Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Almost Home

I know I've been gone for ages and ages. I look at Kaleb's photos in my last post, realizing it has been almost a year; since losing him, since a cancer scare with my son, since losing my birthmom. It was a difficult year and, to tell you the truth, I got sick of having nothing but traumatic events to post -- and I couldn't imagine my readers weren't sick of it too!

And, something happened when my birthmother died. All the emotional work I'd been doing concerning my adoption/childhood seemed to settle into sort of a quiet, melancholy acceptance. Writing about "adoption issues" failed to move me because there was no longer a part of me secretly hoping it could all easily be resolved with a phone call or the right words from my mother. Both my parents are gone now. It's over.

Yes, I still carry it with me, but not in a package marked self-blame. Somehow, losing hope freed me to channel my passions into the present and future -- and in a way that honors my past.

Below is the first post of my new blog that will catch you up to speed on my life's events. This blog will remain and I hope to update it too, but you might stop by the other blog if you find it interests you too!



It was inevitable, I think, though I’d dismissed the thought a thousand times.

“My heart will break, over and again. I don’t think I can handle that. I really don’t.”

“Me foster? Too many goodbyes!”

“There’s not enough space; not enough time; not enough money.”

“. . . not enough strength to say ‘no’ when I want to say yes or ‘yes’ when I want to say no.”

So, I tried to satiate the craving to foster by adopting two very hard to place cats from Heartland Humane Society. Smitten and Splash – mother and son – were so painfully shy they could not tolerate the chaos of PetsMart or find the courage to show their true nature to visiting potential families. So they sat (in a wonderful foster home) for fourteen months, until I brought them home.
Almost a year later, and with much patience and love, they are loving pets I am so glad joined the family.

And then the craving returned.

I ignored it until my son’s girlfriend arrived on the doorstep bearing two of the cutest, scared, most dehydrated little beagle mix puppies that someone thought so little of they dumped on the side of a busy road in the dark of night.

After nursing them through the first few hours, I rushed to PetsMart on a Saturday (my first mistake!) and asked my favorite rescue group for help. Before I knew it, the former foster mom of Smitten and Splash was vouching for me as a foster parent and I was filling out an application to become a foster home.

I really didn’t think I had it in me. After six weeks, crate training, potty training, vaccinations and a neuter and spay, Colt and Kimber were ready for adoption. My heart was already breaking. They were, undoubtedly, my dogs. They slept in bed with me, went everywhere with me and, for almost two months, were the center of the household. Tons of people applied to adopt them. I interviewed families in my home, watching their interactions carefully, listening to my gut instinct and lamenting over whether or not I was doing the right thing.

But when Colt’s new people walked in the door, the conflict eased and my grip on him lessened a bit. Even the adult children showed up to meet Colt. They were grieving the recent loss of their dog. I could feel their reluctance to willingly open themselves up to more heartbreak pressing against their desire for the love and joy a pet brings. It was easy to picture Colt sitting at the feet of his new human as he worked from home all day, wrestling with the kids when they came to visit and walking the neighborhood with his new person daily.

I did it. I let him go. Colt’s sister, Kimber, nursed me through the grieving.

And then, her people walked through the door. This time, I was certain I couldn’t find the strength; that my fostering days were over. I told myself this young family wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of a pet. I pretended I didn’t care that their daughter cried with joy at the mere thought of taking her home. I didn’t want to like Mom and Dad, although it was so easy to do I couldn’t duck the read. And then their two year old little boy wrapped his arms gently around Kimber as he gave her a treat and . . .

I saw the two of them growing up together: A boy and his dog. He would never remember not having her and she would have him her entire life. She would always be his first dog and he would always be her boy.

Because of that, I could let her go too. I did, and then grieved all over again, this time in a house that, despite five cats, felt entirely hollow in the absence of Colt and Kimber.
The next morning, I returned from PetsMart adoptions with Jasmine,our next foster puppy. Ginger and Ace, a cat and kitten left behind when their family moved away, joined us the next week. This week, Jasmine’s littermate, Jake, took up residence here.

The house is busy and crazy. The work is endless. The cold, wet noses are awesome. I love every minute of it. Colt and Kimber brought to me my life’s passion. They rescued me.

And, because of Colt and Kimber, Jasmine, Jake, Ginger, Ace and the many who will come after them, are Almost Home.

Rhonda Ruminated at 12:20 PM | Permalink | 4 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Just an Ordinary Saturday
It was just an ordinary Saturday, the house slowly coming to life, the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the hallway, prying me from sleep; my son barging into the room to share the day’s plans.

Like almost every Saturday, my son was waiting for his friend, Kaleb, to wake up in a little blue house, three streets down. He’d sent him a text message: “text me when you get up, man.” And Kaleb’s reply came after noon. Back and forth in teenagese, that language spoken only by teenagers on cell phone keypads, they planned their day. My son set up the x-box and Guitar Hero and the battles were about to begin. At 1:17pm, Kaleb text’d he was on his way.

Our house is always filled with teenagers and Kaleb is a staple. He’s the kid who I made show me his identification when my son first introduced us. Fifteen then, he had a full beard and stood well over six feet tall. He looked 25. As Ben and Kaleb became the best of friends, he became on of my favorites. Wise beyond his years, he caught my sarcasm and laughed and laughed (and dished it right back), while the other teens sat there looking confused. Never afraid to sit down and talk to me, I nagged at him like a mother, cared for him like a son and he almost always took the time to say hello to me when he walked in the door.

