Sunday, June 22, 2014

Step One

I believe there is an arc to reunion, perhaps different for each mother and child, but with predictable stages.  It's easy to generalize, and I don't pretend that my experience is universal; I do, however, believe it has a trajectory other reunited birth mothers will recognize.  (I know some in adoption-land object to the term "birth mother," but to me it's a necessary short hand for what I am.  I could as easily be called a "natural mother" or a "first mother," but I prefer "birth" for the emphasis it places on the act of giving birth itself.  It is a reminder of the primal experience.  In a better world only one word would be needed: Mother.)

It has become fashionable to film adoptee-birth mother reunions, usually at an airport or in front of someone's house, often with other family members hovering about as if to encourage a pair of cocks sizing each other up.  There is a sense of expectancy.  Will the meeting go well?  Will there be tears?  Will the earth move?  I dislike intensely these filmed meetings that seem to me prurient intrusions into what should be a private, not to say sacred, moment.

Adoption "experts" and social workers, ever vigilant to preserve their professional role in the process of reunion, much as obstetricians have traditionally "owned" childbirth, advise having an intermediary, and some states (those few that permit "legal" reunions) even mandate it.  My own take on this is that the mother and her child should meet each other for the first time without the encumbrance of bystanders, no matter how well-intentioned or supportive.

Reunion is a highly emotional experience, preceded by anxious anticipation, perhaps even fear, and some mothers and adoptees feel the need for moral support, someone to hold their hand as they leap off this high cliff.  Many pregnant women likewise want support, and they should have it.  But the moment of birth itself is something no mother can share with anyone but her child.  In the delivery room the rest of the world falls away.  How many fathers have been dismayed to be shooed away by a laboring wife, when just moments before those same fathers were ordered to bring ice chips or rub a back?

When I descended the escalator at Logan Airport in Boston to meet my son for the first time in over 44 years, I was nervous as a cat and focused like a laser on one thing and one thing only: my son.  When I saw him for the first time, beheld all 6'4" of him, his eyes like mine, his mouth, nose, and hair like mine, I had no room for anything or anyone else.  I understand why David brought his fiance with him.  The first thing I saw coming down that escalator was their two clasped hands.  I understand David's need for a hand to hold at that unpredictable, unfathomable moment, and I instantly recognized that he was not mine alone.  He was not a tiny baby, and I was not his entire world.  I would always have to share him, though I would always yearn for the union that was far in the past.

We hugged as naturally as two streams flowing together.  Everything about him seemed familiar--the way he felt, the way he smelled, the way he looked at me.  For those first few minutes we transcended the moment and joined as mother and son.  He held my hand as we walked through the airport to the parking deck, and all the fluttering feathers in my stomach settled like breath into a sigh.  I had wanted to go alone to meet my son and turned down offers by others to accompany me.  I was nervous, but I was not afraid.  Knowing David as I do now, I realize that he might well have been afraid, and I don't begrudge him his bringing reinforcements, but I was so hoping for time alone with him. 

The weekend went well.  We spent it mostly out on the deck of Judie's house, talking, laughing, crying at times.  It was apparent from the beginning that David was emotionally fragile, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, emotionally sensitive.  For a manly former hockey player who preferred jeans and boots, he was gentle and as vulnerable as a kitten, and Judie watched him like a mother cat.

A month later I returned to Boston with my husband and Tanner and Saskia, David's half brother and sister, to attend David and Judie's wedding.  I admit I was surprised that David wanted us there and was fully prepared to stay away, assuming he would want his adoptive family to be present.  I couldn't imagine anything more awkward than two sets of parents, strangers to each other but with so much shared baggage, negotiating the perilous terrain of a wedding in such an unusual context.  But David insisted that we were his family, and he wanted me to be there on this happiest of days.

Massachusetts is supposed to be pleasant in the summer, but it was a blistering August day, and the Revolutionary War era church wasn't air conditioned.  David stood at the front, waiting for his bride, and the sweat poured off him.  When he saw Judie standing at the back of the church, silhouetted against the open door that faced onto the Lexington common, he gasped a little and his tears spilled over.  He was awash.  Judie walked alone down the aisle, her eyes never leaving David's, and once she reached his side she surreptitiously passed him a Kleenex.

Those were the first tears of the day but they were by no means the last.  I am not one of those who cries at weddings.  Grinning like the Cheshire cat is more my style, and I was so happy and especially touched when I was presented with a corsage as the mother of the groom.  The reception luncheon was delightful; the fellowship hall buzzed with the murmurs of contented guests and the popping of champagne corks.  When things began to wind down, and all the toasts had been delivered, David and Judie stood to thank their guests for making their day so special.  Everything went off without a hitch, but there was a surprise coming.

Judie said a few words, then David began to speak.

"Some of you here today know that I was adopted, but what you may not know is that my birth mother found me, and she's here today."  He introduced me, Tanner, and his "beautiful sister Saskia," and made a joke about my husband that brought a chuckle. 

David proceeded to tell the story of our reunion, the Facebook exchange, the first phone call, all of it.  I had that wrong end of the telescope feeling again as the room seemed to rush away, leaving David the only person in clear focus, which is amazing because now I was awash in tears.  When he finished speaking, I rose from my chair and crossed the room to meet him.  We hugged, and both of us were sobbing with the wonder and joy of it all.  I could feel a roomful of eyes upon us, and I didn't care, but I said at last, "We'd better stop.  We're making a spectacle of ourselves."    

And that was how the first year of reunion went.  At first it seemed so simple.  I had my son, and my son had his mother.  Two people who had dreamed about each other and longed for each other were finally together, and the way forward seemed smooth.  If there were storm clouds gathering, I couldn't see them.  All I knew was that I was deliriously in love with my son, the way a mother is with her newborn.  David wasn't a tiny baby, but he was my baby, and my feelings of protectiveness were as fierce as those of a mother tiger.  I could not stop thinking about him.  It almost felt as if I were split in two, with my mind and heart in Massachusetts, while the rest of me was stuck in North Carolina.

