With Mary

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Search Part 8: The Smartass Gene

"We're a MATCH! I knew it all along!" -BD 

It's All Making Sense Now

...My husband said as soon as he saw this image and read the hilarious email that went along with it! The ability to sling witty one-liners around in verbal pie fights was a skill I thought was all my own...until I met birthdad! Who knew that smartassness was a heritable trait? From day one, reading his emails would leave me rolling on the floor, shaking my head in disbelief, "Did he really just say that?" Birthdad's humor is unbridled, totally irreverent, and smart. Nothing is off limits.  In another life, I hope he comes back as a writer for SNL! I'm over-the-moon proud to have inherited this trait.

Must You Take it Eleven?

While I am not nearly as funny as b-dad, we do share the same type of wit, joking about topics others may avoid and often taking the joke or teasing a bit too far. My adopted dad, who is fun-loving, but not necessarily funny, used to say, "Hey, Kel, open mouth- insert foot!" Another warning, "That big mouth of yours is going to get you in trouble one day!" My smartassary goal in jaggin' around with my adopted dad was to get him to finally say, "Kiss my ass, Kel!" Then, I knew I'd "won." Bless him.

The Other 23 Chromosomes

Who knew that the other side of my genetic code could hold such fun surprises? So what else did I discover? Music: We have the SAME MUSIC COLLECTION! What a thrill to bond over our favorite artists from the seventies! Religion: We share similar thoughts on religion and spirituality- questioning, tolerant, open-minded. Travel: Everything from exotic destinations to the quintessential "Sunday drive," we love to explore. Food: Great food with excellent cocktails and good company is all a person needs. We are two of the slowest easters I've seen and b-dad is even slower than me! Interesting similarities continue to emerge as we keep up with our weekly chats and emails.

The Challenge of Humor

Trying to describe Bubba D's personality and humor was really challenging. Humor is subjective and heavily based on timing, which may be why I found it so difficult to describe. BUT, I'll leave you now with a tiny sample of his wit. The other day I texted that he'll have to participate in this blog to tell his side of the story. We lovingly call my arrival the "Oh, shit," moment. His text back simply stated:

Oh shit. Oh wonderful. No shit.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Search Part 7: Finding Birthdad!

What are you going to do about your father? My birth relatives asked me. 

Truthfully, I had not really considered him over the years. My total focus was on meeting my birthmom, not the man who probably skated off into the sunset scot-free.  But now, Mom K gave me his name. Now I had some idea of the man.  In my imagination, not all of it was endearing, but much of it was. For instance, many of my Aunts knew him and thought he was a terrific guy, potentially a "great catch." He and his buddies visited their home frequently and were always jovial, singing raucous Irish songs and carrying on.  Apparently, my maternal grandfather really enjoyed birthdad as well, saying that he "came from good Catholic stock." Still, part of me felt that reaching out to b-dad might be disloyal to mom. After all, on paper it appeared that he left her in the lurch, even attempting not cover a few expenses owed to Catholic Charities for prenatal care.  Hard to believe that women in the sixties actually had to pay to place their babies for adoption. Reconciling the disparate depictions of this man took some soul-searching.  Finally decided that if I were truthful with myself and others about the importance of unearthing medical and genealogical information for my children, then I needed to overcome my ambivalence and reach out. Little did I know the depth of joy and self-discovery that would come from our reunion. Though I new his name and occupation, it took awhile to find him.

Before I asked my case worker to send a letter, naturally, I did some Internet research on this guy. I knew he was a dentist, but no one knew where he currently lived.  A young dentist sharing his name came up on all of my Google searches, as did the CEO of Boeing. Louise, my best friend from college, finally cracked the case and found his name and picture in a dental association publication in California. He was listed as the editor. From there, I found his wife and daughter on Facebook.  They appeared so happy and beautiful!  His wife's profile picture included b-dad.  See below. Ironically, when I showed the picture to my children and asked them to name the person, they said Granddaddy (my husband's father)!  Yes, my b-dad looks VERY much like my father-in-law.  Wonder what Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky would think! Admittedly, I made a few assumptions about b-dad based on his profession and appearance:  conservative, Lexus owner, country club go-er, Republican. Boy, was I wrong!