When he laughed, he threw his head back, his shoulders rising to meet his long, dark curls and the house filling with the sound of him. His voice; his laughter, was booming. Many times, it woke me in the middle of the night. Even the neighbors knew it, from the backyard bonfires bringing a gathering of teens every time the weather cooperated.

Just sixteen, he’d recently gained the freedom a driver’s license provides, becoming the chauffer of his circle of friends. When he walked through my living room, he’d jangle his car keys purposefully in his pocket, proud of the big maroon clunker parked in my driveway. That thing was held together by duct tape and bungee chords, but it was his and that is all that mattered.

Kaleb never arrived on Saturday and it ceased being just like any other when the phone rang with the news. Sometime between gathering his things to head over to our house and reaching his front door, he collapsed. His father found him shortly before 2pm. At 3pm, blinded by grief and disbelieving of the news, my son and I drove to his house. A pastor waiting on Kaleb’s doorstep for his family to return from the hospital confirmed the news. “Kaleb was pronounced dead at the hospital. They think it was a heart attack.”

As a parent, I am overwhelmed with my inability to squelch the pain Kaleb’s friends are experiencing and completely unable to wrap my mind around what his parents are going through. I can’t help but remember how distraught Kaleb was over the holidays when my son faced a cancer diagnoses. He hardly left Ben’s side as we waited for the test results, his deep worry clearly visible in his eyes. And now the tables are turned, in the most tragic way. It all feels so unreal.

We don’t yet know what truly happened. Right now, we just know the Universe makes little sense, the world is missing a compassionate soul, the house is too quiet and young man who was only just becoming Himself is missed more than words can say.


Rhonda Ruminated at 10:32 PM | Permalink | 13 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Bury My Lovely

“Bury My Lovely,” by October Project was finally posted on YouTube a while back – and I was thrilled to find it. I scrolled through the comments. Many people say it is about child abuse, genealogy, unearthing family secrets and ghosts of the past. The adoptees and natural mothers who view it might see and hear relinquishment and adoption in its haunting lyrics and images.

Every time I watch it, my eyes well with tears and goose-bumps cover my skin. For me, it is about abuse, genealogy, family secrets and adoption. And, it’s about ghosts of the past, haunting a girl in a big old house, while her family carries on as if nothing bad ever happened to her.

“A picture worth a thousand lies . . .” is how the chorus begins and, when I hear it, I think of the old family farm I was sent away to so many times, to live with my aunt and uncle. They were good to me, but I was scarred and they didn’t understand, entirely, how and why. The old Victorian house, built by their ancestors and decorated with generations of family photos, felt simultaneously like home and a foreign land. And though my aunt and uncle treated me with compassion and I liked farmlife, living in the house was, of course, always a reminder that not just my first mother, but also my second, had sent me away.

Songs always take us places emotionally, but this one is a doozy for me. You see, it was literally filmed in the house I grew up in – which was quite a bunch of excitement when October Project was singing in the attic and barn, walking up the old, creaky stairs and standing on the veranda. An Impromptu casting made my uncle “the gravedigger,’ burying secrets out by the pond. And, even though I witnessed the making of the video, watching it is entirely too . . . real.

Those who know my story will see what I see in it and others, perhaps, will find a meaning within it that fits their story, but I thought I’d share . . .

Rhonda Ruminated at 6:01 PM | Permalink | 5 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, January 06, 2008
An Award!
The assignment was simple. My fourth-grade classmates and I studied poetry and were instructed to create a book of poems, scrawled in chunky child’s printing between the thick, blue lines of wide-ruled paper, sandwiched between covers of mishapingly cut cardboard.

At the end of the assignment, we knew they’d be entered into the school district’s Young Author’s Competition. I was a smart kid, but school wasn’t easy for me. I had two strikes against me: an undiagnosed learning disability (central auditory processing disorder) and a boatload of emotional baggage. I could spell, but never got through the first couple rounds of the spelling bee because anxiety would kick in. And, by fourth grade, I’d been pulled out of advanced reading and placed in the “slow” group. My teacher didn’t understand that I wasn’t struggling with reading, but that sitting at the kidney-shaped table in the corner of a noisy classroom, trying to process her instructions, made my head swim. So by fourth grade, I had no idea I was still the smart little kid who’d been pulled out of kindergarten to attend second grade reading; I was just the kid who needed “extra help,” was “bright but didn’t apply herself,” and was “easily distracted.”

But I liked writing poetry and loved illustrating, neither of which required my ears to work, so I poured my heart into my little book of poems, adding it to the stack of books being sent to the district judges for the competition.

And, entirely to my disbelief, I was chosen to represent my school at the Young Author’s Conference.

That disbelief followed me the entire day of the conference – in each workshop; each poetry reading; each meeting with a real author – I quite expected to be, at any moment, tapped upon the shoulder and asked to leave “I’m sorry, but we made a mistake . . . you aren’t supposed to be here . . ." Still, that little cardboard bound book of poems was the beginning of my love for writing and, from that moment on, I wrote, filling spiral ringed notebooks with my thoughts and feelings; with stories and poetry, dark musings and kept secrets all through childhood, teenhood and beyond.

