Openness and vulnerability

IMG_3322It’s funny how sometimes the universe speaks to you in mysterious ways. Yesterday, I had two unexpected experiences where I feel like I really learned something about the value of openness and vulnerability.

For the first incident, it was the end of my day and I was chatting on the phone with a work colleague who I know fairly well and consider a friendly acquaintance. I hadn’t seen her in quite a while and we were catching up, mostly about work related things, with a bit of professional gossip thrown in. We were checking in a bit on how we were doing work-wise and personally, but I hadn’t intended to tell her about my adoption plans. My adoption journey is something that I haven’t shared with many people in my professional life. I’ve kept this part of my life private, sharing it selectively. It’s not at all about shame or fear or worry about potential repercussions for my career, but more just because I am naturally a very private person.  Key people at work are in the know about my adoption plans and they are very supportive, but I try hard to keep my private life separate from my professional. It’s a level of balance that works for me. So back to the conversation with this work friend, from catching up about professional stuff and changes in her work life, we drifted into the realm of more personal and then there came a moment where it just seemed right to open up about my adoption plans. She herself adopted her son and is a single Mom, so I think that had something to do with it. I’ve also been recently feeling more and more stressed and anxious about being in this “waiting limbo” and somehow, I think I just needed to unload with someone who would understand, where I could be vulnerable and open up. We ended up talking for ages. The office cleared out, lights went dark  and there we were still talking and soon I was crying on the phone—and somehow this was a much needed catharsis for the stress that I had been carrying around. It was a really good conversation, uplifting and reassuring when I needed it.We talked about adoption and being a single Mom, about the parts that are hard and the parts that open your heart. And remarkably this letting go, opening up and being vulnerable when I didn’t expect it or plan it, managed to put me more at ease than I’ve felt in a long while.

The second experience happened right after, on my way home. I was waiting for my train and was scrolling through Facebook and my eye caught on a post from a friend that mentioned adoption. I’m not sure why this friend posted about adoption. I don’t know whether there’s a personal connection but she’s a pretty prolific poster about all sorts of things.  The post was titled “Shame is sticky“and was from a blog written by a woman named Marci Glass. In it Marci tells her her adoption story–having been placed for adoption as child 48 years ago, finding and trying to reconnect with her birthmother but being rebuffed, and now trying to come to terms with the situation that her birthmother does not want to reconnect.

I found myself just so struck and moved by Marci’s blog post, this random post that popped up on Facebook page on a night I was feeling vulnerable and open. She writes so honestly about her longing and sadness, and hers is a moving and heart-breaking story. She makes very clear that the heartbreak she feels is not because of the adoption which she respects and expresses gratitude for, but rather the heartbreak comes from the loss and shame that she feels in her mother’s decision not to be open to meeting her. She writes:

I completely support her decision in 1968 to place me for adoption. I am, quite literally, the woman I am today because of that decision, and I am so grateful she gave me life and gave me up…I am quite certain that shame is at the root of why she won’t meet me now…for my birthmother, shame appears to have silenced her and is keeping her from speaking to me and speaking to her family about me. As I am navigating the discovery of my own story, I’m learning how “sticky” shame is in my life. I do not feel shame about being adopted. It’s been a gift in my life. I do not feel shame for having been born. Yet as I navigate the places her shame requests my silence, I feel her shame trying to cloud over my life too, making me feel that I can’t claim my story, trying to keep me from asking questions, meeting my family, etc.

In what she writes, you could really feel the hurt child, even now, so many decades on. And It really reinforced for me what it feels like not only for the child who is adopted but for the adult that child becomes.  It made me think again about what I would want for my own child, what I would want them to be able to know about where they came from and how I would want them to feel good about themselves and their story, the history I would want them to have access to and the family they are always going to be part of in some way. Her story became even more poignant when I learned, scrolling through her blog to an earlier post (a post about her conflicted views on Mothers Day) that not only was she adopted, but she also placed a son for adoption when she was a college student. She talks about her relationship with her first born son (whom she placed in an open adoption and has remained in contact with) and writes about him with such obvious pride and love. She tells us that she later married and had two more sons, who also have been able to get to know first born son. She talks about how placing her first son for adoption — a decision she does not regret— has made her a better, more devoted mother to her other sons. And so, she really lives both sides—as a child who was adopted and a mother who placed her child for adoption.

