' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: A first mother brings her daughter 'home' to meet 'Grandma'

Friday, April 26, 2013

A first mother brings her daughter 'home' to meet 'Grandma'

Following is an excerpt from Hole In My Heart, my memoir in progress. Right now I have little time to pay attention to other events and so I thought I'd share snippets of it with you over the next week or so. The following is about the second time I see my daughter. The first had been at her home with her parents in Wisconsin. She was fifteen at the time. Her parents' name has been changed.--lorraine

Copyright Lorraine Dusky 2013. May not be copied or quoted.

Three weeks later, Jane flies to Detroit the day after Christmas to meet my mother and my husband. Jane, bubbling with excitement—her first airplane flight! an adventure of her own!—glides through the gate beaming. Since this
was before 9/11, Tony, my mother and I were there at the gate, and this time, she hugs me enthusiastically, and embraces her “new” grandmother too. All three of us are within an inch of each other’s height, same coloring, similar hair. No mistaking who the three of us are that day.

I notice a guy standing a bit to the side, lingering a bit, watching. Jane flashes a big grin and waves, turns to me and says: “I sat next to him and told him the whole story.” I nod; he smiles and moves on. A chance encounter, a whole universe he’s probably never thought about acknowledged between strangers.

That night, Jane sleeps on my mother’s couch in her apartment; Tony and I take a room at a nearby inn. This way Jane will have the opportunity to get to know my mother a bit without anyone’s intrusion, including ours, and we’ll be there right after coffee anyway. Jane is a good sport and has no qualms about this arrangement. There is no hockey helmet on this trip; no one here knew her as that girl in the LD (learning disabled) class—and wait til she tells the kids at school! No wait, they already know! She’d already done a book report on Birthmark right, and told the teacher and anybody within earshot that the book was about her, the writer was her mother. Her birth mother. The teacher was doubtful, but the Zimmermans clear that up. Yes, she is that girl. 

The motel my parents owned when I was in high school
The next day we drive by the red-brick bungalow my father built when I was five on Calhoun Street in Dearborn. We were living only a half block away down the same street—but across a side street—and Mom let me walk down to the construction site myself, a big deal. Once there, Dad always gave me a job, undoubtedly to keep me out of his and harm’s way. I was to pick up the nails that had dropped out of the carpenters’ aprons—only the straight ones, only the ones we can use, he said. It made me feel as if I were making a big contribution to the whole business. Saving money by not wasting nails! That vision of me—searching for nails, proudly handing them over to Daddy, his thanking me for a job well down—hits me like a fresh wind every time I drive by the house, even now. We do a few other drive-bys of places that meant something to me, my grade school, the motel my parents bought when I was fourteen, the house we lived in after we sold the motel—and while I’m living an old movie reel of my life, Jane and Tony joking around. They only see ordinary structures; I see my past. 

That day after that, Sunday, is the only day that my relatives would have had to meet Tony (most had not come East to our wedding in September) as well as Jane, and so into the smallish living room troop more than a dozen assorted relatives—my two brothers, Richard and Tom; Uncle Stanley, who had been a radio operator living behind enemy lines during World War II, and his wife, Sylvia; my cousin Beverly; assorted nieces and nephews—Jane's cousins. Relatives. Meeting Grandma was one thing, but all these other people—probably a dozen total—these strangers who are presumably related to her?

Tony to the rescue. He sits side-by-side with her on the couch, making sly remarks about the passing parade to put her at ease, while I chat with relatives, pass around the cheeses and cookies and cakes, introduce them to Jane and Tony, careful to say, This is Jane, not, This is my daughter.

Adoptees say this kind of reunion experience is overwhelming and uncomfortable—they don’t feel like a member of the new family, they already have a family, thank you very much, they feel like they are on display. In truth, they are, just as much as a relative recently returned from India with a new Indian bride would be—but Jane, with Tony’s help, takes it in stride. And that day, fortunately, everybody was checking out Tony too, deflecting some of the attention from her. My family sees her as a full member of the clan, even if she had been missing. Later Jane tells me that the only thing that made her uncomfortable was when someone refers to me as “your mom.” Mom is back in Wisconsin.

