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Luck, mamahood and iambic pentameter(ish)

All the mamas in Maeve’s first grade class were asked to write a poem about their child and read it during a Mother’s Day tea. The kids wrote an acrostic poem for their mom and read it to them. (So cute!) One would think that given my fear of public speaking, my poem would have been short and sweet. (And preferably e-mailed. Sadly, that wasn’t an option.) Don’t know about sweet, but short it is not. I even warned the 46 (!) people I was reading it to. After I read it (without fainting!) and sat back at my seat, the mama-friend sitting next to me said it was classic Gretchen — just like my text messages. (aka L-O-N-G…)

Didn’t Shakespeare say that “verbosity is the soul of wit”? No? Are you sure? Hmmm, that’s a shame.

For you Maeve, on this Mother’s Day eve.

Love you more, love you most. -mama

This is the story of one lucky mama
And I’m not being silly or chock-full of drama.
This mama’s more lucky than lucky finds seven
From one to ten, my luck is eleven!
Why am I lucky, you may wonder and ask?
I’ll spell it all out, but it is quite a task.
Each day that I wake and take a big stretch
My heart is so full and my breath I must catch.
It was six years ago, this change in my world
My daughter arrived, my heart it unfurled.
This dear little bundle so precious and small
Grabbed onto my soul — in love I did fall.
A new little family, my heart was aglow
Then I saw something! What do you know?
As new baby slept, her lips in their pout
Made a perfect heart shape, of this I’ve no doubt!
I had to just watch her and take in the sight
I couldn’t love baby with any more might.
Toes oh-so-tiny and hair oh-so-straight
Big dreams I had dreamed but then had to wait.
Like large ocean waves, in blues deep as the sea
Maeve entered my life and changed all of me.
Before I was “mom,” how I’d wished on a star
Maeve’s middle name, then picked from afar.
Its African meaning I’ve always been told
Is a message to me that will never grow old.
Kya means diamond, so high in the sky
A star with the power to make my heart fly.
Dare to discover just how lucky I feel?
To be part of her story, and know it’s all real?
Well, catch the world’s luck and hold it real tight
Push it under your pillow then dream big all night!
***
As new mamas know, there’s so much to learn
Unknowns and surprises we don’t always yearn.
But there are some, so full of delight
Like seeing a change just appear overnight!
One morning’s bath, I received such a shock
When sprung from her head was a curl in her lock!
And each day that followed, more spirals did spring
How sweet it all was — yes, oh what a thing!
I looked in those eyes so dark and so round
Couldn’t believe all this luck I had found.
If four-leaf clovers, I thought, are called such a prize
She’s my million-leaf clover! How’s that for size?
Such awe that I felt as I witnessed her grow,
One step, then another — wait, where’d baby go?
***
The new toddling toddler taught me so much
Adventures we shared, sweet, silly and such!
Her first word was Ella (that’s our long-haired gray cat)
How she’d grab that big tail, oh, yes I remember all that!
Life’s full of choices — that holds true for tykes
They grow into people with their own list of likes:
At the beach she did frolic, diving in sand.
She ate olives like me, five on each hand
On the color of yellow and giraffes she did crush,
When her first tooth appeared, my heart went to mush.
So quickly that toddling, turned running galore
And playing and laughing and learning much more.
As time flew right by me, all her teeth they flew in
And now that she’s six, she’s changing that grin.
When the Tooth Fairy comes, so sneaky at night
I so want to yell, “No! This just isn’t right!”
She’s growing too fast, discovering herself
Those old baby days tucked high on a shelf.
***
Now in first grade, just how can that be?
Wasn’t a baby just crying for me?
She loves to be tickled, keeps begging for more
We don’t even stop until we’re both sore.
Then we cuddle and dance and laugh ‘till we cry
Then calm ourselves down and join in a sigh.
From fun family game night to lollipop licks
I watch from the sidelines her big soccer kicks
She rides her bike fast to see where it goes
Big adventures await her that nobody knows.
I’m lucky to know her and love her as mine
Forever her mama and helping her shine.
Her name it was picked from some cool Irish lore
Where Maeve was a queen and never a bore.
So strong and so smart — knew what she wanted
From fears and unknowns she never was daunted.
***
My wish for you Maeve, is to grow and be strong
Do what you fear and sing your own song!
You’ll learn and you’ll love and you’ll shed a tear,
But you’ll always have me and my big – biggest – cheer.
How much do I love you? Let me tell you it’s more
Each day that you knock on my tender heart door.
Luck it comes and luck it goes — but mine will surely stay.
You are my sky-bright star, my heart-shaped lips, my luck in every way.
***
So fling coins in a fountain, hang horseshoes upright
Walk around ladders then close your eyes tight.
Wish on the stars and cross fingers for luck
Inside of your shoes, old pennies do tuck.
Grab hold of ten wishbones then give ‘em a pull
That’s still not as lucky as my own heart is full.
These things may be nice and can feel so divine,
But not one can compare to this daughter-of-mine.

