Too Little Too Late

“Were you screening your calls?” asks my mother with a slightly agitated tone to her voice.

“No, I was in the midst of leaving a message for someone else when I saw your number come up on the caller ID. I could not stop the message I was leaving mid way to take your call” I respond with equal agitation. Her implication that I was avoiding her call annoys me.

“Oh, well, I just left you a voice mail” mom says.

“I did not listen to it. I called you right back. What’s up?” I ask.

“Nothing. I just called to say I love you.” Mom responds with a clear tone of love and adoration.

The sentiment makes me uncomfortable. I don’t trust it. It is odd for my mother to call “just to say she loves me”. It is more than the call.  It is not customary for our family to utter such things.  Not only do I distrust the sentiment but it instills a feeling of obligation in me.  Do I joke and respond with a laughing “Well, I love you too mom” or do I say nothing?  Do I question her motives? Do I merely thank her?  Expressions of love are supposed to be reciprocal, right?

“Oh? Why is that? I mean, what triggered that?” I ask while trying hard not to show my discomfort.

“I got your email…the one you sent…about Amber” she says with a hesitant voice.

I flinch.  Again the name thing. Amber. (THAT IS NOT HER EFFING NAME) I gulp and secretly pray she did not hear my slight sigh of exasperation.  The email did not warrant a phone call, an expression of love, or any response. I tried to make that clear in the message.  I apparently failed.

“Oh, right. Well, there was no need to call. As I said in the message, I just wanted to give you her contact details and to make sure you knew that I don’t mind if you contact her – or not. In light of my upcoming surgeries, I want to be clear, explicitly clear, because I don’t think I have been, that you could have a relationship with her outside of me. I am not brokering those relationships. At least not anymore. Not that I ever did…at least not consciously but it occurred to me the other night that while I never said you were not allowed to contact her I also never said you were allowed to.” I ramble.

If I had wanted to discuss live, I would have called. Did she not see the built-in emotional avoidance in my email?

“Yeah, I get that. Your message has really caused me to think a lot.  I appreciate you sending it. I am thinking about it. Thank you for sending it. I just always thought…well., I don’t know what I thought. I was being considerate of you and your feelings, I guess. I don’t really know. It is different for me than your sister … I know you also sent the same message to her.” Mom says as her voice begins to shake. Now she is rambling.

“Yes. I did. She has worked hard to understand me, has been kind, and has expressed her own loss and grief over the ejection of my daughter from our family. She even wrote a poem about it right after I found [daughters amended name]. It seemed appropriate to share with her as well.”  I respond.

My own voice is beginning to quiver.  If I cry, my perfectly lined eye will likely smear.  The Kat VonD liner is the bomb diggity but I don’t believe it was developed to withstand emotional adoption laced conversations that occur at 9 am on a work day when you are least expecting them. I reach for the Sephora pocket mirror I keep at my desk to check the makeup.  Mom continues.

“Well, you know…for me…I was…the…the only…one…besides you….that held…her” my mother chokes out the words and she starts to cry. While she is not in front of me, I can see her face. Her lips pulled in tight, her blue eyes swelling with tears, her head slightly bowed, eyes diverted, avoiding contact with anyone. There is likely no home with her yet she will still feel compelled to shield her tears and hide her pain from the emptiness of her own home. It is my family way. Hide your emotion. Do not show vulnerability.

“I know, Mom. I know.”

The memory of my mother sitting next to my bed on the maternity floor of St. Joseph Hospital comes rushing back to me.  I see her holding my daughter, her first-born grandchild.  The associated feelings, a mélange of anger, sadness, rage, terror, literally choke me. I am unable to respond.  I opt for a moment of silence.  I am fearful that if I do attempt to speak I may trigger The Fessler Effect.  I cannot, will not, shall not, ever allow that to happen in my work place.

“I am sorry. I did not mean to upset you. All I wanted to do is let you know I got the message, appreciated it, and am thinking about it and that I love you” she says.

“Okay, Mom. Got it.  But I gotta go now, okay? I have a 10 am project status meeting for the professional portal” I say.

“Okay, love you” she says one more time before hanging up.

As I gather my iPad, iPhone, glasses, coffee and pen, I accept that my mother loves me — now.  I am aware she regrets the loss of my only daughter from our family.

I wish I knew that in 1986.

Name Games

I like to think I know why they do it but I am not sure I appreciate that they do. My mother does it and my best friend does it.  I have educated my mother, or tried to, yet she refuses to change what she says.  Her position applies not only to my daughter’s situation but to my own as well and that irritates me even more.

