Creating connections with Adoption Choices families

Posts tagged ‘childhood memories’

Love and Family Stories

We tell a lot of stories in our family. Most of them are true, some are not. My girls fight to recognize when their dad is telling a true story, and when he’s just making up a fantastical fiction for them to enjoy. The girls still seem confused as to whether or not their dad rode a dinosaur to school when he was young. They seem better at guessing my truths and bluffs. I am not sure why, but it could be because I am the one who tells the stories with the hard truths and absolute facts (as I know them to be).

I often feel like I’m a witness in our own family court, and my girls are the determined lawyers wrangling the truth out of my testimony, in every last detail.  I find it hard to separate the facts that I know, the feelings I have, the hunches, and assumptions which I have made over the years.

The girls especially love the stories where their dad or I (usually me) did something dangerous, or flat our stupid as kids. They love to hear how we got in trouble, ended up in the ER, or got sent to our rooms for what seemed like eons.  One of their favorite stories is about the time I went off a jump on my bike and wiped out so hard that I ended up in the ER covered head to toe in bruises and scrapes.  First, the story was loved due to the danger, blood, and guts (and that I didn’t have a helmet on!). Next, they loved hearing how embarrassed I was going to camp the next day, looking like a zombie fresh from the grave. Lately, they have fixated on the part when the nurses grilled me about what “really happened,” as they didn’t believe that my injuries were caused solely by my daredevil 9-year-old self.

I’ve told the girls this silly story (complete with viewing of the scars I still bear from that day) many times. It started for me as a cautionary tale about the need to wear helmets and to ride bikes safely, but it has morphed into many other tales according to the girls’ curiosity, and interest about the topic, players, setting, or plot of that fateful day.  This story is an easy one for me to tell as it only involved me being a dumb kid, trying to show off to a bunch of my neighborhood friends.  Thankfully, no permanent harm was done, no lives were lost, and the course of my life was not forever altered.  The same cannot be said of all our family stories.

Our family stories, like the stories of any family I imagine, contain the joys, hopes and great loves of our family members. Our stories also contain the sorrows, fears, anger, and immense loss, which are the inherited lessons from our families of origin.  We each have a birth story, we each have family who love us, and cherish us. The paths that brought the four of us together, to form our family, have taken many turns, some not of our own control, and have had joys and sorrows, love and loss along the way. These stories of love and loss, joy and sorrow, I tell like the bicycle story, focusing on the girls’ curiosity and interest. I want the girls to recognize themselves in our stories, and to see their role in our family reflected through the routes we’ve taken and the adventures we had.   Hopefully, one day my girls will tell their own stories (hopefully with a helmet on) about their lives, and be able to understand the deep, meaningful connection that our family stories have to their sense of self, and belonging, in their own family.

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The Box

Christmas 20030002Let me tell you a story…

I’m in second grade and I get the lead in “Little Red Riding Hood.”  It’s VERY exciting.  I’m proud and my parents are proud.  Dad is so proud he takes over a “mom-job” and works with me on my lines.  A lot.  I mean, a real lot.  So I’m ready.

It’s the day of the show.  Dad takes the afternoon off from work and sits with Mom and my little sister in the audience.  The show starts and my class is performing our little second grade hearts out.  The stage is big and we’re small but we’re doing fine.  Time for the big finish.

I should tell you that our version of Little Red Riding Hood is different than most.  In ours, Grandma comes through her encounter with the big, bad, wolf just fine.   At this point, it’s my job to open a box and hand Grandma a gift.  So.  I pick up the box, take off the lid, look inside.  And it’s empty.

I do what any 8 year old would do in the circumstances.  I panic.   The stage which had already been big now looks huge.  The audience looks like it’s doubled in size.  I look at my teacher, Mrs. Patterson, in the wings.   She assumes that I’ve forgotten my line and starts to mouth it to me.

So now I’m panicked and I’m mad because, as we’ve discussed, I know my lines.  I point to the box and mouth back to her, “There’s nothing in the box!”  She gestures to me to keep going.  I know this won’t work but I do what I’m told.  I pull nothing from the box and I hand nothing to Grandma and the play ends.

I go out to the audience and see Dad and explain what happened.  He leans down and tells me to listen very carefully.  He says “Gail, there’s a saying in the theater that applies just as much in life.  That saying is ‘the show must go on.’ No matter what happens to you in life, I want you to remember that and just keep going.”

