Three sets of noisy little feet stomp-ran up the steps.
“Can we get some milk?”
“Sure,” I said from my seat on the couch where I had been snuggling the baby for well over an hour. My conversation with one of my favorite people continued as if three children hadn’t just burst into the room, interrupted us, and departed in a matter of seconds. I heard the refrigerator open.
“CAN WE HAVE STRAWBERRY LEMONADE INSTEAD?”
And on our conversation went. I heard the cupboard open, the cups being retrieved, the lemonade pouring. I heard the settling in for summer kid drinks and their own conversation. I didn’t hear the conversation, but I did hear the next interruption to my own attempt at conversing in an adult manner.
“WHERE DOES MUNCHKIN LIVE AGAIN?”
I paused. Because of course, let’s just throw me off my game.
I yelled back the answer and heard LittleBrother reply, “I told you.”
Conversations in both rooms continued. I cooed over the baby. The kids ran in and out, up and down. Batman made a brief appearance. Popsicles and a photo opp were used as bribery to get the bigger kid that didn’t belong to me to leave the house with no problems. This isn’t my first rodeo.
Over dinner, I casually asked BigBrother why he asked me where his sister lived.
“Alexis asked who the girl was on the refrigerator. When I said she was my sister, she asked why we didn’t have any girl stuff in the house. So I told her that she doesn’t live with us anymore, but I forgot where she lived,” he explained as if this was the most normal conversation he had ever had in his short life.
“I told you where she lived,” added LittleBrother, attitude heavy in his tone.
“Yeah, I know,” continued BigBrother, his attitude level matching his brother’s. “So I explained that she doesn’t live with us because she was adopted.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” I replied. I played it off cool, even though I felt some kind of nuclear meltdown in my soul. I changed the subject to the fun thing we planned for later in the evening, leaving them guessing through smiles.
I know I should be proud that my sons can handle questions about their sister without hesitation, without any negative feelings that so often accompany adult explanations of the same subject matter. But it makes me so incredibly sad that they already know how to have these incredibly adult conversations. I try to focus on how they don’t know about the attached stigmas and judgments laid upon the backs of birth parents and, by relation, their families, their children.
I try to focus on how they use such simple, such perfect language.
“She doesn’t live with us anymore.”
“She was adopted.”
None of the hateful rhetoric used to make birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents feel “less than.” Nothing extra, to make it sound better, to polish the truth. Nothing less, to hide the hurt, to make it acceptable in the ears of those listening.
Just truths. Their sister doesn’t live with us; she was adopted. Let’s drink some strawberry lemonade and be friends.
They’ve got this down. And once again, I could learn a few things from their example.
It’s always “that next thing.”
After the marathon.
Well, after my husband’s birthday.
Oh, wait. After our family vacation.
And then, after BlogHer.
It’s always the next thing, one more thing, one event or to-do on my list or place to be or thing to accomplish…
…that keeps me alive.
All of these things also add anxiety, which kind of adds to the rub of existing at all. But the “one more thing” is what rolls me out of bed in the morning.
“I can’t quit life today, I have a training run.”
“I can’t quit living today, I need to take the boys to the store for new running shoes and backpacks.”
“I can’t give up today, I have a deadline. And God knows I don’t miss a flipping deadline.”
On and on and on, I keep going. I keep waking up. I keep looking at my busy schedule. I keep making breakfasts and lunches and dinners and snacks and messes. I keep working. I keep breaking up fights between brothers or telling them to work it out on their own or wondering if they’ll ever, ever be the friends I want them to be—if I’ll be alive to witness them being the friends I want them to be. One more run, one more race, one more distance. One more conference, one more article written and published, one more byline.
Today, my best friend’s daughter asked me, “Have you written a book?”
“Uh,” I stumbled. “Kind of. I haven’t published it though.”
“Why not?” She looked up at me from behind her impossibly blue eyes, sincerity instead of sarcasm oozing from her soul. The other three kids at the table chimed in with their own ‘why nots’ and ‘how comes’ and ‘yeahs.’ I looked at my friend and shrugged. One more thing.
I have a lot of things left to do in this life, with my life. I know that. Sometimes… sometimes… I get lost in the suck of it all, get lost in the anxiety that makes my brain foggy with doubt and self-loathing. My mind tricks me into thinking that there’s no reason, no point in my sticking around or wading through the muck of it. It’s that “one more thing” that keeps me going, keeps me grounded, keeps me here.
