Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Personal Becomes The Political


Okay, soooo the other day I was a small petting zoo with my kids. The kids were having a fantastic time petting the baby goats when a little friend came over to where Eliza and I were standing. She is very excited, grabs Eliza’s hand and says, “Do you know you can adopt a baby goat here!”

Eliza looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, proudly,  “I adopted too, right mommy? Like a baby goat!”

I smiled…and my heart sank just a bit. (No actually, not like a goat at all.)

She and her friend laughed, and off they skipped to see if they could find out more about adopting a goat.

I was left wondering how long would she laugh at this? Being adopted like a farm animal…Maybe always, maybe not….

“It’s only a word for God Sake!” I can hear it now.  That would have been me a few years back as well.

I always promised myself I wouldn’t become one of those crazy, over the top, annoying, politically correct parents.  I think we should all laugh more, not take others or ourselves too seriously. Life is funny, people are strange. Who cares if someone says adopt a pet, a goat, a dog? Really? What does it matter? Oh boy, I guess it now matters to me.

The personal becomes the political.

My child is not a pet or a zoo animal.  “Adopting” a goat or a dog (and I know there are dog lovers out there) is not the same. When did society switch from saying, “help us sponsor a goat” or “Come and get a pet from the shelter today? Is everything in the world worthy of the word adoption? Did we actually think we were insulting the animals to use the words sponsor, bought or get? (Hush! Fluffy might hear you!).

We are not animals and, surprise, dogs are not humans!  Do we really think dogs or goats know what words we use?  No, they don’t, but children do.

Words matter. A few weeks back I was at a restaurant with my older daughter. The waitress brought me my soup but forgot a spoon, so when she came over and asked how the soup was I said, “I don’t know you forgot to get me a spoon.”

She threw her head back, laughed and in a very loud voice exclaimed, “OH MY GOD I am soooooooooo RETARDED!!”

My daughter and I both sort of sat there in shock.  “Wow,” I thought, “What if my child had Down syndrome or some other cognitive disability and I was sitting there hearing that?”

The personal becomes the political. Here is a great article that was on NPR about this very subject, titled, “Rethinking Retarded: Should It Leave The Lexicon?” (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112479383).

Read it, it will make you think.

I am not perfect; I put my foot in my mouth constantly. I don’t want to be one of those people that everyone has to be extra cautious around, or for people to think I am easily offended. I am not.  We all need to laugh at ourselves and the politically correct movement has gone over the top in many ways (which is why Borat was such an awesome film!).

I am not going to hold it against someone when they say, “Oh, look, its adoption day at the animal shelter” but I know, inside I will wince a little bit.  I guess what I am saying is: words count. What we say influences how we think and how others think. So just try and choose wisely, I know I will.

The personal is the political. 

A Letter To my Daughter’s Birth Mother

Two stories this past week have caught my eye, and have wreaked havoc on my heart. One from Guatemala about a toddler that was kidnapped from her mother, then left at an adoption agency, where she was placed with a family from the U.S.A  who adopted her.  This happened four years ago. The couple involved was not involved in the black market part of the adoption, they went through what they thought was all the right channels to adopt their daughter. Now a Guatemalan judge has ordered the now six year old to be returned to her biological mother.  (http://www.adoptivefamiliescircle.com/groups/topic/Guatemala_Judge_Orders_US_Couple_to_Return_Child/)

Devastating for everyone.  As a mother I would go to the ends of the earth to find my child if he/she was kidnapped.  I can’t imagine the pain, the agony of losing a child.  However, as an adoptive parent I can’t imagine the other scenario either. Someone walking into my house and telling me to give up my daughter? Never.

The other similar story I just saw was featured on the Today Show and will air on Dateline tonight,

.  http://insidedateline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/17/7397480-aug-19-a-fathers-fight-the-day-she-disappeared).

This young man was allegedly duped by attorneys and his girlfriend into giving up his infant daughter for adoption. She was placed with a family almost three years ago. The biological father has been fighting to get her back. Again, devastation for all involved. I am not sure I can watch it.

These types of stories aren’t new.  They surface every once in a while, and remain in the heart and mind of every adoptive parent, “What if…” There is no right answer here, nothing good will come out of these situations.  Everyone will end up hurt and damaged.

I have no answers for these people only tears. I look at my sweet girl, her chubby hands wrapped around her sister’s as they walk in the park, her sandy legs as she runs on the beach with her brothers, her tiny body snuggled in between me and my husband as we sleep.  What would I do?  My brain fills with fear and freezes. “Don’t go there,” it whispers. So I don’t. I hold her tight, I fill her with love, and I pray.

