Saturday, December 25, 2010

Comfort Ye

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Freuliche Weinachten, Wesolych Swiat, Felice Navidad....On this day of celebration of the miracle of birth, I would like to extend my heartfelt wishes for comfort and peace to all birth mothers, who may grieve the loss of their children to adoption more intensely on this day. Children who have lost their first mothers may not have the words to express their grief, but to them, including to my own, also I say, yes, I see that it hurts, and wish comfort for them. And though I know there is no comparing losses of actual vs. potential children, I extend wishes for comfort today also to those whose children could never be born, and to anyone who today is separated from a loved one.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Old Self-Love Thing

Sometimes I just hate when people say, "you have to love yourself before you can love others." People often say this by way of offering comfort in the midst of relationship difficulties, but it makes me feel like I'm standing by myself on the top of a windy mountain with a big accusing finger pointing at me. The direction to "love yourself" usually is not comforting at all. Certainly it's not something that one can just go out and get, bring home, take out of the box and have it start working nicely.

And yet, there are times when perhaps a hint of this truth becomes visible, accessible. For example, if we look closely enough at our desires to love others and be loved by them, we realize that even in the most requited of loves, the symmetry is never exactly perfect. I think we assume that it is, and, actually, I think that's ok because I think that what we assume often actually can come to be. I think maybe we depend to some degree on each others' assumptions to bring the symmetry closer to "perfection."

Which means, instead of looking and looking for evidence of the love we want from the other person, might not it be possible, to some degree, to just assume that it's there? And the thing that lets us assume, that could be self-love. Maybe.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Birth Day

Today is my birthday. I'm 55 and still alive! Obvious, of course, at least while I'm doing this writing, but a non-obvious aspect is that today I am officially older than my older sister, my oldest sibling, who died at age 54. I felt her "presence" comforting and encouraging me this morning; still, it's sobering to stand at the front of the line. But not enough to reverse my love and gratitude for this day.

On my birthday, I almost always visit the concept of "birth," a particularly deep well among the deep wells that water the human imagination. (And for those of us touched by adoption, the well may be even deeper.) I wonder about my own birth, about birth in general: just what is it that happens, what are we celebrating? Of course, it's about coming to life, though before we are born we're already alive, if still aquatic, dark-inhabiting, and silent. At birth we claim our terrestrial, diurnal nature; we first receive the gifts of air and of light. We make sound, that first wail of terror and/or joy! It's about the first separation, the first foray from the security of confinement to the risk of freedom. (I will mention that there is an entire story about mothers and children here, but it deserves its own post.)

I wonder, too, about the birth of my children, from which I was absent. I who did not give them birth, vicarious mother, waited and imagined what it would be like, the primal mystery of heaven and earth, of flesh and spirit, happening so far from my own body. I know a few precious details about their births, such as, one had already evident broad shoulders and was delivered using suction to his head, the other was delivered with forceps, the dents from which remained for weeks. They are little proofs of my sons' arrival into the world by the standard method, which I've heard is a fact many adoptees often do not take for granted. Since their births occurred outside of our family, I wonder if there is an implicit urge to skip to the time when we were all together, to gloss over the birth chapter of the story, to not dwell on their own, private, day of Light and Air. In fact, once I heard an adult adoptee say that when she was growing up, her family celebrated her adoption day instead of her birthday(!?!). Though I think all of the partying distracts my sons from focusing on the fact of their births, I have always hoped I could make a comfortable space for each of them to hold and treasure his own birth day.

On my 55th birthday, on this day in midsummer when surprise lilies and cardinal flowers are blooming and cicadas are calling at high decibels, I am thinking about the natal gift of air. Talk about something we take for granted, something that usually seems more like a "nothing." But eagles and hummingbirds, not to mention 747s, are supported by it, it can feel good when it moves around us at the right temperature and speed, or, as the Talking Heads put it in the eponymous song, "Air can hurt you, too" (as in a tornado). And without it we're just finished. Even more than food or drink, it is what connects our bodies with the outside world. As BKS Iyengar said in The Tree of Yoga (I am paraphrasing), when we take in air, (inhale), we reach out, contacting the world; when we let it out (exhale), we return, retreat, to our self. Our first birthday present keeps on giving, with us reciprocating, the most basic form of balance, as long as we breathe. For free.

And that gratuity is, I think, the heart of the of birthday elation, celebration. A birthday arrives with its gratuity every year, regardless of one's laziness, carelessness, disorganization, procrastination, incompetence, immaturity, selfishness, or worse, along with chronic doubt and senseless guilt, the things that constrict the free flow of air in and out of us. It is entirely undeserved, like amnesty, like forgiveness.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Adoption and Trees

During my bike rides in early June, I was able to observe so many ordinary things as wonderful, among them the leaves on the trees at this time of year. The show of the flowering trees (Forsythia, apple, crab, cherry, pear, redbud, dogwood, etc.) was long over, but I’d never before really noticed the effect of all the green leaves, newly mature. Not only were they dark, full-sized, and numerous, but they were so precisely stacked and distributed, fresh recruits at the beginning of the season’s long labor of photosynthesis. Their shapes were so perfect, not yet exposed to the munching of insects or the battering of repeated storms.

I love trees for the sheltering, architectural living things they are, whose cutting down can hurt like the loss of a friend. One of my earliest memories, or maybe it was just a family story that became a memory, was of my father and his friends cutting down the trees (probably weedy Alanthus) in the back yard of our "new" house and my displeasure about it. And when we lost our American Elm trees in the front, my proposal to plant an apple tree in their place was rejected.

I love trees for the way they evoke the human figure, even the face. They are among my favorite things to draw or just to gaze at and “read:” arms, fingers, legs, torsos, in conflict, affection, supplication, passion, protection.
They are dancers. They are people in yoga poses: backbends, twists, and, especially, inversions, leafy legs in the air. (The Sanskrit word for handstand—Adho Mukha Vrksasana—actually translates literally as “downward facing tree.”)

