12 May 2006

Staying Together: Families, Adoption, Mothers, Work

Jo(e)'s Friday poetry blogging post today gives us this amazing poem by Gary Snyder (from Turtle Island):

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light
I read Jo(e)'s post and just sat, quietly, at my computer, drinking in that powerful last stanza: stay together/learn the flowers/go light. Curious Girl and I talked this morning about my need to learn the names of some of the flowering bushes in our neighborhood. Politica and I have been thinking hard about how our choice of cars is related to our efforts to walk lightly (or drive lightly) on the earth. And it's Mother's Day weekend--in fact, for some, today is Birthmother's Day (although this designation is not without controversy)--and the issue of staying together with children is much on my mind. Staying together. Not everyone is able to do it. CG's first parents couldn't stay together with her. Yet they are together with her, in a way, and together here with me. I think about them--or about her mother, more likely--almost every day.

We don't use the term forever family here. I do tell Curious Girl that I will always be her mama, and that I will always love her, but I don't tell her that we are a forever family (in contrast to her impermanent family of origin). Her birth mother and father, her extended birth family, however it is configured, are likely to be forever part of her emotional and intellectual life, and I don't want the terms we use to describe our family to push her past away. As I've said before, her origins are hers, and she will find a path to integrate her past and present. I want to equip her for the journey. And on mother's day, I'm pondering, yet again, the choices I can't know enough about, choices and situations that led one family to reliquish parental rights, opening the door to another family's formation. I'm pondering the friendships we've formed here through the network of our adoption agency.

Stay together. While I don't use the term forever family, I do want us to be a forever family. I was married once before, so I know that marriage doesn't always mean forever. Politica and I didn't include vows of permanence in our wedding, although we did include our hope that we would grow and change together. We aspire to long connections, but we didn't want to promise what we didn't know we could give. With Curious Girl, I try always to turn towards, rather than away. (I think that's one of the reasons I don't like time out: it seems to turn away, rather than towards.) When CG is fussy or whiny, seeming to push me away, I try to remember that she may be looking for a connection (in her own toddler backwards way). So I try to turn towards her, to stay together with her. That's the source of my patience, really: I do, most days, have a good sense of how to find the way toward CG even when she's in a challenging mood. And when Politica and I fight, I aspire to turn towards her, rather than away. I want to try to understand, to validate, to see her, so we can work through the difficulty. I can't say I do it perfectly all the time, but I try.

Stay together. I'm a joiner, and I try to help Curious Girl find overlapping communities to support her. We've made friends through the Early Childhood Center she attends, friends we see for dinner or playdates, or at the synagogue kiddie functions we attend. We've made friends in the neighborhood who keep an eye out for CG, offering smiles, playtime, medical advice, and encouragement. We connect with distant family through cards and phonecalls; we create family-like networks here, gathering the same friends to celebrate holidays and birthdays. We seek out friends with families formed through adoption, families with two mothers, families with only children. As much as I can control it, I want CG to feel in a community as much as she can. She'll be the odd girl out sometimes, I know, but I want her to have friends who can stand with her, sharing different facets of her identity. I want her to have people to be together with. I don't want her to be afraid to raise her voice alone, but I want her to have communities to return to.

Stay together. I'm also thinking about waht this means at work. I'm going to become department head in a few months, taking over the administration of a very large department that's not always sure what holds it together other than historical accident. (English departments can be very broad, including, for example, linguistics or film as well as literature and composition.) Ours is broader than most; collegial, but not always coherent. The collegiality is a plus, but we seek coherence. And I'm trying to think about ways to make a department feel together. I may be blogging more about work in the coming months as I think about leadership and togetherness.

But tonight, on this weekend for thinking about mothers, I'm thinking about what keeps families together. Politica's family has generations of sibling fractures. Mine has divorces and adoptions. Families don't always stay together, physically. I hope our Granola family does. It's already been a haven for me, a place where all of us have begun to see the benefits of boundaries, the power of love and commitment to open our eyes to the complexity of human relationships and development. I know that Curious Girl won't always be looking up at me and Politica with adoring eyes; she won't go to bed every night hugging me and saying "I love our family!" and she may fret or rebel and push us away as she figures out her own identity. (Heck, she may even vote Republican, although Politica assures me this is most unlikely to happen, given the literature on children's political socialization.) But I'm working really hard--and it's the hardest, and best work I do--to lay a foundation that makes this family something that will turn towards each of us when we need it (most especially at those moments when we think we don't need it). I want us to stay together, to accept our pasts, and to create a future where our relationships help us turn toward the world, toward love, toward wisdom, toward knowledge, towards acceptance.

And this weekend, I turn toward Politica. One of the things we have really gotten right as parents is the ability to give each other space to do things a little differently, while maintaining the ability to sometimes ask questions or raise concerns about those differences (CG was crying during our one violin activity the other night, and Politica said she wasn't sure I was right to push through the tears. It was good to talk about that.) I like the way we've generally encouraged each other to become the mother we need and want to be, even if that means we sometimes watch each other make different choices. I love the way we promote each other's ties to CG. And I love the way she smiles at CG, and the way CG smiles back. I want that to stay together.

And on this weekend, I turn, in my mind, toward CG's first mother. Is she thinking of CG? Happy or sad? Sick or well? Generous of spirit? Working or not? Whatever she is doing, wherever she may be, she flows through CG in some ways, and I want her to stay together with CG. I want Curious Girl to feel whole, to know that her life is one continuous stream (albeit a stream whose beginnings are murky). So I turn towards that far-away woman, hoping that as I turn, I help my child cultivate the ability to turn towards herself, to accept her multiple identities and stay together with her questions, feelings, and talents.

Stay together. So simple, so hard.


jo(e) said...

Wonderful to hear your reflections on that poem, which has long been a favourite of mine.

Deb said...

Beautiful, just beautiful. CG is so lucky.

(I'd love to hear more about your new work role, if you do feel like blogging about it!)

timna said...

thanks for the post. I've been thinking about family a lot lately.

Arwen said...

I think in many ways our families always stay with us, even when physically away, or emotionally fractured. This to me is often a blessing, but sometimes a struggle.

I do sometimes wish, though, that I could trap now in amber. To study now, to drink it in so that it doesn't get lost in tomorrow and tomorrow. (But tomorrow and tomorrow is so exciting!)

Even if my family makes it, together, we're all everyday so changeable...

susan said...

Blogging, in a way, is capturing the now (as is the weekly journal entry I do in a blank book for CG: I write about what we've been doing that week and it's a neat way to capture some of the daily adorable or crazy-making things that otherwise I'd forget.

Then, there's all the ways we discover we turn into our parents! that's another way our parents are always with us.

M. said...

Beautiful. Thanks, Susan.

TDharma said...

beautiful poem, and post, Susan. I love how thoughtful a mother you are. Sounds as if you and Politica give each other a lot of parental breathing room as well, and are kind about each others' trespasses. Lovely.

I did have a good Mother's day, thanks. I posted more, as the OD woke up and we started a jam packed afternoon!

Blessing to all the moms, in all their manifestations!

Mommygoth said...

This is a gorgeous post - you made me cry at my desk.

Being a family requires work, absolutely. Most things that are worth anything do. I don't think I realized myself how much work was required until I was in the thick of it.

I love the way you talk to CG about how she came into your family. I remember well my own parents' struggle with how to talk about it with my brother.

comebacknikki said...

What a wonderful post. Your family is very lucky to have such open communication. I'm sure both you and Politica are both wonderful mothers.

peripateticpolarbear said...

This is lovely and thoughtful.