I just scheduled a visit with my daughter and her mother.
It’s our first “girls’ weekend,” and I’m simultaneously excited for it and dreading it. The boys will be away that weekend, so I won’t need to explain where I’m going with a small suitcase on a Friday afternoon. I won’t have to deal with the disappointed looks in their eyes when they learn I’m seeing their sister without them; it’s all they’ve asked for this summer. It’s not in the cards for this summer for so many reasons, none of which fall under my control. I’ll tell them later, after we all return home, and I’ll deal with that fall out as best I can. Together, the lot of us, grieving the relationship we all wish we could have but reality keeps at bay.
This visit is my current “one more thing.”
After that, who knows. But if you’ve ever wondered why I keep myself so busy, why I have so many things on my plate and so many balls in the air and so much stuff to do, this is why.
Because I want to wake up tomorrow. I want to live this life that I’ve been given.
As part of the BlogHer ’14 Selfiebration, Julie Ross Godar asked a question today: Where were you ten years ago?
Funny timing, that.
Exactly 10.5 years ago, on December 19, 2003, I moved to Ohio. I meant to blog about it on the 10 year anniversary back in December, but this December hit me hard. Harder than most Decembers. The date came and went and I kept on living in Ohio.
But 10.5 years ago, my now-husband showed up with a U-Haul truck and parked outside of my apartment building. My father, grandfather, and love of my life worked to pack what little I had into the truck. I carried light things, gingerly, having just given birth to the Munchkin six days earlier. The woman upstairs asked my dad questions about being a new grandpa; he didn’t make eye contact as he offered his answers. I cried in the empty bathroom.
By the time we set off for Ohio, the snow started to fall. I followed behind the U-Haul in my gray Mercury Topaz, hoping not to slip and slide on the narrow roads we needed to take to get to the main highway. Eventually we arrived at the apartment. I moved to Ohio sight unseen; my now-husband sought out and rented our first place without me as my complicated pregnancy kept me on bedrest. I pulled up in front of the brown brick building and smiled.
The first six months in Ohio passed quickly. I quickly found a job to hold me over until a job opened at the local NBC affiliate. I worked a lot. I burned a lot of meals. We learned that thick chicken breasts take all the hours to grill on a charcoal grill. I learned how to live with a boy. I learned how to be a birth mother involved in fully open adoption. I cried a lot. I missed my baby more than I could verbalize at the time, more than I thought I was allowed to verbalize at the time.
And then that June, 10 years ago, my daughter and her family came to visit.
I don’t remember the specifics about that visit.
But I remember feeling simultaneously happy and sad. I remember being overwhelmed and at peace. I remember wondering how feeling those opposite extremes could be possible. I didn’t know yet that I’d be living that dichotomy for the rest of my life, that the pain would dull but would always be present.
Ten years ago I didn’t know what I was missing in having chosen not to parent my daughter. I didn’t know that postpartum depression and the grief of relinquishment were mixing together in a volatile way. I didn’t yet know what I didn’t know. Ten years ago I was still living under the guise that it would get easier; I believed what the unethical adoption facilitator spoon fed me. I needed to believe it or I wouldn’t have made it through that first year.
Ten years ago I had no idea the joy that yet awaited me. Or the heartache. Or the hard work. Or the laughter. Or the tears. Or the other children I would parent. Or the miscarriage. Or the dog. Or the friends. Or the love. Or the houses. Or anything. Ten years ago I was a tired, broken little girl, missing her daughter, in love with a boy, and hoping against hope that the future would be worth living for…
…and it was.
The door to my bedroom flew open at exactly eight o’clock this morning. LittleBrother burst into the room, a smile on his face.
“MOMMY!” He yelled. The happy kind of yell. I know it well. “HOW LONG DO YOU COOK WAFFLES?!”
He hinted yesterday that he and his brother were hatching a plan to make me breakfast in bed since FireDad’s shift day fell on Mother’s Day. They wanted me to have a special day. I originally cringed at the idea of an entire bowl of spilled cereal and milk on the carpet in the hallway, but I didn’t discourage them from their plans. I mean, breakfast in bed? OKAY.
