Happy New Year. I’m still recovering from a holiday hangover, with activities ranging from three trips to NY (South Pacific, a visit to the Intrepid Museum with my nephew who’s proudly serving in the Air Force, and two wonderful exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) to Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg to catching up on this year’s crop of award nominated films.
My sole resolution this year is “no drama,” from anyone, about anything, including myself. In a first-day-of-the-year e-mail to Lorraine I wrote, “I just want to turn it [adoption and everything connected with it] all off. My situation [my daughter’s almost four-year silence] isn't going to change; I just need to imagine it was all a figment of my imagination, every bit of it. Really, I've had enough...the heartache, the guilt, the wrecked relationships, the woulda/coulda/shouldas. The whole legal fight for open records, people outside the triad telling us how we should be (get on with our lives)...
For me, probably for most of us, trying to avoid all things adoption is like trying to not breathe, as evidenced in the following examples.
• My niece and nephew, now 25 and 22, respectively, indulged their offbeat aunt by joining me for a visit to the recently refurbished Intrepid Sea-Air Space Museum; my nephew’s currently stationed in Germany and his insider’s view added to the experience. Now I can say I’ve been on the Concorde. Afterwards I treated them to brunch at a chic, new midtown restaurant/lounge designed to resemble an Aspen ski lodge. As we ate our tapas my nephew was discussing his five year plan—his upcoming wedding to his high school sweetheart, perhaps reenlisting, two children, and perhaps a third by adoption. He was sitting directly across the table from me, and I must have had a stricken look on my face. He explained that even though I have a horror story (his words, not mine) there are still plenty of kids who need loving, stable homes. And oh, he wouldn’t adopt a kid from Russia. As long as he was financially and emotionally able to provide a home for a child in need, why shouldn’t he? I couldn’t argue with that, and told him so. When I shared the conversation with his mother she was just as surprised as I.
• One of my holiday traditions is to read all my cards from past Christmases—I note the people who are no longer here, friends with whom I’ve lost touch, the relationships I still manage to retain. I found a 2002 card from a former coworker, a man in his thirties at the time, who found his birthmother when he was 19. The card is something a child would give to an adult, a mama bear helping a little bear put on his coat before heading out into the snow. It reads, "You're just like a MOM to me...'Cause you're sure good at doing mom stuff! Merry Christmas! Love You!”
Michael and I bonded when I asked about a photo of a very handsome young man in his football uniform that was hanging on his cubicle wall. It was his biological father, who was killed in a car accident shortly after Michael was relinquished. I believe his mother was a cheerleader who eventually married, had three daughters, and divorced. At the time I knew him the relationship was very shaky; he wasn’t speaking with his mother. He so desperately wanted to be a part of his mother’s “other family” but he was treated like an outsider; for instance, the girls had a professional family portrait taken for Mother's Day and didn't include him. Somehow he learned that his original birth certificate reads "Baby Boy whatever-the-last name-was" and it hurt him deeply that his mother didn't even give him a name.
My relationship with my daughter was almost three years old then and we weren’t in a good place. Michael and I were one another’s support group...he wished for a birthmother like me, I wished for a reunited child who cared as much as he did. Sadly, but understandably, we lost touch.
• Next was the Op-Ed piece in Friday’s New York Times that Lorraine discussed in the previous blog. I was on my way to catch the train to New York so I just scanned it, but on my first read I thought it was brilliantly written, and made a mental note to read her new novel. But then I discussed it with Lorraine and…well, the previous blog comments say enough on the topic.
• Did you catch 20/20 Friday night? The program was devoted to Extreme Motherhood—women experiencing orgasms rather than pain during labor, mothers nursing their children till age six or seven, two women who have been surrogates multiple times for $25,000-$30,000 a pregnancy, and my personal favorite, women who covet “Reborns,” lifelike baby dolls that they treat like real infants and cost anywhere from a few hundred to $1400 dollars. And oh, you can get them made to order. Linda, a married but childless 49-year-old woman, took her doll for walks in a stroller, had a fully furnished nursery, would shop at baby boutiques for clothes, and even changed the doll’s diaper. When asked if she considered adopting a child, Linda responded, “It’s very expensive…you have to fly to Russia.” Um, no Linda, you don’t need to travel all the way to Russia to adopt a child. I’ll refrain from further comment except to say that I thought I’d heard it all until I watched this show.
• My husband couldn’t understand why I wanted to watch this program, but I couldn’t tear myself away from it. It actually dove-tailed perfectly with the collection I explored that afternoon at the Met, Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. Now, why couldn't I have been a descendent of a wealthy Venetian or Florentine merchant rather than humble Neapolitan peasant stock? The exhibit depicted romantic relationships from courtship and engagement to the magnificently furnished marriage chamber to the celebration of childbirth--gifts to the betrothed, the dowry (which of course still exists today, especially in Third World countries as well as our own culture) the elaborate wedding gifts, all very symbolic and beautiful. And I was thinking how I missed all that...no engagement, no diamond ring, no hope chest. My "dowry" from my father was a set of Farberware pots and pans. He didn't finance any of his daughter's weddings, never offered, and he certainly didn’t have the means. And I was thinking there's a rhyme and reason to all of this ritual; it keeps us...on track? In tune? It signifies the importance of friends and family, of connection and belonging. The ornate, finely detailed commemorative birth plates were simply breathtaking. My standard gifts to new babies are plate sets and pewter porridgers, they’re something the kid will use and perhaps save as a keepsake, but most modern mothers who’ve received them don’t seem to share my sentiment. Coming of age in the feminist movement, I admit I wasn't fond of the modern tradition of engagement party followed by bridal shower and wedding gifts chosen from a registry; if couples didn't set up housekeeping until after marriage, then I could see it.
There were other moments, but I’ve blogged enough already. My latest adoption-is-everywhere moment occurred this morning while reading The Times Magazine and comes from Joan Rivers, of all people. In an interview, Joan is asked, “And how is your daughter, Melissa?” She replies, “For a mother and daughter we’re amazing. The only time she really cried is when I sat her down and told her that she was not adopted.”
Now I know Joan didn’t mean it, and I know it’s just a joke. But I didn’t laugh. There’s nothing funny about it. If you disagree, please do share.
So much for being able to turn it off, eh?
Late afternoon postscript: My sister, who has occasional contact with my daughter, phoned this afternoon. I gave her an inch and as usual she took a mile, i.e., she provided an unsolicited daughter update. Yes, my daughter received my Christmas card, followed by a chuckle that wasn’t explained. I was simultaneously preparing dinner and cleaning out my closet so I was only half-listening, but I did catch “She doesn’t think of us as her family” and repeated the mantra my daughter has often shared with my sister, “Linda didn’t give me to [her adoptive parents], United Family [the adoption agency] did.” Then I heard, “And if you only made a phone call that time all of this would be behind you,” again a comment from my daughter via my sister. I really have no idea why I was supposed to call or when, but more importantly, I didn’t let it—or them—get to me.
Actually, not being considered family felt liberating; I’m free of guilt; my penance is complete—for now. Best of all, my No Drama resolution was tested and I stood firm, at least on this fourth day of what is sure to be an interesting, surprising year.