Monthly Archives: April 2010

house. space. time.

For writing to happen which matters more?  A room of one’s own– a quiet space in which to work?  Or time to work in whatever corner or space you have? 

So we did it.  But in the end we didn’t.  After years of open houses, we bid on a beautiful– but not all done-up, big house– the one I referred to earlier.  One neighborhood over.  But so did someone else and we did not get the house.  It would have given me room to spread out.  Books, papers, a desk to myself– a real space for writing.  But already I was worrying about where I would find the time amidst packing and trying to sell our place and all the ten thousand and 27 things that go with a move– to write at all.  For weeks or months.  My office is moving and I am pretty worn out with that move but it’s nothing like moving your home.  So we didn’t get that house and here I am in my not-much-space, cramped- and- shared- desk in our biggish apartment that has been feeling small lately.  But with no imminent major life change looming.  Writing.  Writing.

Advertisements

Tomorrow, last year and open adoption

This is in the category of material that I do not yet know how to write about.  In the adoption world, for perfectly fine reasons, the idea of open adoption centers very primarily around open-ness between birthmother or both birthparents and adoptive family and child.  In our family, our daughter’s adoption was “closed” supposedly at the behest of her birthmother, about whom I know quite a bit– but who I have never met, nor have we ever seen pictures.  We would have welcomed the chance to figure out a relationship with her and I think we still would, though my daughter would now have a say in the matter and I do now know exactly what she would say at this moment in her life.  We have sent letters and pictures and a special necklace early on.   I have this woman, this wonderful woman who gave birth to my daughter and who I know has struggled– often in my mind’s eye.  I believe I would like to know her, woman to woman.  I am a woman who has struggled too.  I think we would have important things in common. 

I know, through the agency that worked with all of us, that my daughter’s birthmother has received and read most of what we have sent.  I say it was closed “supposedly” at the behest of our daughter’s birthmother, because there are things I have learned since that have called into question the reliability of information we were given, but be that as it may, no direct communication between her and our family is hers and our circumstance, whoever chose it or for whatever reason.

Last year, tomorrow, I believe, is the anniversary of when we got another phone call, years after the call that a child was born and she would be our daughter.  In that call, a year ago, we learned that my daughter has two younger siblings who were both placed for adoption right after birth with other families– families three and four (let’s call us family two and birthmother’s family, family one).  We, my partner and I, were devastated that we had not been offered the opportunity to adopt and parent her siblings.  And we said without hesitation when we learned this news, that we wanted our family to know the other two families if they were willing.  One of the two families was also wanting and willing and we were all together within 4 weeks of learning this news.  The family of her younger brother, has welcomed us and we them, into a bigger family.  It has been hard to fathom what my daughter actually feels about the loss of the chance to grow up with her siblings, but it appears to go something like our feelings.  Great loss and an unbelievably wonderful find– her brother.  My daughter’s relationship with her brother who is seven– got off to a remarkable start.  I easily say that yes, they are in love with each other, yes they do look alike in many ways, yes they have many things, temperamentally speaking, in common– and yes both she and he have known from the very start that they are brother and sister and their relationship looks like brothers and sisters look.  I have been fairly out of touch and the children haven’t gotten to see each other for several months– but I plan to rectify that soon, and I hope that on their end, this recent lack of contact is, as it is for us, almost entirely a reflection of a life that moves way too fast and a bit of a reflection tha we all moved fast to get to know each other.  We spent two long visits and three holiday weekends all together in the time between last April 28 and the new year this year.  Maybe our adult hearts (not the children’s for sure) needed this time to catch up with what has happened to us– our immediate family, suddenly grown.

There is great complexity here.  But yes, we have an open adoption too.  I love the brother of my daughter and his two moms (he, by interesting coincidence has two moms).  I need to pick up the phone and call all three of them and get us together.

So I write to no one in particular, but to myself and my own reflection– and to my daughter and her brother and my partner and his two moms,  happy anniversary of this open adoption.

Three Secrets and a plan

There are things we think of as secrets– and then it turns out there are dozens of things we feel, or ways we spend our time, or things we are doing right now, that we don’t ever talk about but that we don’t actually think of as secrets.  Here are a few of mine.  I know I say this often, but here we go again.  With most of these, there is much to discuss– but I will leave it at this for now.  Hopefully I will get back to longer stretches of time to write–when I will write more about some or all of these.

ok.  Here goes. 