It's painful and life-changing when a woman gives birth, when what had been one becomes two.  Finding David took me back to that bifurcation, only the pain this time was emotional, not physical.  It takes only a few weeks to recover from giving birth.  My separation from David lasted forty-four years, and the recovery from that will take much, much longer.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Two Husbands, Not Enough

“I had felt it coming for days: I had been crouching inside the walls of my consciousness terrified to move too far or too violently in case they collapsed and left me looking at the wild beasts.  In the pre-crisis days I feel like someone living in a paper house surrounded by predatory creatures.  They believe the house is solid so they don't attack, but if I were to move they would see the walls flutter and collapse and they would be on to me in no time.”  Margaret Drabble, A Summer Bird-Cage


The house was made of cement blocks, painted dingy white, and there was plastic covering all the windows.  Behind the house was a sagging chicken house, surrounded by giant azalea bushes and woods with branches tangled with wisteria vines.  I first went there on a beautiful fall day, the sunlight dropping through the dusty air and settling on the  wild flowers and weeds that had taken over the back yard.  The house was in the city, and the woods backed onto a major artery clogged with strip malls, but there was a remnant of the country feel from what had been a farm before urban sprawl swallowed it up.  The neighborhood was iffy.  Some of the houses were substantial enough but there were lots of tacky little cracker boxes that had been squeezed into the bare spaces between them.  The house next door was the original farmhouse, and on the other side another small wood separated us from a quaint little cottage.  I looked for every glimmer of beauty I could find and tried to forget the adult bookstore we had passed just a couple of blocks away.  

My children ran around, getting burrs stuck on their clothes; “ beggars' lice” is what we called them when I was a kid.  Bob wanted the house for the chicken coop.  It had no water or electricity, but it was a large empty space, and he could  make it into a studio.  The house was a filthy mess inside, and I made the kids keep their shoes on and not touch anything in the kitchen, where the red linoleum counter was black with ancient grease and worn bare in places.  That would be the first thing to go—after all the plastic that covered the windows for insulation.  Every room was painted the same horrid green, the floors were linoleum over concrete, and the only heat source was an old oil burner in what became Bob's and my bedroom.  The boys shared a room, and Saskia had her own room at the front of the house, where it was always cold.  I spent the first weeks and months making the place habitable.  Bob went off to teach and I painted, scrubbed, laid a new kitchen floor, put up wallpaper in all the bedrooms, and gradually added pieces of furniture found at flea markets and consignment shops.  

Graduate school proved to be my salvation and the proximate cause of  my divorce from Bob.  The first year in Greensboro was not too bad.  We joined the Unitarian Universalist church where we made friends and I became less lonely.  It was good to feel a sense of belonging and to see my children making friends.  There was no dogma to reject, no demands for any particular belief, and the company of intelligent people who were mostly, like me, refugees from more traditional religion was immensely comforting.  But what had seemed so promising came to an abrupt end when Bob lost his job at G.C.  Yet again, he had alienated his colleagues with his superior attitude and contempt for students he deemed unserious.  

It was a stunning setback, and Bob's drinking increased as our financial situation became more precarious.  I had taught high school for two years back in Greencastle before we moved to Canada, and I still had nightmares about it.  I simply couldn't face the prospect of going back to that, and I was determined not to take on anything that would keep me away from the children for long hours.  I was not about to put Saskia into one of the daycare centers that seemed to occupy every other block.  These centers looked to me like prisons with their sun-baked playgrounds and regimentation.  We applied to the pre-school at UNCG and were accepted, probably because we provided diversity with our mixed-race family.  I applied to graduate school at the same time and began the long slog toward what would eventually result in a PhD in English.


I was excited but scared too.  The course was contemporary American literature, something I was interested in and felt some competence in already.  I had done well on the GRE and been awarded an assistantship; it wasn't a lot of money, but it would at least keep my family fed while Bob tried to sell his paintings.   I sat in the middle of the front row, as I figured that's where eager students sit, and I was more than eager, especially when our professor entered the room and introduced the class.  C. was about my age and gorgeous, tall, lanky, and bearded.  I'd heard he'd been a basketball coach before getting a PhD and getting into college teaching, and he certainly didn't project the image of the typical effete English professor.  Instead, he was a Hemingway character come to life, athletic, manly,  and brilliant.  I was gobsmacked, as the Irish like to say.  

By the end of the first class I had a massive headache.  When I learned everything we would have to do--write a 20-page term paper, give a 45 -minute oral presentation, take a mid-term and a comprehensive final—I thought, No way can I do all that.  How can I possibly say anything new when there's a whole library filled with literary studies by other people far more learned and experienced than I?  And yet, that's what we were told we would have to do.  And how on earth would I ever be able to manage a 45-minute presentation on anything whatsoever?  When I got home from that first night class, Bob was waiting at the door.  I told him about the class, and he said, “Well, if it's going to make you sick, you should just quit.”  

Ever since returning from France, I'd suffered from migraines, especially when under stress.  The day I took the GRE I had a memorable one.  In fact, many of my memories are anchored by those headaches.  I remember them the way I remember the Kennedy assassination or the Challenger explosion, with every surrounding detail crystal clear.  I would not quit.  I was afraid, but I knew I wanted to do this.  I'd missed out on graduate school when David was born.  Now I was older and ready to get serious in a way I hadn't been in my early twenties.  It was a relief to go to school and think only about that, not whether I was going to have a date that weekend or all the distractions of undergrad life.  Now I could focus and learn.  I'd never dreamed I'd go to grad school, despite my father's constant urging.  I liked being at home with the kids and writing short stories.  I liked being free to read what I liked when I liked, not according to someone else's agenda, but I also wanted to know more, and I knew grad school was the place to find what I was looking for.

After that first class, I moved out of the front row.  I needed a little distance from C’s intensity.  He was as passionate about literature as I was and talked about it with the fervor of a Baptist preacher touched with fire.  His classes were like a religious experience for me, and I would take more courses with him, be his teaching assistant for a semester, and have him on my dissertation committee, but that was still years away.  I was nervous about getting back the first mid-term.  I had written a lot and felt good about it, but I had no idea what to expect.  When C stopped by my desk, my heart jumped.  “Do you mind if I read your exam to the class?” he asked.  And he did.

That evening changed everything for me.  I'd done well.  I'd done really well, and no one was more surprised than I was.  Maybe I'd found something I could do with some competence after all.  I hadn't been enthusiastic about being a copy editor, and I'd found teaching high school exhausting and frustrating, but I loved writing.  That first A was like a shot of vitamin B12 to my intellectual system.  I had succeeded on my own, not as my parents' daughter or my husband's wife or my children's mother but as myself.  I was known for the work I did, my ideas, my writing, and best of all I was rewarded for those things.  It was astounding.

I had always been able to compartmentalize my life.  The fact that I was David's mother was the most salient fact about me, but I kept it completely separate.  When I taught high school, I was one person at school, quite another at home with Bob and Tanner.  I felt the strain of living a double life, but I'd done it for so long I didn't have to think much about it.  I had my life at school, studying, getting to know my professors, absorbing knowledge that enlarged my soul, and I had my life at home, which was becoming more and more difficult.  Money was tight, but that wasn't the worst of it.  