I know I am far from alone in this love of trees; there even have been cultures who saw them as objects of worship. More abstractly, the idea of a tree has been used as a metaphor for a wide variety of concepts, e.g., the tree of life, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree of yoga, and of course, the family tree. As a new adoptive parent, I had read about the ubiquity of the assignment to construct a family tree in elementary school and how it could be difficult for adopted children. I was prepared to draw creative trees with my kids, the roots representing their birth families and the branches representing our adoptive family. As luck would have it, however, my children (who both are already out of elementary school) happen to have been spared, or perhaps deprived of, the dreaded Family Tree Assignment. They didn’t have to feel uncomfortable and different about showing their family tree to the class, but neither did we have this particular opportunity to sit down and work through how they belong, in different ways, to our adoptive family and to their birth families. The tree they might have drawn would not have been quite the kind of thing one could find in nature, but it would have been a way to describe their reality.

Actually, the tree as a model for family relationships has its limitations, even for biological families. Where the tree “originates” is necessarily arbitrary, and information about the origins of members who marry into the family generally are not included. Describing remarriage after death or divorce also requires some creativity to portray. In fact, only if we reproduced by splitting in two like amoebae would a tree truly be an accurate description of family relationships.

The family of adoption often has been portrayed as a grafted tree, as in the collection of poems, Perspectives on a Grafted Tree, edited by Patricia Irwin Johnston. Sherri Eldridge, in her “Twenty Things” books (e.g., Twenty Things Adopted Children Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, Twenty Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed) often refers to adoption in terms of a grafted tree. This metaphor has some glaring limitations, e.g., apple trees are grafted in order to propagate apples with as little variation as possible, which doesn't sound like what we are trying to do with our children. But the process of grafting is a graphic illustration of the loss and healing that happens in adoption. Adoptees are cut off from their genetic past, adoptive parents from their genetic future. While this doesn't replicate a non-grafted tree, when they are bound together, love, like water and sap, flows between the two parts. The roots provide the graft with water, minerals, and a secure connection to the earth; the graft then produces leaves for photosynthesis to nourish the whole tree and, ultimately, flowers and fruit. I love this image of intimacy and draw comfort and encouragement from it when the storms of the teen years rumble.

Sometimes I wish my kids hadn’t gotten out of the family tree assignment. One or the other may have worked through the complex tree idea, or, for the sake of getting it over with, and to not stick out among classmates, may have opted to use a tree that only included the family with whom they live. If it was I in their position, I might have wanted to change the focus of the assignment and offer a picture of the sawtooth oak in front of out house as our family tree, which we planted in cooperation with our city’s public works department. Besides being an example of how sometimes you really can do what you want when you grow up and have your own house, it does mirror some things about our family. This tree started its life somewhere else and was dug up and transplanted to our yard, where we love it, behold it change and grow, care for it as we can, and release it to elements we can’t control. Already it’s lost branches to ice storms, and who knows what pests lurk out there to threaten its integrity? But, mostly, each day’s disasters and triumphs don’t make or break it. And I think this year we will have a good crop of acorns.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day Fourteen TWWS

Sunday, 6 June 2010. OK, one last post. This because a fellow swimmer and I finally got together for a bike ride that we'd discussed before the hiatus but hadn't managed until today. (Hooray!). She had chosen to run while the pool was closed, which went well enough except for a sore foot; she was very much looking forward to swimming again.

We met at her house at 5:30, when it was cloudy and quite cool, so cool that we swung by my house to get a sweater (better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it). We headed east on Washington Street. She commented on the gorgeous smell of the linden and also that privet smelled something like it. Just east of Highcross, I saw a great blue heron flying in the southwestern sky. We turned north on Cottonwood Rd., and I pointed out my Quiet Place. We both noticed how lush and deep green everything was after yesterday's rain.

Rode north on Cottonwood into a fairly stiff headwind, working pretty hard to cross the I-74 Bridge. The numerous peonies close to the house just north of the bridge were definitely finished with their show for the year. Went past Trelease Prairie, Trelease Woods, and the Phillips tract, and then past the place where I turned around on Friday. Saw deer in several places.

We talked and talked and talked, about recent and past, happy and difficult events in our respective families. I didn't notice a lot of the little things I might have seen if I were alone, but the overall feel of the countryside in the quiet, cool morning was delightful, as was chatting with a person I see mostly underwater.

We turned north at Airport Rd. and made our way back past Brownfield Woods and a well-appointed house with what looked like a horse barn and horse fencing that my companion used the word "manor" to describe. At one point, we weren't sure which direction we were heading, but soon we were at the very recognizable intersection of Cunningham and Country Club Rd. We had been out for over an hour and a half but weren't quite ready to quit and decided to take a loop of Meadowbrook. On Race Street on the way was an unfortunate possum that had been hit by a car a while ago. At Meadowbrook, not far from the iris/cardinal flower site, she showed me where she and her family recently had seen a spectacular show of lightning bugs. Another wonder of this special, magical site in dear Meadowbrook Park.

The thought of lightning bugs reminded me of something I've thought of a lot while writing this blog, something my husband told me that Mark Twain had said about the difference between the right word and almost the right word, which is like that between the words "lightning" and "lightning bug."

At the prairie observation platform, we noticed that the clouds were really breaking up and the sun was shining gloriously. Truly a perfect morning. We agreed to do this again.

We returned to her house and admired the landscaping she and her family had been working on with the help of a neighbor. It was woodsy and restful.

We both were excited to anticipate the next morning's swim!

One last note. The past two weeks were more enjoyable than I ever would have imagined going into this. So you may have expected a list of good things about cycling to balance my original ten reasons swimming is better than cycling for daily exercise. Well, I guess I can come up with something. Here are

Ten Reasons Cycling Can Be as Good as Swimming for Daily Exercise, at Least When the Pool Is Closed

1. The smells are mostly much better.
2. Lots of bird songs.
3. The wind.
4. Flowers!
5. Passing walls of trees.
6. Conversation during the workout is possible, if one can coordinate the timing.
7. Views of the moon.
8. The horizon.
9. Birds, visually.
10. The dangers (losing control and crashing, getting hit by a vehicle or attacked by a dog, etc.) make it kind of exciting. (Ironically, referring to my original list, I had no trouble with crashing on the rides reported in this blog but did have a minor crash with a fellow swimmer out first day back in the water!)

