Posted in Essay, find yourself, General Interest, grief, Guest Writer, memoir, Mental Health

The Black Book

These were my mother’s words, written by her hand, words describing her loneliness, her longing for her new husband. What I was reading felt so private, so sacred, but it was also about me, my story, mine. I closed it quickly, feeling shame, and put it back in the box of photos my mother had handed me – the photos of my great-grandparents and grandparents and parents as children that she was going to throw away if I didn’t want them. She had incurable cancer and was cleaning out closets, or maybe her life. When I left a few days later, the box of photos was in the back of the car sans the small black journal.

fs_717690-e1407185075778Cecilia and Radney grew up in the same southeast corner of town, if we consider 17 and 18 grown up. She lived a block from the railroad where her father worked as a boiler maker’s helper in the roundhouse. This was the Polish neighborhood where she attended St. Stanislaus Catholic church with masses in Latin and Polish, and went to the Catholic school. He lived on the outskirts of town, on the few acres his father farmed, along with being an inspection supervisor at Motor Shaft. Radney played football at the public high school he attended. His family didn’t go to church, until this incident led his mother to religion at the Baptist church.

They met at the soda fountain at Johnson’s Drug Store. Cecilia worked there after she graduated from 8th grade, as high as Catholic education went for girls of her station in their town in 1940. She scooped ice cream behind the counter and Radney would stop there to have a soda on his long walk home from high school. It seems she (being a normal 17 year old girl) wanted love, and he (being a normal 16 year old boy) wanted sex. She fell in love and he got lucky. Sometime in adulthood I realized that they got married in February and I was born in August. He dropped out of high school so he could support his new family but was drafted into the army soon after I was born. We moved into to her parent’s home, then his parent’s home.

fs_717682-e1407185429741I don’t know anything about their wedding. When I would ask about her growing up years, my mother would get a strange look on her face, as if to ask why I would expect her to think about things that happened so long ago. Maybe her mind wouldn’t let her reach back into those years, maybe she thought it irrelevant. I knitted together a piece of detail from here and a piece of detail from there; not from stories they could have told, but public facts, printed on things like birth certificates and marriage licenses. Maybe that is why I longed to read what was written in that black book, to examine the personal side and analyze how it happened to me.

The family never talked about that year but it must have been a tough one. In 1943 a 17 year old Catholic girl didn’t date a 16 year old non-Catholic boy. Everyone knew Catholics were to marry Catholics. And to get pregnant and have to get married was unthinkable. Neighbors whispered and counted on their fingers. Oh, the shame that was heaped upon them. My chest tightens when I think about the conversations that took place when my grandparents were told, and when siblings found out. Did the Polish speaking parents and the English speaking parents meet to discuss options? Who planned the wedding and what was it like? Did they really love each other; did either feel trapped?

============

At some point I learned shame. They didn’t sit me down and teach it to me; I learned it through osmosis. Shame was so much a part of my being that I couldn’t name it until some thirty years later. People said I was a shy child, but shame can look like shyness when worn by a child. Those who know shame understand the hung head and the hiding behind trees instead of joining in the play. They didn’t know they were teaching me shame. My grandmas and aunts and cousins taught me their love as I lived among them, and my parents taught me their shame. For the first half of my life, the shame was stronger than the love.

They were good enough parents, they worked hard to provide for us and we had fun times as I was growing up. But early on when I was four and my father returned from the army and my mother became pregnant again, it tore open some wound in him. He took it out on us. If she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant, if I wouldn’t have been born, he wouldn’t have been trapped. I heard the screaming and hateful words; I felt the bruised and bloody body. He did unspeakable things and it was my fault. I learned to hang my head and hide, so no one would see my shame.

===============

Have you noticed when we carry something, like shame, for a long time, it becomes how we think about ourselves? We are what it is. I remember when I realized my name didn’t have to be Shame. It wasn’t a light bulb going off, but a gradual reprogramming in how my neurons fire. I began to realize that I wasn’t responsible for my own conception. Everyone else knew it and I knew other people weren’t able to conceive themselves, but I had to realize it about myself. It wasn’t my fault I was conceived. It wasn’t my shame so I could come out of hiding.

