Miles of Mama Memories

This summer Maeve and I shared a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as we piled into the car with my mother — three generations of girls — and hit the open road. Our ultimate destination? A visit with my sister in Arizona. We’d decided to make the journey as memorable as the destination and vowed to drive only two-lane roads or smaller, and take the route we wanted, no matter how indirect.

We left New Jersey on a ferry bound for Delaware, then began to drive the coast: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia; in Florida we’d hang a right and head through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico before reaching my sister in Arizona.

On the return trip we’d see the heartland, hopping onto Route 66 as well: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky; we’d veer south to take in the rolling hills of West Virginia before crossing into Pennsylvania and, with a click of our ruby red shoes and an EZPass swipe or two, we’d be home in New Jersey.

Making this trip with my four-year-old daughter and mother was something special — full of girl power, of course, and many laughs, fun discoveries and extraordinary moments — even some adoption-related.

It wasn’t lost on me that I was sharing an adventure with my daughter — one in which I would watch her grow and experience slices of small-town America — and her first mother B, wasn’t alongside her to take it all in as her everyday mom.

B missed watching Maeve’s eyes widen at the sight of wild ponies on Virginia’s Chincoteague Island. (From here on, all animals spotted from inside the car during the 6,000 miles we covered were immediately deemed “wild” – “Mama! Look, wild cows! Wild sheep!”)

She also missed being evacuated from a North Carolina aquarium when the fire alarms sounded and fire trucks rushed to the scene. After worrying about the fish, Maeve decided they were safe in the water because, after all, water puts out fire.

As we sat in a cart pulled by mules along the charming streets of Charleston, South Carolina, Maeve counted palm trees, delighted in spotting other carriage rides in the distance, and got personal with a mule excitedly licking Maeve’s shirt — seems it had remnants of maple syrup from breakfast! B couldn’t hold Maeve in her arms and giggle about that.

In Georgia, Maeve hit a milestone in the pool – jumping from the side into the water and my nearby arms — without holding a hand. It was me there to gush and shower her with pride.

Maeve ate her first clam and her first fried green tomato on this journey, which also found us on a swamp boat in Louisiana searching for alligators. The next morning’s breakfast featured a zydeco band, a raucous dance floor and such culinary adventures as beignets and boudin. Maeve studied every move being made on the dance floor. I knew how much she wanted to be out there — a day doesn’t pass for her without dancing — but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. I could so easily read her tortured thoughts — a result, of course, of being her everyday mom.

At Texas’ Cadillac Ranch, Maeve stood in awe at the row of cars, colorful with graffiti, planted hood down in the middle of farmland. While tourist folks in the know brought spray paint to leave their mark, this three-generation road trip team, savvy after weeks on the road, had to leave its tag after some improvising. Maeve has learned how to write her name — but I certainly hope that trying to do so in peach nail polish, on an old Cadillac, alongside her mom and grandma, remains one of her childhood memories.

Oklahoma proved surprisingly quirky — from its sort-of famous blue whale, a now-defunct swimming hole still beloved by the locals who fish from it and play inside its two-level belly — to the largest cement totem pole in the world.

There are many stories of adventure to share, and more than a thousand wonderful pictures — but there’s one snapshot I will forever keep with me, and it didn’t happen with a camera around my neck.

In between silly splashes and watching tiny lizards scurry by my sister’s pool, Maeve said matter-of-factly (with some words running together and lost): “Mama? When [B] had me from her belly … couldn’t take care of me … but Gretchen and Thomas … mama and daddy …”

I stared in disbelief. Then, with a swell of excitement, she sing-songed: “and that’s how I found you!”

Four years of sharing her adoption story, keeping B a topic of conversation in our home and photos in her bedroom of them together, and this was the first time Maeve raised the topic herself. It was bittersweet. Happy and relieved we’d been doing our job, ensuring her story is part of her. Sad as she now begins to process her loss.

The adoption wheels of her mind have begun to turn and while I’ll not always be able to read her mind like that morning at the zydeco café or provide every answer to every question, I’m grateful to have the information we do, the contact with B we’ve shared, and hope that holds some of the peace she will seek in the future.

For now, though, we’ll continue to take each adventure — and surprising moments of clarity from a four-year-old — as they come, embracing the quirky places, the surprising finds and the small but oh-so-cherished moments that make up our family’s journey.


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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Family, Maeve, Parenting

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.


Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Birthdays, Children, Closed Adoption, Family, Maeve, Open Adoption, Parenting, Uncategorized

Backyard photo fun

Had a recent photo session in the backyard with Maeve in an effort to get some shots that help display some of the handmade goods my mom and I are/will be offering in our etsy shop — grossgrain ribbon hair clips, lampwork bead necklaces and knit caps. Thought I’d share a few here, since it’s been a while.






Filed under Adoption, Children, Crafting, Maeve

Firsts: Hers, Mine and Ours

A child’s firsts are dear to a parent’s heart. Whether it’s that first taste of baby cereal, an unsure, wobbly first step or the fleeting sound of the first mama or dada, such moments are treasured.

Of course, firsts continue beyond babyhood. There’s the first pedaling of a tricycle or the morning they finally wrangle their shirt over their head unassisted. As parents, we catch our breath at the hint of such a moment, and watch, recording it all to memory.

My household is now firmly planted in The Threes and unlike Maeve’s baby months, the firsts are less predictable. She recently came home from preschool with more than an art project. There were worksheets. Her father and I stared in disbelief. Somehow we’re parents to a child not only old enough to draw a line from a number six to a set of six apples, but a teacher comments on it!

Wasn’t it just yesterday we met the seven-pound her in the hospital nursery?

We’re now making a picture dictionary. We look through magazines and cut pictures beginning with the letter of the week, and she pastes them onto the appropriate page of her notebook. While searching for C items, we stopped at a boy with curly hair. She pointed, “Curly like me!”

Curly, indeed. The soft corkscrew ringlets that adorn her head bounce and shine, much like the girl herself. For someone like me with straight hair, caring for the curls of my bi-racial daughter certainly has been an education.

Lately when our morning de-tangling ritual had become a bigger struggle than usual I knew it was time for a haircut, something I’d put off in an effort to grow those sweet curls.

The task reminded me of pre-adoption classes at our local Adoptions From The Heart office. We had discussed inevitable situations like another parent at the park asking if my husband is black, or Maeve’s friends asking why her mom doesn’t share her cocoa skin.

Sure, bringing a child for a haircut might seem relatively mundane, but the fact I’m an adoptive mother changed how I approached the process. I knew bringing Maeve to my salon wouldn’t do her justice so I chose a local shop that caters to her ethnicity.

With a camera in one hand and Maeve’s little paw in the other, I battled the butterflies in my belly as we entered the salon, jingle bells clanging against the door. I tried to ignore the curious glances of folks trying to make sense of the situation.

Maeve took the hairdresser’s hand and walked to the wash sink. She dutifully followed every direction and a few booster-cushions later, Maeve was perched at the hairdresser’s station, donning a dog-and-cat cape, and watching herself – and others mid-beautification – in the mirror’s reflection. By then I was too busy snapping photographs for posterity to pay any sort of mind to pesky belly butterflies.

When she was done with the trim, Maeve walked me to the back of the salon where the older girls sat under bubble dryers. She chose a vacant chair and scrambled up, settling in underneath the giant plastic lid. Just another one of the girls.

Just as we prepared to leave, snips of curls clutched in my hand as a memento, I was thinking how smoothly everything had gone when Maeve’s hairdresser asked, in a not-so-quiet voice, “So, where is she from?”

As the butterflies summoned to attention, I was reminded that it’s just this sort of everyday experience those agency classes had prepared us for. I looked down at my daughter, who didn’t seem to notice the question, and readied my answer.

I’m certainly not shy about discussing adoption – both my husband and daughter were adopted, we actively work to have Maeve’s birth family in our lives, I write about adoption and help facilitate a support group for the triad. It’s just that as Maeve gets older, adoption becomes more her story to tell (or not) than ours.

Since these childhood firsts belong more to her rather than us as her parents, our focus has begun to shift from simply enjoying the pleasure of each milestone to protecting Maeve’s privacy, wary of questions that she can hear yet that were asked as if she couldn’t. My answers matter more than ever before.

Maeve’s first haircut presented a first for me as an adoptive parent – venturing into an unknown, following through publicly on the commitment we made to raise our daughter in a way that embraces her culture and background.

As a parent in general, I’ll continue to hone my reaction to all the firsts yet to come – adoption-related or not: going out alone with friends, turning the key in an ignition, primping for a date, writing a paper, coming home with a broken heart, completing a college application.

But first things first: Next week my little Maeve boards a bus with her preschool classmates to visit a pumpkin farm!

Spiked cider, anyone?

As published this month in AFTH’s Fall 2008 newsletter, which can be accessed through the Musings of an Adoptive Mama logo on the right.

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Family, Maeve, Parenting

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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