 I had class two nights a week and got home around 10:00.  I was taking a writing workshop, and the class had a tradition of going to a local bar for a beer and conversation afterwards, but I couldn't go.  Not once in two years of taking those workshops did I ever get to join that group of ambitious young writers.  I felt left out and resentful, because it was Bob who prevented me from going.  Every time I returned home, there he was, standing in the doorway, and if I was five minutes late he'd ask where I'd been.  School became my escape, the place where I could be myself and be free for the hours I spent there.   Bob sat in the dark in the bedroom, drinking one beer after another in an endless succession of pops every time he opened another can.  The more pops, the more tricky I knew the night would be.  If I was lucky, Bob would be asleep by the time I got to bed after tucking the children in; if he was still awake there was a 50-50 chance he would start an argument and I'd lose a night's sleep to silent tears and the anguish of being called a slut, a whore, an unsupportive and unloving wife.  His words washed over me like scalding water, and how could I defend myself? It was all true; I had slept with someone else (albeit before I met Bob); I had given birth to a child that wasn't his.  And he hated me for it.  We read Theodore Dreiser's  Sister Carrie  one semester, and I saw myself in this bleak novel about the reverse rise and fall of a poor girl and her protector.  As her fortunes improve, his decline into ruin.  Who says literature is not life?


I bought a swing and set it up in the back yard, facing the chicken coop and the woods.  If I hadn't been able to hear the traffic over on High Point Road I might have been lost in nature.  In the spring the wisteria dropped heavy purple blooms from the trees and scented the air.  The overgrown azaleas blazed against the weathered boards of the coop, and a gnarled crab apple tree sported pink and white blossoms.  Spring and fall were the best times to sit in the swing, rocking and thinking, looking for peace that was too often elusive.  I've always loved an early summer evening, when the day hovers near its end, the wind drops into stillness, and the birds settle down for the night.   Dinner was over, the kids were inside watching TV, and I sat alone in the gathering dusk and tried to assess my life as a single mother with next to no money.    Exhaustion and fear were my two companions, but for a few peaceful moments I could suspend myself in time.  I'd borrowed enough money to get us through the summer.  I knew I'd have to pay it back eventually, but for now I had the security of a fridge full of food and the promise of teaching in the fall.  My children were safe, or so I believed, I had friends, I loved my work, but the future was a total blank.

I had once found a refuge in a small private high school in Ithaca, and now I had found another in this mid-sized southern university.  I basked in my professors' regard and found my feet as a teacher.  Teaching college students was so different from teaching younger kids.  At first I was still young enough to feel closer to my students than  to their parents, and being a parent myself made me more tolerant of their immaturity.  Being a mother made me a better teacher, and in later years, when I was old enough to be my students' mother and then grandmother, I found an outlet for my maternal impulses in the classroom.  My mother, consummate teacher that she was, always said you couldn't be a good teacher if you didn't love the kids.  I didn't love my eighth-graders, but I came to love many of my college students and took a maternal pride in their achievements.  Children never fully realize how much their parents love them, and students never understand just how much they mean to their teachers.  The best student-teacher relationship is based on love, certainly not on fear.

Having a baby opens you up like nothing else.  We now know that a mother and her fetus exchange cells during pregnancy, cells that replicate and form a literal physical connection.  When you have a baby, part of your physical being goes with him, and the emotional connection is equally real.  When I was pregnant with each of my children, they created a space in me that no one but they could fill.  I've lost both parents; I've divorced two husbands; I've parted from close friends and while I miss them all, I am no less whole because of their absence.  Losing David made me less whole and left a space that nothing else and no one else could ever fill, though I would try repeatedly in my relationships with men.  Tanner and Saskia created new, unique spaces in me that fit only them, but the emptiness where David should have been persisted.  I thought, though at an unconscious level, that adopting Dabbs would fill that space, but Dabbs came to me, not from me.  I loved him with the same muscles with which  I loved my husbands, lovers, or friends, but not with the same muscles I exercised with Tanner and Saskia.  I was so hungry for love.  

My second husband was initially my professor, my dissertation director, in fact.  Here was the quintessential English professor with the beard and leather patches on the sleeves.  All he needed was a pipe to complete the look.  A marvelous lecturer, a charming dinner companion, and a lover of women, M  had his  own demons in the form of a difficult wife and two sons who tested their parents' every nerve.  M’s mother died of tuberculosis very soon after he was born prematurely.  It's doubtful she ever even saw him.  He was raised by his father and aunt until his father remarried and had two more sons.  When he was 14 his father died, and his stepmother soon decided to ship him off to elderly relatives in the North Carolina mountains.  So M grew up without a mother, never really wanted, an inconvenience to be passed along to whoever would be willing to take him.  He was a needy, weak man who masked his deficiencies beneath a mask of bonhomie and brilliance.  His appeal was to a certain kind of woman who was intelligent, romantic, and motherly, and he was notorious for having affairs.  He preferred married women, because, as he put it, there was less likelihood of complications.  

Once the word spread in the English department that I was separated, he invited me to lunch.  I was flattered and told him that wasn't necessary, but he insisted.  He knew me as a student, now he made an effort to know me in other ways.  He was fifteen years older than I, and I was more than a little in awe of him.  When he lectured, he sounded not unlike Morgan Freeman, with a drawl that was more aristocratic than southern.  The lunch was pleasant.  He asked me to address him by his first name and invited me to have dinner with him the next week, as his wife would be out of town.  As I drove to meet him that night, I knew I was going to begin an affair with him.  It was a deliberate decision, not a surge of desire.  I was so fucking lonely, so scared, so tired of coping that an affair with a distinguished older man seemed an escape of a kind.  I didn't want to introduce a step-father into my children's lives.  Dabbs was a challenge I couldn't expect any man to take on, and a very private relationship met my needs of the moment. 

It began with the appearance of innocence.  We went in my car to a park near my house, where we shared a picnic lunch.  I wanted to get out and sit on the grass, but M wanted to stay in the car, so we did.  He had brought along a small book of poetry, Philip Larkin, I believe it was, and he read me some of his favorite poems.  Larkin is a favorite of mine; I love his despairing realism.   He writes beautiful poems about sorrowful things, making the tragedies of life, large and small, into something bearable.  Being in M’s company, I felt alive in ways I had all but forgotten, as if a film I'd been watching had suddenly shifted into 3-D.  In the beginning, the effervescence lasted from one meeting to the next, but it wasn't long before the weight of absence began to outweigh the delirium of his presence.  The two cancelled each other out, so that I only felt alive and whole when I was with him.  I no longer inhabited my own life and mind and instead needed him, it seemed, even to breathe.  This, I thought, is true love.  It was passion, for sure, but as for love?  I'm no longer sure.  Surely real love grows with time and makes a place where breath comes easy and trust replaces anxiety.  