My place in the world became brighter and lighter, but my relationship with my parents is still murky. I gave up the anger at being hurt and not being protected, and I had a relationship with both until they died. But something is still missing. We couldn’t talk about it so I never heard their remorse or told them I forgave them. When I was leaving after my last two visits with my dying mother, when we both knew it could be the last visit, my mother stared deep within my eyes for several minutes. I waited for her to ask what she needed to know; I wanted to tell her I forgave her for what happened. I was stuck between wanting resolution, but also fearful that the memories of the incidents were so deeply buried in her that I would be opening a Pandora’s box when she was dying and I was leaving. I hugged her and told her she had been a good mother. She said she hoped so.

===================

fs_1111456How complex our minds are, that balance adult concerns on top of childhood memories and decisions. When I thought like a child, I believed my parents loved me because they told me so. But I also learned to fear love. I remember being at Grandma’s Baptist Sunday School when I was maybe 5. We were lined up in two rows and were led in singing “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. I am weak and he is strong…” I couldn’t sing it; I was mute. If my parent could love me and hurt me, I didn’t want any part of accepting the love of the even stronger Jesus.

After my mother’s death, I asked her husband if he knew where the black diary would be. He looked hard and wasn’t able to find it. She must have burned her words. I was heartbroken because I was hoping to know her better and maybe learn that she really did want me and love me. I was hoping her words would help me in my mental exercises of sorting out childhood decisions using my adult reasoning.

I was on my own to figure it out, but that is okay. I don’t feel bitterness toward my parents because I believe they loved me as best they could. But I have also decided I don’t need to let them define if I am loveable. I know who I am and know I belong at the table.

© 2014, text and all photographs, Patricia Bailey, All rights reserved

Sun Road 287PATRICIA BAILEY (A New Day: Living Life Almost Gracefully) ~ I retired from doing things I loved; teaching university students, directing a university major that was growing and meeting the learning needs of both traditional age and returning students, and helping people heal as a mental health therapist. In retirement I have found new and renewed activities that I love; photography, blogging, traveling, and quilting. It is important for me to have a purpose for my living, and my photography and blogging fulfill my need to touch and enrich the lives of others in a way that is healing and to help people grow and develop. Along the way I am drawing on the knowledge gained from getting a Masters in Social Work and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. I am also continuing to learn about myself as I am writing and about the world as I view it through my lens. You can visit my blog at http://imissmetoo.me/

Posted in Culture/History, Essay, General Interest, Priscilla Galasso

Model Behavior

I don’t have a television, so I don’t see a lot of commercials. Still, I find NBA games on the internet and catch a few ads in the process. There’s one for a fried chicken franchise that particularly bothers me. Here’s the set-up: two teenaged kids have made a rare venture out of their rooms to join their parents for dinner. They are still plugged into their media devices and never speak or make eye contact with the camera or their parents. The African-American family sits in the living room with a bucket of chicken on the coffee table. Mom & Dad tell the camera that the chicken is the occasion for them to have this special “family” experience. Dad jokes that if the batteries run down, they might actually have a conversation.

 Sigh. Is this an accurate snapshot of our current culture? Rewind about 100 years.

 I’m reading a book called Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. The author describes her life in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her mother had acquired land as a homesteader, married and raised 6 kids on the farm. Her sisters struggled to become educated and get jobs as school teachers in local one-room schoolhouses. One particularly brutal winter, their parents found it more sensible to drop off the 18-year-old daughter, the teacher, with the two younger sisters at school and let them stay there during the week instead of transporting them back and forth through the snow drifts by horse-drawn wagon. The week turned into months. Fresh supplies were delivered every week, but these 3 young ladies spent that winter relying on their own resourcefulness for their daily life — with no electricity, simply a coal-burning furnace in the basement and a woodstove with one burner in the classroom. How is that possible? I’m sure that life was one that their parents had modeled for years.

