Monday, September 22, 2014

In the Mind's Archives

This morning on my way to work I was trying to remember today's date. I could remember that the Thursday while we were on vacation was 9/11. The Thursday after that would have been the 18th, plus Friday, Saturday, Sunday made today's date the 22nd.

My birthday is a 22nd. Each month, if I think about the date on the 22nd, I count ahead to see how many months until I'll turn the next year older. Ticking fingers down to count, I realized that in nine months I'll be 65.

And then it struck me. Nine months = pregnancy. Right around this date 65 years ago, my mother was having an affair or a one-night stand or a loving relationship with or was being raped by the man who provided half of my genetic makeup.

In adoption, those are facts one rarely knows. I was lucky enough to have the obstetrician who delivered me–who arranged the private adoption–procure and release my hospital records to me in the mid-80s. I knew my birthmother's name. From those records, I was able to find her. She wanted nothing to do with me and said she had blocked me and my father from her mind. She had two brothers, neither of whom ever had any children, and I was the only child she ever had. So it's a great big dead end.

But to not know leaves holes in one's soul.

Would my life be different if I knew it was a loving relationship? That's what I like to project. What if I knew I was the product of rape? I don't know. If I were caused by rape, I really wouldn't want to know. But I don't think it would change anything.

The only thing I think would have changed how I developed and grew up would be if I had lucked into an adoptive mother with the emotional ability to make me feel loved and secure.

That's my greatest wish/dream/fantasy. To feel loved.

That would have made a tremendous and wonderful difference.

I wonder who I'd really be.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mile Upon Mile, Minute Upon Minute

I'm an early riser. Actually, I'm an early waker. I normally wake around 5:30 or 6:00 (at first light) and then lie in bed with my iPhone or iPad until the Jazzman wakes around 7:30. Once he rouses, we sit and discuss the day until he has to get up to go to work. It's a precious and valued part of each day for me.

For the past 5 years, most Mondays have included a 7:00 p.m. rehearsal in Cleveland. I would leave home no later than 5:00 to allow for unknown traffic problems along the way, gassing up, if required, and then enough time to park the car, use the restroom, greet a few friends, and get settled in my assigned seat before warm-up. After rehearsal, I would rush to the car and start driving, arriving home at 11:15. (Concert weeks added multiple drives to Severance Hall, an extra 5 miles and half hour.) This same scenario occurred in sun, clear moonlight, clouds, rain, snow, sleet, 40mph winds, no traffic, heavy traffic, and accidents that stopped me in my tracks for an hour. Many nights I would be so tired that I would slap myself rhythmically - face, legs, top of head - to avoid falling asleep. A few times I stopped at the lone rest area along the turnpike to try to sleep for a few minutes, but I was always afraid of something bad happening to me, so would give up after five minutes and keep driving.

Every Monday morning when I looked at the clock and saw anything less than 6:30, I would wonder what my drive home would be like. Would I be able to stay awake for the drive? I would lie here for a few minutes wondering if I could possibly go back to sleep. (Nope!) Then I'd give up and go about my morning quiet time.

If I was sick - as happened yesterday - I didn't have to worry that if I wasn't better by time to leave, the next Monday night I'd have to endure an Individual Testing Session with the director - one of the most vilified aspects of membership in the chorus.

Yesterday morning I woke up. Period. I woke up. I didn't need to worry about the time. I didn't need to worry about whether I was rested enough to drive the 65 miles there and 65 miles back in safety. I didn't need to look at the weather forecast. I didn't need to think about my car's age or the cost of gas and toll or the condition of the turnpike. I just woke up.


As much as I hated resigning from the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, doing so created a stress-relief incident that is probably the greatest I've never experienced. The photo above is Cleveland's Severance Hall, snapped quickly while I waited at the traffic light on one of my final drives to University Circle for a rehearsal.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Why and Wherefore of Adoption

I'm engaging in nostalgia this week as I wander around Interlochen Arts Camp and observe young artists developing and honing their skills and their passions.

And, of course, as I write that I have to look up the definition of "nostalgia":

a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time:

My nostalgia is not for what was but for what might have been. It's not for the happiness of a former time, but rather from actions that might have allowed happiness in a former time.

