Tag Archives: sadness

Are things better?

Prompted by a thoughtful letter from a friend and former colleague, after reading a recent post.

Are things better? Well, not really. That said, I have started a skills class that uses both cognitive behaviour therapy, acceptance commitment therapy (kind of CBT 2.0) and other techniques based on mindfulness. My application of these techniques is still somewhat rustic; some of the techniques are more familiar and useful, and I find myself employing them to constructive ends. Counting, for example.

Other times, the notion of radical acceptance,  a critical piece of these therapies, seems anathema to who I am. Would I have been able to work where I worked, and do the things I did were I to radically accept the environments in which I worked? It seems, in some fundamental ways, that my radical rejection of the status quo was the key to my professional successes, if not my personal ones.

That is not to say that I don’t radically accept situations around me – it’s just that I am aware of my ambivalence. I sit and offer both radical acceptance and my reticence chairs next to me, and keep my hands, palms up, on my lap. It’s new, and difficult.

Another technique critical to CBT in terms of dealing with trauma is encouraged disassociation. This is another one of those tools that doesn’t feel natural. Trauma in me triggers confrontation, not hiding or pretending something doesn’t exist. Again, it’s a matter of degrees, of understanding that the dissociation is only used sparingly, and in a temporary manner  – to give a bit of breathing room and of space, to allow for the right solution to make itself more apparent.

My moments of peace and happiness to the point where I feel close enough to happy to be making up songs, are in the kitchen, and with the kids at bedtime. So I do get to have them, and they are delightful, and I can forget the other aspects of my life completely. Baking is just wonderful, and a good outlet for me. I enjoy making things that are appreciated, and the cakes I’ve made for my son’s school auctions (mostly in the form of year-long subscriptions) have allowed me to investigate recipes on behalf of the client family. And musically speaking, keeping a melody, a metered lyric, a rhyme scheme, and a child’s attention at bedtime, when they’d prefer to be jumping on the mattress, are distractions aplenty.

We have projects here and there; my son has sports, school activities, and a certain melancholy. My daughter has yet to decide whether to use her tremendous personal power for good or evil. We are about to embark on a large remodel which will create a family room, a new bedroom for my son (it will be the nicest room in the house, given that he will inherit both Doug fir built-ins
– a bookcase and a floor-to-ceiling cabinet), and will give up half of the spider park that is our two-car garage for a new bathroom. The lab technicians took 13 samples to determine whether we will be exposing lead and asbestos in the inevitable clamor of demolition. Plus the permits.

And yet, there it is. The sadness is still very much there. The lack of community. The sense that the only help I get with my depression requires payment. The things I miss.

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Dear Birth-father: Woman up. Please.

This is a copy of a letter I wrote almost 23 years ago to my birthfather. Literally half a lifetime ago, before marriage and children. I wrote it after the adoption agency which handled my placement and had received a court order to contact him did so, by registered mail. His response was to call the social worker charged with fulfilling her legal responsibilities and yell at her for sending mail to his home. No denials, but he did ask for all of my identifying information, which she gave him. Afterwards, I noticed a rash of hang-ups on both my work and home answering machines (this was before VM, though after the Internet).

Not surprisingly, my birthmother was waiting for me to contact her, and had left her information in my file at the agency in case I wrote to them with questions. It was she who gave me his name, and his address. His college class. I gave all of that information to the adoption agency, as they had no intention of contacting the father. I had to tell them that it took two to make me, and I wanted to have information from both. (I think they couldn’t believe how lucky they were with my birthmother that they thought I should have been satisfied.)

In reading this, I realized that in spite of my youth and what others would consider an abrasive, obnoxious personality, I really like the woman who wrote this letter, and I love how clear her heart is. I love how she invited him to do the right thing, not because she had an exclusive on it, but because it was well within his abilities to do, and perhaps it was a matter of his just not knowing. Of course, much of what I wrote here was incorrect – over time, more things reveal themselves, or perhaps I just learned how to recognize them. But also in transcribing it, I realize how I was trying to convince myself as much as him, that I was worth getting to know – or at least meeting. I want to hold this young woman in my old lady arms and tell her she’s wonderful, that not belonging is real, but so is loving yourself without pre-conditions, and that the latter is something she can control.

I also remembered that, as I read it aloud, I felt so vulnerable. It was so clear what I was pleading for – accountability, acceptance, apology, acknowledgement – and the closer to my heart I got in the prose, the more I realized it would take me nowhere good. Instead, I kept it in a manila folder.

For laughs, it’s worth noting that when my dad read it, his eyes welled up and he said, “Jan, you need to become a lawyer.” And my response? “Dad, being argumentative doesn’t mean you have what it takes to get through law school.” I think we were both right.

1 August 1990

Mr. John W. Caputo, Jr.

address known, but withheld

Dear John,

“My Name is Janet X and I am Information Officer for Project Athena. I schedule visits to Project Athena and am responsible for presentations as well as the dissemination of written materials.”

This is the way I begin any one of a hundred letters every month. I tell people who I “am”. It was only four months ago that I began to really understand who I am and how many people it took to make me.

Each person had a different role. Two people created me, literally. Two new people worked with the raw matter and molded me, shaped me, and then removed their hands. There was part of each creator that was visible in me – my adoptive mother’s speech patterns, my adoptive father’s irrepressible personality, as well as their shared sense of ethics and morality were “givens” for as long as I can remember. No one knew where my height came from, my bawdy sense of humor, my voice, my artistic abilities, much less how I learned to read at age 2 1/2.  No one even knew so much as my ethnic background. Two of the four creators were lost behind a curtain of vague allusions, and it was assumed to remain that way.