I had six wonderful years with M  before he left his wife.  We'd go out to dinner and go away for the weekend when his wife was away.  We even managed a trip to England once.  He was solicitous, a brilliant conversationalist, and I learned so much from him.  I'd  had a pretty decent education in art history from Bob, and now I had my own personal resource for my passion, English literature.  Once again, I was in the position of adoring acolyte, the younger woman absorbed in her man and his interests, only this time his interests were the same as mine.  M didn't know as much about art as I did, but he knew more about music and literature, and I soaked up everything he could teach me.

I tried to keep my affair secret, especially from my children, but I failed miserably.  In no time at all Dabbs and Saskia figured out what was up, and I assume Tanner did as well.  Still, we all persisted as if nothing were going on at all.  My entire life was a lie.  I had a child and my children had a brother, and no one knew.  I was in love with a man who wasn't free, who was in fact off limits in all sorts of ways.  It was a continuation of the duplicity I'd been living with since I was pregnant with David.  I was steeped in subterfuge.  I hated it, but I could see no other way.  

M’s wife often went to France for several weeks in the summer, and one summer M and I took a week to fly out to Missouri to revisit his aunt's farm and the small town where he'd grown up  and his father had owned a sawmill.  It was a bleak little place with a main street that might have been prosperous in the 1930s but was now run-down and empty.  It was obvious that the Burger King and McDonald's on the edge of town was where the action was.  M was in his sixties when we made this trip, and now that I am approaching seventy, I understand his need to revisit the past, to reorient himself in relation to the boy he'd been, to solidify his sense of himself.  I became his audience, his witness.  Here was where the old sawmill stood and here the house his father built, the biggest in town for many years.  There was his aunt's farm, the house missing the front porch he remembered but the old barn still standing.

We visited the old swimming hole, now a fish hatchery, and while we were there M  stumbled and fell on the gravel path.  He  hurt his arm badly and was sure it was broken, so I drove him in our rental car to the local hospital emergency room.  M was quite shaken and insisted I stay with him while  he had his arm X-rayed.  He seemed that day not like the robust bon vivant I'd fallen in love with but like a little lost boy.  If I had truly loved him, I would have been happy to gather him up and soothe him with attention.  I was kind enough, but his weakness frightened me.  I would realize later than this weakness was more than a passing wobble; it lay at the core of his character, and it would be the ruin of us.  A few years later, after we were married, I had to have cataract surgery.  He drove me to the surgical center but refused to come in with me.  A nurse assured me my husband was welcome to remain with me during the preliminaries, but he stayed outside in the parking lot, and I made his excuses.  His neurotic fear of doctors was stronger than his concern for me, and I never really forgave him for it.
That day in the park, I had felt poised at the  edge of a great adventure.  I believed fulfilment was to be mine after all, and I would possess something rare and precious, something lesser spirits could never know.  And so began the years of delusion.  I had my life of children, work, house, visits with family, anxiety about money and uncertainty about the future.  That was real.  And I had brief spurts of passion on hot summer afternoons when my kids were at the pool or chance weekends out of town, where a motel bed could seem to contain everything I could ever want.  I lived in an unreal place, and like a drug addict who knows he's destroying himself and those he loves, I couldn't bear my own existential solitude.  I couldn't sit alone, peacefully, with my own thoughts.  I had no peace, only the emotional high of attraction that, if not more real than the bulk of my days, gave me at least the illusion of meaningful connection.

Sometimes I tormented myself by imagining that I'd found a job in another city and had to move away.  How could I ever bring myself to get in my car with my belongings in a U-Haul truck and my children in the back seat and pull out of my driveway for the last time?  I knew I couldn't do it.  I wanted a true home, with my love and my life in the same abode, and so after six years of stolen weekends and a secret trip to England, I told M I was going to marry another man, an Israeli stockbroker I'd been seeing who wanted to marry me and rescue me from poverty, insecurity, and loneliness.  He was a nice man, and I really thought I would marry him.  I was so unhappy and desperate that marriage to a man I didn't love seemed a reasonable solution.  It was very doubtful that M would ever leave his wife.   I decided to jump ship and make for shore, not believing for a moment that he would make any effort to follow me.  But he did.

After 30 years of an unhappy marriage, punctuated by horrific fights that dismayed their neighbors and no doubt scarred their sons, M left his wife and his big house and his place in his social world to move in with me and my fifteen-year old daughter.  Two weeks later, I knew I had made a terrible mistake, but it would take me six more years to rectify it.  

M had told me about a Spanish dish that was baked with an egg on top of each serving.  Everything was supposed to cook through, but the yolk of the egg was meant to remain runny.  I carefully followed the recipe, threw together a green salad, opened a bottle of wine and called everyone to the table.  M sat at the head with Saskia on his right and me  on his left.  He lifted his fork and stuck it into the steaming dish.  The yolk was hard.  He slammed the fork down and pounded his two fists on the table, making the cutlery jump.  Saskia and I stared at each other in silence.  M  told me his wife had said he preferred things to people, and now I believed her.  

Life for M was a series of performances, and he demanded a particular backdrop.  It required his worn leather couch and chair, a library full of books, reproductions of dark English landscapes, and a rack of pipes on his over-sized desk.  M knew all about the accoutrements of a gracious life; what he lacked was the capacity to inhabit his own soul without the scaffolding of a strong woman to hold him up.  He was a wonderful man to have an affair with, but as a husband he was a cipher.

Between us we managed to transform my house into something that more closely resembled the aesthetic retreat M required.  We built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in what had been the garage, put in carpet over the oil-stained cement, and replaced the broken garage door with  a wall and a French door.  We did the work ourselves, taking a year and a half of weekends and holidays to accomplish it.  When I had threatened to marry my stockbroker—with every intention of following through—M promised me a whole list of life-changing things, including a new house in a better neighborhood.  Perhaps if we had moved, and I had not felt imprisoned with no chance of reprieve in that house of Bob's choosing, we might have managed to stay together.  He might not have spent his last years alone in that dreadful house or suffered a chill, when the power went out in a winter storm, that hastened his death.  I feel responsible for that.  I can't help identifying with Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch (incidentally M’s favorite character in all literature) and her escape from Casaubon.  My identification with literary heroines,  Hester Prynne being another, is probably what led me to think life could be a dramatic plot and my pursuit of the seminal event, the fatal moment, the intensity of what can only be fleeting, a genuine modus vivendi.

