Category Archives: grandchildren

“Without them, there is no this”

This is a polished version of the email I sent to my local NPR station for its Valentine’s Day program. The title of the show was “Without them, there is no this.” He solicited stories from listeners about the people whose love changed and/or sustained their lives. Reflecting on those people in my life, I was prompted to spill some words and see how they flowed. Not entirely smoothly, it turned out, but the content was compelling enough to read on-air. (Or there was a danger of dead-air.)

I’ve edited and extended it to make it a better read, but some turns of phrase remain unchanged.

My love story starts before my birth, when a social worker phoned Mary Maida, a 59 year old widow living outside of Boston. The social worker was interviewing members of a potential adoptive family for an infant yet to be born.

The social worker asked, “Would you feel like an adopted grandchild would somehow be less than a natural-born grandchild?

Mary replied, somewhat angrily, “What? I only have one grandchild! I need more, and I don’t care how I get one!”

And from the day I arrived into her family, she was the singular person who accepted all of me, with joy, and without any evident disappointment. The connection with her was seamless; I would have done anything for her, and she did everything for me. When my mother warned that she might be too ill to see me in a play, or come to my college graduation, or attend a night dinner in the city, my grandmother always surprised her with a Yes… but it was no surprise to me.

Even though she was legally blind, she could spot me walking in unexpected places, and ask my aunt to pull over. My aunt wouldn’t understand why, and then she would recognize me. I served as a benchmark for her less happy things. My aunt and mother let me know that she realized her
eyesight was failing when she could no longer know me by sight on our semi-regular visits.

And when her mind began to fail, somehow she always managed to give me her precious moments of lucidity – a gift of love if there ever was one.
She passed away in May 1998, a few hours after I left her room, but not before I could wash her hands, wipe her brow, and cry.

The following nine months were laden with grief. Levity came, ironically, in the form of my own layoff. Of course, there would need to be a new job, and rent, and all of the other notes and obligations. But losing her physical presence helped me find the words to express what she gave me: unconditional love. It also was a clue to what I would need to start giving to myself, no matter how many of my own weaknesses I acknowledged, or how much of the past vexed me.

And so, around the end of those nine months, I began a new job. On the first day, my eyes fell upon the man in the office next door, and kapow! He was the man who would become my husband – though I didn’t know it at the time. I was just angry that I had to work with someone so gorgeous. We became friends over the first few months, and then started dating, albeit in secret.  When he moved away to Seattle, we stayed together.

I left the other love of my life, Boston, to be with him, and we married in 2002. He met me at a time when I was grateful for everything, and while those moments have been less frequent than they should be, he always makes it clear to me that he is grateful for the choice we made together, to be together. It has not been easy for either of us, but we have done our best to weather the challenges in each other, and to find the right, honest, kind words to overcome those challenges.

Everyone has their issues, the questions that vex them. (I think, had my grandmother and husband met, they likely would have shared the position that neither of them have issues; a chuckle within itself.) And for me, one of the challenges of my adoption has been the lack of fit, which wasn’t simply a family issue. Where do I really belong? Who actually gets me? Can I be understood and accepted just as I am? (I’m not saying it’s an exclusive question set to adoptees, though that part of my own history was a major component of my young life and trying to understand who I was, really.) And all of those questions are separated from the nerve center, which is, “Am I lovable? Who would, who could love me?”

I feel my grandmother and husband have given me that love. My grandmother did it for over 31 years without blinking. My husband has been doing it for 12, sometimes blinking back tears (as have I). The pregnant pause between them gave me the time I needed learn and understand my grandmother’s love for me, to begin learning how to love myself, and be ready to begin to love another.

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Filed under grandchildren, Grieving, growth, Love, marriage

and then, I got it.

I hadn’t seen my father since my 38th birthday, many many grey hairs ago. Before they unionized. Before Ben was crawling, or eating anywhere except Mom’s 24-7 Dairy bar. Before waiters stopped carding H. Before Ben’s first food, steps, words, animal sounds, full night’s sleep. Before my father got new knees, and remarried.

The reasons were not minor.

The end of his first, 36 year marriage to my mom, in the mid 90’s, was as sordid, lowclass and thoughtless as it gets. And what followed seemed to follow suit based on exchanges I heard second hand from my brother and his wife. Word of my father’s over-the-top proclamations to friends from his old life – our past and current lives, in other words – made me wince.

His newfound wealth in the form of a tubetopped sugarmama and her comments to my brother about what our lives were like triggered my only adventures outside low bloodpressure.

So on the occasions when I called (birthdays, holidays), I was civil – but that was it. Following good form for its own sake. I made no additional effort at outreach, and conveniently employed the prissy excuse of their unmarried state as a reason for not making more of an effort. He never offered to fly out to see us, even when Ben was just born. My family was more offended than I was about it – I was just resigned to it, and a little sad. I saved my anger for other things.

Then they got married. Whether I liked his choice or not, she was now his wife. Time was passing, and as my father rounded the corner of 80, then 81, I knew there would only be so much time left, when he might still be able to enjoy and bring enjoyment to Ben.

So, with my job having ended and a quiet, no-traveling christmas leaving us all the time in the world to get sick and recover in a familiar environment, we planned a trip to Florida to see my father and his (now) wife, as well as my birth mother’s family (two cousins never met, my sister, etc).

I decided that any effort anyone made for Ben would be instant positive karma, that I would appreciate it for what it was, and keep my focus on who would be kind to him. And so when my father told me that his wife was making arrangements for us to visit a horse ranch based on Ben’s love of horses, I decided that was a very nice thing, something to appreciate.

For many historical reasons, I felt a great deal of anxiety about the trip, but I knew we had to do it, and that it would be for the best. I plowed through, with little sleep, stomach upsets and rosacea flareups.

We set out from our base in Ponte Vedra to Port Charlotte, with stops at SeaWorld and a layover at a friend’s perfect home in Sarasota. The tension of 7 hours of driving and limited sleep, despite our splendid accommodations, were pooling in my shoulders.

Near the end of the final leg of the trip, we were in deep Florida, all Rudy and Mitt signs, model homes for no money down and with all the swamp you could smell. Cement roadways, which I could imagine in all their white heat starting in April. It felt more foreign to me than the cities of night kanji, or the coast of an old viking empire.

We came up on the last of the streets in our directions, and something familiar – the developer of the subdivision had to be from Boston, with streets named Cohasset, Carlisle, and other Mass C suburbs. At the seaway end of Carlisle, we arrived at my father’s house. Modest, well kept, with sculptures to greet you. A fiberglass dolphin standing on sea foam. A balinese? indonesian? totem of a frog.

My father and his wife answered the door together, in matching t-shirts (their regular wardrobe). These shirts they chose in my honor – hot pink souvenirs from Manzanita Beach in Oregon, a place I’d been and photographed for my father, mother and grandmother.

My father gave me a tour of the house – it has its own style as the outdoor sculptures could only hint at, but is spotless. Everything was well cared for.

That was when I got it. They were made for each other.

My father’s wife packed snacks for Ben, and was kind in her remarks to him. The ranch was a place where she could shine, telling us about her experience with horses after more than 60 years of riding, training and caring for them. She was kind and generous, and she was doing it because it meant the world to my father – just as I was being on my best behaviour for Ben and for him. We didn’t get to stay long enough for Ben to really connect to him – my father is wonderful with small children – which is my only regret.

Well, maybe I have two regrets- the second being that I hadn’t done this sooner, set free the hurt and anger, and just allowed a small amount of understanding and happiness for my father. Thank goodness I wasn’t too late.

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Filed under children, divorce, Fathers, fathers and daughters, grandchildren, Love, reconciliation, remarriage, sadness, Uncategorized