You cannot understand what that is like. We as human beings base much of our self-perception and identity on belonging – looking to where we “came from”. To not be able to point to a person and say something as simple as “This is who I came from” impacts your sense of identity. The impact becomes stronger even as you age and begin to think of creating children yourself.

I have always known about the shadowy “other” creators. Because my parents told my brother and me from the start that being adopted meant that we were chosen, we grew up without social stigma concerning our origins. Yet, the faces, the tangibles of our starting points remained unknown… always shrouded, veiled from light. And as I grew older and learned where babies came from, the tangibles became veiled in shame and I felt the drape of guilt become leaded, impenetrable, as if I had destroyed the life of another person.

After years of not knowing, I have found you and (my birth mother). And regardless of your feelings and decisions at the time, you must realize that I am now a living, breathing adult, who is fully entitles to know her origins. You can refuse to see me; that is by law your right. However, by denying me access to to essential information about my medical history, you are clearly denying me my basic rights. You may be afraid to see me, to acknowledge that you are, in part, responsible for my existence, because I represent a point at which you were irresponsible in a time of need. John, we are all adults now and all adults make mistakes: those of us who face our mistakes are more adult than others. Those adults who forgive are more human.

You see, I already have one birthmark that required cancer screening when I was fourteen months old. Next month I must have a number of lesions biopsied. If they prove malignant, I will require major surgery – skin grafts, possible chemotherapy, etc. In the last five years, already there has been a genetic pattern determined for skin cancer. This is only one example I choose to cite in this short letter. The questions I face each time I make a visit to the MD seem endless, because I am unable to answer them.

John, I am not unaware that you ahve gone on and created your own life and family. I assume that you did not tell your partner about the people you left behind. I can even understand that you may not want to see me, and by ignoring that court order, you can deny my existence. The information you can choose to keep from me, what is referred to as “identifying information”, is no linger an issue. I did all the investigative work myself, and in fact, was the one who provided the adoption agency with your name and address. I accessed information available through public records, and am aware that you have a family.

The straight information I need regarding medical history is invaluable to me, an adult about to engage in the full breadth of activities of adulthood. But equally important to me is removing the veil, the shadow from your face, seeing who had a hand in making me. Aren’t you interested in seeing your mortal legacy as well? An observation that in any other circumstance would be forgettably minor: when I met my birthmother face to face, she remarked that I have your smile and teeth. I cannot articulate how I felt at that moment, hearing that your hands, your contributions to me are palpable, tangible.

I am not asking to be part of your family; I am asking that you give me a chance to meet you. I am giving you a chance to realize that your greatest “mistake” did not spoil what may be one of your greatest achievements. And, more importantly, to thank you for the gifts you have unknowingly bestowed on me.

You can either write me at the above address (ed note: this was on my work letterhead) or call me at work after 5pm. I know you may feel as if you have a great deal at risk. I do sympathize. Please realize that I am also risking more than I’ve ever had to in my life. I believe my efforts will be worth it. I want to assure you that  making a courageous effort at this crucial time will be worth the risk as well.

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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

eyedrops bring a new low

Pinkeye has spread through Ben’s daycare, and we both woke Tuesday with crusted eyelids and red whites. (H has escaped so far.) After having read the Children’s Hospital Guide to Children’s Health, I was convinced we needed this checked out right away. We were able to get an appointment at the afterhours clinic, where the MD found conjunctivitis, swollen lymph nodes, and one swollen eardrum that was not draining. (Cue Ben’s gasping mother, almost one year since his myringotomy.)

The MD decided to play it conservatively and give us only eyedrops, to be administered every three hours while awake.

Ben is a trooper when it comes to medications, and has been very brave, but he met his match in the eyedrops, as did his mother. (I tried them on my pinkeye, and yes, they stung quite a bit, even for a grownup.) He became a tight muscular ball, resisting and occasionally sending out a firm defensive strike from an available arm or leg. I had to resort to laying over him while trying to get a single drop into each eye, which of course was immediately rinsed with tears.

It has to be one of the lowest experiences of motherhood for me thus far – holding him down is miserable for both of us, and even lollipops make for scant reward. I hope he can recover quickly.

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Filed under children, conjunctivitis, difficulty with medicine, medical care, mothers, parenting, pinkeye, sadness, sons, struggle

the way out might be the way you came in

*from about 2-3 months ago, untitled in my drafts folder*

I spent much of the last week in a time tunnel, about 20+ years from here. At points, I’d make it as far as 1993 or so, when walking through an art supplies store and buying the first new drawing pencils I’ve had in at least 14 years.

To time-travel, I had registered with a Web site that links alumni from high schools and colleges around the globe. I made a page, put up pictures of me and my little family, and answered some questions. It was startling to see the ads – nearly all talked about realizing romantic longings from long ago. I did find an old classmate and friend, one I had missed at our last reunion, and wanted to hear how he was doing.

But the real reason I decided to pay closer attention to this long gone place? I wasn’t losing sleep over not knowing about my friend, but I was feeling stuck. Stuck where I was, stuck in my environment, stuck with so many of my choices. I think I needed someone to remind me where I had been, to remind me of where they saw and heard me going.

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Filed under direction, entropy, inertia, lost, nostalgia, past, sadness, stuck, the way out