Desperately Seeking Suzan

My name is no longer the name I was given by my parents. I was named Susan and in my teens it was changed verbally to Suzan (pronounced Soo-Zann as in Suzanne) in an attempt at creative self expression (and perhaps teenage rebellion).  Later in my life, I legally changed it to Suzan.  I have been known for most of my life as Suz (Soooz) or Suzan (still pronounced the same as the name given to me by my parent just spelled or stylized differently).  My mother absolutely, emphatically refuses to accept this, and insists on calling me Sue (which I despise, I would prefer she call me shithead or dumkopf).  She feels so strongly about this she went off about it on my husbands’ facebook recently and my younger sister (siding with my mother) joined the party.  It irritated me immensely.

Suz is who I identify with, it is me, it is how I define me, how I feel about me, who I think I am, and who I want to be in the future. My authentic life is lived as Suz or Suzan and that life includes my daughter, my adoption experience, activism and all related trauma.  For me, to deny Suzan is to deny all that she is.  It is to put me into a box and tell me how to act and what to wear and how to feel.  I don’t respond well, at all, to that type of treatment (at least not anymore, it is well established I once fell prey to that type of direction and perhaps that is why I so strongly resist it today).

Of course, I realize citing the existential and philosophical concepts of Kierkegaard and others are a bit, well, above my mothers’ level of understanding.  I try to explain my own position, in words I think she will understand, yet she continues to defy me.  The result? The result of her actions? Our relationship is limited. To me, her refusal to call me by the name I recognize as my own is to deny all that I am.  She gets only part of me in our relationship.

I am okay with that.

Forever Amber

“Have you ladies decided what you want to eat?” the PF Changs waitress asks.

I look to my best friend of more than thirty years and she answers.

“Yeah, I will have the pepper steak” she responds.

“Okay. And you?” the waitress turns to me and asks for my order.

“I will have the Ahi Tuna Wasabi with mixed greens…and can I have another drink, please? That martini was really good” I answer.

“Of course.  I will put your orders in now and bring your drinks over in a minute.” She says as she walks away.

My dinner date begins to fill me in on the details of her very ill mother.  We were supposed to be discussing the Jodi Picoult book we read this month but somehow, perhaps not so illogically, the discussion turned to our ill parents. Friend shares stories of her mother and I counter with understanding and stories of my own similar experience with my father and the way he died last year.

Waitress returns and places my incredibly yummy martini in front of me.  I lower my head to reach my rising hand as the glass is thankfully quite full.  As I take the first zip of my drink, my friend begins to talk. I look up at her through my long bangs.

“So…. have you heard from Amber?” she asks

I choke on the alcohol. While attempting to swallow the fluid, I gulped in a breath of air.  I was not expecting my friend to ask about my daughter let alone refer to her by her original name.

I pause and pretend to cough and choke longer than was necessary. I am debating what, if anything, I want to say in response to the question. I am also attempting to quell my feelings of annoyance.

I dislike that friend refers to my daughter by her birth name. My mother does this too. I dislike her doing it as well.  My dislike is rooted in a number of factors, my own issues with my name and the refusal of others to honor that, the fact that my daughter attaches zero value to her original name (and by extension, me) and the very obvious fact that it is not her legal name.  I suspect my friend uses that name out of respect — or at least what she thinks is respect. I am fairly confident if I correct her, if I explain, she would change her ways (maybe?).

From my friends perspective, as someone who was there, who knew my daughters father, saw my pain (then and now), she is trying to be considerate. Amber is, to her, my daughter.  I do appreciate she asks about my daughter and is one of the few people that discusses her without hesitation but at the same time, her doing that, well it triggers something inside me that I am not willing to deal with at dinner.

“No. I have not heard from her. It’s been a few years.  Though her birthday is in a few weeks. Cannot believe she will be 27!”  I respond.

My friend makes a sad face in front of me and waits, presumably for me to say more.  I direct the conversation elsewhere.

M & M’s

My phone makes the sound signaling a text message. Grabbing it from my bag I read a message from my 21 year old niece, who happens to carry the same name as my daughters amended.  There is one letter different in the spelling of her name versus my daughters but they are pronounced the same.

“Hey, Aunt Suzan, just wanted to let you know that Tony and I broke up this morning.”

“Awwww. Sorry to hear. Are you okay?” I respond.

“Yeah. Fine. Worst part is that I am miserable I have to move back with my mom” she answers.

I cringe at the words.  I recall what it was like to have to move back home after my maternity home stay, and many years later when I returned home permanently after several years in Chicago.  You really can’t go home once you have been out on your own. I also know what it is like at her mother’s house these days.