It’s been more than a few years since I was in that play.   I’ve had a number of opportunities to remember Dad’s advice, but none as meaningful as when M and I were trying to start a family.  In spite of our best efforts and the efforts of the best science of the time, it didn’t look like it was going to happen.  It was hard.  And it was sad.  It felt like I had been handed another empty box.

But I heard my dad’s voice and we just kept going.  We kept going until we landed at the doorstep of JFS of Metrowest where we met Dale and Raquel of Adoption Choices.  They listened and they heard me.  Their kindness helped me let go of the box.  It wasn’t empty. It just wasn’t mine.

It’s hard to believe but our daughter K just turned fifteen.  That dark time seems so long ago and I can barely remember the sad, Christmas 20030003empty woman I was.  You see, I just have to look at K’s face, I just have to hear K’s voice to know.  Yeah, I have the right box now.

The Ladybug Sandbox

It all started with the red ladybug sandbox.

K was 2 and I decided she needed a sandbox.  The ladybug was the perfect size – not too big, not too small – and K loved it.  She loved it before we even put sand in it.  She filled it with the little plant id tags from my garden, stepped in and started filling her bucket with plant tags.  I loved it because for the first time since K could move, I could sit.

We started going to playgrounds.  There was the sunny playground with the great train.  There was the wooden playground with the dog statue.  There was the Veres Street playground at Mom and Dad’s house.  We loved them all.  K enjoyed the climbing structures more than the swings but she always made time for the sandbox.  We packed a snack, sometimes lunch and stayed for hours.  The leaving was never fun but honestly leaving anywhere at that point in K’s life was a challenge.  And really, who wants to willingly leave a playground?

We decided to expand the offerings at home.  I did the research and declared that we needed to go with one of the more expensive choices because they marketed themselves as “splinter-free.”  What can I say?  I was a relatively new mom at the time.  I believed it was in my power to keep K’s life splinter-free not realizing that the required mulch underneath the play space would provide more than its share of splinters.  We started with a sandbox and climbing area and would ultimately add a swing set.  I can’t begin to count the hours we spent visiting playgrounds or using the masterpiece in the backyard.

But somehow, when I wasn’t paying attention, the swings in the backyard weren’t really for swinging anymore.  K and her friend G would sit on them and chat for hours but they didn’t swing.  They had gotten too big to go down the slide or climb in the fort.  But they loved to sit on the swings and talk out of earshot of the adults.  Visits to public playgrounds had stopped a while before.  We were too busy with other things.

The backyard playground began to show its age.  The ladybug sandbox was more pink than red and the lid hadn’t been opened in ages.  The mulch had been ground into the dirt and lost its battle with the weeds.  The girls realized there was just as much privacy in K’s bedroom and the swings stayed empty.

A neighbor’s granddaughter was having twins.  The baby’s arrival would make five children.  Could they use a swing set?  The neighbor came and looked at ours and thought this family would enjoy it.  Kids could climb on it and swing on it again.  We were thrilled they wanted to take it.  Yet,  I’m glad I was away the day they came to take it down.  You see, it was just yesterday that my girl was three and we sat on the steps and watched the men put it up.

K and I drove by the wooden playground the other day.  Or I should say the place where the wooden playground was.  The powers that be decided it was too old or too unsafe so it was taken down.  It was replaced with a much smaller, rubber/plastic kind of structure.  “I can’t believe they changed it, Mom.  That was a great playground.  Do you remember how we used to go there?”

Yes, K.  Yes.  I remember.

Photos: Forward to Birth Dad

Dear Birth Dad (MA),

It has been almost six years since you chose us to be the parents of the twins.   As in many adoptions, we sent pictures via our lawyer’s office every few months for the first year but then after a while stopped since the attorney couldn’t locate you and the pictures and letters were just tucked away in a manila folder in a file cabinet.

Thursday afternoon, our social worker and friend, ML, called and let us know that you had contacted her.  We were so happy to hear that you are doing well and feel that you are in a much better place.  I am so thrilled that the twins will know that their birth father cares about how they are.   I can only imagine the courage that it took for you to make the call to ML and ask for the pictures.  We hope that the note and photographs that we send will bring comfort and joy, in knowing that the twins are happy, healthy and enjoying a wonderful childhood.

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NOTE TO SELF

-Do I send the best pictures of the kids or do I want to make sure they are more ordinary pictures? 