There’s a point to this story. Charlie has awarded me A Roar for Powerful Words—an award based on writing merit. He’s given me the honor with Kim Ayres from Ramblings of the Bearded One. There is still a part of me who reacts like the fourth grader I once was . . . surely a mistake must have been made to group me with two men who I consider fabulous, funny, insightful, through-provoking writers!

As part of the award, I have to list three things that I believe make writing good and powerful.

  1. Do not leave yourself out of your writing; even if you are writing fiction, a research paper or a letter to the editor. Drawing from your own emotions and experiences, even if your reader isn’t aware that’s what you are doing, gives your words authenticity.
  2. Don’t be afraid to expose yourself; your fears, your weaknesses, your humanness. Doing so connects you with your readers in a real and powerful way.
  3. Don’t talk down to your readers. Writing shouldn’t include endless digressions to explain your topic like you are teaching a 101 class. Assume your readers are intelligent people because they likely are.

And now it is my duty to pass along the award to another deserving writer. Elizabeth ** is an adoptee friend of mine. She’s a mathematician by trade, but writing seems to come naturally to her too. The girl can definitely use both sides of her brain! What I LOVE about her writing is its brutal honesty. She isn’t afraid to add a well, placed f-bomb where it belongs; to say something controversial or to expose her raw emotion. Her blog, Champagne and Tears, is a brave journey of a woman reclaiming her identity. When you read it, it’ll make you angry, make you laugh, make you cry and make you shout “You go girl!” You won’t walk away untouched.

**I discovered as I was writing this, Elizabeth's blog is currently on vacation, but that doesn't change the fact she deserves her award :)

Rhonda Ruminated at 8:22 PM | Permalink | 8 People Ruminated links to this post
Friday, December 28, 2007
It's . . .
BENIGN ! ! ! !

We got the results back today and Ben's tumor is benign. No more surgeries. No radiation. No cancer. The Kid is very relieved and so is Mom.

Thanks to everyone for your wishes and prayers these long last couple of weeks - and to all those who popped over from Atilla's place. We are grateful to be ushering in the New Year with some well deserved peace of mind.

Happy 2008!
Rhonda Ruminated at 2:57 PM | Permalink | 14 People Ruminated links to this post
Saturday, December 15, 2007
No Words (Updated)
****(We're home from the hospital and Ben is recovering well. We don't have biopsy results yet, however. I'll post more, with a full update, after a powernap - promise.)****

* * * * *

In this life I’ve lived, full of abandonment and conditional love; through foster homes and bus passes to relatives, I’ve known things capable of taking the color out of life. I’ve known abuse and molestation. I’ve known words that sting harder and longer than the palm of a hand or curled fist.

But despite all that, I willed myself to break the cycle; when my first child was just a squiggling thing on an ultrasound monitor, I took my duty to parent him seriously. I went to school and collected majors like trinkets. Child development, Child Psychology, Psychology, Early Childhood Education, Special Education and all its sub-categories. I took courses until I ran out of courses to take. I walked away with two degrees: neither one intended, because it wasn’t about career goals; it was about never becoming like my mother or any of the adults whose care I’d been entrusted to over the years.

My children spent their younger years in a house set up like a preschool . . . messy science and art projects all over the place and a kitchen whose utensils became musical instruments. They never attended a school in which I didn’t teach. The degrees came in handy for the I.E.P. meetings and special education classrooms and schools they both needed to work through their learning disabilities.

The teen years came like teen years can. Despite my determination to make education central in their lives, they’ve both continued to struggle. It’s been no secret here the path my son chose to take . . . one landing him in military school. The last few years with him have been difficult, as I’ve let go of dreams of college, relented to the idea he might become, like his father, a fisherman in a dangerous ocean, with only a G.E.D. in hand. As a parent, I’ve been disappointed and questioned myself a million times: Did I do TOO much in the early years? Did he end up feeling entitled rather than motivated? And I’ve had those thoughts few parents will admit to: “I can’t WAIT until he’s out of the house!” But no matter what our kids do to disappoint us, hope never really dies, even when it’s time to step away and let them sink or swim all by themselves. Words from parent of the year? Probably not; but they are honest.

And then last week, he came to me as I sat here at this computer and said “Mom, I have this weird lump in my neck.” He’d had a cold, so I figured a swollen lymph node. I might have been saying just that when I put my hand on the place he lead it to and knew, immediately, it was his thyroid and the lump was large.

We were at his pediatrician’s the next morning, and then to the hospital for an ultrasound, where they called in the pediatric radiologist and the techs all talked in worried hushes. And within hours we were swooped up into what we now call The Cancer Machine – appointments here and there, long days forgetting to eat, long nights filled with worry. Last week we landed in the office of United State’s top cancer surgeon and this Wednesday, my son, Ben, will be in his surgical suite, having his thyroid removed and awaiting biopsy results.

And while we wait, the color has gone out of life, in a way it never has before, despite all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve seen.

And all those dreams of just last week have gone by the wayside while I dream of something so simple: a benign pathology report.

So, if you’re reading, please keep him in your thoughts . . .

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Rhonda Ruminated at 7:17 PM | Permalink | 25 People Ruminated links to this post
Monday, September 10, 2007
What's in a Name?