As it turned out, M didn't have the comfortable income his former life in his old neighborhood had indicated.  He was, in fact, far more deeply in debt than I ever knew until after our divorce and his death.  There would be no new house, no trips abroad, no money for my daughter's education.  He could put a complete set of Wedgewood china, a new couch, materials for the study, and a bust of Verdi on a credit card, but I continued paying the mortgage and the utilities and bought our food.  Mac was always very generous with the extras; it was with the basics where he fell short.

If I had truly loved my first two husbands, I believe I would have accepted the alcoholism and the congenital weakness as a burden to be shared.  As it was, I withdrew into a self-protective shell.  I could go through the motions; I was adept at that.  But once I admitted the truth to myself, that these men were not who they claimed to be, that like the Great Oz they hid behind a curtain of pretense, I could no longer admire and therefore could no longer love.  Even Bob had recognized that admiration has to precede  love, and when I lost respect for my second husband, I once again had to amend my life. 

What does it mean to act selfishly?  How can we be sure our actions are justified?  Is making excuses to ourselves the best we can do?  I tried to act unselfishly when I relinquished David, a decision I have always bitterly regretted.  Had I been more selfish would our lives have been better, less damaged?  I acted selfishly when I took M away from his family.  I told myself at the time that I was rescuing him from decades of unhappiness and a shrewish wife, whom he stayed with because he was too weak to leave.  I think he didn't want to die with her, which would be to die essentially alone.  He was getting older, prematurely older, and he wasn't confident of finding another woman to console him.  That had been so easy for him in his youth.  Now here I was, the last of a long line of adoring women who tried to love him enough to fill his emptiness, to prop up his weakness.  He told me he wanted to die in my arms, and I felt as if he were trying to pull me into the grave with him.  I had to get away while there was still time, before he had a stroke or heart attack and I was stuck for years nursing a man who had lied to me, spent money  frivolously on things we couldn't afford—the marble bust of Verdi from Italy being one example—and failed to get me out of a house I hated.  Now, after five years of marriage, I was about to leave him to his own devices.  I had acted selfishly when I took up with him and I acted selfishly when I left him.  In both cases I felt close to spiritual death, so I saved myself.  I couldn't save Bob, and I couldn't save M, but should marriage be a matter of rescue?  Perhaps what frightened me about these two men was recognition, not of their weakness but of my own.    


Friday, June 6, 2014

The Phone Call

When Bob got a position at Greensboro College, a small Methodist school of modest reputation, I thought our worries were over.  I'd always heard good things about North Carolina, and Greensboro turned out to be a delightful place to live and raise kids, even if all we could afford was a crappy house  in a crappy neighborhood.  This was not the life I wanted —living across the street from convicted felons and backing onto a strip mall--but we were out of my parents' garage, and I was home with the kids.  After a year, I began graduate school and started the slow process of reclaiming my life, while Bob continued drinking and was fired from his job.    

When Tanner was fourteen, Dabbs eleven, and Saskia eight, Bob and I divorced.  Once I believed the boys would be better off with him out of the house, I asked him to leave.  We told the children at the dinner table, and they were taken utterly by surprise, because Bob and I didn’t argue in front of them, only in the dead of night.  It was a horrible, painful moment, and I will never forget the shock on their stunned faces.  Tanner went to his room, lay down on his bed, and turned his face to the wall.  I'd always heard that expression, but now I was watching my own son crumble into himself.  Dabbs and Saskia cried, and a few  days later, Saskia asked me if I still loved her daddy and wanted to know if I would ever love anyone else.  

I  never imagined I'd put my children through the trauma of their parents' divorce, but I truly felt I might die if I didn't get out of that marriage.  I was terrified and impoverished, but that felt like an improvement.  I poured myself into my work, taught my classes, and made do financially with my graduate assistantship.  In the end, I stayed at UNCG for nearly thirty years and was Associate Director of the Honors College by the time I retired, but I never felt like a “normal” person.  There was a huge gulf between how I imagined I appeared  and my inner reality.

Always in the back of my mind was the hope that someday I might see my lost son again, and once I was divorced I wrote a letter to the adoption agency that had placed him.  I gave my Greensboro address and included my brother's contact information for good measure.  David was 15 when I wrote that letter, and I assumed that when he was eighteen, if he wanted to find me, he would be given that letter.  New York has strict laws about keeping adoption records sealed (legislation is now pending that could allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates), and the odds of David and me ever finding each other were even longer than I knew.  

Years later I would learn from David that when he was nineteen and a sophomore in college, he had tried to search for me. 
He asked his adoptive  parents for anything they could tell him, and Bill said he thought his mother (I) had died.  Bill said they didn't have any information about me, which can't have been true, but he told David there was a Mrs. Pettingill who “might know something.”  David never spoke with her, but he did call the hospital where he was born.  A clerk who must have been new to the job looked up the records of the babies born on David's birthday and discovered two boys, both given up for adoption.  She read David the first file, thinking it was his.  The mother had committed suicide ten days after the birth.  For the next 25 years David lived with that loss.


My husband likes to tell people he waited to marry until he was 55, because by then he was just too tired to fight.  My rejoinder: “Third time's a charm.”  Mark is my third—best—husband, and without his support nothing about my life today would   be  possible.  I don't know why I decided to begin a search for my son or precisely when idea became intention, but in the fall of 2012 I knew it was time.  When I told Mark what I wanted to do, he was all for it, so I decided I'd better tell Tanner and Saskia they had a brother and ask if they had any objection to my trying to find him.  I waited until after Christmas to give them the story—abbreviated--and all through the holidays I scoured the internet and sent out feelers.  I knew nothing about what resources might be available, what the adoption laws in New York were, whether I'd have to hire a private investigator, or how many other birthmothers were also searching or had been reunited with the children they'd lost to adoption.  Both Tanner and Saskia encouraged me to search, so I forged ahead.  I discovered a wonderful group of women, called Search Angels, who volunteer their time and efforts to help reunite families disrupted by adoption.  The internet is such a blessing, as without it I doubt I'd have ever found David, let alone find him as quickly as I did.  

I never met my Search Angel Joan.  She lives in Arizona, and I live in North Carolina, and she was a godsend.  It took her no time at all to find David's name, and she told me to look it up on Facebook, which I did.  There it was, a photo of a young man, wearing a black-leather jacket, boots, and sunglasses and holding a cigarette.  Was it possible he might look a bit like me?  He had the same dark hair, but with the sunglasses and the inscrutable expression it was hard to say.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I wrote him a brief message, asking if he'd been born in Ithaca, NY, on January 25, 1968, and was he adopted.  I heard nothing back for three weeks and figured David Eastbrook, whoever he might be, probably wondered why some random woman was asking such odd questions.  I continued searching and, since I was prepared for the process to take a long time, I wasn't anxious.  It was early days.

