W is for Wayward

W

way·ward
ˈwāwərd/
adjective
1. difficult to control or predict because of unusual or perverse behavior.

I told Gwynn and Gretch about being pregnant and the reaction was….cautious. Wondering if I had thought it through, if it was the best decision for me, if I was ready. I was upset and wanted to take deep offense to this caution but after a few minutes (hours, days….whatever) of attempted self-awareness, I realized that they had every right to the questions.

storm coming

From their point of view, I had been flitting about for years, getting into trouble and then seemed to stabilize and commit while I was with Nikki. I started working decent jobs and stayed at one address. Then I just broke-up with her for no discernible reason, got rid of everything I owned and decided to move to China. All of this was within about 4 months of time and then I call and say, “ I’m pregnant! Surprise!…hold-up..why aren’t you excited??”

 

Secretbox (1)They had almost no exposure to my friends, which had shifted and matured over the years; they had no idea that the relationship that seemed to stabilize me was one filled with suffocating abuse and leaving was the best thing I had done for myself in a long time. They didn’t know, because I never told them any of this stuff. Like everything else in my life, if I was keeping this kid, I had to change my modus operandi. So I told them and asked them to trust me and to believe in me, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Despite my own surety that I was having this baby, I was a mess, because really, who knows if they are strong enough before they are tested? I had lived a rather selfishly fearless, wayward life so far and being a parent seemed more terrifying to me than any of the other incredibly risky hitchhiking-in-australiastupid things I had done prior.I had watched loved ones die, been beaten and betrayed,  I had hitchhiked across states, dove into ocean depths, taken candy from strangers, ingested unknown substances,ran with scissors, committed crimes,  fallen wildly and stupidly in love, lost everything, left everything and had often wondered where I might sleep that night; yet this idea of motherhood and being responsible for another’s life caused more fear in me than any of those adventures combined. I didn’t regret any of it, but I wondered if it was a foundation that another life should be dependent on.

belly 197

 

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T is for Transition

T

tran·si·tion
tranˈziSHən,-ˈsiSHən/
noun
 1. the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another
~ a passage in a piece of writing that smoothly connects two topics or sections to each other.
~ a momentary modulation from one key to another
~ a change of an atom, nucleus, electron, etc., from one quantum state to another, with emission or absorption of radiation.
verb
1. undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition.

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I realize that until now I have not really spoke of The Boy and there are reasons for that. I have always been liked by children, which is weird because I don’t really like children. I like individual children, much as I like individual dogs or cats, both can spur deep and loving relationships for me, but either way I don’t like them just for the mere fact of their existence. I have never cared if a child liked me, which is why they might like me in the first place… much like a cat. I cared if The Boy liked me, and therefore have had no way to be comfortable around him. I am not comfortable with caring; I don’t know how to talk about him.

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I have worked with foster kids, and I get them, they are a mess in many different kinds of way but, I understand their “crazy”, I recognize it.

400814_2694603999053_1171432951_nThe Boy is not crazy, he is a perfectly well-adjusted child, with nothing but full confidence in his abilities and intelligence. He is smart, and funny. He is sarcastic, sensitive, interesting and is worth having a conversation with. He has played piano, sax, trumpet and drums with OntheFerry_zpsf576ecc5varying degrees of interest and passion. He is gifted in math, science and engineering. He has been on the local radio station learning the ropes of engineering and production since Middle School and recently produced his first solo show. He skis, sails, hikes and has done various other sports over the years. He builds robots and battles them. He is a very tall black kid in a white family that seems totally well-adjusted and can mock the absurdity of himself and life in general, with adult aplomb.  His moms have never been able to get him to do chores, and he is spoiled in his own way. He is smart enough to consciously recognize that an intelligent argument paired with unending persistence will overcome any resistance from his very reasonable pacifist parents. I may be one of the few people who joyfully says, no, to him. He can be quite charming when he chooses. He can also be quite annoying.