 Compare these two snapshots and imagine the changes that have swept through our country. What has “adult living” become? What do we model for our children these days? What skills are being delegated to machines or service companies or ‘experts’ that used to be more universal and personal? Besides modeling tasking skills, how do we model social and moral skills in this decade?

 When more families were farming, children grew up alongside their parents and were incorporated into communal activities. They helped milk the cows, tend the garden, and make the food and clothing they all needed to live. In the 50s, when more families lived in cities and suburbs, Dad would drive off in the morning and work out of sight of his kids all day while Mom would turn on appliances to do the chores around home. The kids learned consumerism. Then the Moms left the house and went into the workforce leaving the kids in daycare. In 1992, someone came up with “Take Your Daughters To Work Day”. That was expanded to include boys a decade later. What was first perceived as a Feminist issue of role modeling was recognized as a parenting void: children had no clue how adults spent their work days.

Musing about these changes made me consider what my own children had learned from my husband and me. My daughter made a calligraphy sign when she was in High School: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence B. Kelland) She was 23 when her father died. What we intended to model and what she actually learned are most likely two different things. One thing I do know. She did learn to cook her own chicken.

joy 2

© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Posted in Essay, General Interest, Guest Writer, memoir

Some Thoughts on Adoption

Editorial Note: In April 2013, John Nooney wrote a series on his adoption. We think his message is an important one and he agreed to cut the 12,000 word feature down to 1,000 words to accommodate the needs of this site, a frankly heroic effort and something for which we are most appreciative. After reading this post, you may wish to read the longer piece on John’s blog HERE and we encourage you to do so. The details are interesting and thought-provoking.

hands-together-871294932977UgO“Have you found your birth-mother?” is, more often than not, the first thing people ask me when I mention I am an adopted child.

Think about that.

When you share information about yourself, it is the first response that matters most; the first reply has the biggest emotional impact.

So, if the first response to news of adoption is wanting to know if you’ve found your birth-mother (often stated as Real Mother), one begins to feel they need to seek her out.

People ask this particular question, breathless with excited anticipation of an affirmative answer — they’re wanting a feel good story, with a big, bold headline: “Adopted Child Reunited With Real Mother!”

The question ends up making me feel as if the asker somehow views my adoptive parents (the people I think of as my only parents) as being inferior to Real Parents. It’s like they imagine I was kidnapped from my Real Mother, raised by people pretending to be my parents, and that I need to be rescued and returned to The Real Parents.

It’s insane.

And, it’s hurtful.

I’ve not spent much time thinking about my birth-parents. Sure, I’m curious what they look like, what their story is, and, more importantly, what their medical history is, so I know what to watch for. Other than that, I have little interest in them. Not for bad reasons — I don’t hate them for giving me up for adoption. I think my birth-mother made the best choice she knew how to make at the time. When people want to know if I’ve sought her out, I begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Am I supposed to find her? Is there supposed to be a yearning for my Real Mother’s loving arms?

They say mothers have an unbreakable bond with the child they carried in their womb, that they’d do anything to protect that child. Am I, as the child in the womb, supposed to have that same unbreakable bond?

I don’t feel that bond.

I thought of searching, but when I began to think about the consequences of finding my birth-mother, I lost interest. What if she was married to a billionaire? Would I then hate my middle-class roots? What if she turned out to be a meth-addicted prostitute? How would I feel then? Knowledge can be dangerous. I was scared of what I might find — and what I might or might not feel.

I’ve spent many helpful hours in therapy over the years, though I’ve left several therapists because they’ve tried to convince me that my issues started by being abandoned by my birth-mother; that even though I was newborn, I was able to sense her abandoning of me, and its impact is at the root of many of my issues.

One thing I have absolutely no doubt about: I do not feel that my birth mother abandoned me.