I explained things about the toaster and how it kind of just magics your waffles for you. He quickly exited the room, pulling the door shut behind him, yelling the non-directions down the hallway as he thump-ran back to the kitchen to meet his older brother.
I smiled and stared out the open window at the foggy morning, listening to the birds singing their morning song.
The door flew open again.
“DO YOU WANT BUTTER?”
More thump-running. More clanging around in the kitchen. The voices of two little boys floated down the hallway through the now open door, left open after the last question. They didn’t argue. I heard chairs and stools being scooted around the kitchen floor as they worked to reach the shelves they aren’t quite yet tall enough to reach. I heard the excitement in their little voices.
They appeared together, bare-chested and smiling. In LittleBrother’s hands, a yellow plate with two waffles, butter smeared unevenly, perfectly. A knife and a fork rested on the side of the plate.
“IN CASE YOU WANT TO CUT YOUR WAFFLE.” Still with the excited, happy-yelling.
I thanked them. I told them I’d be out to make them breakfast in a few minutes.
“NO! WE’LL MAKE OUR OWN BREAKFAST. YOU JUST REST.”
Well, okay then.
I ate my waffles in my bed. In peace. The dog didn’t even bother me.
— __ — __ —
We went to church. I survived; I only cried twice. Or three times. It’s hard to tell.
A note from LittleBrother during the sermon.
We stopped at the fire department to visit FireDad.
We ate lunch. I ate my leftovers from the amazing dinner my loving husband made the night before; the boys made their own lunch. I decided I could get used to increased independence ’round here.
I took a nap. A two hour nap. I don’t nap. It was glorious.
The boys and I went on a one mile run at the track. They ran the first lap with me, I ran a lap at a faster pace, they ran the third lap with me, and then I ran the last lap at a faster pace. BigBrother actually threw one more lap in (I didn’t know until I finished), so he did 3/4 mile and LittleBrother did a 1/2 mile. I ran my fastest pace since marathon training started. Best Mother’s Day run EVER.
Probably the best post-run picture ever.
We went and got Chinese for dinner. And ice cream.
We hung out outside for awhile; I journaled, they played, we laughed, the dog ran into the fence.
And then the bedtime routine kicked into gear, sending me back into normal mothering mode. As I write this, a load of laundry is drying and I will fold another load after I finish writing in this place.
— __ — __ —
I felt pampered and spoiled and very much loved today. Even when I took a few minutes to sit with the loss, to acknowledge the depth with which I missed my daughter, I felt loved, respected, very much wanted and needed.
One made me a mother. One made me a mommy. And one completed my motherhood.
How could I ask for more?
I didn’t attend the Mother Daughter Tea at my church. While the blurb in the newsletter stated that “all women were invited,” the whole “Mother Daughter” title comes off as exclusionary. It pushes the whole “you don’t have a daughter” in my face, even though I do. It reminds me that the world doesn’t recognize the full aspect of my motherhood.
It’s one reason why I closed down the adoption blog.
It’s why I don’t celebrate Birthmother’s Day anymore.
It’s why Mother’s Day in and of itself brings up a wealth of confusing feelings.
It’s why when I read an open letter to pastors, a non-mom speaks out about Mother’s Day by Amy Young, my breath caught in my throat and tears trickled down my cheeks. Over the years, mothers who have felt left out, ostracized, unacknowledged in their various forms of otherness have written their truths, talked with me about their difficulty with Mother’s Day, in and out of the church. This one post brought it all together in one space. I felt heard and validated.
I forwarded the link along to my pastor yesterday, pointing out that I hadn’t yet decided whether or not I would brave church on Sunday morning or not. It’s hard to sit in the pew, even though I now have two visible reasons to celebrate my motherhood. My daughter’s absence feels more acute on that morning, like her birthday or holidays or days that end in -y. My heart and mind also take me back to the day we honored the baby we lost; I think of it so rarely now, maybe as means of protecting my heart. Whatever the case, my losses sit with me on Mother’s Day.
I am always grateful, always thankful. But I am always missing my daughter. Thankfulness doesn’t erase the longing, the sadness, the reality of the situation.
My pastor replied in the way I have come to expect from my pastor: with love and compassion and understanding and bits of her own story. A weight lifted.