 -When we originally met MA, we met his mom too and learned that he had a teenage son.  Do I ask about his son?  Do I ask how his mother is?  Or is this making it appear as though we want to embrace his family?  Am I overthinking this…………and is it appropriate to ask? 

-I don’t have much information about MA’s  family.  Do I take the opportunity to ask so that I can share with Bruiser and Princess?  Do I ask for a picture of his son?  I have a picture of the birth mom’s daughter and grandson but nothing of his son. 

-I don’t know how much information our twins will want when they get older.  Would they want to have pictures of  MA’s son – their brother?
****************************************************

Thanks for asking about the kids and taking the interest in how they are doing.  We are truly grateful that we can share with the twins that you have a place for them in your heart.

Our best,

Bruiser & Princess’ Mom & Dad

The Things We Keep

Determined to avoid an American Hoarders intervention session, we decided to tackle the “stuff” in the basement.  My husband M took the side with the ski equipment, extra golf clubs, folding chairs and the like.  With efficiency and precision, he handled the task admirably.  K and I took the side with the toys, books, and other cherished belongings.  We took a little longer, and there’s still work to be done.  But to be fair, we had the harder job.  Our stuff was the good stuff.

We started with the box full of “guys.”  Small plastic figures representing Disney movies of her toddlerhood, K had simply called them guys from the start.  I can’t put a number on the hours we spent playing with those characters.  They rode along on Thomas the Train tracks.  They hung out in the beautiful wooden dollhouse and in the assorted plastic Polly Pocket residences.  They loved the animals in the Fisher Price red barn.  They came to doctor’s visits and the grocery story.  They visited Nana and Pa’s house.  They were the guys and they were everywhere.

I don’t remember K ever having a favorite overall but I do remember how she felt about King Triton from The Little Mermaid.  Sometimes she would separate the guys into two lines – good guys and bad guys.  You can imagine the bad guy line:  Scar, Gaston, the Witch from Snow White, etc.  In our house, King Triton was also in with the bad guys.  The first time I noticed I pointed out to K that King Triton was Ariel’s dad and was in the wrong line.  K looked me in the eye and informed me that King Triton was absolutely a bad guy.  “He destroyed Ariel’s things, Mom.  He’s a really bad guy.”  “Well K,” I replied, “that was wrong but he was scared for Ariel.  He was trying to protect her.”  “Mom, he’s her dad and he took her most precious things and destroyed them.  He’s a bad guy.”  She had a point.  Triton thought he was keeping Ariel safe but to destroy her things was bad and wrong.  He was in the right line.

“I think J (K’s three year old cousin) would love the guys, Mom.  Let’s give them to J.”  She’s right.  J will love them.  He’ll take them places and they’ll play with his plastic animals.  K’s old Thomas trains are at his house so they’ll feel at home there.  K decides to keep just a few – some of the dwarfs and a couple of other good guys.  We put the box aside and move on.

We sort and separate.  Broken things with missing pieces are thrown in the trash.  The vast collection of plastic horses is combined into one box. Dinosaurs are sorted into keep and give away.  McDonald Happy Meal toys are culled through.  K keeps the most favorite of her VHS tapes and we resolve to spend a day together watching them all.  Surprisingly, The Little Mermaid makes the cut.

We get hungry and tired and start sneezing from the dust.  It’s time to quit for the day, but I notice a box K has been filling with an odd collection of things.  “K, what are those?  What box do they belong in?  What category are they?” I ask in a tone that indicates my patience had already quit.  “They’re memories, Mom.  That’s their category.”  I look more closely at the contents.  There’s the pink haired gnome doll that K selected from the hospital gift shop.  She was three and visiting my dad for the first of many, many visits to that wretched place over the years.  We were hurrying to get to his room when K saw the gift shop and declared that she needed to get her Pa a present.  When her Pa died eight years later, he still had that foolish gnome doll and K claimed it.  There’s a small piece of railing one of our contractors gave to her when she was two.  He was building an addition for our house and K adored him.  He made her a special block out of the railing and she kept it when she gave all her other blocks away last year.  A dozen tiny bears and some plastic eggs that looked like cut glass fill out the collection.

“But what category?,” I begin and stop myself.  She’s right.  Those things are memories.  Memories that can’t always be categorized or labeled like good and bad guys in line.  We put the box, as is, on the shelf and head up the stairs to get some lunch.  We’ll finish the rest another time. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a day of watching old videos very soon.

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