Monday, September 29, 2008

It's Personal

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of my reunion with my birth-mother. . .


Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world.

Along with that realization, I came to realize that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My younger self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.

I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion. She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”

Um, excuse me? You realize, don’t you Mom, that the ‘choice’ you’re talking about wishing you’d had, is whether or not to kill ME? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re talking about, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .

She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that.

Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written insightfully about women who “want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg”. And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when they don’t want to be. My daughter was one of those women, just a couple years ago. And I wished there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for her. . .

But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. Not a clump of cells, not a faceless ‘fetus’ – it was me. And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.

And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone you never even knew existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened. Molly would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; how could she not?); but she wouldn’t have married me. And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely. . .

And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who would have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, were never allowed to be born? What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who would have done those things, but were never born?

My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and encourage anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not so much as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.

I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her (honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise). No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other these 19 years. I understand how trapped she felt 52+ years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.

But I have to tell ya, it is a strange, strange thing, to be told by your mother that, as much as she loves you, she wished she’d had the choice of whether or not to kill you before you were born. . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Our Flashy Wedding

Molly and I went to a wedding this past weekend. The bride was a friend of ours, a woman a couple years older than 1F, who is also a birth-mother of a six-year-old boy (her son, and his adoptive family, were at the wedding, and it was a personal highlight for me to meet them). Her willingness to share with us about her experience of birth-motherhood has been wonderfully helpful to us through 1F’s experience. And I think she has appreciated hearing about my experience with my birth-mother, as well.


Of course, I have many memories of our wedding day. I remember washing my car in the morning, more to kill a couple hours until I had to be at the church, than because my car was so dirty (this ‘what to do until you have to be at the church’ question is a major one for grooms; I’m given to understand that brides don’t typically find themselves at quite such a loss for how to fill their mornings. . .)

Once I arrived at the church, there really wasn’t all that much for me to do. All my groomsmen showed up in a timely manner, my brothers took their places as ushers, and I just took some chill time in the sacristy, as the guests started to arrive.

About a half-hour or so before the wedding was supposed to begin, my head-usher, a guy I’ll call ‘Tom’ for purposes of this story, with whom I’d shared a house while I was in grad school, came into the room where I was relaxing, a concerned look on his face. “Ummm. . .” he began. (I don’t know; it just seems to me that your head usher coming to you a half-hour before your wedding, saying “Ummm. . .” is probably not a good thing). “Ummm. . . there’s a retarded guy out in the parking lot, exposing himself to the guests as they arrive.”

I just stared at him, blankly.

“So, what do you want me to do?” he asked, as I contemplated the image of my grandmother being greeted in the church parking lot by a retarded flasher. The fact that it was a Catholic church parking lot is probably worth noting, because my family is not Catholic, and some of them, possibly including my grandmother, held less-than-flattering opinions of Catholics and Catholicism.

“Huh?” I replied, quickly grasping the gravity of the situation.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Tom,” I replied, with all the mellowness I could muster at that point, “I asked you to be my head-usher so I wouldn’t have to think about stuff like this. I’m sure you can figure something out.”

For a couple seconds, he stared back at me. “Right,” he finally said, and hustled off.

I’m told that the police were called, and our flasher friend was relocated away from the church parking lot before too many of our guests’ retinas were seared with images of his genitalia. The wedding proceeded without too many further glitches, Molly and I were well and thoroughly married to each other, and the rest, as they say, is history.


We like to tell young couples planning their weddings to not be too concerned that everything goes off perfectly, because every wedding has something that goes not-quite-according-to-plan. I was at a wedding once, where the bride’s veil accidentally caught fire when it brushed too close to the Unity Candle (a quick-thinking Maid of Honor averted catastrophe in that case). At another wedding we were at, the Best Man passed out cold, and spent most of the wedding being attended to by a doctor off to the side of the church. Those are both pretty good stories, and good examples of What Can Go Wrong at Your Wedding.