Recently on an adoption forum, I got into a pissing match with a potential adoptive parent of a sibling set. Okay, there was no pissing, at least from my direction, because my intentions were genuine.

I tried to explain why she shouldn’t change the names of the children she will soon adopt just because one was “too girly” and the other “too ethnic.” Why should anyone have the right to erase another’s name?

Admittedly, I was on the heals of having just ordered a copy of my own amended birth certificate, aggravated about having to check the “ADOPTED” box to prevent the State of Washington from mistakenly mailing me my original birth certificate. (Because god only knows what kind of National Incident would ensue were I to get my hands on my own name.)

And, admittedly, I am rather raw with the recent death of my birthmother and the realization that, with both parents gone, so too is my birth name.

So, with full awareness of my frazzled nerves, I attempted to explain why a name is so important and how it might be the only remnant of an adoptee’s history; a history greater than the minutes, days, months or years a child spends within his family of origin. A history anchoring them to their ethnicity, nationality, tradition and heritage; a history that connects them to their natural place in the Universe; a delicate thread woven into the fiber of their identity that says, in some way, their place in the time continuum remains, uninterrupted.

A name says: I mattered to the people who named me. If only for a moment, I was in my rightful place; a recipient of family traditions, of memories and meaning, untainted by the human foibles preceding and following my birth.

And, frankly, for most adoptees, a name is all they possess of their roots and the difference between knowing and not knowing, having and not having, awareness and unawareness might be the difference between them feeling their identity is rooted in reality, rather than pulled from the ethers and worn like a shirt that doesn’t fit just right.

I didn’t expect her to drop her needs as a new parent and rush to embrace this. I waited for the questions to come . . . and they did.

So, you like the name your birth parents gave you more than the one your adoptive parents gave you?

So, you hate your adoptive name?

So, you consider your birth family to be your ONLY family?

So, why don’t you just change your name back if you hate it so much?

She insisted not all people feel as I do. Herself, for example: she doesn’t care about her history. Genealogy means nothing to her. And, in a great act of irony, to illustrate this point, she shared how she’s never even opened the family history book handed down to her from previous generations of her clan.

Ah, but, I explained, you grew up so enmeshed in your history you don’t have to seek it; you choose not to seek it. It is simply there; an integrated part of you, so integrated you feel no need to peer into the pages of that book. No surprises lay there; no mysteries. It shall not be the same for your children.

And then, of course, she chastised me. My feelings were nothing more than the result of a “bad attitude,” a “snarky” disposition. Her children shall be spared my pathology. She will see to that. She will reason with them and, because they shall be reasonable children, raised by people far more adept than those who raised me, they will understand.

God help them.

Rhonda Ruminated at 8:09 PM | Permalink | 18 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The Final Goodbye
I remember our first car ride together. At my request, she took me to my father’s grave. With the anxiety of our first meeting behind us, it was an emotionally calmer meeting. But throughout the hour-long drive, I couldn’t stop myself from staring at her. “That is your mother sitting there,” I was telling myself, “That is where you came from. She gave birth to you.” I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea we’d once shared such a primal connection. I didn’t have that sense of biological recognition I’d expected before reunion. The disconnect I’d always felt between my baby and adult self seemed to fill up the car.

But her hands on the steering wheel offered proof of what I couldn’t seem to grasp. They were, unquestionably, my hands. She caught me looking and held up a hand. I held up mine and we marveled at their sameness.

At the cemetery, she walked me to my father’s grave. I placed a purple rose on his headstone, tears of disappointment streaming down my face. It would be one of the few times I saw her cry. She quickly retreated to the car. I could feel her wanting to run from this place but, instead, we shared probably the most honest exchange of our reunion. She told me she felt angry with him for dying before this reunion. She told me she’d dreamt of him the night before, and he’d raged at her for not telling him I’d come back some day. And then she’d told me how much they’d loved each other; how hard it was to live without him.

Standing in the cemetery, it all seemed like such a waste. My parents loved each other, had even married following my relinquishment. Twenty three years later, we were back together – my mother and me, standing at my father’s grave. She told me she wished they’d made a different decision; she wished she’d known he wouldn’t relent until she accepted his proposal. “We should have never given you up,” she said.

Our reunion continued for over a decade. She eventually found the courage to tell my siblings about me, but the strain of being kept a secret from my father’s family took its toll on me. We were wired differently, my mother and me. She tried not to feel, I can’t stop myself from feeling. I suppose I got tired of “understanding” why I should be kept a secret without receiving any empathy for what it is like to be the family secret. And we suffered from what most reunions suffer from; there is just no way to bridge the gap of all those lost years, no matter how much we cared for one another. Maintaining relationships under the strain of all the issues of reunion is emotionally exhausting.

So our reunion fizzled, and years slipped by. I’ll never know what those years were like for her, if she missed me or if it was simply easier on her. Strangely, I don’t doubt that she loved me in her own way.

On August 6th, my mother succumbed to cancer. She’ll be laid to rest next to my father and, someday, I will visit both of them there, at the cemetery where my mother and I had our first real conversation. No matter how illogical it is, no matter how well I know the realities of relinquishment, adoption and reunion, at times I cannot breathe with the thought both my parents are gone, taking with them the hope of a little girl who once thought she’d find the contentment of a real family.