The day after receiving my certified letter via Catholic Charities, b-dad phoned in. Well, I certainly didn't expect such a speedy response or any response for that matter. Once he confirmed that the whole situation was legit and not just one of those "send me money from Africa" hoaxes, he told my case worker that he would like contact and that I should call him. Call him?  Really?  Just jump right in there, huh?  No emailing for months, getting to know each other slowly, just jump right in? 

With clammy fingers, I dialed his number. The most hilarious voice message rang in my ears! It sounded exactly like my voicemail, a sing-songy, chirpy tone. Weird...in a good way. He called me back a few minutes later and we were "off to the races." 

Without the benefit of long email exchanges, our first conversations were quite interesting!  B-dad just dove right in with all sorts of personal questions:  "Are you a single mom?"  "Do you have a mental illness?"  Somehow I was not offended.  Surprised, yes.  Caught off guard, yes. Offended, no. After those questions,something clicked and I thought, "Okay, looks like no questions are off limits here!" So I shot a few back at him.  Actually, I barely needed to ask anything.  He was an unfiltered, open book.
After sharing a few intimate details of the courtship between mom and him, I shook my head like, "Is he really telling me this?  Do I really need to know this? TMI Dad!"

His side of the story did cast the slightest bit of doubt regarding paternity. If he wasn't convinced of back then, why would he be convinced now? Both of us could see a resemblance in the photos we shared, but I wasn't 100% convinced. Yes, b-dad emailed and chatted as if nothing were amiss, but I needed proof. After a couple of weeks, I suggested we take a paternity test to which he happily agreed! We each took the test, then he and his amazing wife took a trip overseas for three weeks. More waiting! I would have an answer in June, just weeks before a giant reunion with birthmom's family. I knew there would be questions and I wanted to talk about b-dad as my dad with total confidence. The results came in THE NIGHT before the reunion. Yes, I was sweating bullets!

Coming up: The Results are In

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Love of Two Mothers

What was going through my birth Mother's mind on Mother's Day 1968? Hidden away from the world in her sister's attic did she realize the joy her pain would bring to another family just a few months away? My birth Mom K loved me enough to entrust my upbringing to another family and my adoptive mom loved me enough make her proud!

Mom J- who raised me- took her mothering very seriously, but with a 1960's sensibility. Free to Be You and Me was before our time.  Instead, Mom J looked to Jaqueline Kennedy for inspiration. Mrs. Kennedy was young, stylish, well educated, cultured, and Catholic. Mom J was about the same age, stylish (think Sofia Loren), intelligent, and Catholic too. Yet, growing up with a first generation traditional Italian father meant Mom missed out on cultural events and higher education.  He flatly refused to help any of his daughters attend college. A woman's place was in the home. Thankfully, Mom poured her ambition out on us, making sure we attended cultural events and earned college degrees.

Seemed like every weekend, Mom was dragging us to some art opening, festival, botanical garden, or ballet.  My brothers and I would groan and beg not go, but there is no arguing with Mom J.  Period. One out of the three of us would pout the entire time, lag behind, and make scowling faces for the family photos meant to document Mom's efforts in raising us right. Her efforts paid off. My younger brother has a master's degree in percussion and composition. My oldest brother studied design and architecture. I paint. Whether we liked it or not, Mom had our best interests in mind constantly.

When Dad got a promotion and moved us back to Pennsylvania from New Jersey, Mom insisted that they buy a modest house in a nice neighborhood known for excellent schools. He wanted to move back to where they grew up, but Mom would not hear of it. She wanted more for us. Ever heard the old fashioned saying, "Behind every successful man is a powerful woman?" That was mom. Mom entertained Dad's business colleagues with flair and grace, insisted he push hard to move up the corporate ladder, yet never be late for dinner. Supper hit the table at six o'clock not matter what (still does). Mom was regimented, which kept her organized and us in line!

