Mothers and Sisters Day

When I told my now 15 year old son about his half sister, he was about 7.  The conversation happened right after I found her and I was full of emotion and hope.  I believed back then there was a chance she might meet me and by extension, him.  I did my best explaining to him. I cried while my son sat listening, watching, questioning and later, overwhelmed with the information, spinning in his chair. My ex-husband, his father, sat by and said nothing.  The entire experience is documented in my post, Telling Children.

I never held such a conversation with my youngest son, soon to be 11.  I had hoped, at least in the early days that my daughter, his sister, would be common talk in our house. I foolishly hoped he would grow up with an awareness of her and that I would not have to make a big production about it.  Read any of my old posts and you will see how foolish I was in those days. The naiveté, the hope, the ignorance.

As my reunion slowly turned from what I hoped it would be to what it is today, the talk of my daughter, his sister, also turned.  I put away her pictures. I stopped sending her gifts (at her request); I stopped sending cards signed by her brothers and me. Gone were the days where my oldest son drew her pictures, asked about her, and told me she was a total “hottie”.  In its place came silence, tears, and stilted conversations.  Despite my best efforts to encourage dialogue, my oldest son picked up on my angst.  While I never told him to, and never would, he stopped asking.  As a result, the free flow of information I thought would find its way to the eyes, ears and soul of my youngest son also stopped.

I have been aware of this. There have been opportunities to have that conversation, again, yet I let them pass. I have seen what my reunion did to my oldest son. I saw his confusion. I answered his questions like “why doesn’t my sister want to know me?” and “what did I do to her?” and finally “If adoption was so good for her, why isn’t she happy about it? Why isn’t she nice to you?” as best I could. My answer was almost always “I don’t know sweetie. I hope some day you can ask her.” For that is the truth, I don’t know. Only she knows. I am aware that anything I say will influence his perception of her both now and in the future so I avoid the questions, cease the conversation, and go on.

Yet in doing so, I left my youngest behind.  I want to think I was, or am, protecting him. Today, on mother’s day of all days, I came to the conclusion that I have to find a way to tell him something. I have to accept that another one of my children will make an installment on the loan of my heart taken out by Easter House.  Only now, it will be my youngest sons’ heart I offer up to the emotional bank teller.

It’s the same question each time. A statement of utter confusion with big brown eyes looking anxiously up at me.

“I have a sister?”

Today the question came while we were sorting old photos.  My husband and I had recently cleaned out our basement and I had three Rubbermaid bins full of photos, papers, books, and more from my first marriage.  My sons loved sorting the photos, asking who was who, laughing at my bad hair and excessive weight and the mullet their father sported in college.

Photos were being tossed into various piles when my youngest son says “Who is this?”. I look over and see him holding a picture of my daughter. The picture was taken on her college campus. I had saved the picture early in reunion when she once gave me access to her Facebook.  I had scoured those photos, saved every single one of them and later printed them all at my local Walgreens.  Most I had put into a large scrap book, again, early reunion.  A few extras seem to have escaped the album and were now mixed in with all the other family photos, much like they should have been all along.

“That’s your sister, [Amended Name]” I say.

“What? My sister? I have a sister?” he says thoroughly confused.

My oldest son utters a sound of exasperation and begins to grab more photos. As I struggle to respond, he does it for me.

“Uh, yeah. You have a sister.” He says in a lower, somewhat uncomfortable tone.  He is protecting me. I can feel it.  He wants to shut the conversation down.  He knows that I have told his brother this before. He is likely annoyed his brother is asking again but further annoyed that it is going to bother me, and presumably him as well.  What he does not know is that he was given a lengthy conversation, time to ask questions, time to talk about his sister where as his inquisitive brother was not given such an opportunity.  Mommy expected him to pick up the news and figure it out all on his own. Bad mommy.

“What, you mean, like Sienna? But she is my stepsister..,” he says even more confused as he mentions the child of his father’s new wife.

“No. Not her.” Oldest son says with a tone of annoyance.  He has that brotherly duh.shut up.stupid tone to his voice. He is jumping in and attempting to quash the conversation.

I should have jumped in here. I should have said something. The good mother I am supposed to be, I think I am, the one I try so hard to be, would have used this as an opening to that long overdue conversation.

I couldn’t.

