A Broken Birthday

It’s my daughter’s birthday.

On her first birthday, I pushed down all of the emotions I felt as I attended her birthday party. Most of the people didn’t know who I was. Those who did, thanked me and told me how grateful they were for my sacrifice. It felt awful and weird and nothing the adoption facilitator, not anything I had read online prepared me for watching my daughter’s parents pose for picture after picture with her while no one asked me to smile with her.

Still, I felt grateful. Not many birth parents get to attend their child’s first birthday. I knew I was lucky, even if it felt weird.

Every birthday since then, I’ve either been able to speak with my daughter or be in attendance. I’ve either told her, “Happy birthday, I love you,” on the phone or in person. It’s always been me, doing this thing. It was part of the promise I made to her as I held her on that first evening, back when she was still mine and mine alone. I promised I’d always be there.

I didn’t wish her a happy birthday today.

Or, I did.

When the clock rolled over to midnight, still awake and feeling an overwhelming mix of emotions, I sent a birthday wish out into the universe. This afternoon, I sent her mom a text asking her to send along my birthday wishes—if she felt that wouldn’t make my daughter’s day worse. My daughter’s mother did and reported back.

But I didn’t speak to my daughter.

I didn’t get to tell my daughter that I love her. No matter what. Always. Forever. I didn’t get to tell her that I understand certain aspects of her life. I was once a teenage girl. I didn’t get to apologize for not knowing, way back when, how my decision would negatively affect her, her brothers, me, all of us.

I didn’t get to tell her that she’ll always have a piece of my heart.

She doesn’t want to speak to me right now, doesn’t want me in her life.

They don’t tell you about that when you’re considering placement. They don’t tell you that someday your child may want nothing to do with you even though you’ve been there, every single day, since day one. They don’t tell you that the first birthday after your child decides you’re expendable feels worse than death.

My heart is broken. It’s just broken. I physically hurt.

I can’t even write anything more eloquent than that tonight. I’m broken.

14 years ago I gave birth to a baby girl. They told me I could be a part of her life. I was. Until I wasn’t allowed to be anymore.

Happy birthday, my daughter. I love you. Always. I will be here when you are ready. Until then…

Double-Digits

Dear LittleBrother,

Well.

You’re 10.

I’m not okay with that. I mean, I’m okay with that in that I’m so glad you are part of our world and still here with us. I am not okay with the fact that you’re now a double-digit age. Like, what?

Being the mom of a double digit-er is weird. First off, your feet are the same size as mine. You’re taller than my armpit. You’re funnier than me. Weren’t you just born like five seconds ago?

Double-Digits

Right now you dig LEGO. As you continue to build your way through LEGO City and collect it across your dresser, I marvel at your patience. You don’t have patience for humans sometimes, but you sure do for building with tiny blocks. I like watching you get excited about creating and I lovelovelove the pride you show in your work.

I’m proud of you for so many things. Running for Student Council (and getting elected!). Earning Student of the Month. Straight A’s. Doing chores. Helping me cook. You give your all no matter what you’re doing, and I think that’s awesome.

Oh, and PS: I love your glasses. I think they make you look really awesome.

Even though I’m feeling sad about the fact that you’re ten, I’m excited to see what’s in store for you this year. You’re growing—so freaking fast. Your personality is growing, too. Your library, too! I wonder what you’ll read this year. I bet you’ll love whatever it is… and I hope you’ll sit and tell me about each book.

I won’t bore you with all the “you’ll always be my baby” hullabaloo. (But you will.) Instead, I’ll just say that I’m so grateful to be your mom. Thank you for still smiling for pictures, for still giving out hugs freely. Maybe you won’t always, so I’ll enjoy them immensely right now.

Thanks for being you.

Love,
Mommy

Follow Her

I grabbed Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee off the New Releases shelf in the library for the usual reason: I liked the cover. I’m a sucker for a good cover, and this one had snow. I didn’t even read the jacket fully which is almost always a recipe for disaster.

I remember skimming over something about a daughter who returned home and something about a family secret. Here’s a truth about books: Famly secrets usually have to do with adoption. This one didn’t, and I felt somewhat shocked.

Instead of the adoption side of my life, this book decided to slam into another big and more recent theme. The novel follows Clara Winter as she returns home to—wait for it—care for her mother who is deteriorating rapidly due to early onset Alzheimer’s. Once I realized the plot of the book, I sat it down and gave it the side-eye.

If you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, you might not know that this is my life. Kind of. My husband and I are actively involved in caring for his grandmother who is exiting Stage 5 and entering Stage 6. We’ve been kind of forced into this role, but we’re here and we’re doing the best we can.

So when I realized what was happening in the book, I literally sat it down and looked at it.

Fiction matters. It really, really matters. You can claim that it’s “not real” and therefore doesn’t matter as much as non-fiction, but you’re wrong. I learned a number of things from this novel. I also cried a lot.

As Clara tries to reconnect with her mother before she dies, she learns to just “follow her.”

Sometimes Mamaw doesn’t know she’s in a nursing home. She talks about finishing dinner and going “upstairs” to go to bed. Sometimes she forgets the boys’ names. One time she forgot me completely. (That one sucked.)

We follow her.

Sometimes he’s looking for her childhood neighbor. We never know where—in time, in space, in memory—she’s going to be.

And so we follow her.

Sometimes it feels frustrating. But Never Coming Back taught me the concept of just following her. It also taught me to stop prodding her with the word “remember.” She can’t. Mamaw has no short term memory left. Sometimes she remembers really obscure, way-back memories. Other times she can’t grab a name. Most days she can’t tell me what she just ate as the empty plate sits in front of her.

And so we’re learning to follow her. It helps keep the agitation at bay.

Like Clara’s mom, Mamaw is never coming back. We don’t have any mystery surrounding her mental decline, of course. Instead, we’re just stuck, watching it happen. The book was hard to read for this reason. I wanted Clara to achieve the closure she wanted and needed, but I knew we wouldn’t have a similar experience.

Someday Mamaw will be physically gone. We are doing our best to serve her now, while she is with us. We follow her.

If I had read this book six or ten or twenty years ago, I would not have understood the pain of losing someone to this disease. Reading it now, I felt overwhelmed at times by the similarities in thought and experience. I don’t know if I’d recommend reading this while actively deadling with a declining loved one, but I wouldn’t not recommend it either.

I am glad I grabbed this book off the shelf. I am thankful McGhee wrote this one in a beautiful, heart-breaking, so-very-real way. At the very least, I felt less alone. I’m thankful I learned how to follow her.

And we’ll follow you where you go right now, Mamaw.

Follow Her