After reading Marci’s story and her experiences, from both sides, it made me even more committed to wanting to insure that my child  will have the opportunity and the gift of knowing his/her family history and birthparents. I know you can’t always control what happens but it made me even more committed to doing my part to approach our mutual adoption story with openness. Reading Marci’s story and  feeling vicariously, through her, her birthmother’s shame also made me even more sympathetic to how hard all this is for the mothers who give birth and place their children for adoption. I’m really grateful to have stumbled on her blog (thanks, Universe and Facebook!) and Marci’s story. I hope you too have a chance to read her blog. Her openness and her willingness to be so honest, vulnerable and open in putting this all out there has been a real gift of insight for me—here from a stranger who whose post randomly wound up in my Facebook feed.

 

Just an ordinary extraordinary weekend

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Sunday night sunset after a great weekend

Last week was a really busy week at work, and I was feeling pretty bedraggled by the time Friday rolled around. Having been away quite a lot this summer, I was glad to have a weekend at home,  just hanging out and seeing friends. It turned out to be a great weekend, just the sort of ordinary but extraordinary weekend that I love. Friday night I had a friend from grad school visiting who I hadn’t seen in a really long time. We hadn’t seen it each other for years somehow and it was really fun to reconnect, catch up and reminisce on where life had taken us. We took Bodhi out for a walk and had Indian food in my neighborhood. Saturday, I met up with my friend Judy for a hike with Bodhi at Point Pinole and lunch at my local neighborhood beer garden. Bodhi loves Judy and he got to lap up the attention and treats, not to mention an outing to one of his favorite hiking trails. Saturday evening, my friends John and Lisa came over for dinner—take-out sushi and my favorite  Strauss chocolate ice cream for dessert. Bodhi got to beg some more treats from John and Lisa and test out a few more laps for snuggling. (Let’s just say it was a good weekend for Bodhi too!). Sunday I met a friend for brunch in San Francisco and then spent some time in the garden, potting some new plants and plotting out a landscaping project I have been dreaming about. I even managed to get in a short nap on the hammock and caught the sunset with Bodhi on our evening walk tonight. It’s been a pretty great weekend.

 

California: The Land of Orange Popes

My friend Noelle just sent me a story that her daughter Keira (6) wrote after their family trip to visit me in April. My favorite part (which had me baffled for a bit) was the “I saw popes that were my favorite color Orange.” Hmmm. Berkeley and San Francisco have their share of eccentric sites but I didn’t remember any orange popes. But then I realized that we saw lots of the orange California poppies on one of our hikes!

Keira's California Story

Peloponnes Family vacation

IMG_4608I’m just back from vacation in Greece with my cousins, Titus and Sabine, and their two boys, Matthias and Sebastian. My cousins live in Germany and we try to meet up over the summer for a family vacation. This year we went to Greece, to a family resort on the Peloponnes coast in western Greece.  We had a fantastic time and the week blitzed by. I love hanging out with Matthias and Sebastian on these vacations and watching them grow up. Matthias, who’s 12, had braces this year and just finished his first year in “Hochschule” (the German equivalent of middle school) and is deep into reading fantasy novels. Sebastian, 7, is the family charmer and has become soccer obsessed, and the highlight of his vacation was scoring 4 goals in the evening beach soccer game with the “big kids.” German families tend to spend a few weeks at the beach over the summer, often in one of these “all inclusive family resorts.”We went to a similar type resort last year in Turkey and I will admit I was a bit skeptical of the concept at first. The idea of staying put in one place for a week, roaming between pool and beach, is not my typical vacation, but I’ve come to love these vacations, where everything is planned and taken care of and there’s really nothing to think about other than finding your beach chair for the day and remembering to put on sunscreen. Since I arrived pretty exhausted from a really long flight and few very stressful weeks at work,  I was definitely in need of a week of “doing nothing.”