“Uh. No you don’t. You can stay here.” I text her back.

The response is quick.

“Really? Seriously?” she asks.

I respond and ask her to come over as soon as she can to discuss with me and my husband.

Later in the day I help her move her stuff into our “man cave”. I take down all the sports related Fathead decals, move furniture around, empty the closet, bring in supplies.  She is set.  She thanks me and my husband. She will be with us through the summer once she graduates college and gets a job and possibly an apartment with her older sister.  I refuse her offer to contribute money towards rent.  I tell her to buy her own groceries and to help me out with kid stuff or things around the house in between her working at Whole Foods and finishing her degree. She thanks us again. Husband responds that it is the least we can do since she is the reason we are together (true).

Her younger male cousins, my sons, are thrilled when they learn we have a house guest for the summer.

Today, two days after she has moved in, my oldest son says

”Is M working?” he asks. He is referring to his cousin. I hear cousin but feel daughter.

“Yes” I respond.

“Wow. That’s weird. Never thought I would say that…” he responds. His words trail off in such a way to suggest he had more to say.

I know what he is referring to – his sister. He never thought he would ask if his sister is working or in our home – even though he is referring to his cousin of the same name.  He made the connection. I can tell by his tone of voice.

I push him. He senses something in my voice. I want him to say that he was thinking/referring to his sister.  He stutters or outright ignores the question. When pressed, he quickly changes his story and drops the subject.

I have a family relative carrying the same name of my daughter living with me for a few months.

This could be a teeny bit of a challenge but at least my son calls his sister by her legal name.

photo credit: Hillary Scharmann-Guiterrez

Situations

April 11, 2012

When I say the words “the situation” what comes to your mind? Do you think of that dude, Michael Sorrentino, from the MTV reality show “Jersey Shore?” Or do you think of something adoption related? Maybe you think of both? Neither? Something all together different?

Today when I heard the words “the situation” I first thought of adoption, felt a bit sick and then thought of Mr. Sorrentino, who is sometimes, call The Sitch. While the colorful reality star has nothing to do with my work place, I will share why I thought of him. I will explain to you my situation (pun intended).

Not quite a year ago, I hired a supremely talented woman to join my web team (I manage a team of web editors).  I liked her immediately not only for her education and experience but her style, her personality. She is someone I would have had as a friend had we met under different circumstances. She is friendly, creative (has these great chunks of red color on her dark asymmetrical bob), fashionable, an English major, web junkie, mother of two young sons and around my age. We have lots in common. During the year or so she has worked for me she has completed an amazing amount of work including helping us push our way into the mobile application space by writing content for our soon to come mobile app while simultaneously managing the editorial efforts of our member portal. Like I said, cool, amazing, talented, someone I really like.  As such, I was a bit nervous when she approached me and asked if we could “talk”. I said “sure” and invited her to sit down on my cushioned file cabinet/seat.  She then asked if we could find a room and talk in private. It was at this point my internal manager alarm went off and I said “uh-oh” quietly to myself.  This type of request usually means, in my experience, someone is resigning or has some other major problem.   We found a room.

“So, I don’t want you to be nervous or anything. It is nothing bad” says editor extraordinaire.

“Okay. So what’s up?” I ask.

She appears nervous and a bit jumpy. This is not her usual style.  If she is not resigning, it’s nothing bad, what is making my usually calm, cool, collected editor so skittish?

“Well, my husband and I are adopting a baby. We just got called a day or so ago. It was a complete shock. We had registered with an adoption agency several years ago. We were able to get pregnant via IVF and have our sons and it was long and hard and expensive but we did it. We totally forgot to take our profile off the active registry with the agency and they called us. They have a baby girl for us…Utah…end of May…leave of absence…situation…four kids…mom 26…dad in his 40… “she says.

She is speaking a bit rapidly (which is normal for her, another thing I like about her as I do it as well) but rambling. Or maybe it’s me?  Normally I could follow her but the adoption word has unnerved me and done something strange to my cochlea.  I am hearing her yet simultaneously reeling inside and trying my best to keep my professional shit together.

Tears well up inside me.  I DON’T WANT TO FUCKING DEAL WITH THIS AT WORK.  JESUS EFFIN CHRIST I DON’T BELIEVE IN WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?  CARL EFFIN JUNG WHY DID YOU SAY “THAT WHICH WE RESIST, PERSISTS”. HELLO! UNIVERSE? DID YOU MISS THE MEMO THAT SAID I AM IN THE MIDST OF A MAJOR HEALTH CRISIS AND TRYING TO AVOID ADOPTION. DID YOU? HUH?

