I’m Sorry You Won’t Hear I’m Sorry

By the middle of last week, I was not terribly pleasant to be around. I’m pretty sure if I was a cartoon you’d be able to see a cloud of angry clouds brewing around my head. I could feel the rumblings of this Terrible No Good, Awful Bad Mood when I snapped at my son as I was trying to hustle both kids out the door for school. He’d forgotten his water bottle, and of course, because Murphy’s an asshole who knew that we were already running behind, he also had no idea where it was. I may have stomped back up the stairs from my waiting spot at the door, mumbling about children leaving school stuff in the same spot, and not just tossing it everywhere, because my god, don’t they know I have to deal with finding it later?! I definitely slammed the cupboards closed hoping that it might alleviate the rising frustration I felt. It didn’t. There was a string of explicit words as my eye caught the time on the clock, and realized we had to be gone five minutes ago. When I finally found that water bottle, I filled it as angrily as I could possibly manage before thrusting it into the waiting hands of my son. Then, because my tantrum wasn’t fully complete, I ushered both the kids out of the house, still semi-ranting about the lost bottle that was now found.

I did apologize, moments later. Of course, because it’s just who he is, he smiled that bright smile and said that we all have bad days. We were okay now. Even if I felt sheepish. Saying sorry did make feel a little better, but it didn’t completely stave off the guilt for not being the better version of myself that morning.

The truth was, I was in a bit of an emotional haze, stumbling to gather my bearings. The afternoon prior, I’d received a message from someone telling me that someone that I trust and love was saying terrible things about me. Words like manipulative, and liar were used. Adding to the long list of not so lovely things this person was saying was a message that had been sent, one that had been written with the intention that I would never see it. I had burst into tears. The context of the insults didn’t even matter; this person had taken the words of my husband, twisted them, and laid the blame firmly on my shoulders,

Obviously, I was upset. Mostly though, I felt stupid. Incredibly stupid for trusting this person and thinking we were past this juvenile stage of our relationship.

In that moment of feeling stupid, I picked up the phone and called my husband. Indirectly, somehow, I blamed him for this person’s thoughtless behavior. The reason I’d simplified in my head made perfect sense. So I ran with it, ranting, and expressing, in between the pockets of anger, my hurt.

He hung up on me.

In that moment, I would have told you that I didn’t deserve it.

But I did. Because, it just wasn’t his fault.

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Image Credit: Leyram Odacrem

When he came home later, we’d argued discussed the situation. When we finally stopped baring our teeth at one another, we came to the same conclusion: There would be no apology. We could confront her with the expectation of no responsibility being taken, but would it solve the issue, or cause more problems? We knew from previous experiences that it might help, but that it would also add fuel to this person’s already burning bonfire.

Then, either because it was late, or because we were emotionally exhausted, we just left it at that. I thought the conversation had helped me move on, because I knew there wasn’t much else we could do. I would just have to accept, again, that there would be no apology. Just let this shit roll of your back, I repeated.

Roll, roll, roll.

Yet, I couldn’t. Because, as much as I wanted to just cooly pretend like her words meant nothing to me, they did. They hurt because they were harsh. Because I’m human. Because I care about this person, dearly. Because it fucking sucks when someone you loves says awful things about you, for no good reason.

After both the kids were in school, and I was tucked into my corner seat in the living room, a cup of black coffee in hand, I called my husband. This time I asked if he was busy. Through my tears, I told him how I wasn’t sure how to just let this go. I told him that it was unfair that I was expected to just let this roll off my back, because it was kind of A Big Deal. I told him it sucked that she said those things, and that I felt like it was a giant step backward in the relationship I’d been carefully constructing with her. He listened before he confessed,

“I’m upset too, Danielle. You did nothing wrong, and it makes me frustrated that my words were twisted because I chose to be nice. It makes me sad that she didn’t take responsibility, and instead just pawned it off on you. I’m mad at her, for you. I feel helpless, because what do you do when someone is clearly not going to listen? Do we just say them anyway? I just don’t know….I’m sorry she said those things about you. I really am.”

It didn’t make all the hurt magically disappear. The simple phrase, “I’m Sorry” opened up a space where I felt validated, heard, and understood. It made those cartoon storm clouds part, and allow for a ray of sun to come through. It made me realize that if I need to take some time to regain my focus, I can.  It made it much easier for me to just let that shit roll off my back. Because, with some people (especially family), it’s your only option. It made it easier for me to say to my husband, “No, it’s okay. It’s not your fault she said those things. Maybe she was just having a bad day?”

Because, we all have those bad days.

It Was A Yellow Day

“I circled the yellow one today,” my son mentioned as he wiped the table clean from dinner. He was talking about his School Agenda. In the corner of each date, there were three colors, red, yellow, and green. Each was meant to be a tool for the kids to describe how their day had been. We’re only a month into the school year, but he’d yet to circle anything other green. Even on the day he admitted he was struggling with understanding his teacher, and the amount of french they were using each day. That was still a green day.