We don’t know what communication passes between mother and fetus —  though we often surmise. Perhaps because giving up a child is such a gut-wrenching decision for a mother, the trauma she feels imprints itself on her unborn child, and, perhaps, leaves some children with a sense of an emotional abandonment

Maybe there is a reverse that is also true: maybe a mother can tell her unborn child that it is being given up for the best reasons, that the decision she is making is one made out of an unimaginable love — a love that wants her child to have a home better than the one she can provide. And, maybe, communicating that love can leave an adopted child feeling that it hasn’t been abandoned, but that it is a child, being given as a gift — a great gift.

Sentimental claptrap? Maybe.

Our society runs on the belief of individuality. We take pride that we’re all different, that everyone’s story is not the same. Yet, we’ll try to claim that every adopted child should feel abandoned? It makes no sense. We are either all different, with different stories, or we’re not.

Growing up, my mother told me a story:
“There was a man and a woman who loved each other very much. They wanted to have a family, but, unfortunately they couldn’t have kids. One day, they got a phone call — there was a young woman who was having a baby, but, she was young, and was struggling to make ends meet. She wanted her baby to have a better home than she was able to give him. She knew that the man and woman would give her baby a loving home. So, the man and woman got on a plane, and, when they came home, they had the young girl’s baby with them. They were very happy to have him, and they loved him very much. There are many kids in this world who live in homes where they aren’t loved or wanted,” my mom would say, “and adopted children are special: they’re wanted very much.”

Mom would ask if I knew who the man and woman were, and I’d say “you and dad”.  It was a story I liked to told, and would often ask to hear it.  I especially liked the ending: they were happy to have him; they loved him.
Adoption gives birth to thoughts and feelings across the emotional spectrum: from feelings of profound love, to feelings of despair and abandonment. Mixed in with those feelings, at least for me, is a sense of loyalty to the people who adopted me, who opened their hearts and home to me. Along with that sense of loyalty goes a sense of obligation: to believe that adoption is ok, that it’s a wonderful, loving thing. I grew up in an environment that felt loving, so it was something I never questioned.

I’m adopted, but it doesn’t change the fact that my family is as much a family as anyone else’s family.  We’ve managed to look past the wounds and the scars that all families accumulate over the years. I like to think that in spite of all the pain and hurt, that when we look at each other, we see the love, see the strength of a love that’s been tested and that still holds us together.

This is my telling of one person’s adoption: mine. I am in no way trying to say that my words apply to all adopted children. My opinions on adoption may be different than yours — and, that’s ok. Adoption, just like any other family issue, is unique to each individual and each family. Please do not interpret my words as a generalization of the experiences of all adopted children. This is my tale, my story, my thoughts.  

– John Nooney

(c) 2013, feature article, John Nooney, All rights reserved
Photo credit ~ Vera Kratochvil, Public Domain Pictures.net

unnamed-3JOHN NOONEY (Johnbalaya) ~ lives in Aurora, Colorado with his partner of thirteen years, his ninety-year-old mother and their three dogs.
Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Disability, Guest Writer, Robert Clark Young

Escape from the Nursing Home

“Your mother has escaped from the facility,” said the nurse on the phone.

file9591250747852I was still in Sacramento. I had just thrown my suitcase into the trunk of my car, and I had wanted to call the nursing home to check on my mom and her progress in physical therapy, one last time before I left for San Diego.

“Escaped? What do you mean, escaped?”

“Nobody knows where she is, sir.”

“How is that possible?”

“It looks like she just got out of her wheelchair and walked straight out the front door, past the front desk, when the receptionist was away. We’ve called the police,” the nurse assured me.

“What did you tell them? To look for an eighty-year-old woman in a hospital gown, pushing an I.V. pole?”

“They’ll find her, Mr. Young.”

“She was supposed to go home tomorrow.”

“I guess she couldn’t wait that long.” The nurse laughed. When my silence conveyed that this wasn’t funny, she said, “Don’t worry, sir. Residents escape from here all the time. We almost always get them back.”