***

And this is Maeve’s acrostic poem to me:

My mom is smart.

On Fridays she lets me pick out a movie.

The pizzas she makes are really good.

Her hair is pretty.

Excellent.

Reads me books.

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Adoption’s Doors: Still Under Lock and Key

The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round,
round and round, all … day … long.

The doors on the bus go open and shut, open and shut,
open and shut, all … day … long.

Since Maeve was about a year old, her love of music and her animated participation in singing this, or any song for that matter, has made for delightful moments. Since music is a constant in our home, she’s becoming accustomed to its myriad forms, including children’s sing-a-longs, classical, rock, folk, blues, jazz and reggae.

Wheels on the Bus was long on the set list for our morning car ride cabaret. And whether it’s the bus driver’s order to “move on back” or horns going “beep, beep, beep,” her chunky little hands and sweet segmented baby arms were in full musical orchestration from her car seat podium in the backseat.

One of her favorite stanza detailed the bus doors that “open and shut, open and shut,” while her arms stretched to their widest limits, then quickly, and with as much force as she could muster, her hands slapped together — clap — with precision. Open and shut. Open and shut. Open and shut.

One morning in particular, though, those words rattled in my mind long after the song’s end. Not just as juvenile lyrics about mass transportation, but as concepts, as realities. Both are realities in adoption; both are realities in my world. After all, I am mother to a young girl in an open adoption. I am wife to a man whose adoption remains tightly shut by the laws in his Ohio birthstate. A stark contrast between the two, to be sure:

***

I have never set eyes on the woman who brought my husband into the world.
Not only have I met the woman that brought my daughter into the world,
I have hugged her – long and hard.

***

I have never heard my husband’s birth mother speak.
I know not whether his voice and its intonations echo hers.
Not only have I heard the voice of my daughter’s birth mother, we’ve spoken– sharing conversations, sentiments, moments.

***

When I gaze into my husband’s distinct eyes or admire the dark, loose curls upon his head,
I have no point of reference from which to travel,
branch-to-branch, along a family tree of physical attributes.
Yet I can trace the rosy hue and heart-shaped curves of my daughter’s lips,
even the contour of her jaw and chin, directly to her birth mother’s siblings.
Because we met them and I saw the similarities for myself.
And on that warm summer day, we sat, on a blanket in a park
and played with the baby that connects us all.

***

In a moment of medical crisis, there would be no family history on which my husband could rely. No way to shed light in a time of darkness.
Yet, for our daughter, there are forms completed by her birth mother that reference three generations of medical matters. More than that, if our daughter’s health were in peril, her birth mother could be reached.

***

Based on decades-old recollection from my husband’s adoptive family, two possible names for his birth mother and one for the hospital are scrawled on a sheet of looseleaf paper.

Although agency records cite such specifics, they are black-lined to him. I don’t rely on recollection for fundamental facts about my daughter’s story.

Her birth mother’s name is Known. Written. Spoken. Photographs of her birth mother are in our home, within our daughter’s grasp.

The hospital where our daughter took her first breath? We were called to it.

***

For my husband, there are questions that remain unanswered. For my daughter, there are stories to share, memories to make, friendships to forge, milestones to mark.

***

Open and shut. Open and shut. Open and shut.

This is the latest column, Musings of an Adoptive Mama, published in January 2011. Longtime readers will recognize the remix of an oldie but a goodie — and still incredibly pertinent as we await passage of New Jersey’s Adoptee Birthright Bill, opening sealed adoption records. While the bill has passed the state Senate, A-1406 currently awaits posting before the full Assembly for a vote.

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Finally, some adoption nitty-gritty (revised)

It’s been a while since I got down and dirty here with the nitty-gritty of adoption issues. A long while.

One reason — and seemingly the simplest believe it or not, is the major life changes going on round here for me. From starting my own craft biz geared toward children and also experiencing a serious career-shocker regarding my day gig, it’s been all about new patterns, new priorities and new timeframes in which to manage them. I’m still learning on that one, and from what I can tell, the next month or so will add yet another new layer of  changes to what my life is, or who I am, becoming these days.

