Like a Bird in the Sky: Happy 43rd, Big Sis

Whenever I hear Nina’s earthy, electrifying voice, I think of my older sister, Carolyn June.  They shared the same fiery passion for justice and equality; both of them made people feel on a deep level, whether they wanted to or not.

Today is Carolyn’s birthday. Well, it would have been her birthday if she hadn’t passed away in 1989. I’ve written a bit about it on my other, much neglected, blog: http://www.sostinkinhappy.com/2011/08/old-endings-and-new-beginnings.html and  http://www.sostinkinhappy.com/2011/08/old-endings-and-new-beginnings-part-ii.html

Her passing split my world wide open with grief and marked the beginning of the end for many things in my life. The shock and grief of her passing is forever bound with the disintegration of my family of origin and the loss of my own daughter to adoption three and a half years later.

Those were difficult years.

So today, in honor of my big sister’s would-have-been birthday, I will cue up my Nina Simone playlist, crank it up as loud as possible, and dance and sway with abandon as I celebrate my sister’s short sojourn here on earth.

________________________________________________________

I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free ~ Nina Simone

I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say
All the things that I should say
Say ’em loud say ’em clear
For the whole round world to hear
I wish I could share
All the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be free

I wish I could give
All I’m longin’ to give
I wish I could live
Like I’m longin’ to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
And though I’m way over due
I’d be starting a new

Well I wish I could be
Like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found I could fly
Oh I’d soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
Than I’d sing cos I know – yea
Then I’d sing cos I know – yea
Then I’d sing cos I know
I’d know how it feels
Oh I’d know how it feels to be free
Yea Yea! Oh, I know how it feels
Yes I know
Oh, I know
How it feels
How it feels
To be free

Advertisements

The Sisterhood of the Snickerdoodle

snickerdoodlesDear Ms. Feverfew,

In my younger years, my Mom was involved with some activities that had her away from the home long enough for us older kids to get into mischief make a mess of her kitchen make cookies, those illicit baked morsels of sugary goodness that were verboten by my Mom-on-a-diet.  So while she was away, I mastered chocolate chip cookies at a tender age and my older sister mastered Snickerdoodles. Frequently, we could have an entire batch mixed, baked, eaten, and all the incriminating evidence cleaned up before my mom got home. (Eating all those cookies wasn’t as a monumental task as it sounds. After all, there were twelve of us kids!)
snickerdoodles_1Now, every time I make Snickerdoodles a smile steals across my face and I think of my older sister. How could I not? The buttery golden sweetness of the dough wrapped tight in the embrace of the warm of cinnamon will forever be synonymous with her. Some things stick with a girl – this is one of them. The recipe she used made enough Snickerdoodles for…well, for a family of twelve children who were eager to eat them all before Mom came home and found out we had used up all the butter making cookies. (Now that I stop and think about it, I wonder what my Mom thought all those times she would come home to find the pantry raided. It would have been pretty obvious where all the staples went, even if we did clean up the mess and try to air the house out before she got back.)

snickerdoodles_2Recently I made them for my other children, I realized this is a recipe that should have (would have) been passed down to you, too. So here it is now, your invitation and passport into the sisterhood of the Snickerdoodle. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did growing up and as much as Captain Knuckle, The Professor, and Poppy do now.

Much love,

M.

Soft Snickerdoodle Cookies

Ingredients:
2 c. butter
3 c. sugar
4 eggs
6 c. flour
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp good vanilla
1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Bring all ingredients to room temp.
  2. Cream butter in large bowl. Add 3 c. sugar and then blend until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time to butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Blend again until light and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  4. Sift dry ingredients together. Blend into butter mixture, along with vanilla. Be sure not to over mix, as this will create a cake-like cookie. Dough should be fairly soft.
  5. Chill dough in fridge for 1 hour.
  6. Meanwhile, mix 1/2 c. sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl.
  7. Preheat oven to 350*F
  8. Scoop 1 Tbsp balls of dough into cinnamon sugar mixture, then roll around to coat thoroughly.
  9. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes.
  10. Remove cookies from pan as soon as they come out of the oven.

What once was lost, now is found: I’m an auntie!!!

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I have this brother in law, The Samoan. He was adopted as an infant while his parents were living in Samoa and then brought to the US.  His adoptive mother is the sweetest of little Mexican women, Grandma A. and his adoptive father is white.  The Samoan was raised thinking he was 1/2 Mexican and 1/2 white. He speaks fluent Spanish and can cook up some pretty mean Mexican food.