Obviously, Mom J loved us, but it was not mush gushy love.  Instead, deeds proved her love. Did she get us to church every week?  Check. That was love. Did she keep us clean, well-fed, and educated? Check. That was love. Did she take us to an art exhibit? Check. Love. This 1960's parenting mentality taught me essential life skills like how to manage a household, throw an amazing dinner party, write a thank you note, and show respect for others. She was constantly preparing us to be model citizens in the "real world." As a parent of two, I commend what she accomplished. She has a tightly knit family of three well-educated children and many grandchildren who love and even like each other! A true gift.

Mom J set an exceptionally high standard for herself and her children and I wonder if she realizes on some level that her great joy came out of the expense of another. I like to think that our success is her way of thanking our original moms. As promised, she raised us right.

On this Mother's Day, I am eternally grateful to know and love both of my mothers. One who gave me life and who's courageous act brought so much joy to my mom and dad. The other who taught me how to "be" in the world. I am blessed to wake each day, continuing to learn lessons from both of these powerful, intelligent, passionate, and talented mothers.

Mom J, me, and Mom's Italian Dad

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reunion Reflections 1: My Drive Drove Off!

During an interview with my first running coach years six years ago, he asked me "Why do you want to race?"

"To win, of course!" was my quick reply.

Now my competitive spirit seems to be on vacation and has been since reuniting with my birth family. I still enjoy my runs, especially with my girlfriends, but my super intense "crush my competition"self is no where to be found. Sure, other issues like my new job or age may be at play, but how does meeting my birth family weigh in?  Naturally, running gave me plenty of time to ponder this question.

As an adopted child with an active imagination, I could not help but think that someone could be watching me.  Birth mom could be anywhere, watching me grow up.  What if she suddenly appeared? Or what if I recognized her while out running errands, after all, I was told that her family may live nearby. In my little kid brain, I needed be ready.  I needed to be perfect.  I needed to be great.

Now that I think about, life was my stage.  I always had an imaginary audience as I danced around the living room in my purple tutu. Somewhere in my subconscious, I was always preparing to meet my birth mom and I did not want to disappoint her. My adopted mom saw my "all-the-world's-my-stage" tendency and kept me far away from a passion that could have taken me to scary, far away places as an adult. Since the real stage was out, I took up sports.

To my delight, Dad called me the Athlete of the Family. My brothers were not sporty, so within our household I was finally "great" at something. I tried everything: gymnastics, tennis, swimming, softball, basketball.  In high school I finally settled on running, focusing on sprints and later cross country.  I got as far as "pretty good." Good enough to be part of the State Cross Country Championship team as a senior. Good enough not to disappointment someone watching me from a far...maybe.

Fast forward a few decades, and there I sat interviewing a running a coach, still striving for greatness or massive improvement anyway.  I needed an outlet for my competitive spirit after my son was born, plus I had unfinished business to take care of on the track.  What if I had tried harder in high school?  What if I had really focused and trained hard.  Could I have been number one or two on the team instead of four or five?  Could I have gotten better scholarship offers?  I needed to know.  Someone could be watching me.  I needed to be ready!

I got in great shape and ran some decent times.  Not great times (in my opinion), but good enough to win an award or two.  I'm still striving to run under twenty minutes in a 5K.  Or am I? Again, since happily reuniting with my birth mom and family, the goal is just not as motivating to me. Why?  I think I may have just figured it out.

My true moment of greatness, my true dream is now realized.

Birth mom no lingers in my imagination. She is actually here, cheering on all of my good enough moments because- guess what- our reunion is so miraculous that good enough is actually GREAT.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Back to the Fold: My Irish Clan

"Everyone will know about you after the wedding on Sunday!"