I’ll be attending church in the morning with my two boys. My husband works, which is why he has spent the past two days lavishing me with presents and a special meal, cards and time to paint my nails. So I’ll spend my Mother’s Day mothering these two little boys and missing my daughter. I will work to allow the sad to mix with the happy. I will do something fun and probably messy with my sons. I will live my story in every breath that I take, whether that story is acknowledged or not.
I will love my three living children for shaping me, each in their own unique ways, into the mother that I am today. I will give thanks for my own mother, for the other mothers in my life for the way that they have shaped me into the mother that I am today. I will give thanks for my husband for the ways he has helped to shape me into the mother that I am today. I will feel grateful for the mothers and non-mothers in my life for the ways they have helped shape me into the mother I am today.
It will never be easy, but it will always be a part of my story.
May you have a beautiful day tomorrow, no matter what your story looks or feels like this trip around the sun.
Writing my own story is hard.
For years, I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote about adoption. I poured my heart and soul into my now defunct adoption blog, The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. I fought with the Internet at large to be seen, to be understood, to be respected despite of and because of my role as a birth mother. I won awards. My words were published in big magazines. I was interviewed and featured and given the spotlight to tell my story.
Along the way, I got confused about that role and how it defined me, defined how I felt about myself as a human being.
When someone would say something negative or derogatory about birth parents, even if they spoke of their own specific situation and experience, I took it personally. I carried a heavier weight than I needed to carry for far too long, trying to pull all of the birth parents out from underneath the misunderstanding, the hatred, the distrust, the disrespect, the lack of empathy—when all I really needed was to look in the mirror and see myself for who I was: flawed but beautiful, hurting but growing.
I defined myself in adoption speak and rhetoric.
Until I didn’t anymore.
I took down the adoption blog last spring on a whim. I was tired of being defined by my loss, by my title, by the hardest thing in my life. I had also come to realize that I had already written my story as it pertained to adoption in the specific. Nothing remained for me to say about how it felt to place my daughter for adoption, how it continues to feel as a birth mother involved in a fully open adoption. It hurt then, it hurts now; I will always miss her. The more I wrote past that point, I crossed the line into telling stories of other people—other birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees, and most importantly, my daughter. I no longer felt comfortable sharing her story under the guise of writing my own.
I fumbled around here for awhile after that, not sure what writing my own story looked like. I had been hyper-focused on the adoption niche for so many years, I forgot how to write about me, about myself from my own point of view. I still allowed myself the right to share stories of brotherhood and of parenting and the little lines we cross when we write about our families in public spaces, but I started pushing myself to write more about my life, about what it is that I do with all the hours of my day. For as much as I want my sons to someday read stories about what they were like growing up, I want them to know who their mother was before they really got to know me on a level somewhere deeper than The Lady Who Picks Out Their Clothes and Feeds Them Healthy Food.
I want them to know why I started running, why I chose to run half and full marathons. I want them to know why I like to read, what I like to read. I want them to know that I like sports, why I bleed black and gold. I want them to know that Fleetwood Mac is my favorite band, but that I’ll always be an Inner 90’s Girl at heart. I want them to know what I wanted for my 33rd birthday. I want them to know how deeply I love their father. And yes, their sister. I want them to know I wasn’t perfect, that I’ll never be perfect. I want them to know that despite my anxiety and depression, I love being their mom. I love being a woman. I love being alive.
Receiving word that I am a BlogHer ’14 Voices of the Year reader floored me.
The journey from 2013 into 2014 has been one of deep reflection, a push to see myself for who I am in this moment, in this struggle. The voice inside my head has been telling me for far too long that I am not worth it, that I am not worthy, that what I have to say and share and write and offer is not and never will be enough. That I don’t matter, even to my children, to my husband, to those that love me. The voice of depression lies; it twists truths into ugly, life-sucking lies and makes you believe them as truth. I’ve spent so much of the past year feeling like I don’t matter.
The piece I will read on Friday, July 25th on the stage at BlogHer ’14 during the 7th Annual Voices of the Year Community Keynote is the hardest piece I have ever written, ever found the courage to push “Publish” on after I finished writing it. I find it funny that after all the years of fighting to be heard, to be respected as a birth mother who writes her story, my biggest honor comes when I drop the titles, the roles, the rules, the walls and just write my truth of where I am in this journey of life.
Thank you for the honor. Thank you for listening, for reading, for waiting for me to find my own story in the midst of all the other stories. Thank you.