But I will.

I just need to find the words. New, age appropriate, developmentally on-target words.  While I have told him many times before, I clearly need to tell him again, in a different way.

Yes, you have a sister.

 

 

Albert, Julie, Raoul & Me

“Hi. I wanted to meet you. Susan told me I should introduce myself to you…I was wondering…are there any other birth mothers here?” my new friend says.

“Uh, well, me…and uh…I think there are a handful of older moms…from the baby scoop era…I think they are with CUB?” I respond as I bobble my head around the room looking for the moms I reference.

“Oh, no younger ones? I was hoping to meet some younger ones. I was hoping we could all get together for lunch” friend says with a mixture of a surprise and disappointment clear in her tone.

“No that I know of.  I don’t usually see many younger moms at conferences…at least not the ones I go to… but I will keep a look out for you and let you know if I meet someone new” I offer.

“Okay. Thanks. Excuse me I have to use the ladies room before the next session starts” she says as she squeezes between me, a group of strangers and a wall.

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“She asked me if I knew of any other birth mothers here. Do you know anyone?” I ask my friend Psychobabbler and another conference attendee, a social worker from Illinois. 

They didn’t.  

Some one asked if Claud was in attendance and I indicated I had not seen her. I wondered to myself why it is so often me and Claud. Where are the other younger mothers? I know they are out there.  I know they are blogging. How do we get them to conferences, particularly one like St. Johns that is full of critical thinkers about adoption and not individuals promoting God’s plan to needlessly separate mother from child. How can we make them feel safe to speak, if that is even possible for us to do? What is unique about me, Claud, Bernadette, the many senior moms that seem to always been present?  Ego? Good therapy? Socio-economic status? All? Or none of the aforementioned?

I feel like a bit of an island at times. I wonder what message it sends. The one bitter birth mother whining about the Illinois baby brokers (someone actually referred to me that way years ago) floating in a sea of social workers, policy makers, adoptive and prospective adoptive parents.  This conference is well stocked in adoptees (primarily trans-racial, given conference topic that makes sense), social workers and even adoptive parents. Seems like a critical voice in these conversations is continually and painfully absent.

“Is it possible they are not here because there just aren’t any younger ones – or at least fewer? Maybe that is a good thing? Maybe we are making progress and after 1986 there is just less of you….therefore less presence” friend questions.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” I respond with a confused tone as I look down at my roast beef sandwich debating if I should eat the bread or not. I am thinking more than I am listening when I hear Social Worker from IL speak up.

“It is likely important to note the price of these things.  While the registration for this one is affordable, sort of, travel, meals, lodging, etc. in New York certainly is not.” she says.

A conversation concerning the cost of conferences, social worker wages, birth mother income and more ensues.  I am listening and engaged, yet not.  A piece of my mind has been sliced off and is having its own conversation. Some part of me is a teeny bit offended. While I don’t believe it was intended, it may have just been suggested that birth mothers cannot afford, haven’t achieved the social status to pay for such conferences. Am I projecting? Being too defensive?

I decide to offer an opinion.

“You know, even if it is true, even if the numbers are down, and that would be a good thing, it is critical we keep talking, we keep showing up. Let me tell you a story about my grandmother…..” I begin.

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Returning home following a long day of high school and working full time at Burlington Coat Factory, I arrive at my grandmothers’ small home at nearly nine o’clock at night. Although I noticed the grey blue television glow through the front bay window suggesting Gramma Julie was awake, I entered with deliberate caution careful not to make noise. If she was not awake, she would surely be asleep on couch underneath one of her multicolored hand crocheted afghans.

I open the door, step in slowly even though the soles of my Bass shoes make little noise. My grand mother is awake and lying flat on her back on her mothball smelling couch. Her hand crocheted afghan is  pulled up under her chin and she is sobbing deeply and staring at something on the television. Startled at the sight of her, I quickly spin  on my heels toward the television.  It is  at that moment I am  introduced to Raoul Wallenberg or at least the Richard Chamberlain version of Wallenberg.

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat celebrated for saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. An Aryan Christian and son of wealthy Swedish bankers, Wallenberg despises the anti-Semitism of the Hitler regime and vows to help as many victims of the Nazis as possible.

