Tag Archives: reflections

Every Story Needs A Beginning.

Published on http://www.chicagonow.com/portrait-of-an-adoption/2015/11/every-story-needs-a-beginning/
By Anne Sawan

There are some stories in life that we tell our children over and over. Favorite books, old fairy tales. Books that hold messages and lessons we want to pass on. Stories that have meaning, that matter to us.

I was driving in the car with my seven-year-old daughter. It was a warm summer night, just the two of us, a wide-open evening full of possibilities and fireflies. After camp she usually likes to tell me stories about her day, about the arts and crafts they created, the games they played, but this day she was quiet and I thought she must be tired from a long day. She certainly looked like she had been busy: her hair a mess, her sneakers scuffed, her knees dirty.

It was just the two of us that evening, my other children scattered about at various friend’s houses to swim and eat hamburgers. I asked her what she wanted to do with our free time together.

“Can we go to the mall and get some sushi and Legos?”

I smiled.

It was always the same answer.

As we meandered down the road I glanced in the rear view mirror. She was staring out the window, a serious look on her face, her lips moving slightly as she muttered something quietly to herself.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said, her eyes looking away, her finger tracing a path against the glass.

There was a beat of silence and then, “Mom, I know someone else who

is adopted.”

“Really?”

“Yes, he is at camp.”

I nodded, “How do you know he is adopted?”

“I heard him tell someone.”

“Oh. Did you tell him you were adopted too?”

“No.”

We drove along. Each lost in our own thoughts for a few moments. I wondered why she had brought it up, about this other camper. Having no real inkling about what to say next, but knowing there was something there, hidden in her words, I casually asked, “If someone at camp were to ask you what that other camper meant by adoption, what would you say?”

My daughter shrugged, her finger still smudging an imaginary track against the window. “I guess I would say, it means someone had you but they had to get rid of you, so your mom and dad got you.”

Get rid of you?

I pulled into the mall parking lot, my heart thumping.

My daughter.

My beautiful, sassy, silly, sweet, wonderful daughter thought someone just… got rid of her?

I turned around. “Honey,” I said. “Your birth mother didn’t just get rid of you, she loved you.”

My daughter stared at me, her brown eyes growing wide, her hand falling away from the window.

“She did?”

My mind swirled.

Hadn’t I told her?

Hadn’t I told her, her adoption story a million times?

Hadn’t I told her something like this:

You didn’t grow in my tummy, you grew in your birthmother’s tummy, but she couldn’t keep you, I am not sure why. But your dad and I wanted you soooo much so we flew far across the deep ocean and over the tall mountains, picked you up, wrapped you in a soft pink blanket, flew back across the big ocean and over the mountains where everyone was waiting for you and we had a big party full of love and kisses and cake!

Brakes.

Rewind.

Did I say, “I’m not sure why, but she she loved you very much”

Did I say, “I’m not sure why, but she loved you very much and it must have been very difficult for her to say goodbye.”

I must have.

I did.

Didn’t I?

My child’s beginning is unknown. I don’t know the reasons why her birth mother couldn’t keep her and I realized that in telling her I try to breeze quickly by that part, the beginning. It just seems tricky and messy and fraught with such hard questions and deep sadness that I hurry through, telling my daughter instead a story of a kisses and cake and a soft pink blanket that enveloped her with love; shielding her from sorrow.

I so want that story to be enough. For our love to be enough…but it can’t be, because it’s not her story.

When we open a book, we don’t just jump into the middle. We need to have an understanding of where the story begins, and my daughter’s beginning, although difficult, is just as important as any other; a beginning that doesn’t start with my love, but with the extraordinary love of another person. A love that while complicated shouldn’t just be casually rushed over. A love that deserves to be talked about slowly and carefully and with respect. A love like a cherished old book on the shelf, that can be revisited over and over again.

So I took a deep breath and slowly, slowly I spoke,

“Sweetie, I don’t know why your birth mom couldn’t keep you but I do know that she didn’t just get rid of you. Maybe she was too young to have a baby, or maybe she didn’t know how to be a mom yet but she loved you very, very much; and she did the hardest and bravest thing a mom could ever do and found you a place where she knew you would always be safe and where she knew there would be a family that would love you as much as she did.”

My daughter stared, her brown eyes meeting mine.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. She loved you and you know what else? You are full of extra love because you have love from your birth mom and love from all of us.”

A broad smile settled on her lips.

The story was shifting, the words were changing, slightly perhaps, but it was enough… for now.

“Can we go get some sushi and Legos now?”

“Of course.”

Anne Sawan is a mom of five, a psychologist and an author, having books published with MeeGenuis, as well as having articles published on Adoption Today, Adoptive Families, Brain Child, Scary Mommy and BluntMoms. She won The International Picture Book contest held by Inclusive Works and Clavis Publishing in 2014 and her book, What Can Your Grandmother Do? is scheduled to come out sometime this year.

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Bullying

The other day as I was rushing around gathering school supplies, I saw a sign for a barbershop. I quickly yanked my ten year old out of the car and marched him in.

As my son sat in the chair I took advantage of the few minutes of peace and looked around for something to read.  I picked up the local paper. There were the usual stories: sports achievements, town money issues, wedding announcements, etc. Then a small story caught my eye. Two local girls had held a cupcake stand to raise money for the family of a teenage boy in this particular town who had died recently “at his home.” The story never said how the boy died, the family did not want to speak to the paper, but the girls who had the fund raiser spoke to the reporter about how they felt badly that the boy had been bullied at school, teased for being overweight, and for the clothes he wore among other things.  It didn’t take much to put the pieces of the tragic puzzle together.  The barber saw me reading the article. He caught my eye, and over my son’s head, mouthed the words, “Suicide. Sad. So sad.”