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Rhonda Ruminated at 12:04 PM | Permalink | 26 People Ruminated links to this post
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Hallmark Moments
I filled my cart with things I didn’t really need, circling the store several times under the guise of “stocking up.” It was my third such trip in a week and I was aware time was getting short and I could no longer avoid what I’d really come to shop for. So I reluctantly maneuvered my cart into the card isle, my stomach tightening with anxiety.

I hate the card isle. It’s been a source of anxiety for me since I was a child trying to find a mother’s day, birthday or Christmas card that didn’t say what wasn’t true, but was neither insulting. Sometimes, I could manage to pick a card by visualizing its insides dripping in sarcasm “Thanks for the Memories” can mean more than one thing – especially if you were raised by my mother. Not sending a card was never an option. My mother literally kept a logbook of people she sent cards and gifts to. If they did not reply with a thank you or add her to their Christmas list, she added them to a running list of uncouth associates – and was very vocal about the names on that list.

As a result, my literal Hallmark Moments are few and far between.

As fate would have it, my birthmother ended up being a serial card sender too. In the beginning of our relationship, her cards came almost weekly. I, in turn, braved the card isle, trying to pick out something appropriate. When Mother’s Day or Christmas rolled around, I found myself in the same awkward position – it isn’t easy finding a sentiment for one’s birthmother. Not even “Thanks for the Memories” works – because there are no memories.

So there I was again, standing in the card isle with my stomach threatening to leap from my body and tears streaming down my cheeks. It had been years since I’d sent a card to either of my mothers. This time, I was not choosing one out of guilt or obligation. I truly wanted my birthmother, who is dying, to receive something from me. But what? Nothing seemed to fit and I hated that more than the thought of her death.

The tears came from the child in me who would just, for once, like to stand in the card isle and know exactly what to do; the child who would like to read one of those syrupy sweet “for my mother” cards and mean every corny word; the child who would like to have a father to choose a father’s day card for. I’ve given up that dream, but part of me still protests.

I knew what I didn’t want to say to my birthmother in her dying days. I didn’t want to address the past. I wasn’t seeking resolution. I wasn’t hoping for some affirmation of love for me, an apology or even a response. I just wanted her to know I was thinking of her and that I was sorry her life was coming to an end.

It took me nearly an hour, but I finally chose a “Thinking of You” card, decorated in delicate looking leaves. It took another four days to add my sentiment and mail it. These would be my last words, ever, to my birthmother. They needed to matter.

Inside I wrote:

I am sorry to hear of the difficulty you are facing right now. I am thinking of you and I wish you peace.

Love, Rhonda

Rhonda Ruminated at 1:56 PM | Permalink | 20 People Ruminated links to this post
Friday, June 15, 2007
Father's Day (repost)
"I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection."
-Sigmund Freud

I’ve never sent a Father’s Day card.

I was never the kindergartener drawing thick, shaky, waxy-rainbow letters on cheap construction paper; never an 8-year-old hovering above a block of wood, jar of decoupage and pile of magazine clippings trying to create the perfect Father’s Day collage. I was never an 11-year-old placing a handpicked treasure from the tie rack upon the gift-wrap counter at J.C. Penny’s. I’ve never poured through Hallmark’s seasonal section, looking for the perfect prose to express gratitude for my childhood.

I remember the projects. I remember the look of pity from teachers as they coaxed me through an “alternative” project. I remember being the only child-of-divorce in my classroom and how the absence of a father in my life was easy fodder for teasing. I recall a sense of deep shame about the secret I kept from my classmates. I was screwed up, but not stupid. I wasn’t about to tell them the father whose absence they teased about wasn’t really my father and that my real father had never even seen my face.

So, I’ve never sent a father’s day card or wrapped a handmade gift in delicate tissue paper, sealing it up with awkward chunks of shiny scotch tape. For me, those childhood rituals went the way of father/daughter dances and games of catch in the front yard. Like having a strong shoulder to cry on upon my first heartbreak, a fierce protector when I felt threatened, or a stern, loving voice when I needed reeling in, these things have never been part of my experience. But, I coveted them. And, at the age of 38, sometimes still do.

I would love to be able to say: “Today is just another day.” But, if that were true, it wouldn’t occur to me proclaim it so. I’ve learned it is better for me to steer into the empty places in my life than to try to fill them with replacements or distractions.

I have a father. I need only to hold the dozen or so photographs of him to know this with certainty. I have his face: his crooked smile, blue eyes, dimpled cheek and slightly weak chin. But that is as close as the two of us, father and daughter, will ever be: a pile of photographs and an unrealized dream.

Rhonda Ruminated at 5:17 PM | Permalink | 9 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
I am . . .
One would think it wouldn’t be difficult for me to write the MeMe Mia tagged me with. After all, most of what I share on this blog is all about what “I am,” or, at the very least, what I am trying to become. But writing this is difficult.

My writings aren’t driven by self-importance, but are the result of trying to live an emotionally transparent life; an authentic life. I am trying to lasso my personal truth because it got away from me a very long time ago, under the dictates of the business of adoption.

