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Beautiful Boy

Great Aunt Florence

For six weeks following September 5, 1989, I would think of that day with sadness. It was the day of the funeral for my dear, great-aunt Florence. She had passed away peacefully in the spare bedroom where we had cared for her, in the home I shared with my husband and four-year-old daughter. Weeks later I learned that the day of her funeral was also one of the happiest days of my life: it was the day my son was born.

Months prior I had impulsively collected Florence from the nursing home where she had been installed to live out the final months of her life following surgery and a diagnosis of terminal Cancer. My decision to bring her home was made the moment she quietly told me about having a male nursing home attendant help her with her bath. The shame she felt was drawn in every line of her slumping silhouette and in the thin, shaking hands that covered the tears running down her face.

She was the sister of my grandmother, twice widowed, never having had children of her own. Her home was a sanctuary for me from my chaotic childhood. The time I spent in her peaceful home, pampered and adored, fanned the spark in me that believed I was worthy and deserving of love and affection.

Florence’s time with us was bittersweet. Near the end, I was getting up often in the middle of the night to answer her cries of pain. I was exhausted and she could see it, apologizing profusely the moment I came to her bedside on those dark nights. I told her she was doing the hard work, and I wished I could offer her more relief.

My beautiful boy, A.J.

Late on the afternoon of October 17th following Florence’s death, we received a call from the adoption agency. A blue-eyed baby boy was waiting for us, he was six weeks old, born on September 5th!  So surprised were we by his arrival, he slept in a drawer those first few days until we could set up the crib in the empty spare bedroom where my beloved great aunt had passed away. He was beautiful, precious and very unsettled over the abrupt change in his circumstances.

He slept fitfully and woke crying many times throughout the night, every night. I was exhausted and once, as I began to roll out of bed to comfort him, I heard my aunt Florence say to me through the fog of sleep; “Now, now, you sleep. I’ll take care of him tonight.” In the dream that followed, I listened to the cooing, soothing sound of her voice comforting him and I simply rolled over and fell asleep. When I awoke it was morning and I was startled to feel so rested! Then I remembered my dream and the full night of sleep that had followed. I rushed into my son’s room to find him still sleeping deeply.

It is absolutely possible that this was just the dream of an exhausted new mother, but I like to think Florence was there offering me the rest I needed so badly. The rest she couldn’t offer me when I was caring for her in much the same way. I like to imagine that during the short interval of days between her death and my son’s birth on the day of her funeral, they met each other in that mysterious place in-between this life and the next. I envision them together, with heads bent, foreheads touching, sharing the secret of the amazing gift that awaited me with his impending birth. It is a vision that brings me great comfort today as it did 22 years ago. I miss you Florence.

Happy birthday to my beautiful boy.

Mammaste. There is so much divinity in the everyday.

A Winding Road To Motherhood

I was in my early twenties. The woman in the Palm Reader tent at the Renaissance Festival told me to make a fist, then she counted the creases near my pinky finger and announced I’d have five children! I forgave her in my thoughts, even as a pain stabbed my heart. She couldn’t have known of my recent miscarriage, let alone the years of infertility challenges I’d endured and would continue to endure for years to come. She didn’t know about the yearly surgeries to burn off wayward endometrial tissue that had migrated into places it shouldn’t be, causing pain and scarring. There would be eight or nine surgeries in all, over ten years before I finally told my husband, “No more.”

Meeting for the first? time.Years passed. A dream visitor with almond eyes and olive skin told me to be patient, that she would come one day to be my daughter. But she didn’t come, and I wasn’t patient. Then a call came late one Friday evening. I wasn’t home. The answering machine spoke with the voice of a woman named Dorothy from Anoka County Social Services. She said there was a blonde haired, blue-eyed girl, nearly 3 years old, who needed a family. She thought ours would be perfect.