We spent the week hanging out at the pool, swimming in the ocean, floating in the “lazy river” pool (I fell in love with the lazy river!), sleeping, reading, playing endless rounds of Uno. In the evenings, there was a music and entertainment program that ranged from family night, where the kids put together a dance and comedy show, to a Greek dancing show.  There was never ending food and as much ice cream as one could eat, all day long. Sebastian amazed me with how much ice cream such a little guy could put away! Matthias convinced me to try SUP (standup paddleboarding for those, like me , who had no idea what SUP is!) which proved to be harder than anticipated. Matthias was a natural and was padding around like he had been doing it forever. I, however, quickly reverted to “sit down paddle boarding” (a new support SDP?) and regretted not going for the sea kayaking option. The humiliation of my complete lack of ability to get upright on the board was made up for by Matthias thrill and happiness that I went with him, when his Mom and Dad stayed on the beach. The kids brought me up to speed on the latest video game fads—-everyone was very into Pokemon Go, but sadly, Pokemons had not yet found their way to the resort. I finally managed to finish the 4th book of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. I had started the series last year in Turkey. We took a day trip one day, to go to Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic games. Having come all this way, I did want to see some of the local cultural sites. We managed to catch our first Pokemon of the trip at Olympia. In between, I spent at an afternoon at the spa, for a round of relaxing Thalassotherapy which is a  form of water massage where you do rounds in a pool with different water jets that massage different parts of your body (who knew this even existed…it’s like a water park for adults!).

The one part of being at a family resort that I’ll admit was a bit hard was that there were families and kids and babies everywhere, all so impossibly cute. In fact, there really wasn’t anyone there who didn’t have kids and the place was designed around kids. Not surprisingly, although for the most part I was in the moment and very happy to be there as the fun Aunt, every now and then, I couldn’t help but feeling a bit jealous and longing for a child of my own. But, all in all, it was a fantastic week and a much needed chance to unwind. I will say that “doing nothing” is tiring in its own way. We’re already starting to think about where our vacation next year will be. I’m hoping that by next year, I’ll be able to introduce everyone to a new baby cousin!

 

 

 

 

