To Spite Your Face

“What you think about me is none of my business”

This was first said to me about fifteen years ago as a way to get the last word in a difficult exchange. And it worked. I was stumped for something further to add to an already awkward conversation. Because it essentially cut me off at the knees, I’ve been thinking about it. For fifteen years.

I think this is a fine, reassuring statement for a child or even a teenager. A more civilized version of “I don’t care what you think about me! NYAH NYAH!” I see & hear it everywhere now. Makes me cringe.

At what point as adults should we care about what others think of us? Because I certainly DO care what you think of me and it should be my business to build & maintain a reputation of sorts: in my relationships, in my marriage, with my family, at work and even online. I value my employer’s viewpoint in my skills and weak points. It pains me when I hurt someone’s feelings. If someone is upset with me, I want to know about it, so we can fix it. Or at least talk about it and attempt to come to a mutual understanding, even if it takes some time & distance.

That quote isn’t one of self-empowerment as I see & hear it used, but of dismissal. A verbal flip of the hand. And handily enough, it absolves the quoter from responsibility, as it’s now the recipient’s problem solely.

Is it just easier to say we don’t care? Even when we do? Especially when we do? Who does it serve?
I know, I know. You’re rubber and I’m glue.

Blessed Are the Ignorant

adoption tweet

 

I found this gem last evening. I get this guy’s point – He & his wife are looking to adopt. I find myself caught between being fundamentally appalled at his Neanderthal approach to finding an expectant mother considering adoption for her unborn baby and laughing my fool head off because of his language. Probably the latter.

I mean, it’s a shame that he & Allison can’t just go down to the cabbage patch & pick out a shiny new infant.

While God may have “called them to adoption”, he certainly didn’t bestow on them common sense or ethics. It’s not as if there’s a Birthmother Boulevard where an expectant mom is waiting on each corner, looking to “give up her baby”.

On the flip side, part of what I find so laughable is the complete lack of guile. He’s saying exactly what he wants. He doesn’t know any different. Because he doesn’t see “birthmothers” as people.

Vaya con Dios on your “journey”, mister.

Fissures

subtitle: “pre-birth matching”, “picking a family” & other subtleties with coercion in open adoption. I don’t pretend to have any answers or solutions. It’s simply an idea to consider.

It’s one of the benefits, they say. It’s one of the reasons many women, myself included, choose open adoption. You choose the family. And in doing so, while awkwardly wielding this Club of Choice & Capability, you’re unconsciously chipping away at your own sense of self.

When enough forms have been completed & a “reasonable” level of intent revealed, I got to The Books. The Books of Waiting Families. In earlier posts, I’ve made dating analogies about “picking a family” in 1997. Books full of profiles of Waiting Families (very rarely single folks, always 2 or more implying ‘family’) trying earnestly to be The One. I flipped through the books over a 2 week period.

“No, no, no, shudder, gah, maybe, no, no”

What I saw repeatedly over those two weeks were “families” who were better educated, had better jobs, nicer cars, their own home, money for vacations & ponies at their fourth birthday. Over & over & over & over. As I searched the books, sometimes arbitrarily (i.e. anyone with cutesy stationary was immediately discarded), I was reminded sneakily of what I didn’t have.

I’m wondering if “pre-birth matching”, this touted benefit to open adoption, is an emotional scam. It plays on the expectant mom’s shaky sense of self. For about five years after the Kid was born, I’d tell people (if asked) that “the Kid deserved someone better than me” or “deserved a better life”. And obviously a pony at his fourth birthday.* I had convinced myself that Betty & Barney were better because they had “more” , and must have their shit together because they passed their home study. So that’s official, right?

“Picking a family” reaches its emotional zenith at the First Meeting. Let the bonding begin! Become emotionally invested in these strangers because it’s one more reason to go through with it. Because of the intent, they’re expecting you (literally), think-how-disappointed-those-nice-people-will-be. That nice family. Maybe you start thinking of Impending Baby as “our” baby not “my”.  Say goodbye to a another little piece of your heart, babe.

You “pick them”. You become “their birthmother”. And you still have 10 weeks before your due date.

(Part One of multiple installments)

(*I know nothing of ponies at birthday parties; this is merely an example)

 

Digging Heels

I saw this post come through my Facebk feed a few times before I read it. Hooray! An article from The New Republic about open adoption which paints a more realistic view of “birthmotherhood”. But a few things made me cringe, and that was before I even read the comments.

