Monthly Archives: May 2014
Dear Maya Angelou,
I was sad today as the news of your passing began to circulate. I have always admired you from afar and am disappointed in myself that it was only a “from afar” relationship. It could have been different. You are a significant part of one of my life regrets stories.
When I was a student at Wake Forest University, you came as a visiting professor. This was back in the early 1980’s and you had already made quite an impact on this world. There was talk and chatter around campus of an amazing opportunity to learn from someone as acclaimed as you. I was tempted and drawn to this class, but I then made one of the most shortsighted decisions of my life. You were known to be a “tough professor” and I was concerned about my GPA. Rather than jump in, experience and learn from a master, I took a safer, less challenging path. I wish I had chosen otherwise.
As a twenty year old, too many of my decisions were based on fear and the glittering image of performance over the depth of content and potential to learn and expand my horizons. Your worldview was somewhat of a threat to the one I had at the time. I wish I had chosen a path across the small campus that led straight into your classroom. Yet, I did not.
Thirty years later, I am happy to report that it is now engaging and stretching to read your words. Thank you for sharing your gift of poetry and memoir and enriching the lives of so many. No one, including me, remembers or cares about my GPA. But I imagine that if I had taken your class, I would still carry the heart and memory of it within my soul.
From one of your almost students,
It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. About twenty years ago, we made the decision to floor and shelve our attic space. It was so convenient as we had permanent walk up stairs to access this grand storage area. It could hold cherished treasures including my husband’s Sports Illustrated collection that dates back to the early 1970’s – really, he has kept them all. Most years around January and just after new Christmas items enter our home, I would begin an annual purge of stuff beginning with the attic. Still, much has accumulated in the various storage places of our home.
Over the years, it became too effortless to save things for the possible “some day we might use this” or “our kids might want this when they move out” situations. On occasion, a request from a friend or group we wanted to support would arise, and up the stairs I would go to retrieve that unused thing. If it ever felt hard to let go, I would remind myself that if someone else can be actively using this, why would I hoard it up in my attic. Often these sermon on the mount words of Jesus would come to mind: “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal”.
About a year ago, we began to seriously discuss moving to a new home. Though the prospect was interesting and sometimes exciting, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach would arise when I considered the attic. It felt overwhelming to begin to disperse and dismantle this situation that had been created over 22 plus years in our home. So I took baby steps and began to little by little do my best to find good destinations for our excess.
Some things are fairly easy to part with and others require a heart check. How much baby and school memorabilia will we keep? Where can I feel good about donating this family heirloom? Do I really need to keep this classic toy for the idea of future grandchildren? Our sons enjoyed gathering massive amounts of sports collectibles over their childhood years. We have all had to go through, make decisions and focus in on what is most important to retain in the keepsakes category. Photos and homemade gifts from my children are my weakness. Even with all of the digital options of today, how can I possibly get rid of that photograph of or gift made by one of my beautiful children?! It even feels premature to part with some of my own childhood keepsakes.
In conversation with a friend about our stuff, my husband said with a twinkle in his eye, “that stuff just accumulates.” I quickly jumped on him and reminded him that “no, WE accumulated a lot of stuff. It was an active choice”. Sometimes a passive, active choice. It seemed like such a good idea in the moment to save that for the elusive “someday”, but now when it is time to figure out how to shed so much of this without filling up landfills, it can be overwhelming.
Our “new” home is 126 years old. The good news about historical homes is that they don’t have a plethora of storage space, so we are forced to make more discerning decisions about what stays and what goes. I’ve told our kids that we are trying to give them the gift of not having too much stuff to deal with when we are old or gone, though there is still plenty that is moving on with us.
It is now crunch time in this journey. Which tangible reminders of shared life will we pack up, store up and haul up rickety attic steps? And which will I be satisfied to carry in my heart and memories? Such decisions will be a large part of days ahead. In the midst of dealing with a tremendous amount of material goods, my advice remains, “never floor your attic.”
PS We are dispersing and dividing my husband’s beloved SI collection. If there is a cover or team or event that you love, give him a shout out.
Our daughters are just nine and a half months apart in age. The “are they twins” or “are they sisters” questions are asked frequently as we move through life. The twins question is quickly answered with no, an emphatic “NO” if one of the sisters is the answering party. The sisters question can be a bit more sticky. An emphatic “YES” sometimes satisfies the asker but often a curiosity about their DNA linkage leads to follow ups. Depending on the day and situation, we navigate that one in different ways. Generally the message I desire to impart is – yes, they are sisters in all meaningful ways. But there are days when I would prefer to say MYOB.