Note: I tried to post this on Sunday evening, but Blogger was inaccessible.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day Twelve TWWS

4 June 2010, 5:20 AM. Cool and clear. Thought it was plenty light already, the half-moon, at about 11 o'clock in the southern sky, was still lit up. Seemed such a short time since it was big and round and low on the horizon. A few days of clouds prevented observing the stages of its waning. The "aging" linden smell I mentioned yesterday was, I think, actually privet, of which there is a large hedge near Race and Cedar. It's close to linden (and honeysuckle) but not quite so good.

Almost didn't go to Meadowbrook this morning because there have been a lot of pedestrians; hate to make them feel like they might be run over. And it's impossible not to slow down and check things out. But it was the last day and wanted to keep up the routine to the end.

Noticed that I wasn't noticing the same things as at the beginning of this project. Spiderwort maybe fading some more but still plenty out there. Snowy Penstemon, Coreopsis, Baptisia, a few purple coneflowers. Was looking for wild roses and completely missed the statue watching the sunrise. Didn't find any roses, either. The iris may have had one or two very low blooms yet, but tomorrow probably won't. There were lots of small, young cottontail rabbits, and some bigger ones, especially by the stone sculpture that spells the word "to." Surprised a cock pheasant perched on a bench, didn't know they got up off the ground.

Headed to Washington street via Race. Across from Prairie School, saw what looked like a dead cat with two crows partaking of it. Looked forward to being back at the Quiet Place on Cottonwood Road and was not disappointed, though I didn't hear all the separate bird songs this time. Did see four goldfinches together in their bobbing, swooping flight, coordinated like the Blue Angels.

Kept on straight on Cottonwood Road past US 150, then over the I-74 bridge. Saw what looked like a groundhog/woodchuck/marmot down one bank of the bridge. Passed a farm house with a long border of pink peonies still mostly in bloom, right next to the house. There was another house a short way later. Decided that dogs probably were not a problem because the grounds were meticulously kept. Did repeat a few "You're such a sweet doggie's" just to stay in practice. A couple of deer ambled in a farm field; on the other side of the road, in the distance, a deer ran at high speed.

Passed Trelease Prarie, which had Penstemon and probably Tradescanta. Then came Trealse Woods, which was so dark under its oak-hickory canopy, and then the Phillips Tract. Turned around at another meticulously maintained place with an old honey locust tree with huge thorns and a walnut tree, already with good-sized fruit.

Saw the large, dark brown animal I thought was a groundhog still in the place where I saw it on the way out. Then noticed that its ears didn't look very groundhog. It was a big, probably feral cat. For a moment I thought it was a bobcat, I think a bobcat would have been out of there immediately if I'd seen it at all rather than sitting there looking at me, as if daring me to come closer for a better look.

Getting close to Highcross on Washington Street, on the sides of the road were attractive and fragrant arrangements of red clover and yellow sweet clover. Passing by Prairie School, noticed that the dead animal, crows somewhere else, was actually a rabbit. My mammalian taxonomy was faulty today.

Toward the end of the ride, thought about how wonderful the water will feel on Monday. Maybe I'll take a short bike ride before the pool opens. This exercise of reporting on these two weeks away from the pool have been a wonderful way to be aware of little things that I might have missed otherwise, an exercise in mindfulness. I conclude this exercise with gratitude for the morning from a bike and for anticipated mornings in the water.

And I would like to say thank you to my dear followers and anyone who may have read any part of this!

More posts with more adoption content to come, I promise.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day Eleven, TWWS

5:30 AM. So grateful it was not raining and still early in the morning. Getting used to the route and maybe not noticing as much as at first. Smelled linden again, though with a hint of age, a reminder that it will pass, be missed.

At Meadowbrook, could just barely see a couple of iris blossoms, low to the ground. Tradescantia may be passing their peak, still lots of Penstemon. Also the first purple coneflowers, Echinacea. Many bird songs I didn't recognize near the iris, including one that sounded like a human whistling slowly. On the south side, away from the path, are bluebird houses, but haven't seen any bluebirds yet. Thought I saw swallows using one. Farther down, toward the observation platform, it smelled minty. Heard the "whirring" sound here.

Headed south on Race Street, past the trees that make me think of Wisconsin. The band of trees is narrow but still so nice. Something comforting about riding close to trees, can almost feel the cortisol levels go down. Turned east on Old Church Rd. Saw at least five cars in quick succession. What gives? Where is the quiet I had here last time? Was feeling greedy for it, especially after yesterday's traffic.

Going up the rise with the stark view, I realized this must be the actual Yankee Ridge, not the subdivision or the school but the geological feature. I love the little feeling here of not seeing quite over the ridge, being for a short time in the middle of nowhere; really like that spot. Then thought of something I read once about meditation--ultimately it lets one experience the wonder of being alive as much in a garbage dump (or heavy vehicle traffic) as at the top of a mountain (or ridge). Tried to remember that the rest of my life could be as engrossing as this bike ride in the country. Everything is just as it is, with its particular characteristics. Even life with teenagers and a messy house. Even the limits of my own generosity and competence.

On the South side of Old church was a prairie restoration, Barnhart Prairie, which had pretty much the same flowers blooming as Meadowbrook. Also it had the minty smell. Turned south on 1500E and passed a house, obscured by pine trees close to the road, The roof of which reminded me of a 1950's style airport, the old Meigs Field (Chicago), I think. Rode almost to the riding stable just a little ways down the road and turned back around. Someday I'll make a loop of it. In the horse pasture (paddock?) were a number of horses, including one with odd spots on its hindquarters. I stared (like a predator, it might have thought) at it until it whinnied at me, and I went on without determining whether the spots were of natural or artificial origin.

Keep forgetting to mention the smell of manure, which, though I know is excrement, I don't find unpleasant; it just makes me think of being out in the country.

On the way back on Race Street, saw the big rock that looks like a couch. I've seen it more than 100 times but am always struck by how it looks like a soft, comfy thing, especially when viewed from the south.