Tassajara Magic

Tassajara Zen CenterLast weekend, I went away with my friend Phil for a long weekend to Tassajara, a Zen monastery and hot springs four hours south of here, in the mountains outside of Carmel Valley. This was our second Tassajara trip and I am hopeful we’re going to make this an annual tradition. It’s hard to describe the calming magic of Tassajara. Tassajara is the oldest Soto Zen monastery in the United States. The hot springs are the main physical attraction, though Tassajara is about so much more than the hot springs. The hot springs were originally discovered by the Esselen native people and even then the springs were known for their restorative properties. Later in the 1900s , the hot springs were part of a mountain resort, where Californians would come to “take the cure” for the supposed healing powers waters. By the 50s and early 60s, the resort had fallen in disrepair and then was rediscovered by Shunryu Roshi who founded the San Francisco Zen Center and brought new life to Tassajara, as a center for the study of Zen Buddhism. Tassajara today remains an active Zen monastery, where for most of the year, students come here for the monastic life, to meditate and study Buddhism. During the spring and summer, Tassajara is open for the “guest season” and “guests” from the lay world can come for retreats and workshops, or just to get away. The hot springs themselves are beautiful and relaxing, with the baths having a very Japan architecture, adding to the relaxing zen feel. A babbling creek runs through the center of Tassajara and its melody. along with the chirping birds, is constantly in the background. At regularly intervals in the day, its gurgling is interrupted with the gentle gongs and bells from the Zendo, calling the students to Zazen (meditation). Part of the magic of Tassajara is the journey. Tassajara itself is that end of the long 14 mile rugged, narrow, steep and winding one-lane dirt road, one that some are brave enough to drive but we got a ride from the nearby town via the Tassajara “stage” (aka a SUV with 4 wheel drive and good brakes!). My first ever trip to Tassajara was one where I drove alone and made the mistake of arriving close to dusk. I’ll never forget that drive down that bumpy, narrow, dirt road, wondering whether I would ever get out of there alive. I was smart enough for that trip (having been warned!) to have rented a 4 wheel drive (there’s no way my little car would have made it!) but even so, it was by far the scariest drive of my life. It’s common for cars to burn out their breaks or pop tires coming down this road. Our driver told us that at least four times per season someone’s car completely breaks down. The funniest story of this season was the person who drove their Tessla in not realizing that they would not be able to charge it once there (talk about clueless and entitled!). When you are driving down that road,  one wonders why people even bother, but then, you get to the bottom, and there you are, in this truly magical place. The stress of the drive just melts away. You really feel like you are a million miles away from the real world when you’re there. There is no internet or phone reception and in  fact, you’re discouraged from even having your phone visible.  Electricity is also limited. Even a few years ago, none of the cabins had electricity. The only lights there were old-fashioned gas lanterns, but now they’ve exchanged these with solar lights. The food is all vegetarian and super-delicious, especially the home baked Tassajara bread that they are so famous for. Whenever I arrive at Tassajara, I just notice my body and mind getting lighter. My steps slow down and I can feel my mind recentering. I had first come to Tassajara a few years ago for a workshop, not quite knowing what to expect. I initially took up meditation in the period after my Mom died. That was a difficult time for me and meditation helped me refind myself and start to come to terms with the grief and trauma of her illness and death. I had heard about Tassajara from various people over the years but never made the trip myself. It’s one of those places where people come year after year. Phil and I met people who have been making the annual pilgrimage for 30 plus years. As a result, it’s not so easy to get a reservation. On my first visit, I actually got lucky and signing up for this workshop was a rather spur of the moment decision and lucky break that there was a last minute opening. That workshop, which was about making life changes, really transformed me in many ways, and I got my first taste of the magic of Tassajara. It seemed fated somehow. This past weekend was no less perfect. We spent the weekend hiking, lounging in the hot springs, swimming in the creek’s swimming pool, reading and just catching up and slowing down. The special moments are many—sitting in the hot springs at night staring up at a sky overflowing with stars; escaping the incessant pull of my iphone and not thinking about emails for three whole days;  watching the blue jays chatter up a storm from our porch overlooking the creek; swimming in the swimming hole at the Narrows; naps by the pool and sleeping late; watching my mind slow down and catching up with myself. Bliss. Throughout this adoption journey and especially as I wait, it’s been really helpful for me to find time, like this weekend, to get away. With the adoption wait, you are always “on” somehow, waiting for the phone to ring or an email to arrive. Most of the time, it’s just crickets, seemingly nothing happening and the phone silent and yet, I am in constant fear being out of contact and missing THE call. It’s hard to be constantly on call and waiting, so I made a decision early on not to put my life on hold while I waited. Sure, that does mean special arrangements sometimes—like this weekend, making sure my counselors had the main phone number at Tassajara if something came up or buying trip insurance for my vacations, just in case they need to be cancelled. It’s not that I wouldn’t drop everything to be ready when the time comes—in fact, I probably would even have hiked out that 14 mile dirt road from Tassajara if that were necessary. But, making sure that I still enjoy my life for what it is, as it is now, keeps me grounded and optimistic, even when the wait seems unbearable.

 

The Letter

!!! With Bodhi 4 (possible back cover)I’ve been working on a revised “Dear Birthmother Letter” and at long last, it’s finished! The final prints came in the mail this week! For those of you who have been following my adoption journey, I should perhaps back-up a bit. I decided a little while back to diversify my adoption strategy and started working with an additional adoption agency. I really like IAC (Independent Adoption Center, the nonprofit open adoption-focused agency I’ve been working with since I started this process), but for various reasons, I started to feel that I wanted a more hands-on approach to help me find my way to this special baby. It was a big step (and major financial commitment) to start working with a second agency, but I feel like it’s the right choice for me and have been excited for this next step. This agency has a bit of a different outreach philosophy than IAC and a different approach to the “Dear Birthmother Letter,” so here I am, revising my Letter again.

For friends who may not know about the “Dear Birthmother Letter,” “The Letter” (as I’ll refer to it) is a key part of the adoption process. It’s the first view that most Birthmoms have of prospective families and key part of the whole adoption networking process. I think I speak for most wanna-be adoptive parents when I say that “The Letter” might be one of the hardest, most-time consuming and fraught parts of the whole adoption process. At one point, I think the “Dear Birthmother Letter” was literally that, a letter to the prospective Birthmother, maybe with some photos included. Now these Letters are essentially glossy multi-paged photospreads. Preparing my IAC letter was harder and more emotionally tortured than even preparing for the homestudy.  These days, most of the adoption process happens online, where birthparents are presented with profiles of potential adoptive parents.  In the ideal, “The Letter” is intended to give birthparents a view of the potential family/person who may adopt their child. “The Letter” and on-line profile is a window into the adoptive parents, who they are, what their lives are like, why they want to adopt.This all seems incredibly reasonable, when seen from the Birthmother’s point of view, but still the whole concept of putting together this profile really intimidated me. In many ways, the adoption process these days seems a lot like online dating. (A comparison which seems chock full of irony  for me personally, considering that my distaste for online dating is a good part of the reason why I’m still single!) I’m a very private person and I intentionally keep a low online and social-media profile in the rest of my life. I’ll admit that initially hearing about “The Letter” and the whole process involved made me very anxious. I’m not a person who likes to talk about myself. I don’t even like having my photo taken. I like to live below the radar, so the idea of spilling out my life into what is essentially a glossy marketing brochure and online profile and on top of that, one that needed to stand out from a crowd gave me heart palpitations. There’s also this immediate feeling of being judged (pick me!), a feeling I found heightened when I perused other wanna-be adoptive family’s profiles. Reading those profiles, the other wanna-be parents all sound so very perfect, lovely and so right to be great parents. My insecure side wondered how I could possibly compare? Plus, while I usually am quite content with my life as a single woman, somehow, seeing this sea of shiny happy-looking couples, got me wondering why anyone would pick just me. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think how hard it must be for Birthmoms to sort through all these profiles, looking for that special one without knowing even what to look for.  Can you really tell who would be a good parent from one of these Letters? There is this sameness to the formatting and the language that makes it hard to stand out from the crowd.

Well, the first go-round of putting together my Letter, was really tough. Writer’s block to the extreme. For weeks, it was all I thought about. I walked around just thinking about to present who I am and my hopes and dreams for this baby into words and pictures on a page. The agency put forward very specific recommendations for format and what to say, which is helpful in some ways when you’re staring at a blank page, but very quickly starts to feel formulaic and not true to who I am. There’s also the issue of the photos. The agencies also have very specific recommendations for photos. For the IAC Letter, the recommendation was to have as many photos with children as possible. Now, I love kids and I love my friends’ kids, but I had few photos to document this, so for a few months, there were a lot of “photoshoots” with friends and their kids. Of course, it made me laugh when the new agency told me that their style favors photos of hobbies and your “adult life.” So, out with the kid shots and in with the hobby shots!

All this being said, as difficult as the process was I actually am so pleased with how my Letter turned out. In the end, what helped me to pull it all together (literally and psychologically) and made the process more meaningful and real for me, was thinking about this as not just a letter to the woman who would give birth to the baby I would be lucky enough to adopt but also a letter to my future child. Someday, I will be able to share this with him or her and show her/him what my life was like while he/she was just a dream. It’s the beginning of the story of our family and the first family scrapbook of many more to come.