Sadly, it didn’t occur to me until nearly my thirtieth birthday that I’d been absent from my own life; that I described the bulk of my experiences in terms of how they were prescribed by others – by my adoptive mother, my birthmother and the “adoption professionals.” They all had a lot riding on how I felt. My birthmother needed to assuage guilt. The adoption professionals needed to keep their jobs. And my adoptive mother? Sometimes, there just isn’t enough room in one sentence to cover what needs to be said. But, the easiest explanation is that she needed to feed her narcissism and telling me how to feel, rather than asking how I felt, was the quickest means to that end.

It’s taken nearly ten years to access my feelings, gather them up, explore them and claim them as my own. It’s been a long, painful journey – one which will likely never find its ending. My biggest fear is straying off course and leaving those feelings behind again. Recording them here – throwing them out into the Universe – helps assure that I don’t.

I am many things because of my experience . . .

I am . . .

. . . Estranged from my both my families, because I spoke my truth.

. . . Often afraid of what they will do in reaction.

. . . Worried about what it will be like to grow old without a family.

As I continue to gather my truth . . .

I am . . .

. . . Sometimes frightened what I will find.

. . . Surprised by the depth of my anger in reaction to what I discover.

. . . Proud of what I’ve become in spite of it all.

. . . Sad for the child inside me who wasn’t well cared for.

. . . Feeling more like an orphan than ever before.

. . . More and more committed to staying the course.

. . . Less and less concerned about the consequences.

I am learning so much . . .

I am . . .

. . . Learning forgiveness is overrated.

. . . Learning forgetting is impossible.

. . . Learning that understanding the whys and how’s of what my parents did, then doing my best not to repeat them in my own life, is the better path towards healing.

. . . Learning there is nothing wrong with anger. It is an energy that can be harnessed to make positive change.

. . . Learning the truth isn’t free; it comes at a cost, but in exchange, you get authenticity.

And, because of all these things . . .

I am . . .

. . . Determined.

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Rhonda Ruminated at 11:25 AM | Permalink | 11 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, May 20, 2007
In the Beginning, Part II

The social worker had a reputation to consider. She was known throughout the county for facilitating flawless adoption matches. Her philosophy was simple; an adopted child should blend into the family as best as possible. She should look like her new family and share an ethnic heritage whenever possible. That way, she surmised, there would be no observable reminders that the child was any different, sparing both her and her parents any discomfort. The social worker prided herself on her ability to study the face of an infant and envision her fully developed features. She could tell whether a nose would be large or small, a body would be robust or petite and if eyes would change to blue or brown. She examined fingers and toes to predict things like athleticism and paid close attention to temperament.

She did the same when she interviewed birthmothers and perspective adoptive parents; taking stock of their eye color, facial features and body type, scribbling notes onto her yellow legal pad. It was such a focus of her work, her adoption files read like All Points Bulletin police descriptions of fleeing suspects.

I had been in foster care three months when the Gray’s file landed on her desk. She’d been just about to close the case, having found a nice Norwegian couple looking to adopt their second child. But, a home visit changed my fate.

It was an impressive scene at the Gray’s farm. She entered through the kitchen porch, where a petite, well dressed homemaker greeted her. The county sheriff sat at the kitchen table, enjoying a quick breakfast and large cup of coffee. Farmer Gray’s mother busied herself in the kitchen while Mrs. Gray guided her through the immaculate farmhouse, pointing out the nursery and playroom already prepared for a baby. From the nursery window, she directed the social worker’s gaze to a large plume of dust, far out in the wheat field, explaining it was Mr. Gray’s combine, midway through his workday.

The Grays looked first-rate on paper; a large farm in a booming market, horse stables, a spacious house, doting grandparents and even the endorsement of the county sheriff. The only perceivable issue seemed to be that Mr. wanted a boy, but the worker had the grandmother’s assurances he didn’t know what was best for him.

Alone in her office, the social worker’s decision came down to two, underlined notations in her yellow legal pad:

Mrs. Gray is Norwegian.

This worker feels the baby will resemble the Gray family. They appear to have matching noses.

And just like that, because of another family’s ethnic background and the shape of my little nose, my file was transferred, the deal was made and the case was closed. It was just a few days before Christmas.

The event is forever memorialized in the family album, a brand new baby placed beneath a Christmas tree that looked like it belonged in the lobby of Nordstroms, not the living room of a simple farming family. Even the local paper couldn’t resist the perfect human interest story, just in time for the holidays:

Rhonda Ruminated at 1:56 PM | Permalink | 12 People Ruminated links to this post
Thursday, May 10, 2007
In the Beginning . . .
The interior of the white, craftsman farmhouse was as bland and empty as the lives of the people who lived inside it.

He’d fallen into his life, without giving it any thought at all. He ran the wheat farm owned by his parents. The house belonged to them, as did the crops, the equipment and even the livestock. What little money he made outside of the family dole was through bartering and trading his belongings. New things – campers, cars and trucks – would appear in the driveway then disappear just as fast, each time adding a little cash to his pockets and, perhaps, temporarily making him feel worthwhile.

When he couldn’t produce the capital for his buy and sell ventures, the reality of his life crept back in. It was during those times that he ran. The small town bars knew him well, as did the police who regularly hauled him off to the drunk tank to sleep it off.

Sometimes, he disappeared only for an evening. Other times, he was gone for days. Eventually, always, the phone would ring and we’d head off to the jailhouse to pick him up, or he’d catch a ride home with the Sheriff who boarded his horses in our barn. What followed his homecoming was never a relief. He was a dry drunk and his periods of sobriety were dark, fearful times.