1. My Job. My work.  I never write here about .  I haven’t figured out how to do it (not the job, but the writing about it), or what I would say– though I know there are many things I wouldn’t say.  Let’s say this much for now.  I work as a lawyer.  I am a public interest lawyer and I work as an advocate for people with developmental disabilities.  It is some of the most interesting work I have ever done and I think all the time about people with disabilities, as well as young people– two of the groups in our world who often don’t get the opportunity to speak for themselves.  This work makes you keep asking–what does it mean to be a human being?  What if you can’t speak?  Or cannot walk?  Or cannot see, or cannot breathe on your own? Or won’t ever speak or walk? Or cannot feed yourself or other big differences?  What do we know about who is human?  (everyone.) Whom do we take seriously?  What would it mean if we really organized the world around the idea that every single human being is precious, infinitely interesting, worth knowing well?

2.  Bat Mitzvah.  I am studying to have an adult Bat Mitzvah.  I never had a Bat Mitzvah as a young girl.  In October, like my nephew last weekend, I will go before my congregation with four other women and lead the Shabbat morning service and read in Hebrew from the Torah– our bible, our book.   I am just learning to read Hebrew.  It is hard.  It isn’t easy.  I don’t know if I will be ready; I don’t know if I can do it– but that is the plan.  I should write about this as I prepare.  What I am doing, and why.  Someone asked me recently, “how are your religious studies going?”  And I thought– hmm, I guess that is what they are, but I really never thought of it that way.  I need to figure out how to describe why I am doing this, and what it means to me.  A stand in favor of being a fully powerful person, a stand against centuries of sexism, a closeness to my community, a love of the world and my place in it.  October 30, 2010– my Bat Mitzvah. 

3. House— my beloved partner and I have lived in this building in two different beautiful, light rambling apartments for 19 years.  First a 2-bedroom and now a 3-bedroom.  Our daughter was 12 days old when we met her and 20 days old when we all came home and she has lived here ever since.  It’s a wonderful old building in a great, bustling neighborhood on a quiet residential street, right in the heart of things.  You can walk to the grocery store, the best coffee shop in the city, a great dry cleaners, restaurants of these types: Ethiopian (great but infrequent), Mexican (often), american diner (often), falafel and kebabs (only recently, but often), Peruvian char-broiled chicken (cheap-ish, delicious and we wouldn’t have had company for dinner dozens of times but for the carry out chicken– or so often we don’t even like to say) and others. 

 But we’re bursting at the seams.  Books are in boxes, boxes are piled on boxes, we have to work so hard to clean up the third room whenever guests comes for the night (happily this is often) because the third room is the staging area for all the things we don’t have room for.  There is more about this, but lately, we’ve been thinking about buying a house.  We’re looking, though we’ve looked many times before and each time we’ve been close we thought, –that house would be nice, but then we wouldn’t be here— and then we stay put in the end.  But we are very serious about something we’ve seen recently.  We may take the leap.  

So here is the secret part.  I’d really like space for us to spread our stuff out– but I cannot stand the idea of spreading us out.  I’d like a big room to have guests hang out in, but I don’t want us hanging out in far corners of a big house.  We’re on top of each other and I like it that way.  No second floor for someone to go away to.  The room with the computer where this and other interesting work gets done– is just a stone’s throw from the kitchen– and from the other two bedrooms and the living room, and the dining room.  It’s a big apartment, but we aren’t very spread out and I like it that way.  Would two floors and a basement let us get too far apart?  For me it might.  We’re looking at a house not far– one neighborhood over–but the girl who lives upstairs from us part of each week (divorced family) and who just shows up to play at different times– times when we haven’t gotten out of our pajamas, or are getting ready to get into them– that won’t happen in a separate house.  So that’s my third secret of the day.  I’m scared living in a house would put us way too far from each other.  But I long for some space to spread out.

4.  A plan.  I want to have my first guest blogger.  My sister.  I have left her phone messages about this.  Although we have spoken– she hasn’t said yes or no to this request– but I want to have her write on this blog, a particular and beautiful part of the speech she gave at her younger son’s Bar Mitzvah.  I know she reads this. Is this what you would call subtle pressure?  We’ll see.

More than a week

I hate being away from this work, this project (this blog and writing it) for that long but sometimes other things intervene.  Last weekend my partner was at a conference/workshop all weekend out-of-town and I had planned– with a somewhat simple plan involving a sleepover and a long day for her with the family– single mom and two daughters– with whom we have been sharing this parenting journey almost since the very beginning.  My daughter went to their house to sleep over on Friday night.  She has done this many times and most of those times she has barely let me kiss her goodbye, but last Friday she did let me kiss her goodbye when she got into their car, pressed her hand to the window on the inside, for me to press mine to the window on the outside.  I kind of knew something was up.