Mark, the world's most indefatigable sports fan, was out at a UNCG basketball game.  I liked to take advantage of quiet evenings like this to go to bed early and settle down with a book, but at a little before nine o'clock I decided to check my Facebook page one last time before turning in.  Someone had instant messaged  me: “Who are you and why are you asking me these questions?”

“On January 25, 1968, I gave birth to a baby boy in Ithaca, NY, and gave him up for adoption.  I'm wondering if there might be a connection between us.”  Could this be it?  Would he answer?  What was even happening here?

“What time was your son born?” came the answer.

“I don't remember exactly, but it must have been late afternoon, because by the time I got back to my room dinner was over and the nurse had to bring me a tuna sandwich.”

“6:10.  Hi Mom.”  He included a phone number.  “Call me.”

The one fact David knew about his birth was the time, and that detail was all the proof he needed.  It was January 26, the day after his birthday, and he'd gone online to check for birthday messages.  He rarely went on Facebook, which was why he hadn't seen my message until that night, just when I happened to be on Facebook myself.  I was on the phone with David when Mark got home, and when I silently mouthed, “I found him,” Mark knew exactly what I meant.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Oh Canada!

I loved that house.   Four bedrooms upstairs, two living rooms downstairs, it was spacious, old, and charming, with hardwood floors and twelve-foot ceilings.  It was on a corner lot in a beautiful neighborhood with lots of trees and a nearby park for the children.  This was worlds away from my parents' garage, and it seemed our troubles were over.  Bob had a job and I was able to stay home with the boys because I wasn't included on Bob's work visa.  I met my friend Cherry, and began writing short stories.  Life was good, and I wanted another baby.  In fact, I wanted a baby so badly we were trying to get pregnant and adopt another child simultaneously.  I did become pregnant, but because of immigration restrictions we were unable to adopt a baby from Haiti as we’d hoped.  I'm glad now that plan came to naught, but it does indicate how much I wanted to be a mother.  Saskia was born in 1976, and if she hadn't been a girl, I might well have tried for another child.  Tanner was six, Dabbs nearly three, and Saskia slid into the family without a ripple.  She was, like Tanner and unlike Dabbs, an easy baby, and I was willing to be as poor as a churchmouse in order to stay home with her.  Having failed to breastfeed Tanner, I was determined to make it work this time and, in fact, nursed Saskia until she was three, but by then we'd had to leave Canada precipitously, and hard times returned with a vengeance.  

I realize now that I married Bob for the wrong reasons (fear), adopted Dabbs for the wrong reasons (guilt), that in fact I was growing disconnected from my life.  I've always felt a step out of sync with what I've perceived to be “normal” people, which is to say, middle-class, college-educated people who generate families and establish careers, go to church on Sunday, contribute to worthy causes, read the local newspaper and are less tolerant than they think they are.  Our years in Canada were a kind of idyll.  I was happy, and what's more I knew I was happy.  I treasured those years and remember them with fondness to this day, but in many ways it was a Potemkin village.  Bob had a job, but it paid miserably, and I could barely make his salary stretch to feeding and clothing us.  I lived in Canada for over four years and was never able to afford a pair of boots for myself.  We lived in a beautiful house in a great, kid-friendly neighborhood, but it belonged to someone else.  Even the beds we slept in were not our own.  Bob continued drinking heavily; my parents expressed their concern, but I refused to listen to them.  Bob drank, we had no  money, but at least I was at home with my children. 

 At one point, after Bob had stayed out all night, drinking at a friend's house, leaving me frantic with worry that he'd had a heart attack and died in a snow drift, I did write him a letter, telling him how destructive his drinking was.  I was concerned that as the boys got older they would begin to realize what was happening with their father, and I begged Bob to quit or at least cut back.  I put the letter in a drawer, intending to bring it out if things ever got too bad, but I never gave it to him.  I was afraid of what he might say or do.  Yet again I let the opportunity for a cleansing confrontation go by.  
We left Canada virtually overnight, after two very serious immigration officers showed up at our door and asked to speak to my husband.  Our attempts to get landed-immigrant status had gone nowhere, and our time was up.  A week after that knock at the door, we were back in my parents' garage—this time with three children in tow.  The last time we'd gone through this routine I'd gotten a teaching job that supported us but required me to be away from Tanner for long hours.  Perhaps I was spoiled by my life in Canada, but this time I was going to stay home with baby Saskia, even if it meant going on welfare (something I never seriously considered, though there would be times when I'm sure I could have qualified). I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but I believe I was growing stronger.  Who knows what psychological processes were going on beneath my awareness, but when Saskia was born I finally felt complete.  Perhaps because she was a girl I didn’t associate her with the loss of my male son, and she brought a light into our family that held us together for a long time.  
It was such a plunge from my happy life in Canada to our precarious situation in my parents' garage with the washer and dryer and the furnace going on and off all through the night.  When my parents built their house, they constructed the adjoining garage in such a way that it could be turned into a private space for my grandmother should she ever need to live with us, but she died before that came to pass.  The garage had a carpet and a handsome antique bed, and we achieved some privacy by strategically placing some dressers between our sleeping area and the laundry equipment, but it was a garage, and it felt like one.   

I'd had some depression while I was in college, but I always attributed my lows to the stresses of growing into adulthood and certainly never thought of myself as anything other than rather moody with poetic inclinations.  I had found happiness in Canada.  I'd put the past behind me and become immersed in my family and believed I'd never be so happy again in my life.  I was determined to make the most of these years with my kids, and my days and nights were mostly untroubled, until our hasty departure.  Leaving Guelph like a thief in the night was a heavy blow, and I became very depressed and withdrawn.  I was not incapacitated and did everything I could to attend to my children, but I began to resent Bob and his failure to secure a stable life for us.   I determined to wait him out and not rush to the rescue as I had in the past.  I endured the same way I had when I was pregnant with David: I froze over and went numb.  

Tanner finished second grade in Greencastle and was miserable.  His Canadian school was open-plan and less structured than the traditional classroom in his new school, where he was expected to sit still and do what he was told.  He missed his friends, which I could understand, as I'd been pretty miserable myself when we'd moved from Pennsylvania to Indiana when I was nine.  But in typical Tanner fashion, he never complained, was never demanding and was, as always, a most pleasant child. 