The past decade has seen the rise of a broad and loose coalition of activists out to change the way adoption works in America. This coalition makes bedfellows of people who would ordinarily have nothing to do with each other: Mormon and fundamentalist women who feel they were pressured by their churches, progressives who believe adoption is a classist institution that takes the children of the young and poor and gives them to the wealthier and better-educated, and adoptive parents who have had traumatic experiences with corrupt adoption agencies.

I’m quoting the entire paragraph here to ensure my point is not made out of context. I believe adoption is very classist, but I don’t believe for a second that it’s solely marketed to the young & poor. I’m sure there are stats on this, but just ask my Jr High Math teacher: numbers just aren’t my thing. I know my experience. Most of my “birthmother friends” are white, middle to upper middle class, with families who would have been supportive (or come around to being supportive). Smart young women with uncertainty that is natural with any expectant mother, exacerbated by unpleasant & often temporary circumstances. With a volatile mix of personal doubt, work stress, financial troubles, family/religious/social/societal shame & growing a human being, there is a market for redemption. We’re told that we build families, but often at the expense of destroying our own.

While the ubiquity of open adoption—today 95 percent of all adoptions include some kind of contact between birthparents and children—is universally seen as a step forward, it can present its own challenges. Pregnant women, encouraged to choose and bond with an adoptive couple before the baby is born, often get the impression that they and the couple are going to be “kind of co-parents,” says Kathryn Joyce, the author of The Child Catchers, an expose on corruption in the adoption industry. But then, when the baby is born and relinquished, the couple closes ranks, wanting—understandably enough—to cocoon as a family. The birthmother is left feeling like, in Joyce’s words, “’you were all over me when I was pregnant, but now that you have the baby you don’t want anything to do with me.’”

Let me make this perfectly clear.  Perfectly clear. At no time, ever, before I had The Kid or after, did I believe I was or was going to be a “co-parent”. This statement infuriates me into next week, as it paints me (I can only speak for myself) like a dolt who doesn’t understand the finality of the Termination of Parental Rights. With that you invite the “that stupid woman wants it both ways! she’s not the Real Parent! the Real Parent is the one who is holding Junior’s head over the toilet at 3am! but she wants the ‘good parts’ of being a parent!“. The reality of that is ridiculous. I know who I am.

There has been a bit more progress on open adoption. Fewer than half of U.S. states regulate open adoption agreements. In the rest, openness depends on the whim of the adoptive parents, many of whom soon tire of feeling they’re sharing their child. In Mills’s case, a supposedly open adoption became “don’t call us, we’ll call you,” she says. Georgia enacted a law in May that makes open adoption contracts legally binding, meaning birthparents are guaranteed access to their children as often as their agreed-upon contracts specify. Utah passed a similar measure earlier this year, but only for children adopted from state custody.

This. Yes. But more work needs to be done. Open adoption needs to be legally binding. And you know what that amounts to in many, many cases? Pictures & a letter once a year. Once a year. How hard is it to keep that simple commitment once a year? We gave you our children, our babies, in an act of supreme trust because we believed at the core that you were better. All I ever wanted to know (at the basest level) was that The Kid was loved, having fun, growing into an exceptional human being. When I went for years without hearing a peep, it was devastating. It is unnatural to believe it would be otherwise. I’m his mother.

The only universal experience in this is loss. Each woman’s story is as different as their DNA, and there’s no right or wrong way to cut a path. Making an incredibly painful decision livable is not a time-based test. It’s about making it right for yourself in the end, however long and by whatever means.

City of Lost Shoes – Muriel

pink shoe

 

Muriel had been saving for this vacation for almost a decade. Nickel by nickel, stealing away a dollar here, five dollars there for nine & a half years. It would be daylight soon.

She looked in the mirror above the vanity in the hotel bathroom & sighed. If they had been like everyone else, they could have just charged the vacation to their MasterCard & worried about the payments for the next two years. But Brian didn’t believe in credit cards. They had one, a Visa, for emergencies only. And Brian kept it in his wallet, in his name.

Muriel could hear him snoring in the bedroom, the air conditioning cranked to Meat Locker Cold despite the soothing temperatures outside. He insisted on the air conditioning. Didn’t want to wake up soggy from the sea air, he grumbled the previous night.