5660_148663085751_6685996_nAll of this are just pieces of achievements and small hints at the kid that has been growing up within a world filled with grace. He doesn’t have questions about his story, because he’s always known it. He has never known true loss, or complete failure, and though I hope he never does, I figure he’ll be alright when and if that happens. He had had the chance to try his hand at whatever has crossed his path and many things have and will continue to do so. His world is vast and not narrowed by restraints.

He knows it, he knows how blessed he is. How many of us were aware and appreciative of our family and our blessings as a pre-teen? I haven’t known many. He is no longer a child, but we haven’t quite gotten there in this tale. There are many reasons for my growth as a person but one of the biggest catalysts is wanting to be someone worth knowing, to this boy who is almost a man.  I know from my own tale that the accident of birth isn’t enough.

This whole story is about transitions but the most amazing one I have seen is of this child growing up. He amazes me; as does the family, that has made the life he has been given, possible. I am not really a part of that, but I am lucky enough to play a supporting role.

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I mean, I still don’t always like kids,  but I guess he’s okay.

 

 

J is for Judgement

J

judg·ment
ˈjəjmənt/
noun
1. the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.
2. an opinion or conclusion. a misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment.

Four years of Mothers’ Days, birthdays, care packages and mourning had passed and it was August 2002.  I was going to Maine to see their home, meet the rest of their family and see The Boy for the first time since he turned one and they came back to finalize the adoption.sideview mirror

I was living with a girl, but it didn’t occur to bring her, she was not someone I was proud of. I wasn’t either, but what can you do? I takes about 6 hours to get from Jersey to Portland, ME. I have always liked long drives, it lets you get used to going from one place another at a pace I could appreciate though this trip seemed to go by more quickly than I was prepared for.

Gwynnie and Gretchen had set me up at a local B&B, and I was thankful. I didn’t think I could stay in their home, there wouldn’t be anywhere to hide. It was the first time I had a hotel room to myself and that little pleasure was celebrated by jumping on the bed and laughing at myself.

Screenshot 2014-04-10 at 12.45.40 PM (1)I met them back at their house later. It is one of those big Victorians, with wide steps that lead to a porch wrapped around it. Each step felt heavy. Then, he was there. We were unsure of each other. It felt like a punch to the gut that you have to smile and say nice things, through.

Most people can look in the mirror and see the parts of them that come from this or that relative. The small ears from Nanna, full lips and pert nose from mom, that troublesome widows peak from dads side of the family, I have never seen myself in another’s face.  Though I had lived with my mother’s people, I look little like them, though I did have my grandmother’s ears. In pictures I resembled the small brown child some infertile member had adopted from an island nation.

There was no mistaking where this child came from. He was my darker version. I had anticipated the possibility of pain and the hardship of seeing him at all, would entail, but this came as as shock. I had seen plenty of pictures and knew intellectually that we looked quite similar, but the reality almost felled me. I rarely saw beauty in myself, but in him, I could see nothing else.

I think that they tried to limit the amount of people who might overwhelm me when I walked in the door, but still when we convened in the big bright kitchen, I was overwhelmed. The house was owned by three families, Gwynnie and two of her siblings had bought it along with each of their significant others. Her sister Penny and her husband Paul had the back half of the house. Her brother Matt and his wife Lisa had the third floor. Gwynnie and Gretchen had the front, and each portion was distinct to their personalities but somehow smoothly connected to the lives that inhabited it.

There was homemade bread, fruit picked at local farms and an endless stream of faces I couldn’t remember the names for.  Cousins, Aunts, friends, neighbors, I think everyone wanted a turn to meet me.

“We are so grateful for what you did”

“You are so brave”

“Everyone loves The Boy so much, you made them a family!”

“ You were so young and so selfless!”

“ OH WOW, you look JUST LIKE HIM!”

