Tuesday, May 23, 2006
It's in the Details
It wasn’t my first trip to this small Midwest town, once the biggest city west of St. Louis. Then, it was steeped in the riches of farmers and manufacturers. Now, the ghosts of the Battle of Lexington haunt the intricate porches of its Victorian mansions. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the echoes of a thousand footsteps upon its 150-year-old cobblestone sidewalks. This place is American history.

Six months ago, upon my first trip here, I didn’t notice. I saw only a long, windy road dividing cornfields that stretched into the horizon. The quaintness of the town escaped my radar. I hadn’t come as a tourist. I didn’t want to be here at all. As we headed towards the military academy, as old as the town itself and assembled on its outskirts, my heart and mind were too fatigued by the months of stress leading us here to notice the details.

The boy in the passenger side of the car, my son, wasn’t having fun either. At that moment, the two of us had more in common than he would ever believe. As his protests reached a fevered pitch, I struggled to stay in the present, to remain an adult, a parent. While he saw his mother sitting next to him, determined to complete this journey and, hopefully, steer his life back on track, I was reliving the singularly largest trauma of my own teenage-hood – and having a hard time keeping my perspective.

Am I doing the right thing? Will this lead to the preservation of our family or forever damage us all? Will he, one day, reflect on this moment with understanding or will this break his spirit?

The answers to these questions were certain a day before. But the moment that long, winding road came into view, I became, again, the teenaged girl being escorted by an apologetic and empathic police officer to a foster home in the middle of nowhere – at the end of a long, windy road dividing acres of cornfields.

Logic demanded the circumstances here were different. My adoptive mother sent me back to the state while her boyfriend sat in handcuffs in the local jailhouse, an abuse charge hovering over him. He couldn’t return home if I were to stay, so she chose to return me to state care. Reason said I was parenting my son as she hadn’t parented me. But when your head fills with the sights and sounds of past trauma, the voice of reason can become nothing more than an annoying whisper.

It’s hard to see details when ugly memories bubble to the surface, when the voices of the past – those that told you what a disappointment you were, what a failure you’d be, what a mistake it had been to bring you into a family – distort your adult decisions. Those voices can undermine a lifetime of soul searching, growth, learning and understanding in an instant, if you don’t turn around and face them.

What my son didn’t know, as he cursed my decision to send him to a military academy, was that my past traveled with us on this journey. He was, in essence, sitting beside a teenaged girl who had just lost her entire world as his mother struggled to remember the details of their present lives. He didn’t know I fell to pieces when we said goodbye.

The six ensuing months brought perspective. The details of our present life came back into focus. Last weekend, I returned to the town. This time, the long, winding road welcomed me into a place of American history. I wandered the cobblestone walks. I appreciated and absorbed the details of the grand historical homes. I sat on the lawn of city hall, wondering how many civil war soldiers had fallen nearby. I marveled at the intricate molding on the Victorian homes and buildings. I saw all the details I’d missed before.

And then I attended my son’s dismissal ceremonies. His dress blues proudly displayed his new rank of “Private” as he stood at attention on the parade grounds amidst a sea of cadets. When the General ordered “Dismissed!” and the cannon fired, sounding the end of the school year, the 126th Corp of cadets threw their hats in the air and ran from the field, towards their parents – and home.

Our drive home was our best moment in recent years. The difficult months leading up to this decision seemed a million miles away as he shared his school adventures, boasted of his new rank and beamed with pride over his accomplishments. We talked about how difficult our drive to this place had been – and I told him about the teenaged girl and her ride to a foster home.

“You made the right decision, Mom,” he said. And, I knew he was right.

[you can visit the weekend's photos here]
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:21 AM | Permalink |

23 Ruminations:

  • At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Charlie

    Reason said I was parenting my son as she hadn’t parented me. But when your head fills with the sights and sounds of past trauma, the voice of reason can become nothing more than an annoying whisper.

    In the course of being human, reason and logic don't always work. But when you add experience, wisdom learned from experience, strength, courage, determination and conviction, and most of all, love, all of which you did, Rhonda, it works wonderfully.

    "Getting there" is never easy, there is always pain, but the reward is a fine young man who respects and loves you dearly.

    Another beautiful piece of recovery and growth in action.

  • At 4:13 PM, Blogger Kathy

    WOW. I hope your heart is as at peace as this reads. Congrats to your son for his promotion, and to you and the family for helping him get there.

    You'll always be that girl. If wishes could only take that away... But, that girl is a woman, a mom, a signigicant other, and a friend that people treasure.

  • At 9:40 PM, Blogger Ruth Dynamite

    Rhonda, you took my breath away with this one. Congratulations for your son's achievement - and especially for yours.

  • At 7:52 AM, Blogger 34quinn

    okay ,,,,,
    you made me cry !

    many posts I read I can relate to and many deffinately affect me emotionally but yours is the first to actually make me cry.

    I suppose being a mom of two sons and hoping I am making the correct descisions for their futures, based on my past, I worry how they will turn out.

