Monday, August 11, 2014

What a Wedding

Me, my husband and our beloved dog, Otto.
Kate is just to the right of me in the picture.
Eleven years ago yesterday, on 8/10/03, I got married.

I am pretty traditional when it comes to weddings (well, ignoring the big hairy dog bounding in the picture). I believe it is a celebration not only for the couple getting married but also for the families. I am not someone who would elope or limit my wedding to a small, select group. I believe our family and friends create the community that helps support and foster the marriage. The wedding represents not only who you are as a couple, but your family as well.

The family that attended my wedding was very different from the family I'd started out with.

My wedding was traditional in a lot of ways. My dad gave me away (the feminist in me lost the argument to the sweet sentiment of the ritual). My mother sat in the front row.

But, aside from a cousin of my mom's, I didn't have people from my adoptive family there. My adoptive family is small. I had a brother, but he had passed away years before. I didn't have any living aunts or uncles. My cousins, all significantly older than my brother and me and residing on the other side of the country, weren't able to come.

It would have been a very small wedding on my side of the family if my definition of family hadn't expanded significantly years before when I'd reunited with my birthmother and birthfather, and, to some extent, their families. So, in addition to my mother and father, I had my birthmother, Kate, there. Two of her sisters (my aunt Mary & aunt Gina), one of her brother's (my uncle Steve) and one of her cousin's (though he had to be reminded of who I was - we'd only met once before) came. Her daughter, my birth-sister, Abby, was one of my bridesmaid's. My birthfather came.
My dad and mom are in the front row. Behind my mom is Kate. To her
right is her husband, Steve, and to her left is my birthdad, John.

My family was full. And, the parts of me that had been unknown or unrecognized were unearthed as well. For me, the wedding symbolized the integration of who I am from all these different families. Although I was only 28 when I'd met my husband-to-be, I had been in reunion with my birthmother ten years and had just found my birthfather a month earlier. When we married four years later, he knew he was coming into a family of many branches. He knows me as who I am, as all of me, and all of my families. 

The wedding was a blend of those families. The rehearsal dinner was a fun, casual backyard barbeque at my mother-in-law's. The wedding had two receptions. The first was hosted by my birthmother at the ceremony site in the woods where we were married, where she had married her husband, Steve, several years earlier. She had prepared the food and brought it with her. The second reception, was hosted by my parents, back in the city and was the traditional reception with the opening dance, full dinner, wedding cake et al. 

It was the way I was able to incorporate all of my families into one wedding. 

It was one that included all of me.

to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What's Normal Now?

 So what's normal now? 

For adoptees, normal doesn't come naturally. We make it up as we go along. Placed into families that have no relation to our own biological roots, we adjust to our environment. Our adoptive parents' nationalities become our own along with their family heritage, their traits. It's what society has designed for adoption - just go along as if it's normal. So, we pretend to be something we're not.  We do it for so long, we get so used to it, we forget that it's not normal.

Seeking reunion with my birthfamilies, I've reconnected to those roots, but it's splintered. Neither quite fits. So, my relationship with my birthfamilies, but especially with my birthmother and birthfather has had to develop it's own normal.

When I met Kate twenty-five years ago I never imagined her as part of my life. I didn't imagine I would travel across country and live with her in her apartment for a summer when I was 22. I didn't picture buying a house just a couple miles from hers eight years later. I didn't expect to find my birthfather on the liner notes of a CD. But, somehow, that's become part of our normal.

Normal now is that my husband has at least three mother-in-laws. My kids have multiple sets of grandparents (they don't complain). Holidays are complicated. Family reunions are emotional time bombs (okay, at least those last two are probably normal for most people : )

But what also is normal for me is knowing the whole of all the parts that make up the sum of who I am. I have more people in my life, more people who are family. That means how I define family has had to be reworked a bit. How I define myself had to be reworked too.

Normal now is having people in my life who seemed imaginary at first. It's being someone a lot more complicated than who I started out as. And it's being comfortable in not being normal. 

to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Aging Mothers

My birth-grandmother just turned 90. I know almost nothing about her. 

I didn't have grandparents while I was growing up. As a child of older parents, as a lot of adoptive children are (after all, adoption is the last resort after years of trying, and then the whole ordeal of adoption can take years), my adoptive grandparents were dead by the time I was born. I always envied my friends who had grandparents, imagining they were enjoying getting spoiled rotten and eating fresh-baked cookies that they helped make. 

Reunion gave me the chance to finally have grandparents. After all, I was only 18 when I first met Kate. A few years after that, I had the opportunity to meet Kate's parents, my grandparents. Kate lived in Oregon, I was in Jersey finishing college, so I was on my own for the get together. My grandfather came to pick me up from the train station in New Jersey, I lived with my parents about an hour away. He swooped his car right up next to me, though we hadn't yet met. I asked how he knew it was me, and he said with a smirk, "Oh, I could tell." 