I fantasize about having been adopted by a family who was cultured and musical. I have often said that I was lucky to have been adopted by a family that recognized my talents early in life. But they didn't know how to best nurture those talents. (And I also acknowledge that there is more to nurturing talents than just lessons and training. There's emotional nurturing, also.)

Sometimes, in pondering "life" and "how did I get here", one thinks about those notions of having a life after a life. I'm not saying I believe in the concept of reincarnation. I truly don't know what I believe. But I hear the stories of there being legions of spirits flying around who need to come back to earth to complete their mission. Or something like that. And I wonder why I was chosen for this particular family. If I was, indeed, chosen. For this family.

And as I ponder "why didn't I have a different family," I have to stop and say—almost aloud in my head—It's Not All About You!!

Maybe the fates or the universe or God or whatever chose not that family for me, but me for that family. Or for that man, that wonderful, nurturing daddy, who had a marriage he felt trapped in. He loved me to his core, and he nurtured me as no one else did. He gave me a sense of being loved, wanted, and valuable. Where my mother taught me that I was dumb, ugly and incompetent, he taught me that—at least in his eyes—I was cherished and precious.

And what did I give him? I have no idea. He was not a man to share his feelings. But I'm sure having me mirror his feelings right back to him was significant in his life.

So what if I didn't get a sound footing that put me in a career path the end of which would bring me retrospective joy. I made it through. I accomplished not giving up. I have good kids and grandkids that I'm able to encourage and nurture and—hopefully—guide.

And I was loved, without equal, by Daddy. The most important man in my life.

Maybe he was the why I was adopted by this family.

And that's good enough.

Photos: At top, an Interlochen practice room where a high school string bass player works on his repertoire. Bottom, panorama of Green Lake with oncoming storm whipping up the waves.

Sound the Call to Dear Old Interlochen

There are few places in the world that bring tears to my eyes just by walking on their hallowed ground. One of these is Gloucester, Massachusetts, where 300+ years of my ancestors walked and fished and built homes for their fellowmen. Another is Arlington National Cemetery, where we commemorate so many Americans who gave their lives for this country. The one I'm experiencing this week is Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan.

As I walk around this hallowed campus, I listen to music emanating from every building. The music fills my soul. [I acknowledge that other art forms are similarly nurtured here, but my life is music–that is my focus when I'm here.]

My younger son came here for the first time in 1989, having just turned 14. He had challenges at home after his father's and my divorce eight years earlier. He was tied at the heart to me, but we were constrained to ten weeks together each summer plus a few holidays. His father's way of life wasn't what he would choose, and his greatest advocate lived 1,400 miles away. I sacrificed a significant portion of one of my summers with him to give him the Interlochen experience.

Having spent a year or two as a percussionist in his junior high school band, he sent in his audition tape and applied for Intermediate Band. At that time in his life, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would reply–with a swagger–I'm gonna be a drummer in a rock band.

Shortly after his application was processed, he received a telephone call asking if he would consider being in the Intermediate Concert Orchestra and Intermediate Symphony Orchestra rather than the band (two ensembles instead of one). He graciously agreed.

He had been exposed to classical music at home before reaching Interlochen, but there was no love affair. Once he began daily rehearsals of classical music and began studying the scores, the love affair was fast and deep.

And now, 25 years later, after my son spent three years at Interlochen as a camper, several years as camp staff, and three years of high school at Interlochen Arts Academy, I am back at this magical place. I walk. I listen. I watch. I sit by the lake and feel the breezes and ponder the emotions roiling within me.

My son is now a computer professional. He studies search engine optimization with the same fervor he used to study Tchaikovsky. But he has not lost one gram of his love for Tchaikovsky, or Prokofiev, or Brahms, or any of their composer brothers.

And he has not lost his love for Interlochen.

Nor have I lost my love and gratitude for all that Interlochen gave him and, through him, me.

And so we pile ourselves, along with his two pre-teen children, in his car and trek to northern Michigan. We walk around, watch, and listen. And I cross my fingers that a bit of Interlochen love will rub off on my grandchildren.

Here's hoping I'll be back here next year, observing their classes and performances.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Who'll Stop the Rain?