She crept to the dresser near the bed in an exaggerated cat burglar motion that nearly made her giggle, imagining herself in a black stocking cap & cartoon villain mustache.  She froze as Brian mumbled, then farted loudly in his sleep.  Smothering laughter in the crook of her arm, she grabbed her pink slip-ons, her house shoes according to Brian, and released the deadbolt to the hotel room.

Muriel crossed the quiet beachfront avenue, the sun beginning to rise over the northeast end of the island. At the path leading down to the water’s edge, she removed the slip-ons, the house shoes, leaving them close to the tide line. The ocean was cold and dark as the first streaks of sunlight hit the horizon. She waded up to her shins, lost in thoughts she couldn’t articulate.

The water was calming, shifting the sand around her ankles, leaving her so spellbound that she never noticed the left shoe rolling out in the tidal pull.  A nearby group of seagulls tussling over a pizza crust startled her from her woolgathering. Now well entrenched in the sand at the shoreline, Muriel clumsily extracted her lower legs from the cold, wet grip. She peered around for her shoes.

With a grunt, Muriel slid her foot into the right shoe, the sand chafing her skin. She stood there mindlessly for a moment, a woman on the beach at dawn in one shoe. Brian would be angry that she lost a shoe, because everything in this town was “too damn expensive” and now they’d have to skip lunch so she could buy a pair of cheap rubber sandals. She could hear him clearly, his endless needling, blaming, whining over the generous continental breakfast the hotel provided with their stay.

Muriel removed the shoe, leaving it at the water’s edge, hoping it would go out with the tide like the other.  Like how she herself would like to be swept out in the current.

Parting Gifts

As living, breathing humans we are energy. When we die, the energy changes. Doesn’t dissipate, but moves.  The past year has taught me that lesson in spades. With the loss of beloved teacher, friend & all around good guy Paul Mathis, I was afraid that the hollow pit in my psyche would open up & swallow me whole, like a snake that can unhinge its jaw to envelop prey. And haven’t I been pleasantly surprised?  It’s been just the opposite.

I’ve been introduced to some wonderful, creative people as a result of this loss. People who inspire me, who tap into that thing that makes me tick, who encourage me to laugh. Some of these are not new introductions, but a reawakening of friendships that have fresh life, fresh energy, fresh forces at work. In both cases, I am incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon these folks at the right moments, when all planetary alignments are in my favor.

With a full rush of creative ideas & opportunities, I’m looking happily into the next year. While never the religious sort, Ecclesiastes 3 has been banging around in the back of my head for several weeks now:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace

It’s time to build, to laugh, to dance, to speak, to heal, to plant. It’s time that I put my talents to use. The loss of  many family & friends this year has provided the impetus for change. Thank salsa for the stardust & merde.

If Not For You

He had the uncanny ability to find that thing, that spark that made us tick & extract it. Most of the time we didn’t even know that such a spark existed, that we were harboring a gift, a talent, a light that could change us.  I can hear him from the peanut gallery, bellowing as he crossed the aisles, “You can DO this Barbara! TAKE THE RISK!”.

Take the risk. Famous words of Paul Mathis.

While he gave us R. Buckminster Fuller & Hunter S. Thompson, Aristophanes & Wagner (and Wagner’s daughter Friedelind by default), Joseph Campbell and his Power of Myth, the Song of Roland & the Who’s “Tommy”, he gave us gifts much more impressive — belief in ourselves & each other. He taught us to trust ourselves, our talents and maybe even our dreams. Even 20+ years after leaving his classroom & theater, he encouraged me to constantly take risks with my skills.

My FB timeline is awash with other former students feeling the same grief upon learning of his death. As my friend Aimee said “I am but one in a chorus“. While incredibly sad, I’m also incredibly hopeful. My friend Jimmy sent me message that reads in part, “We have known so many great and interesting people. People that it is worth being a part of their legacy. What people like Paul leave behind are people like us!!! And THAT my friend, is FUCKING AWESOME!!!” And Jimmy is right.

We are all part of Paul Mathis’ legacy. Every kid who passed through his doors in one way, shape or form. Knowing that one man can affect & shape so many lives in such positive ways gives me hope. And I can hear him in the peanut gallery bellowing “YES YES YES!” I bet you can as well.

Paul James Mathis October 30, 1951- June 17, 2013

in his natural element
in his natural element

photo used with permission from Terri Wolak-Cannell

Mime

I am my father’s daughter.

