Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Stairs

I wrote this quite a while ago, but was not ready to share it at that time. Today is the anniversary of my adoption and I've decided that it was time to share. Be gentle with me.

When I was adopted, my mother tells me, the day they made it official, I cried inconsolably as they carried me down the courthouse stairs to start my new life. As the story goes, a little more than two years later when I made the trip down those stairs again, when my sister was the newly adopted infant, I was extremely disappointed because, not only did she not cry, she slept. I wanted her to cry. Crying was what was done. My mother had told me over and over. I cried all the way down the courthouse stairs. It was my birth story, or as close as I had to one. 

I just read The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. I shan't review it per se -- at least not here and now -- but it did stir up a lot of things I thought I'd put to rest.

One of the many things that jumped out at me -- and it probably was not nearly as prominent as it appeared to be -- was how many times stairs were mentioned. Stairs played a big part in my adoption story, and they played a part in many of the stories relayed by these women who became pregnant and relinquished their babies in the 50's, 60's and 70's. Throwing themselves down stairs in an attempt to force a miscarriage, taking their only exercise on the stairs while confined to the home for unwed mothers, and, yes, walking up and then down the stairs at the court house. A happy memory for adoptive parents, an unspeakably sad one for these young girls.

Unspeakable was a carefully chosen word. Their experiences were not spoken of.

Reading about them now, at this point in my life, was chilling.

I had no idea.

My parents had been given the company line regarding my birth circumstances. They weren't told much and -- now that I've read this book -- I doubt that much of what they were told was true. Similar stories about them were, no doubt, fabricated for my birth mother. Everyone was worried about "what was best for the child" and apparently truth didn't figure into that equation very tidily. 

I have never sought my birth mother, for many reasons, not one of which is unique. I respected my parents too much to want to hurt them with a search. I didn't want to disrupt the life of the woman who had given me up and probably moved on with her life -- maybe forgotten all about me -- probably forgotten all about me. I didn't want to give her the chance to reject me again.

I know now that that was probably misguided at best, and I am sorry.

I considered it when I was pregnant. I wanted the medical history I lacked. I considered it, but I didn't act on it. And then my daughter was born -- my first blood relative -- and I sort of forgot about it. I sort of forgot about everything. The whole game changed.

And now it's changed again. After reading the testimonies of so many women who were coerced into relinquishing their infants in that era -- not rejecting them (me), not throwing them (me) away, not ridding themselves of an inconvenient obstacle (um, me again), but instead mourning their loss (of me!) -- sometimes for the rest of their lives.

There is pain on every corner of this triad.

No-one escapes unscathed, whether we talk about it or sweep it under the rug.

I know that there are other adoptees who read my words. I know that there are adoptive parents who read my words. I don't know if there are any birth mothers who read my words or not. There is still a pretty thick veil of silence there. I hope -- by touching upon the very shallow surface of this issue here -- that I do not cause undue pain to any of them.

This book stirred things up in me.

But I won't do anything about it.

I am not brave enough to take those stairs.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Life Worth Living

Since Robin Williams' tragic suicide (as if there's another kind...) two days ago, social media -- all media, I guess -- has been inundated with tributes but also with pleas for an increased awareness of the issues surrounding depression and other forms of mental illness. I've also seen a lot of people speaking frankly about their own experiences with depression. This is a positive outcome from an immensely negative event. 

We lost a family member in the same way in the same week.

It wasn't national news. But it did cause our family circle to tighten a little bit -- to view things a little differently -- to grow as we grieve.

I have read many of these tributes and revelations and have been tempted to write one of my own, but feared that I had nothing to add to the conversation -- that it has all been said in the last two days, and far more eloquently than I could manage.

Then I remembered something from the beginning of my daughter's battle with the dementors (she'll appreciate that reference) -- when we were just beginning to fight the fight. I have seen a lot of people post links to the suicide prevention helpline. I have even seen at least one person mention that getting help can be hard, but it's worth it. We can certainly verify that. What I haven't seen discussed is the way people react.

I lost friends when I sought treatment for my daughter. 

I was judged harshly for trusting big pharma and was told that all she needed was unconditional love -- that by seeking treatment and help, I was essentially trying to change who she was. Just let her be. Just love her. She'll work it out. They implied that seeking help would make me a bad parent and a worse person. 

Other factions told me that she just needed tighter boundaries. That she needed more discipline. If any kid of theirs pulled a stunt like that... 

I was too demanding. 

I wasn't demanding enough.

I'm not going to lie -- I second guessed myself. Constantly.

