Friday, June 24, 2016

Define: Non-Binary

I'm an old programmer. I know from binary. I taught my sons how to count in binary, and they still know and use that theory thirty years later. But a year ago I had never heard the term "non-binary."

In case you are also unfamiliar with the term, here's what wikipedia says: "Those with non-binary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or non-existant gender identity, such as agender or neutrois."

My eldest grandchild identifies as female. When she was born (identified as male), we bonded fast and strong. I always said [he] held my heart in [his] hands. Now he is a she, and it has been very difficult for me to switch to saying she instead of he, and to see her experiment with makeup and finding dresses that make her feel pretty has made me sad. I wake up at two o'clock in the morning and lie in bed for two hours worrying about her future. Will she ever find someone with whom to share her life? Will she be able to get a good enough job to be able to support herself—and her family, should she have one?

But it is just not about me. It's about her. The very, very, very worst thing that could happen in my life would be for her to feel not-accepted and to become so depressed that she would feel the need or desire to kill herself. Without her in my life, whether in pants or a dress, I could not live.

So I am determined to be supportive. And she notices.

Just as her father thanked me for all the sacrifices I made for him when he was in the boarding school where he wanted to be, my granddaughter thanks me for all I do for her. She notices.

It helps when I read articles that indicate the world wasn't always binary. And because this reading has helped me, I'm sharing a couple of articles here with you today. If you're confused or skeptical, I hope you can find a little understanding in these pieces.

I have spent much of my life desiring to (and feeling like I didn't) "fit in" to the world around me. I didn't want my children or grandchildren to have to have those same feelings as they were growing up. But isn't it far more important for someone to feel they fit in inside themselves than to feel they fit in with judgmental, unloving, unkind people around them?

I could learn a lesson here.

Still so much to learn. My grandchild tells me, "I'm not non binary. Binary genders are male and female and I identify as female, so technically I'm still binary." I thought I understood correctly that it meant not traditionally male or female. Must study some more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Two peas in a pod.

Two strawberries in a bowl. Two hearts, shared.

Two weeks have passed since Debbie and I got to spend the first two days of our life together, together. Nothing has changed. Nothing except, after many years as "only children", related to no one of our generation or preceding, we now have each other. We laugh, we joke, we share our hopes, dreams and fears. Honestly, if I had gone to the Sister Store and placed my order for a sister who understood me and loved me despite my foibles, I couldn't have gotten anyone as nice as she, as perfectly suited for the task as she.

And our lives go on. We talk about planning another trip to get together. And we go on with our daily routines. We text several times each day, sharing the goings-on of our lives. We occasionally talk on the phone. But we're both busy with activities—and life. So texting works the best.

I continue my research on Ancestry. My current objective is to find a cousin or two of our mother's generation or our own. But I'm not finding much success. I'm finding VERY interesting people. Our Sayward ancestors, about whom I was reading yesterday in "North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000," produced, I read, many teachers who migrated westward and were highly regarded in their cities. How cool! I read about many, many babies who died within days or months of birth and I think about the sadness that permeated those families. I read about my male ancestors who were deep sea fishermen by trade and lost their lives trying to provide for their families. My heart aches trying to imagine the anguish of waiting and hoping for someone to come home.

So my research is no different than it was before I found Debbie. The difference now is I have someone with whom to share my amazement. I have someone who cares about me and about my life, as I care about her and hers.

In a word, I am rich. My life is richer for having this person with whom I share genes and traits. With whom I share life.

I am rich.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Face to Face, Finally

SistersI did Match .com dating for years. Interminable years. I can't tell you the number of awful first, and even second, dates. Just awful.

How different was the promise of Debbie's and my meeting from the promise of those dates? Not much!

But we had the knowledge of a pre-established relationship. I had seen her original birth certificate. She had seen our mother's signature relinquishing me for adoption. Even though our DNA tests suggested we might be first cousins, we knew we were sisters.

We found each other on April 5, 2016. We texted frequently and within two weeks I offered to fly out to Arizona from Northeast Ohio to meet her. We met face-to-face on May 6, 2016. We motherless daughters spent Mother's Day weekend.