My birth cousin got married the weekend after Mom, Aunt Kathy, and I met.  I asked Mom to keep the attention on the beautiful wedding and not announce our reunion until after the ceremony. The family flew in from all over the country for the wedding, so everyone gathered in Aunt J's room Sunday night for one last visit.  Mom likes to say that the Irish family is so big that they "bring the party" wherever they go! Out of the chatter, Mom raised her voice to get everyone's attention. Nervously, she fiddled with her hair and shirt as she said, "I have an announcement.  I had little girl when I was 22. And she found me." The relatives gasped! Mom went on to tell them about me and her new-found grandchildren, saying that Conner's red hair and freckles could earn him a cover photo on an Irish magazine. According to mom, after seeing my picture the Auntie's exclaimed, "She's got my smile!" They were so happy for us and- get this- for them! Being so focused on Mom, I didn't fully consider the relative's reaction. I was joyously taken aback by the love that started pouring in!

The week after the wedding, each Aunt sent me an emotional Welcome to the Family letter/email.  I couldn't believe it!  I really did not expect such an amazing outpouring of love and support.  With a tear-streaked face fixed in a perma-grin, I danced on air all week!  Who would of thought?  Everyone warned me about how wrong things could go with a reunion.  No one warned me that things could go so right!  Suddenly, I was enveloped in a gigantic, tightly-woven, Irish Catholic family, who saw my reentry as nothing short of a miracle! The Clan folded me right back in. Below are a few sentiments:

"We, in your large,  extended McGuire family are so excited to know that you are one of us!!  As the news is spreading,  more & more interest and joy is generated."

"Kelly, please know we feel blessed to have you and your family in our lives.  We are forever grateful that you were adopted by a wonderful family and can never thank them enough for giving you a happy life.  I pray that your mother and father are at peace with you seeking out your birth mother and family.  We know we can never replace them in your life.  Will you please give your parents our love and gratitude and assure them we hope only to enrich our lives through the union of our families.  I am hearing plans for a family reunion this summer in Illinois and hope your parents will also come to meet us and celebrate the miracle that is you."

To think that I could have missed out on all of this love had I listened to the naysayers and caved into fear.  Now we were together and had much catching up to do!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Part 6: The Visit

"My sister and I are flying to your house in three weeks!"

In a mere twenty one days a life-long dream would come true! I would finally lay eyes on someone who looks like me, who may act like me, who may talk like me.  My birth mom. I had to get ready!

In amusement, my husband watched me flitter around the kitchen chattering a million miles a minute about everything needing to get done before the visit.  Flowers were planted, floors were mopped, fresh linens were purchased, dust bunnies were shooed out of obscure nooks and crannies.  The list went on and on.  The week before the big day, my "perfect girl syndrome" went into overdrive.  Out came...The Toothbrush.  Yes, I cleaned my kitchen cabinets with a toothbrush!  Strangely enough, cleaning helped me relax and process the coming event. With the house in order, hair done, teeth professionally cleaned, I was ready.  Bring on the visit!

Was I nervous?  Yes.  What would it be like to meet for the first time?  Would we cry our eyes out? My dear friend, Renee*, bought me water proof mascara just in case!  Would our conversations feel stilted and awkward?  Cleaning, running, and tons of Hail Mary's helped calm my nerves, but some anxiety still remained as I went to pick her up at the hotel early Friday morning.

"I wouldn't miss this for the world!"  said my husband as he double checked the charge on his phone, preparing for an emotional photo shoot.  At nine twenty Friday morning, I knocked on birth mom's hotel door and -BAM- there she was!  Shrieks of laughter rang out through the hotel, as we bear hugged, then separated to get a good look at each other, then hugged again, and laughed some more.  I was surprised by her stature. She was so petite.  Hugging an adult smaller than me is not something I am used to.  We shared a similar body-type, though she was much smaller and in great shape from running (erg!). Without thinking, I turned to my husband and said, "Consider yourself lucky! This what you get to look forward to as we age!"  

