My Two Moms

The other day in the grocery store, my daughter asked me to tell her, again, how it is that I have two moms. This question is hard to explain to a six-year-old even in the best of circumstances. But in an extremely crowded Wegman’s on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, while trying to maneuver a cart and a child through the turkey aisle, it was damn near impossible. But still, I endeavored.

In what was probably the most crowded location in our entire town at that particular moment, I stopped to explain one of the most complicated aspects of my existence.

“The mommy who carried me in her belly, your Nana,” I told her “was too young to take care of a baby. And the mommy who raised me, Grandma Michele, who is in heaven, was old enough to take care of me, but she couldn’t have babies of her own. So your Nana gave me to your Grandma and Grandpa, so that they could take care of me instead. But they all loved me very much.”

That story is about as deep as you can go with an elementary schooler. But even in the midst of the chaos and my own distraction, I was very aware of what I was leaving out.

I didn’t mention how hard I always knew it was for the woman who gave birth to me to have had to let me go. I didn’t tell her how the only time I came close to crying right after she was born was when I thought about what it would have felt like if I’d had to give her up to be raised by another woman.

I couldn’t tell her how, although I always saw my birth mother as a hero, there were times when I couldn’t help but wonder how she could possibly have left me behind. And I couldn’t tell her how, despite the incredible  love I have for the family I know as my own, I still wondered — just sometimes —  what it would have been like to be a part of a family of people who were related to me by blood.

I couldn’t tell her how fiercely angry I feel when people suggest that the mother who made me her own wasn’t my “real” mom. And I couldn’t explain how the joy I felt when I met the mother I’d lost at birth didn’t lessen the grief I will always feel for the mother I lost forever.

I couldn’t explain how incredibly fortunate I felt when the mother who gave me life was one of the first people to meet my daughter after her own birth. And I couldn’t explain how much it sometimes breaks my heart to see the genetic stamp of my adoptive mother on my cousin’s kids and not my own.

And I don’t think I will ever be able to explain to her how, even though I have been blessed with the love of two mothers, there have been moments in my life when I have felt motherless.

There is so much that I can’t explain to my children right now about the reality of my family history. Adoption stories are always complicated, and the fact that I lost the mother who raised me just muddles things further.

But in spite of the complications, it is a story I like to tell, and one that I think is beautiful.

Because even though there is so much I can’t explain, there is so much more that I won’t have to explain.

I won’t have to explain how aware and deeply appreciative I am of the love my mothers had for me and of the sacrifices they both made on my behalf. Because those gifts, which came to me doubled, are now mine to grow and to give to my own children.

I won’t have to explain that family is so much more than sharing a genetic bond, because by the time they understand what it means to be related by blood, they will already know how little those ties matter when it comes to love.

And I won’t have to explain how much love is capable of overcoming, how time and distance and loss and sacrifice only make it more powerful, because the one thing that is clear from my story is that love was behind it all.

This is love.

This is love.

* * *

November is National Adoption Month. Although I tend to shy away from Awareness months in general, I’m glad adoption is something people are talking about.

I have heard people describe adoption as something that always comes from loss. And in a sense, this is undeniably true. People who are adopting are often, though not always, doing so because they cannot have a child any other way. And people who are giving away a child are always losing a part of themselves. Adoption is not an easy option.

But adoption is also a gift of love, in the best sense of the word. It isn’t always the best choice, but when it is, adoption enriches the lives of everyone it touches and it creates a legacy that lasts for generations.

* * *

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am aware of how much I have to be grateful for. Above all, as I am every year, I am thankful for the story of how I came to be, for where I was planted, and especially for the love that made me who I am.

And if anyone who is contemplating adoption reads this, let me share one final story with you, one that my grandmother told me many times over the years.

My grandmother had a terrible time when she was in labor with my father. The birth was so difficult, in fact, that her doctors told her she would probably die if she tried to have another child. She was devastated because she’d always wanted at least four children. So she asked my grandfather if he would consider adopting. He said no, because he just couldn’t fathom being able to love a child that wasn’t his own, especially after having a child that was.

30-some years later, after my parents had adopted me as a six-week-old infant, my grandmother came across my grandfather holding me. She used to say that he looked up from me to her and said, with awe in his voice, that he couldn’t imagine loving anyone more than he loved that baby in his arms.

Adoption is easier than you think it might be.

 

 

 

Hasta la Vista, Tio Bobbo

Three years ago today, when I was exactly 37 weeks pregnant with my second daughter, I stood together with my cousins and my aunt, and we held my uncle’s hand as he slowly passed away.

Maybe one day I will be able to describe what it feels like to help someone you love dearly to leave this world when you are on the cusp of ushering another soul into it. It’s been three years since it happened to me, and I still can’t find the words I need. All I can say is that, before the moment of my uncle’s death, I had both seen life end and brought life forth and neither of those experiences touched me as profoundly, as radically, as that moment did.

It was cancer that killed my uncle. It seems like it’s always cancer in my family. Before it took my uncle, it had already taken my mother, my grandfather, and my other uncle. Cancer stalked and killed four-fifths of my mother’s family. That may sound melodramatic, but it feels true. Cancer took my husband’s mother too, and his uncle and a grandmother as well. It has been such a huge part of my life, that sometimes I forget I am not a survivor of the disease myself.