 

When we picked her up a month later, she gently patted her foster-mother’s tearful face, telling her it would be all right as I reached for her, my own face covered in tears, and carried her away. She stuck to me like glue. One day as she trailed me into the bathroom, yet again I said, “Honey, mommy is going to take a shower, can you give me a little privacy?” “Sure!” she said, and marched out the door. I was surprised but pleased with how easy that was and stepped into the shower. The curtain opened soon after and her little blonde head poked in, “Mom, I looked all over for a little privacy, but I couldn’t find it anywhere!”


IMGTwo years sped by, and another phone call. This time we were home to answer the call. I yelled for my husband to pick up the other phone as the adoption agency told us there was an 8-week-old baby boy waiting for a family. Could we pick him up tomorrow afternoon at 1PM? YES! A quick run to Target for what we thought a baby might need, and he was ours. A few nights he slept in a drawer until we could set up the crib. He was serious, and stoic, and perfect.

But a marriage neglected because of a singular focus on infertility for more than a decade soon unraveled. Dark days followed as relationship problems, long ignored, were not cured by parenthood. It will take years, coming out of that darkness, to see transformation and light. A new relationship. A chance to change, to do better, to be better.

I am in the midst of the adoption process again, with my newly beloved, when we are surprised by a pregnancy that was thought to be impossible. At 39 I am suddenly pregnant with that almond-eyed, olive skinned child who had admonished me to be patient 15 years before. She is a beautiful combination of my Chinese-American husband and me. On a summer morning a few years later, I will awaken with a start! Opening my eyes I will see her in bed next to me, smiling. “The angels came and wanted to talk to you again, but I said, ‘NO!’ and so they put you on the heaven slide and you went ‘PLOP!’ back into your body!” she will say to me. Yes, talks with angels in my dreams happen often.

But, my new husband and I, we are still on that adoption journey we began before the surprise pregnancy, and we see his little face staring out at us from the waiting child website for Korea. Yes, this is him, we know it immediately. We travel to Korea to get him. His foster sister has added red highlights to his black hair, just like hers. He has been well loved in the year he has spent with them, and he grieves deeply for months after he comes home with us. We understand his pain. We take turns holding him through his sorrow and love him into this new family.

Are you keeping count? Yes. Four children so far.

We are content with our big, diverse family. Sewn together through serendipity and love. I am 45 years old. I settle into the parenting role I always wanted, all those years ago when I thought it would never happen. My children are 18, 14, 6 and 3 years old.

Then one night, on a solitary weekend retreat, I dream again. This time it’s about beets. I dream my body needs iron, craves it. In my dream, I am feeding something inside of me that is ravenous for beets.  All through that surprise pregnancy, I crave beets. Our daughter is born just three months shy of my 46th birthday. A second miracle by all common-sense standards. She is funny, outgoing and bright, and a never ending source of quotable conversation. One day she is playing at the toy kitchen in my home office on the porch. She has her apron on, and a doll on her hip as she says in an exasperated tone, “I should not have married Justin Bieber, he never does any work around the house!” Another morning I wake to her standing next to my bed, staring straight into my bleary eyes. “I think heaven is different for everyone,” she whispers, “For some people it’s like a beautiful meadow, or like Candyland. For me it would be just like my life, right now, here with my family.”

Yes. Heaven on earth. Happy Mother’s Day.

Mammaste~Divinity in the Everyday.

Expect A Miracle (An Adoption Story)

“Wow! Your kids are so fair–they don’t look anything like you!
Is their dad blonde and blue-eyed?”

Tree 1 Bear-small

Artwork by Kristiana Pärn.

When I was first asked that question by the hairstylist cutting my daughter’s hair, it threw me a bit. I thought about what the adoption agency had told us about her birth parents and answered, “Yes, I think her father was the blonde one.”  Of course I realized much later when I was already in the parking lot that the hairstylist didn’t know she was adopted, nor was she privy to the memory search going on behind my eyes. It explained why her chatty demeanor quieted after my response! It’s probably a story she still tells to this day. You’re welcome.