“Oh? Yellow, huh? Why’s that?” I asked as I set a plate into the dishwasher.

“Well, Jake* said he’s not my friend anymore.”

I raised my eyebrows, and pursed my lips, half amused, because I remember those days in elementary. The ones where your BFF is so totally not your BFF anymore because she refused to play skip rope with you at recess and opted to play Marco Polo in the trees with someone else and it was like, obviously, the worst day ever.

As I rinsed another plate under the faucet, I prodded him a little further.

“Why did he say that?”

“We were playing Minecraft, and I wanted to use my imagination, and he wanted me to play a certain way, but I wanted to use my imagination, and he said I couldn’t.”

“Oh, he wanted to play your game a certain way?”

“Yeah, but I kept telling him that when you play pretend that you have to use your imagination, and that the game can change, and it’s okay. But he didn’t believe me.”  He had stopped wiping the table and was now playing with the nozzle on the bottle of cleaner. Obviously, he was bothered by this interaction, even if I knew by Monday morning, they’d likely race to high five or hug each other when they saw each other.

“That sucks. Did you guys just try playing a different game?”  I inquired, still absentmindedly loading the dishwasher. Keeping the conversation informal is the only way to keep his nerves at bay. The ones that cause him to freeze and shut down if he feels a sliver of anxiety.

“No, he just told me that he had this list of all his friends and that when someone isn’t his friend, he erases their name.”

“A grade one sociopath?” I muttered under my breath as my Mama Bear blood began to boil slightly. Then I remembered the book that my group of friends had created in grade 7, which aptly discussed my physical flaws, and a pact to not be my friend. Kids can be assholes. I shook my head and formed my next question, “How did that make you feel?” I turned to face him, resting my elbows on the edge of the sink.

His brown eyes darted about the room, until they found mine, and he sunk a little into the chair he was using to prop his body up to reach all the corners of the table that he’d likely wiped clean at least a dozen times in the last few minutes.

smilingpotato“It made me sad. I don’t have a list, Mama. I just have friends, and I like them, and I want to play fun games where you can use your imagination. I don’t like it when people are bossy. And Jake was bossy today.”

“I would have been sad too,” I comforted. ” What did you tell him when he said it?”

“I said that he wasn’t being nice, and to stop it. He didn’t stop, so I  said I didn’t want to play with him anymore, and walked away.”

I nodded, “That’s just like we talked about. Good job. You told him that he was hurting your feelings, and instead of fighting with him when he refused to stop, you walked away. That’s awesome!”

He smiled a half-hearted smile because this kid loves praise and knowing when he’s done something good. This time though,  my praise was meaningless; one of the kids he’d proudly announced was his very best, best friend on the first day of school had hurt his feelings and told him they couldn’t be friends. As an adult, the triviality of the situation wasn’t lost on me, but I also knew that in his world, it might be a worst case scenario for him, possibly next to losing his favourite toy forever.

As he brushed passed me to put the cleaner under the sink, I gently grabbed his shoulders and pulled him in for a hug.

“I know it sucks, Bubby. I bet you are hurt that Jake said that to you. But you know what? I bet on Monday it’ll be all figured out, and he’ll want to play Minecraft with you at recess.”

He shrugged his shoulders as he pulled away to face me. “Maybe. But, you know what? I won’t ever say something like that to a friend, ever. Because I know how much it hurts, and that’s just not nice to make someone sad.”

My eyes welled up but I smiled, “Right. I guess that’s a good lesson too. But, really, don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll be friends again soon.”

As he ran out of the kitchen, he flashed his brilliant smile, and then, as if to tell me our talk had mended his beautifully big heart just a touch, he gave me a thumbs up. I sighed as I returned to the pile of dishes that still had to be added to the dishwasher.

“Ah. Dishes or kids acting like assholes?” I pondered out loud, jokingly.  “Yeah, I’ll take dishes any day.”

 

*Name changed.

When It’s More Than Just Words

Words, I told myself, they are only words.

I don’t know if I really believed it. I don’t think I did. However, that didn’t stop me from continuing to repeating it over, and over again. This phrase met my anxiety when I tried to swallow the enormity of this step forward. These words danced around the terror I felt as I tried to comprehend how I would begin a conversation that has been paused  for over a decade. Nothing I wanted to say seemed good enough. Nothing I wrote seemed to convey how incredibly important all of those words were to me.

How important he is to me.