But ultimately I continued to seek help. I dedicated myself to it. 

I left a job I loved because I couldn't do it well and continue to give my child what she needed.

I lost friends.

But I have my daughter -- and she is healing. She is well. 

So I guess that's what I want to add to the conversation. Depression cannot be loved away. (Nor can it be beaten out of someone, although that seems sort of like a no-brainer to me -- but a lot of people continue to entertain the notion...) I wish it could, but that's just not the way this particular beasty works. It takes hard work and diligence and sacrifice. 

Worth it.

We have worked our way through several hospitalizations, many meds and med combinations, many therapists, a few psychiatrists and many psychologists. It has been all-consuming.

Worth it.

When she had her very first meeting with her current counselor, the counselor told Tom and I, "This is not suicide prevention. We can't prevent suicide. If she really wants to kill herself, nothing you or I or any friend or any boy can say or do will stop her. We can't prevent suicide. What we can do is teach her to have a life worth living."

She is learning that.

I am learning, too.

I lost friends. 

I lost my source of income and a chunk of my external sense of self. 

It's a lesson that comes with a cost.

Worth it.

So I guess that's what I want to bring to the conversation. Right now the climate is very encouraging. Get help. And I want to underline that. But I also want to warn you that the world isn't always as supportive as it's been the last couple days, but it's worth it to pursue every avenue of help that is available. For you. For your loved ones.


Maybe we can love it away. 

Maybe we just need to reframe our ideas about love.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If a Picture Paints 1000 Words

Last week, my trainer started working on some back muscles I didn't know I had. They were a little weak, as you can imagine, but I'm at a good place with my training. It felt much more like a challenge than a defeat.

As I was driving to my weekend getaway, those back muscles flexed a couple times, involuntarily. It felt amazing. Powerful. Flexion laden with potential. Righteous. I mused on a conversation I'd had with my trainer earlier in the week. I told her that I could feel my muscles growing -- especially my biceps, which we don't work that hard in isolation, but they get a lot of peripheral action. My quads, too -- man are they feeling strong. I expressed my frustration with the fact that she and I are the only ones who really know how strong I'm becoming -- the extra layer(s) of ME hide the evidence pretty well from the general populous. "That's alright, babies," I assured my incognito guns, "I know you're there." I sealed my loving sentiment with a little kiss for each one. I was alone in my car. Nobody noticed. And if they did, well, then they have a story, I suppose. Crazy old fat lady in the next lane sucking on her big old arms in an attempt to satiate herself until she could pull over and buy a tub of chicken and a quart of ice cream.


I knew the truth.

I had bigger things to worry about anyway. I was on my way to camp - alone - in another state - to sleep and craft in the woods with 20-some people I'd never met. I was excited, but more than a little bit nervous. There would be a strict ban on social media for the whole weekend. That was scary enough, but I understood the desire to have everyone be fully present. If I wanted to have this adventure, I'd have to have it without a lifeline. All in. The scarier part was that the only camera I have is in my iPhone. While cameras were allowed, I knew I couldn't be trusted to not check my messages (real quick!) if my phone was in my hand. In my pics-or-it-didn't-happen world, would I even continue to exist if there were no photographic evidence?

I aimed to find out.

So I went and I lived and I socialized and I did it all without taking a single picture or writing or answering a single text. I did it without posting a status update or a tweet or an instagram. I pinned nothing. I did it. I lived an un-shared weekend. I wouldn't want to make a habit of it, but I'd definitely like to do it again. It seems very healthy (in small doses).

Now one of the things I do with my (perhaps way more than is healthy) online time is participate in a group that takes daily selfies. This is not out of any sense of vanity or ego -- it is just a practice we all use for our own purposes. My purpose is to become more comfortable with how I look -- to recognize myself -- to learn to treat myself with gentleness instead of picking myself apart. The latter is a lot easier than the former, and that just shouldn't be so. So I'm working and learning and making slow progress.

I thought I'd learned to recognize myself and not recoil in horror every time I saw a picture of myself.  I thought that -- until the pictures that other people took at camp started showing up. I am not speaking hyperbolically -- I saw those pictures and burst into tears. I recognize myself in the mirror --  I recognize myself in the selfies -- I did not recognize myself as captured by someone else's  eyes. 

Two days earlier I'd been kissing those hiding-but-existent biceps -- loving them and loving me --  and less than 50 hours later I was looking at arms as big as hams on a body they looked reconciled with. Fucking fuckity fuck.