But our story of our wedding flasher always makes their eyes get real wide. “And besides,” we always tell them, “if things go really wrong, you’ll have a great story to tell. . .”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cycling In the Moonlight

My recent cycling post reminded me of another story from the Jones Family Archives. . .

Way back in 1984, when 1F was a two-year-old only-child, Molly and I took her on the PALM ride (Pedal Across Lower Michigan; ie, across the ‘palm of the mitten’, ‘cuz Michigan is shaped like a mitten, get it?), along with a few other couple-friends of ours. PALM is a six-day ride, crossing the Lower Peninsula from shore-to-shore, west to east. With the shorter distances involved, PALM bills itself as a more family-friendly version of more rigorous tours like DALMAC; many parents brought their small children along for the fun, and a few 8-10-year-olds even rode the tour themselves. So I put one of those plastic kid-seats on the back of my bike, and off we went.

And we really did have a good time. The three of us shared a week of life on a somewhat more ‘elemental’ level, with nothing but our own legs to propel us down the road, and sharing a tent together at the overnight campsites.

Of course, strapping a two-year-old into a plastic seat on the back of her dad’s bike for four hours or so, every day for a week, has its own set of challenges, in terms of her attention span, and her willingness to sit semi-still for such long intervals. We planned to take short breaks every hour or so, to let 1F run around a bit before getting back on the bike. And, with some regularity, there were interesting sights to be seen just in the course of rolling down the road. I recall stopping by a turkey farm once (the birds were so fat they could barely stand up), and getting passed by an Amish buggy at another point (note to my readers: many Amish really, really resent being taken for ‘curiosities’ by the ‘outside world’, and attempts to take their photograph can induce a pretty surly response, which may or may not include threatening to run your bicycle into the ditch with their horse).

Molly had recently taught 1F a cute little ‘waking-up-in-the-morning’ ditty, which became a daily staple of our first few miles on the road:

When cows get up in the mor-ning, they always say ‘Good Day’.
When cows get up in the mor-ning, they always say ‘Good Day’.
They say, “Moo, moo, moo, moo,” that is what they say.
They say, “Moo, moo, moo, moo,” that is what they say.

And so on, through a whole barnyard-full (or ark-full, as the case may be) of various animals, and how they all say ‘Good Day’ when they get up in the morning. By the end of the week, I’d heard about all I cared to about animals and the sounds they make in the morning. And I’m hopeful that most of my fellow-riders on that tour have either forgotten about it, or found it in their hearts to forgive us. . .

But, our best efforts aside, sometimes boredom set in for our beloved first-born. Seated as she was on a seat over my rear wheel, the things which were most immediately presented to her senses were things pertaining to my backside. Like my pockets, for one example (I was wearing ‘cycling gear’, where the shorts are those nifty black lycra things, and the pockets are in the back of my shirt). One time, Molly just happened to notice 1F pull my wallet out of my pocket, inspect its contents for a minute or two, and toss it in the roadside weeds, or I might have ended up washing dishes to pay for our lunch.

Another time, as I was pedaling along, 1F grabbed the waistband of my lycra shorts and pulled. Pants-ing me in the process. And putting my, uh, reciprocating moons on display for the benefit of all my fellow-riders in the immediate vicinity (it would be gratuitous, I’m sure, to describe said moons as ‘hairy’, so I won’t). Molly corrected her sternly for that, you can be sure. Altho, I gotta say, some of the effect of ‘stern’ is lost when you’re trying to stifle a belly laugh, and snot is blowing out your nose. . .

But, as I say, we had a great time. We finished the week, and marked it up as a really cool family vacation. And within a couple months, Molly was pregnant with 2F, and the family dynamic never really meshed with the idea of doing PALM again.

Which is probably just as well, for modesty’s sake, knowwhatImean?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hair (Or the Lack Thereof)

For those of you who like to associate me with All Things Hairy. . .

