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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mom

Note: This is another blog by Susan's daughter Jenn. Susan passed away on April 7th after an 8-month battle with melanoma.

Today, July 9th, is my mom's birthday. She would have been 64. She always loved having her birthday in July, saying it was perfect for celebrating outside. She also loved that she received so many fun toys (i.e. recreational equipment) because her birthday was in the summer. For the last ten years or so, we celebrated at the beach with a seafood feast prepared by my husband and my sister Kate's husband. My mom, always an enthusiastic and vociferous appreciator of food, would sit at the head of the table and proclaim, after closing her eyes and shaking her head back and forth with a dramatic "Mmmm!", that everything was "Just delicious!"
Happy Birthday, Mom. Thinking of you with love ... 

Last summer, though, with no hint of the tragedy about to befall us, we celebrated in Madrid, where my mom had generously accompanied me to help care for my three children, ages 9, 7, and 2 at the time, so that I could facilitate an exchange program for 30 of my students. We had no obligations with the students on her birthday, though, so we celebrated first in our apartment with a bowl of potato chips, a plate of olives, and a few cold beers (three of her favorite things) that we bought from the corner supermarket right below us. My dad, who came for the last two weeks of the exchange, was taking a run in Parque Retiro, so it was me, my mom, my mom's dear friend Jill (who stayed with us the whole trip, as her grandson was on the exchange), and Grace, Genevieve, and Joseph. With Los Pitufos (the Smurfs) in Spanish as our background, we talked, laughed, and celebrated my mom. 
In the Madrid apartment last July ... my mom (on the right) and her dear friend Jill

Later in the evening we headed to Plaza Santa Ana ("Ah, la Santa Anita," said the taxi driver when I told him our destination, as though she, the plaza, were an old friend of his), where we ate dinner outdoors while Joseph played on the playground right next to us. The picture printed by the Philadelphia Inquirer in their March story, "NJ bill on adoptees' right to birth certificates advances" (Click here for article) is from that night (the bill was signed, albeit with a compromise, by Governor Christie on May 27th of this year). My mom also posted that picture when sharing her diagnosis with the adoption community last year ("Facing a life-threatening illness and thinking about adoption": Click here to read). In the picture Grace, who was close to her Nana all her life (since her very first breath, actually, as my mom was there when she was born) is kissing her cheek. My mom and I are smiling.

As I try to celebrate my mom today, even as I grieve the loss of her, I can't help thinking of birthdays in a more general sense and the special meaning they take on for adoptees. On my birthday I can reflect on the story of the day I was born (it was Easter, 1977, and my mom had eaten too many jelly beans the night before. My three-year old sister Kate was so distraught over my mom leaving her at the chocolate egg hunt with my dad that she scribbled in purple crayon all over her walls). I can picture the house I was brought home to, too -- a twin house on East Park Avenue in Haddonfield, New Jersey where my family lived for the first ten years of my life. When this past winter my mom shared with me, "It's funny how some memories stick ... I can still clearly remember, about a week after I brought you home from the hospital, three-year old Kate marching into the kitchen with her chubby little legs to announce, very seriously, 'Baby's cryin'," I could picture it exactly. Most importantly, I can picture my mom, and my dad. No one ever tried to block me from knowing who they are, because I am not an adoptee.

Before my mom decided to search for her biological/original parents at the age of 47 (her first cancer scare), she did not speak much about adoption at all, but she did tell me once, "I thought about it a lot when I had both you and Kate, when I realized how deeply connected I was to you already. But of course then life was just so busy ... " After she searched and was told by the adoption agency that her biological/original mother wanted no contact, she told me, "I didn't anticipate how much that would hurt. I guess I had a fantasy of a teenage mother who had loved me deeply giving me up and thinking about me on my birthday each year. To know that no one was doing that ... just hurt." Hurt caused by another human being, often one deeply connected to us, is often a part of life, of course. My mom accepted that. Yet it deeply bothered her, as it should have, that she did not have the right to know the identity of her original mother and contact her herself (so much so that she eventually found her mother on her own and sent her a letter in her own words, which was healing).


My mom with my sister and me when we were young, in the early 80s. She was still years away from searching for her original mother, but she had thought about it.




Mostly, though, my mom and I talked about things other than adoption. In fact we laughed, along with my sister, that we hardly ever talked about anything for more than a minute because the kids were always around, interjecting their urgent and ever-important conversations. This was the case last July, as we celebrated my mom's birthday. I don't remember talking about anything specific that night, though I do remember the happy feeling of being together, walking after dinner for churros and chocolate to Chocolatería San Ginés near Madrid's Plaza Mayor, extending the evening, in that most Spanish of ways, as long as it would go.

Time, though, keeps bull-dozing along, and eventually we had to go home. Eight days after my mom's birthday we left Spain, and on the plane ride home, several hours in, I remember looking down the row of seats to see my mom, sleeping, and thinking, "What would I ever do without her?"

My mom's sister Jo, however, helped me to see this question in a different way when she wrote me, Kate, and my dad in the beginning of June: "I have read them [your mom's writings] many times over. I think for every memory you have and  miss I am sad for  those that I might have had. Life sure is a mystery sometimes."

Mom, if life were a Spanish evening we would all be walking with you now to the Chocolatería. Those who loved you over years and years and those who loved you briefly, but truly, would be at your side. Happy Birthday, we would sing, and you would know that you were  thought about with love, love as deep as an ocean -- deeper, even-- each year on your birthday forever.

In Madrid last summer (above). I love the way my mom has her arm around me in this photo. We are standing in front of a plaque for the Battle of the 2nd of May, which is the basis of one of Goya's most famous paintings, though my favorite is "The Third of May," shown above. My mom loved this painting when she saw it, too. I think being an adoptee led her to be more sensitive to anyone whose rights were being trampled.


Happy Birthday, Nana.




2 comments:

  1. This was hard to read. Happy Birthday, Susan. Bless you and your beautiful family.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a beautiful tribute to your mother's birthday. Every time I read anything about your family the only word that comes to mind is LOVE.

    ReplyDelete