Tag Archives: loss

Almost 12. Already.

at the end of 11 years old.

at the end of 11 years old.

At the end of 11 years old part two.

At the end of 11 years old part two.

Next week, well, to be precise, in just a few days, my daughter turns 12. I am, as I always am around this time of year, a puddle of feelings. Friday is, unbelievably, the 10th anniversary of my father’s death– a loss that seems very long ago and still fresh and not quite believable to me.

Last year, right after my daughter turned 11, I wrote that 11 was going to be a big year. And I was right, it has been a big year in outward ways that signal bigger kinds of changes too. My daughter grew tall and filled out. She is now taller than D, her former babysitter and our close friend. She is tall as or taller than my partner, taller than most other girls in her class. For this particular daughter– as a girl in an urban setting with her own particular interests and strengths and struggles and understandings of the world, 11 has held many milestones besides height. She is different and consequently I have shifted and am still shifting and adjusting my expectations and my understanding of who my daughter is. Not as a person really, but as a person in the developmental scheme of things.

Over this past year she became not only willing but sometimes anxious to run out of the car while I double parked to pick up something from the store, the dry cleaners, carry out food, etc. Last summer she and her friend made lemonade and baked cookies and collected a small TV table and some folding chairs as well as her working toy cash register– and went out on one of the most oppressively hot days of the year and set up a lemonde stand/ mini-bakery. Without my partner or me. She and a particular friend of hers have loved going the two blocks to play, without an adult in tow, at the toddler park that she practically grew up in. We have some rules related to safety and she carries a cell phone, but she plays in that park on her own. That fact represents for me the two threads of where we are right now. Young enough to want to play in that park, old enough to go without me.

This past set of changes are bittersweet and thrilling and unknown. Watching her change before my eyes is touching and deep and then raises all kinds of question marks about my own future and identity. For now, I’m very much a mom, but it is very different from before. I’m a little off balance in a way similar to but so different from the off-balance of having a new baby in the family.

As a mom I think strategically. But it’s no longer about those infancy questions about how I’ll get a shower or feed myself, or the toddler questions about how I will get some time to myself but quite the opposite. I see certain struggles of hers and I figure, I now only have about xx years (still figuring out how many) to really get in there with her and have some influence. But now she and I and she and my partner share jokes, confidences. And now, 12 nipping at our heels.

The other night, she grew sullen and upset about something between us. I had some real attention and I sat her down and said, warmly, openly– tell me, tell me about all the disappointments (in me– and related to what we were talking about)– “I want to hear all of it”, I said. And I meant it. She had a kind of loosely knit set of things, and she talked to me for real and I listened. She has been a child who always wanted me very near, who complained if I wasn’t near enough. But the other night among her complaints she said, “…and I want more priveleges, like going home after school alone…”

She had never walked to or from school without an adult, nor ever wanted to do so– but she suddenly felt constrained and injured by the lack of this. So yesterday she walked home from school with her friends and spent an hour and a half alone with two other 11 year old girls, before the first adult walked through the door. And today she rode a city bus across town with her friend to go to the friend’s house before her mom came home from work. Ready or not she’ll be 12 on Monday. And I cannot imagine, and I can– whatever will come next.


It has been an extraordinary few weeks in ways happy, joyful, excruciatingly sad and also mundane.  Two weeks ago yesterday was the sudden and unbelievably speedy death of a long-time acquaintance, a good, good woman who I always liked in a deep way, and who in much more recent years became the partner of a closer friend.  G’s death– rocked my partner’s and my world into stunned heartbreak.  Last week was the second half of a week of Shiva  (the observance of a week-long period of mourning), and saying Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning), for the woman who died and of rolling up our sleeves and doing things that were needed– particularly for L, the surviving partner.  My partner and I were both profoundly saddened and scared by this death– and turned both inward and outward– in our sadness.  We stayed especially close to each other and to others too.