When he was 16, he found out he was in fact neither of those two things, but a full blooded Samoan.

Needless to say, it was a tough adjustment to discover that not only was he adopted but his entire cultural identity was founded on a lie.  Fast forward to four years ago – one of his aunties from his first family found him. Within the last year, he has met his clan and discovered he has countless cousins, uncles, aunties, and even a bunch of siblings.  When he met them, they fell in love with him and welcomed him home in true Polynesian style. (Have I ever mentioned that in the Samoan language there is no word that means “family” as in one mother, one father, and children? Their word for family means cousins, uncles, aunties, grandparents, brothers, sisters, moms, and dads).

Now to rewind a bit, when he was much younger, he had a girlfriend. They did what boyfriends and girlfriends do. Eventually they broke up. Then right before he married my fabulouslyamazing sister in law, Maryann, this old girlfriend showed up and said, “Uh, Samoan. I thought I should let you know that this little boy is your son.” She was married at the time and no one knew quite what to do. The little boy thought his mom’s husband was his dad and so they just let it be.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve. I have known about The Samoan’s son for several years and I have often wondered if he would try to find him or if his son would try to find The Samoan.  As I contemplated our un-reunion, I had this feeling about his son….and somehow knew that something was afoot in the universe. It was weird, don’t ask me how I knew. I just did.

This morning, I was chatting on the phone with my fabulouslyamazing sister in law and she said, “I had the sweetest Christmas imaginable.” And then she told me that The Samoan’s son had contacted him on Facebook a few days before Christmas. He then joined them for the annual Case of Christmas Eve Crabs when the whole crazy family comes together and enjoys cases and cases of Alaskan King crab legs on Christmas Eve, courtesy of Uncle Jesus (so named because of his long hair, beard, and placid nature).

I couldn’t stop crying as she told me about their wonderful experience. I am so happy for my newly found nephew and for his younger brother and sister who are equally delighted to discover they have an older brother and for The Samoan. The New Nephew is now my friend on Facebook and I am eager to get to know him.  My fabulouslyamazing sister in law warned him of the ghost of aunties past but he basically said, “Bring it on!” and that he was excited to get to know us too. Woohoo!!!!

It is a good day today. Maybe someday I can write about you joining us at The Samoan’s house for a Case of the Christmas Eve Crabs too.

Much love and belief –

M.

National Adoption Awareness Month ~ Day 16: “I Decided I Was Enough”

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I have a bunch of sisters. Five of them in fact. This is a story about one of them, Elly. (She’s the adorable blond haired, blue eyed baby in my lap. This picture was taken while we were living on Guam – I was about 5 and she was about six months old).

I was the perfect age when she was born and simply adored “mommying” her – it was like having my own real-life baby doll. I loved playing with her. I loved holding her. I loved being with her. I loved it so much that I remember asking my mom if I could hold her and she would say, “Only after she wakes up from her nap.” So I would go wake her up from her nap so I could play with her.  (Eeeeek! Sorry for doing that, ma. You must have wanted to ground me for the rest of my life, especially considering you had seven other kids and getting Elly down for a nap was probably your one of your only reprieves for the day).

At any rate, Elly has started reading these letters (Hi Elly!).  The other day she sent me this message on Facebook about the time period when she found her self a single expectant mother.

“…for a split second I contemplated adoption instead of trying to do it on my own. I contacted an agency down in Utah County. I was scared of the consequences of adoption because I had seen what it had done to you, but I wanted to know my options. I didn’t understand the depth of your pain at the time because I think you were in coping mode and had just married that asshole, but I saw the pain deep in your eyes. I could feel your desperation in trying to get over it. I wondered if I chose adoption if I would be able to ever move on. I had a pulling in heart that told me there was no way I would ever be able to. When I called the agency I was immediately turned off by the fact that when I expressed fear that I would never get over it and when I asked if there was help for me if I decided to keep my baby that they abruptly disregarded my feelings and pushed for me to come in and meet with a counselor. I never went in to talk to anyone and I am so glad I didn’t. I decided then and there that I would do whatever it took to raise my child. I decided that I was enough with or without P. to do it. If it is any consolation your loss at the time saved me from experiencing the same pain and I will forever be grateful for that.”