(Yes, that was the simple reason.)

The more difficult reason, if you will, for quiet time around here is because I’ve always liked to think (naively, I know, so don’t burst my bubble) that I’m only venturing in here and donning this specific writer’s cap when I have something I need to say, something that’s worthwhile in the moment.

I’ve never wanted this to be a space to talk about the deal I got on such and such at the shop downtown or what I had for lunch that day, and unless I could devote the time to musings:mamahood&more — even after the house is finally still and the thermostat plunges into its insanely low sleeping temperature so my tapping fingertips are numb and hard to move — and be able to say something of value (even if only for myself), well, I’d rather it let it stand on its own. Quiet, but standing tall nonetheless.

Sure, every writer who is a mother and an employee and a juggler of many things she loves has the same issues. So I suppose that’s not the truly difficult part, either.

Rather, it’s difficult because the ebb and flow of adoption as I know it sometimes hits so hard and so personally that I’ve not yet processed it in a way that is 1) ready for public consumption and 2) even something I’ll want to share here.  

Those of you who are regulars here, friends here and in real-life know I’m touched by adoption in two ways. Both my daughter and my husband were adopted. One is meant to be open, the other is terribly closed due to unrealistic laws that disrespect those they affect.

Tonight, while avoiding the To-Do list that sits before me as this weekend is packed with things I must attend/do/finish and prepare for, I popped in on one of my favorite bloggers. It was meant to be a quick read, a small diversion from what I must do tonight before my head hits the pillow.

Instead, the floodgates opened and salty tears came a’flowin. (Yep, I’m lookin’ mighty fine right about now.)

The words she shared today, on the eve her daughter’s birthday, had me awash in tears not only for her and her daughter (whom she placed for adoption five years ago but remains active in an open-adoption arrangement), but ultimately, I suppose, for my own daughter as well.

A few simple sentences and I was a goner. She’s done this to me before, and since I’ve been reading her since Maeve was just a wee one, it’s happened plenty. I dunno, maybe this time though it also has to do with the season. After all, just around the corner from where I sit right now, my family’s Christmas tree sits in all its splendor, centered before two front windows, glistening in its white lights, sentimental ornaments and cranberry garland. My large and stately fireplace is softened by garland Tom has wrapped it in, white lights and berries and all. Our knit stockings dangle with anticipation and the staircase leading upstairs is wrapped in garland and lights and love.

And running about among all this light and love in my life is my beautiful three-year-old daughter. She wakes up each morning to find “her” tree “stayed there” all night and delights in that fact (whatever that means, goodness knows what she’s worried about!). She’s enjoying the events of the season this year as she’s now old enough to participate more actively, chatting with St. Nick today on his lap (“What would you like for Christmas, Maeve?” he asked. “A present,” she says simply, before thanking him for letting us take a photo of them together.)

I am so lucky to have her in my life. Even at 4 am when her cool little hand touches my warm leg as she hoists herself high into our big bed, having just pitter-patted across the hall into our bedroom. And as she works to tuck her legs under the tangle of all the blankets, nestles in alongside me and rests her arm on my hip, she groggily begins a full-blown conversation, pulling me from my sleep:

Can I go ride my tricycle outside now? (Despite it being dark and cold.)

Is the sun still in its nest or has it left to find the sky so the morning can come?

Is the moon tired from all night? Will it sleep all day in its nest, mommy?

Do girls have mustaches? Can I have a pink one? Right …. here? Look, mommy, open your eyes. (She taps me from the oblivion I’m trying to rediscover and points to her upper lip.) Can I have a pink one … right … here?

Despite this burst of inquisitive imagination, within moments of my answers, the rhythm of her breathing falls into a pattern I have come to know as if it were my own.

I cannot help but smile in these simple moments. It’s a reflex gushing with thankfulness for this light in my life. So sweet, so genuine and somehow, because they happen under the cover of night, these moments are even more special, more sacred, more … gourmet. As if I was the lucky recipient of a little bit of heaven. Moments one might not notice so easily had they happened once the dawn, with all its duties and responsibilities, has broken.

It is not at all uncommon, though, that in these joyous moments, her breathing lulling me back to a blissful sleep, my happiness turns to a bittersweet reality. A cloud has rolled in and I am pulled awake again.

After all, no matter how much I love her, no matter how deeply or how perfectly (in goal only, of course) I love her,  I will never, ever be her first mother.

Don’t get me wrong, or jump to an incorrect conclusion: I’m not pondering my own short-falling.  This isn’t at all about me.