He took me back to his home and I met with him and Kate's mom, my grandmother. We each sat in different corners of the living room, having a conversation about who knows what - I remember none of it. I just remember the odd mix of feeling excitement, kinship, warmth and welcome alongside of the knowledge that they were the main deciders that I would be cast away from their family. So, the friendliness was more than a little awkward. 

And while I have some memories of Kate's dad's humor and personality, her mom was mostly ghost-like to me. She didn't say much and I could feel her keep her distance. 

That was twenty years ago. While my relationship with Kate, my birthfather, my sisters, and my aunts and uncles has twisted, turned, deepened and richened over the years, my relationship with my birth-grandparents has remained frozen, stuck in friendly awkwardness. They don't reach out to me, and I don't to them. We exist in our worlds, known to each other but unknown. 

As my birth-grandmother reaches her 90th year, I wonder if she ever thinks of me. 

to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Portland Memories

A week or so ago, I dropped my car off at the mechanic's close in on East Burnside. The bus was going to be awhile, so I decided to walk a few stops. I came to the Burnside bridge and it was such a perfect summer day, I decided to just walk the rest of the way to work.

As I came to Skidmore Fountain, I was struck with a visceral memory of first coming to Portland. Kate brought me there on a weekend to the Saturday Market. I remember standing in the area of the fountain with the street performers competing for attention with the art booths selling everything from crafted wooden boxes with secret compartments to large panels of batik fabric to handmade pottery to duct tape art. I walked up to the fountain itself, the noise of the water tumbling from the upper bowl held by three bronze women to the larger base below mixing in with the sounds around me. Messing around by the side of the fountain were some Portland street kids, where it's unclear whether they're homeless or just appearing that way from their excessive piercings and tattoos. Although dressed as tough, they seemed less threatening than a majority of the normal people I would walk across in New Jersey.  The green of the trees framed the plaza, the Willamette just beyond the trees.

I was swept up by the energy of Portland at that moment. I felt enchanted and charmed by the city. I had come from New Jersey knowing nothing about Oregon and even less about Portland. You have to understand, people from the New York City area live in such an insular way, its like there's no world outside of itself. It's not a question of why you would ever live somewhere else, it more like that the rest of the world doesn't really exist. So discovering this place, alive with a creative, cheerful energy emanating from its center, pulled me right in. I wanted to know everything  about the city then, explore everything it had to offer, get swept up in the energy around me.

That memory of being at the fountain with Kate in my first days of Portland, made me realize how inexorably intertwined Portland has been in the story of my reunion with Kate. As a twenty two year old, just graduated from college, I was ripe for discovery. I had come from the other side of the country to discover not only my birthmother, but who I was and what I wanted from life, including where I wanted to live. Although I'd planned on a year or more of traveling, once I'd met Portland, I felt all I needed to discover was right here.

As I walked along waterfront park, my mind scrolled through all the places in Portland that were meaningful in my reunion with Kate from having lunch in one of the city parks, to going to a concert at the zoo, having a glass of wine at the Vat, stopping in at Artichoke Music on Hawthorne, or the many nights of music at the East Ave.

It's so vivid in my memories, and so meaningful to our story. As I turned up the hill at Market Street, heading towards my office building at PSU, I smiled thinking about how I still don't take Portland for granted. I am still charmed and enchanted, whether running down the street with the kids to cheer on my husband during the Naked Bike Ride, or sitting on the corner of Hawthorne drinking coffee and listening to a busker playing an electric cello and still looking like a street person, or having a tree-lined park dotted with fountains alongside the river, already buzzing with a cheerful energy on a weekday morning as I walk to work.

I walked to the center of the PSU Urban Center, with its fountain rushing over, splashing to the base below. The door to my building behind me, I took a moment before going into work, wanting to be part of the moment in the plaza, so happy to have found this place to call home.

to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reunion Haiku

once the journey's destiny realized  
and see the scattered pieces of ourselves
we realize we've just begun

to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to:

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Illustrations from the beloved, Tikki Tikki Tembo.

Today, my oldest son turns eight. Both of my sons have a good relationship with their birth-grandparents. I think they both understand the difference between my birthparents and my adoptive parents and seem comfortable with everyone.

We have a family rule that all questions are okay. It doesn't matter if the topic is "inappropriate" as my kids would say. At this stage, it's usually in reference to bad words or potty talk, though there was also a question that the kids worried was inappropriate when they asked if married people kiss more often than non-married people ("yes and no" was my answer). What's interesting is that they haven't yet asked why I was relinquished for adoption, why didn't my mom keep me? And, what will that mean for them - will there be fear that I could give them away? It nags at me, lurking. Why haven't they asked?