* * * * * * * * * *

She came to Eastern Washington to earn a degree, fully intending to return to the city and set out on her own. It was the late sixties and she paid attention to The Women’s Liberation Movement, picturing herself entering the business world, living independently and not needing a man to feel fulfilled. Though that dream seemed dead now, she still dressed the part, even while cleaning house, mending her husband’s work clothes or watching soap operas. She fit into the Polouse County landscape like a cactus on a ski slope. How she came to be a farmer’s wife probably had more to do with expediting the escape from her own mentally ill mother than any sort of life’s desire.

She resented her mother-in-law’s nearly constant overbearing presence and had trouble relating to any of her relatives and friends. They seemed content with their lives, while her own was an exercise in concessions and sacrifices. The difference between her and them, she determined, was children. As a bonus, she considered, adding a child to the family might force her husband to step up to the plate – and spare her the embarrassment of ever having to confess his sins to anyone; least of all to herself.

By happenstance, these people became my parents . . .

[This sits here as a cliff-hanger because it is the beginning of a book. I’ve decided to take the plunge and put my story out there, in its entirety, damn the consequences. I mention this only to explain why bits and pieces of what I’m putting together, like those above, will likely appear here once in a while. ]

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Rhonda Ruminated at 8:26 PM | Permalink | 16 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Somebody’s Daughter
I’ve reached middle age. My children only speak to me when they need money or a ride; my last eye appointment resulted in tri-focals and all my intentions to “gray gracefully” recently washed down the drain in a sudsy swirl of “biscotti blonde” hair dye.

Those, however, are the minor inconveniences of mid-life; the glimpses in the mirror reminding us things change and those changes are, more often than not, outside of our control. Mid-life also asks big questions whose answers cannot be found at the optometrist or plucked from drugstore shelves; questions we all must, at some time, face. Our parents’ age, they get ill, they die. It is then we realize biology and the passage of time are unbeatable foes.

Parents. Death. Biology. Those are loaded words for an orphan; words with a meaning few will understand; words filled with should-have-beens, losses and loneliness.

Somewhere, 3,000 miles away, my mother is dying. The surgeons closed her up, saying “there’s nothing we can do.” I found out days later, third hand. My adoptive mother holds my mother’s contact information hostage, using her eminent death and my emotions as a means to end our estrangement. I won’t sell my soul for a phone number.

So somewhere, 3,000 miles away, my mother is dying. I don’t know how to reach her and am not even sure I want to. There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture. My ambiguity makes me nauseous. In times like these, adult daughters are supposed to hold the family together. Were I not an orphan, these past weeks would have been filled with concern, torturous days in a hospital waiting room, heartfelt conversations traversing decades of memories and visits with unbending grief.

Instead, I will learn I’ve lost my mother when I stumble upon her online obituary. There will be no sibling on the other end of the phone line, sharing the aftermath; no gathering of family finding comfort in a shared experience. There will be no “bereavement flights” because, legally, I don’t meet the qualifications. I will not attend the funeral because my brothers will ask me to sit in the back, keep my identity cloaked and do nothing to further upset those who have come to grieve.

My grief will not be public or acknowledged. I must find a way to say goodbye in a world that thinks I can’t lose what I have never truly had.

I spent the first two decades of my life praying she remembered me; the next decade pressing against a reunion relationship loaded with conflicts and concessions; and the last decade resolved in the knowledge all our missing years carved an impassable chasm between us.

The greatest irony of all in this experience is that, for the first time in forty years, I hope my mother isn’t thinking of me. As she faces her last days on this earth, I don’t want her heart full of anguish and regret. I hope she can spend her last hours revisiting the life she lived rather than mourning the one that disappeared in a decision made in the early morning hours of September 22nd, 1967. I hope her spirituality is strong enough to relieve her fears. Mostly, I hope she doesn’t, for a moment, feel alone, but is sharing her death with the people who shared her life. That I wasn’t one of those people is now my burden, not hers.

And if she does think of me, I hope she knows that I am okay. I have learned how to be an orphan and ceased looking for ways to fix what is unfixable. I hope she knows that in the process of doing so, I’ve discovered her, the person. I hope she knows that, in my eyes, she is no longer a villain or hero. I see her as she is; a flawed human being. It sounds like something so simple, yet is one of my proudest accomplishments. I am okay; okay with what happened and okay with her.

Perhaps most importantly, I hope she knows that for all the things we couldn’t, or didn’t, share, we do share the wish that things had been different. I will always, always wish I’d been somebody’s daughter. When she takes her last breath, I hope she knows that I wish that somebody had been her.

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Rhonda Ruminated at 11:04 AM | Permalink | 20 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
My Own Drumbeat
I remember the kitchen in the farmhouse as enormous; tall and wide, the table long enough to host a small army and the counters built for giants. In my mind, I see the room from the child-high perspective from the dining room doorway: table to the left, kitchen to the right.

I couldn’t tell you where refrigerator stood, the stove was placed or if the floor was tiled or linoleum. I just remember one drawer – the top drawer on the far right, so far off the ground I had to stand on my tippy-toes to peer inside. That drawer held the strangest of treasure, an indulgence bringing excitement and guilt, an item provoking a curiosity I neither understood nor could pull myself away from . . .