There was a disconnect; how I thought I would act when I was given this opportunity, and then, the shattering disappointment when I didn’t behave as such. For years, I was certain I would sit down immediately, and write my heart into words. It would be poetic, it would be easy. But, then, it just wasn’t like that. I’ve lived enough years to understand the complexity between the fantasies we create in our minds, and the actuality of reality. The music wasn’t going to swell as I put the stamp on the perfectly signed letter. The sun wasn’t going to be my inspiration. In fact, as it rose each day, it only served to taunt me. That was another morning, meaning another day that my son would not get a letter from me. One that he may be expecting because I had said I would write.

Words, right? They are only words. I just had to write those words for him. Even if it meant that I had to feel as though I was extending myself past the precipice, beyond the safety of familiarity. I had to be the one to stand on the edge, and wait for his signal to build that bridge between us.

Guilt enveloped me as I thought of his adoptive mother sitting down with him almost two years ago, just a nine year old then, and expecting him to write a letter to me.  Here I was, a twenty-nine year old, struggling with intense emotions, ones that I couldn’t even name because the simplicity of this task had more complexity wrapped up in it than any other task I’d been expected to complete in my entire life.

How does one introduce herself to her own son? Is it casual, and just expected, as though no time has past, and we just know each other’s places in our lives? Or, does it become a grand theatrical production? With a list of cast mates, a biography on where I’ve been for the last eleven years, and the things I’ve accomplished?  There didn’t seem to be a proper way to start a conversation with a child that you’ve only ever really known as a tiny baby that just entered the world, the same one that you kept safe and warm in your womb. In so many ways, I’m still stuck in that moment. I’ve refused to leave it behind, keeping it as close to the present as I can, because it’s all I’ve ever really had.

The space between that tiny baby and the young man he’s becoming is gaping. There are blanks that will likely never be filled. Now, what lays before me, is an opportunity to change the blank pages of the future. Maybe it’ll be one sided for now, until he’s ready to add his own story to the collective pages. For now, I can do my very best to make sure that he doesn’t lose anymore of me. He deserves to know that I’m here, that I always have been, even in the blankest pages, just waiting for a door to open.

So, I wrote that letter. It was awkward. It was painful for reasons I could explain and some that I just can’t. I judged every single word that I penned on that page. With every sentence, I felt the urge to erase and redo the letter. I craved perfection despite the promise I’d made to leave my writing and editing quirks at the door. The letter would be done in one take, because that would give me the ability to be thoughtful, but not so thoughtful that that I turn into a neurotic analytic version of myself. This wasn’t going to be my best work,. It was just a letter, to my son, the one I’ve been desperate to know for years.

As I slid my fingers across the folds of the paper, making it small enough to fit into an envelope, I realized that even though the words barely filled an entire page, I may have been wrong. Those modest words may have been my best work to date. They were the words that would branch the worlds between us. They were words that might be just what he wanted to hear, like they were for other adoptees. There was a elegance in the primitive execution of those words. There was not a single wasted sentence, because I didn’t want to take up space on that page that would waste our new precious time. The prose was choppy, and nothing like anything I usually write. I set my heart on that page, just for him, so he could see it, so he could know it. There was no need for pomp or circumstance.

The innocence of a mother softly whispering to her son, through the ease of words, how much she loves him.

 

So, There Was a Wedding

I think I said, “I remember why we did a small wedding” about eleventy billion times last weekend. I meant no offense to my beautiful sister-in-law who had spent the last two years planning her and her fiance’s big day, but oh my god, it was a lot of work. A lot of standing. A lot of discussing. A lot of early mornings. A lot of snow. A lot of “Oh no, we’re missing something!” Did I mention the snow? Because there was a lot of snow and of course, snow removal.

And a lot of wine. I wasn’t about to let that bottle of white wine go untouched when it was already uncorked at our table. What a tragic waste it would have been. I’m a team player, really.

Despite the mishaps, and setbacks (snow), when the day of the wedding arrived, the sun was beaming beautifully, just as it needed to do. The ceremony location was set up, and completely devoid of snow, ready for all the guests. Family lined the simplistic, and rustic DIY benches, eager with anticipation to hear the vows. The Padre, a personal friend of the groom was articulate, smooth, and delivered exceptionally as the officiant. The vows were written by both the bride and groom, complete with inside jokes, personal anecdotes, and promises of love beyond.  The bridesmaids were beautiful, and the groomsmen handsome. And the bride, oh, she was stunning.

Of course, there were these two.

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I may or may not have bawled when they came down the aisle, hand in hand. We’d practiced this for months leading up to the wedding, using our hallway in our house as a guide. We talked about standing with the wedding party and being exceptionally quiet, but reminding them that quiet didn’t mean not breathing, so please remember to breathe. They nailed it during the three different run through’s the night before, and we were optimistic that any meltdowns or anxiety could be staved off. When it came their turn to walk down the grassy aisle, they nailed it. I think my entire chest was overflowing with so much pride watching them.

