wanted?

I had the oddest experience the other day (well, actually, all of last week was odd, but I digress) . . . as we were reminiscing, my brother Michael kept talking about events that happened “before we got you”(which he gets a kick out of saying) and we would make “Babies R’ US” and “Baby Depot” jokes . . . even though at times I feel like that is basically what it was . . .

but one story he told me really touched me and made me re-think my usual assessment of my place in our family.  he said that he remembered the day that my family went into the city to “get” me . . . how excited he was. It was April 23, 1970 (the reason I know the date has to do with LMT; more on that later). Michael says that he remembers sitting on the floor, playing with the bows on my mother’s shoes. He was four years old.

The reason that this struck me was that I know a little something about kids . . . and I know that for a four-year old to have had this level of excitement, there had to have been some enthusiasm coming from the parental units that my brother(s) must have picked up on. So this little anecdote tells me something that doesn’t jive with the narrative I’ve held onto for so long. This story tells me that, at least at one point, I was truly wanted.

Now, I suppose it’s easier to want something (or someone) before you are fully conscious of what you will be “getting” . . . and, sentimental adoption rhetoric aside, I wasn’t really “chosen”–it’s not like there really IS a “baby depot” where you can go and pick a kid, any kid. The agency picks–they lie, too. I found out later that they told my birthmother that my adoptive mother was a teacher–but it was nice to hear this story, given the fact that when I was fifteen, my mother informed me that “I love you, Lorraine, but I wish I had never adopted you.” It’s nice to know that there was a time, however brief, when she didn’t wish that.

But that is the fear that those of us who are “chosen” must face every day. We were not “wanted” at least once, and we then lived in fear that those who had “chosen” us would eventually “unchoose”. My security as a member of a family is never absolute. I am not truly anybody’s blood . . . I do not really belong.

and it was bittersweet to hear my brother share this recollection because of another story that he has told me a few times . . . the story of how, becoming frustrated with him, my mother would sit him out on our back porch in just a diaper and his shoes (“just how we got you”) and tell him that she had made the call and that “they” (the adoption agency) were coming back to get him. They had “gotten” him, and they could send him back–such is the legacy of the “chosen”. and when my father got home from work, he would play along with the deception. I wonder sometimes how long they left him there, alone with the fear of being sent back.

maybe they forgot that kids tend to take this type of thing literally . . . maybe they didn’t realize the terror that their words would cause in the heart of my small and vulnerable brother. Or maybe they were just that that cruel. I’m not sure I will ever know.

So these are the two images in my head . . . the young family, eager to add a little girl, and that same family, wanting “out” already with her brother at a young age,  re-evaluating fifteen years later and wishing she hadn’t been a part of the narrative.

I live with this dialectic every day. It reminds me of who I am. But today, I have a new piece to add to the puzzle. Once upon a time, I was wanted.

going “home”, part two

“They say your style of life’s a drag
And that you must go other places
But just don’t you feel too bad
When you get fooled by smiling faces”

–Stevie Wonder
 

Every time I go back to New York, I am hit with a profound and echoing sense of longing. I don’t know if it’s my need for variety and visual stimulation, for movement and excitement, but breathing in the very air around me (not breathing it in too closely, in some cases!) fills a need in me that I can barely express. And the sounds! And the accents! And the people! As I say very often, “I love my city!” And when I go back “home” to Michigan, I always feel like I’m leaving a part of me behind.
 
When I was in college, I came close to going “home” several times. I graduated six months early in large part because I just had to be back to New York. When I moved back to Michigan at the end of 1999, it began as a life-or-death situation, but ended up being a better decision than I knew I was making at the time. I often describe it by saying, “life is easier in Michigan.” If I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself, I will tell people that I tried to live in NYC and that the city “chewed me up and spit me out”, which is sometimes how I feel about it, even now.
 
I tried to come home just over a year ago. God said “not yet”, and then He said “no”.   And every time I’m back, I return (home?!) to my boring midwestern life and wonder if I’ll ever get “home” to NY again.
 
Last weekend , a friend asked me why I wanted to be back in NYC so badly. I was hard-pressed to find the words to express what I was feeling . . . I could only say that I didn’t want to have to say that I am “from” Michigan . . . that I didn’t want to lose my “New York-ness”. Here in the Northern Bible Belt, where it doesn’t matter if my clothes are in style, it’s just so easy to become apathetic . . . and mostly, I fear losing my identity; I fear no longer being a “real” New Yorker.
 
