Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Visit with My Biological Mom Part 5 Conclusion

On my last morning as I was packing up my car, I felt relieved. Within an hour or so, I’d be leaving this town. It had occurred to me at some point that this is where I’d spent much of the first year of my life. It seemed like a significant detail, but I wasn’t sure why. Right before getting in the car I took a selfie with the picturesque mountains in the background and a smile on my face. I felt as though I had conquered … something … though I didn’t come away without scars.

I went by my mom’s for a cup of coffee. We sat with the tv on, awkwardly making small talk like always. I had intended to stay for a while, but didn’t last more than 30 minutes before I announced I was leaving.

As I gave my mom one last hug, she started crying. The sting of feeling like a disappointment returned as I had absolutely no emotion without tapping into what was left from childhood. But there’s no escape off that train, so I didn’t bother. I simply slipped my sunglasses on and said I was leaving quickly before I started crying too. I didn’t feel any need to make her feel bad that leaving wasn’t upsetting me like it was her.

I left disappointed that she had made so much effort to connect with me and I was unable.

The further in distance I traveled away from her, the more free I felt.

There is a huge disconnect between my head and heart with my mom. I love her very much. I never wanted anything or anyone more than I wanted her in my childhood. I would have crawled in her arms and stayed there forever. When you spend all of your time and effort chasing one person to see them leave you over and over, it takes its toll over the years. Logically I realize that my mom was a victim in adoption. She had little choice or control over my adoption. She was fully taken advantage of and bought into a system that served neither her nor me. But my heart … my heart is damaged. Open adoption had me watch her leave. It’s not an obscure act that I do not remember. I remember it clearly. I remember and can fully visualize the pulling away from me that she did to protect her own heart. The adults in open adoption can do that. They can build some semblance of a wall that may somewhat protect them from the pain. They can rationalize and foresee outcomes. A child can do none of that. The child only knows to invest in relationships. It’s like my little nieces and nephews. None of them knew to be awkward, to hold back, to exist in manners rather than emotions. They moved forward and let their heart lead.

I wish I could have done the same during the visit.

I wonder how my mom considers the visit. I wonder if she could feel the distance between us even with me standing in her presence. I wonder if she holds me responsible and thinks I haven’t handled myself by adjusting well. I wonder if she blames me instead of an unjust system of adoption. Either I cannot trust her, or myself, enough to have an open conversation about it.

She doesn’t have to place blame though. I already blame myself. I know it’s my limitations that don’t allow to me to connect with her. I wish she could see that it’s the damage from adoption. I wish she could know I’m already disappointed in myself for what I can never be to her or accept from her.

My sweet little nephew had formerly been open and engaging, but as my visit came to an end he wouldn’t make eye contact, wouldn’t answer any of my questions and wouldn’t take a picture with me. He was protecting his own heart.

I’d been doing the same for the last three days.

“He was always distracted, by the very mention of an open door
Cause he had sworn not to be what he’d been before
To be a remainder …
And they carried on like long division
Cause it was clear with every page
that they were further away
from a solution that would play
without a remainder.”
Ben Gibbard

A Visit with My Biological Mom Part 4

The next morning, I was up early. It was another gorgeous sunny day. I had breakfast, worked out, made a second pot of coffee, read and commented on facebook, listened to music – basically anything that didn’t involve going to my mom’s house. It wasn’t even lunch yet and I was already disappointed in myself. I hadn’t seen my mom in all these years. She was a few minutes away, and I was busy doing nothing.

It was close to noon before I headed over to my mom’s house.

Once I arrived, she almost immediately remarked how this all seemed like a dream to her and she just couldn’t believe I was there at her house.  I politely reassured her that it was awesome and going by way too quickly.

As soon as we got inside, she suggested we go to the store to get the ingredients for the meal she’d asked me to make. It was my daughter’s favorite and my mom and sister wanted to learn to make it. Anything that would take the pressure off communicating sounded great to me.

We ate another awkward lunch that involved me damning myself for not being able to connect, then headed out to the store. Before stopping at the grocery, my mom suggested we go to one of her favorite stores. Again, wanting to pass time, that was fine with me.

We went in and as she started looking through racks, I realized how uncomfortable I felt. Did she want to shop together or just take some time apart? I had no idea if I should stay close to her or giver her space. I tortured myself trying to measure up to some unnamed expectation and started thinking about how much easier it must be for her to visit with one of her kept daughters. I hated myself for being so awkward.

I decided to give her space. Or maybe I was giving myself space. I’m not sure. I maintained a close enough distance so she could point out something if she wanted, but not too close. Absolutely everything was excruciating. The last time I remembered shopping with her, I was a child and had tied her hair around the cart I was in. The childhood memories of attempts to capture my mom only served to further separate us now and for that, my own self-hatred grew.

