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

Reading the Hurt

So, before I begin, let me remind you all that I stalk my daughter online. Perhaps I should say visit as opposed to stalk since stalk sounds so, well, dark, nefarious and with malicious intent. There is of course, no malice intended, it is the only way I am able to stay connected to her and assure myself she is alive and comparatively well.

With that reminder, I will also note that I tend to read books she reads. Now, before you go and carry on about how creepy that is, I ask you to consider how hard it is to get to know a child that wants nothing to do with you.  As I have said many times, her choosing to erase me from her life does not erase her from mine. Surrendering her, not raising her, changed my legal status as her mother. It did not change the very real fact that I am her mother. I worry about her and think about her every day — just like I do the children I am parenting.

I decided years ago to read books she makes reference to with the hopes that perhaps I might find some shred of her within the story, some reason why she likes the book, some reflection of who she is. Equally important to note is the fact that I am a voracious reader. I can read several books in a week, many in a month.  I regularly have a book in my car, several on my desk at work, even more on my iPad, and some on my iPhone kindle app.  Every idle moment of my time is taken up with reading. As my daughter has similar tastes to me, is well-educated, I find it beneficial to follow her book tastes.

The first book I read that related to her was a book by Jean Rhys. Daughters blog title makes reference to a Rhys book and I was curious what might be behind it.  So I started there. A year or so ago she mentioned a Jeanette Winterson novel. Since she had not only blogged about the novel, but later tattooed her own body with reference to it, I was curious. Again, perhaps the books will tell me things my daughter wont or cannot. I bought it but found I could not get it into it.

Today, she made reference to Winterson again by way of a Salon.com story about the author. I read the article and it made my heart ache. Perhaps I am projecting, reading to much into it, but oh, how it sliced those little papers cuts of adoption sorrow deeper into my soul. (You can read the article and draw your own conclusions).

I had no idea Winterson was adopted when I first bought her books (yes, the books I did not read which explains why I did not know for adoption is a theme woven through her novels).  Reading that Salon article once again piqued not only my interest in my daughter but in adoption reading (which is something I do a lot of, even if in small bursts here or there for my heart can only take it in small doses).  I downloaded Winterson’s latest novel to my iPad and began reading it this afternoon.

The book is titled Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal.  Amazon describes the book “…Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir about a life’s work to find happiness. It’s a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser, waiting for Armageddon; about growing up in a north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition; about the Universe as Cosmic Dustbin.

It is the story of how a painful past that Jeanette thought she’d written over and repainted rose to haunt her, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother.

Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded search for belonging—for love, identity, home, and a mother.”

Gulp.

Let me give you a small taste of the very first part of the book.

Page 5 (on my kindle app):

“..It was my survival from the beginning. Adopted children are self-invented because we have to be, there is an absence, a void, a question mark at the very beginning of our lives. A crucial part of our story is gone, and violently, like a bomb in the womb.

The baby explodes into an unknown world that is only knowable through some kind of story – of course that is how we all live, it’s the narrative of our lives, but adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It’s like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It’s like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing  never, ever leaves you – and it can’t, and it shouldn’t, because something is missing.

That isn’t of its nature negative. The missing part, the missing past, can be an opening, not a void. It can be an entry as well as an exit. It is the fossil record, the imprint of another life, although you can never have that life, your fingers trace the space where it might have been, and your fingers learn a kind of braille.

There are markings here, raised like welts, Read them. Read the hurt. Rewrite them. Rewrite the hurt.

I am reading the hurt.

Again. I am not sure why or what will come of this. I do know I feel very compelled to continue reading even with the massive triggers.

I will let you know how the book turns out however, only a few pages in, I feel I can recommend. Let me know if you read it.

I suspect I will be done by late tomorrow.

photo credit: Joanna Fisher

Me as Mean Girl

“Some of them seem so, well, mean” says my husband. He is referring to commenter’s on my blog and others.

“Ha. That’s funny. I am aware that some people refer to certain bloggers as the mean girls. It’s funny you say the same and you don’t even know them.” I laugh as I put the final coat of white paint on the baseboard.

“Well, really, do you read some of the comments you get? How can you not find them mean?” he inquires.

“I guess because I know the people involved and the trauma behind the comments, I don’t find them to be intentionally mean. Sure, some of them could work on their words and delivery a bit but that is more about personal communication and writing style than being mean. More importantly, I don’t take them personal. Those types of comments are more of a reflection of the person leaving them than they are of me. I used to get upset, years ago; I even used to delete them. Nowadays I tend to leave them as a public service to others.” I offer.

“I say this all the time. You are too nice. I don’t know how you hold back.” Hubby says with a smile.

His comment causes me to reflect on my own online behavior, commenting style, and what I consider mean or not. Doing so reminds me of a time in my life I am not proud of.

“I was a mean girl once. Maybe not in the adoption blogging land – and even that is questionable depending on who you ask – but I was mean once” I saw rather meekly.

“You? I can’t see it.” Hubby says as he walks away to the kitchen.

I can see it. I can still feel it. I am still embarrassed by it.

I was 13 years old and in the seventh grade. It was a tough year for me. Making the transition from my small elementary school where I was the top student to a large middle school with hundreds of students overwhelmed me. Teenage girl issues, lifelong social anxiety, hormones and challenges at home all contributed to a very difficult seventh grade experience.