I notice my breathing is a bit rapid and shallow.  I let her ramble on while I get my internal feces collected so I can be the professional manager type and not the teenager girl traumatized at the loss of her child that the adult mother found and was told by that child to please go away, I don’t think of you or adoption, like ever.

By listening and doing that internal feces collection, I learn:

  • Baby girl due end of May.
  • Will be induced (kid cannot even pick her own birthday!)
  • Parents are not married. Mother is 26. Father is in his 40s. They have one child, six years old that they are parenting. They have surrendered four (FOUR?) children already. Due to their “situation” they are placing this one as well.
  • She has been invited to be in the delivery room. Squeee! She feels so honored!
  • Oh, I should see the picture of the six year old. The agency sent her a picture and the six year old is all malnourished, unwashed and clearly abused. (Why is the agency sharing a picture of an allegedly abused child and NOT reporting that to authorities?)
  • Mother and father are in Utah.
  • Staff member and her husband are OH! SO. HAPPY.  They are going to proceed ahead with the adoption for clearly this was meant to be.
  • She would like to know if she can take a few months off for adoption leave and come back.

As she finishes and she sits in front of me, waiting for my response, the first words I can muster are:

“Do you know my background?” I ask.

She is clearly utterly confused. What does MY background have to do with what she just told me?

“Huh? What? Uh, no” she responds.

So I tell her.  I share I have a daughter, surrendered to adoption when I was 18 after a five month stay in a maternity home located one thousand miles away from my family and support system. I tell her my agency was a baby broker that coerced mothers, lied to them, made promises and then sold the children to families who had money. I tell her I am an activist in the adoption field and that I support adoption only as a last resort and even then I believe all ties to the family of origin, medical history, etc. should be maintained. I tell her my husband and I are in the process of forming a not for profit foundation that will provide education scholarships to single moms struggling to parent and finish their education.

At this point, I realize I am rambling and vacillating between the 18 year traumatized pissed off mother and my present day self.  My voice is either shaky and on the verge of tears in one breath or firm and resolute in the next.  My cochlea must have fixed itself for now I hear not only her, but my own voice and it sounds, well, a bit scary.

Manager Professional Suz enters the room.

I try to bring it back to her request. I tell her we value her (we/I do) and that I will consider her request and share it with my boss as well. She is very appreciative and continues to go on a bit more about “the situation”.  I share a bit more including telling her to question everything the agency tells her, Utah is a major red flag, and that she should get all the medical history possible, names, etc.

She responds by stating the agency is very ethical, this mothers situation is not like mine was (she said this with a bit of a defensive tone to her voice), it’s legit, necessary, the right thing, etc.  At this point, I note that sweet sugary smell of Kool-Aid dust that wafts up into your nose when you are making, or exposed to the making, of Kool-Aid.   The suggestion that my situation is not like this one and that somehow I am unique or different or whatever has angered me (and invalidated me, thank you very much).  I realize it is time to wrap up the conversation. I let her know I will get back to her, reiterate my sincere belief and liking of her as a person and a professional and we leave.

She returns to her desk and I go to the ladies room and cry.

Adoption at work is not something I have prepared myself for.

Knowing that in a few weeks another baby girl will lose her mama and suffer a primal wound makes me sad.

Knowing that my friend, a woman I respect and admire, has sipped the Kool-Aid and may be in the process of being duped by a Utah adoption agency makes me angry.

The pressure to be the professional non traumatized “birth-mother” overwhelms me. If I could leave the office I would but it is not an option.  I return to my desk and immediately turn to my Facebook (thank goodness I work in ebusiness and we have access from work) and I vent to my private adoption list on my Facebook (you guys know who you are, thank you for being there).

Today

I spoke briefly to my staff member today. Let her know my boss and I support her request and that we will look for a temporary staff member during her leave. I will also look at our current resource plan and see if I can adjust things amongst the other team members. She is appreciative.

I said nothing else about adoption.  I want to but I am still formulating my thoughts. I don’t want to come across as this AntiAdoptoNazi. I do respect and want to retain this person on my team. But how do I help her, help me, help that baby girl?  What do I share? How do I do it effectively and gently?

A few of my friends on Facebook recommended a few books for me to share with her. I ask you now, dear readers, what would you recommend I share with a PAP (or not)? If you were in my shoes, what would you do?

Please note it is highly probable she has, or soon will, google me and find this blog, so, feel free to write your response not necessarily to me, but to her.

Artwork Credit: Julie Rist