Welcome back to Blogville. I’m so glad you are here. I’ve poured myself a delicate hibiscus tea blend that reminds me of my mom’s perfume when I was a child.
I had to separate the ‘Momma Says’ blog into two parts because it is very emotional and I tend to jump around when I’m feeling emotional. (Of course I mean jump from topic to topic, not actually getting up and literally jumping lol.) So I decided to talk in this blog about when I had questions for mom as I was growing up, and then, for part 2, fill you in on a wonderful adoption discussion she and I had just last month when I was visiting her.
When I was growing up, discussing adoption with my mom felt very taboo. I mean, when any doctor asked about family medical history she would give him a scathing look and gesture that they needed to leave the room for any further discussion. Adopted people of my generation understand that ‘fight or flight’ feeling when trying to ask questions about adoption. For those of you not adopted, think about trying to ask your parents about sex or puberty in the 1960s. You remember that look of dread right? Well, in response to an adoption question, my mom would sometimes give me short or curt answers, and other times she would just look at me until it was so uncomfortable I said, ‘never mind’ and took off. Last month I returned to that uncharted territory and found that my interpretation of her reaction was not completely on point. Starting this conversation with my about to turn 97 year old mother was like walking on thin ice across Cochrane Ontario’s Lake Commando in springtime.
Since my mother brought it up, I have to mention my dad’s role in any adoption discussion or Q&A. How can I describe to you what it was like talking to my dad about adoption? Well, let’s just say I wasn’t sure he knew I was adopted. My mom would often tell me a story about how my dad once came home from a fall hunting trip and when I stood on my own he started to rush over to protect me from falling. My mom gleefully told him, “It’s OK, she can walk now!” That story inspired me to think that maybe my dad had been hunting when I was placed with them and he didn’t know I had arrived until he got home. I could almost hear my mom gleefully telling him, “We have a daughter now!” Not what happened of course, but truly don’t ever remember him even saying the word adoption’. As I got older I learned that I actually arrived into the family in June of 1959 on the Friday before Father’s Day. How special was that? Daddy’s little girl arriving in time for Father’s Day. I have seen the home movies and photos, he looked pretty excited and proud.
I honestly don’t think I ever really thought to ask my dad any adoption questions as my mom seemed to have been in charge of that. Last month when talking to mom about adoption she actually said she noticed that children all seemed to go to their mothers with their adoption questions. As a result she felt that, “The fathers were off the hook”. I could tell she was none too pleased about it, even in hindsight.
When we were kids we always seemed to be hanging out with other families who had also adopted children. Mom always seemed calmer when we were playing with those kids. I never really questioned why, I just noticed it. When I asked her about that last week, mom explained that she was just so happy that there were other children ‘in the same boat’ in Cochrane. It’s true, our families seemed drawn to each other and we kids played very well together. My mom said she could relax when my brother and I were playing with these other kids as they would never ‘say anything bad to you’ simply because all of us were adopted. Mom said that all the parents felt the same way, “You were our children and that was that.” but apparently not everyone in Cochrane felt the same way. As we continued to chat about spending time with those other children who were also on adoption journeys mom and I agreed that we kids were like cousins through adoption. It was like a special club where adoptive parents could send their children who were adopted and know they could just be regular kids. (I’m sure our dear friend Billy would wholeheartedly agree.)
Mom then observed, “We also noticed that you kids (cousins through adoption) would ask each other questions about adoption. Everyone seemed ok with the answers or explanations you told each other. “We parents never initiated that” she pointed out, “but sometimes we would overhear you kids talking. I think it was good for all of you.”
Sadly, my mom always behaved as if having to adopt children was her ‘fault’ and not my dad’s ‘fault’. It was as if she wanted to clear him of some shame that she carried. My mother would talk about back problems she had that caused her to have to leave school very young. She eventually needed surgery on her back when she was a young woman living in Toronto. My mother always felt that her ‘back issues’ were to blame for her inability to carry a baby to term. It was on the rare occasion that she would even talk about this so I hung on to her every word. But then the sadness in her eyes always travelled right to my heart and I would drop the subject. In hindsight, I was unknowingly leaving her all alone with her grief.
I feel that mom must have implied that her bad back was why she and my dad had to adopt because I remember, as a small child, witnessing my mother trip over a suitcase at the train station and fall to the ground. I recall being terrified that she would die, or that she might never be able to have a baby stay in her tummy. My mother was mortified when I told her that was the reason I was crying so hard. I’m 63 years old and if I close my eyes, I can still see her fall over that suitcase.
As we chatted Mom opened up about the early days of parenting children placed on adoption. She talked about how afraid she was to hire a babysitter and go for a drink with my dad at a ‘beverage house’ because they might take her children away. She spoke about how she felt that she had to ask her adoption worker if that behaviour would be ok. The worker reassured her that she should do whatever she would normally do if she had her ‘own’ children (oh that hurts me just to say it).
When I was young and I would ask about my birth mother my mom would usually tense up and visibly run some kind of check-list about what she should say. She was always clear that my birth mother’s father had made her give up her parental rights and allow me to be adopted. Mom always said that the birth mother’s family had been ashamed of my birth mother and sent her away to give birth to me. She was always very careful that I understood my birth mother was forced into making an adoption plan by her own father, (my birth grandfather). Mom always looked sad when I would ask about my birth mother, and given her explanation, I always felt sad that I made my birth mother and her family feel ashamed. So, I asked about it less and less.
Last month mom talked about how she felt that Children’s Aid workers would try to ‘trick her’ into taking foster children that she would likely have to give back one day. That made me feel sad until mom grinned at me, leaned in and disclosed that they ‘couldn’t fool her once she was on to them’. That made the former Children’s Aid worker part of me smile. She talked about her feeling of betrayal by the Children’s Aid workers when they would call and profile a child but not say for fostering until they had her interest. She related a story of how once she was called about a brand new baby girl and thought they meant for adoption but her heart broke when they said for fostering. As revenge, mom called all of her adoptive applicant friends in Cochrane to warn them of what the call was really about. The former worker in me almost defended the workers because of how much foster parents were, and are still, needed, but the daughter in me said, “Way to stand up for yourself mom!”
Well my thin ice conversation went pretty good. So I decided to take a bigger risk. Instead of just walking on thin ice, my next line of questions felt like the risk all the kids took after the annual Cochrane Carnival fishing derby; when we would run across the lake dodging the abandoned fishing holes. You might make across unscathed, or you might break a leg, but the thrill was worth the risk. So, with my heart pounding, I asked, “Mom, would you have any advice for people who want to adopt children?”
Pour yourself a tea, maybe a nice Chai, and come back to Blogville in two weeks to hear her advice in Part 2 of Momma Says . . .
As usual, please know that I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments. If you prefer a less public forum, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org