The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

Patterns speak to human beings. Watching the movie, The Goldfinch, built around a real painting by a Dutch artist who tragically lost his life at the age of 32 in an explosion in Delft in 1654, sent me on a journey through my own relationship with this bird and it connects to both my mom’s adoptive mother and my in-laws and this bird. Our Goldfinches are much more brightly colored than the one in this painting.

I didn’t know what those yellow blobs on the bushes were until my grandmother visited me and drew my attention to them. She had stayed the week hosted by my in-laws which provided her with more comfortable accommodations than I could. I was driving her to visit her friends in Joplin but we had stopped in Branson and she wanted to buy my in-laws a thank you gift. She selected a pair of Goldfinches and said they reminded her of the two lovebirds. She had seen expressions of love between my two in-law’s during her week stay. Interestingly, though I was already married to my husband, she bought a single Goldfinch to give to me. Strange that I do not at this moment know where my own is.

And so last night I was reflecting on why my grandmother only gave me a single bird but my in-laws a pair. It was as if she was giving them her seal of approval for in essence “adopting” me into their family. My in-laws, the parents of 3 boys treated me as the daughter they never had. They stood by me during a legal tussle with my ex-employer going with me to the sheriff’s office to help me retrieve the car (it wasn’t free and clear but had a lien on it making it officially not mine for my ex-employer to take). My dad was on the board of the credit union I had borrowed from. When I called my mom about my trouble, she could only say to me, “Don’t let your dad find out.” My in-laws also went with me to the hearing the in judge’s chamber. Just one example out of many of their kindness and support for me as their adopted daughter.

I reflect on my own mother. In the movie, all 3 of the main young people depicted had lost their mothers, just as both of my own natural grandmothers had. Like the bird in the painting, my mom was trapped by the fact of her adoption. Prevented from knowing the true details of what happened to her by the sealed adoption file the state of Tennessee refused to give her. Details that I now know, that would have done no harm at the time she asked for it because her natural mother and natural father were both dead but she could have known aunts and uncles who could have told her about her mother and half-siblings on her father’s side. Seeing the photo of her mother holding her for the last time would have brought her so much peace. My mom struggled with body image because she could not achieve her adoptive mother’s trim form but my mom had the genetic big boned body of her natural mother.

I believe my mom’s adoptive parents would have sent her off to have and give me up for adoption when she turned up pregnant, unwed, a high school student had my dad’s adoptive parents not intervened to get them married. In my own particularly defiant manner, I chose to be born on my mom’s adoptive parents’ wedding anniversary. My adoptive maternal grandmother was a painter. Today I have a painting of a large oak tree in Autumn hanging on our wall that my grandmother painted. She also painted an oval bust of my infant self and this hung on her own bedroom wall all the years I remember her living.

Therefore, I was close to my grandmother. She once took me to England with her. During the visit that caused her to buy the Goldfinch figurines, the Wild Azaleas were blooming. She decked herself out for a portrait of herself surrounded by them. She had grown up in rural Missouri and her visit here was a trip down the memory lane of her own origins. We even visited her childhood home as I drove her to visit her friends. That photo of my grandmother started my own tradition of taking photos on Mother’s Day and me and my boys.

Bernice Dittmer

Oh, the patterns of our lives and how these can inform our hearts at the most surprising kind of emotional trigger, like watching a movie . . . and then seeing the movie of our life reflected back to us.

With my boys in 2010

Second Chances

I not talking about what is known as second chance adoptions as sad as that reality is.  I’m talking about the second chance life gave me and I hope those who have suffered their own failures at parenting will take heart.

This Sunday, we will go out into the forest among the Wild Azaleas and make a photo of myself with the two boys I am lucky to have in my own life.  We have done this every year without fail since the older boy was born.  You see, when I was young, I gave birth to a daughter who was and remains very dear to me.  Yet, I struggled to support us and in doing so, inadvertently lost the opportunity to parent her and have her in my life during her childhood.  I remember as the years went by looking for birthday cards for “my daughter” and that causing despair because they did not describe the unique kind of relationship I had with her.  Thankfully, we are close and I am grateful for that much.

When I remarried late in life and after 10 years of being with my husband who never wanted to have children – he changed his mind.  Over Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant he announced to me that he actually did want to become a father and it wasn’t easy for us because I was too old to conceive without medical assistance.  To conceive, I had to accept the loss of my genetic connection to my sons.  They would not exist any other way and they would not be who they are otherwise.

Yet, they grew in my womb and nursed at my breast.  I have been in their lives 24/7 with a few minor exceptions.  Parenting boys has been challenging because I grew up the oldest of three girls.  I was unprepared for the boisterous behavior of male children and through it was far from perfect – they and I survived it.  I was told as I struggled in their younger time that boys are more difficult when young and girls more difficult in puberty.  I don’t know if that is true but the boys are a joy and easy to live with now.  Whatever has caused that blessing, I am grateful.

I am also grateful to know I can actually parent.  It is a life-long sorrow that I lost that time with my daughter.  Children don’t stop growing and you can’t recover what is lost in your absence.  Happy Mother’s Day to all moms.

A Sad Holiday

For many adoptees, Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday.  For many children in Foster Care it is the pits of unhappy reminders.

All my life, Mother’s Day has been a happy one.  When we were young, we made my mom breakfast in bed.  When I had my oldest son in 2001, that next Spring during the month of May in celebration of Mother’s Day, I began a family tradition of taking my children out among the Wild Azaleas that are at the peak of their annual blooming for “see how you grow” photos.  It is cherished by me that we have not missed a single year with my oldest son now 19 years old.

Truth be told, it was my mom’s adoptive mother who started the tradition.  She had grown up in Missouri.  Her childhood location is some distance to the west but is very similar in rural wildness to where I live.  One year she came to visit me before our sons were born and I took her on hikes around our farm.  She cherished the experience because it brought back memories of her own childhood in Missouri.

When she learned the Azaleas were blooming, one morning she dressed up (though she was always fully dressed with jewelry and make-up before breakfast).  She chose a pink blouse to wear and a spot to sit framed by the Azaleas blooming all around her.  Later during that visit, she took me to see her own childhood home and I was surprised to see her farmhouse was very much like our own.  We were fortunate because the owner of that house allowed us to go inside and my grandmother shared with me what remained the same and what had changed over time.

As an adoptee, my mom yearned to have a reunion with her own mother.  She knew that Georgia Tann played a prominent role in her own adoption story.  When news of the scandal resurfaced in the early 1990s, she contacted Denny Glad who lived in Memphis and helped the victims of Georgia Tann’s questionable adoption methods.  My mom learned about her from watching a 60 Minutes special about the scandal that had aired on TV around that time.

Adoption records were still sealed in Tennessee as my mom tried without success to learn about her origins.  Devastating news was delivered to my mom that her mother had died several years earlier and they would not release her adoption file because the status of her father, twenty years my grandmother’s age, could not be determined (in truth he had been dead 30 years but the state didn’t try very hard at all).

Mrs Glad was instrumental in getting adoption records opened late in the 1990s for Tann’s victims but no one ever told my mom.  My mom died believing she had been stolen based on anecdotal stories she read or heard.  That wasn’t far from the truth but in reality Tann’s network of suppliers made her aware of my mom and my grandmother, through only the best motivations of a caring mom, got trapped.

Since my mom was deceased before I began to learn so much about adoption overall, I can’t ask her the questions that weigh heavily on my own heart about how she honestly felt about a lot of the issues related to her adoption.  She didn’t speak about it to anyone else in our family beyond acknowledging that she had been adopted.  That is, except with me and with me her feelings about it were definitely conflicted.

 

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day 2010

Ever since my oldest son was born, we go out every year to take photos among the Wild Azaleas we are fortunate to have an abundance of here on our Missouri farm.  Only in one year, were there no flowers and we had to settle for a waterfall backdrop.  This year, I can no longer endure a long hike due to knee issues and so my husband has suggested I drive our John Deere tractor while he and the boys walk alongside to area where he knows there are a lot of blossoms.  He also wants to collect a couple of large rocks in the bucket that are on his mind while we are there.  The last time I drove the tractor I got it stuck in a wetland.  He reassures me that will be impossible in the area he has in mind.

Mothers are very much on my mind at this time.  No surprise.  Yesterday, I struggled with a lot of sadness about my maternal grandmother.  I have this awful paradox.  I was never able to know my original grandparents because both of my parents were given up for adoption.  Yet, if that had not happened, I would not exist at all.  Therefore, it wasn’t ever possible to have both – a relationship with them and life itself.  Of course, if it weren’t for the disconnect adoption causes, maybe my parents could have enjoyed reunions with their original parents in adulthood and maybe I could have known these people.  But it was not to be.

I also miss my mom a lot at Mother’s Day.  I would have had a wonderful long conversation with her had she been alive.  She died two months before I expected to see her again (we were separated by 1,200 miles).  Her death changed my life.  Discovering my original grandparents did as well.

Happy Mother’s Day !!