Rinse and repeat

I saw Gwynnie and Gretchen looking between our faces, along with everyone else and wanted to hide behind my fingers like a small child who believes it will make them invisible. I was not brave, or clever, or selfless, I was a train wreck with enough common sense to know it. I was afraid to look to closely at The Boy, I didn’t think I could touch him and I didn’t have the words to react to this kindness deluge. I wanted to trace his features with my finger and marvel at him. I never thought I would feel so broken and so full at the same time. I smiled and tried to find appropriate words to the words they sent my way. Even the deluge was easier than looking at The Boy, so I did my best not to be a blathering idiot in front of these people who were so nice.

This kind of home, this family, their friends, it was like visiting an alien nation where I didn’t have the language or the tools to navigate. I felt their judgement of my angelic deeds and saw no resemblance in the mirror. I wasn’t a nice person. I said inappropriate things, sometimes laughed at funerals, I slept with too many people, I had a free-flowing sense of morality, oh, and I curse like a fucking sailor. All of that was on a good day, and had nothing to do with the past four years spent on less than virtuous pastimes.

Broken clay heart

 

E is for Emotion

E

e·mo·tion
iˈmōSHən/
noun
1. a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

“She has sociopathic tendencies” is what my psychologist told my grandmother.

At the time, I was around 13 years old I already had 4 years of steady weekly to bi-weekly therapy sessions under my belt. I lived with my mother’s parents at this point, and their brand of parenting could be defined by how often they brought me to therapy rather than speak with me. My grandmother also suspected a certain amount of sadism, which had some merit.  On the other hand, I wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with. Sociopathic and all of that rubbish; or at least a “tendency” towards such things.

The issues at hand were my lack of remorse or feeling about various indiscretions and inclination to get in fights. My grandmother thought something was very very wrong with me. I think she was also afraid I may turn into some kind of monster, or perhaps that I was already.

boxing fists (1)

By 16, I was emancipated and in my own place with a full time job. I was also knocked up by the end of that year, so I’m still going back and forth on whether I came out ahead of expectations or not on that one. I realized a few things that gave me comfort, I was totally capable of taking better care of myself than any of my previous custodians (most of the time), I could finally have a pet, and I wasn’t without emotions I was just not very comfortable with them.

 

I gave birth to my first child at the age of 17. I never doubted giving him up or thought to try to take him back. I never regretted giving him a better chance than I could possibly offer.  He was perfect and whole and the first thing I ever thought I did right. I still thank my disconnect with my emotions for allowing me to make the best decision I could for him. Yet like any dam, there is always something that can come along and be bigger and stronger than it can hold up to.

The boy was what finally toppled everything I had holding me upright and separated from the proceedings of life in general.

I don’t remember much of that day;  strapping him into that car seat and watching them drive away; sending Lucas away; being home with my cracked wallfoster-brother TJ; breaking into a million tiny pieces.


I envisioned my internal self as something like hand-made glazed pottery with many hues swirling upon it’s imperfect surface. Cracks and chips decorate it. Each event, pain or triumph, changing the whole, building, breaking, filling, emptying. I came home and the shoddy patch job fell apart.

 

STP60260_zps2be3caa8I remember nothing but pain. Falling into myself and feeling as if I could never make myself whole again. My body felt battered and broken and my mind could not fathom what I had just done, the decision I couldn’t regret but also couldn’t forgive or even truly comprehend. I had not cried this whole time, not when he was born, never in front of Gwynn and Gretchen . I would not even allow it when I was alone.

Now I could not stop, my stomach felt as if the muscles might seize, or tear, my head held stabbing knives captive and I soaked my face, clothes and the floor I couldn’t get up from in my mourning tears. I didn’t know that I could even feel this much.

 

I had always felt that emotional people were weak, constantly at the whim of this or that fleeting feeling. How did they live like that? How could they stay focused? Why couldn’t they just see the given situation as it was instead of piled under all of their superfluous blubbering? I had learned to mimic sympathy and to pretend I didn’t just get annoyed when people cried or made illogical arguments. I had learned to give the expected reactions to other people’s trials and tribulations but I had never learned to feel and react “naturally”.