My best friend was a girl named Dawn. She was my friend in elementary school and also a “gifted” student. While we had much in common, we were also very different. Dawn’s family was a bit, oh unsettled. She was rarely supervised. She stayed out late, hung around with a rough crowd and smoked cigarettes. She wore dark eyeliner, a rawhide choker and had a long denim jacket. She also had a boyfriend. His name was Bob. All of these items were symbols of a bad girl (according to my mother) and being such made her oddly popular in school and even more attractive to me. I wanted so badly to be her. I was tired of being the smart nerdy girl. I wanted to be accepted and be popular. Since she was my closest friend, I spent a lot of time with her and with Bob and with Bob’s best friend, Ray.

Ray was a little strange. He was a bit unwashed and unkempt, having grown up in a rough section of town. He was poor. I wasn’t wealthy by any means but even in seventh grade socio-economic status was obvious. Where he came from? The street he lived on? Poor. Where I came from? Struggling middle class but not poor. I was able to shower regularly, had decent clothing, and had food in my stomach on a regular basis. This was not the case with Ray.

Ray liked me. I did not like him, well, not that way. He was a fun guy and we were friends. We spent a lot of time together because Bob was his best friend and Dawn was mine. While Dawn and Bob smoked cigarettes and made out, Ray and I skipped rocks on the pond and talked – a lot. We talked about other kids in school, about Dawn and Bob, about our families, about teenage trials and tribulations. In nearly every conversation, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I always said no. I did not feel that way about him. He was my friend, more of a brotherly figure, than a boyfriend. I was (and here is where I get shallow and mean) also sort of embarrassed by him. Even if I did like him that way, he was not the type of guy that I would want to be seen with. I would for sure be made fun of in school. It was okay to hang out with him after school with Dawn and Bob but I would never be seen with him in school.

I always laughed, smiled, thanked him and refused. He would smile back and say he was not giving up. He was confident someday I would be his “girl”. I secretly shuddered at the thought.

Months went by and I spoke with Ray nearly every night on the phone. We became closer and true to his word he continued to ask me out and I continued to refuse. I was crushing on other boys in school, Brad and Jimmy. I would tell Ray about them and he would make snide comments about the other boys being either “meathead jocks” or “burnouts”. He told me those boys would never be nice to me like he was and he proved this point in his own mind by regularly buying me presents, presents that he could not afford. I suspected he stole them. I would refuse them (my mother taught me accepting a gift from a man demanded some sort of reciprocal gesture) and he would insist I accept. Despite my refusals, he would show up when I was not aware and leave them in my parents’ mailbox, or my locker at school. If I casually said in a conversation with Dawn, I saw a great pair of neon earrings at Bradlees; they would magically appear a few days later courtesy of Ray.

In the spring of that year, Ray broke me down. After a lengthy phone call one night, he asked me again, to go out with him. I paused for a long time and responded with an “Okay”. I agreed to go out with him. Going out, by seventh grade definition, meant he could tell people I was his girlfriend and also implied he could touch or kiss me if he chose to. Shocked and not sure he heard me correctly, Ray demanded I repeat my answer. I did. He started to cry.

He told me he was so happy. He knew I would come around. I laughed and internally wondered if I had done the right thing. Part of me clearly enjoyed spending time with him, he liked me, was nice to me, I figured it might be okay to “go out”. I told him we would try. I expressed concern that we were good friends and that going out might ruin that. He said it wouldn’t. It would only make it better. Little did we know. I asked him not to tell anyone (here comes that bitchy mean girl again). I was not sure I wanted anyone to know. He was perplexed by my request and I explained that I wanted to see how it went before we told people. He seemed to find that to be a reasonable explanation.

The next day at school I got off the bus to find four of the most popular girls waiting for me. Dawn was with them. Lisa was the ring leader.

“OMG. Are you seriously dating Ray? Tell me it isn’t true!” Lisa says with a condescending mocking tone to her voice.

I stand there with a sick feeling in my stomach. Faced with the most popular girls in school, the girls I wanted to be accepted by, and the reality that I did tell Ray I would go out with him but I asked him to keep it quiet. Clearly he didn’t.

“What?” I respond feigning ignorance or lack of understanding.

“We heard that you were going out with Ray. Tell us it isn’t true. That is disgusting. Have you lost your mind?” Lisa says as the other three break out into mean girl giggles.

I start to walk away towards the school. The bell is going to ring soon and I don’t want to be late for home room. I am also hoping I can avoid the question.

They continue on as they walk behind me. Their voices are loud and other students can hear them. They are talking about Ray and how he looks, how poor he is, how they cannot believe I would go out with him.

I am fuming. I am angry. Angry at Ray. Angry at them. Angry at my life. I want to crawl in a hole.

I get halfway down the main hallway and I spin on my heels to the mean girl posse.

“Stop it. I am not going out with Ray. We are friends. That is all. I would never go out with him. He is disgusting.” I say quite matter of factly with my hand on my mean girl hip.

They start to laugh. Lisa exhales loudly and says “Whewf. Close call. We worried you had lost your mind”

Dawn looks at me incredulously shocked at the words that came out of my mouth – or so I thought. I look at her pleadingly. I was hoping she understood, that she realized my conflict, that she would still be my friend.

Dawn was actually looking at Ray, who unknown to me, was standing a few steps behind me. He had heard the entire conversation.

As I turned and saw him, I froze. He stood there, stared at me, and looked as if he were crying. As I started to say something, he turned and walked away from me.

He never spoke to me again.

I don’t blame him. I did not want to speak to myself.

Years later, at a local bar, we ran into each other. I did not recognize him. He was sitting with a mutual friend. Friend recognized me, we started chatting and friend introduced us. The moment he said Ray’s name I braced for impact. Friend said “Oh, I think you two know each other. Ray, this is Suz Bednarz.”

Ray stared at me coldly for a minute before responding.

“No, I don’t think I know her.” He said as he turned and walked away much like he had more than 20 years prior.

I did not blame him then either.