 Dabbs went to a morning pre-school and became more and more unmanageable.  His rages were titanic, and we were at a loss to deal with what he was going through.  Far too late I realized the damage his abandonment and adoption had done to him.  He was a bright child, and he knew something was very wrong with his world, but he had no means of expressing it or making it better.  He was a casualty twice over, first of war, then of adoption.  The focus of the entire family became keeping Dabbs on an even keel.  Bob looked for jobs, I went through the days like a sleep-walker, and Tanner retreated further into himself.  Only little Saskia seemed truly content.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Road to Hell....

When I was still teaching, I came up with an idea for a course on evil and got so far as writing up a proposal and sample syllabus.  I'd include things like Lance Morrow's book on evil, selections from Dante's “Inferno,” and the memorable Robert Mitchum film “Night of the Hunter,” which has to be one of the most chilling movies of all time.  Robert Mitchum plays an itinerant Bible-thumper, who murders the mother (Shelley Winters) of two young children.  Because the children hold the key to a  secret treasure, or perhaps simply because he enjoys tormenting them, the preacher-man pursues the terrified, fleeing brother and sister in an extended chase sequence that rivals anything in “The French Connection” and does it without flash or speed.  In fact, it is the languorous pace that increases the sense of menace.  Every time the children believe they've reached a place of safety and begin to relax, they hear the preacher, riding his horse like an apocalyptic embodiment of death, whistling “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” the old-timey hymn that on Mitchum's lips becomes an obscenity.  Eventually the children find sanctuary with an elderly widow (Lilian Gish), who stops the diabolical preacher with a blast from her shotgun.  When the police arrive to carry the miscreant murderer away, Mitchum spirals out of 
control, dancing and gibbering like a galvanized puppet, impotent, thwarted, and enraged.

What is evil?  This is perhaps the elemental human question and the hardest one to answer.  Can evil be understood?  Is it always apparent?  How relevant is intention?  I  have wrestled with these questions all my life and don't expect to find definitive answers, but I have concluded that there is a difference between being evil and being wrong.  One of the thorns in my side since David's birth has been my mother's role in his adoption and her abandonment of me during that crucial year.  She didn't physically abandon me.  She and Dad helped me find a place to live and were in continuous contact with me.  My dad had never been a demonstrative man, yet I never doubted his love for me.  When I was little, my mother was more overtly affectionate, patient, and available, and I adored her, so when she withdrew her affection I felt I was standing alone in a chill wind.  With my pregnancy I found myself on an ice floe, not because my mother was angry but because she was devastated.  It was her pain that undid me.  

My own definition of evil is causing pain to another human being.  Because it's impossible to live without ever hurting other people, we are all evil to a degree.  Being free from evil is not virtue; recognizing and acknowledging the evil we carry inside is.  Hawthorne knew this perhaps better than any American writer, and his “Young Goodman Brown” vividly demonstrates what happens when there is a failure of understanding.  For over forty years I fought against the idea that my mother was not the saintly soul I had always believed her to be but , beneath her persona of gentleness and gentility, an essentially selfish woman.  There was in my mind a huge cognitive disconnect  between the mother of my childhood and the mother who could not accept my son.  I was angry, but I didn't want to be.  What I felt was guilt—for hurting her mainly but also for knowing that at at a deep level I was very angry with her.    One of the doors that opened when I found David was the door to that anger, and it rushed out with a force that astonished me and increased my feelings of guilt even more.  

I felt guilty because I couldn't forgive her.  The wisdom of the ages tells us that in order to be whole, we must forgive.  We must be told to forgive by preachers and psychologists because forgiving is so difficult to do.  If it were easy, we wouldn't need telling.  But knowing what you should do and being able to do it are two very different things.  Forgiveness is not a tap that you can turn on at will.  Just as repentance requires sincerity, so too does forgiveness.  Keats wrote that if “poetry doesn't come as easily as the leaves to the trees, it had better not come at all.”  Forgiveness, too, has to arise organically from the heart.

Whether I will ever be able to forgive my mother—or myself—remains to be seen, but I believe I have found a way to find my way back to her, not in this life, as she is long dead, but in my own mind.  She was not evil.  She was wrong.  My beloved grandmother was not evil for believing the “peculiar institution” of slavery was not altogether a bad thing, but she was wrong.  I am not evil for eating meat, but I am wrong, and someday, I am convinced, people will look at old photographs of supermarket meat counters and shudder.  My parents, the social workers, the doctors and lawyers, the adoption agencies of the past were not evil, but they were very, very wrong.  Perhaps I am evil to continue eating meat, knowing as I do that killing sentient animals is cruel, but that is an argument for another day.    What I want to draw attention to here is the evil of adoption, which is nothing less than human trafficking tricked out in a pretty bow.  (Of course, there are exceptions, which is where arguments about adoption always seem to go.  What about abused children?  Older children?  Orphans?  Every case is different and must be considered individually, but generalizations can and should be made.)  

The literature is filled with studies of adoptees and the psychological effects of growing up like a cuckoo in a sparrow's nest, and if you are a social scientist these studies will speak to you.  What moves me are not statistical analyses or longitudinal studies but stories about individual human beings.  It has always been through stories that human culture and value have been preserved and transmitted, whether they be Old Norse sagas, parables from the Bible, or contemporary novels.  We need the stories of adoption if we are to be enlightened about the harm it does.  Now that I am approaching my seventies, I am able to look back at my own story and see with clearer eyes the effects adoption has had on my life and the lives of my children.

I came of age in the 'sixties, when the overriding issues of the day were Civil Rights and the Vietnam war.  Ever since those shopping trips to Youngstown, I had been appalled by the injustice in making African-Americans into second-class citizens.  When Martin Luther King, Jr., led the march on Selma, I was with him in spirit, and I engaged in more than a few spirited arguments with those who believed that gradualism was the answer to injustice, including my mother.  

The barbershops in Greencastle in those days were segregated; blacks had to go to Terre Haute to get their hair cut at black-owned barbershops, even though there was a black barber who cut hair in the Student Union at DePauw.  A group of citizens decided to petition the local barbershops to accept black customers, and one merchant even went so far as to mount his own personal boycott by letting his hair grow until everyone, not just white men, could avail themselves of a barber's services.  I was secretly pleased whenever I saw this man downtown or at church, dressed like the respectable businessman he was in a suit and tie, with his hair down to his shoulders.  One Sunday the petition was available for signing after the service, and my dad signed both his and my mother's names.  I seldom heard my parents argue, which may be one reason I remember this occasion so well, for when we got home my mother let my dad know in no uncertain terms that he should NOT have signed her name on that petition.  Maybe she simply felt it wasn't his place to sign for her, but I know that what really bothered her was appearing to support an anti-segregation initiative.  My mother was born in Indiana, but her mother came from a Virginia family that had once owned slaves, and her southern sympathies never dimmed.

