the road again. Next stop....the boys dad. He also was shocked to see us. He rushed to get himself around and we all headed to the local burgar joint for a quick burger. My daughter and I sat at an adjoining table, so they would have some time alone. To catch up.
It made me so happy to see them with him. It had also been a long time for them.

After aproxmately an hour with him, we hit the road again. Last stop...MY FATHER.
We went to the bar that he works at, and of course, he had left for the day. So we did bathroom breaks and were heading out the door when Lori caught a familar face at the far corner of the bar. It was Jim's brother in law. My 'uncle' Greg. We all headed over. He was confused at first, then you could see it set in. He knew me. A smile like the breaking sun settled on his face. I introduced him to his great niece. We all chuckled about that.
He gets right on the phone and calls Jim. He tells him there is a group of people looking for him at the bar. He hands the phone to me. I tell him his favorite daughter was looking for him. ((I am his only child. Its kind of an on going joke with us))
The shock in his voice was evident. "I'M ON MY WAY. BE THERE IN 15 MINUTES. DON'T MOVE!!!"
The wait seemed to take forever. Other people were picking on Greg about having a harem, or flirting. He yells back "hey, I'm talking to my NIECE leave me alone!!"
The man shot him a smirk that read..."sure, pfffttt...niece"

Finally Jim arrived. I introduced him to my brothers, then reached for my daughters hand. "and THIS....is your grand-daughter"
He froze. Pure terror came accross his face. You could almost smell it on his skin. He is a simple man. He has made his life based on him being alone. His life is his work. Now he was not only facing the daughter he hadn't known for 35 years, but he was looking in the eyes of the next generation of his family. Not a niece or nephew...A GRAND-CHILD. It was their first face to face (heck, it was only our second)
After several seconds of paralisis, he grabbed her and hugged her tight to him. Quite a moment for all of us.
He and I wandered off for just a few moments. To catch up. We walked by the man that was harassing Greg, Jim stopped and introduced me. "Mike...this is my daughter"
The man had been grinning ear to ear. He was giddy from the ribbing he had issued to Greg. He never lost his smile-but you could see the total confusion behind his eyes. His wife shook my hand and welcomed me warmly. Poor Mike though....he was speechless. I smiled as broadly as I could and said "see, when Greg said he was talking to his neice, he wasn't lying."

Poor Mike. I wonder how long it took for it to fully sink in what Jim has said.

We had a great time. He promised to visit this summer. I told him I would hold him to that promise. My parents want to meet him. I want to give them that. Its a small thing to ask in my eyes.

As we drove home the mood in the van was explosive. Everyone was on cloud nine. The music was blaring. Everyone was laughing. We couldn't stop giggling. Absolutely on an emotional high, ALL of us. Lori even celebrated with a cigar!!
We get home and hubby and the rest of the kids follow soon after. All of us were hungry, starving in fact. So we started to prepare a very very late dinner.

Then the phone rang.
I answered.
It was my amom.
She wanted us to come over the following day. So they could meet Lori and the boys.

My head was swimming. I can't say for sure that I was even making complete sentences. I stammered and stuttered over myself. Continually asking "are you SURE Mom? Are you ready for this?"
She was adament, she wanted to see them, talk to them. Lori was set to leave the following morning. But a quick phone call home...and she was staying another night. I was estastic.
I think she was petrified.

The next morning came and we scrambled to eat, shower and get around. Then it was on the path to Mom and Dad. Earlier in the week, my sister had come to meet Lori. It was a wonderful visit. They sat and talked, told some stories, were just there together. I didn't even have to start the conversation. They took to one another instantly.
When my sister got home, she had called our parents and (I think) told them she was a pleasant and NORMAL person. This gave them the courage to push for a meeting with them too.

We walked in the door and they were right there waiting for us. I made the necessary introductions, and then Lori took the lead. She simply walked up to them and took their hands. She stated very simply "I just want to touch you"
My parents hugged her. Not a formal, expected hug. A real, warm and welcoming hug. I honestly don't have the words to make any of you understand. Surreal is as close as I can come.
We moved to the couch and looked at some old pics. My dad pointed out all his brothers and sisters, same with Mom's family. Of all things....MY DAD DIDN'T SHUT UP THE WHOLE TIME. He is a very quiet man. Never speaks unless he really has something to say. And he must have had alot to say.

We left with Lori not only getting an extended hug from my Dad, but an open invite to come back. Mom was so gracious, I mouthed the words 'thank you' to her and my eyes began to well up. She shooshed me quietly and told me it was all ok. I deserved this.

Every adoptee dreams of meeting thier biological links. Siblings, parents, whomever. Even if it is a brief, fleeting moment. Everyone has it. I have had the opportunity to not only meet, but develop a solid relationship with mine. Now, I have been given the chance to incorporate my blood relatives with my regular family. It is an amazing mix of emotions. It brings together the most sacred of things for me. Family.

I am the luckiest girl on earth. I thank all my parents. Each and everyone one of them are working their hardest to bring my life together for me. There is literally not another thing I could ever ask for.

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