There are many things I am not good at, but one thing I am good at is knowing who is the clearest thinker in a given situation and knowing how to follow the lead of someone who is doing the right thing.  My working class partner is amazing at knowing how to roll up her sleeves and do the work that needs to be done.  She does this often and without fanfare or expectation of thanks (something that she can and often does overdo, to her own detriment) but I always follow her lead when she is doing the hard work and the hard work is the right thing to be doing.  So we sat Shiva and then visited with people and then we did dishes, packed up food, rearranged the refridgerator, the furniture, carried out trash and recycling and went home.  There is nothing quite like doing dishes and cleaning someone else’s kitchen in the face of a death– and I mean this, without the slightest bit of irony.

On the more happy side of the ledger–one night I brought my daughter with me to Shiva.  She was understandably a little afraid to be there with all these grieving adults, but she did something at the Shiva for my friend, the surviving partner of our lost friend– that touched me so deeply and made me smile, I kvelled inside and a little bit outwardly too– my big-hearted, big girl/little girl.

We are also excited and hopeful as we are planning for a visit, coming this weekend– at which my daughter and we will meet, for the first time, her younger sister.  One day last week was her sister’s birthday.  It was bedtime when I told my daughter that it was her sister’s birthday and she disappeared into her room.  After a while she returned– with a pristine stuffed panda, a gorgeous jeweled, sequined little box with a ring in it, and several other objects– and she said, “I need a box.”

So we wrapped them all up and packed them all up and sent them off to her as yet unmet sister.  Sister’s mom called me the other night either in tears or nearly in tears– I could not tell.  She said, “your daughter has a heart of gold.  It was like opening a box full of love.”  What could be more reassuring for a mom (this mom, me), than to hear another woman talk about her daughter that way?  She is right, and nothing, really, nothing could be more reassuring.

And finally, my daughter had an unusually busy weekend with a Friday afternoon middle school dance, a Friday overnight at our synagogue and a day full of activities at the synagogue on Saturday, a sleepover with a friend of hers at our home when she returned Saturday night and then off to Girl Scouts for several hours on Sunday, so I barely saw her.

I miss her when she is gone and I am slowly getting my mind around the idea of returning to doing certain things I love and enjoy that have not so much been part of my child-raising years.  My partner and I both had busy weekends and not mostly together.  But we made it a priority to take a long, late afternoon walk together on the closed-on-weekends road in our wonderful, large city park.  On our walk we came across this, the kind thought, the imagination of some other thoughtful walker, a message to us and all others passing by– which made me so happy– the finder of a lost red fleece glove stopping to send us all this word of reassurance.

Peace sign, red glove on sapling, February 10, 2013

Peace sign, red fleece glove on sapling, February 10, 2013.

A Birthday, An Adoption, A Yahrzeit

In that order.  I won’t look back right now, but I think I write virtually the same post at this time every year.  Maybe you haven’t read this blog for long, or maybe you haven’t remembered enough for me to be embarrassed for the repetition.  Or maybe, with things in life, like birth and death and adoption, it’s ok to repeat oneself.

May is a big month for me.  A month of no particular significance in my life until after I was 40 years old– but a big, huge month for me now.  On Sunday, my daughter, born in 2001, will be 11 years old.  I am already thinking a lot about that age and what it means– to her and to me and to us.  I am thinking about her and what I’d like to write about her and what I want to wish for her in the coming year.

Her birth and her adoption were obviously two different events– and I was there for one and not the other.  It is still unfolding year by year and I am still learning –as is she– what these facts mean to her– and what they mean to me.   In some ways the facts of her beginnings and then the facts of the family she got– have given her an interesting and broad perspective.  I know she loves the family she got and we so love her.   This year it was also more open and visible than in the past, that this part of her story– adoption– is a hard thing to carry with her.  I don’t think I’ve written them– but there were two different nights this year when I came home to find my daughter laying on the bed, crying and crying, openly and brokenheartedly– with my partner laying next to her, just tender and listening as she cried about her birth mother never having chosen to meet her.