Arrived home at 6:45. Already tomorrow will be the last day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day Ten, TWWS

4:45 AM. Woke to a roll of thunder and the hiss of rain. Rats! How long will it last? Should I go ahead with Plan C or wait a while? I'm not good at making decisions first thing in the morning. It's this kind of uncertainty that knocks one's routine out of the groove.

So prepared to forgo cycling for something indoors, yoga. Before leaving I noticed there had been no more thunder and a robin was singing; maybe the rain had stopped. No, it was still coming down--what a plucky bird. Walked with an umbrella to the yoga studio. The dawn chorus was gearing up despite the rain, despite the uniformly grey western sky.

I love yoga, consider myself a “yoga practitioner,” do a handful of poses every day and, lately, some kind of practice a few days a week in addition to that. I used to always practice first thing in the morning, but it was hard to keep within the allotted time. Swimming fits so much more neatly into its little time slot. And there are so many fewer decisions to make when swimming, an important consideration first thing in the morning. I’ve been taking yoga classes for ten years; you would think I‘d be an expert by now. Alas, this is not the case. I have more aches and pains than when I started, and I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m not doing enough of the right thing or too much of the wrong thing. It’s hard not to get discouraged by this, to be annoyed that after all this time I’m still not doing it “right. “

But I still think it’s worth showing up and noticing (when I can nudge out the concerns of my life that seem to flock to my mind during practice) what actions result in what sensations. So I practiced and felt reasonably good afterward. Note--I intend to reflect more on yoga in a future post.

It still was raining a little on my way home. Noticed that it was harder to find new things along a path I’ve taken uncounted times, but did see little maple seedlings growing in holes in an old stump. Close to home, heard the song of a toad, then another one, on a different note, two different notes together.

The rain stopped by about 8, and although the yoga was nice enough, I really wanted a bike ride. So since the time happened to be available and the weather seemed to permit, I headed off to Meadowbrook about 8:30. Brought the recorder. There certainly was more traffic around, which made observing a little more difficult, or at least different.

At Meadowbrook there was more color appearing in the prairie despite the grey skies: even more Coreopsis and also a pink wild rose, with plenty of blue Tradescantia to set them off. Had to look hard to find the last iris. Heard a sound that was kind of like a person whining, reminded me that yesterday that sound was there and also a whirring, knocking kind of sound. Don’t know all the birds of Meadowbrook; have to research these.

Headed west on Windsor Rd. on the bike path. There was some wind and it seemed all uphill. Felt good to get that heart rate up a little. Was surprised how much traffic there was. Although could see farm land for much of the ride, could also see development. It goes on farther than I realized.

Didn’t make particular note of garden flowers, but noticed some large peach colored lilies, just starting to bloom, with broad, blunt petals in a garden on Windsor near Mattis.

The bike path became just a bit of shoulder west of Duncan Rd., and even that disappeared as Windsor crossed over I-57. It was not a good place for a bike—narrow and busy. Proceeded to Staley Rd. in front of which was some kind of garage with a garbage can in which something was burning smokily. Then turned around and came back. The way back was easier, lots of downhill and a slight tail wind.

Saw a dead (not very recently) groundhog along Windsor between First and Lincoln. Remembered also seeing one across the street from the yoga studio, the same one, I’m sure, that I’d seen crossing the street there on Saturday morning. Wouldn’t have thought when I started this that I’d be writing so much about road kill, but it gets one’s attention.

Arrived home at 10:23. Hope tomorrow is less complicated!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day Nine, TWWS

5:18 AM. Just hadn't planned on fog. Would have to take a different route than planned because I didn't want to surprise even the eight motorists I might see with my sudden presence. Could have used blinking lights to increase visibility and safety, but I wasn’t sure how waterproof they were; besides, the mountings were on the other bike and I didn’t want to take the time to switch them.

It definitely was a "pea souper." Noticed a smaller example of something I saw on the way to the pool one morning, which was “rain” under the trees and not away from them, condensation creating tiny local showers. Besides making it rain under the trees and diminishing visibility generally, the fog condensed on my glasses, requiring stops to wipe at regular intervals. This kind of impediment to the planned workout does not occur with swimming. There were a couple of days when the ride was so lovely I thought I might be tempted to abandon swimming for cycling, at least for part of the summer, but this was not one of them.

Proceeded with caution. At Meadowbrook, couldn’t find the iris. Was the lovely but unassertive blue lost in the fog, or do they just not open so early when the sun isn’t shining? Lots and lots of Tradescantia and Penstemon, at least what was visible close to the path. More Baptisia and maybe Coreopsis than yesterday. The fog revealed spider webs all over: loosely woven threads strung with tiny beads. I wished for a camera. Noticed that the hairs on my arms were outlined the same way!

At Windsor road went east to Philo, then turned around and headed west to Lincoln. Turned north onto the bike path, minimizing contact with both vehicles and pedestrians. Passed the U. of I. school of Veterinary Medicine, where my youngest sister got her DVM. Remembered a Saturday morning in April of 1992 at that place, when my sister showed my husband and me and a 19-year-old young woman with a lot of ear piercings, red plaid tights, and an oversized “Ultraman” tee shirt around the Large Animal Clinic. We had talked on the phone to this young woman but had never met her before this day; we’d picked her up from the train station and were about to spend the day with her. She was pregnant, and we were hoping to adopt her baby. Talk about intense…

Turned west at Florida and rode on the wide, uninterrupted sidewalk across the street from the cemetery. (Mount Hope, I think it’s called.) Headed south on the bike path to Windsor and turned around and came back north again, retracing my path on Florida, turning south on Lincoln and heading home. I thought maybe the fog would clear during the ride, but is was still there as I neared home, confining my attention to things close by, even to my head. Like formulating a response to another blog I follow.

Got back about 6:30 and was going to take a photo of the fog for this post, but then got caught up in the getting-ready-for school vortex. By the time I thought to go out for a picture, the fog was pretty much gone. Funny how much I wanted it to go away and was now disappointed it was gone!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Day Eight TWWS

Monday, 31 May 2010. About 5:40 AM. Got a relatively late start, but it’s a holiday, after all. The sky was cloudy, the air muggy but surprisingly cool with the bike in motion, heading south on Race Street. Didn't bring the recorder today because rain looked possible. I may quit using it anyway.