Sometime around when I was 30 or so, I was passing a peaceful evening sitting in my easy chair, reading a book. Molly, being about her own business, happened to walk behind the chair I was sitting in. Suddenly she stopped, and gasped sharply.

“You’re going bald!” she exclaimed.

Well, I’d been noticing that the hair on the crown of my head had been feeling a tad ‘thinner’ in recent days, but I couldn’t see any such effects when I looked in the mirror. Molly very helpfully produced a second mirror so I could see that, indeed, there was a small circlet of bare skin peeking through on the crown of my head.

As I’ve gotten older, that ‘small circlet’ has grown a bit larger, until today it looks like this:

I like to say that this ‘tonsure’ is indicative of my ‘Latent Monastic Tendencies’. I’ve been known to invoke such tendencies in the pursuit of more solitude than is generally afforded by the presence of eight children in my family. But Molly only laughs derisively, and says, “I’ll give you eight kids’ worth of ‘Latent Monastic Tendencies’!” Something about how ‘eight kids’ and ‘monastic’ constitute some kind of oxymoron. . .

But I still can’t see it when I look in the mirror. . .

Friday, September 5, 2008

All My Grandchildren

I’ve posted before about 1F’s daughter, who she gave up for adoption (I called her AG – Adopted Girl, get it?). The adoption is an ‘open’ one, which means that the birth-mother and the adoptive family know who each other are, and at least the possibility of a relationship between the birth and adoptive families exists. This is a very different arrangement than my own adoption was, and it presents a few unique challenges.

1F essentially chose the adoptive family herself. If it were possible, she wanted her baby to be adopted by a family from one of the Christian communities related to the one our family belongs to (and in which 1F was raised). So, she asked our community’s leadership to ‘put the word out’, to find a family looking to adopt. They found a couple who had been married seven years, with no children up to that point; they lived in a town close enough to OurTown to be reasonably convenient, but far enough away that we weren’t going to be running into each other, both of which were desirable parameters. The couple was even a fairly close ‘ethnic’ match to 1F and the baby’s birth-father. We knew roughly who they were – both the husband and wife had spent some time in our community before they were married – but we didn’t really have a close relationship with either of them.

Anyway, in order for the adoption to go through, they had to pass an evaluation by the agency which was handling the adoption, which they did, with flying colors. They were in the hospital for AG’s birth, and the adoptive mother cut the umbilical cord. When she was two days old, AG went home with them, and has lived in their house ever since.

The adoptive parents (I’ve called them AM and AF – Adoptive Mother and Adoptive Father; other than Molly and myself, clever pseudonyms aren’t my strong suit) have been extremely gracious about extending a relationship to 1F, and also to Molly and me. Early on, 1F was going for almost monthly visits, although lately, they’ve been more like quarterly. Molly and I were invited for AG’s baptism, and they pointedly called us forward to stand with the family during the baptism. It was very heart-warming.

Interestingly, having not conceived a child for the first seven-plus years of their marriage, virtually as soon as AG came into their home, AM was pregnant, and their son was born before AG was ten months old. They had another boy before AG’s second birthday. Give ‘em a baby, it seems, and they don’t wanna shut off the faucet. . .

The first and most obvious challenge of an open adoption is the simple matter of names and identities. From the very beginning, 1F has been very clear that they – AM and AF – are AG’s parents, and she makes no ‘parental’ claim on her. Their family has taken to calling her ‘Auntie 1F’, like one of those close-friend-of-the-family ‘aunts’ that many of us have grown up with. I don’t know what plans they have for letting AG know that ‘Auntie 1F’ is her birth-mother. But that’s a decision that doesn’t need to be made for several years yet, anyway.

Molly and I have tried to be especially solicitous of the integrity of the adoptive family. We’ve had, I think, four visits with them (AG is two-and-a-half). Molly would just as soon have no contact with them, I think, out of a concern to stay utterly out of their parental way. But, adoptee that I am, and having met my own birth-family, I’m too keyed-in to my genetic connection with AG to just leave it alone, if her parents are willing to let me have some contact with her.