Nine years ago today just three days before my daughter’s second birthday, my father, who was quite ill but not expected to die, died very suddenly and unexpectedly.  I was already grieving about him, because he was so ill.  But he when he died  I had not said goodbye and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.  But I did.  I had to.  So we have a yahrzeit today and a birthday later this week.   I am full of so many feelings and I am at work and doing my regular things and at home a candle is burning and I do very much, miss my father.


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.

Three women and the poet’s alternative

I’d like to write some poems again.  Poems were all I wrote for years.  In 1995 I learned that Grace Paley was teaching a week long summer writers’ workshop on short story writing at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, so I started writing prose so that I could work with her.  I hadn’t written stories since I was a child.  It turned out I liked writing prose and have worked at that when I’ve worked at any writing at all, but some days and for some purposes I’d like to get back to poems.  Besides stories and essays, Grace wrote poems too. 

Once in one of her classes a young woman brought a poem she had written and asked apologetically to read it to the group.  Grace said yes, and the woman read.  Then there was quiet and Grace asked her to read it again aloud to us.  She said in that definitive way she had of speaking it was because “every poem in the world deserves to be read out loud at least twice.” 

I was thinking of Grace today because of the sad very recent deaths of two beautiful Jewish women–one from the city that I now live in and the other from the city I was born in.  The death of the friend from the city I was born in was a woman I have known my whole life — a woman who remained close to my mother and with whom my mother spent time often, including a long talking visit on the day before she died.  I didn’t get to make it to the funeral. 

This morning I found myself at the funeral of the Jewish woman from this city.  I say “found myself at the funeral” because I read an email at 8 a.m. saying she had died and that the funeral was this morning.  I was there by 10 a.m.   At the funeral I thought of all three women, as well as a lot about my father and his funeral in a synagogue that felt similar to mine today, and I cried some. 

The woman whose funeral was today was a woman I barely knew but even with that amount of knowing we could tell she was a special person.  She was not very much older than I am.  My partner and daughter and I met her and her husband at synagogue and we talked at length several times and liked each other a lot.  She wasn’t really a friend but it seemed we all had plans to become friends.  She had recently written her phone number on a napkin that is still sitting on my partner’s dresser asking us to call her so we could all take a long walk in the spring.  Then she got sick and died. 

The funeral today was a kind of a huge affair, by which I do not mean fancy, but I mean the family shared a lot of themselves throughout the service and there were many words.  The whole thing painted a vivid picture of a life, big and well-lived and a picture of a certain generation of Jews.  All kinds of stories were told, including the story of how the mother and aunt of the now- gone woman had been in five different concentration camps through the Holocaust and stayed alive together.  Then the sisters escaped under a fence together and walked into the countryside where they found a family who hid them for the duration of the war.  The woman who died was born in Europe at the end of the war.  There were grandchildren big and small; a couple of them about 6 or 7, were crying hard, then later running around and laughing and then later came forward and sang a song to their grandmother.  There was a baby granddaughter whose first birthday was today. 

Grace was another older Jewish woman who has meant much to me through her writing, her activism and then personally when I got to know her and study with her several summers in Provincetown. 

I cannot quite find my equilibrium today and to try to find my balance, I find myself thinking about Grace Paley and reaching for her poetry.  Here is one of many favorites which is from her book, Begin Again.  You should, as she emphatically taught me, read it aloud.  Twice. 

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative

 I was going to write a poem

I made a pie instead    it took

about the same amount of time

of course the pie was a final

draft    a poem would have had some

distance to go    days and weeks and

much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking

tumbling audience among small

trucks and a fire engine on

the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie

it will have apples and cranberries

dried apricots in it    many friends

will say    why in the world did you

make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable

sadnesses I decided to

settle this morning for a re-

sponsive eatership    I do not

want to wait a week    a year    a

generation for the right

consumer to come along

Grace Paley 1922-2007