So I guess some good came of all of this…of us. She has been a great mom to her wonderful C., now a 6 ft + tall strapping 14 year old football playing uber-smart genius. And in spite of this thorn plunged into my heart, I am grateful she was spared the peculiar agony that only a first mother knows. I hope that as I begin to share my story with other single expectant mothers they might come to the same conclusion to which Elly arrived: She was enough and that she would do whatever it took to raise her sweet baby.

Much love,

M.

How to Divide the Pie: The Professor’s New Reality

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I am one of those kinds of mothers who feeds her family pie for breakfast, especially when we are leaving for a short vacation and there is homemade pumpkin pie leftover from dinner last night needing to be eaten. (In my defense, we all had scrambled eggs before eating the pie).

Mr. Amazing Man put the pie on the table and the Professor scrutinized it carefully. “Mom, it’s perfect. There is just enough for all of our family.”

“Of course” I said, “There’s always enough pie for us.”

“No, Mom, that’s not what I mean. Look. There are six pieces of pie. That’s how many are in our family.”

Being a practically minded person I was only thinking of how many people would be eating the pie (me, hubby, and the two boys) and I said, “But that’s two pieces too many!”

“No,”That’s not too many.” Holding up his hands, he counted on his fingers as he named us all, “There’s Dad, you, brother, me, my little sister, and my big sister. Six people in my family.”

Captain Knuckle started to correct him by saying that the girls won’t be having pie. I hushed him quickly and told him it was all right. Then I choked back salty tears and dished out the pie realizing that just like his older brother, this sweet 6-year old counts you as family – his tuafafine.

I haven’t talked to him much about you since the chicken incident a week or two ago but clearly, he has been thinking about the fact he has an older sister out there. And he is very concerned that you get your piece of the homemade pumpkin pie.

Love,

M.

I Must Be Tired Because I Think This is Hilarious

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I recently found out a person I know rather well and his wife of 14 years recently adopted a baby. Now mind you, this is one of those rare times when there was an infant truly in need of a home. The little guy was born weighing 2 lbs. 2 oz. and in desperate need for someone to love him as his mother sadly had no desire nor ability to parent this tiny life.  But frankly, I am shocked that this particular couple was allowed to adopt.  It’s one of those situations where if you know all the facts, you say, “Well, there is a reason why some couples can’t have children.”  Let’s just say that this particular person has some uh…ummm…well, he inherited his bio-dad’s proclivities.  And has been hauled into court for his behavior, so it isn’t just me saying this.  State of Utah knows it as well. (Oh yeah, he molested a girl 10 years younger than him for years and let his buddies help themselves to her too, but it only when on until he was just shy of his 18th birthday so it doesn’t show up on his adult record.)

Perplexed as to how this particular couple passes a home study, I went searching for adoption laws/home study rules in UT on Google.  And this is what popped up:

May Harm Computer

I got a good laugh when I saw that going to the site “www.adoption.org” may harm your computer.  I thought, “Harm my computer? That’s an understatement. Harm my computer. That’s just the start of the harm that comes from that website.

But, I guess if I were an potential adoptive parent, I wouldn’t find it so harmful. Maybe might find it pretty helpful. Who knows. I am not an potential adoptive parent so I guess I will never know. I just found it funny from the perspective of a first mother who lost her oldest daughter to adoption.

Hope school is going well for you and that you are finding much satisfaction and joy there –

M.

Confessions: A Rose by Any Other Name (Or In Other Words, a Happy Adoption Story)

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I must confess something. I am an adult adoptee.

But not in the usual sense. Oh, I had the same parents “parent” me until I was 27 or so. When I say that I am an adult adoptee, I mean that I am literally an adult adoptee. As in, I was adopted when I was an adult. In fact, February 24 marked the 10th anniversary of my adoption – the day this Rose got a new name.

Without boring you to death with details, here is how I ended up being adopted at 27 years old:

I have seen much affliction in the course of my days, but unlike Nephi, I was not born to goodly parents. My parents where what you could politely call “dry” alcoholics – to the outside world, they appeared to have it all together but on the inside, things were rotten to the core. My biological father (also commonly referred to as “Dad DOS” or “bio-mass”) was abusive in every sense of the word. And horribly so. I will never forget the time when it really hit home how terrible of a person he was is.

It wasn’t in the middle of one of his late night visits to my room to “teach” me how to “be a real woman.” It wasn’t during one of the beatings with the buckle end of his belt (being careful to never leave marks where they might show from underneath my perfectly pressed Sunday dress). It was when I was in school and my drama teacher gave us an assignment. She wanted us to write down on a slip of paper the one piece of advice we remembered our father’s giving us the most when we were growing up.

I sat there. And sat there. And then started crying.

I couldn’t decided what to write down on that slip of paper.

Should I write, “I wouldn’t pee on you if you were on fire, you filthy pigs and dogs!”

Or was the piece of advice he gave me the most “Get out of my life – I wish you were dead, you puking whore of an animal!”

I left that class and went and sat in my car and cried for nearly two hours. This is the kind of “advice” my father gave us. Day in and day out from the time we were tiny until we were old enough to just laugh at him for his stupidity. But really – Who says those kinds of things to their tiny children? WHO???? It was like the scales had finally fallen away from my eyes and all pretense and hope for what could have been was stripped away.

I saw him for what he really was: A small-hearted, mean, cruel man treated his children like chattel and used them for his own perverse pleasures. He would never be the father – the daddy – I prayed for, that I thought “if I am just perfect enough, maybe then he will love me.”

I realized then that he would never love me because he was incapable of love.

So back to the main story: When my older sister was killed in a car accident there on I-15, my mom and I went to her apartment to collect some of her things before the funeral. While there, my mom came across her most recent journal. Inside of the journal was a letter written on paper from a yellow legal pad, cleanly creased into two folds. I remember my mom sitting on the edge of my sister’s bed there in the apartments at College Terrace, the tight Berber carpet under her feet as she unfolded the letter and began to read.

I stood there paralyzed…I knew what the letter was.

I watched my mother’s grief stricken face crumble into dust. The letter was my sister’s first attempt at confronting my father about the abuse she had endured at his hands. It was her voice from the grave, shattering the walls of the whited sepulcher my parents had built.

As some point that evening, my mother took me aside and asked me if my father had done “anything” to me. Still terrified of the man (I still lived under his roof after all and he threatened to kill my mother and me if I ever told anyone), I only said, “Well, there was this one time…” I didn’t have the courage to tell the whole story at that point. She proceeded to go to each of her other daughters and each of them had something to add (Remember, her oldest daughter is not yet buried and now she has just found out that her husband of 20+ years has been molesting her daughters – I don’t know how she endured that time period in her life…)

Late that same night, she confronted him and he admitted to it all. After the funeral, my parents legally separated but my mom tried to “make it work” for the sake of her temple marriage. After another two or so years, she filed for divorce. It was a supreme act of courage if you ask me – she still had 8 children under 18 and no education whatsoever but she knew she could no longer be married to this monster of a man. My father proceeded to spread rumors about her, about me, and about my sisters that poisoned our entire community. After all, he was a prominent church member, businessman, and volunteer in the community. We were just a bunch of “lying, thieving women.” It all came back to bite him in the proverbial butt though when my mom turned everything over the authorities and he ended up in the big house at Point of the Mountain, doing the time for the crime.

A few years later, my mother moved to a new community and was working on her Ph.D. when she met an incredible man. Through a curious turn of events, they ended up getting married (an equally supreme act of courage on his part. After all, when they married, my mother had 12 children AND an ex-husband who was  in prison for child molestation!!!) But this man…oh, this man. I wish I could clone him a million times over so every one could have a Papa like him. From the moment we became a family, he was most assuredly my father – the daddy – that I had longed and prayed for. In the shelter of his expansive love for me and my siblings, I finally felt like I had roots and wings.

The idea of him adopting me had never really crossed my mind until one day I was at an electronics shop and was picking something up. I said to the young guy behind the counter, “My name is M. Schmo and I am here to pick up the aforementioned electronics” (or something like that).  He quickly looked up and said, “Ooooh, are you related to Joe Schmo, like the Joe Schmo in Happy Valley?” The tone in his voice made it painfully obvious that he knew my father was in prison.

Ugh.

At that point, I knew I had to ditch the last very-uncommon-in-Utah yet very recognizable last name.  I didn’t care how, I knew it had to go. I simply did not want to be connected to that man or his evil deeds again.

A week or so later while I was over at The Parents for dinner, I told them of my experience. It was then that my mom casually said, “Hey, maybe your New and Improved Dad (my name for him) can adopt you and you can legally change your name!”  It was a decidedly brilliant suggestion and one we promptly acted on. Within a short time period, not only had my New and Improved Dad legally adopted me but also three other of my adult siblings. We all changed our surnames to our New and Improved Dad’s surname (even my married brothers did this!)  and went out to eat Mexican food to celebrate our new family ties. It was awesome.

I hadn’t realized how terribly important it was for me to shed my growing-up last name until I got those adoption papers. It was….it was freeing. Liberating.  I know is sounds horrible but I absolutely LOVE seeing his name on my amended birth certificate. (Yes, I got a falsified document,  just like you! Hey – now we can be twinners. Difference is, I have my original one tucked right behind my falsified one. You probably don’t. Well, at least not yet – I have a copy of your original birth certificate and will give it to you when you want it.)

I personally think that my adoption story is one of the best ones I have ever heard.  I decided as an adult what family I belong to. I decided what my name would be. I requested an amended birth certificate with my New and Improved Dad’s name on it. It was all about empowering me as a person instead of disenfranchising me and erasing my identity.  All of this was my choice and that, IMHO, is a happy adoption story.

So that is the story of  this Rose got a new name. And let me be the first to tell you – life by another name smells even sweeter than I imagined.

Much love,

M.

Happy Birthday, Carolyn

Today would have been my sister’s 39th birthday had she stuck around long enough here on earth. Unfortunately, when she was 18 years, 8 months and 23 days old she went through a windshield of a car and ended up on the other side of eternity. But you know what? I think that is exactly what she would have wanted her ending here to be like.  She left this earthly life just as she lived it: a white-hot shooting star trailing spit-fire and sparks, hell bent on rocking the boat, challenging the status quo, and never ever taking the easy, quiet path.

I was just 20 months younger than her and we grew up sharing bath time (that’s me on the right – I sure was cute, wasn’t I?), bedrooms, toys, clothes, fights, and friends. As we got older, we continued to share our bedroom, clothes, fights, and friends, but upped the ante with cars, lockers at school, and jobs. When she died the Saturday before my senior year began…it was like losing a limb. I was exactly two months shy of turning 17 and I hardly knew how to function. Living without her constant, daily big-sister presence in my life was like trying to learn how to walk again.

She was quite the big sister to have and perfectly suited for the role. (That’s me and her in the picture above on Christmas morning 1977 when we were living on Guam.) There was something magical about her; everyone that met her adored her. She had a special tenderness for the elderly and was a fierce protector of the disabled. When she was angry, the gold flecks in her crystalline blue eyes would deepen to a dark amber. When she was happy, it was like basking in the warmth of a full sun in the spring.

Speaking of the spring, whenever the snows there on the mountains in Utah Valley would finally start to melt, we would forge a note from our mom (sorry Mom) and skip school (sorry again Mom) so we could head for the foot hills.  (That’s her at her high school graduation, exactly three months before she died in the car accident. If I could just pan to the left a bit in the photo, I could actually point out the spot on the mountain where we spent much of our school-skipping time). Finding our favorite secluded spot, we would shed our winter clothes for the swim suits underneath and climb up on the hood of the car and soak in the newness of the season. Those were good times. Good times indeed.

She had an impish grin, cavernous dimples and a quick-silver temperament. Above all though, she loved each and every one of her siblings – all eleven of us – with a fierce loyalty that I have yet to ever find equaled in another person (that’s her above with Elly, baby #8).  She was always our protector and our champion. It wasn’t our big brothers who came to the rescue when the neighborhood bully would start picking on us – it was her. It was always her. Scrappy and bird-thin as she was, she always kicked the dog-snot out of anyone giving her siblings grief.

She was the third of twelve children that came in quick succession and the oldest daughter. Watching out for us was a full-time gig.   (That’s her and Angelyn, baby #9.  My mom was raised Catholic and then joined the LDS church. There was never any hope that our family would be small.)  Aside from keeping us from getting beat up by the meanies in the neighborhood, her chief role was to entertain and instigate.  While I was the quiet, studious, obedient daughter, she was the one who was always finding new ways to make us laugh and more elaborate plans to get us into trouble with the parents.  While I was the voice of caution and prudence, hers was the voice urging us to throw off the bow-lines and explore uncharted territory.

She was magnificent.

So today, I wish my big sister a happy birthday, where ever she might be.