Letter to My Child’s Birth Mother:

I am not frightened of many things. I can swat a spider, stand in the middle of a thunderstorm and admire its beauty, I don’t believe in ghosts or superstitions, or think that the world is going to end tomorrow, but I do fear you. Your never-ending presence hovering in the background of my life. You are neither completely present nor ever far enough away.

In the beginning I did not fear you. I felt badly for you, envisioning you as a young, confused girl, unable to care for your child due to culture or poverty or death. It was easy to include you in conversations in my head. There was space for you then in my heart. But as my love for my child took shape and raced away on the wings of forever, the space for you in my heart became smaller, and harder, and unforgiving. We do not need you, I thought.

Perhaps if I had a face; a story to tell, something to make you more real; flaws to point out, blemishes to criticize, missteps to see, but there are none. I am left with a sense of ethereal perfection. A being I cannot challenge, cannot disparage. You will always be flawless, the ideal mother. I however can be touched, ridiculed, a backdrop for anger and disappointment. You are like a supreme spirit, faultless and unblemished by reality.

I can’t stand the ever-present veil of you. I want to exorcise you, banishing you forever with some secret, magical chant, but it would be pointless. You would seep back in, through the cracks of the windows, quiet, determined. I must somehow learn to accept you, to feel at peace with you.

I understand now for the first time the desire of parents to deny a child’s adoption. To deny the presence of you. To say, she is only ours, she never belonged elsewhere. I am told I should honor you, embrace you, hold you up on this pedestal of love and acceptance, but I struggle. What if? What if she loves you? What if she wants you? The pain will be too great. I couldn’t bear it.

I pretend to accept. I try to diminish you by being nonchalant, seemingly unaffected by your existence, but the shroud of self-deceit is thin. I dread the day she asks for you, the day she wants to find you. I understand the need to know, the desire to find out, but I fear it too. I know she needs knowledge, to ask questions, discover and explore. It hurts that I am not enough. It is the hurt that drives the fear, gives it strength. I want to be the one that makes her whole, but she is not complete without you.

I am a woman torn in half. The edges of my soul are jagged and sharp, ready to fight and protect. I do not want to speak of you, acknowledge your reality through voice. Like a warrior of yesteryear, I am ready to defend. She is mine. I love her. I care for her. I have nourished her soul, her essence. I will not allow you to have any part of her, no matter how small…and yet, how can I not? It is not mine to decide. You are a part of her already. Present from the start.

I will get there, do not despair. I am a mother. I will do what is right for her, as you did. As mothers do. I will say the words out loud while I work on them in my soul. I will open that space in my heart, little by little and let you back in. I will hold my breath and squeeze her hand and I will let go even as I hold on. For that is the job of mothers, those we know and those we do not. Those we see, touch, hurt and love and those we only dream of doing such things to. I hope that when the time comes, and she needs you, wants you, asks for you I have the strength and the grace to rise above the fear, as you did, and give her what she needs the most, a beginning. A place to start that complicated journey towards truth, knowledge and timeless love. I will give her a mother’s heart and soul to carry with her, and to come back to.

Anne Cavanaugh-Sawan, 2011

Two Years Bigger, Two Years Smaller

My two youngest boys, Harry (10) and Teddy (8) play pretty well together, when they aren’t busy fighting.  I love watching them on the beach collecting crabs, or  building a castle for their plastic army guys, challenging each other on the trampoline in the backyard, or creating a whole universe with Legos. I love hearing them in the backseat of the car, talking and laughing as they discuss which world record they are going to try to beat. I find their imaginations fascinating, their stories endless.  I think even the vilified video games supply a type of creativity, as they insert themselves into another world and battle fierce enemies together.

I often marvel at the connection my two boys have…and I hope they always have it. They are VERY different kids, and I often think that if they weren’t brothers and they just happened to meet in school or camp, they might not choose to hang out with one another.  Harry tends to be more sporty and active, Teddy more scientific and bookish, and together they just shine.  I think they each bring out certain aspects in each other, and that if they didn’t have one another these hidden pieces may not ever be given a chance to grow and develop. I often think how lucky they are to have the chance to be friends with someone who doesn’t necessarily think in the same ways or share all the same interests. What a great gift, siblings…

Harry and Teddy share a room, and for the first time the other night Harry said he was ready for his own room. He said, he didn’t want anymore Star Wars stuff on his walls, just sports stuff.  Teddy still wants Star Wars. Now, we don’t have a spare room so he isn’t going anywhere, and after an argument of some proportion, they went to sleep, all forgotten the next day. But I was left with a touch of sadness.  Time is marching on and the short space of two years between them will seem large for a while.  Harry will be in middle school in another year, and at this young age that difference seems huge.  Sometimes I wish could stop it, freeze them where they are, but then I would never know the great adventures they are going to have together as they grow up, and I am sure there will be many…

So here is my story for them:

TWO YEARS BIGGER, TWO YEARS SMALLER

Harry and Teddy were brothers.