Yesterday’s heat seemed to have finished off the irises and most of the peonies. The Perfect Garden (I call it that with nothing but admiration) featured roses of assorted colors, including three very large very white blossoms that I couldn’t be sure until I looked closer were not late peonies.

At Meadowbrook the Tradescantia showed little sign of waning, while the Penstemon seemed to be thickening. More Coreopsis showed in a spot where I’d seen a few last week, near the prairie observation platform. Also saw the first Baptisia (false indigo), like vertebral columns (some with a bit of scoliosis) atop horizontally spreading leaves. Wondered what I might be missing while taking this census and remembered I hadn’t checked to see if the iris back at the cardinal flower site was still blooming, so decided to take another loop around. There still were plenty of iris blooms, though they seemed lower to the ground than the earlier ones.

Headed back north on Vine and east on Washington. Felt a little lazier, a little less excited than the last time I was there. Missed swimming, the aerobics of it. Was excited enough to want to go farther than last time (it’s a holiday!), jogged right, then left on 1525N to 1900E. Wasn’t ready to go straight home as I’d originally planned, so headed north on 1900E until I saw Mount Olive cemetery, which I hadn’t realized was there. Rode along one side of it and saw some names I didn’t know well but did recognize, including at least one person I’d met when he was alive. Saw what appeared to be a white, life-sized (or larger) statue of a baby (actually an angel) sitting to one side of a wrought iron bench.

Back on Washington Street was about to pass Cottonwood Dr., but the north side again beckoned. Turned right, but then felt like I had to stop (between the red stop sign and the yellow “stop ahead” sign, both of which had 2-3 inch, irregular holes blown through the middle of them). Now it was so quiet. Not silent—made a mental list of the sounds: traffic and birds, most conspicuously robin, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, pheasant, goose, rooster. But away from trees, between two fields of young soybeans, all of these sounds were soothingly distant. I stood (kind of defeating the exercise part of the purpose of the trip) looking up at the morning sky and listened a while, grateful to be able to take it in.

Continuing east on Cottonwood Rd., I crossed the I-74 bridge, near which grew a thick stand of wild parsnip (Pastinaca) and the tops of some of which were covered with white mesh bags. Must be someone after swallowtail butterflies. Crossed the Saline Ditch and went on a little way. The road was enticing, pleasantly rolling, but could see houses and didn’t feel like worrying about dogs, so turned back.

Passed Prairie School without checking on the hidden prairie. Would have needed binoculars to see what was going on in the pond, and it was near 7:30. I was ready to be home.

At about the halfway point of my swimming hiatus, I must say that while I have no idea whether this is at all interesting to anyone else, writing about my biking adventures has made them just incredibly enjoyable to me. However, I am disappointed that it takes so long to say what I want to say about it. So for the remainder of this week, I may have to skimp even more on writing quality to let the rest of my family have their fair share of computer time and hope my readers (ha, ha!) will forgive me.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day Seven, TWWS

Sunday 30 May 2010. Hadn’t planned to post on Saturday and Sunday as I don’t usually swim on the weekend, but was in Chicago on Saturday to celebrate my mother’s birthday, and toward the end of the festivities, my sister Lisa announced that the 2010 Bike the Drive was happening in the morning and did I want to join her? It meant changing my train reservation, but how could I refuse? And how could I resist writing something about it?

“Bike the Drive,” which is a fundraiser for an organization called Active Transport Alliance, runs along Lake Michigan on a 15 mile stretch of Lake Shore Drive, between Bryn Mawr Avenue and 57th Street. The Drive is closed to motor vehicles for this event and filled with bikes—how cool is that?

My sister and I loaded two bikes, helmets, and water bottles in her car and we headed downtown at about 6:30 AM. Would like to have been there for the beginning of the event, which started at 5:30, but I was her guest, and she was the driver. She had a pass to park close to the event but unfortunately couldn’t use it because the event blocked the way to the parking garage. So we spent a while looking for a place to put the car. I braced for the disappointment of having to turn around and go home, but eventually we found a spot.

Even with a good crowd attending, registration was quick, and soon we were heading south on Lake Shore Drive. The temperature was, well, just about perfect, in the 70’s and with no wind to speak of. The sun shone, though the colors of the sky and the lake were subdued by a bit of haze. The skyscrapers and the Field Museum were so stately and beautifully composed against the lake, but I must say that the volume of bicyclists was a bit distracting. It felt almost exactly like being on the expressway full of cars; one false move and there would be a pile-up. My sister and I talked some, though it was hard to relax with people passing and shifting positions. The subject of death came up, somehow—our sister who died a year and a half ago; Lisa’s best friend, who happened to have been adopted. We talked about how hard it was to know how to make the experience of someone who is very ill easier rather than more difficult.

Riding along the lakefront reminded me of an old photograph of my father by the lakefront as a young man that Lisa said she remembered when I described it to her. In the photo, he is lying on his back on a blanket. He is wearing sunglasses and his face looks sunburned. You might think he’s lying on a sandy beach, but a line on the right side of the photo shows that the surface is concrete; it was a place they called “The Rocks.” I remember gazing at that photo on my parents’ refrigerator once when my husband and I were visiting, shortly after we had a long-expected expected adoption fall through. I was weighed down with grief, and I could tell my father desperately wanted but had no to how to ease my pain. All he could think to do was take the photo off of the fridge and give it to me. It was like giving me his heart, and I still treasure that picture…

We turned around at the Museum of Science and Industry and headed back. I noticed how very smooth the road was, except for the occasional (sometimes fairly deep!) pothole. Then I noticed footprints preserved in one of the slabs. Lisa and I were psyched for future bike trips, in Wisconsin and elsewhere in Illinois, when our schedules let us.