In a joyous glaze, we drove back to my house for brunch.  After my special frittata and a home tour, we settled on the back porch with coffee and told our stories.  Mom and her sister said my investigative skills were so good that the CIA should hire me.  Aunt Karol*, the one who took care of mom and me during the last months of pregnancy, kept her compassionate,wise-old-owl-like eyes on me the entire time, which felt like she was peering right into my soul.  Next, mom told her story of The Pizza Line phone call!  Later, Aunt Karol told the story of mom living in her attic and the adoption process.  Over the weekend, I would finally learn about my earliest days on the planet and how I came to be placed with my incredible adoptive parents.  In my opinion, the story is a total miracle.

Apparently, Aunt Karol worked for Catholic Charities before her own children were born.  Turns out her boss, Corneille,* grew up with my adopted Dad, so they knew each other very well.  Additionally, unbeknownst to me, my adoptive mom was Cornielle's secretary at one time.  So, when, my birth mom faced this pregnancy, Aunt Karol sprang into action, reaching out to Corneille for help. Aunt Karol and Corneille were close, so she knew that Corneille would take great care of her sister's baby, placing the baby (me) with people she knew and respected personally- my Mom and Dad!  Months later, when I shared this story, my adopted Dad said, "Wow, Aunt Karol is like a miracle worker!"  

Aunt Karol and Mom were so cute the whole weekend.  Aunt Karol would pull me aside and tell me little bits of information when mom was in the other room.  Randomly, she'd sidle up next to me for a little hug and "tushie pat."  We were tight. The tushie pat proved it!  Mom and I did have a bit of nervous energy so we stayed busy by walking the dog, running, prepping food, and my favorite, looking over old family photos.  A bit of relaxation came when the children were done with school.

The three of us drove to pick up my kids from school after a lovely run along the greenway. The kids didn't know all of us were coming and I'm sure they didn't expect to see us in our running clothes. How would they react?  Over the previous months, my red-headed son had grown annoyed with the search, as my face was constantly in front of the computer.  My twelve year old daughter pretended to "get it," but I wasn't convinced. Now, they would meet their birth grandmother for the first time at school.  My daughter was sweet as ever, demurely greeting us and quietly walking us to my son's classroom.  My son's reaction upon seeing all of us took me totally by surprise.

It was as if a light bulb went on. He "got it"... in a big way.  Suddenly, this woman I had talked about for so many months was real and standing right in front of him.  My Mom. His grandma. Forty-five minutes later, he finished touring her around his classroom, showing her his portfolio of work. They were tight.  Her attentiveness proved it.  Surely, he saw himself in her, as they looked so much alike standing side by side.  Finally, we knew where he got his red hair. Conner* didn't stop showing off for Nana the entire weekend. He took her to the skate park to demonstrate his skills only to be shown up by Nana's prowess on the scooter.  Later that night, he created a nightclub, dance party scene in the living room. For the first time, I saw Conner break dance and do The Worm.  Who was this kid? My husband and I have never seen him this animated for anyone...ever.  But, the real shock came when Nana did the dance for "Gangnum Style!"  Conner's jaw dropped in utter awe! This was his kind of grandma!

The weekend came to a close much too quickly, but I knew our relationship was on the right path.  I'll never forget dropping Mom and Aunt Karol off at the hotel, when mom turned and said,

See you soon, honey.  I love you!"

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Search Part 5: One Bead at a Time

Let go.  It's out of your hands.  Giver her time.

These words echoed in my head as I drove to see my family counselor, something my case worker strongly suggested just in case the situation "went south."  It had been nearly a year since I had visited Dr. H.  Her sage parenting advice got me through countless issues with both children. Now the tables were turned and today was about me. How could I squeeze all of this exciting news into just an hour?