Unlike the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that seemingly affect primarily the soldiers who fight them and their families, the Vietnam war was an intimate part of every American's life.  The draft swept many young men into the military, and drawing a low number in the draft lottery was a relief of giant proportions.  Students were exempt, but every male on campus knew that if he flunked out or quit, he'd likely find himself on a long flight to Saigon.  In those days there were only three television news channels, and each one presented a nightly review of the day's “body count.”  Graphic images of wounded and dying soldiers crouching beneath whirring helicopter blades haunted my dreams, and there were many times when I couldn't bear to watch the carnage and had to leave the room.  Like others of my generation, I will never forget the iconic photographs of the naked Vietnamese girl running from the napalm that was burning her or the officer firing point blank into the head of an enemy prisoner.

It was 1971.  Bob had lost his teaching job at the Philadelphia College of Art, and we had moved back to Greencastle from rural Pennsylvania, where we had finally married when Tanner was five months old.  The first time my parents came to visit us there, my mother asked first thing to see the marriage license, as if she couldn't trust me not to lie about something so significant.  Now we were back, living in my parents' garage, back to square one.  I got a part-time job in the Alumni Office at DePauw, and Bob rented a studio space  on the second floor above a downtown bar.  Before long I got a teaching job at one of the county high schools, and Bob stayed home with Tanner and painted.  I believe I was always meant to be a teacher, like so many members of my family, but I found riding herd on teenagers hard going.  I didn't have the stamina for it, and I hated having to be a disciplinarian.  I liked many of my students, my colleagues, and our wonderful principal, but I missed Tanner.  By the time I got home at the end of the day I was so tired I had little left for my family, and I resented having to work while Bob got to spend so much time with our son.

The idea of adoption entered my mind when we moved into an apartment next door to a DePauw professor and his wife who had two small children, a little girl Tanner's age and an adopted bi-racial baby boy.  Then we met a family that would become important to us in many ways.  The Basquins lived in Franklin, a town not unlike Greencastle but without a university.  Peter owned a successful business, and his wife, Kit, owned an art gallery where Bob showed his work.  They too had two children, a little girl about Tanner's age and a baby boy they had adopted from Korea.  The first time we went to dinner at their house and I saw little Peter Lee, I felt as if something had broken open inside me.  

There was a documentary shown on television around this time about adopting Vietnamese children.  It opened with a scene of a Black-Vietnamese toddler and a voice over saying, “This little girl is healthy, adorable, and in big trouble.”  The “dust of life” is what offspring of American soldiers were called by the Vietnamese.  These children, obvious because of their lighter or darker complexions, were generally rejected by the mother's family.  In a country where family ties mean everything, these children were castouts with no place to go, or so we were told.   Another memorable scene showed an earnest young American social worker, pleading with a Vietnamese mother to allow her youngest child to be adopted by an American family.  The baby would be removed from a dangerous war zone and would have opportunities impossible in Vietnam.  The mother cried and cried but in the end she relented and gave the young American her baby.  When I saw that, I understood that the mother was making her sacrifice so that her child could have a better life.  Hadn't I done the same thing myself?   Some family had given my baby a “better life.”  Now I could do the same for another mother's baby.  I had a debt to settle with the universe and needed to balance the scales.

We went through the Holt Adoption Agency in Oregon, founded when Henry Holt, distressed at the plight of  orphans after the Korean war, had begun bringing thousands of Korean children to the United States for adoption by American families.  The Basquins had gotten Peter Lee through Holt and wrote letters to the agency on our behalf.  Holt had expanded into Vietnam, and we decided to try for a mixed-race male infant, as they were supposedly the hardest to place.  I wanted a baby rather than an older child, and I didn't care what color it was.  If boys were harder to place than girls, then a boy was what I wanted.  I knew my limits and didn't want to take on a child with a disability or one that had been institutionalized for a long time. 

 I wanted a baby.  I admired the French for guaranteeing the offspring of their soldiers in Indochina a French education and felt America owed a debt to the children our soldiers left behind.  Their children were truly innocent casualties of this war.  I never marched in anti-war parades or stood at candlelight vigils , but I knew I could love a child.  I was a good mother to Tanner and I had love to spare.  Rather than add my voice to the thousands protesting the war, I would take one child and transform his life through love.  I knew I was filling the hole left by David, or trying to, but it would be many years before I'd realize what I had actually done.  I say “I” because, though Bob was all in favor of adopting, it was my idea and my passion.  It's obvious to me now that I had deeply personal reasons for adopting a baby, and I can't help wondering whether Bob had similar reasons.  I'd have to be a mind reader to know, so I won't speculate.  
I only ever saw my mother cry twice, once when I was able to get out of bed for the first time after becoming very ill with nephritis when I was ten and once when we told her we were adopting a black baby.  In those days, home studies didn't involve anyone except the prospective parents.  It took us 13 months, start to finish, to get Dabbs, and we didn't tell my parents—or Bob's—until shortly before we were told to go to O'Hare airport in Chicago to pick up our nine-month old son.  I didn't need my mother to spell out how she felt; I knew.  But to her credit she was always kind to Dabbs, and when we were forced to live in my parents' garage once again—this time with three children—she would get up with him before the rest of us were awake and read him stories.  Once Dabbs had arrived and my parents met him, my father told me privately that he was proud of what I'd done.  

One of the many reasons I feel guilty about my parents is because they were so generous to Bob and me when we needed help.  Twice Bob lost his teaching position, and twice we had to move into my parents' garage.  I now know how difficult this must have been for them.  They were comfortably retired and  I showed up yet again in a crisis.

We'd only had Dabbs for a month when Bob was offered a job in Guelph, Ontario, teaching art at the university.  I resigned from my teaching job, and we packed up and moved at the end of the summer.   The house we found to rent  belonged to the retired president of the university.  We got it for a good price because he wanted to rent to someone on the faculty and since Bob was an artist he figured we'd take good care of the contents of the house that were included in the rent: furniture, dishes, everything we could need.  This was fortunate for us, as we had nothing but our clothes and some children's books and toys.  Bob liked to make a clean getaway, and every time we moved, he'd insist we leave everything behind and start from scratch.  It was cheaper than hiring movers, our stuff wasn't worth much anyway.  I was sad to give away the handmade-by-Swedish-craftsmen rocker that had been given to us, but it went, along with a couple of antique pieces we'd picked up for a song.