After adopting our second child, another blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby I was ready for that question. That’s why I didn’t hesitate when the two women in front of me in the long check-out line at the children’s store in the mall admired my two blonde children and asked me about their father’s fair features. “Oh, they don’t look like me because our family was built through adoption,” I answered.

The women were quiet for a moment, looking at each other before one of them told me they were in the cities to buy some baby things for their niece who was about to have twins any day now. They lived Outstate, but came to the city to shop the big after-Christmas sales. Their niece, they explained, had decided to place the babies for adoption. The women looked a little troubled before continuing on, saying they were not really sure how they felt about the adoption. They hoped she would change her mind and decide to keep them. They went on to express concern about not knowing who the parents would be, what kind of people they were, whether the children would be well loved and cared for.

I told them that as an adoptive mother, I could testify to what a great act of love it was for the birth parents of my children to grace my life with these babies. I told tell them that the fact that I could not have a child, and had to work very hard to adopt made me all the more grateful to become a mother.

They went on to mention that it was a private adoption, but they knew a little bit about the background of the adoptive parents and their first names, all of which they shared with me. It felt like a bolt of electricity had just shot through me. I was shocked by what I’d just heard. “I know them,” I gasped.

Sure enough, these two women who lived hours away had come to the cities for just a few days to shop, had ended up in line ahead of me, had struck up a conversation that resulted in me sharing about my adopted children and lo-and-behold, I knew the couple who might be allowed to adopt their niece’s soon-to-be born twins. My sister had even dated the man in high school!

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Artwork by Kristiana Pärn, tree modeled after Darwin’s tree of life notebook sketch.

After making our purchases, we stepped out of line, all of us visibly shaken by the coincidence. Without giving away any identifying information, I told them all about what beautiful, kind people this man and woman were. I told them I knew they would be such great parents and would love these new babies very much. We were all crying by the time we hugged and parted ways.

A couple of weeks later I heard that the couple had surprised their families by bringing home twin baby boys! I cried when I heard the news.

Sometimes the universe places you in the right place at the right time. If we are fully present we can find ourselves instruments of grace in miraculous circumstance. You just need to be awake and aware in the here-and-now. Divine appointments. Don’t miss them. They are magical.

Mammaste~Divinity in the Everyday

related: I wish for you a beautiful life.

The Story of Any of Us is the Story of All of Us.

Two children, bright and beautiful, suddenly, separately and unexpectedly passed away this week in neighboring communities. One a sweet little 8-year-old boy with the face of a freckled angel, the other a shining, vibrant young girl of 14. Both smiling from pictures framed by a journalist’s galley of words attempting to explain this tragic loss to stunned readers. Many, like me, are strangers to their grieving families but that does not matter–children should not die, and we are all connected in our collective grief.

. . . as the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.

~Frederick Buechner

DSCF0418Many in the two communities in which the children lived hung balloons up and down their streets in school colors, one community filled with orange balloons and the other green in a tender display of shared sorrow in support for the grieving families and in celebration of these precious lives.

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At times like these we often want to hold those families close and tell them we grieve with them, but we feel helpless to offer comfort for such an unfathomable loss. So, people hung balloons hoping to send these families the message that they are not alone, that they are held in the hearts and prayers of many who may not know them but who grieve with them.

Where I live, these two communities border each other. Today as I was driving down the road I saw this collective compassion overlapping in a very visual way.
Where the two grieving communities crossed paths, two bunches 0f the colored balloons, four green, four orange were entwined on a shared tether.

It was such a powerful display of who we are when we are so consciously connected to our own hearts and therefore to the hearts of others. A signpost marking a moment when we recognized our oneness–when a stranger’s grief became our grief. An interconnection that felt so real and fragile and tender and sad and beautiful all wrapped up in the image of those balloons for Carly and Quinn, tangled up together in the bright sunshine, swaying gently in the cold winter wind.

With my deepest heartfelt love and compassion to their families.

Mammaste

Divinity in the Everyday

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