It’s not something I can change, no matter how hard I try, who I know, how much money I have or how many magical powers I can muster from a genie’s lamp. I Will Never Be The Woman Who Made Her Who She is.

And therein, my friends, lies Incredible Loss. Loss for Maeve. Loss for B., her first mom.

Loss that I cannot sweep under a carpet or pour into a box to perch on a dusty old shelf to be long forgotten. I cannot do that, because B. is with me every single day. She is entwined in my heart so completely there is no parting us. She’s there because Maeve is there. B is there because of everything she and I have known together, because of how she has forever changed the course of my life, the story I am living.

Bittersweet is an overused and shallow word for what I’m trying to describe. So I will try to say it as succinctly as possible (for verbose me): The depth of my joy in being a mother seems matched only by a constant and acute awareness of a sadness equally as deep.

Anyone reading this who is a mother but who is not touched by adoption, try to gather the myriad feelings, emotions, thoughts and experiences that are permanently wrapped in to your motherhood. A scope and depth of love so serious and raw and real that it’s hard to adequately find the words.

Now take that powerful mix, relish in the joy you feel in being the mother to your children, and add to that wholehearted devotion the strength of your instincts to protect and nurture.

Being a mother means doing everything in our power to ensure our children are whole, healthy, happy and kind. We work to ensure they are comforted in the strength of our fierce love for them and the power it ultimately gives them to thrive.

As Maeve’s mom — but not her first mom — it’s something I struggle with. How can I make her whole? I believe her happiness comes from that wholeness. Yet my very presence in her life is because something else, someone else, is missing.

And not for nothing, but if I feel this strongly, how will Maeve feel as the flesh and blood of a mother not nurturing her on a daily basis?  

This Spring, contact was the best it had been. Leaps and bounds in connections, in conversations, in sharing — whether small, idle chats or more serious discussions.

It was Exhilarating. Exciting. There was Relief.

And then, like a thief during the dark of night, while we weren’t paying attention, while Maeve was busy coming to our bedside and nestling in close, a part of us, a part of her, integral parts to the puzzle assembled ever so slowly since she was born, simply vanished with the arrival … of silence.

I cannot help but grieve the loss for them both, all over again.

Is it an ebb and flow (its own issue to make peace with and make the most of) or was it just too much?

I’ve spent far too long, in those rare quiet moments alone the last few months, wondering. We continue to let B. know we’re here. Our arms are open, our hearts are committed. Tender now from the pain, but our hearts are always, and will always be, ever-so committed.

After all, she is part of us. She is part of Maeve. Maeve is part of her.

The simple sentiments in the aforementioned blog post that released all of this from me tonight were thoughts reminiscent of where the blogger was five years ago tonight.

Five years ago the baby inside her tossed and turned and made her presence known as if she were having “a party” in her belly. Now she recalls that evening and writes:

“I did not know, however, that it was her going away party.”

Today, in describing that night, as she tried to get comfortable amid contractions signaling the end of one part of her journey, she writes:

“It was the last day that I was ever her only mother. It was the last day that she was truly mine.”

My heart hurts for her, for B., for Maeve. As I told this blogger in an embarrassingly long comment, despite feeling sadness for her tonight, I also cannot help but revel in the blessing her daughter has — because no matter how difficult it has been for these five years since placement, she has, without a doubt, stuck it out. Been there. Worked on her pain and healing and kept in contact. Visits. Letters. Phone calls. Emails.

Reaching out to the little girl that is still inside her, although in a different way now.

No matter the road before her these last five years, she has chosen to travel the journey. She has not walked away.

It seems to me it will never be easy. How can such things be? But the path she’s chosen to take, despite the personal struggle it might be at times, is one that brings her the highest esteem from me.

I am in awe of how she continues, for the good of her daughter, her family, and the story she weaves of her life by living it each day.

Jenna, may this weekend’s bitterness and sweetness somehow mesh for you in a way that is bearable.

Happy birthday to your daughter. Relish in wishing the stunningly beautiful girl whose own eyes mirror yours all the very best.

Oh, and Jenna?  Thank you.

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Another focus. Crafty, ain’t I?

Pardon me while I sweep the tumbleweed from ye ole blog.

Sometimes, though, there’s little to say adoption-wise, at least as far as The Big Picture goes. And recently, there’s been so much nastiness being spewed about in Adoption Bloggerville that it’s painful to read, exhausting and frustrating, and well, it simply squelches the urge to write. At least for now.