At 10:45 she called me and very shyly and circuitously let me know she was lonely for me and when I asked her, “Do you want me to come get you?” She said, “Maybe.”  And I knew she needed to come home.  I was a child who was endlessly homesick and people rarely knew what to do to help, so when I could, I came home and when I couldn’t I usually struggled in a very lonely kind of way.  I was happy to be able to get my daughter and bring her home and very happy that I knew there would be easy cooperation and no judgment from my good friend, D.– the mom of the household where she was.  So I did just that.  And when I asked my daughter how it would work for her to go back to their house at 7:30 or 8 a.m. so I could still make the two-hour drive to the workshop I was planning to attend, she said, “No, and if you stay home, I’ll do anything you want to do all day.”  So I cancelled my plans– sad to miss the workshop, and happy to be in the position that you are so rarely in as a parent (or at least I am so rarely in) where it really is ok if the schedule goes completely differently than how it was carefully arranged.  And aside from 1 and 1/2 hours in the morning when I finished the previous post, Migration, she and I spent hours together doing mostly the things she loves to do– and in the afternoon and evening we went back for her to spend hours with D. and her two daughters and another girl– but with me there.  Just like we used to when they were two and three and four.  It was a wonderful day with swimming and playing and a new-to-us park on a very sunny day and dinner and then D. and I just talking and laughing together until late while we let the girls play after dinner.

In the morning my daughter and I met up with another family–a threesome like we are, except they are man, woman and son– and I insisted over strenuous objection, that we would bring my daughter’s bike to the playground.  And damn if she didn’t learn to ride her bike– setting up bigger and longer challenges for herself as she biked from one end of the cement yard to another and around again.

And where I have been and where my mind has been since then is as follows.  One hectic work/ school week and then we left for the midwest and lots of family– for the Bar Mitzvah of my younger (of two) and very, very wonderful, nephew.  I am still full up in my heart as I my mind reviews again and again–the gorgeous Shabbat morning service; the music of the service which at at least one point had me, my partner, my mother and my sister crying in our different seats; my nephew and the lovely young guy he is and what he did with that day; his accomplishment; how much he is himself; my sister’s speech to him; my daughter’s newfound ease and claiming of space in a synagogue; her role with that of another young Jewish boy we love– opening the Ark (the place in a synagogue where the Torah resides); my older nephew chanting the last part of the Torah reading for that day.  The bar mitzvah is worth more telling which I will do at some point soon. 

We came home last night to the late eve of another work and school day for each of us, news of a not insignificant unauthorized charge on a credit card which will have to be dealt with, and my daughter’s summer reading program pre-program reading assessment which raises many concerns about her learning to read and write.  It makes rise up in me all those complicated feelings of being a parent; love, protection, worry and more worry, more protection and more love.  On that I will also write more.  But I am glad to be back so-called but not really– pen to paper, words to screen.

Migration

We had a wonderful spring break.  We went to NYC and although we have two wonderful boyfriends who are happy to have us stay with them in their apartment in Manhattan almost any time, we spent two of the nights in a hotel, with our Lauren and her daughter, Harriet and then later her husband, Sasha and daughter Ida  joined us– in NYC from San Francisco.  New York is so exhilarating, and exhausting.  We went to In the Heights,   a Broadway musical, perhaps only the 3rd of my life and my daughter’s first.  We all loved it.  I bought the soundtrack a couple of days after we returned and my daughter has wanted to go to sleep to the music and wake up to the music every day.  Fortunately I love it too, because we are all singing it and hearing it in our heads, all the time. 

Broadway musicals are created to be compelling and fun and catchy– and though it is the only show she has ever seen on Broadway, I don’t think it is a coincidence that this musical, about the multi- ethnic, Dominican and other Latino immigrant neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York–captured my daughter’s imagination.  The show is about the very complex and different longings– for home, for success, to keep family and culture intact, to assimilate.  It made a big impression on her and on me.  When I asked her if she liked seeing a show, she said yes! (This is not a sure thing with her– she has fears of dark theaters and sudden, loud noise, so live performance doesn’t always work so well for her.)  And when I asked her did she think she would like to see another show like that sometime, she said– “I want to see that one again!”.  I am the same way, reading a poem over and over and over, carrying certain essays and stories with me whenever I travel.  Repetition does not bore me– it reveals and brings depth and richness. 