    I read in your story what I am hoping for my own I suppose that is why it brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat.

    I also totally related to you having been sent "back" by your adoptive mom, although I was not I was always told I could be and it was held over me as a possible punishment. Not knowing what that would really mean I imagined it must be much worse than where I was.
    Being alot older now I almost wish I had been "sent back" in many ways it could have saved me.

    But I cannot cry over spilled milk.

    I loved your posting. and thanks.

  • At 9:45 AM, Blogger Rhonda

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 10:17 AM, Blogger Rhonda

    Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the comments generated from a piece. This is one of those times. Thanks to all.

    CHARLIE: Thank you. Your comment means a lot. I'm not sure we ever "get there," or even where "there" is, but in the process of trying we get closer to our a sense of "self" and that makes all the difference in the world.

    KATHY: Yup, I am enjoying a peaceful time right now.

    You'll always be that girl.

    I think, in recent years, learning to peacefully co-exist with that girl has played a big part in how I feel about so much of what happened in my past. And thank you for the sweet comments. You're a good person, Kathy. I hope you know that :o)

    RUTH: Thank you, so much. And I will pass the kudos on to my son because he worked his butt off to earn them. Ultimately, how things turned out had everything to do with his choices.


    I suppose being a mom of two sons and hoping I am making the correct descisions for their futures, based on my past, I worry how they will turn out.

    There's no shortage of worried mothers, but I do think those of us with abuse of any sort in our pasts are especially over-critical of our own parenting.

    And, sometimes I wonder just how much parenting has to do with how our kids turn out. My son could have easily taken this "opportunity" and ignored it; continued on the path he was taking. I'm sure this wont be our last trial or tribulation, but I am glad for this moment.

    I was always told I could be and it was held over me as a possible punishment

    This just makes me ache for you (makes me angry too). There are no crueler words an adoptive parent can say to their child. I am so sorry.

  • At 11:41 AM, Blogger St Jude

    Another superbly written essay. I'm so glad that things are working out for your son and your family.

  • At 12:20 PM, Blogger frankengirl

    Beautiful, Rhonda - :)

  • At 12:33 PM, Blogger Miss Keeks

    Rhonda--that was beautiful. I'm glad everything turned out well for you and your son. I think the big difference between you and your a-mother is--you made that decision out of love for your son, in the hopes that it would help him grow up to be a responsible adult.

    I'm curious, though, and you don't have to answer the question. Do you have any contact with your adoptive mother? Or was that it.

    After a number of years of misdirected guilt, I finally decided not to feel bad about my crumby a-dad. I'll blog about the whole thing soon.

  • At 1:46 PM, Blogger Nikki

    Congratulations to your son. He has earned kudos, rank, and other things it seems (self respect, self discipline, self love?, respect for others - the military did me a world of good too).

    Sending hugs to you Rhonda. That was a terribly hard decision to make, and you made the right one.

  • At 2:24 PM, Blogger Attila The Mom

    That was really beautiful, Rhonda. ::sniff::

  • At 2:27 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    ST. JUDE: Thank you. If you'd asked me if it was possible a year ago, I would have said it wasn't going to happen.

    FRANKENGIRL: Why, thank you :)

    MISS KEEKS: There isn’t enough room in this little comment box to wholly answer your question. The short version is we only had sporadic contact after that incident – until I got married and was pregnant with my first child. I hadn’t addressed any of my “stuff,” still pretty much entirely blamed myself for all of it and felt compelled to do everything I could to restore family harmony for my children. So, I sucked it up and went crawling back with my tail between my legs. We limped along like that for almost a decade and then the relationship imploded (for reasons that would take up way too much space). We haven’t spoken in the last 5-6 years – and that is a good thing.

    After a number of years of misdirected guilt, I finally decided not to feel bad about my crumby a-dad. I'll blog about the whole thing soon.

    That is just such a hard place to get to. I’m looking forward to reading about how you managed to pull it off – and kudos to you for doing so.

    ATTILA: Aw, thank you friend.

  • At 2:42 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    NIKKI: Thanks! I'm counting on you to correct me when I write military related posts and botch ranks, titles, etc. My son is endlessly annoyed with my inability to get them right.

    the military did me a world of good too

    I am now understanding why that is. In the begining, it was very hard for me to reconcile my parenting style with the rigors of a military academy; The 24/7 structure, lack of autonomy and limited creative outlets (and I wont even mention the politics). That said, after graduation all the cadets were slipping into their civies in the parking lot, looking and acting like normal teenagers. But I think they all walked away with, what you said: self respect, self discipline, self love?, respect for others and I'd guess a fair share of them arrived at the school lacking some of those things.

  • At 10:23 PM, Blogger sume

    So beautifully written, Rhonda. As a parent, I'm constantly asking myself the same thing, if I'm doing the right thing. Sometimes, I definitely do NOT feel like the grown-up that I'm suppose to be.

    I'm happy to hear your decision had such happy results. You should be proud of yourself as well as your son. You've both accomplished a lot.

