I Made It!

I didn’t die.

My goal for retirement was to get out alive. To not die while still working. Early deaths in my family haunt me. My parents and four siblings died early deaths at ages 72, 67, 60, 59, 57, and 30. That is unnatural.

Monday, I woke up with a smile on my face. My current goal is good health. I want to outlive my other seven siblings. My chances are good. I’ve recently become a mall walker when it is -10 windchill. Yes, I’m now one of those, I tell myself. Jody and I will be spending the month of February in Florida.  She’ll be working remotely while I’m walking the beach.

Our kids are our retirement plan. Crystel has applied for National Student Exchange in Hawaii for the 2022-2023 school year. We’ll follow her. They should be worried that we won’t leave their basement!

My next goal is to find my rhythm in retirement. Cooking, writing, reading, being outdoors. I want to find out what retirement means to me. Right now, it feels like freedom. A blank page to define myself.

Happy January Birthdays

January, a month of fewest births and most deaths, is where we stand fighting the latest variant of Covid. How wearying to be still writing about this unwelcome virus. But like glitter left from wrapping paper or cards, it won’t be dusted, swept, vacuumed, washed, or wished away. Lots of people have stories about trying to rid the nasty stuff from clothes or rugs or skin, but no one really knows the secret to beat the stuff. Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay inside, but the hated Covid, like unwanted glitter, stays in the air. 

Our family has a tradition of January births, even among in-laws. The older generation of January birthday holders has mostly passed, many on December dates, but there are four of us who are happy to celebrate. Birthday cake is a nice treat after holiday chocolates and cookies. Maybe there’ll be one more chance to get that sweater or book that wasn’t under the Christmas tree. Even better, everything is discounted and can be bought for yourself with little guilt. Even if there can’t be a party, there are safe ways to gather family or friends. If all fails, Zoom offers forty free minutes to talk with your relatives in sunny Florida. 

“In the Bleak Mid-Winter” by Christina Rossetti and Gustav Holst often runs through my mind at this time of year.  Rossetti’s beautiful words describe winter: “Icy wind may moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like stone…” and that often experienced January weather of “Snow on snow on snow.” As soft and gentle as January is icy and lonely, versions by Sarah McLachlan and James Taylor and others fill my blue light time when it is neither day nor night. You have to sing through to the end of the song for its encouragement that “as empty as I am (of gifts for the Baby Jesus), I must give my heart.” 

That is a magic message. If our basic physical needs are met, then we can push through January, holding each other tight inside our hearts until free once more to meet personally during spring’s warmer days. Until then call a friend, send a note, take a walk. We’ve figured this out and know how to make the weeks pass. In honor of the friends and family who are no longer with us to celebrate these January birthdays, I will treasure mine.

Nudging the Universe

Twenty years ago, two friends and I started the year by taking an afternoon-long New Year’s Day “nudge the universe” class. As part of the class, we and the dozen or so other participants each had to make up a name for ourselves that represented a goal we hoped to achieve. With the goal of writing a book and becoming more creative, I chose “Author Artist.”

Amscan 457001 Party Name Tags, 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches, Red

Then, after introducing ourselves using our new names, we were tasked with writing a song that celebrated what we hoped to accomplish, as if we’d already accomplished it. With the hope of nudging into existence my goal of writing a book, here’s the song I wrote (and then, much to my dismay, had to sing to my fellow nudgers):

Author Artist had a book
E-I-E-I-O
With a book book here
And a book there
Here a book
There a book
Everywhere a book book
Author Artist had a book
E-I-E-I-O

While I thought the exercise was silly at the time, it has turned out to be quite powerful: within a year I had a contract for What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It, a book for teens that has since sold more than 50,000 copies and been translated into 10 languages.

I don’t share this to brag but to emphasize how important and powerful getting clear on our hopes and dreams can be. Even two decades later, my name and my song continue to resonate with me and, perhaps more importantly, motivate me to take action. But as we head into 2022, I’m considering a new name, a new tune and what new things I’d like to nudge into existence in the years ahead, including:

  • Another book
  • A stronger relationship with my significant other
  • A New York City apartment for six months
  • Proficiency in Spanish
  • Retirement

How about you? What nudges would you like to give the universe in 2022? And if you had to choose a goal-related name for yourself, what name would you choose?

Then and Now–A Year in Review

As last winter closed in a year ago, so did my life. Because of COVID, going to the grocery store was my only excursion (whoopee). There was no need to get gas—I wasn’t going anywhere. Sometimes I’d go for a drive just for a change of scenery. Yoga classes, my book groups, and writers’ groups all went to Zoom. 

My husband and I rarely saw our sons in person. At best, we visited for a few minutes as they stood in the doorway. Across the room we shivered in the frosty breeze. All of us masked. Even more chilling than the air was the understanding we couldn’t touch.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, my husband and I planned menus along with our sons and their fiancées. Our three households shared what we’d cooked. The food was good and we were outwardly cheerful, but inwardly, I felt our aloneness deeply. 