[Ironically, my adoptive mother chose May 3, 2016, four weeks before her 103rd birthday, to die. Doors close, doors open.]

This visit could have gone oh-so-poorly. As I was flying out on Friday, I remembered a Match date where I drove from Tucson to El Paso to spend time with a man I had met in person once before. When I walked into his home, I saw a thick coating of dust on every surface, and an unscooped litterbox still on the floor in the dining room, even though his cat had died a year earlier. A wise woman would have turned around and walked out. I was not wise; I was lonely.

While I tried to imagine what awaited me in Kingman, I visited every dark corner of my mind. But reality trumped fear.

Debbie and her oldest child, Cindy, share a home. They live a very quiet life. They both have health issues and serve as each other's devoted caretakers. The home is immaculate. There's not a speck of dust, a clutter of anything. A harsh word is not spoken. A raised voice is never heard. Their living room sliding glass door looks out on a patio and desert-landscaped backyard with flowering plants in pots, a porch swing, and mourning doves and Gambrell's quails vying for the food and water which she supplies for them. The walls of each room are adorned with framed family photos. This is the home of a mother who has raised her children to respect and love each other.

In a word: peace.

Here I will share with you the nutshell report I posted on Facebook while waiting for my early morning flight home from Vegas:

I know many of you are wondering, so I'll give you a brief report here: My lovely new sister, Debbie Davis, and I had a wonderful weekend together. We had lots of quiet time in her home in Kingman, AZ, trading stories and filling in the holes of 65 lost years. Her daughter, Cindy, lives with her, and younger daughter, Cathy, drive up from OC to join us for the Mother's Day weekend. We had lunch out on Saturday, with thanks to the nice young (I think) Australian man who looked at us like we were crazy but complied when we asked him to come over and take our picture. Later on, an enjoyable and educational visit to the Keepers of the Wild wildlife refuge, which required a drive along historic Route 66. Sunday morning Debbie and I drove up into the mountains south of Kingman to the Hualapi Lodge for brunch. There was not a moment of discord or disagreement. We both have dealt with the adoption syndrome of "who am I" our whole lives. Now we look at each other and shake our heads as we realize we're finally related to someone.

It was a wonderful weekend, and we're already looking forward to the next visit.

Thanks for all the wonderful comments and for following our life-changing story.

Debbie's daughters are kind, thoughtful, and generous-of-spirit fifty-something women. Their love for and tenderness toward their mother is touching.

(Debbie's son, Bill, lives south of Boston and called on Saturday to arrange to pick up the tab for his sisters' lunch and Debbie's and my brunch on Sunday.)

This is clearly a family that loves each other.

And Debbie and I count ourselves among the truly lucky to have met each other, to have so much in common, and to find such a seamless merging of our lives.

I've been rejected, multiple times–by my birthmother at my birth; by my adoptive mother by her insistence to prove to me how unloveable and unacceptable I was; by my first husband by his (I believe) insecurity-fueled need to show me how far superior he was to me in every facet of my life; and by my birthmother again when I found her and she chose not to rock the boat of her life.

I know rejection. What I experienced from Debbie last weekend was not rejection. It was total and complete and loving acceptance. Someone was finally thrilled to know me.

I am the luckiest.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Where Did It Come From?

I began playing piano by ear when I was 3½ years old. Next came accordian lessons at age 5, piano lessons at 6, organ lessons at 7 or 8. At 8 the church choir director realized I had perfect pitch. In fourth grade I started playing clarinet. Then from fifth grade through high school, I was first chair oboe. As an adult, I sang alto with The Washington (DC) Chorus, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. Now I accompany the opera program at Youngstown State University.

I always wondered where my musical ability came from.

While I wait for the results of my DNA test, I'm doing more digging into my family tree, seeing how many more branches I can hang leaves on. Mainly I'm looking at the twentieth century nodes, trying to find cousins.

In the 1940 census, I found the listing for my first cousin, once removed (i.e. my mother's first cousin). At 34, Eleanor L. Griffin was listed as single and living at the Taunton State Mental Hospital. Her job was Musical Director. In 1930, at age 24, she was living at home with her parents, Harvey and Amy, in the home so beautifully memorialized by Edward Hopper. Her occupation was listed as Music Teacher.