I think it’s a self-esteem thing, too. Can I feel good about myself if I’m constantly reminded that I couldn’t handle living in NY? Maybe it doesn’t matter to anybody else, but to me it does. I feel like I’ve lost a part of my identity, and I don’t have the confidence that I’ll ever get that back. I certainly don’t want to go back to Staten Island; I had that choice at the end of 1999, and saw Grand Rapids as the lesser of two evils. But do I need to learn to “settle” for Grand Rapids, to accept that this is my life now? I don’t know. I can accept that this is where I am *now*; I’m just not sure that I can see it as “forever”. I literally dread the time when I will have to say that I have lived in Michigan longer than I have lived in NY. I’m more than a dozen years away from that point, but as the song goes, “I’m only afraid that my dreams will betray me, and I’ll never get home again.”
 
What is not an option, to the extent that I can help it, would be for me to move elsewhere. When I first came to Grand Rapids, I immediately saw that the problem was that pieces of my heart were in two places. I can barely fathom the idea of tearing my heart into even smaller pieces, and leaving pieces of myself in yet another place. The first spring break I spent back in NY, I dreamed that Grand Rapids was located where New Jersey was. Ever since then, I have wished that I could take the map and fold it up like the back cover of Mad Magazine, and bring those pieces of my heart close enough to each other that it wouldn’t hurt so much. So although I cannot say what God might do, it is hard for me to think beyond these two options.
 
I suppose that, for now, I just have to be where I am, and try not to tie my self-esteem up with the choice of living in this “uncool” place living an unexciting life. Unexciting as it may be, it’s enough to exhaust me, and it’s where I am right now. and if this world is truly not my home, then perhaps this sense of homesickness will be my companion until the day I reach that final home. I’m told that in that place, my angst will cease. It’s hard to imagine, but intriguing nonetheless.

Hospitality

When last we met, I was talking about my awkwardness, my fear of being a houseguest, and the discomfort I feel while staying with friends and family. In my brief trip to NY last weekend, I had the most wonderful experience of being pleasantly surprised by an unexpected feeling–the feeling of being welcome in a place.
 
In planning my long weekend back “home”, I knew that I was overdue for a visit to my dear friends Theresa Tess & Ken. I had missed connecting with them in my visit last August (and what a lovely visit it was 😦 ) and knew I was long overdue. Connecting on Facebook had only piqued my interest in seeing them, and in getting to know their two kids. Gracie was probably two years old the last time I saw her, and Kate, who was then “Katie” to me and a precocious and sweet little girl, is now teetering on the edge of adolescence. It was way past time to reconnect with them.
 
Ken’s status updates on FB had often had me drooling on my keyboard. I knew that they had recently completed a kitchen remodeling, and that he works magic in the kitchen on an almost daily basis. So it made sense that I would “conveniently” plan my arrival for dinnertime. (I’m no fool!!!)
 
However, my usual anxieties surfaced, and no matter who it is, I do not like staying over at someone’s house, because I never know if I will feel welcome, and safe. Nonetheless, I planned to spend the night (and was ready to keep going on to Brooklyn the next day–which also made me feel rude because I wasn’t staying very long) and was eager to see them again in spite of my fears. And when I got there, I was blown away by the outpouring of love and hospitality that I was shown . . .
 
Kate gave up her bed for me. Ken slaved over a hot stove (okay, a crockpot) all day. meatballs and two kinds of sausage in the sauce. The girls set the table–with the good linens!–the day before, and Kate even arranged a centerpiece of candles. I was blown away as I realized something. They were happy to see me! They were excited that I was coming, and they made it clear in both word and deed that I was a welcome guest to their home. Now, the kids didn’t really  remember me, I’m sure, but Mom and Dad set the tone, and they followed suit.
 
I think that the one thing that really struck me was when Ken told me that, had he not made pasta (hello?! as if I’d ever say “no” to Italian food from real Italians?!), he would have made roast beef, with “potatoes that don’t taste like potatoes”. Why did he know this? Because he had cared enough to read my “25 things” meme on Facebook, and had remembered my potato quirkiness. He cared enough to know who I was, just as Theresa did when she called me sometime last year to say hello and to tell me that she had been reading my blog. (one of those times when I didn’t realize that my despair was showing through quite as transparently as it was . . . )
 
When I was a kid, the reason I loved my godmother, Irene, was that she was ALWAYS happy to see me. She was one of the few people in my life who made me feel like I was special, like I was loved. Even at my grandmother’s funeral, she reacted with joy when she first saw me. Feeling loved like this was precious to me because it was so, so rare.
 
Today, with the Beckster and her crew 2500 miles away, I do not often expect to experience that sense of belonging, of being part of something. I do not expect to be surrounded by love, by home, by family.
 