Harry was two years bigger and Teddy was two years smaller.

But they weren’t just brothers. Oh no, they were really much, much, more…

They were fierce pirates sailing over the stormy seas, always ready with their mighty swords to avenge their lost mates.

They were courageous astronauts with super, fantastic, ultrasonic, laser guns fighting to defend the universe from two –headed, blue skinned aliens.

They were fearless arctic explorers with their trusty dog sled team, racing over the frozen tundra as they battled the lost creatures of the ice.

They spent hours in the backyard together:

studying ant colonies at work, feeding the tiny bugs crumbs from their sandwiches and and marveling at their incredible strength as the ants easily carried huge pieces of pb&j back to their sandy hills.

And…

Trying to catch that one, gigantic bullfrog in the fish pond that always… seemed to… slip away…. right at the last…. SECOND! DARN!

And…

Camping in their homemade tent, but always ending up back in their own comfy house when all the good snacks were gone and it was just too dark and creepy to stay outside any longer.

Brothers, pirates, astronauts, explorers.

Two years bigger, two years smaller.

Until one day when Harry said he had an important announcement to make: he was too old to play these baby games anymore.

After all, he was two years bigger.

Teddy gasped! Teddy cried! Teddy…didn’t know what to do.

“No more stormy seas, or frozen tundra?” he asked.

“No,” said Harry. “I am two years bigger.”

“No more ant watching or slippery frogs?” asked Teddy.

“No!” said Harry, folding his arms across his chest. “I am two years bigger.”

“No more freaky aliens or sort-of camp outs?” asked Teddy.

“NO!” insisted Harry. “I am two years bigger. Too old for all that baby stuff!

So the games just… stopped.

The ships came to shore, the aliens slipped away and the dog sled sat idle in the shed.

One day it began to rain. It rained all day, and the next day and the next.

Harry sat alone in his room with nothing to do.

He looked out his window and tried to count the raindrops as they fell against the glass.

It was hard work, and very boring.

Then…wait… he saw something moving in the backyard.

It was Teddy.

He was running and waving his sword all about and shouting…at no one.

“Humph!” grumbled Harry, turning away, “Baby stuff.”

He looked over his shoulder.

Teddy was rolling around in the mud; his sword raised high, his voice getting louder.

“Two years bigger, two years bigger,” Harry muttered quietly.

He glanced out again.  Nothing. Where was Teddy?

Harry moved closer to the window.  There he was, lying very still on the wet ground, arms out straight, his sword lying by his side.

“Ridiculous!” Harry said, shaking his head.

He looked out again. Teddy hadn’t moved.

He looked closer…and then he saw them, enemy pirates!  A whole crew of them.

They were scattered all around, on the ground, moaning and holding their sides.

Of course, Teddy had beaten the pirates!

“Yes! Go Teddy!” Whispered Harry.

But wait… something was wrong. Teddy still hadn’t moved. He was hurt.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw something. What was that? There was a sudden flash of light and then he saw it, a gigantic sea monster!

It rolled silently past the abandoned pirate ship, over the crashing waves and headed straight towards his brother.

Teddy slowly raised his head and looked at the beast.  He tried to crawl away…

“Teddy! Hang on! I’m coming!” yelled Harry, stopping only to grab his sword before running out the door.

He charged straight into the rain, right at the monster and, let out a blood-curdling scream.

“AARRGGHH! Leave my brother alone!”

The ugly creature turned towards Harry.  It reared up, slime falling off his green skin, his mighty tail thrashing all about. His teeth were shiny and sharp, his eyes red and glowing.

This battle was sure to be the fiercest ever. Harry knew had to win, but he couldn’t do it alone.

“Help! Teddy!” he called.

Teddy got up, grabbed his sword and together they fought.

Their swords clashed, the rain fell and the stormy seas swirled around them. The battle raged on and on, until the sea monster, worn out, and realizing he was defeated by the strength of the two brothers gave one last feeble snort, then turned and swam away.