Posts I've written about Hodgkins House - during a trip to Massachusetts, and on a trip to Chicago to see the painting in person.

The first musical person I found in my digging was our grandfather's great-uncle (our 3rd great-uncle), Charles [Stearns or Stevens] Hicks, who was born in Gloucester in 1812. The 1860 census shows him living in Boston and lists his occupation as a piano maker!

And of course I must reiterate here that my sister, Debbie, started piano lessons when she was six. Within a few years of my employment at Walt Disney World in Florida as staff accompanist and later as a Dickens Caroler, Debbie was living in Anaheim and singing for fun with a choir at Disneyland. She told me when she sings in choirs, other singers want to stand close to her so they can get the right pitch.

I will continue to be delighted each time I find a musical connection.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Basics

Gertrude was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts in July of 1912. Her ancestors had first settled in Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1622. She had a long history there.

Gertrude had two brothers, Roger and Raymond, who were thirteen and eleven years older than she. She was tightly bonded to her father, John, who died in the summer of 1929, shortly before her seventeenth birthday. She never felt her mother loved her. Her mother, Helen, died in the summer of 1934 when Gertrude was twenty-two.

Her oldest brother, Roger, was married and moved to Pennsylvania, to the Pittsburgh area, in 1924, when Gertrude was twelve. He died on Leap Day in 1932. He was thirty-three years old. His little sister was nineteen. Look at those numbers. She could hardly have known him.

At age twenty-two, Gertrude was left with one brother. He was thirty, she was nineteen. They continued to live in their family home for a few years before moving to an apartment near Green Marsh.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1934, at age twenty-two, Gertrude would have discovered that she was pregnant. Her mother had died only three months earlier. She and her brother were probably still reeling from that loss. I try to imagine her relationship with her brother. She had aunts and uncles and some cousins on her mother's side, but we know there had not been a close relationship with her mother, so would she have also felt distant from those relatives? Her father was an only child. Her maternal grandparents had evidently died in 1917 and 1915. Her paternal grandmother had died in 1909. Her paternal grandfather was 75.

To whom could she turn? I hope she had friends. Maybe she had a church family. I hope there were people in her life she trusted and could talk to about her fears. She was unmarried and pregnant in 1935.

Ultimately she traveled down the Massachusetts coastline to a home for unwed mothers near Plymouth, Massachusetts. In early July, she gave birth to a little girl whom she named Geraldine Rae. That little girl was six weeks premature and weighed only two pounds.

Had Gertrude planned to keep the baby? Why would she have named her if she didn't plan to keep her? Or did she expect such a small baby with a genetic heart problem to die quickly, so she gave her a name to carry to her grave? We don't know the answers to those questions. We can never know the answers to those questions.

What we do know is that baby Geraldine did not die, was given up for adoption, and ultimately became Deborah.

Fifteen years later, sometime in October of 1949, Gertrude again discovered she was pregnant. Her brother Raymond, her closest relative, had moved to Orlando, Florida. She was alone in Gloucester. Sometime during the next eight months, she moved to Orlando to stay with Raymond until she gave birth. She made no plans. She spoke with no adoption agencies, no lawyers.

On a late June evening, she went into labor. When Gertrude arrived at the hospital with no plans, her doctor called a colleague who had mentioned that he and his wife wished to adopt a baby girl. Reportedly, he said, "We have a woman here in labor who has made no plans for giving up her baby. If it's a girl, you have a daughter." The next morning, around dawn, the doctor and his wife received a second call. "You have a daughter."

Gertrude gave me no name. My original birth certificate listed me as "Baby Girl Hodgkins." My replacement birth certificate, issued six months later, after the adoption was finalized, named me Janet Gail Crews.

I always knew I was adopted. My beloved daddy called me his "Special Delivery Baby." I always knew my birthmother's name. I always wanted to know about her. Years later, after marrying and having two children, after growing up feeling out of place, feeling that I didn't fit in any place, I decided to search. I was living in suburban Dallas at the time, and I enlisted the aid of a Dallas search agency.

Within only a few days, they found her. She was living in Orlando! She had moved to Orlando in 1954 (according to her obituary). I had lived in the Orlando area almost continuously from my birth until I was about 28, when I moved to Sarasota for two years, and then to Dallas/Ft. Worth for my husband to attend graduate school. I had been geographically close to her for most of my life. We might have shopped in the same stores, attended the same concerts. I never knew her.

When the search agency called me to tell me her [now married] name and phone number, I hesitated only a few moments before closing my office door and picking up the telephone handset to call her.

She answered.
"Is this Gertrude Hodgkins Verburg?"
"My name is Janet Clark and my genealogical research indicates you may be my birthmother."
Long pause.
"I can't talk to you right now."
And she hung up the phone.

She had married six years after my birth and evidently had never told her husband that she had ever been pregnant, much less pregnant and had given up the baby for adoption. Much less twice!

I never dreamed she had been pregnant twice! It never occurred to me that she would have had a baby fifteen years before she had me.

Throughout the years I kept tabs on her, checking city and county records to see if she and her husband were still listed at the same address. At one point in the mid 90s, I lost track of her. I asked a high school friend who was a private investigator to see if he could find anything. He told me she was in a retirement home.

About ten years later, after the popularization of the Internet and the beginning of electronic records (with thanks to the loyal Latter Day Saints who travel the world taking pictures of graves and visiting dusty archives to take notes), I again searched for her and learned she had died.

Three months before my beloved fourth husband had died of prostate cancer, while I was spending every day worrying about him and tending to his needs and his pain, my birthmother died.

I had never been allowed to know her. In our one written communication–my typewritten letter to her, her handwritten response in the ½-inch margins around my letter–she told me she had blocked me and my father from her mind and asked that I never contact her again. I complied.

We adoptees. Always compliant. Always afraid of being given away again.

Years later, out of curiosity, I continued doing research into her family tree on I was certain there were no siblings. Then one day Ancestry tacked a little leaf on the corner of Gertrude's node on my Hodgkins family tree. I clicked it and it suggested I look at another member's family tree. I saw just a 17-node tree. At the center was Gertrude. Suspended from Gertrude's node was the pink node of a living female. A female child of Gertrude. I sat there stunned. Had someone copied my tree? I stared at the tree, then saw there were three children–two girls and a boy–suspended from the second node. What did this mean? What could this mean? First off, it meant it wasn't me, as I only have two children and whoever created this tree had three children. A sister? I had a sister?

(Every time I say that, I hear the "Into the Woods" soundtrack with The Baker asking "I had a brother?" and The Witch replying, "No. ... But you had a sister.")

Here, staring me in the face, is the possibility that I have a sister. The date was March 29, 2016. I jumped over to Ancestry's mail service and sent the following note to the member who owned this new-to-me tree.


I'm curious about your research on Gertrude Ida Hodgkins Verburg. Do you mind telling me how you're related to her?

Thank you,
Jan Crews
Youngstown, OH

And then I waited. Every day I would check Ancestry several times a day to see if there was a response. Finally, on April 5, Ancestry sent a notification into my Gmail inbox. I dropped everything and clicked on my Ancestry inbox to see the life-changing one-line response.

Gertrude is my birthmother.

As fast as I could type, I replied.

Oh My God. Gertrude is my birthmother. I have a sister?!!!!!!

I spent most of that day texting with Debbie, my new sister. We exchanged data and information. We're both musical. We both type 120 words a minute. We both suffer from migraines (as do her three children and one of my sons).

My life will never be the same. I now have a real relative, and she wants to be part of my life and for me to be part of hers.

(Debbie told me later she didn't click on the Ancestry notifications and read all the notes from me sooner because she thought I was just an Ancestry sales representative trying to get her to spend more money. I laughed.)

And on May 6 I will fly to Vegas and drive the two hours to her home in Arizona to meet her and her two daughters.

My mother didn't want anything to do with me. My sister is making up for it!