Dr. H. gives off a warm and jovial feeling much like Mrs. Claus.  Over the years her easy, hearty laugh put me at ease and gave me confidence to tackle whatever parenting task seemed challenging at the time. Today, after bounding into her office and telling the story in a flourish of great detail, a serious look fell upon her face that I did not expect.  Collecting her thoughts for a moment, she asked me to take a step back to examine just who we were dealing with here, so that I could keep my emotions in check.  Given the little information we knew, together we created a portrait of a birth mother who seemed to be fiercely independent: 1. Lived as a single lady in Africa for decades 2. Still worked but was eligible for retirement 3. Still provided dinner for her grown family (remember the pizza line?). Tread carefully, Kelly, Dr. H. advised.  In her opinion, my birth mom seemed like someone who thrived on control.  Nothing like surprise contact from your birth daughter to throw your life right out of control!  

Knowing me too well for my own comfort, she went to outline my control freak, Type A qualities.  See the potential problem with two Type A gals in the middle of an emotionally wrought situation?  I had to be calm and patient.  Calm and patient?!  Me? Not in my DNA, I blasted!  Well that finally got laugh out of our Dr. H.  She replied that at least I now knew where my drive came from!  Once again, her face turned stern, as she gave me a bit of homework.  I never liked homework and I certainly didn't like this assignment.  She said, "Kelly, I don't know what your spiritual beliefs are or how in touch you are with your spiritual side, but it's time to connect with a higher power." 

"Seriously?" I whined. I have avoided my spiritual skepticism for so many years and now I have to work on reconciliation? This sounded like a lot of work.  She assured me that I could do it, that I HAD to do it.  Wisely, she went on to explain that my current situation was so big emotionally, that having a spiritual place to "put" my anxieties, worries, fears was essential.  From this point on, I could not control the outcome and was forced to embrace life's ambiguity.  According to Dr. H., prayer would help relieve the stress of living with all of the if's and maybe's headed my way. Not until I outlined my prayer plan was I free to leave her office.  Growing up Catholic, I agreed to say the Rosary daily. To my great surprise, Dr. H. then admitted that she too was Catholic and said the Rosary daily!  She even suggested I attend a special Stations of the Cross told from Mary's point of view.  We shared a comfort in considering God in the feminine.  Before leaving, Dr. H. gave me one last bit to think about:  "Be like Mary.  How did Mary act when Jesus was suffering?  Calm and supportive, right?  Be like Mary."

Even though I had my work cut out for me, I followed orders, dug out my Rosary from an old jewelry box, and started a new morning routine of having coffee with Mary.  I'd get up at six in the morning and say the Rosary while everyone slept and the coffee brewed.  I did feel better.  I prayed that birth mom was okay, that she would say YES to us, and that her sister was comforting and advising her.  I prayed to my deceased birth grandfather and grandmother that they would intercede on our behalf.  I prayed for open hearts and acceptance from my brother and sister and aunts and uncles.  Who knew how they would react?  Did they even know about me?  Praying daily gave me confidence that I could handle the outcome. I searched out of love with a forgiving heart in hopes that I could lighten whatever burden birth mom carried with her over the years since our separation.  Would that love be reciprocated?  All I could control was saying another Hail Mary.

One week later, it came.  The letter (well email) arrived!  My kids and my husband huddled up in our bed while I read it first to myself and then to them.  Happily the letter was long and full of good news!

Yes, she was excited and wanted to meet in person soon!  Yes, she was relieved to know that I was alive and raised by great parents (lots of concern expressed for my parents).  She went on to explain a bit about her life and my birth brother and sister.  No, nobody in the family knew about me expect for her oldest sister.  How to break the news to everyone would take some thinking.  The letter explained my Irish roots and plus my birth dad's!  There was his name printed right there in black and white. Whoa.  While it was not general practice to name the father in those days, she really wanted to.  She marveled at our similarities, especially regarding painting and running, two of her passions. Emotionally, I kept myself together until she explained the day of my birth.

..." You were born right on time and absolutely beautiful!  You had very light reddish blond hair.  I saw you through a glass window.  It was hard to tear myself away from the window as I looked at you.  They would not let me hold you. It was hard to leave the hospital without you."

Still chokes me up.

More letters would follow, she assured me, and they did.  Over the next eight weeks, we got to know each other slowly, sharing long, thoughtful emails every other day.

Opening each letter was like a Christmas gift.