I don't know exactly what I will say. I will tell them that Kate was very young, too young to be a parent - and give the examples of teenage girls they know to give them perspective.

I will skip the things I've always been told, the things that now get under my skin, "it was for the best, and, she wanted a better life for me." I will try to stay closer to the harder truth, "It was just too hard for a single young woman in that time to raise a baby."

Something about saying that truth, even to myself, is reassuring to me. It was just too hard. She didn't have the resources, she didn't have help or support.

But there's the darker truth too, that she didn't want the baby. Even though there is regret now, the truth at the time was that she didn't want me. That part, I think, is just too sad to share.

to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Family" Vacations

Family vacations are to summer, what Christmas is to winter - a time to gather family that should be relaxing, beautiful and idyllic but too often is stressful and disappointing.

Two years ago, Kate asked me to join in on a family vacation. She and Steve were playing at a festival in Hood River in July, so she invited me and my birth-sister to bring our kiddos along and join them for the weekend.

In an email, Kate described it as:
"... a wonderful, family-friendly lavender festival on the farm of friends...the best place to get lavender for your garden, essential lavender oil - eat a bunch of good food, see crafts and hear a little music amidst field of purple fragrance - lovely.
It's a beautiful area in the Rowena Wilds on the Mosier Ridge and there are lots of wild turkeys, eagles, deer, an occasional cougar and high desert air. 
If you would like to take this chance to get together, we'd love to have you come out, whether it's for the day, the weekend or a few days. It'd be nice to get the little cousins together."

Lovely, right?

Reading it again now, I can see that Kate was a little too convincing, putting a much harder sell on the idea than there needed to be. I only realize now that it must have been hard to ask me, the relinquished daughter, and my sister, displaced from Kate's life by divorce, to come on a "family" vacation.

Thing is, on a day to day basis, my relationship with Kate feels really quite normal. We're family. Not a simple mother-daughter family, but our reconstructed version of family that's come together as adults. An invitation to a weekend didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary for us. It sounded ... lovely.

Unfortunately, I had just started a new job and had a work conflict the weekend she would be there. My parents were also going to be with me for the summer, and I hated leaving them to do things without them. It wasn't going to work. I hate to disappoint, and avoided telling her that I couldn't go.

My lack of communication led to an response from Kate where she'd surmised I wasn't getting back to her because my parents were in town, which she hadn't known about, which distressed her that she didn't know what was going on in my life.


We've not yet figured out a way to have a family vacation together. Kate has fond memories of her husband's parents gathering their grown-children and families together every summer either on the beach at the Hamptons or, later, at their summer home in Woodstock. Her own family of seven siblings will have the occasional reunion at her sister's farm. I imagine Kate would like to create that for her next generation.

A year or so following my initial reunion with my birthfather, I joined him for his annual family vacation with his immediate family and friends at a music festival in the woods of Mendocino, California. It was four days of music, camping, dancing, and celebration.

Lovely, right?

Every year since, I've wanted to go back. Once I had kids of my own, I have desperately wanted to bring them there, so that could experience the magic of that experience that I hadn't had myself until I was an adult. Too late, and yet better late than never.

My adoptive parents enjoy a different kind of travel. They like to go to foreign places, enjoying the view of the culture from the safe distance of nice hotels, and fancy restaurants where they eat fine food. I went with them to Hawaii a few years back. We stayed at a beautiful resort on Maui and went to a different expensive restaurant every night. I asked at one of the fancy restaurants where to go for local food. The waitress told me I wouldn't want to, my family laughing at my desire to sample spam and seaweed. At the time, I was hurt. I didn't like getting mocked for wanting to learn about the culture, not just view it from a difference. But, now I see it's just that I like different things than what my adoptive parents like. I like the kind of things my birthparents like.

A family separated most of their lives doesn't come together easily. I have my family - the family Kate chose for me to be with. As much as I wish to be able to have a family vacation with Kate, or my birthfather, I haven't figured out a way to make it fit into my life. I was given to a different family, a family I love. As different as I am, I am theirs, and have the obligations that go along with it.

I am bringing my husband and kids to Florida to vacation with my mom on Sanibel Island later this summer. I've found out the hard way that it's easier for me to compromise what I would like to do, and settle on staying at a resort, than to try to get my mom to enjoy camping (I've tried - it didn't go well).

It's the fate of the adoptee to be in families foreign to them. The similarities and synchronicities of reunion shine a spotlight on that. In reunion, there's validation for who you are, understanding of where your likes, dislikes, and quirks come from. You get to see your lineage, but you still don't get to belong to your original families. After all, you belong to another family, one that is different from you.

Lovely ... right?

to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to: