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Monday, April 28, 2014

NJ Adoptees Can Get Birth Certificates in 2017: The Possible for the Perfect

This is Jenn, Susan's daughter, posting again on her behalf. As regular readers of this blog know, Susan passed away April 7th, 2014 after an 8-month battle with melanoma. She was an ardent supporter of S873/A1259, aka the Adoptees Birthright Bill, in NJ, and of adoptees' rights everywhere. Today, it was learned that the bill she long supported will be signed into law by Governor Chris Christie, albeit with a compromise ( Although the bill to be signed into law isn't all we would have liked, we know that in politics you often have to sacrifice the "perfect" in order to achieve the "possible."   Susan (my mom) fought hard to achieve a clean bill in NJ and she knew real change was coming in NJ and around the country, if not in her lifetime.   She would have  been ok with this compromise, recognizing how much it achieves for so many.
My mom, Susan Perry, on a trip to Disney with my family in 2010.

My family and I would like to extend our thanks to those who have worked so hard to bring this long overdue change to adoption law in NJ to fruition..... the NJCARE team, Senators Vitale and Allen, Speaker Prieto, those in the adoption triad around the country who have voiced their support, and those behind the scenes who came to recognize this as the basic civil rights issue it is.   Collectively this message got through to Governor Christie and helped allow him to make concessions that he previously wasn't willing to consider.   All in the adoption triad will benefit.   Hopefully those fighting for change in other states can use the NJ experience to assist their efforts to pass meaningful reform. 
Somehow, it seems fitting to post my dad's words about my mom at her service on April 11th along with this announcement. To me, they captured her perfectly.
My mom and dad in Spain this summer, before her diagnosis.

Good morning.

A few weeks ago when Kate and Jenn were talking with Susan about what they might say at her service, I piped in that I too planned to speak at the service.  Without hesitation Susan, knowing me so well,  responded,  “That’s not a good idea!”  So here I go, defying her for one of the very few times over the past nearly 45 years! 

And it was nearly 45 years ago, in the spring and early summer of 1971 that we would stand on her front steps and practice the lines from ee cummings’ poems that we planned to recite to each other on our wedding day along with the verses from 1st Corinthians 13 that so many millions have spoken over the years. Of course Susan had made the selections!  Most nights we couldn’t get through the lines without one of us cracking up in laughter! My lines were these:  

Here is the deepest secret that nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud 
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Of course then I was confident about just about everything, and Susan would tell you unjustly so.  Now as I reflect on the lines from 1st Corinthians.... “for now we see in a mirror dimly,” I realize that perhaps Susan was right, and I didn’t quite have all the answers!  
Susan and the first family dog, Ranger
But I do now see some things “face to face”.... and find for the first time a wonderful connection between the words in Corinthians, " faith, hope, and love, these three abide, and the greatest of these is love,” and the lines in cummings' poem.   For faith, hope, and love are all emotions of the heart..... they are just there; you feel them or you don’t.    Susan and I worked hard to come to an understanding of our faith, as elusive as that often was for us, and over these past eight months we all were challenged by a hope that would keep sneaking into our hearts despite all evidence to the contrary.   And of course love, the emotion that welled up in our hearts all those many years ago, and has only deepened as we shared our life together.  

Together.... Susan and I did just about everything together.... and from the start, it was she who introduced me to just about everything we did:  

Water skiing, for it was watching her in the water trying to teach my brother Tom how to ski (one of the few things in her life she wasn’t successful achieving!) that the spark of love first was felt in my heart,

Tennis, and as best she could, teaching me how to hit a backhand. Did you know she had a great backhand?  One of my favorite things was to just be on the court working on our strokes together. And, of course, we could never leave until Susan felt she had hit the perfect stroke or left me sprawling at the net reaching for her passing shot, 

Snow skiing,  and the wonderful feeling of carving a turn in soft powder,  
Sailing, the joy of being up on a plane in our little sunfish flying across the bay, just the two of us;
After "Splash Mountain" in Disney together

Kayaking around the island at the end of our cove, stopping to swim in the same spot where we had both grown up swimming,

Biking to both ends of LBI and for many years our bike trip from Haddonfield to the shore, 

Gardening, a joy she found with the woodland garden at our new home, and at the beach house.   Already I am struggling to recall which pots go in which location.   

And just this past summer, the new adventure of stand up paddle boarding.  

And though it will be tough to see Susan’s skis in the closet, her bike, kayak, and sunfish in the garage, her tennis racket..... all of these things, because of her,  Kate and Jenn have taken up and now Grace, Emma, Genevieve, Eddie, Tyson, and Joseph also have come to learn from their Nana.   For it was Susan who taught Grace and Genevieve how to ski,  Susan who held their hands to build courage going in the surf,  Susan who cheered as they rode their first waves.  
Susan with the girls in LBI
Susan was a voracious reader, so it is no wonder that Emma is working her way through her 5th Harry Potter book.   And together Susan and Genevieve worked on drawing, an activity Susan turned to when she no longer could be physically active.   

When Susan took care of Grace, Genevieve, and most recently Joseph several days each week, they would exclaim in joy, “It’s a Nana Day!”   And, of course that meant going to Nana’s house..... a term that for a time made me feel somewhat slighted.   But of course  I understood well what they meant and why they said it that way.  And the same was true when all 6 of them would say, “We’re going to Nana’s beach house!”   Poppa Ty just happened to be another guest at Nana’s houses.

So, where do I turn knowing I have lost my best friend?

The answer is elusive, but I will start where Susan has lead me, saying : our grandchildren keep us looking forward and not backwards in time.  

This week I asked Grace and Emma, having known their Nana the longest of our grandchildren, to let me know what stuck out in their minds most vividly about her.  It only took a minute. Grace said, “ Nana always liked to boogie board.  She claimed she was the best even though secretly she knew she was not.  Even though sometimes she would mess up, she would always try again until she got it just right.  Nana especially loved it when her grandchildren did it with her.  She always claimed that she got the best rides even if it only lasted for 5 seconds.  Sometimes she would go deep in the water to get the best rides.  Nana always said that her back was sore after doing it, yet she kept doing it because she was determined and her love for the ocean was strong.”   
All six grandchildren in 2011. They loved their Nana fiercely, and she loved them.

And Emma added: “Nana had the best laugh.  She always giggled with us about her past, and when she was lying in her bed, she could not talk much but she laughed at our stories.  Nana had a great sense of humor.  Nana literally might have had the best and loudest laugh on the planet.   She had the habit of laughing at herself, even when no one else did.   We all loved Nana terribly and always will.”

We have a tradition in the summer of extending each day by gathering on the beach, getting in a twilight swim and having a glass of wine as the sun sets with those we love the most circled around us.  These were some of our favorite times together.
So, I will take to heart Susan’s words to me saying that she knew I will be OK without her.   She has been right about every important thing in our life together, so I will trust that with time I will see she is right about this too. 

 Susan, I say thank you,  for I will carry your heart, with faith, hope, and an unending love, I will carry it in my heart forever.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Justice for My Mom and All Adoptees

Another post by Susan’s daughter, Jenn. Susan passed away on April 7th, 2014, after an 8-month battle with melanoma. She was an ardent supporter of S873/A1259, aka the Adoptees Birthright Bill, now awaiting Governor Christie’s signature in New Jersey.
My family in San Francisco in 2001, visiting Kate, who was in her last year of medical school at UCSF at the time. As a doctor, my sister has always advocated for my mom having full access to her medical records. In 1997, because my mom didn't, she was blocked from a clinical trial after being diagnosed with Stage II melanoma. Intermediaries (proposed as a "compromise" by those who oppose the Adoptees Birthright Bill) do not work, and are insulting to adoptees. 

Earlier this week during a morning class, one of my students, Saaya, proclaimed suddenly, “It’s snowing!” We all looked to the windows. Indeed, gentle white flakes fell softly just outside. Snowing in Philadelphia in April? With surprise, I went to the window and looked up, then down. It took a moment – after all, it had been a very snowy winter -- but my mind finally saw what was really happening: white and light pink flowers, from the trees around the corner, were blowing in the wind. We had all been so sure, even in our surprise, that it was snow. But it was not. 

The image stuck with me. Sometimes in life we need to look closely, and not accept our first impressions, in order to see the truth. 

I wish mightily that the opponents of the Adoptees Birthright Bill in New Jersey would look closely at their own arguments and realize that they are gravely mistaken, to the peril of their own causes, and certainly to the great peril of those in the adoption triad. In New Jersey, a coalition of adoptees, original (biological) parents, and adoptive parents have fought for years for the end of sealed records, an archaic practice that does great damage to thousands of people in New Jersey, and millions of people throughout the United States. Governor Chris Christie has the chance to ameliorate this injustice by signing the Adoptees Birthright Bill now on his desk.  He and those who oppose this bill can best serve those who live adoption by recognizing what the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized today saying: “The measure strikes the right balance: It enables adoptees to explore their pasts but preserves birth parents’ right to privacy despite evidence that most won’t insist on remaining anonymous.”
My mom and dad after their wedding in 1971. I look so much like my mom in this picture that when my daughter saw it she said, "Who's that man with you, mom?" When my mom reunited with her sisters this September, they came to her house with boxes of pictures, and we marveled at the resemblances.
The opponents are the NJ ACLU, the New Jersey Bar Association, New Jersey Right to Life, the National Council for Adoption, and the NJ Catholic Conference. Are you affiliated with any of these organizations? If so, please, please keep reading. And please work to help the leaders in those organizations to see the truth. Right now, they are seeing snow  -- and, in fact, spreading alarm about a giant, crippling “snowstorm” -- for flowers. 

One night in early March, when I had just returned home after spending the evening lying next to my mom in her bed, my heart heavy with the impending loss, and with how my mom was suffering, I decided to search for information on Marie Tasy, the director of NJ Right to Life, who had testified against this bill. Somehow I thought that if I wrote her a letter explaining what blocking the Adoptees Birthright Bill was truly doing to adoptees, and trying, once again, to get her to see that blocking this law did NOTHING, nothing at all, to convince women in crisis pregnancies to carry their pregnancies to term, as she erroneously believed, then maybe she would change her mind. As I said in the letter, I was praying for a miracle, and I continue to pray for that miracle. Of course, I also prayed for a miracle for my mom, and I know sometimes we must live with cancer that cannot be cured, or people who will not reconsider their deeply held (yet false) beliefs. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to cure cancer (or pray for a miracle), or try to help those who are wrong see the errors in their thinking. Right now, each time they show up at a hearing or post something online about opposing this bill, each time they refuse to listen to the compassionate reasoning of those who live adoption, it feels akin to each devastating CT Scan we got back over the last 8 months, showing us that my mom’s cancer was not responding to treatment.   

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re talking about people here, and people who, if they listen, could respond. They could change.  And the time for change is now....not next year or beyond.   Justice delayed is justice denied.   
My mom and me skiing, early 1980s. Later, she would teach my girls to ski as well. She was an incredible mom, and an incredible person. She never should have had to go through what she did to find her original family. No adoptee should.

That night in March, as I searched for how to send Marie Tasy of NJ Right to Life a letter, I came across a blog post written by Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ (Blue Jersey: Strange Bedfellows (and Pillowtalk) in Trenton) where she described testifying alongside Tasy against the Adoptees Rights Bill that Governor Christie conditionally vetoed in 2011 (it was similar to the current bill). She described this bill as a “hot, messy sausage,” claiming that by allowing adult adoptees to receive their original birth certificates “the privacy rights of birth mothers who do not wish to have their names revealed [would be compromised].”  Of course this is also what NJ Right to Life argues. The letter they urge their followers to send Governor Christie reads, in part, “S873/A1259 does not contain adequate protections for birth parents who placed children for adoption in the past and want continued anonymity. It also takes away the option of anonymity in future adoptions for women in crisis pregnancies who may only consider adoption if they can be guaranteed confidentiality.”

Privacy, confidentiality … there is no one who understands the desire for this better than adoptees, who, if they care to know the most private and confidential aspect of their lives (their own births! their own family history!) are forced to appeal to a complete stranger (the adoption agency, the intermediary, the state) to gain access. Adoptees are no danger to the “confidentiality” of an original (birth) parent. As my mom often said, why is an “intermediary” contacting an original birth parent any less intrusive then an adult adoptee doing so? Adoptees aren’t looking to take out full-page newspaper ads announcing the identity of their original parents to the world. They simply want, and need, the truth for themselves. 

My mom sledding with Genevieve and Eddie several years ago. She loved having fun with them, and they adored her.

Aside from that, I am highly skeptical of any agency today that says it cares about a woman in a crisis pregnancy that simultaneously assures her that she could, or should, remain completely anonymous for life from the child she brings into this world (or that this would be good for her). In today’s day and age, especially, with social media, any lifetime guarantee of anonymity is simply not true. And any agency that tells a woman this is possible, or that tells her she can “have a baby and forget about it” is not presenting her with the full truth. Adoptees who want to know who their original parents are must jump through hoops and spend large amounts of money to do so, but they often find their parents. And they do so in ways (Facebook campaigns, for example) that are much less “private” and “confidential” than a simple, direct inquiry from the adoptee herself would be. 

My mom only told my sister and me the details about her conversation with her original mother during these last months of her life, and we are her daughters, who have always talked with her about everything.  That part of her life was so personal, so deeply embedded in her heart, that she was hesitant to share it with even those closest to her. Here is what we learned: she took the call in her bedroom, with the door locked, and her hands trembling, because she knew this was most likely the only time in her life she would ever get to talk with her. Though my mom’s mother was not capable of having a relationship with her (a great loss for her, for sure), she was not harmed in any way by this contact. And please remember that she (an original mother who does not want contact with the child she has given up) is in the minority (less than 1%). Great harm is being done to thousands of adoptees in New Jersey, and for what? To protect myths about adoption that simply don’t hold up upon closer inspection.

My mom’s battle with melanoma happened to coincide with one of the longest, coldest winters in recent memory, but she did live to see the first spring flowers emerge.  In this season of flowers, of renewal, let’s honor my mom, and all those who have brought us closer to the window to see the truth of adoption, by passing the Adoptees Birthright Bill in New Jersey. How about it, Governor Christie?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Wonderful Mom

Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter …

Below are the words my sister Kate spoke at my mom's service Friday, April 11th (my mom passed away on Monday, April 7th, after an 8-month battle with melanoma, and 7 months after reuniting with her original sisters, Carol and Jo, who let her know that melanoma did run in their family. We all had to laugh over the inaccurate medical record that the intermediary provided). She (my mom) was an active member of NJCare and an ardent supporter of S873/A1259, aka the Adoptees Birthright Bill, now awaiting Governor Christie's signature in NJ.

Thoughts on mom ... (Susan's daughter Kate's words at her service)

A month ago my mom told my sister Jenn and me that we were welcome to any of her jewelry, but that she really didn’t have much.  She just wasn’t into that kind of stuff.  But her recreational equipment?  Now that was a different story.  She wanted us to take those things and think of her every time we used them.  She told me to take her skis, and Jenn her roller blades, and she hoped someone would use those great golf clubs she spent all that money on.  The clubs may not have improved her game, but she had an awful lot of fun using them. 

 I am not ready to say goodbye to someone so full of life, and who brought so much joy to my own life and to the life of my family and kids.  I don’t understand how this 63 year old woman filled with energy, and laughter, and love, can be gone.  It doesn’t make any sense.  But, at the risk of sounding unenlightened, I will come back to a prayer my mom often quoted to me, especially over the past 8 months.  “If the only prayer we ever say is thank you, that is enough” (Meister Eckhart).  So mom, here is my prayer of thanks to you.

My family at the beach, early 1980s. I (Jenn) am on my dad's shoulders. Kate is in front.

Thank you for the love and patience you showered upon my sister and me as a young mom, a patience I didn’t truly appreciate until I had my own kids.  Thank you for the countless memories:   library trips, trips to Wedgewood swim club, pizza dinners at our neighbors’ houses, out on the softball field year after year, coaching our teams.  I still remember so clearly what pathetically was the pinnacle of my sports career (maybe yours as well), beating the favored team and winning the 4th grade softball championships in the last inning.  We share a competitive streak, my mom and I.  Many of you out there have witnessed her competitive streak – on the badminton court, throwing horseshoes, playing scrabble, in the ocean pushing to get ahead by a few feet body surfing, so that she could triumphantly grin at the person she left behind.   She was competitive, but more than that, she was so much fun.  Mom, thank you for teaching me to snow ski, and teaching me (and countless other kids) how to water ski, for instilling a love for tennis, for so many other things.  Through example mom you taught me.  Cherish your family and friends.  Go have fun with them. 

And of course, thank you for your laugh – thank you for using it so often, and never caring how loud it was or how much attention it brought. 
My mom with Kate, my sister, at one of her favorite places in the world -- the ocean

Thank you for putting up with me as a teenager.  I will never forget, after one particularly ugly argument, you calmly shaking your head at me and saying, “Oh Kate, I so hope I live to see that day that you too have a daughter.”  And sure enough, my first born was Emma.  I honestly don’t know how I’m going to get through her teen years without you mom.

Thank you for your friendship as I grew older.  We went on ski trips together, went on all those magical hikes through Big Sur and Mt. Tam with Dad, shared weekends at LBI, biked together, took long walks with our dogs in the woods, and talked about anything.  Thank you for showing up in San Francisco, 2 months into my first year of medical school, after I tumbled off my bike and shattered my elbow.   You were there for me, like you always had been, at a time when I was in pain and scared and alone.   

Thank you for helping me to navigate new motherhood.  You literally saved me from insanity during Emma’s colicky first 6 months.  Every day, you’d show up at my door, and order me out, just so I could get an hour of quiet.  You listened to my worries, and reassured me over and over that it would be ok, and that I was doing a good job.  You never judged, or if you did judge, you did a really good job of hiding it.  I always knew I had someone I could call to share stories with, to laugh with, to get advice from.  You gave the best advice.  
My mom running with Kate, early 1980s, or maybe late 1970s. She was so fun, but she also instilled a deep sense of justice and respect for life in us. As an advocate for adoptees rights, she kept that sense of justice and respect for life. The ACLU, NJ Bar Association, NJ Right to Life, and NJ Catholic Conference (opponents to Adoption Reform in NJ) would be wise to listen!

And what a grandmother you were – to Emma, Eddie and Tyson, and Grace, Genevieve and Joseph.  Among my many heartbreaks is that they will not have more time with you.   Thank you for the countless days you spent with me and my kids when you watched Jenn’s children.  There are so many memories there for all of us.  Thank you for the countless glasses of wine we shared after those long days with the kids.  Thank you for all the time you spent, playing board games/shooting baskets/ pitching baseballs and tennis balls/roller blading/skiing, I could go on and on.  Thank you for the weekends at the beach when you would take one of the grandkids off for a kayak, or a bike ride, or a mini golf outing (with your own putter of course).   

I do want to take one moment away from thanking my mom to thank some others.  To her friends who have been with her through all of this, I hope you know how much your constant presence and support meant to her, and means to us.  To the many people who have done so many things to support me, my dad, and my sister over the past months, we are truly touched and grateful.  To her dear brother, she cherished the times she spent with you both as a child and as an adult, and the laughter you brought to her life.   To her recently found sisters, I so wish she had found you sooner so you could have shared more, but I am so grateful that she found you as you brought her so much peace, understanding and love.  To my Dad and my sister Jenn, mom always said we had the best family.  You never failed her, not once. 

To my mom, be at peace.  I don’t know yet how I’m going move on, without you.  But I will hold on to the love you always showered me with, and I’m going to hold that laugh of yours/that passion/ in my heart forever. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Myth of "Two Sides" in the Adoption Issue ... and a Thank You

This post (again, from Jenn, Susan's daughter) is a thank-you letter to all those who have listened, or will listen, to those who have lived adoption. Those who do so with an open heart and mind are hard-pressed not to be moved, but at the same time I recognize how difficult it is to change one’s own beliefs, especially if those beliefs are deeply held and reinforced by cultural myths perpetuated in movies, TV shows, magazines … in short, almost everywhere.  I also recognize just how busy with their own important affairs people are, and how hard this issue can be to understand (at first). So thank you, those who have listened, or will listen. Please bring your questions, your doubts, your fears …   but also your open heart. Prepare for an awakening. I know that’s how it felt for me, as I spoke with my mom and thought deeply about adoption for the first time.  

This photo, of my mom and my son Joseph, is from February 6th, after my mom, dad, and I had just had a good laugh as I attempted to color and style her hair, and almost turned it red. Going to the salon was just not possible at this point. I know now that my mom asked me to do her hair to create a memory (she certainly didn't ask me for my skills). I love her, and thank her, for that.

I especially want to thank Senator Diane Allen, who has tirelessly championed the Adoptees Birthright Bill (S873/A1259) in New Jersey and carefully listened to hours of testimony from original (birth) parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents for over 10 years. I am hoping that in the next month I will be able to thank New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who despite previously opposing this bill and calling for intermediaries (they don’t work, and are insulting to adoptees), will listen to Senator Allen  and hear her compelling case for why this bill should be signed into law. Though many, many others have worked for years, even decades, for adult adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates, in my heart if this law passes in NJ I will consider it “Susan’s Law,” after my mom, who first got me to listen, and to reconsider my own views.

I also want to thank my dear brother-in-law, Harry. This past February I was at my nephew’s (his son’s) 12th birthday party, and as we served ourselves dinner from the dining room table buffet, he said, “That was an interesting article on your mom, Jenn.” He was referring to the front page February 23rd Philadelphia Inquirer article, Bills in Pa., N.J.. would open adoption records, which featured a picture of me, my mom, and my daughter Grace ( ). The article covers all the reasons that advocates have been fighting for adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates, but it also includes a few quotes from those who oppose this access, namely Mary Tasy from NJ Right to Life and Patrick Brannigan from the NJ Catholic Conference. Though the article mentions that the NJ Bar Association and the NJ ACLU also oppose the law, nobody from these organizations spoke out. Harry, who I respect immensely and always love talking to, because he is thoughtful, well-read, educated, and open, went on, “I guess there are some really interesting points on both sides.”

At that point, I froze. My mom, who passed away April 7th, was at that time gravely ill, in part because of a lack of access to her full medical history, and the issue was just so personal. But I took a deep breath, explained the issue as calmly as I could, and Harry simply said, “Oh, that makes a lot of sense. I guess I just never thought about any of this before.” Most people who haven’t lived adoption are in the same boat. I am always glad when these people ask questions, or engage on the issue.

My sister Kate, my mom, and her sisters, Carol and Jo, having lunch at my parents' house in December. Those arguing for adoption reform: Adoptees, original families, and adoptive parents. They are the only "side" that should be considered.
Many times over the past two months I have come back to my brother-in-law’s comment, though, because if he (a well-educated, highly intelligent, deeply compassionate person, not to mention a psychologist with a PHD) could so easily be misinformed, how could others not be? “It seems like there are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue,” he said.

Yes, those who just read the press coverage of this and don’t deeply engage might be left with that impression but, let me state clearly, there are not two sides to this issue, any more than there were “two sides” to the issues of abolishing slavery, giving women the right to vote, or desegregating schools. A sampling of those who spoke out in favor of those injustices:   

Some defenders of slavery (and there were many) argued “that the institution was divine, and that it brought Christianity to the heathen from across the ocean, Slavery was, according to the argument, good for the enslaved” (

Those who opposed giving women the right to vote were also, for years, given a voice in the debate (and they, of course, had the louder voice). “You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout!” read a pamphlet put out by the National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage in the 1910s, which also offered housecleaning tips.  Another reason given: “For it is unwise to risk the good that we have for the evil which might occur.”

Finally, those who fought against desegregation came up with all kinds of arguments to support their case. One of the most prominent lawyers to defend segregation, James Lindsay Almond Jr., the state attorney general of Virginia, claimed that segregation was just because “with the help and sympathy and the love and respect of the white people of the South, the colored man has a place of eminence and respect throughout the nation.” ( )

In their day, all of these points were considered debate-worthy, and these issues were considered highly controversial, just as adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates is sometimes presented as a “controversial issue” in the press today. But it is not. The arguments of all those who oppose this law are just as myth-filled, fear-based, and flat out wrong as the arguments listed above.

 Are you here to listen, to learn, to consider your own previously held beliefs? Then I welcome you, and I thank you. Do you not yet see how this is a clear-cut issue of social justice, one that does not have two sides? Then I ask for your comments, and your questions. I (or perhaps someone even better informed than I am from the adoption community) would love to address them. I consider it a way to honor my mom, Susan Perry, who didn’t get to live to see this change come, but who fought so hard to see that it did.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Mom and the Truth: Adoption and Otherwise

My mom, Susan Perry, passed away on Monday, April 7th, 2014. Words fall short as to how much we all miss her. I will continue to guest post on this site. We are still hoping that Governor Christie will sign S873/A1259 (The Adoptees Birthright Bill) into law in New Jersey, and that other states will pass similar legislation as well. For now, I am sharing what I said at my mom's service on Friday April 11th (my uncle, my sister, my dad and I all spoke), which is more about her than about the advocacy, though I talk about how my mom always spoke the truth (adoption or otherwise). I cannot express how strongly I feel about the need for reform and justice for adoptees everywhere. My mom might still be here if it were not for the outdated and antiquated laws in NJ (please see her past post as to why the intermediary system doesn't work). But more on that later. For now, my mom:

I love this picture of my mom with my niece Emma, taken this summer in LBI the weekend after her diagnosois. My mom's t-shirt reads "Life is good."

In addition to thanking my mom for everything that my sister Kate just spoke of, and for thanking all of you for being here today, I would like to thank her for one more thing as well: her commitment to telling the truth, always.

One of those truths was how she really felt about cooking, exemplified by her “I Hate to Cook Cookbook,” given to her by her mother. That cookbook is still on my mom’s shelf, the “Chilly-night Chili” recipe marked with a bookmark and her unmistakable handwriting. I ate that chili many times, along with a few other trademark recipes that my mom had mastered. Still, I loved cooking with my mom when I was younger, even if it was a birthday cake made from the box. I especially remember baking carrot cake with cream cheese frosting with her many times when I was a little girl. And when my sister committed to eating healthier in high school, my mom subscribed to the magazine “Cooking Light” and prepared many of its complicated recipes for us. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Yet over the last 8 months, as we were able to reflect with my mom about her life, my sister and I thanked her often for what a wonderful mom she had been to us. Once, we reminded her about how much we had both loved the tradition of bringing up the card table from the basement each year to roll out the homemade dough for Christmas cookies. It was a process that took hours. Without missing a beat my mom replied, “Yes, and now that you’re older and know better, you can see what a sacrifice of love that was!” We all burst out laughing. Yes, I can see.

Another, related truth my mom told, however, was that eating good food, especially with loved ones, is one of the great pleasures of life. “I love when you cook,” she would tell me or Kate or my dad, or perhaps Kate’s brother in law Rod, but most often my husband Anthony or Kate’s husband Ed, “so I’ll clean up after you cook. I’m happy to clean up so I don’t need to cook.” Then she would rave so much about the meal, with every bite, that any effort would be well worth it. We spent almost every one of her birthdays for the last 15 years like that, enjoying seafood feasts at the shore. 

Another truth my mom  passed on to all of us is that heated competition is one of life’s great activities, especially when you win, but even when you don’t. But especially when you win.  Now, my Uncle Ken does tell a story about how he stopped by one time when Kate and I were young and he was concerned because we were playing “The Whale Game,” a game with no winners or losers designed to foster cooperative play, a game apparently so boring that when I mentioned it to Kate she didn’t even remember playing (she did remember jumping on the Parcheesi board and smashing it when she was losing once, though -- an action that, despite my mom’s love of competition, was quickly addressed. She cared about sportsmanship). The whale game phase was a quick one though, and my mom soon moved on to coaching our softball teams to victory and teaching us the delights of Pictionary, Parcheesi, and Sorry. As Kate spoke about, my mom was competitive in the best way in her own life, too. When I was little our basement was lined with trophies from when my parents won the married couples tennis tournament at the Field Club. The few times they lost they did so in a tie breaker, and it was my dad’s fault, and I know this because my mom told my dad, often. Usually, she told my dad the next year, while they were playing, as in, “Ok, this year, don’t blow it.” 

My mom loved skiing, swimming, body surfing, sailing, and maybe even playing golf (though she claimed not to, we all knew when she had a great round). When she was little, she and her brother had such heated wrestling competitions, setting up in separate corners of the bed as though they were in a real ring,  that they often broke the bed, much to my grandmother’s chagrin.

And my mom passed this love of competition on to her grandchildren. She loved watching them play, and came to nearly every one of my daughter Grace’s travel soccer games this fall, and many of her travel basketball games this winter, despite how she was feeling. Just two months ago she was at a heated basketball game of Grace’s, as both of the teams were undefeated coming into it. The other team was extremely rough, and a little obnoxious, and the ref wasn’t calling anything. Finally, when the ref didn’t call perhaps the 5th time that a girl on the other team blatantly pushed down one of Grace’s teammates, my mom couldn’t hold it in any longer: “Come on ref!” she screamed, “Call the foul!” Later, we would laugh about this moment (Grace confirmed, "Nana, you were loud!”) but at the time she just couldn’t be silent. As I said, she loved to win, but she was ok if she lost -- the game just had to be fair.

Speaking of fairness, another truth my mom spoke was the truth about adoption. Even as she spoke of the deep love of her adoptive family, including her brother Doug, and her wonderful childhood, and the sweetness of her reunion with Carol and Jo, she was never quiet, and she never backed down, when faced with powerful interests who bent the truth. Her calm, clear voice was, and is, more powerful than those interests. Eventually, I know, it will prevail.

My mom spoke the truth about cancer, saying that it was not something she had needed to better appreciate her life -- she already appreciated her life -- and that it was difficult, and that it made her mad, as her body failed, and that it was tough, some days, to be hopeful ... But at the same time she squeezed out every bit of possible life since last July, body surfing with all of us that first weekend after the diagnosis, paddle boarding with her friends, walking, and then, as the treatment and the cancer took their toll, enjoying music, and movies, and learning how to draw - I love thinking of her sitting down with my daughter Genevieve to draw the  birds at the feeder out her living room window, and finally, in these last two months,  talking,  laughing, then only smiling. Honest and funny to the end, just last week as my Dad and sister and I helped her with one of the indignities that cancer brings upon you, and she said, “I’m so sorry,” to us, my sister answered, “Mom, you are NOT allowed to apologize. We are so happy just to be here with you.” Mom again didn’t miss a beat: “I highly doubt that,” she said, and again, we all laughed, even when it felt that laughter wasn’t possible. That’s what my mom did for us, and for so many who loved her.

My mom spoke the truth about love, telling me when I was younger that flowers and candles were nice but what was really nice was when you could marry your best friend, as she had. At the time, I thought that was so unromantic, but as I’ve grown older I’ve seen the beauty and romance of my parents' relationship, and marriage. My mom also told me that I wouldn’t understand how much she loved me until I had children of my own, and she was right. And when her mother, my Nana, died, she told me how much she would miss her. “Nobody loves you like your mom,” she said. That is so true. I know that I will miss that love the rest of my life.

Finally, there is one truth that I have learned that I would share with my mom if she were here today, and that I want to share with all of you. It involves a story that my mom and I have told and retold for years, laughing every time. We were at the beach one hot August day when I was about 7 years old, and the waves were huge. Though I was no stranger to the ocean, my mom wouldn’t let me in unless I held her hand. Sure enough, a huge wave broke not too far out and I braced myself for its impact, as did my mom. She must have been a bit in front of me because it knocked her down first, and under we went, still holding hands, not knowing which way was up and which way was down. Still, she never let go. Our hands clasped, we finally emerged from the wave, hair in our faces, sand in our suits, salt in our throats. Later, we would laugh and talk about here she was trying to protect me and she pulled me under, but now, thinking about that story, I see it its bare truth: nothing can break that bond of love. The ocean may send its fiercest wave, but love wins in the end. Love emerges. And though now I feel pulled down, and tossed around, and lost without her, I know that once the wave passes, what remains is love.