Before I moved to Ohio, I had no idea how much it rains up here. (I say "up here," you understand, because I was born in Florida and have spent the bulk of my adult life in DC and Arizona.)

I love being in a house with open windows and gentle breezes flitting through. I loved living in Tucson, and hated that day each year (approximately May 15) when I knew the air-conditioner had to go on and would not be turned off until–probably–October.

I hated the Ohio winter of 2014. I grumbled, I complained, I added five pounds to my physique. But I lived through it.

One can always layer on more sweaters.

But this interminable wetness. Ugh!

Today I am envying all my friends and acquaintances who have central A/C. (We have two window units we bought last summer. But one has to leave the bedroom/family room at some point during the day. Window ain't Central!)

Everything I own is damp. My clothes. The sheets on my bed. All the furniture, hard or soft.

Even the basement–my hidey-hole to which I escape when it's too hot or too cold upstairs. The dehumidifier is running constantly and cannot keep up with all this moisture.

The upside? The high temperature today will only be 74°. Sure, the humidity is 92% and it's going to rain all day. (Oh, look. I'm writing this on the back porch and I just noticed it's raining now.) But it could be 99° and 99% humidity.

This ain't all bad.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Your Moral Obligation

That's me, on my first birthday. I celebrated my birthday earlier this week. To my utter delight, 70-or-so friends sent wishes on Facebook. One son wrote a beautiful tribute to me on Facebook, the other (who lives nearby and talks to me almost daily) texted me. Close friends mailed cards. My two closest female friends sent lovely gifts, and the Jazzman gave me hugs and kisses and a fabulous Bose Bluetooth device to connect to my iPhone and iPad for playing music with Bose playback quality. I had a wonderful day. I felt loved and treasured by my friends.

So who didn't I feel loved and treasured by? Why, my mother, of course. I hadn't spoken with her since my trip to North Carolina at the end of May for her 101st birthday. That's three weeks. Sometimes I get busy and forget to call. Sometimes I'm so discouraged after phone calls with her that I just don't put myself out to call, as I don't want to feel that discouragement again.

Let's be clear here. The woman's brain is in great shape. Her hearing is dicey, but her mind works fine. She—understandably—gets discouraged with not being able to hear conversations around her. And so she won't attempt to carry on a conversation. But she is perfectly capable of doing so when she's willing to put forth the effort.

But she is and always has been a narcissist of the highest order. You know the saying, "It's not all about you"? Well, everything is all about her. Even fifty years ago when her hearing was fine, thankyouverymuch, she wouldn't listen to the conversation. She would just say what she wanted you to hear without paying any attention to you or what was going on with you.

She has two beautiful grandsons (my two sons) and two incredibly beautiful great-grandchildren (again, my offspring). But she is not one whit interested in them or their lives. My older son neglected to thank her for a Christmas gift about 22 years ago and she wrote him off then and there. She never asks me how they are or what they've been up to. Here's the thing: She. Doesn't. Care.

To give you an example, I can remember many conversations where I'd say, "I have a performance this weekend with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus" or something to give her similar insight into my life. She would not respond with questions about what we were singing or how I enjoyed that activity. She would say, "My neighbor's daughter sings in her church choir." Hey, Lady, I don't care about your neighbor's daughter. I want you to care about your daughter. Oops, your adopted daughter. I forgot, momentarily, that I don't matter to you.

But back to the topic at hand. Amidst all my birthday greetings, I heard nothing from my mother. She couldn't be bothered to pick up the phone and call me. I refused to call her, mentally challenging her to call me. #FAIL. Monday afternoon, after returning from the lovely birthday weekend on the shores of Lake Erie, I called her. She sounded glad to hear my voice. She asked when I was coming to visit again. (I wanted to say, "Why should I?" Instead, I told her I have rehearsals twice a week from the second week of July through three September performances, after which the Jazzman and I are heading to California for a week's much-needed vacation.) She asked if I had a nice birthday. (What? You couldn't pick up the damned phone and wish me a happy birthday?) When I would try to carry on a conversation with her, she would sing or hum into the phone. The nurse walked in to test her sugar and then to give her the required insulin injection, and she kept me on the phone while talking to the nurse.