But in Eatontown last Thursday night, I once again experienced what it feels like to be among family . . . to be with people who make me feel special, and welcome, and loved. And through the hospitality of friends, and in the glow of the evening light, my fears melted away, and I thought I got a glimpse of “home”.

going “home”, part one

five days, and at least as many blog posts. This one has to be written as sort of a prequel to the next one.
 
The children of some of the missionaries that I work with were part of an awesome missionary kid video titled, “Where’s home?” This is supposedly a malady that is unique to third-culture kids (TCK’s), but I suspect that most of us struggle with this question in some shape or form.
 
For me, “home” is a loaded word, not just because of my ongoing (and perhaps irrational) fear of homelessness, but because I don’t feel like I really HAVE a place that is truly “home”. I’m pretty sure that it’s not “normal” to ring the doorbell when you get to your parents’ house, but maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know–I have no point of reference with which to compare it.
 
If I had the kind of money available to me that would allow me to stay in hotels, things would be much easier. Especially because I actually noticed something like THREE hotels on Staten Island when I was there this time. (two of them actually REAL hotels, if you can believe that!) But instead, every time I head “home”, I am faced with the stress of trying to figure out where I will lay my head. Max’s place, for the most part, is the most “convenient”, particularly if I’m doing most of my visiting with folks in the city, but I still feel slightly uncomfortable and slightly nervous. What if I break something?! What if I’m too loud? It helps that they are no longer living in a 450-square-foot place where I am right underfoot, but I still feel slightly “in the way”.
 
If I have to stay in Staten Island, things are worse. I basically have three choices:
 
1) Stay with my brother in the house I grew up in. There are two problems with this; well, maybe it’s more like one problem that has two facets to it. a) my mother is there, and I really have nothing to say to the woman. If I stay there, I have to be civil to her. I managed to go more than ten years without saying a word to her, and have since really only spoken to her briefly when I’ve been visiting my brother, or at funerals. Last year, I spent one night there, and realized right away that I wasn’t eager to do that again ANYTIME soon. the b) is that staying in that house requires that I stay in the bedroom I spent the first eighteen years of my life in, which in itself is just über-creepy. The memories are bad enough, but the horrific “early American” decorating style, barely changed in the last thirty years, does not help matters at all. Nor does the far wall in the front porch area, the spot where my piano once stood before my mother had my brother take an ax and a chainsaw to it because my father wasn’t moving it out of the house quickly enough after the divorce.
 
2) Stay at my dad and stepmother’s house. Hmm. I am not sure I have yet considered this to be an option. This is the house in which, two weeks after I had first moved out, the room that had been mine was being referred to as “the spare room”. The three years that I spent living there were awkward and uncomfortable, and I did everything–from getting out of the shower to opening/closing my closet doors–wrong. It seems to me that, even if it was offered (and I think there was an offer when my paternal grandmother died), that the ghosts of that place would haunt me just as badly as the ghosts of my former house would, even though the length of time spent in the latter place was far less.
 
3) Sue’s house . . . ah, Sue . . . an old, dear friend whose “kitchen feels more like home than your own” . . . although I always feel uncertain, and although I feel like a “bad friend” for showing up at random intervals after not staying in touch, staying at Sue’s house is still always safer than staying with my “family” . . . and if I have to stay in Staten Island (which I avoid, even to the point of driving through the night so as to have one less evening’s lodging to worry about), it’s Sue’s house that I normally gravitate towards. The last time I spent the night there, we had only an hour to talk, and yet it was, as the old cliché goes, as if no time had passed. We had a million things to talk about . . . she was glad to see me . . . I was welcome there.
 
I don’t expect to feel comfortable or “welcome” in the home of another. I actually am quite frightened of staying overnight with just about anybody, even my “safe” people, because of that fear of doing the wrong thing, using the wrong towel, being a burden, being in the way.
 
Which leads us to our next blog entry . . . about unexpected hospitality, about feeling welcome, feeling loved. Stay tuned!

so much to say . . .

I have at least five topics left over from my long weekend back “home” in NY, so it’s going to be busy! At least I hope it will be. My ability to discipline myself being what it is, I’m hoping to get to it all. But I’ve been blogging in my head all weekend, so it seems only fair that I get it onto paper.

And I have made a decision . . . I was going to take a poll about it, but I think I’ve decided. I’m going to move all of my “Du$$ar” stuff to a different blog. I just want to see what my traffic REALLY looks like, independent of any conversation about that whole mess. So I’m getting rid of it . . . I’ve decided.

Stay tuned!