“Again?” You say, “Geez, wasn’t this front-page news last year? Didn’t we solve the problem? There are no more bullies, right?” Wrong. Go sit in a middle school or a high school…or even a kindergarten, and you will see it.

I looked up at my child, sitting there happily chatting away with the barber as pieces of his unruly hair fell to the floor.  I thought, “What if…  What if that happened to him? What if he was bullied? What if he was so desperate? Would I know? Could I help?” My stomach flopped.

Then I thought. “What if…? What if he was the bully? Would I know? Could I help?”  My stomach flopped again.

Here is a piece I wrote about bullying a year or so back after I first read an article about Phoebe Prince, the young girl that committed suicide after being tormented for years by classmates out in western Massachusetts.  I was so outraged at what had happened, that I had to write to the paper.  I kept thinking, “Where were the parents of these bullies? Why didn’t they do anything? Did they know? Did they care? Did she have any friends, anyone she could reach out too?

Sad, so sad.

Bullying

Jesse Logan, Phoebe Prince. I am sure there are others. Beautiful, young girls with their whole lives in front of them. Diamonds just starting to shine, stolen away by the dark demons of depression to be thrown down the slick, slippery slide of low self-esteem. Pecked to death, slowly over time, by the taunts of their equally insecure classmates. Teenagers, who tormented by their own lack of confidence, repeatedly called them vile names, squashing them beneath the black boots of adolescent disdain as they clambered over their bodies in an attempt to climb up the ladder of social success.

I did not know Phoebe, or Jesse. I do not know their peers, but I do know what it is like to be a teenager, to feel desperate and to be unable to see the future even if it is right down the road. If only they had held on, made it through the mess of adolescent, maybe they would have been okay. Maybe they would have blossomed into a strong, young women, succeeding in college, going on to do research and to write and talk about their experiences of being bullied, hoping to stop the pain for someone else. Maybe Jesse would have discovered life on another planet. Phoebe, become the head of the United Nations. Maybe they would have had children and settled down in a small town doing the most important job, parenting. And as a parent they could have imparted onto their children the knowledge gained by their humiliating experience in high school, and taught them the importance of reaching out to others. But they didn’t survive; they were too afraid and young to hang on. They didn’t know to look down the road, that things would get better.

And now we will never know, who or what they might have been. They were stolen from all of us. So we, the parents, must now act us parents should and stand up for them. We must cradle in our arms the victims of bullying and confront the tormentors, no matter who they may be, even if they are our own.

We were all there once, middle school and high school, each of us struggling to make it through the day. Worried about how big our boobs were, or weren’t, how many zits we had on our faces. Do I smell, will he talk at me, is my fly open, will my face turn red when I talk in front of the class, what if she won’t be my science partner, who will I sit with at lunch? We have all been there.  Under attack by our fear and hormones, and instead of pulling together as a group and seeing our strength in numbers, we separated. Divided by unseen walls of status: the victims, the invisibles, the druggies, the jocks, the populars’.

Ask yourself, right now. What group were you in? Did you like it there? Would you want your child to be in that group? What did you give up to be in that group? Your pride? Your individuality? Your voice? With exclusion comes sacrifice. Maybe you sacrificed yourself, your relationship with you family, or your best friend since kindergarten. The one you watched Creature Double Feature with everyday at five, played long stretched out games of  Monopoly, and told your inner most secrets to. Suddenly, they had to go. They were not cool enough, pretty enough, strong enough. They were holding you back, so you threw them aside to move up the ladder of popularity or avoid the shame of being shunned. Do you think it is different now? You’re right, it is. The insults come quicker, harder and easier thanks to the anonymity and speed of computers. But the feelings and inevitable sad outcomes remain the same.

Maybe you were the one who was left behind. Unable to protest, feeling small and scared you decide to be silent, become invisible. Pretend it didn’t hurt. Now, you are determined that your child does not suffer the same fate as you. You will do anything to make sure he is captain of the football, or she is head cheerleader. You guide them towards certain friends, the right families to associate with.

Don’t be fooled by the kid who says “There is no bullying in my school. We have a program for that.” As history has unfortunately shown us over and over again, we are all capable of aggression and brutality. I know this is hard to accept but even your own kids, the ones you love with all of your heart. The ones whose eyes you look in every night and think, “Oh, he/she would never do that.” Really? Think back with true honesty to your own experiences. Did you ever step outside of your group to offer an outsider a place at the lunch table? Were you willing to stand up for a friend even if it meant you might be turned on next? Do you ever participate in the jeering, sneering, meanness of middle school? Why would your child be any different?

The anti-bullying programs are wonderful and necessary, but it cannot end there. The conversations must continue at home. Just as you practice math and science with your kids, you must practice kindness as well.

Teach children to accept, to stand up, to challenge. Teach them when they are young not to exclude others on the playground, to give everyone a chance, to invite all the kids to the birthday party, to open up their circle of friends. Bullying is not just physical harm or rude insults; it also comes in the form of exclusion. Being alone, forced out, made to watch from the sides.

It is natural to develop a group of friends over time.  We can’t all hold hands and be best buddies. It is not realistic to expect this, but perhaps, maybe, if you teach your child to just reach out a little to the kid that is sitting by him/herself, the one whose pants are a bit too short or who wears the wrong style; someone they don’t know very well, maybe your child can help just that one person to feel included.  Maybe if they smile at this person or ask them how their weekend was, tell them they did a great job in Spanish class, maybe, just maybe that child will feel like they matter. It is our job as parents to teach this. Not the school. Not some government agency. Ours.  Teach kindness at home, so it can be practiced at school.

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