Besides, there’s been another focus in my lil world these days as my mother and I have deemed ourselves totally certifiable, sometimes even laughing at our own silly and surreal tenacity, and have jumped in headfirst to a new shared venture.

She and I have shared creative interests over the years, despite me swearing up and down to her as a child that I (not yet having seen the feminist light), would never, never have to do anything myself when I grew up because I would marry someone so rich that I would simply pay people to do whatever needed doing. She’d try to explain that she enjoyed the challenge, enjoyed the creating. I would scoff.

Such disdain at my mother’s knack for knocking down walls to expand the living room on a random day while I was at school — or her handpainting around windows, making benches and painting various items, launching a craft business with her friend that turned out to be quite successful, or her and my dad hanging beams on ceilings, building my sister and I a loft in our bedroom, and … well, the list goes on.

I can almost hear my indignant child voice, hating the fact that my parents were do-it-yourselfers. I wanted no part of it and swore that not only would I marry rich, but I’d always buy new! new! new!, I’d never sit down to glue something, paint something or create something and in the grocery line there was no reason to ever pick up a craft magazine. Ugh!

Ah, the irony.

Years ago Thomas and I bought an old Dutch Colonial that had been vacant a decade or so — unless you count the family of raccoons that had become quite comfortable inside. (When he and I went to see it — at our urging, not our realtor’s — she actually waited downstairs while we went up to investigate, sure we would come face-to-face with squatters.) We made an offer that same day. She thought we were crazy.

And we were. We were, and still are, crazy in love with our 1927 house. Raccoons could be gently shooed out, mildew could be cleaned, old and broken furnishings could be hauled away as could the rusted radiators dumped in the backyard and overgrown with ivy. The roof had a hole in it, leaking water into the attic and second floor. The missing kitchen ceiling (we could see the bottom of the bathtub upstairs!) could be replaced, the heating system fixed (we hoped!). None of it mattered because we loved the age of the house, its original tile floors in the bathroom and foyer, the large rooms, the side porches, the original hardwood floors.

And darned if we didn’t fix it ourselves. (And with many helping hands from both our families, as the job was a lot bigger than some paint and spackle.)

From furniture painting to invitation crafting, I’ve long become a regular at the local craft shops, and even had a studio at home for several years.

Then, in the last year or so, my husband decided to leave teaching to become a contractor. (Talk about tools, sawdust and projects. The child in me would be apoplectic.)

So, further opening mouth, inserting foot, and taking back all I ever said about despising crafting, creating and do-it-yourselfing, I hereby announce that my mother and I are in business. We’ve registered with the state, applied for the tax ID number, signed up for some shows, are working on our etsy shop, the business cards ordered, the white tent for outdoor shows has arrived, and we’re working on product (after scavenging for authentic Scrabble tiles in need of a good home and repurposing, and buttons of any shape, age and color).

All in all, it’s an adventure, and we’ve only just begun. Our first show is next month in Red Bank, NJ.

Our whimsical items are focused on children and include handpainted furniture, fun handcrafted beaded jewelry, a unique safety bracelet we’re especially excited about, canvases for children’s rooms, hair clip holders and more.

Once the etsy shop is open, I’ll post a button here. (Soon, soon!) Right now it’s about getting a large enough inventory for the upcoming show.

(Notice I haven’t let the company name out of the bag yet?)

In the meantime, I’m continuing to hope for a nicer adoption blogosphere anytime now.

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Adoption story tonight on Nightline

Heads up: Tonight on Nightline (which airs at 11:35 p.m. here on the East Coast), host Cynthia McFadden — an adoptee herself — joins Cynthia Guditus, a 43-year-old adoptee, in her journey to find and contact her natural mother in “Where Did I Come From?”

Guditus was helped in her search by Pam Slaton — the woman who linked rapper DMC with his first mother. After finding the contact information, Guditus struggles with how her phone call might affect not only herself, but the woman on the other end of the phone line, who, it seems, is a very private person.

It seems the report not only follows her as she considers such “what ifs,” but is there for those emotional charged moments when she actually dials the telephone.

I’m not only interested in seeing the program, but how McFadden, in her dual role as reporter and adoptee, portrays adoption itself — as we know, it doesn’t often get a fair or accurate shake in the press.

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She’s a reader, that one

So what if it’s in her laundry hamper,
placed at the foot of my bed, with my comforter pulled over as a backrest.
Reading is reading, right?

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Tea … and tidy hair

Daahling, let’s have tea … yes?
And don one of those headbands you so adore. In fact, wear them all!
And why not layer those shirts, too?
(A lady should be at the ready should it get chilly …)

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