The Palouse County phone book. It wasn’t the book’s contents I found fascinating but the cover. A photo of Chief Sealth. S-e-a-l-t-h, Sealth. I remember sounding out his name and staring into his face as if he and I shared some kind of sacred bond. I was four years old, stealing away into the kitchen whenever I could to share a moment with the Chief, but never in the presence of my mother. I held no explanation for my fascination with his wrinkled face and knowing eyes, but was sure my interest, in some way, betrayed my adoptive family.

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Ellsworth, was a large woman with smooth olive skin and jet-black hair. She was a Blackfoot Indian. I remember her once taking off her sandals and showing us the bottom of her feet – to prove to a classmate her tribe’s name didn’t derive from their color. “Look,” she said, “normal feet, just like yours.” The day Mrs. Ellsworth brought her son to school was the first time I remember thinking it was possible I could be Native American. He was a toe-headed, light-skinned, blue-eyed kid like me.

At the age of nine, my adoptive mother took my brother and me on a day trip to Tillicum Village, on Blake Island in the San Juans, where Northwest Coastal American Indians perform traditional dances in a cedar longhouse while tourist dine on salmon baked above open fire pits. I was lost in the ambiance, mesmerized by the Nuu-chah-nulth ancestral masks worn by the performers. I didn’t want to go home. It wasn’t until researching this piece I learned that Blake Island was the birthplace of Chief Sealth.

My adoptive family boasts about the immigration of their ancestors to their Pacific Northwest homestead, still in the family more than one hundred years later. They once owned miles of the best land in town, acreage fronting the Snoqualmie River to the South and stretching West to the confluence of the Snoqualmie and Tolt rivers. They carry that history like a badge of honor. But the story never told is that of the land’s original owners: the Snoqualmie Tribe who lived on the banks of the rivers for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

Watered-down history books say the tribe willingly volunteered the land fifty years prior to my adoptive family’s arrival. But it has never escaped me who the rightful owners of that beautiful land are. And, as a child, I never tired of hearing my great-great aunt Gurina, who was born there, tell stories of the Indian women knocking on her front door to trade goods for dairy products and vegetables in the early 1900s.

My attraction to American Indian culture remains unexplained, but unwavering. Certainly, my early years in a rural farming community didn’t lend itself to multi-culturalism, nor did my parents’ insistence I was 100% Norwegian spawn some fantasy about being separated from my tribe. My fair skin and blonde curls implored me to blend in perfectly with my adoptive relatives. Still, at some point I began looking forward to the day I might reunite with my birthfamily and find, somewhere on the family tree, a branch validating a fascination seemingly spawned from nowhere.

But post reunion, when I was given a four-generation maternal family tree and instructed to ignore the obviously Polish name at the top (and also learned I wasn’t a stitch Norwegian), I realized family trees are subjective things. My maternal family is insistent upon being 100% Ukrainian, even if it defies evidence to the contrary.

My paternal family tree remains somewhat mysterious. Third-hand information says I am Swedish and Welsh on that side. My paternal half-brother embraces the Swedish and rejects the Welsh. I seem to be the only one who notices our father’s dark skin and darker hair. If my birthfather carried a secret about a Native American ancestor, he took it with him to his grave.

Family trees are dependent upon what a family is willing to reveal, but new DNA technology offers a truth serum. When genetic testing for ancestral origins became available I considered ordering myself a lab kit, then was crushed to discover that, being female, I carry only the genetic markers to trace my maternal line. Uncovering my father’s ancestry requires the DNA of my brother.

My brother: also abandoned by my father. My brother: with a “proud to be Swedish” bumper sticker adorning his truck. My brother: who happily sits amongst our family, keeping me a secret, complacent in the act of sparing them the knowledge our father fathered a bastard-child. My brother: with whom I share so much but will forever be divided from by his legitimacy. My brother: who hasn’t phoned in six years.

More than stubbornness stops me from picking up the phone. I will not beg him for a thread of my own genetic fabric. The cost of doing so will be a directive to value other things and show gratitude for the smidgens of information he smuggles away from the family gatherings to share with me. My brother is the gatekeeper of my family tree and I simply refuse to sell my soul to get my hands on the key.

I would feel like the women of the Snoqualmie Tribe, forced to beg for bits of the crops grown on land rightfully belonging to them.

That doesn’t mean I must ignore the pull I feel towards American Indian culture. Leaving it isn’t a choice; it steers me.

Last Spring, I attended a talent show at my son’s school. For most of the audience, it was an evening of giggles and applause but, for me, the entertainment stopped when a family walked upon stage – four generations of American Indians wearing traditional dress. The great grandfather took his place at the drum, the lights went down and the fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles and children danced around the drumbeat, singing in an unfamiliar language. One didn’t have to understand the words to recognize the passion of their song; to know they were calling out to ancestors and celebrating their roots, their connectedness.

It took my breath away. It wasn’t until the drumbeat stopped and the applause began I realized my body was frozen in rapture and my cheeks were wet with tears.

A DNA swab will not prove or disprove whether or not those tears are real. They speak for themselves.

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Rhonda Ruminated at 1:29 PM | Permalink | 18 People Ruminated links to this post