After we left, we went to the grocery.

In the middle of the grocery store as I was picking out the ingredients I needed, she said, “I just can’t believe you’re standing here in my grocery store.” I looked up at her and she had tears in her eyes.

The wall between us grew 10 feet. “Stop.” I replied flatly, and then tried to make a joke to escape from her attempt to connect with me. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t trust. I couldn’t be vulnerable. The more she put herself out there, the more she pushed me away. She had no idea that each of her tries was making the entire situation worse for me. And she didn’t seem to care either. As always, it was all about making her feel better no matter what it did to me.

I think it was at this point that it was solidified in my mind that I would be unable to bond with my mom. But part of me still wanted very much to embrace her as much as she seemed to want to embrace me. Realistically, there was no way for her to know and understand the complex emotions I was struggling with. I hadn’t even realized the extent to which I’d numbed myself to the emotions. It would have been impossible for her to understand how much I wanted to connect, but just couldn’t.

I’m incredibly disappointed that, although I understand so much of this logically, I couldn’t find a way to express any of it to my mom. Neither of us is perfect. We both have limitations. My heart is broken into a million pieces and maybe it isn’t realistic to expect healing. Again, I’m so disappointed in myself for not being able move forward. Being in her presence reconfirms that disappointment in my own limitation.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with me making dinner which everyone either loved or were too nice to say otherwise.

That evening, I wanted to hold out hope for our final time together the next morning, but it becoming obvious that I needed to work on accepting the inevitable.

A Visit with My Biological Mom Part 3

This visit with my mom wasn’t going exactly as I had planned. I was finally there with her but it was as though I was peering at her through a blurry glass. I kept reminding myself to stay focused, to listen … to not run.

After lunch my mom offered for us all to sit in the living room. She asked what I liked to watch on TV. I don’t watch TV during the day, but I didn’t want her to feel like I was judging her, so I responded that whatever she wanted to watch would be fine. It was odd that, after all these years, we were finally together and casually watching TV as though seeing each other was common.

As we sat there, I looked around at her living room trying to memorize it. I had been looking for something familiar to me. Having spent plenty of time in her home as a child, I thought if I saw something, maybe I could recapture the way I used to feel toward her. The only thing that was familiar was a picture of my family taken just last year, sitting on top of her TV cabinet, but it felt odd to see there.

As I tried to make small talk, I felt the heavy awkward discomfort of being in the company of people I didn’t know, but being expected to carry on effortlessly. I kept looking to my little nephew to help me out and the clock to tell me how many more hours until I could leave for the lonely comfort of my hotel room.

Finally, my niece and other nephew arrived from school and I loved that they didn’t know how to be awkward. They were happy to see me and super friendly. They offered up hugs, showed me their school papers, had plenty to chat about and then they were ready to play outside.

In the hustle, my mom disappeared and then I heard myself being summoned to her room. The dread returned as I walked down the hallway. I entered her room. Her bedroom. Her private place that’s she’s wanting to share with me and immediately, I wanted to escape. She started pulling out old pictures and pointing out things I’d sent to her over the last year.

I hated this moment more than any other. I’d gladly return to the awkward lunch just to get out of here. I felt trapped and instantly hated myself for feeling that way. I didn’t want to take this walk down memory lane.

She laid each picture down slowly and seemed to be waiting for a reaction with each one. I didn’t feel any connection to the pictures and I didn’t feel any connection to her.

“Do you have this one?” “Here’s one of your sisters.” “This one is so cute.” “Here you all are together.” I looked down at the bed and realize there’s a picture of all of us together, but I’m missing from the one next to it. It’s an incredibly violent moment that leaves an open wound. I’m looking for an escape. Anything.

“Sit down on the bed” my mom half invited, half insisted. I didn’t want to. “Oh, I’m fine, thank you,” I said, dismissing her with my best manners.

She gave me a half smile and continued showing me pictures. “This is your uncle. He spoiled you. He just loved you so much. His face would light up when you were there.”

I wondered if he asked anything about me after I was gone. Did he wonder where I went? Did he miss me? Maybe all this referring to when I was “there” was normal to my mom. It was killing me.

“Sit down on the bed.” She restated. It seemed important to her to have this moment of me sitting on her bed. I didn’t want to be anywhere near it, much less sit on it. I wasn’t exactly embracing a slumber party here. But, I sat. Trying not to disappoint her, but completely disappointing myself.

The time drug on. I gave in letting her get whatever she was looking for in this experience of me sitting on her bed, looking at pictures. It occurred to me that she would have some of the letters and cards I sent her as a child. I wished I could have asked to see something since I have nothing from those years, but I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to prolong this torture – this moment, her presence, knowing she loved me – I just wanted to escape.