Although it was Broadway and the things that happen in the show; things that represent very difficult things in real life, are neatly sewn up by the end– I cannot stop thinking about the themes in the musical.  Migration and immigration, the complex questions about home, where is a person at home when you come from a people who have migrated from somewhere  to somewhere else?  Whether the somewhere else is another neighborhood, another city, another country, another language or culture. 

Lately I have thought a lot about the life I have and about the fact of my own family’s migration as Jews, from Europe to the U.S. and then from the Jewish neighborhoods in several different places in the U.S. to a more assimilated lifestyle.  Middle class values tend to teach us that this migration and assimilation are the stuff of happy endings– if the migration is in the direction of being more middle class, better and more able consumers, more assimilated.  I have been thinking about  what was lost.  To me personally.  What would my life be like if my family had stayed in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up, rather than migrating to the suburbs?  What would my current life be like if I had stayed close to my family– and not migrated to the east of the U.S., far from what I still call home?  All those things happened, so it’s what I have to work with but it is still useful to take in that there were important things lost.  When the character Nina, from In the Heights, drops out of Stanford and returns home– I know the momentum of the show was to see if she could somehow return to school– but I found myself rooting for her to come back to the neighborhood– the barrio– and go to school right there in New York City– to go ahead and get that education she wanted, but not get any further from home.  

I am thinking about all of this in relation to adoption, which is, after all, a major migration.  For the young person at the very least, it is a migration from one real family to another.  From one place that was or would have been home and one group of people– however poor or sick or oppressed or unable to parent– a group of people who were, after all, family– to a new group of people who are family.  In our case, the choice made for our daughter required her to leave behind a Chicano family with three older siblings, for this Jewish family of two white mothers where she is the only child.  A Spanish-speaking home for this English-speaking one; a neighborhood full of Chicanas and Chicanos.  For many young people the migration is from one part of the world to another, leaving behind a whole way of life, national history, language, culture– all of it. 

I never quite know how to say what I really think about all this in all its complexity.  There are odd, but too-common ways of thinking about all this, like the many people who tell me she is so lucky to have us.  I hope that as she grows older she will feel wonderful about this family that she happened to get, that is hers forever– as we already feel about her and have, every day since we met her.  But those who are trying to do a calculation of whether our children who were adopted are better off with us than they would have been–mostly , I think it’s really the wrong question.  It is.  She is with us; and like any parent, if we do a good job, that is definitely a good thing; our relationships are real and rich and enormous and messy and interesting and deep and full of successes and mistakes and definitely lifelong.  

In our family, I think, (though time will tell) we are incredibly close and I feel fortunate to have been able to figure that out.  I don’t stop thinking about the fact that these circumstances and what was left behind do matter a great deal to my daughter and to all our children who were adopted– whatever they do or don’t have to say about the whole thing.  These circumstances shape how she sees the world and her circumstances are part of the fabric of the deepest feelings she carries inside of her.  About home, about comings and goings, about connection and permanence and what for each of them is beautiful or interesting or real.  About race and class.  About all kinds of things I am not even thinking of and perhaps cannot think of– things that I hope later she will continue to teach me about her experience.  As I begin to unravel the threads of what migration meant to my Jewish family I cannot help but think about my daughter’s migration into our family.  Her migration away from her neighborhood, language, long history, culture, older siblings and immediate and extended birth family.  

She is wonderful, whole, intact, exuberant, funny and with it– but hers, like that of many peoples of the world, is a big, huge story to have.  With big losses as well as enormous love and a real family– us.  And her story is also my story– as a parent whose job it is to love her and to think about her and the whole of who she is, her history and her present time and the slant of  her particular circumstances.  Regardless of what she does or does not express about her own migrant history.

When I listen to the music (as I am doing right now, more than once a day) from In the Heights I am especially touched by a couple of lines sung by the main character, Usnavi, in the song It Won’t Be Long Now.  He sings about his love interest, Vanessa– “I’m runnin’ to make it home and home’s what Vanessa’s runnin’ away from, I’m runnin’ to make it home and home’s what Vanessa’s runnin’ away from.”    There is terrible loss as well as the creation of new and interesting relationships, communities and love in migration.  The longing and sadness about the past is there to be felt, figured out, thought about, respected and honored, as is the sadness but also the sweetness of the present day.