After a whole lot of nothing, I was able to get off the phone. As I pushed the End button on my phone, I yelled—to the no-one who was listening—"just shoot me now."

And in the middle of the night, awakened by a hairballin' cat, I lay in bed, listening to the thunderstorm and thinking about Mother's attitude toward me since I was six days old and she brought me home from the hospital to adopt.

Here's what I would say if she and I were ever in therapy together:

When you adopt a child, it's your duty to enable that child to feel loved, to feel secure, to grow up as a person who matters to her family—the family who chose her.

It doesn't matter how much or how little love you have to give. It doesn't matter how your parents treated you. Whatever amount of love is swirling inside of you, you have to give this adopted child more. You have to give more than you have to give, as difficult as that is. You chose to adopt her; now you are saddled with the inadequacies of her genetic line. It seems hard? Tough. Your inability to love her makes it even tougher on her.

You cannot and must not just write her off when the going gets tough.

I asked Mother one time, shortly after my first divorce, why she didn't give me more guidance in some aspect of life that was troubling to me at the time. She made a statement I can never forget:

"When you were 14 I didn't know what to do with you, so I just washed my hands of you."

And after another conversation at a later date:

"All you adopted kids had problems."

I was raised by this woman to believe I was dumb, ugly and incompetent. I'm now 64 years old, hold a B.S degree and a J.D., have two children, two grandchildren, and a DBF—all of whom love me deeply and unwaveringly—and I still struggle daily with the thoughts that I don't fit in anywhere, don't belong, am not a person that anyone wants to have around. I fight these thoughts Every Single Day. Don't tell me to go to therapy. I've had years of therapy. And in my mind, in my mental baggage, I still don't fit in.

Okay, it could be worse. It could be so much worse. But these are my feelings and this is my blog, so I'm going to tell you:

When you adopt a child, you have a moral obligation to pour love and security and the tools for self-worth into that child. You have a moral obligation to enable her to develop into a grounded member of society.

If you can't do this, then don't do it. Don't adopt. Don't further cripple this baby or child so that, as a 64-year-old adult adoptee, she still struggles with daily pain.

Don't keep breaking her heart over and over again.

Be responsible.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Rolling Stones Had It Right

You can't always get what you want.

I have said time and again that when my mother dies I will not cry. There is not the bond between us that–I presume, I imagine–most daughters feel. Those daughters grieve when their mother dies. I will not.

If I am to cry, it will be soon, and maybe even now. At two months from turning 101, her communication skills are failing. Hard and fast. The frustration of trying to determine the slightest thing is horribly frustrating.

I try to be considerate of and thoughtful toward her. I try to let her know she is in my thoughts. But it doesn't matter. She's all that is in her thoughts. I imagine she was a narcissist since long before she participated in the decision to adopt me. She does it so well. She does it with the skill of someone who has been practicing for decades.

I made the mistake of calling her today. She flashed across my mind and I thought it would be nice to let her know that. I looked at my watch, and it was a time she might be in her room. So I called and she answered. She recognized my voice-she has a decent memory.

I asked how she was, and got the same answer I have been getting for 20 years, "Pretty good for an old lady." I guess if I want a different answer I should ask a different question. She didn't have much to say.

I asked if she had gotten the clipping I sent her a week ago. I accompanied a one-act Mozart opera recently and my picture was in the newspaper. I sent her the clipping, thinking she would enjoy reading it. She had no recollection. After trying several different ways to jog her memory, she said, "Oh, yes. That was nice." No questions about the program or my performance, no interest in prolonging that conversation or learning a little bit more about the woman her daughter has become.

I tried to tell her that her great-grandson had been in the local spelling bee last weekend, but could not get her to decipher my words. Nor would she admit to not understanding my words. I gave up, closing with "I'll talk to you soon."

I can hear what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm a self-centered, spoiled brat. Maybe so.

For over 60 years I've been trying to get this woman to care about me, to be grateful for my life. She doesn't. She isn't. At 101, how many years does she have left? Certainly not enough to change this deep-rooted behavior.

My life partner encourages me to quit trying. He recognizes her for who she is. And he sees clearly her inability to care.

Maybe I can borrow his glasses.