It wasn’t swimming (though we could see water), and there definitely was no solitude or open space about it, but biking the Drive with my “twin” sister and the throng of cyclists supporting “active transportation” was quite satisfying and enjoyable.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day Five, TWWS

Friday 28 May 2010, 5:15 AM. I’m going to make a confession, which is that I’ve been carrying a little audio recorder on my bike rides, rubber-banded to the handlebars, so I can catch details that I might otherwise forget. Is this cheating? I don’t use everything I record, and I don’t record everything I remember. What’s kind of fun to hear are particular bird songs, the wind, and traffic on busy roads.

So it was yet another beautiful morning, slightly cooler and drier—wore a light sweater and was comfortable. Speaking of which, already I’m pretty much used to the seat of the mountain bike.

Sweet linden smell again.

On Race Street just across Florida was a sycamore tree with one of its limbs lying on the ground. Reminded me of something I read last night in my son’s history paper, that Stonewall Jackson’s left arm was buried in a different place from the rest of him.

A little farther down, the sight of the moon above the Orchard Downs garden plots made me cry out, it was so big and orange, beautiful and unexpected.

Started the Meadowbrook loop, paid respects to the sea of spiderwort (and penstemon), but then worried that I’d miss the moon going down so turned back. It was just a little disappointing because it faded as it went down. But it was bigger than the sun, which was rising on the other side of the sky. What balance! Made me think of ancient people who thought that the sun and moon were oh so much more equal than they turned out to be: the sun way way bigger than the earth and millions of degrees and far away and the moon so close and cold and tiny.

Went south to Old Church Road. Crossed a creek. On the road was a dead mouse, or maybe it was a vole. Had quite thick fur. Saw and heard a meadowlark on a fencepost and then another on the next one. Handsome yellow and black markings and beautiful song! Heard a mental recording of Bob Dylan singing “your voice is like a meadowlark” from “One More Cup of Coffee.” Passed a housing development with a sidewalk, so got off the road onto the sidewalk. Here I encountered my first barking dog. Fortunately it was safely behind a fence and I didn’t have to test my “Oh, you’re such a good sweet doggie!” tactic. Went north at Prospect, which turned into a hike and bike path with a lot of people walking quiet, well-behaved dogs. One side of the road was farm fields and the other was carefully maintained yards.

Turned east on Curtis Road and then to Race and on home. Noticed I much preferred riding out in the country to riding in town. Out in the open, one feels especially that sensation like flying. Like swimming, it’s moving without contacting the ground. Rode into a bit of a headwind (east wind?), which made the heart rate go up some. Tried to think of the wind not as an impediment to progress but just a different kind of exertion. Need to remember that as a metaphor for difficulties in life.

Back at 6:26.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day Four TWWS

Thursday 27 May 2010, 4:45 AM. With the windows open can really hear the dawn chorus, with robin and cardinal soloists. Got out a little earlier today, about 5:18. Some streetlights were still on. This is an advantage of cycling over swimming, at least for these two weeks: one doesn’t have to wait for the pool to open. The weather is remarkably similar to how it’s been the previous three days: partly cloudy and lovely.

Early in the ride was greeted by a strong fragrance like honeysuckle, I think it was linden, which is in bloom now. Took me back to the day I came by myself on the Greyhound bus to register as a freshman at the U of I, (4 June, 1974), which, completely coincidentally, was also the day a relative from Poland whom I had never met was in town for a conference on the effects of wind on tall buildings. (I am not making this up.) My aunt gave this relative and me a ride back to Chicago… How easy it is to get lost in one’s thoughts, even on such a beautiful morning.

The Meadowbrook loop was less novel today, but speeding toward the rabbit statue and clattering over the bridge before the sharp turn to the left is always a little thrill. The violet-blue spiderwort (Tradescantia, which sounds more fittingly regal) were, if possible, even more glorious than yesterday. Made me think of bluebonnets in Texas. Tradescantia rules the prairie. Oh, yes, there is also the penstemon, like snow in places.

After the loop headed north on Vine Street to Washington Street. Noticed a tree, which turned out to be an ash (how long before it succumbs to the emerald ash-borer?) in Blair Park with a hollow up the length of its trunk that seemed to almost split it in two.

Realized, sniffling slightly, that in the pool, one doesn’t have to (can’t) blow one’s nose. But don’t want to think too much about that.

Headed east on Washington, across Rte. 130, where it becomes a lovely, quiet, narrow country road with no shoulder. Lots of goat’s beard. Also a tall umbel with white flowers, and sweet clover (Melilotus, there’s a lovely name.)

Unlike previous days, didn’t whiff any trace of skunk.

Encountered a few people in vehicles, to whom I would nod; some of these gave the raised index finger salute. (I remember, as a Chicagoan first venturing out in the country as a field biologist, how extraordinary this greeting of strangers seemed.) Something different between being at the pool and outside is that everyone at the pool is there for a similar reason; outside we are doing a lot of different things.

Rode to the end of Washington Street (no dogs!) and turned back. Couldn’t resist turning north on Cottonwood Rd. and daring my bad sense of direction to confuse me. But retraced my path and got back ok, 6:40. Good thing I don’t have to work this morning.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day Three, TWWS

Wednesday 26 May 2010. Got started a little later, 5:30am. This morning was a lot like the previous two, weatherwise. Again, the wind has been very light and not a big factor going or coming. The sun was a complete orange circle floating above the horizon, clouds off to the sides. I decided it was nice on these rides to have a ritual part (a loop of Meadowbrook) that was the same and then an exploration part. At the cardinal flower place I looked on the other side of the path, into the center of the prairie, and saw more violet-blue spiderwort than I could have imagined, spreading out in two dimensions. The little bit of fog over them made it even more lovely. Then I noticed one, two deer near the path. Pretty as a picture!

This morning’s exploration was east to Philo Road and then south. I thought I remembered from the bike map that a route went through a subdivision, so I turned into one near Myra Ridge. The houses were new and the trees poor little sticks with a few leaves. The "path" didn’t go anywhere; shortly I was back on Philo, out in the country again. On the west side of the road was a crop I didn’t recognize. There was a plot with spaced out plants and lots of little colored flags among them. Further down were plots of it growing thickly: long thing grasses that made me think of sugar cane.