Or maybe I am? I am a survivor of those who have fought the battle and been overcome by a disease that seems never to pull its punches. Really, so is anyone who has lived through even one day of the fear and the pain; the chemo and the radiation; the treatments that are even worse than the disease, whether they won or lost that final battle. My whole family, then, both the living and the dead, are cancer survivors.

So this post is for them all, because I love them. But mostly it’s for my Uncle Bob, the best uncle a girl could hope for and one of the finest humans I have ever known.

Hasta La Vista, Tio Bobbo

Hasta La Vista, Tio Bobbo

 

When I Grow Up

When I grow up and I get my own room, by which I mean when my kids finally stick my old, sick, complaining self into the nursing home, this tree will live in it forever. I will decorate it only with fairy lights and unicorns and sparkly ribbons, and it will make me happy.

I made this picture extra large so you can fully appreciate this magnificent tree's awesomeness.

I made this picture extra large so you can fully appreciate this magnificent tree’s awesomeness.

This isn’t just some wild fancy of mine — it’s actually a brilliant plan that is at least as important as ensuring that I will be able to pay for the nursing home while I am there.

In my childhood, just one look at a rainbow Christmas tree covered with unicorns would have been like achieving Nirvana. All my fires of desire would have been extinguished. And if old age is really just a return to a childlike state, as so many people say it is, then what could make me happier than living out the rest of my days basking in the fairy-lit glow of my childhood’s grandest dream?

My rainbow and unicorn tree will also make interactions with the nursing home staff more pleasant. For them, at least. Because the fanciful cheerfulness of a tree like this one will undoubtedly make it slightly more bearable for them to change my adult diapers while listening to me expound on the status of my prolapsed uterus. And yes, I know, there are actually people who do not love unicorns and rainbows. To them, I will seem like a strange old bat who is just barely on the flip side of crazy and they will tread lightly around me out of the simple fear that they will push me over that edge.

I will always have visitors, too, because let’s face it: who wouldn’t want to come see the dotty old lady who lives year round with a unicorn-festooned Christmas tree? I would probably even get written up in the local newspaper, which would elevate me to the pinnacle of successful senior-citizenhood: The status of one who can tote a laminated newspaper article about herself, with its accompanying photograph, everywhere she goes. And if I am able to assume this most coveted of roles, I will be sure to bring my treasure, in its manila envelope, to every single appointment with my myriad of doctors, feigning forgetfulness when I show it to them time and time again.

I think I may have put to rest all of my worries about old age. I mean, who needs wills, or financial advisors, or nerve pills, or diabetic support socks when there are novelty Christmas trees and nursing home fame.

***

Note: All senior citizen stereotypes are based on my dear, quirky, and greatly missed grandmothers.

Nice Things, and Why We Can’t Have Them

Sunday was the first night of Advent, and I decided that THIS year, our family was going to light our Advent candle and say our Advent candle prayer every. single. night.

This laudable resolution was challenged from the get go. First, I only had white candles. The proper purple and pink candles were nowhere to be found. But that didn’t matter; what was important was that we would light those candles and say our prayer together, as a family.

So I set our white candles up in the lovely Celtic-knot advent wreath I inherited from my grandmother. They didn’t fit in the holders, and I didn’t have time to rig them up with paper towels, so they leaned awkwardly in four different directions. Still, no matter. It was dinner time and we were doing this Advent thing, candles be damned. I mean darned.

All four of us gathered at the table. The lights were low; the single candle was lit. It was a solemn scene, which lasted approximately 15 seconds. Then, my two year old, Norah, started singing Happy Birthday and blew the candle out.

But I was determined not to let my plans be derailed by a toddler. I moved the wreath out of her reach, re-lit the candle, and said the first line of our prayer:

“O God, as light comes from this candle…”

While my five-year-old, Michele, sweetly repeated after me, Norah shot out her Go- Go-Gadget arms and yanked the wreath toward her. She blew out the candle, grabbed the two candles closest to her, and started drumming.

Teeth clenched, I removed the priceless heirloom to the top of the fridge and confiscated the candles. But still, I persevered. With or without candles, we were DOING. THIS. THING.

I moved onto the second line of the prayer.

“May the blessing — ”

“MOMMY! No!” Now it was Michele’s turn. “You can’t say the next line. My FLOWER didn’t get a chance to say the FIRST line.”

And so, in a tiny, screechy voice, the sparkly flower that had fallen off of a Christmas decoration said her part of the prayer. We moved through the next two lines, slowly, as each was repeated three times, but steadily. Norah was quiet. Too quiet.

As the little flower was squeaking out her repetition of the fourth and final line, Norah could contain herself no longer.

“PooPooPeePee! Butt! Snot! Boogers!” She shouted out her entire potty vocabulary. My husband started man-giggling, laughing harder and louder the more he tried to contain it. Michele didn’t even try to hold back her laughter, and, playing to her audience, Norah repeated her repertoire, adding in animal sounds and random words.

“Moo! Baa! Hair! Nose! Shirt! BUTT!”

I know when I am defeated. But I finished my prayer anyway. Because even though we can’t have nice things, I can still pretend.

+++

O God, as light comes from this candle,
May the blessing of Jesus Christ come to us,
Warming our hearts and brightening our way.
May Christ our Savior bring life into the darkness of this world,
And to us, as we wait for his coming.