I recalled with perfect clarity a conference I'd attended when I was in my 20s. I'd zoned out a little bit because I was distracted by the woman in front of me. She was a big woman. That wasn't shocking. I'd seen big women before. But her arms -- her arms were shocking. They were -- SO big. I remember thinking initially -- and quite uncharitably -- that she had no business wearing a sleeveless dress. As the conference ran on and I became more bored and squirmy and hot, I remember becoming more sympathetic rather than less. If I was that uncomfortable how uncomfortable must she be? This was so many years ago, and I never even spoke to her -- yet this memory came flooding back so clearly I could hear the speaker -- I could smell the room -- and I could visualize every flower on her faded shift dress.


I'd become what I'd judged.

All that work I'd done -- in the gym and in the mirror and with the rear-facing camera -- obliterated in an instant. Strong, emerging, offbeat -- yes, even beautiful -- replaced in less time than it took to blink by old, fat and ugly.

I'd been kidding myself, and quite successfully.

Let's rewind a moment. 

Months and months of working my way up to a place of self-acceptance. Months and months of getting stronger -- physically and emotionally. Months and months. Was I really going to let one moment -- no matter how undeniable the evidence was -- take all of that away from me?

This morning I made myself do my hair and put on make-up before I left the house. I didn't want to. I couldn't imagine why it would matter. Lipstick on a pig, and all that. But I did it. And it felt sort of good. Then I took my daily selfie. I hadn't been able to manage that yesterday. And it took a couple tries, but I recognized myself.

Tonight I will run.

Tomorrow I will train.

Because old fat and ugly cannot win. It cannot own me. How I look through someone else's lens isn't as important as how I look through my own. I've had a setback. But through my own lens, I am still strong. And oh, I am still emerging.

Have I written 1000 words? I think probably not. Have I painted a picture? I hope so. And I hope it is somehow -- in some offbeat way -- beautiful.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Button, Button

I have been working on decorations for Lea's graduation party for a couple days now. I really shouldn't be. There are more important things to be done. But creating is what I do. I can do this part. I can control this part. This part keeps my hands busy and allows my mind to slip subconsciously into a state that is damn near Zen. This is good -- because left to it's own devices, my brain has been an absolute mess for a couple weeks. The prevalent themes are: I can't believe my baby is graduating and I wish my dad were here to see this -- my dad should be here to see this, peppered with a lot of wondering how much food is enough because whose brilliant idea was it to have an open house with no head count, anyway?

Screw it -- let's make paper flowers and bunting. Activate hands; deactivate brain. It's better for everyone this way.

I was working on a project that was missing something, but I couldn't decide exactly what. Flowers weren't right -- but it needed something colorful; dimensional, but only subtly so. Eureka! Fetch Momma her button box!

I dumped the buttons I'd amassed throughout the years on top of my party notes and lists and started sifting through them, looking for the best ones to suit my need.

It was a happy chore, unlike the dusting and vacuuming that I was neglecting in order to do it.

And then I saw it.

I bet you know what's coming...

Peter Rabbit.

Peter Fucking Rabbit.

Peter was a leftover button from a sweater I'd made when I was expecting Lea. We didn't even know she was Lea, yet. At that point, she might have been Evan. Peter seemed sort of neutral to me. I remembered standing there in the fabric store in front of all of the cute buttons, trying to find something that would be just right for a little person I'd not yet met but who already owned my heart. The sweater was simple and white -- the only color was from these little buttons.

I picked up this button and promptly lost my shit.

I mentioned that I've been kind of a mess for weeks -- and Tom and the girls will certainly vouch for that. I tear up over nothing and lose my train of thought -- but I'd not actually cried.

Until I held that stupid button in my hand.

Ugly cry? Oh, you don't even want to know...

I'm glad, too. 

A good cry is cathartic, more often than not.

I had a sweet baby. And now I have a beautiful daughter standing on the brink of adulthood. She worked so hard to get here -- overcame so many obstacles -- it is such an accomplishment. And she did it.

Damn, I'm proud of that child.

I wondered what button I would choose to put on a sweater for her now. And then it hit me -- I wouldn't choose. She would choose for herself. And it would be perfect.

And some day -- 20 years from now -- when a spare one rolls out of my button box -- I will probably weep, remembering this time -- when the whole world was in front of her.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Boy, the Way Glenn Miller Played...

Recently a friend received a surprise discount. Delight turned to horror as she read the code on the receipt -- she had been awarded a senior discount. Another friend piped in that it had happened to her, too. Then another. It's happened to me. Couldn't they call it something nicer? Like a 'you are so damn good-looking' discount or something? But, no. Senior. Yuck.