“She has aphasia. Do you know what that is? She can’t speak clearly, because of her stroke. She can’t tell anybody who she is or where she lives. What if she gets hit by a car?”

“We’re not liable, Mr. Young.”

“What?”

“Your father signed our waiver form, which releases us from liability for bed sores, falls, and unauthorized self-release from our facility. It’s a condition of admittance.”

“This is unbelievable. I was just about to drive down to San Diego to help my dad bring her home and start caring for her.”

“You’re aware that she’s going to need twenty-four-hour supervision in your home, aren’t you? Otherwise she might start walking around, fall down, or even try to escape from your house in the middle of the night.”

“If your entire nursing staff can’t supervise her, how in the world are my father and me supposed to do it?”

She lowered her voice. “I took care of my own mother at home for ten years, sir. I thought I was going to go completely out of my mind.”

I drove toward San Diego with my heart dropping through my chest and stomach. I had never known this much stress in all my life, not knowing where my mother was or what was happening to her. Or what would happen once we found her and brought her home. A perpetual state of emergency was becoming the most powerful reality of my life. I didn’t yet understand that accepting a continuing sense of uncertainty would become my greatest source of strength.

When I called the nursing home from two hundred miles down the road, they had found my mom. She had never made it out of the parking lot. She was walking between the cars and the SUVs, too short to be seen, until a driver just avoided striking her.

When I reached San Diego it was dark, but I went directly to the nursing home. As I hurried into my mother’s room, she glanced up at me from bed and, with the lucidity that aphasiacs exhibit when they’re surprised, she said, “Oh, it’s my son. Let’s go home now.”

I bent over to kiss her on the temple. “Mom, how are you feeling?”
“Window face,” she said, “hotel hotel hotel—and oil.” For the rest of the visit, as I tried talking to her, she replied with her enthusiastic, broken aphasia.

Sharing the room was an elderly man with a group of Mexican women sitting around his bed. My mother is Mexican, but I don’t look Mexican, so they felt free to talk about my mom in Spanish:

“That poor old woman is crazy.”

“She said she has a boat waiting for her outside. She has Alzheimer’s.”

“She ran away today. They ought to lock her up in a closet. She’ll try to walk across the freeway.”

“It’s a shame. I’m glad we don’t have that in our family.”

“It’s hereditary. Her whole family will turn out that way someday, including all of her children and grandchildren.”

Rage blackened my mind so quickly that, for a moment, I was dizzy. Although I’d never heard the word aphasia before my mom’s stroke, I was now outraged for the rights of all the aphasic people of the world, for their right to express their needs, for their right to be understood, for their right not to be falsely labeled.

Yes, my mother’s ability to process and produce language had been compromised, but she knew exactly what she was trying to say, and she could understand most of what other people were saying. She was not a crazy person, nor did she have Alzheimer’s, nor was she “demented.”

I waited until the women had left and then I kissed my mother again and told her not to worry about anything people said. She nodded with relief. “In oil, in oil. It is their face, it is their windows.”

Her spirit—the same spirit that had led her to escape from a nursing home that she did not like—was intact.
The next morning, my father and I came to take her home. Together, we cared for her for four months, until my dad had a stroke and was paralyzed on the right side. Now I had two infirm seniors on my hands.

I cared for my mom for 45 months, until she passed away in May, 2012. I continue to care for my dad every day. I’ve been a caregiver in my parents’ home for 61 months now. I’m proud that my parents have been able to live in dignity and freedom in their own home, without being institutionalized. This is the most important, rewarding, and illuminating work that I have ever done.

Any person with a compassionate heart can learn to be a caregiver. This means that you can do it too.

– Robert Clark Young

© 2013, article and portrait (below), Robert Clark Young, All rights reserved
Photo credit ~ courtesy of morgueFile

RCYoungROBERT CLARK YOUNG ~ is a guest writer on Into the Bardo. He has worked as a caregiver in his parents’ home since 2008. “Escape from the Nursing Home” is excerpted from his book, THE SURVIVOR: How to Deal With Your Aging Parents, While Enriching Your Own Life. The book seeks a publisher.  Robert’s other books are One of the Guys and Thank You for Keeping Me Sober. Visit his eldercare website  HERE. His Amazon page is HERE.