I had a lot of help along the way and in particular, wanted to thank a few people who helped me create a Letter that really represents me, as I am. My friend Luis was very generous to be step in as the photographer for a number of my “photoshoots.” Not only did he take beautiful photos but he supplied his gorgeous children, Eleanor and Sebastian, as props! Thanks also to Eleanor and Sebastian for looking so completely adorable in all the photos. Who wouldn’t look awesome next to these two cuties! For my revised Letter, I decided to have some professional photos taken of me with Bodhi. I have a ton of photos of Bodhi and he always looks cute but I had very few photos of the two of us together. After researching pet photographers on Yelp, my dogsitter recommended a friend of his, Patty Nason. Patty was awesome! She spent the afternoon with Bodhi and I at a local park and took the most precious photos of Bodhi and me.  I treasure these photos—one of my favorites is above. She really captured us both so well. Plus, who doesn’t love having someone shouting out flattering comments like “you look beautiful” and “great smile” for a whole afternoon. I felt like a movie star at a red carpet event! Patty is starting her own photography business and so I wanted to give her a shout out. She was lovely to work with and made me feel so comfortable and joyful and at ease—which is saying alot coming from a camera-phobic person like me! Check out her website here and hire her! She does great headshots too! Last, but definitely not least, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Joanna Ivey from Our Chosen Child who did all the design work on my Letter and really made it all come together. Joanna is a amazing and I am so glad that my agency recommended working with her. I am not sure how she works her magic but Joanna is the fairy-godmother of adoption Letters. She took my carefully crafted text and collection of random photos and made them sparkle with life. Knowing only a little about me, she managed to capture my style and personality perfectly. And finally, to various friends who contributed photos and thoughtful suggestions and edits and supported me throughout this process, thank you, all of you. They say it takes a village to raise a child—who knew it also takes a village to write a very special Letter!

And so, without further adieu, the grand reveal, drumroll please—here is my new Letter!

Katja’s Adoption Letter

I really do love it and so hope it works its magic, that somewhere out there, there is a special woman thinking about adoption for her child and sees me in this Letter and says, yes, she’s the special Mom for my special baby!

 

 

Sunday at the museum

IMG_4261My friend Debbie was visiting from Boston on Sunday and we met up to go to the newly renovated and expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and being nostalgic, I immediately remembered back in grad school (1995??), standing in line for tickets when the “new” Mario Botta designed SFMOMA building opened up on 3rd street. That opening was also this huge deal at the time and it’s pretty amazing to see this next phase incarnation and also think about how much the city and the world has changed since then. That part of San Francisco –South of Market—was just starting to build up back then and was considered edgy and cool. Now it’s still this hip, happening neighborhood but has since been usurped by other cooler, trendier neighborhoods. It doesn’t really feel that long ago, but 1995 was about the time that Netscape launched and this thing called “the internet” became a part of our lives. Google didn’t come around until 1998. One of the exhibits was about typography and they had an old typewriter on display. I overheard a Dad telling his teenage kid that he wrote his college papers on one of those and you could see the look of confusion/shock on the kid’s face! I too left for college with a typewriter though bought one of the early Mac models (also on display in the same exhibit!) with my hard earned work study funds in my sophomore year. I wonder where we’ll be in twenty years, when my (not yet a part of my life but hopefully soon) kid is in college. I suspect (or at least hope) that there will still be museums and people will still want to explore art up close and personal and not be resigned to experiencing art via the digital versions.Yesterday, in the museum it seemed that probably more than half of the visitors were snapping photos with their smartphones, and too many people seemed more interested in taking selfies than the art. Ah, well—I’m sounding too much like an old curmudgeon now! The good news is that the museum was packed so art still holds a powerful draw! I love exploring museums but hadn’t been to the SFMOMA in quite a while. (Leave it to the motivation of having an out-of-town visitor to inspire one to go do one of the oh-so many cool things there are to do in San Francisco!) Aside from the newly expanded space, they have expanded the collections and it really feels like a different museum. I was also really impressed with the design and the way they’ve brought more of the city views into the building. I’ve included some pictures of my favorite views and pieces.