Photo © Brian Andreas, StoryPeople
I love this story person from Brian Andreas:
"When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots & I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school & whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things children need...."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mending a Soul

I always think people don't like me, that I am unlikeable.

My birthmother gave me away. My adoptive mother was the consummate narcissist in her dealings with me and raised me to believe I was dumb, ugly, and incompetent. I was never good enough.

My mother's life centered on her church and its people, and I found it and them highly critical and backbiting. I was raised in the South in the 50s and 60s where a girl's primary objective in life was to find a man, marry him, have babies, and raise them. My mother told me I'd never get a man because I was too obstinate.

Well, I showed her. I found one at college, married him, and had two babies. I adored those babies, but I had little more, emotionally, to give them than she had given me. And that husband? He was—I see through the magic of hindsight—extremely insecure and used his power of words, of belittlement, to continue what my mother had so adeptly begun. And I believed him. I believed I was of no value to or in the world. After ten years of marriage to him and two suicide attempts, I walked out, leaving my precious babies with him.

[I'll skip the part about the tricks he played during the divorce negotiations, and his years of trying to turn my sons against me. He was unsuccessful—my sons still love me and understand why I left their father (and them).]

I just wanted to be loved.

[I'm also skipping, in this account, the impact of my adoptive father in my life. He wore a halo. He loved me and gave me the only self-esteem that was to exist for many, many years. But he was somewhat absent, due to being married to a woman who couldn't let him feel loved and the possession of an occupation in which he could immerse himself (family doctor and general surgeon) to escape her emotional cruelty. In his medical practice he was greatly loved. He would leave for work before I got up and get home after I was asleep. I would see him a couple of afternoons a week, until my sophomore year in high school, when he drove me to the school bus stop every day and we had the longest conversations of my formative years. I loved him. He loved me. He died when I was 34.]

[And we'll skip the boring part about the two brothers in my adoptive family who were five and seven years older than I and wanted nothing to do with me. Later in life they would blame me for Mother's inability to mother me. They still exist. They still have next-to-nothing to do with me.]

At 33, I found my birthmother. She wanted nothing to do with me and told me never to contact her again.

After two more poor-choice marriages in search of someone to fill the holes in my soul, I found the right man for the job. His mother had died when he was three. It was 1938 and his widowed father didn't know what to do with him and his five-year-old sister, so he put them in an orphanage. This precious little lost boy was bounced from foster family to foster family for five years until he found a family with enough emotional generosity to give him what he needed—acceptance and a place in the world.

When he and I met, he was twice-divorced to my thrice. After eight years as friends, we married. We found in each other and in that marriage exactly what we had been looking for all our lives. Our similar-though-different backgrounds enabled us to understand each other's insecurities. We were each able to ignore the other person's foibles and fill in the holes with acceptance and love.

Six months after we were married, he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. Twenty-one months later he died. We had a wonderful marriage as we walked the crooked path to his death.

But the patterns formed when we are children follow us everywhere despite brief reprieves. Baggage can be forever.

Skip forward twenty years. I now have a wonderful and loving partner who is able to overlook my very old and very deep-seated insecurities. But they're always.always.always lurking in the shadows, waiting to pop out and whisper in my ear, "See, you really are unlikeable. You only thought that had gone away."

I'll close with an amusing anecdote from last summer that illustrates my cloak of insecurity with crystalline clarity:

Last summer, when my partner and I had been sharing our lives for five years, I went away for six weeks to work as a collaborative pianist at a well-known arts camp in northern Michigan—a dream I had been harboring for twenty-five years. While I was away, my loving partner spent every spare minute painting the kitchen. He scraped the ceiling, steel-wooled the seventy-year-old wood cabinets, removed all the hardware from both cabinets and doors and made it sparkle, scraped and repaired all the cracks in the walls, and changed the walls from ugly institutional 1950s blue-green-crud to delicious warm buttercream, and the trim to glossy whitewhite. When I walked into the kitchen after six weeks away, I didn't even notice. Didn't even notice!!

Two days later, after repeated queries from workmates and best friends, "How did she like the kitchen?" ... I was standing at the kitchen sink, doing dishes and watching the activity at the bird feeder. He walked in and said, "I have to tell you something."