2020

For perspective, I watched shows about WWII and reminded myself that my life was way better than enduring the London bombing, the French occupation, or life on a naval destroyer as my father had. I was grateful we had healthcare and didn’t have to worry about being evicted. We were apart, but it wouldn’t last forever.

This year feels so much better. We are vaccinated and boosted. As long as I’m masked and keep some distance, I am free to work in the pottery studio, tutor, and shop in person. I am able to invite a few vaccinated friends over for a drink or dinner. We spread out and run the HEPA filter, but we can talk, laugh and interrupt each other in the natural conversational rhythms instead of the stilted stop-and-start of Zoom visits.

My life remains more restricted than it was pre-COVID. Dining in restaurants, watching movies in the theater, or flying are TBD. I avoid large gatherings and even assess the risks of events like indoor farmers’ markets.

But now we can do the most important things, like gathering for birthday dinners with our sons and their wives. We were able to be together at Thanksgiving. I’m so grateful the six of us can visit in person this Christmas. We’ll hug, laugh, and eat lots of good food. Pure joy.

2021

COVID rewired my thinking. These days, our plans are provisional. Maybe. If. We’ll see. I’m careful to temper my hopes and rein in my worries. Letting either get away from me doesn’t serve me. 

I have a different, more realistic view about my ability to control anything. Life never was in my control—I just thought it was.

COVID isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m learning to live with it. Going forward, there will be times when the Delta/Omicron/Whatever variant is raging, and I’ll have to limit my activities, and there will be times when I’m less restricted. For now, I’m taking sensible precautions, assessing each situation case by case. I don’t expect “we’ll get back to normal.” This is the new normal. It isn’t all I wish for, but being able to see family and friends in person means a lot.

ABANDONMENT Appreciating Juan and Crystel

Saturday morning on a Meet Up hike a woman told me, “Your kids are so lucky to have you.”

I told her, “Jody and I are infinitely richer with Juan and Crystel in our lives. We are a Family.” We talked about adoption and I told her about a book I’m reading, The PRIMAL WOUND Understanding the Adopted Child.

The premise of the book is the very moment a birth mother relinquishes her infant to a stranger there is a wound that an adopted child will never recover from. I believe this. How does a child reconcile with the fact that their birth mother gave them up?

She then told me her story. Her Chinese mother named her Peter. She would have aborted her if she knew that she was carrying a girl. Her mother tried to give her away many times. No one wanted a girl. She spent her life trying to prove to her mother that she was worth keeping. Her mother died of dementia, never believing in her daughter’s worth. She came to believe in her own worth. Peter changed her name to Jennifer.

When we first adopted Juan and Crystel, we acted instinctively to strengthen their connections to their birthplace and birth families. Their first return trip to Guatemala was when they were age 7, often called the age of reason. Riding horses through remote villages, eying cornstalk houses with plastic roofs, children bathing outside, dirt lawns, scrawny dogs, and laundry being done in a creek imprinted the unspoken reason for their mother’s abandonment.

Juan and Crystel met each of their birth mothers on our 2nd trip when they were 9. They were able to ask each mother, “Why did you give me up?”

We planned three more family trips when they were ages 11,13, and 15.

Jody and I encouraged Juan and Crystel, “Be proud of where you have come from. Be proud to be Guatemalan.”

I personally know the deep pain of primal wound. When I was 9, I told my mother about my brothers sexually abusing me and her reaction was to punish me. My biggest fear growing up in my family, if I complained again, that my mother would send me to a foster home. That would have killed me. It would have been proof that she didn’t want me. Instead, I stayed in our home and endured years of sexual abuse.

My family was all I had.

I had an abortion when I was 14. I had a baby less than a month after I turned 17. I didn’t say a word, wouldn’t even admit it to myself until later, that the pregnancies were the result of sexual abuse in my family.

The primal wound is real. It’s what adopted kids and adopted adults live with. How do you reconcile being abandoned by your birth mother?

You don’t. You live with it.

I told Juan and Crystel I was reading The PRIMAL WOUND Understanding the Adopted Child. “I’m thinking of buying you the book. I can see you in the pages,” I said. I could also see myself and anyone who has lost their mother through death, neglect, or abandonment. They both immediately responded, “No, that’s alright.”

At lunch with Crystel the other day, I told her the premise of the book was that there is a wound from the moment that a birth mother gave their child up for adoption. A wound that is not resolved. “That’s about right,” she said.

Even though the kids don’t want their own book, I can talk with them, and recognize the pain they carry and will always carry. You do not reconcile with the fact that your birth mother gave you away to a stranger.

Jennifer will live with her wound as my kids will and as I will. It doesn’t stop us from who we are or who we will become.

I honor my children, myself, and others in honoring the pain of abandonment.