I hated how much stuff was in my mom’s room. I decorate minimally. I don’t have many keepsakes. I don’t collect ‘things’ and have no attachments to ‘stuff’. I like open spaces. She is the opposite.

I was thankful the afternoon hours passed and my sister said dinner was ready. She made spaghetti but it was different than I’m accustomed to. It didn’t matter anyway as I didn’t taste anything. The awkward silences continued at dinner. Afterwards, I wanted to help clean up, but they wouldn’t hear of it. It seemed we all wanted to be mannerly and our politeness was taking center stage.

After dinner my mom wanted to go outside and sit while the kids played so I followed behind. It seemed to be the setup of the entire visit – me following her around. Always polite.

We sat outside and I was annoyed – annoyed at the sun, wind and dirt around me. After a few minutes, I finally announced I was heading to the hotel and I’d see them early the next morning. I knew that was a lie. My procrastination and anxiety was in full force and there was no way I’d be there early.

My mom is soft spoken. Anyone would like her. She’s kind hearted and sweet. Her voice is soft and loving. As I was leaving, she protested that she really wished I would have stayed with them. I didn’t want to hurt her at all. I felt very protective of her feelings.

After I reached the hotel, I sat stunned and disappointed. Why couldn’t I be a better daughter? I was disappointed in myself for being so annoyed at the dirt yard and criticizing her manner of decoration, and my inability to hold eye contact with her and to connect.

I remembered her request to call her after I checked into the hotel. I decided to follow through although I was annoyed at her protectiveness. Why bother now?

I called and she stated she’d been waiting to hear from me. I reassured her that all was well.

She said how happy she was that I was there. “I want you to feel welcome here. I want you to know that you can spread out on the bed or make yourself something to drink or anything you want. This is your home. You’re my baby!”

That last line was more than I could take. Immediately I had a headache.

I dug deep for patience. “Thank you. That’s very kind, and I feel very welcome. Thank you. Really.” And then I got off the phone as quickly as I could. Why was I so damn polite? It was annoying.

I wanted to leave. I hadn’t really unpacked yet and it would have been easy to repack the car. (I realized later, I never really unpacked my stuff anyway.) I had come all this way and kept one foot out the door the entire time. The only thing stopping me was realizing how disappointed she’d be the next day to find out I’d left. I thought maybe she’d understand that it was all just more than I could deal with, but it seemed like it would really hurt her feelings. Again, I never wanted to do that.

In this moment, I hate everything. Mostly myself. I wish I could be … better.

A Visit with My Biological Mom Part 2

Dread seemed to be the emotion I was living with in the days leading up to the visit with my mom. I dreaded going to sleep the night before, knowing I’d wake up the next morning and it would be the day I’d see her for the first time in all those years. I dreaded renting the car, the drive, crossing the border into her state. I dreaded each step that led me closer to her.

The self talk as I drove there was ridiculous. “This is normal. People go see their mom and eat lunch at her house all the time. So what if it’s been a few years. So what if you didn’t get to spend your childhood with her and only got to see her occasionally and have “visits” instead of a life with her. It’s no big deal. It’s just mom. Its fine … Where’s the nearest cliff? This is not normal.”

All of these recurring thoughts while barreling down the interstate at 75 mph – toward her. Something was pulling me away though.

I’m not a great traveler though I do love to travel. I stop. A lot. I feel like I’m missing something on every exit – a snack, a winning lottery ticket, some weird something that you’d never see anywhere else. I hate to miss any of it. A four hour trip can easily include five stops. And so it did. Except this time, it was part procrastination.

Around 1:30, I finally pulled into my mom’s tiny hometown. I was supposed to have been there by lunch. I wasn’t even in her sight and I already felt like a disappointment.

I stopped a couple houses down from hers to call her. My sister answered and explained to go around the block to the small drive to park behind their house. They live in government housing and I immediately hated the way every yard is divided by a chain link fence. Immediately after that, I hated myself for being so critical.

I pulled up and my sister, her youngest son and my mom were all out back. My sister came up first and gave me a big welcoming hug. Her son was super sweet and ran right up to hug me. I finally embraced my mom and this moment hugging her is good. She is so little and immediately, I feel protective of her. I feel like a giant next to her. Was she always this little?

I don’t have a memory of my mom’s height. All I remember is that the sun was always at her back and it caused a glow around her. As a child, I always felt warmer in her presence.

There’s no grass in the front or back yard. There’s only dirt and small pebbles and it’s annoying.

My mom and sister ushered me in and said they had waited on me to eat lunch. I wonder if they are already annoyed with me that they had to wait. I assure them that they should have eaten without me and it would have been fine. There’s a huge meat and cheese tray that could have fed twenty. I wish they hadn’t bought so much. It added pressure.