Editorial Note (Jamie Dedes): In addition to being a caretaker, Robert is an accomplished novelist, writer, and editor. I first “met” Robert several years ago when he was the creative nonfiction editor for an online literary magazine. In submitting his bio to us, he was understated about his mission, which is an important one.  He notes on Amazon:

“According to AARP, 61% of family care providers are women, with the typical caregiver being a 46-year-old female who is caring for one or both parents. Of the 39% of caregivers who are men, a majority are husbands of senior women, rather than sons. This gender imbalance in eldercare is one of the things we need to work to change.

“I’m unusual in being a male caregiver. One of the goals of this book is to help people understand that men can–and should–become nurturers.

“But my greatest wish is that this book will become a vital lifeline to everyone who, overnight, must face what first appears to be the devastating challenge of eldercare–a challenge that opens the way to unexpected growth and fulfillment for the caregiver. There is nothing to fear in eldercare. There is only joy, growth, and love.”

Posted in Essay, Jamie Dedes, memoir, Poems/Poetry

EMPTY NEST PART II: Given Wings

seagull-and-chicksThis is why you were born, to pass me by,
DNA of our ancestors, it’s your turn to fly,
to be the center, the triumph, the culmination.

Though not quite zero at bone and marrow, you ~
are a merry new story, adhering to Conrad’s dictum,
with shocks and surprises in every line and chapter.

Your book, your life, your metaphor, wearing truth
as your dermis, seeking tears, not blood, and
like all good art you changed me for the better,

having read you, I’ll never be the same. So time,
My Heart, time now to fly, to leave this nest,
the generations on which you stand, this is why
you were born, now it’s your turn to fly …

Note: Conrad’s dictum is that the writer’s first responsibility is to help the reader see.

The great American novelist and educator, Toni Morrison, once wrote that it is the job of parents to provide their children both safe harbor and wings. This poem was written some time ago to convince myself, not my son. He did what son’s naturally do.

Time has seen our roles reverse in some ways. My son has the most generous heart and has had my back for thirteen years, ushering me to my pulmonologist/critical care specialist and through sundry procedures and surgeries (always my advocate), moving me to new digs each time I have to downsize, taking me home with him when I couldn’t be left alone, keeping me in computers and tech toys. Yet, our children are our children. As Naomi said yesterday in Part I, “. . .  long after they’ve gone gray, long after they are elderly orphans…they will still be our babies. “

From my vantage point as my mother’s daughter and my son’s mother, I’ve learned that making family is just another kind of love story, one in which love is not circumscribed. As we pass this love along to succeeding generations, it grows in depth and breadth. We are better people for it and the whole world becomes a better place. In the end, even mom’s are given wings and the nest in never truly empty when love remains to fill in the spaces.

– Jamie Dedes

© 2013, poem, essay, and photos below, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Photo credit ~ Seagull and Chicks by George Hodan, Public Domain Photographs.net; portait and family photos below are under copyright as well. Please be respectful.

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 19.54MomJAMIE DEDES is a poet and the founder of Into the Bardo. She is a former freelance feature writer and columnist whose topic specialties were employment, vocational training, and business. She finds the blessing of medical retirement to be opportunity to play: to indulge in writing poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction.

Jamie’s primary playground is The Poet by Day, the journey in poem (formerly Musing by Moonlight) where at any time you can read five of her most recent poems along with a growing collection of Sunday posts on poetry, poets, and writers.  She finds inspiration everywhere and in everyone. Her work is informed by the values of the multicultural/multiracial environment and classical Eastern and Roman Christianity in which she was raised as well as by a more recent introduction to Buddhism. Jamie has an abiding faith in the value of a life of the mind and spirit to heal and in the inestimable value of art and music, poetry and writing as spiritual practice.