It may have been the smallish bribe of a present that lured them toward the end of the aisle. Of course, Potato took this offer with intense seriousness. When his sister almost didn’t walk down the aisle, I was told he just took her hand and said, “Come on, I’ll walk with you. It’ll be okay.” Because, that’s what big brother’s do, right? Together, they walked down the aisle, she raced to my side the moment she saw me, and he stood with the groomsmen, and even walked out with the wedding party at the end. At the end of the ceremony when he finally found me, he declared,  “I was SO quiet! I get my present, right?!”

He was quite pleased with his Star Wars Light Sabre and Kristoff doll. His sister was pleased with her brand new Anna Baby Doll. Can you tell we’re still in the ZOMGFROZEN stage in our house?

The reception was beautiful, both in decorations (thank you very much, it was a long ten hours of setup, and worth it in the end), and the program hosted by my husband and a good friend of my now brother in law, was light, funny, and personal. For all the twitching I did as my husband rushed to complete his side of the program in the few days running up to the wedding, he really hit out of the park. His stories about his sister were just spot on, the perfect mix of her and him. The speeches by the parents were both funny, and my favorite was from my father in law who made me look at my daughter and think, “No, it can’t go by that fast.”  My husband looked handsome, because that’s generally what he does, and helped to make sure the whole reception ran smoothly for his little sister.

I say all of that, even though he yelled at me quite animatedly when we teamed up to play beer pong against his brother and cousin. Ahem.

Yes, there was beer pong. At any event with my husband’s family, some sort of drinking game always arises. Or someone talks like a pirate. Or dances with their shirt off. This time, someone may or may not have lost a tooth later in the night which may or may not have sent me into fits of giggles when I would ask him to smile. Beer Pong retired for the evening after that incident. Oddly enough.

Family gatherings with my in-laws are most definitely never dull.

Of course, there was dancing and a cake made with love. There were children running about, my own excitedly telling me how happy they were to be playing with “cousins”. There were relatives that I haven’t seen for years, and great conversations about where everyone is in their life. There was love wrapping every single person up on that day. It was such a perfect way to start their lives together as partners in crime, surrounded by love and laughter.

Here’s to a hundred years of happiness to the newlyweds.

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Image Credit: Lorelei Hoffarth Photography

Talking About Teen Pregnancy and Coercion, As One Does

On Friday morning, at BlogHer in San Jose, I saw Liz Henry across the room. She’s been someone I’ve followed on Twitter and Facebook for some time. I may or may not have been messaging her regularly to make sure she was still coming to San Jose, because I absolutely had to have a fangirl moment with her, awkward or not. So when I saw her, I gathered up all of my introverted self, and excused me from the comfortable group of women I was travelling with, and marched myself right into her personal bubble:

“I saw your resting bitch face from across the room, and I just knew that was my person!” I gushed awkwardly directly to an almost stranger’s face.

Of course, Liz shares a similar sense of humor, and she lit up, while dropping a few f-bombs in my direction.  We giggled to ourselves, and found ourselves a table among the hundred or so other attendees. Mid bite, she leaned over and said, “What are we going to do about getting you published elsewhere?”

I nearly choked on my eggs.

What came from that conversation besides an amazing feeling of knowing there was someone out there who believed in my writing, and wanted to mentor me in getting it further beyond just this space, was a beautiful, f-bomb laced friendship. And a sounding board. The kind that I could send things to and say, “Oh I was thinking I’d just put this on my blog” with her response being, blunt and honest, “Uh, no. Submit it. Tighten it, but submit it.”

I didn’t send her this piece. I actually, for some reason, believed it didn’t need a second set of eyes. When I heard back just hours later from an editor at XOjane, I was floored. They wanted to publish my piece. They liked it. They also wanted to pay me for it.  I told only my husband about it, because I was still worried that maybe they’d come back and go, “Uhhh, on second thought, we don’t want it anymore.”

Until I saw my picture on my Facebook feed today. Pregnant, 17 year old me. The girl that I write about adoption, and all the mess it can entail, for. The girl who felt she had no choice because everyone around her took it from her. There she was, that beautiful girl, in front of me with the bold headline:

I Was A Teen Mom Who Was Coerced Into Giving My Child Up For Adoption.  

My heart stopped for a second, while my eyes became wet with tears.

It’s taken more than a decade, but we’ve found our voice. Hopefully, that voice helps others understand the importance of making sure that women are given actual choices, and not demands. Maybe that voice will help people understand that adoption isn’t a pristine practice, and at the very best of times, even in the good adoptions, it’s a murky. Perhaps my story will cause even one parent to pause before pulling the trigger with their daughter, and actually investigate the options available, including the organizations that are hosting said options. Ideally, all of those things would happen.

In the meantime, you can head over and see the piece in it’s fully glory. Share it, Tweet it, email it. I think it’s an important story, not because it’s my own because, I know that I’m not the only woman who was cornered and forced to believe she had no other option. And that’s not good enough.