 Right after the boy was born it was if a lifetimes’ worth of repression and superfluous emotional insanity crashed upon me and drowned out any vestige of my much-loved logic.

I think that if it were not for Lucas. I would have let myself die, or helped it along at this point,  simply because I had no tools to swim through my own despair. He bundled me up, expected me to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and come on the vacation he had planned for us. Which seems absurd, even as I write this detail down, but I am pretty sure it saved my life.

 

 

D is for Delivery

D

de·liv·er·y
diˈlivərē/
noun
1. the action of delivering letters, packages, or ordered goods
2. the process of giving birth.

I am pretty sure we are all aware enough to know that birth is a beautiful miracle that encapsulates the human experience in so many variations of symbolism, it’s mind boggling. I also believe most people know it is also a messy, painful, sometimes ugly, bizarre experience as well.

BacklaborAt 17 I was delivering my first child naturally and without drugs. I wanted to give this kid whatever I could for this portion of his lifes’ journey.  I had quit smoking right away and changed my diet, and now in the home stretch I took the hit and did my best to get through it. My boyfriend and I had gone through lamaze and birthing classes and had been told that the chances of my circumstances were very low and not to worry about back labor. If you are unaware, back labor means the baby’s head is hitting the base of the spine instead of the cervix, so in short, it hurts a lot more.  I was worried, 5 hours in, 10 hours in, 15 hours in. Somewhere around this point I realized that I had never had such a large audience for my vagina and started giggling. I am not sure if it was funny or pure exhaustion, but it let me discard the thought instead of  obsessing about that little gem.

I had started dating Lucas two months into my pregnancy and he had stuck by me the whole time. He was there in the room equipped with radio, ice chips and pressure point massage. It wasn’t his fault I wanted to hit him, this wasn’t his fault at all, but his kindness and patience was getting on my nerves when usually I loved it.

After meeting them and knowing in my gut they were right, I picked the Maine couple. Their names were Gretchen and Gwyneth, which is almost sitcom worthy in its absurdity and cuteness. They were also in the room, witnesses to my vaginas’ destruction. I don’t hug people often or partake in easy physical contact with people I don’t know well, or really at all and the whole situation was overwhelmingly surreal to me. I didn’t scream or cry, I don’t do that in front of people either, irrelevant of the pain. What would they think of me?

I had two midwives, both present, along with a nurse and a doctor was added after the 15hr marker of back labor torture, was hit. They all conferred and some decision was made before the doctor left and the midwives had everyone leave so they could have a word. Here is was, I was too tired, I needed help holding my own legs up and my eyelids kept falling despite me being very much awake. The doctor wanted to consider c-section. I did not want to consider any such thing. They brought up the fact that I had told the nurse to just cut the baby out and let me go, I wasn’t that important at this point. They laid it out, c-section or I took the epidural and slept so I might actually be able to push, if this kid ever came out. I hadn’t dilated beyond 4 cm and I had been having contractions for two days prior and hadn’t slept more than 2-3 hours in the last 72 hrs. I admitted defeat with very little grace and accepted the drug option.

clock

“On a scale of 1 to ten, ten being a toothache, how much does it hurt” the doctor asked. I kicked him, they gave me the needle and I slept.

When I woke up, everyone had finally taken a break from the vigil and were down in the cafeteria for dinner. The midwife checked me out and I had finally dilated, 8.5cm and all it had taken is my stubbornness being defeated and a nap. I secretly thought everyone leaving helped too. They paged them all up from their meals and said it was time.

I didn’t mind pain. There are all kinds of pain and this one was brutal but there was a finite amount to go around. It would end and I would meet my kid for the first time. I made this life, almost singlehandedly, I had made life and I could manage that kind of pain. I welcomed the pain as the drugs wore off and I was ordered to finally push.