When I was a kid, my dad was everything to me. Tall & imposing, a police officer in a crime-ridden city, he was the person I equally loved & feared most in the world. Quick to laugh & equally quick to anger, I walked on eggshells, not knowing which face he’d show at any moment.

Along with his physical appearance & wit, I inherited his temperament. The stubbornness, the sulking, the shrug, the volatile constitution that I’ve worked hard to subdue over the years.

Around age 10, I started mimicking my dad, trying to anticipate his moves to mirror them, making a pack of cigarettes with red tips to complete the routine. I became quite adept at this game which he seemed to enjoy. Making my father laugh was a high priority. And the man could laugh, loud & red faced, sputtering for air.

We are estranged, my father & I. This is not new. We’ve been doing this weird foxtrot for over twenty five years. It is confusing & unsatisfying. Perhaps we’re too similar to make a relationship viable.  Perhaps time, distance, hurt feelings & miscommunications have rendered our father/daughter relationship irreparable. Perhaps we’re too tired or suspicious, only having had short periods of time that we’ve gotten along well, never seeming to get it right.

I no longer mimic my father’s behaviors. They’ve become ingrained in me. From the bark of his laugh to the way I flick my cigarettes, from the way my face flushes red when I’m angry or embarrassed to the way I pick at my teeth with cellophane.

I am my father’s daughter, which is a blessing & a curse.

Dynasty Demise

My paternal grandmother died in early April. While it wasn’t surprising given her health, it’s affected me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I’ve been writing & rewriting this post for 6 weeks, wading through my sentimentality & annoying susceptibility to nostalgia. I still don’t have it right.

The night before my grandmother’s funeral, the Family gathered at the House. On the eve of the matriarch’s funeral, we celebrated one of her son’s birthdays with laughter, dollar store gifts, fire pits & burgers on the grill. While close when a kid, I drifted from this side of the family for a number of reasons growing up. And here I was with them, listening, watching, telling stories, telling secrets.

It occurred to me, leaning in the doorway watching my uncle unwrap ridiculously large pink sunglasses,  that the dynasty was dead, and that with my grandmother dying, a part of my childhood died with her. Like in many families, she was the one who kept tabs on everyone. I believe she secretly loved being called the Matriarch, with her omnipresent cookies & cans of Pepsi. Now that she was gone, I realized, this might never happen again. With the exception of my cousin K serving in Afghanistan, and my aunt on a well deserved vacation, we were all present.  And all laughing.  I fired off photos from my phone, wanting to capture this person or that, wanting to remember this person this way.

(and this is where i always start SapFest 2013)

(blah blah blah)

(moving on)

I learned a little something about loyalty, floored at some family member’s fierceness when it came to watching one another’s backs. Sometimes diplomacy just doesn’t cut it.  Hard truths are just that. When-the-anvil-falls-on-your-head-&-you- see-a-halo-of-swirling-stars type of hard truths. On the way home that night, I spent the 2 hour drive listening to the Phillies get crushed & revisiting snippets of the previous 24 hours.

I could see where I came from, from my people, my tribe. Like them in appearance, in stubbornness, in something distinctly “suburban Philadelphia on the Jersey side”,  but perfectly polarized politically. I shrugged my way through the two days muttering to myself when outside smoking, or in the bathroom, that we are who we are and to be confident in who I am.

In driving away from the House for the last time, I turned the headlights up from “running lamp” to “standard”. I could already see clearly, but a little more light never hurts.

03.07.13

Rough seas these past few weeks.  In a fit of bad head space, I took down all posts, deleted my Tumblr, stayed away from Twitter for a bit.  I could give any number of reasons: feeling vulnerable, bad medication set, etc… Truth is, I’ve been going through a patch that we all go through: money problems, family drama, huge case of self doubt.

And then something happened.

I received an invite to an event, “Be Awesome”, on Facebook. What started as a quasi-joke from one man amongst his friends blossomed into over 1000 people “attending”, sharing on the page what in their life was awesome, or how they were awesome. It gave me hope when, quite frankly, I was a bit lacking & contemplating irreversible actions.

So I made a magnet.  And then I made more.  Had a brainstorm.  Gained some hope.  Laughed a little.  Made more magnets.  Sold some, even.  Hooray hope.

One person can make a difference.  It happens all the time. You just don’t hear about it often enough.  Thank you, Michael Gentz & your band of Awesome for pulling me back from the edge.