My grandmother and her family, well, really my family, were victims. I recall stories of my grandmothers’ family being labeled Righteous Gentiles. I see the image of the firing line Grandma once talked about. I reflect on the family legends of my grandmother conceiving my father out of wedlock during the time she worked as a maid to a German officer. My own mothers voices echoes in my ears with stories of my father’s father, my grandfather, and the relationship he had with my grandmother, a relationship that produced not a marriage but rather my illegitimately born father on June 7, 1941 in Lubacz, Poland. My grandmother gave birth, likely alone, without the father of her child nearby. (In 2012 I will find his concentration camp release records but will be unsuccessful in tracing him beyond his camp release). With this knowledge in mind, and nearly six months before I will experience my own crisis pregnancy, I rush to turn off the television.

Gramma Julie sits up right and bellows loudly in her thick Polish accent.

“LEAVE IT ON.”

Doubly frightened that I have now further upset an elderly woman already visibly upset, I freeze in place and look at her.

“But, Gramma, it is making you cry. I know this story. I know what it means to you. You shouldn’t watch it.” I say.

Still forceful yet also still sobbing, she responds.

“I will watch and so will you. Come. Sit.” She says as she pats the couch next to her.

“We must all watch. We must keep telling these stories. We must keep crying. The instant we stop, it will happen again. IT CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN.”

I am now crying.

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Six months after that conversation with my grandmother, I experience my own crisis pregnancy.  I am not in WWII Poland but I will experience my own type of personal holocaust. Oh, there is no mass murder or genocide, not really. In my case, only one was lost. While my grandmother walked out of Poland eight years after my fathers’ birth with him holding her hand, I had no such luck leaving the State of Illinois.  I want to say that my loss pales in comparison to the massive losses of others, and logically, intellectually I know it does, but part of me, the emotional immature part of me that cares only about my loss, my pain, my grief, my child, feels somehow related to those from that terrible time in history.

With that memory tattooed in black ink on my soul, I realize why I need to be okay with being one of the few moms here, why it is okay if I am the only one telling the stories. Someone has to.  Even if at this time, now, it is just me.  For all those lost, for those that may be lost, for all those that were “saved” through open adoption or parenting. We must keep telling the stories of mothers like me and those before me. As my grandmother says, the instant we stop, it will happen again.

Thought to myself, but heard in my grandmothers thick Polish accent, IT CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN.

BOTB: Top Ten

Thank you to all who defined their Best of the Blog for me. I appreciate your taking time to share your thoughts and dig through my archives. I even surprised myself when I started poking around in the back of my blog closet. I have been blogging for many years and it is fascinating (and a bit disturbing) to me to see how my thoughts, voice, etc. has changed over the years.

Below is the list of the Top Ten nominated to date.  If you have not read, or want to read again, please click the links below. Be sure to read the comments. Many of them are more useful than the posts.

Feel free to continue to share your other favs as well!

The Nose (2006)
A post explaining my shock at finding myself in the same room as my college  age daughter and my inability to reach out to her to say hello, hug her and hear her voice.

Forgive You Father For You Have Sinned (2009)
The text of a letter I wrote, and mailed, to my mothers Catholic parish priest after my mother boasted to me how the priest welcomed females who had lost children to abortion to the altar.  He did not welcome women who had lost them to adoption.

White Flag Realities (2008)
A purely fictional post detailing a conversation between an adoption placement coordinator and Janie, an expectant mother, considering adoption.

Telling Children (2006)
The story of how I told my son, now age 15, then approaching 7, about the existence of his older sister. His childlike questions and my responses are contained therein.

Claimed (2011)
My experience of finally being claimed by a man who loved me after so many before him had failed to.

Just Sit There (2009)
A bit of a rant by me directed at random blog commenters that email and tell me my story is “oh so sad but it doesn’t happen anymore”.

About That Note  (2011)
My painful confession of the fact that when the agency casewrecker threatened me with that promissory note my mother signed, I gave up my daughter for the first time. The second would be three days after her birth.

Paying Debts (2007)
A five-year old post talking about the need to teach surrender mothers how to pay back what they “owe”, questioning if it is even possible.

Care To Play A Game (2008)
A challenge to my blog readers to play an adoption game.

Emma (2008)
Overhearing two adoptive moms discussing their Asian adoption experience.