I pushed and eventually after 23 hrs of labor I gave birth to a 8.6lbs baby boy who screamed his little heart out as he was forced into this world. They gave him to me, and I looked at him, still covered in mess, face scrunched up in shock and rage and he was so lovely. Gwynn and Gretchen held him too and I saw them melt.  The nurse took him to clean him up properly and I focused on three things

tiny feet

One, I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t be in charge of that perfect needy little life. I was too selfish, untried and stupid at this juncture of my own journey. Two, I really hoped something wasn’t wrong with him, his balls were HUGE, way too big for his little body but no one said anything or looked like it was weird so I was hoping it was normal. Three, I was starving and I wondered if someone would get me a greek pita wrap from Wendy’s.

C is for Choose

C

choose
CHo͞oz/
verb
1.pick out or select (someone or something) as being the best or most appropriate of two or more alternatives.

Imagine your life streamlined and fitted to a tri-fold pamphlet, now add charming pictures of your life with loved ones, friends and pets. Essentially a sales brochure of your life, tailored towards selling your values and obvious qualifications to be a parent. With the trouble I have filling in an application for a knitting group that asks for my “other interests”, I have to believe putting one of these things together is an incredibly stressful and bizarre experience.

many path road sign

As the person on the other end, my thoughts were along the line of,  “what is the REAL story, what are these happy shiny people hiding??”. I have a real hard time believing the hype. Like a first date, you put your best foot forward and avoid mentioning your gas problems, love of unicorn figurines or penchant for human flesh, sauteed. I came from both homes that looked like dumps on the outside but held hard working hearts of gold and lovely over-sized homes with well manicured lawns that held cold vicious custodians. There were plenty in between and I spent a lot of time devising a strategy to get beyond the glossy puff pieces. Horseback riding, sailing, family sing-a-longs, perfect fluffy puppies and traveling frequently around the world..I mean, really?? I hated all of them and obsessed over their fold-outs with sick fascination.

I decided to come up with a list of questions, and to ask any prospective parents, to both be on the line for my calls. I figured it was easier to hear hesitation and thwart collaboration if both of them were on the line, easier to hear who was in charge and who worked together, easier to know when they had differing answers. Every couple I looked at was looking for their first child and I knew that parenting was one of those things that people thought they were on the same about but found out later that wasn’t remotely true, opening up a whole new avenue of possible discontent. I further shrunk the pool by discarding anyone too close too or too far from me geographically. I knew I had it in me to stalk out my child on  playground and didn’t want to give myself that option, yet I needed to be able to easily get there to visit.  I narrowed my pool down to about 30 couples and notebook in hand, I started calling them.

“ Why do you want to adopt?, Why do you want a mixed race child? How did you get together, and how long have you been together? How did you end up in your current location? The father is black, and I am mixed race, do you know how to deal with kinky hair? If not, how will you deal with that?, What makes you angry?, How do each of you express your anger? What’s a fight like between you? What does your support system look like?, Do you have a plan in place for the eventuality of a break-up? What would happen to the kid? What are the legal avenues you have explored for protecting him or her?”

On and on the questions went. Some eventually got annoyed with me, and really, I understood. I was a 16 year old kid asking all kinds of prying personal questions about their lives, and even if you think you are prepared for a conversation with a potential mother, I doubt any of them were envisioning my long list of detailed inquiry. I was okay with their annoyance, it was better for me to see them with their ruffs up.  Some of my questions were things I wanted actual answers for, and some were questions I had no preconceived answer I preferred, I just wanted to see how they got to their answers. As a foster kid, I knew it was the small things, like unkempt hair that were the outward signs of neglect and I tried to get a feeling for how they thought, how they worked or didn’t work together. Every couple I looked at was mixed in it’s racial composition, so that was a common reason for wanting a mixed race child that reflected their own make-up. Well, every couple except one.