Saw only one farm house (“What a good dog you are! You’re such a sweet doggie!”). Philo Road ended at Old Church and I turned east. There was a rise that blocked the view of the landscape and looked so stark. Visually something like the Sahara, except for the telephone poles.

On a bike one knows that Central Illinois is not completely flat. Some mist collected in the low places—the subtle undulation was lovely, as was the silence, even with dry ears. Out on the road I noticed I missed my fellow swimmers and the water and also loved the air and the solitude.

Turned back at Rte. 130, went to Race rather than back to Philo. At one intersection I wondered if I was supposed to have turned (what if I get lost?!?) and paniced for just a moment. Came back on Race street and noticed with a smile the rock that looks like a couch.

Day Two, TWWS

Tuesday 25 May 2010. Started about the same time as yesterday. Today I used the mountain bike we’d gotten for for my older son. It was, indeed, more comfortable than my “retirement” bike from the standpoint of distributing exertion—my back and hips felt much better—but I’m not used to the seat.

Made a loop of Meadowbrook again. The weather was similar to yesterday, pleasantly cool and moist, but almost no mist on the ground, and the clouds in the sunrise were less dramatic than yesterday—like the mountain had broken up. The rays of glory were there again, nicely.

Decided to head east on Windsor Road. It seemed like a mistake right away, though, because construction was in progress—both lanes on one side of the road. Fortunately the traffic was very light. Another reason not to be on Windsor Road was all of the development, “Stone Creek.” Across Rte. 130 was finally the countryside, fields and farmhouses, but I’d never been there before and wondered about dogs. What did my friend Holly say to do when a dog chased you? Get small? Get big? Oh, yes, talk to it in a high pitched, sing-song voice, like to a baby. So when I passed a house, I practiced, “Hi, you good doggie! You are such a sweet dog! Oh, you are just such a sweet good doggie!...” Fortunately, I didn't have to test it out.

Made it to Cottonwood Drive and turned left in search of Washington Street. The fields were dotted with Golden Alexanders, which must be annual and bird pollinated from their random pattern of distribution.

On the way back down Washington St. I waved to Coach Searing from cross country, who was running east. Passing Prairie School, I wondered what the hidden prairie looked like at this time of year. The mountain bike took the mowed grass on the way to the prairie ok, but lo and behold that heart rate finally did go up. At the pond there was not much obvious action, didn’t stay long but caught a bullfrog singing.

Day One, TWWS

Monday 24 May 2010. Got out by 5:23 am. Already it was quite light. Was a little chilly in short sleeves! The air was pleasantly humid. Was a little sad passing my usual route to the pool. There were lots of flowers to see, esp. late poppies, remaining irises, peach colored and still some purple-blue or purple red ones. The perfect garden on the east side of Race just south of Pennsylvania was especially lovely. Trees pretty much fully leafed. Made a loop of Meadowbrook: mist lay here and there in low places. The moist air was cool in places and warm in others, like the water in the pool is sometimes. It felt good to ride through the different temperatures. At the statue of “God” the scene was dramatic: mist on the ground and mountain-clouds with slanting lines radiating from them, and a bit of red sun peeking through. She looked pleased to be part of it. White Penstimon were numerous, as were spiderwort, though these latter would show more blue-violet later in the morning when they were fully open. Irises were still blooming in the place where the cardinal flowers will be later in the year.

The woods along Race Street just south of Meadowbrook reminded me of Wisconsin. On the road, on the ground there, was an INDIGO BUNTING!!!!!--more deserving of the epithet “blue bird” than the species of that name.

The vegetation is pretty much all green, tender and growing. Young corn plants in rows, wild parsnip, etc., along the roadside. The wind wasn’t bad. I must say the smells were different, mostly better than the chlorine fragrance (which nevertheless I love for its association with swimming) of the pool.

Yes, it was hard to get the heart rate up, and the bike is not such a familiar way to exercise. Muscles got tired before I could breathe very hard.

Almost home, on Race Street, there was a shape that looked like it could have been a snake, and in fact, it was a little, dry, dead garter snake. Poor thing.

After, though it was not the same as swimming, I did feel that pleasant post-exercise satisfaction.

Two Weeks without Swimming

The pool where I swim at 6AM every weekday is closed for cleaning for the next two weeks. This is a bit traumatic for me because nothing in my life is so dependable or consistently enjoyable as my morning swim. It took about 50 years (this is scary!) for me to hone such a well-formed routine. So I get nervous when it's disrupted!

But surviving this fortnight is my challenge. It's not really such a long time, after all, right? It could even be an opportunity to learn a variation on the routine, to try another form of exercise. Maybe I could get on my bike and see and see the countryside in the morning. But it's just not as...comfortable.

Immediately a list popped into my mind: Ten Reasons Why Swimming Is Better than Cycling for Daily Exercies:
1. You don't have to worry about the weather.
2. You don't have to worry about going too far to get back on time.
3. You don't have to worry about losing control and crashing when you swim. (Though hitting the lane marker hurts more than one would think.)
4. You don't have to deal with sweaty clothes.
5. You don't have to get in line at home to take a shower.
6. It's never a good idea to close your eyes while cycling.
7. You don't have to worry about dogs chasing you.
8. You don't have to worry about avoiding motor vehicles.
9. You're never tempted to take picture, sketch, or just stop to get a closer look at something.
10. You don't have to worry about getting lost.

Still, I'm off on my bike instead of swimming for the next two weeks. Maybe writing about it will smooth the transition.

Sorry, there is no adoption in this post.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Vision of Mothers' Day: Birth and Adoptive Moms

Mother's Day arguably is a holiday invented by card companies to stimulate business, but regardless of its origin, it certainly stimulates strong feelings about motherhood. For those of us whose lives are shaped by adoption, these feelings can be especially powerful or even raw. As an adoptive mother, I feel more intensely around Mother’s Day my gratitude for the gift of motherhood, for my sons, who have brought more meaning to my life than I ever could have imagined. This gratitude is immeasurably sweet but always mixed with sadness. Some of the sadness comes from not having carried them in my body, but most is from the knowledge that what brought them to me was tragedy and loss. I can’t help thinking about how Mother’s Day feels to two other women, bereft of the joys of my life. I send them notes, photos, cards (our relationship could be described as “semi-open”), handmade cards, if I can manage, into which I pour as much love as such an offering can hold. Yet I know these really are feeble gestures that can’t begin (or maybe only just begin) to touch their world.