A couple evenings ago, Tom and I were channel surfing. We don't have cable -- we have rabbit ears -- so channel surfing for us is more like letting the waves lap around our ankles with our pants rolled up than actual surfing. 

I'm saying our choices are rather limited. 

We chanced upon a rerun of All in the Family (as opposed, I suppose, to a current episode of All in the Family). We enjoyed it. It was still funny. During a commercial break, I turned to Tom and said, "I bet Archie and Edith are about our age." He pulled out his phone and before the commercial was over he had confirmed that Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton were indeed right around our age when the show was being filmed -- just a smidge younger than us, actually, in the first season.


Well, that didn't quite seem right...

I mean, Archie and Edith were old! 

I don't look like Edith! Tom doesn't look like Archie! For a nano-second, I entertained the notion that I was being vain. Maybe we DO look like that and I just can't see it. But that passed quickly, because nobody I know who's my age-ish is anything like them. And that's not only because of the narrow-minded racism thing.

When we were younger, that's what middle-age looked like. That's what 50 looked like. That is no longer the case. Not even, if I may say so myself, close.

I've always sort of scorned all of the 50 is the new 30 -- or anything is the new anything, for that matter -- platitudes. (Orange is the New Black is the exception. I don't scorn that even a little tiny bit. Quite the opposite. But thats not really relevant.) 50 is 50 and 30 is 30 and neither is inherently superior to the other. But watching that show -- trying to find a way to relate to those characters -- made me a little more sympathetic. I don't want to be middle-aged if THAT'S what middle-aged looks like! But guess what? That's NOT what 50 looks like anymore. 50 has not become 30. It is still 50. But it doesn't look like the Bunkers. I can't name a TV couple that it DOES look like, but that's another issue for another day. 

That actually helped me a lot.

Now bring me a beer, huh?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Summer's (Almost) Here, and the Time is Right...

...for racing in the streets.

Ok -- I'm a suburban mom with an SUV. I don't really do much racing in the streets. I left the Johnstown com-pan-y years ago. I don't even have a screen door to slam. But I have been known to relive the glory days. And today -- today I just can't seem to stop the lyric, "There's a sadness in her pretty face -- a sadness all her own..." from running all around in my brain. 

So many of the women I love are facing a sadness all their own. They can hide 'neath the covers and study their pain, but, ultimately they are still -- well -- lonely for words that ain't been spoken.  

I feel like the lyric-speak needs to stop -- but honestly, all morning my brain has been playing snippets of Springsteen songs that meld into each other seamlessly. It sounds great, if only in my mind. But it is a melancholy soundtrack for such a beautiful day. 

I can't tell you the stories that are hurting my friends, because they are theirs. The same as and different from the stories that might be hurting you and the stories that are hurting me. A sadness all their own. I can't tell you the stories that are hurting me because -- like most painful stories -- although the sadness may be all my own, the story is not only mine.

I guess I would just ask -- for compassion. Because we don't know each others trials. We can sympathize -- we can empathize with the parts that feel familiar -- but we can never actually know. That strikes me simultaneously as very sad and very wonderful. We are all so unique in our joys and triumphs as well as in our trials. 

I know I have fallen into the trap of thinking that my problems are worse than anyone else's. You think YOU have it bad...  Try living MY life for JUST ONE DAY and then we'll talk... I would be willing to bet a couple hard earned nickels that you've entertained the same notion, at least once or twice.

We can't really walk a mile in someone else's moccasins.

But I guess we (I) can acknowledge that ours (mine) isn't the only road that's rocky and treacherous and potentially inhabited by rodents of unusual size.

Maybe, though, as we intersect each other's roads, we can remind each other to roll down the windows and let the wind blow back our hair. Maybe instead of judging each other, we can help each other out when it feels hard to move on. 'Cause tramps like us, aw, you know what tramps like us were born to do.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Don't Let the Past Remind Us of What We Are Not Now (Throwback Thursday)

Ok, First things first.

I love Throwback Thursdays.

I love looking at your old pictures and I love looking through mine.

Some of you post songs or antiquated ads or movie clips and I love it all.

Trips down Memory Lane can be a blast. Groovy. Dy-no-mite. The bomb-diggity. Awesome. Sweet.

They can also be a little treacherous. Most non-non-non-triumphant.

Tom and I have discussed this at length.

We have both been known to assault people we've barely met with pictures of what we looked like 20 or 30 years ago. Wanting, I suppose, to assure them not to be fooled by the middle-aged camouflage we're wearing. They are, indeed meeting cool, relevant people who look good in bikinis and/or spandex. It's important to us that they know that.