As my mom and sister were busy getting condiments and asking me what I’d like to drink, I felt like I was going to throw up, but I focused on acting like this was all normal. My mom’s house was clean and organized but there was something in every spot – a piece of furniture, pictures and little collectibles sat everywhere. I felt claustrophobic.  Fortunately, there were windows all around so the room was very bright.

As we ate, I tried to make small talk about things she’s collected. I looked around for something that might be familiar to me, but there was nothing. She points out various things and tells me who each was from. Each thing seemed to be a cozy reminder to her of that person, but I feel critical of all her stuff. Why did she have so many things sitting everywhere? Why did she buy so much food? There were so many awkward silences. I kept trying to think of something to say but ended up just focusing on my nephew who ran into the room and ran out every time I looked at him. He was a cute little distraction.

I ate but I couldn’t taste anything. Everything seemed like a distraction from acknowledging this moment – eating, discussing my mom’s collectibles, focusing on my nephew and all of the criticizing I’m doing, not only of my mom, but mostly of myself.

Each time my mom looked at me, I felt awkward and looked away. Eye contact is such a heavy burden. Finally she said, “I can’t believe you’re here.” I looked away.

Oh, I’m here. Every fiber of my being reminds me I’m here.

A Visit with My Biological Mom Part 1

I wish I were the type of person that always had some great quote on the tip of my tongue to sum up how I was feeling or that would give a greater meaning to the events I find myself in sometimes. If I did, that’s how I would start this.

I recently saw my mother for the first time in over twenty years.

Disappointment. That is the word that hangs in the air.

Before I left for the visit, I shared my anxiousness and apprehension with a few people. I was asked by some what I hoped for with the visit. I had an incredibly difficult time expressing the goal as I saw it. All I really knew was that in looking toward how I would feel at the end of my life, I would regret it if I didn’t take the opportunity to see her.

This was a combined trip where I would be visiting my mom as part of a separate trip. The last time I saw her, I was around 20.

My mom had invited me to stay at her house, but I knew I’d need some time each evening to myself. I also knew it would be difficult to go from not seeing her in such a long time and only reconnecting with her last year, to sleeping in her bed. I opted to stay in a hotel and I was thankful that I did as the isolation was a relief to me each night.

As the last few weeks before the trip went by, my anxiety increased and manifest in common ways – interrupted eating and sleeping habits and too much silence. I kept considering the questions others were asking. “What’s your goal?” I wanted to reconnect in a deeper way than what we’d been accomplishing over the last year and half. I wanted us to be able to have future conversations about more than the weather or other surface subjects, but without having to constantly address adoption issues.

I have this vision of us being like a typical mother and daughter but maybe it’s not typical at all. We’re in a kitchen cooking together, but it seems effortless. We’re both relaxed and laughing with her bossing me around and me saying “I know” a million times. We have a familiarity with each other that is relaxed. I guess it reminds me of how I feel with my daughter.

But I wanted all of this reconnecting to happen without the risk of getting hurt. How to connect without being vulnerable? That was what I was really trying to determine.

I owe this revelation to a great friend of mine. A first mom I know in real life shared this video with me and it was just … life changing. We connect with others by being vulnerable. Who knew? Vulnerability isn’t one of my strongest abilities.

As time drew closer, I realized I made a huge mistake. I just didn’t think I could go through with the visit. All of the pain and loss from a childhood full of seeing her and then being disappointed as she went away each time came flooding back. I knew what to expect at the end of the visit. Pain.

But ever driven to not disappoint others, I knew I had to go through with my commitment. Commitment. That’s how I viewed this visit to see the woman who was larger than life to me – this woman who had meant everything to me. As a child, being in her presence, I felt love. I spent my entire childhood placing all of my hopes, dreams and fears upon her. She was all that was wonderful and all that was painful at once. She was my everything. I wanted to spend my every waking and sleeping moment with her, but now? Now the very thought of her was making me want to run in the opposite direction.

She lives two time zones west of me. When is the next flight that will send me two time zones east?

My mom and I have been talking on the phone and exchanging letters, pictures and presents over the last year and half. Both of us perpetuating violence against each other as neither of us took into consideration how the other might feel hearing about the events of the past fifteen years since I had closed my own adoption when I was in my mid 20s.

Open adoption had left plenty of scars over the years. While open adoption is considered to be a more humane adoption, it had created in me a numb individual, unable to connect well with others. After all that time, I just couldn’t “do” open adoption anymore.

I had given my mom one warning that unless she did as I expected on some named act, I wouldn’t continue having a relationship with her. Like an immature child, I demanded. Like an imperfect person, she failed and I used that as my get out of open adoption jail free card.

Those years away from her were wonderful. I did everything except for think and feel adoption.

But just because we ignore something doesn’t mean it’s not there.