Renaissance Center, Detroit
The Summit restaurant was at the top of the center tower
That evening, Tony, Jane and I head out to the revolving restaurant on the top of the downtown Renaissance Center, then the crown jewel of the Detroit riverfront and GM’s gleaming new headquarters. Detroit might not have been the glorious Motor City of my youth—the automobile industry is already going down the tubes, Detroit had been through the riots of the Sixties and parts of the downtown had never recovered—but any big city from high enough above still provides a twinkling panorama at night.

To Jane, it must be simply a big city, to me it was familiar, home. See the Christmas tree in Cadillac Square down there? That’s where I used to go Christmas shopping with my mother, the bus from Dearborn stops near there. See that cool white building over there, with the structure on top that looks like a big wedding cake? That’s designed by a famous architect named Yamasaki, dates used to take me there to a restaurant on the top floor when I was in college—the bathrooms have windows in the powder room down to the floor, it’s kinda freaky because you’re so high up, maybe we’ll have a chance to go there. And the lights on the other side of the river? That’s Canada—yes, really it is, a town called Windsor. When Jane stares out the window, I look at her: My daughter. My daughter, my daughter is here. Have you ever tried escargot? What is that? Snails? Yuk. Okay, steak and potatoes it is with lots of butter. I’m from Wisconsin, the Dairy State, remember? she says. How could I forget? I joke back. I’m still a sucker for revolving restaurants on top of sky scrapers, and it turns out, so is she, as she discovers that night. We both love heights and revolving restaurants, no matter how corny they seem to the unknowing.

That morning we had all gone to Mass at my old parish, Sacred Heart, and where my mother still worshipped. Here is my daughter, Lord, here is a good husband, Lord, here is my mother, and the memory of Christmas past when I didn’t know where she was and I forced down the tears during  Silent Night whizz by in a flashback. Now I hear Tony singing in his deep bass, Mother on key, Jane and me decidedly off. Neither one of us can keep a tune more than four notes, and noticing that gives me a squirt of pleasure. Whether or not I believed in the Catholic God of my youth was not open for discussion that day as my heart repeated: Thank you God. Thank you for giving me my daughter. Yes, of course, I knew that soon she would fly back to her other life, another mother, another family, in another state, and I would go back East. But now I know her. 

It is the Sunday after Christmas, but in my mind it is the first Christmas since I found her. From now on, everything will be counted as before, or after, I found my daughter.

(I will try to find some photographs from that visit but I don't remember taking any, oddly enough--stupid, right?) 


  1. I really identified with this post and your daughter being accepted immediately by her clan . Oh -those heady days ! Wow , what a difference 12 years makes to those days . My daughter and i stil have contact , we were subject her brother and i , to no contact at all for 4years . She is getting married this summer and so far we are going to her wedding . This forum has been really educational , isn't technology wonderful.

  2. Oh weddings--Tony and I and my brothers and their wives and two of children, Jane's cousins, went to her wedding in 2000. I wrote about it at an earlier post.

    Attending your daughter's wedding when you are the First/Birth Mother

  3. Thank you for sharing your story as I enjoyed reading it this morning while having my coffee. How awesome it would have been had you and I known one another back then as our daughters would have had each other to talk to about their unique experiences as not many firstmoms located and reunited with their 15 year old daughters in the 80s.

  4. Oh I love your story, Lorraine!

    I too wish I had starting searching for my daughter earlier - but couldn't afford a private investigator, and all I could get was non-identified information. Funny, when I started searching again in 2004 (computer age!!!), I again asked for the non-identifing info, and they sent me MORE information than they did the first time... hmmm... probably "holding out" on me in the 1980s!! I even received a letter from the amom written right before my daughter's first birthday!! WOW! That was nice! But, alas, when I found my daughter in 2006 she didn't/doesn't want any contact... maybe later she says... it has now been 7 years... hoping "later" is near!!

    Anyway... can't wait for your next installament! Oh, I donated your book "Birthmark" to my local library. They have a few books on adoption, and thought this would be a "good" addition!

  5. Jane,

    I can't imagine having had contact at fifteen with my son. I do know I would have been there for his sports. He didn't have the attention of his adopter when it came to that watching him play. She worked for her husband so I don't understand that at all. I worked and still made time to watch All my other son's sporting events. I guess when you don't have any background or what runs in your family you don't understand the importance. I knew and I was close even went to one of his high school football games before I knew him.

    Silent Night just puts me into tears every year. Almost hate that song but have to hear it too.


  6. Yo, Anon, I know it is confusing, but I , Lorraine, am writing here. Jane is the name of both fellow blogger and my daughter. So...



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