That exception was also the oldest couple in the whole bunch. From what I understood that made it harder to adopt, but as it turned out the conversations I had with them were the most natural and despite their whiteness and age, I pretty quickly added them to the top three left in the running.two paths woods

Of the top three, one couple was male and the other two female. After a week of deliberation and debate I asked about meeting up with the men and found out they had been picked by another birth mother, and then there were two. Two women in Long Island, which was a little close for me but pretty good and the other couple was located in Portland, Maine. I had a couple more conversations with them and decided to meet up with the white ladies from Maine first. I was really curious about them and I liked the way they bounced between each other with thoughtful answers, no annoyance and the kind of grace that comes from stability and love. Plus they asked me interesting questions and didn’t let me be the only interrogator. I appreciated that.

 

B is for Baby

B

ba·by
ˈbābē/
1. a very young child, esp. one newly or recently born

 

I took the bus from Whole Foods in Montclair, down Bloomfield Avenue to the State Street Diner stop in Bloomfield. Sometimes I stopped in for something to bring home, I loved the old diner with it’s ancient cigarette machines, regulars that seemed to permanently occupy the stools and booths and waitresses well past their prime in heels, thick make-up, long nails and teased hair. Most of the time I passed it by and walked down to Broad street, made a left and headed towards home. I passed the library on my left and frequently made a stop there too. The college was across the street and I wondered what it felt like to just be a student somewhere.

diner corner

It was a mile from the bus stop to my door. My belly was just starting to harden but not yet sticking out and I couldn’t help but hold it like it might disappear from my body or be attacked my tire-iron wielding madmen on the uneventful walk.  I still didn’t know how I felt about the life inside of me, or more accurately I didn’t understand the feelings I was feeling.  I was pretty sure this was euphoria mixed with madness. I was up and down but surprisingly cheerful about it all.

I had found an agency, Friends in Adoption, up in Vermont. From what I gathered, it was run by hippies that thought adoption should be personal and easier than most agencies made it, for everyone involved.  I had received a pile of pamphlets from them too, but this time they all met my criteria and apparently I didn’t require constant counseling and a go betweens to be trusted to make a decision. I could contact these families as I saw fit, and having that bit of control felt much better to me.

I walked and thought about babies and families. I was not a baby person. I did not get all gooey and weird at the site of infants, I had limited interest in holding them or caring for them. They seemed like very needy, cute, wiggly, moist creatures that might eventually be human.  I liked older children more but had limited experience with them as well. All of the younger foster siblings I had, had were more like me and cynical by 4 or 5 and I could relate to them; most normal children were a complete mystery to me. I had even less experience with families, though I had been a resident within several over the years, it still felt like my childhood was a sociological study I made and not so much a true life experience.

By Lennart Nilsson : A Child Is Born, published by Jonathan Cape

By Lennart Nilsson : A Child Is Born, published by Jonathan Cape

I walked and held my belly and felt the faintest butterflies inside of myself. Was it the baby? I didn’t know and there wasn’t anyone to ask, but I liked to think it was. For this time, while my body did its thing and created another human ( and how bizarre is THAT?), this baby was mine and I had a secret I was trying keep even from myself. I loved it. It was like a perfect secret inside of me. I was at peace about giving the baby up, it was never a choice to keep it, not for me; but this part? This weird parasitic, brilliant, miraculous, shifting, morphing, awkward experience? This was mine and no one could have it or take it. I knew I wasn’t cut out for the after part, the crying, pooping, comforting, insanity of parenthood, I knew that in my bones. Not now, maybe not ever, despite how much I desperately WANTED a family, I knew I wasn’t selfless enough for that right now.  I hoped I would be one day. What I could do, was give this life a chance and share it with people that were ready. For right now I could secretly revel in every change, every shift every tiny butterfly, because I was giving this baby away to people that would make sure it was never alone I could love it now, wholeheartedly, and not be afraid. I could chat with, sing to and hold my belly and for a little while, and not be alone.