Adopted 13 months apart – an overachieving adoptive parent move that I wouldn’t recommend, yet thank God for nonetheless – they have lived in family together for eight plus years. My all time favorite photograph of them was taken within days of their first introduction.
It is hard to communicate how precisely this picture reflects much about their relationship. Trust me, it does. But taken four months later, this tells the story of another side of their sisterly bond.
Many days have been spent in dress up and dancing together,
even though one isn’t all that into dance.
They found scissors and played hairdresser – this photo was taken after Mom shed some tears and Ms. Ruth did her best to make it right.
Butting heads and competing in everything from card games to sports to finding Easter eggs fill our days.
They run through fields,
explore the world
and release butterflies in tandem.
Encouraging notes and thoughtful gift giving are entering the sister scene.
And we all enjoyed a recent re-enactment of the original “I’m not at all sure I want to be your sister” photo.
Their temperaments and personalities are about as polar opposite as one can imagine. In life choices and expressions, they walk shared as well as divergent paths. In living together, they are learning to respect differences as well as creating sister connections.
I have not known the complex experience of living in family with a sister. I got a taste of sisterly life spending many an hour, day and night with dear neighbors whose home was vibrant and alive with three sisters. As an adult, it would be something I imagine that could enrich life. I know that I won’t experience life as sister, yet it is a great adventure to live life smack in the middle of day to day sisterhood living.
Credit Chrisi Standley Photography for the “red silk” photos.
Note: thank you to my daughter for giving me permission to share this story.
There were clues in the days leading up to this day that birth mother and trying to make sense of her story were on her mind and heart. Several poignant conversations had taken place in recent days during times when we were the only two left in the kitchen– at the table and up on the counter as I was cleaning up. She had the freedom to speak her feelings and fears, and each encounter ended with a warm and claiming each other embrace.
On this night, life was particularly hectic, dad was out of town and mom couldn’t wait for the minute the girls were in bed to just accomplish a few tasks and then just collapse. As the request came to please just snuggle with me tonight, my response was I would, but only for a few minutes as I had work to do. This led to questions about how important was she vs. my work, did I ever regret being her mom, and wondering out loud if she has any birth siblings. My desires had to be put aside as I knew this couldn’t wait on this particular night.
As I snuggled into the bed, we went over once again the possible reasons that a Chinese mother might make this choice. From inability to provide for medical needs to cultural pressures to government policies to the bottom line of we just don’t know why. I looked deeply into her beautiful and confused eyes. Suddenly those eyes filled with sorrow, and then the tears began to roll down her perfect face. Next she spoke these words, “what if she just didn’t want me?”
My stomach clutched and my heart momentarily swelled to almost breaking. This was a question that needed tender care and gentle words. I took a deep breath, sent a silent “help” up to heaven and then said, “Sweetheart, it must be so hard and sad to think and feel that. I know a lot of mothers, and I can’t imagine any mother who doesn’t want to be mom to her child. Every story is different, but it is always very complicated and sad when someone can’t be mother to her child.” This was my best attempt to explain the unexplainable to my daughter’s wounded and vulnerable heart.
The truth is that I have mixed emotions about this mystery mother. I have learned not to sit in the seat of judgment of anyone, especially one who has made a choice that I just can’t imagine. I hope to neither glorify nor vilify this mother shadow in our home. Chances are that we will never know the full story, but we are willing and open to help our child put as many possible pieces to her puzzle in place as desired. She is beginning to consider the overwhelming complexity and complications of knowing nothing else versus seeking to know more of her story. This must be navigated with great love, care and respect.
For this child, the timing of birth mother wonderings, musings and sometimes despair has a Mother’s day pattern. The foundation of all adoption is a primal and profound loss. In our home, on Mother’s Day eve, we light a candle to honor and say a prayer for the unknown birth mothers who are an integral part of our family’s story. And on Sunday, I will celebrate and ponder in my heart the gift of being mother. To three, I am birth mother and only mother. And for two, I share this day with an unknown shadow presence who is also mother. My prayer is that she has found a measure of peace somewhere in this world.
Note: thank you to my dear friend and fellow adoptive mom Margie for the photo of the print that hangs in her home. This faceless one represents the shadow mother for so many.