  • At 7:39 AM, Blogger Mia

    I can't stand the fact that you actually lived through that adoptee fear of abandonment issue in real life. The greatest karmic justice has been done though Rhonda in the woman and MOTHER you turned out to be! Probably not in spite of but because of your experiences. WAY TO GO!!!!
    I just love you to pieces.

  • At 12:05 PM, Blogger Sven

    Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

    What I really appreciated was, whether deliberate or not, how your story of pain and redemption mirrored that of the small civil war town you visited. Coming to grips with the past, learning from it and moving on are not only essential steps in healing process but also allow us to see the beauty in life we would have otherwise missed.

    I trust that you and your son are able to view your relationship from a whole different perspective, much the same way have saw a completely different side of that town.

    Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  • At 4:25 PM, Blogger BloggingMone

    Rhonda, I was deeply impressed. In several ways. Driving your son to that place, despite of what had happened to you in your teenage days was very brave and also showed a lot of love and (whatever he had done before) trust in your son. I also learned a few other things from your blog. Being German it would never, ever occur to me to send my son (if I had one) to any kind of military institution. Yes, we do have an army, but it is dressed all in grey ( no joyful colours), and there is no such thing as celebrating a dismission in public. There would be protests against the army putting itself on display too much. Young men have to join the army for a year and a half, but the majority is doing civil service instead, even though it will take them a full two years then. Most people believe that civil service is good for building one's character, whereas the army isn't. The experience of once having had an army, which blindly followed an idiot into desaster, later claiming that none of them was responisble, because they have just been following an order, is still present even in after war generations. I have never understood the American attitude towards their army. I have gained a little more understanding today. Thank you!

  • At 5:59 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    BLOGGINGMONE: Thank you. During high school I had a friend named Hans-Peter, a German exchange student. I learned from him just how deeply the happenings in WWII Germany affect its citizens today. He didn’t talk about his country’s history as if it was out of a textbook, but carried it with him as if he’d been there himself. So, I understand what you are saying and also thank you for sharing your perspective.

    While my son’s school is based on military practice, rank and discipline, it’s primary goal is not to create soldiers. Thus far, my son has no interest in joining the military, though he has that option and many of the school’s graduates do go that direction. Given current politics, I have to say I am grateful for his stance – as hypocritical as it may sound.

    The only explanation I can offer about the differences in how our countries view their militaries is that our own history has shown us the damage done to soldiers who are spat upon when returning from conflicts not supported by a majority of our citizens. Some (many? Most?) of us understand the importance of supporting our service men and women, even while vehemently opposing the actions of our government.

    I’m really glad you’re here, bloggingmone. Your perspective is so important.

    SUME: I know just what you mean about not feeling like a grown up. And thank you for the kind words.

    MIA: You’re a pretty incredible person and mother yourself, you know. I’m so grateful (I can say that word in this context, right?) our paths crossed.

    SVEN: The comparison was intentional, but I wasn’t sure it came across until I read your comment.

    I trust that you and your son are able to view your relationship from a whole different perspective, much the same way have saw a completely different side of that town.

    Yup . . . and I can’t express what a blessing that’s been for both of us. Thanks so much for the comments, Sven. They mean a lot.

  • At 7:30 PM, Blogger AMYADOPTEE

    Its pretty pathetic that a woman chose a man over her child. It may have taken you on a horror trip to the past but it also brought your family closer and stronger. It gave your son strength and pride in himself. As a mother of two daughters, that is my greatest hope. It is also my greatest fear. Knowing what kind of person my birthmother is, I pray that my love and my hope outweighs the genetics. It seems that is exactly what you have done. Overcome it all and More Power to you.

  • At 11:07 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Amy, thank you.

  • At 6:32 AM, Blogger Mia

    GRATE-FULLLL?!? What is zisss you ah talkeeng about?!?

    Sheesh write one post on gratitude and get labled the grateful police. ;o)

  • At 3:08 PM, Blogger Marie Jarrell

    Ever since I began reading your posts I've harbored the idea that you should be writing a BOOK about your experience as an adoptee, first because you write so DAMN well and second because your story is so incredibly transcendent. Yours is a story of personal triumph over the petty minds that purposefully or unconsciously restrict and deny our purpose and needs. Yet you not only survived your trauma, you are a hero to your son (yes you are!), and you are helping a host of others who read your blog to uncover their own trauma and get in touch with honest feelings. You are an example of one whom adversity didn't kill but made stronger. Your son will one day understand all this, the stuff novels are made of. Yeah, I'm queen of stating the obvious, but I had to comment out in the open anyway. I'm also glad that bloggingmone presented her perspective here because I was a bit concerned about your involvement with military academies; now I get it, I think. In any case, you are passing along your big soulstuff to your son, and that's the best gift you could give him.

  • At 9:02 AM, Blogger AMYADOPTEE

    Okay come visit me at my blog. Thanks to you I did it. I finally published some really cool pics of my family. Its only because of you that I was able to do it.