Although it’s not widely publicized, the day before Mother’s day has been observed, mostly by groups of birth mothers, as Birth Mother’s day, a day to acknowledge their unique, bittersweet experience of motherhood. A few years ago, I saw in the local Catholic newspaper an announcement for an observance of Birth Mother’s day at the chapel of a local hospital, hosted by a Catholic adoption agency. I was excited that someone had organized such an observance and eagerly wanted to be part of it, to witness, honor, affirm the experience of the attending birth mothers, of all birth mothers, and especially, even though they wouldn’t be present, my sons’ birth mothers. At the same time, the thought of being close up to a sharp reality from which I’m usually insulated, which can be scary even in my own imagination, made me hesitate, made me feel shaky as I locked my bike and walked through the hospital doors.

In the chapel, I was handed a program of songs, readings, and prayers. The gathering was small. Beside myself, I think there was a couple with their young adopted daughter, two social workers from the agency, and three or four birth mothers. I don’t remember the details of the ceremony, but the songs and readings were meaningful and beautiful. Each birth mother shared a brief summary of her story: how long it had been since the adoption, what her circumstances were, what her reunion and present relationship with her birth child was like. Needless to say, many tears were shed. Afterward cake was served, and more informal conversation followed.

Though I was glad to have participated, I wondered whether I should really have been there. No one made me feel unwelcome, and one birth mother spoke to me with tears of gratitude that I would want to hear her story. But I wondered if my presence made them hold back, feel uncomfortable expressing, say, their rage and frustration about having so little to say about the fate of their children.

Not everyone finds gatherings with songs, readings, and candles to be a comforting place to bring their feelings of gratitude and loss, but I for one, very much do. In the blur of bringing home a new baby, my husband and I didn’t attend the adoption blessing ceremony put on by our agency shortly after my first son’s arrival, but I know that his birth mother was there and read the prayer I’d written for the day we brought him home. Even this little report is an ember that still glows in my heart. The following year, I drove two hours to meet her at another such ceremony, where we sat together, listened, sang, prayed, and lit candles. Afterward, we talked about the things she was saving for my son, about her mother, about her Swedish grandfather. I remember that she took it upon herself to get me some cookies and coffee, like a hostess, and when it was over I gave her a ride home. It was like a dream, framed with poetry, song, candlelight.

I’ve attended, and even been involved in planning, several “adoption blessing” events since then. These events, organized by adoptive parents and adoption workers with all members of the “triad” in mind, always are emotional and meaningful for me but also a bit disappointing because few birth parents or adult adoptees attend.

Once I tried to organize a reading of adoption poetry by putting up a few fliers on bulletin boards around town. (What did I know about publicity?) I naively expected at least one or two birth mothers, adult adoptees, and of course lots of adoptive parents, to see my announcement and jump at this opportunity to share, through their own words or those of others, their experience of adoption. Not surprisingly, it was attended (yes, and enjoyed) by a few fellow parents and myself. A little reflection on a couple of pieces, quickly chosen from A Ghost at Heart’s Edge by Susan Ito and Tina Cervin (“Letter to the Adoptive Parents from the Birthmother” by Carrie Etter and “Hunger” by Julia Sudbury) made clear to me that the walls of the coffee house may have had a hard time withstanding the emotion, let alone strangers venturing to hurl or catch it.

Adoptive parents’ magazines feature articles that speak about the difficulty of a birth mother’s experience with respect and gratitude, but they never approach the scale of intensity I’ve heard from the birth mothers’ own unguarded voices from other sources. I wonder whether there just is too much pain for an honest meeting, a mutual witnessing and sharing between birth and adoptive mothers, to be humanly possible. Yet, this is my dream, my vision. In my vision, it’s Mother’s Day/ Birth Mother’s Day. We are together, reading, singing, lighting candles. We are sharing stories and feelings, shouting, “I need you to hear this!” raging, weeping. And we are silent, listening, listening. We are hugging. We are taking leave, exhausted, maybe carrying the seeds of forgiveness, of healing. We think about gathering next time.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Public, Like a Frog

Hello to the Blogosphere and to the humans who inhabit it! And welcome to my blog, "Adoption and Other Mysteries." As the "and Other Mysteries" part of the title indicates, this blog won't be just about adoption, but my most "advanced degree" happens to come from being an adoptive mother. Adoption, in my experience, speaks of some of life's deepest mysteries, it is the teacher from which I have learned more than from any other. In this blog I hope to share some of what I've learned as well as what I still want to learn about the relationship called adoption and how it's connected, even if remotely, to other parts of life.

Deciding to share thoughts about adoption over the internet makes me think about the strains of secrecy/denial versus truth/openness that have run through the history of adoption. As beautiful and sacred as adoptive relationships are, they are impossible without events that we would rather not have happened, like untimely pregnancy, giving up a child, infertility. When life gets messy we humans tend to judge harshly, we want to sanitize it, to push out the "bad elements," to not talk about it or keep others from talking about it. And when the chance to speak finally comes, we often explode with pent up anger, lashing out at the nearest target. Adoption is not the big secret it once was, but honest discussion about it still takes courage. In addition, it takes skill to speak out while respecting the privacy and confidentiality of others. My children, for example, have let me know in no uncertain terms that they do not want to be discussed specifically in this blog. I admit, for my part, that it's a little scary to be exposing my heart to the big, dark Blogosphere, especially to the the raw elements of adoption. Yet, the strange and untimely, recent death of my sister prods me, reminds me that all of us have a choice to articulate and share what we know, such as it is, possibly shedding a bit of light on someone else's path, or to take it to our graves. I know something, partial but real, about adoption. This blog is my humble offering, with love.

The following poem by Emily Dickenson isn't exactly about adoption, but it is about speaking out to the world. It could be, in an opposite kind of way, the anthem of the fledgling blogger, who, armed with only their little heart-gift, is about to go public.

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog[or blog]!