Exhausted the two boys fell to the ground, laughing and cheering.

“We did it!” yelled Harry.

“We did it!” yelled Teddy. “ Who-Hoo!”

The two boys rolled in the mud together in a rather messy victory hug-wrestle.

“Hey,” said Teddy, suddenly sitting up, “I thought you were too big for all these baby games?”

Well,” said Harry, thinking, wiping the dirt off his face, “Someone had to protect you from that monster and after all, I am two years bigger.”

Teddy threw a mud ball at him.

Brothers, pirates, astronauts, explorers.

Two years bigger, two years smaller.

Anne Cavanaugh-Sawan, 2011.

Summer….

So, I wasn’t planning on posting again so soon, but I had something to say and I have never been very good at keeping my mouth shut. I wanted to post a link to this article in last week’s Boston Globe, Parade Magazine, by  Mitch Albom. I thought it was fantastic. (http://www.parade.com/news/views/mitch-albom/110807-the-joys-of-summer.html).

I can’t say it better than him, but let me try to sum it up for you. Basically he is saying, when did we lose summer? When did we decide  to let our anxiety, our competitiveness, our need to keep up with the Joneses in every way, take over our lives? And why are the schools making all the rules for us? Summer is supposed to be a vacation. VA-CA-TION!   Is your child not going to make it in this world because instead of doing their summer reading, summer math, book reports, they stayed up playing flashlight tag and night swimming? Are they going to fail because they didn’t go to the right camp or get some sort of academic enrichment? I think they’ll be okay.

I love to read. I read as a kid all the time. I practically grew up  in the  library. It was air-conditioned,  free, and quiet.  All good things in the hot summer when you come from a large family.  If I could, I would do nothing else but read all day. I just resent the fact that our children are slowly being required to do more and more academic work over their summer break.  And it isn’t just summer, it’s over winter break, Thanksgiving break, February break, and long weekends as well.  How would you feel if you planned a vacation, say in the Bahamas. You are looking forward to sitting on the beach, swimming in the waves, hanging out and reconnecting with your family, and then, on your way out the door your boss hands you a stack of papers saying, “Hey, have a great vacation! Oh, and by the way, have all these reports done by the time you come back.”  I see this over and over again with my kids. They are pulling out backpacks on the plane, worrying while we are at Disney about studying for tests, or trying to finish the research paper they were assigned. Crazy. That’s  it. I am done ranting, for now….

Five more minutes…..

How many times have you said to your kids, “Five more minutes, then we are going!”  We all give our kids these inane warnings, all the time.  Listen next time you are at the park,or a store, or a party and you can hear parents all around you warning their offspring, “Five more minutes!” Really, I think we are probably warning ourselves, and the other adults around us, with a polite “I am outta here.”  But then we run into an old friend, or start a conversation with new friends, settle down with just one more glass of wine and soon five minutes turns into 6, and then into 60. How are our kids ever going to learn the concept of time ? Here is a short story I wrote about this after I caught myself giving my kids their 100th warning that it was time to leave. Enjoy!

Five More Minutes!

“Kids! Five more minutes! We have to go!” Mom called downstairs.

Five minutes! Awww, what can we do in five minutes?

So… we had a fast, funky dance party,

and a lovely, little tea party ,

and a cool costume party with sparkly hats,

colorful feather boas,

and scary face masks.

“Children, five more minutes!”  Hollered Dad

So… we had silly potato sack races,

and tricky wheelbarrow races,

and a championship three-legged race.

“Hey Cuties, five more minutes!” Yelled Aunt Sue.

So… we watched a whole scary movie with the lights off,

and played crazy charades,

and finished an entire game of Monopoly.

“Yo, guys and gals! FIVE-MORE –MINUTES!” Bellowed Uncle Dave.

So… we played nine innings of baseball,

and nine innings of kickball and…

nine rounds of dodge ball…

“Oh, Sweeties, just five more minutes!” Sang out Grandma.

So… we made delicious cupcakes with pink and chocolate frosting,

and ice cream sundaes with whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles,

and had a very successful, neighborhood lemonade stand.

“Calling all you mad monkeys! Five more minutes!” Said Granddad.

So… we made a time machine from some nails, and sheets and

old wood we found in the back yard,

painted it all red and black,

and went back in time to slay a fierce, fire-breathing dragon.

“Come on! Five minutes are up! Time to go!” said Mom.

“But we aren’t done yet!”

“Okay, okay, five more minutes!”

“Awww, but what can we do in just five minutes?”

Anne Cavanaugh-Sawan, 2011.