So I have learned to approach Thursdays with caution.

I always go through old pictures on Throwback Thursday, whether I post them or not. Today I came across this photo:

I remember this weekend well. It was the weekend my beloved niece was christened. That's her -- crying in my sister's arms. My grandma is in the chair -- the only one looking at the camera. Hi, grandma. Miss you. My beautiful cousin is in white. Her eldest is looking over her shoulder at something outside the frame. If I had to guess, I'd say that something was probably a barely toddling Liv. Her youngest -- my Goddaughter -- seems to be looking at Lea. That's the back of her sweet head in the foreground. It's not a beautifully composed picture, but it is making me very happy today. 

I remember this weekend well.

I have a souvenir.

Two, really.

They are two pairs of completely threadbare mens basketball shorts. 

Now this was a time when there wasn't much money. The kids were little and I wasn't working -- any extra money we DID have went to buying clothes for them -- Liv still needed a new wardrobe about every three months; Lea about every six. I didn't get new clothes. I didn't get manicures. I didn't even get haircuts. I remember that about that day, too. My dress was very outdated -- and when I took the bandana off of my hair and faced the prospect of actually styling it for the christening, I was at a loss. I had no idea what to do with it. We all went shopping and I saw these shorts at a sidewalk sale. My mom felt bad for me, I think -- unable to afford anything and only wanting these stupid shorts -- and she bought them for me.

She had no idea what a big deal that was.

I hadn't had anything new for quite a while.

The elastic was shot long ago. There is a paint stain on the back of one of them that is a color we don't have anywhere in this house. I don't remember what I was painting, but whatever it was, I definitely backed into it. There used to be six pairs of shorts, but four of them were deemed unwearable years ago. 

I wear these shorts EVERY week.

Since that picture was taken.

To give you some perspective, that crying baby is finishing up her freshman year in high school. That preschooler with her back to the camera is preparing for high school graduation. The young lady in the gray dress has been a teacher for a couple few years now and the one with the big white bow is a college graduate.

So -- yeah.

I've been wearing those shorts every week for a pretty long time.

If it will ease your horror any, I don't wear them as outerwear. I wear them under skirts. But still.

I have hung onto them, despite the fact that I probably shouldn't have, because I have never found a pair I like as much. 

Not even nearly. 

And believe me, I've tried.

When I bought these shorts, I weighed -- a number. I lost 50 pounds and continued to wear those shorts all the way down. I gained 80 pounds and wore those shorts all the way up. I lost 70, then gained 65. Never missed a week of wearing those shorts. All of that yo-yo-ing probably put more stress on my body than I put on those shorts.

They are awesome shorts.

And their days are numbered.

But we do this, no?

This isn't just me.

We find something we love and we cling to it. 

When I was gearing up for that 50 pound weight loss mentioned above, I bought 5 pairs of yoga pants to work out in. 

They were -- are -- perfect.

They come up high enough to cover my ass no matter how much I stretch or bend, yet they sit low enough that they aren't automatically dismissed as mom pants. They flare just enough at the bottom and are just the right length. They do not -- and some of you will appreciate how magical this is -- pill. Anywhere. And they are so soft... 

As it takes a little time to go -50+80-70+65, you can rest assured that I've had these a long time. Not quite as long as the shorts, but -- you know -- long. Three pairs have not passed the test of time, but two have. Until yesterday. When bleach landed on one of them. I was horrified. 

And then there was one.

Now these are not -- like -- Lululemon yoga pants or anything. Mostly because Lululemon doesn't think women who are built like me need to exercise -- or deserve to -- or something -- I don't really know, the conversation revolving around that particular fiasco became too offensive for me to keep up with really quickly. No -- these were Kohl's house brand. So they were not only perfect, they were pretty cheap. I mean, inexpensive. Because if they were cheap they probably wouldn't have lasted quite as long.


They don't make that particular cut anymore. 

I have never found a pair I like as much. 

Not even nearly. 

And believe me, I've tried.

Like Tom and I clinging to the visual of our former selves, I am clinging to the comfort of these shorts and these yoga pants. It's just as stupid. It's time to step out of the comfort (literally, in this case) zone of nostalgia and step into the present.

I can't find yoga pants like that anymore. Bummer. But I like compression pants. And if I can find long enough T-shirts (hello mens department and Pinterest!) I can put together a new gym look that will probably actually suit me better. As for the shorts -- since they are only worn as underwear -- maybe instead of looking for comparable mens gym shorts to replace them I should be looking at satiny, lacy tap pants.

The past is good.

But maybe the future can be better.