My gut reaction? I immediately thought he had met someone else during the six weeks I was away and was going to leave me.

Once given away, always give-away-able.

(What he wanted to do was show me his beautiful handiwork and describe his ideas for his next house project.)

A Day to Remember

This is copied from my Facebook feed, where I posted it the day after April 5, 2016. That day will be significant forever as the day I learned I had a sister. 

Wednesday is my long day, but I must take a minute here before getting up.

First, thank you for so many likes and loves and comments yesterday upon my learning (at age 65!!!) that I have a sister, and that she's as excited to learn about me as I am to learn about her.

And hugs to my "opera kids." During last night's break in rehearsal, they surrounded me with love. One wanted to know who was the mother who wanted nothing to do with me, because he wanted "at her!"

More hugs to my circle of girlfriends (whom I would never have known if I hadn't met Jas on that fateful day six years ago). I was able to join them for a quick dinner last night. When I walked into the restaurant, they immediately bombarded me with questions. Thank you Debi, Diane, Marilyn, Jeanne, Maggie, Carol, and Nancy. Yes, I'll keep you posted. Thank you for your love and support.

Sharing life facts with my sister, Debbie, yesterday in several texts put checkmarks on some of my "who I think I am" list. She began taking piano lessons when she was six years old. She's sung in many choruses in her life. She loves to knit and cross-stitch and needlepoint. She gets migraines. (And her three children and my younger son all get migraines. 😖)

Here's the most sadly ironic part of the story. People who know me well know how I adored and was adored by my daddy, and how I never felt loved by my mother. (If you're a friend or acquaintance of my mother, do not go jumping in here to tell me how much she loves me. That may be - I'm sure in her own special way she loves me. I said I never FELT her love.) In my sole written communication with my birthmother, she told me she adored her father, and lived for Sundays, when they would go for long walks on the Gloucester beach, just the two of them. To complete this sick trilogy, last night Debbie told me she deeply loved and was loved by her adoptive father, and never felt her adoptive mother loved her.

Mothers of the world, if any of your children makes a statement like this, shame on you. Shape up. Get some therapy. Make it right. It's a heavy and terrible burden for a child to bear. For me, it has meant a lifelong self-image of being unloveable. It meant marrying the wrong man because Mother said I was so obstinate I'd never get a man. In the South, a girl's life goal in the 50s and 60s was to get a man. I didn't particularly like this man, but he asked, so I had to say yes. It took stumbling my way through trying to get three husbands to love me before I found the winner, my sweet #4 John, who taught me how to be loved and then died 21 months later. And now Jas, who has taught me how to laugh at myself and my situations. (And I say all this with the utmost appreciation for my two sons and the love they shower on me daily. It was worth ten years of a miserable marriage to share life with you.)

And as everything in life circles around, I circle around having been offered the opera collaborative pianist position at YSU - now finally finding myself able to be loved - and these wonderful and talented young singers showering love on me every time they see me.

Lucky, lucky, lucky me!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

A New Life

It's time to drag this blog out again and record my new life as a sister with real relatives. Relatives with whom I share DNA.

I used to blog here daily and multiple times each day. Then I met the Jazzman and didn't have any funny dating-for-oldies stories to tell. I started working from home, so didn't have input from anywhere outside my brain. And the motivation faded. I started my other blog to showcase the garments and bags and gifts I make. And this blog just fell by the wayside.

Now my world has not only turned upside down, but begun to spin and spin and spin. My brain is full and whirling every day. On days when I need to spend hours at the piano perfecting very difficult music, I am drawn to the computer to do more research and to my phone to text my sister. MY SISTER!!!

I have a sister!

I have someone who understands how I feel about being given up for adoption because she, too, was given up for adoption.

I have a sister who is as thrilled to learn about me as I am about her.

Life is oh-so-very good.

So this blog is being pulled back into use so I can document this new journey. We're both aging. Time is moving on whether we want it to or not. And I don't want to forget the wonder of learning, at age 65, that I have a sister.

Stay tuned.