The only ‘restriction’ that AM/AF have placed on our family has to do with our other kids – they’ve asked that we not bring our kids to see AG. I understand their concern. Our kids have friends in their community, who they’ve met at Summer Camp and various other places, and they’d rather not advertise to the whole community who AG’s birth-family is (even though, by now, it’s something of an open secret). Moreso, they don’t want our kids coming by saying things that would be confusing to AG (“Hi, AG, I’m your Aunt 6F”; for one possible example).

But, all things considered, the ‘open’ adoption has worked really well. AG is growing up secure in her family, her parents are secure in their relationship to her, and 1F, Molly and I are gratified that we can know her, and see her grow up. A lot of that depends on us – the birth-family – being clear on what our relationship to her is, and what it isn’t, and being utterly respectful of the integrity of her family. If 1F thought of herself as AG’s ‘real mother’, it could cause serious problems, but that isn’t remotely the case, and it’s worked really well.


The last time Molly and I were down to visit with AG’s family, we were sitting and talking with AM and AF, when AF said, “We’ve got to come up with something for AG to call you guys, besides ‘Auntie 1F’s Mommy and Daddy’. That’s just too awkward, and we need to come up with something better.”

We agreed, and I was about to suggest something like ‘Uncle Desmond and Aunt Molly’, when AM said, “We’ve been thinking of calling you ‘Grandpa Desmond and Grandma Molly’; would that be OK with you?”

Was she kidding? I would LOVE to have her call us ‘Grandma and Grandpa’, but ohmigosh, are you sure?

She was, with one proviso – we couldn’t just be AG’s Grandma and Grandpa, we had to be ‘Grandma and Grandpa’ to the two younger boys, also.

We were stunned. We had come for a visit, being just a bit shy about our relationship with our ‘grand-daughter-who-isn’t-really-our-grand-daughter’, and by the time we left, we had three grandchildren. Such an amazingly gracious, generous offer to us. Honestly, they don’t have to have a relationship with us at all, but they’re happy to have us be ‘grandparents’ to all three of their kids.

I’m thinking, when 1F chose an adoptive family for her baby girl, she did even better than she knew. . .

Monday, September 1, 2008

On the Road Again

Labor Day weekend is pretty much the pinnacle of the bicycling season in Michigan. Every year, 1500 or so cyclists ride the DALMAC tour, 350+ miles from Lansing to Mackinaw City, over the course of 4 or 5 days.

I didn’t ride DALMAC this year; but, in honor of the Pinnacle of Michigan Bicycling, my riding buddy and I rode 77 miles on Saturday, the pinnacle of our own riding season. And this morning, 4M and I did another 35 miles, which put me over 1000 miles for the second year in a row. Woohoo!

To put that in context. . .

I bought my first touring bike after I got out of college, before Molly and I started dating. I started going for rides out on the country roads around OurTown, maybe 20 miles or so at a time. When Molly and I got married, I bought her a bike (a mixte frame, which she still has; it’s almost kind of a cool relic these days), and we would go on rides together.

By around 1982 or so, a few other guys in our community took up cycling, and we started riding together. I rode my first DALMAC in 1983, and every year from ’84-’86, I rode over 3000 miles per year (in ’85, I maxed out at 3664 – one of my riding buddies and I thought it would be really cool to say that we averaged 10 miles per day for the entire year)

2F was a year old when I rode my last DALMAC, and Molly, uh, let me know that training for DALMAC was starting to interfere with the demands that two toddlers were placing on our lives. So, I stopped riding DALMAC, and cut my miles back. Still, from ’87-‘93, I averaged over 2300 miles per year. Changes in my job meant that I rode even less after that, but still, in ’95, I rode over 1200 miles. ’96 was the year I switched jobs and started with my long commute. I didn’t even track my miles that year, but Molly and I, in honor of turning 40, ‘bootlegged’ the last day of the DALMAC tour that year. We weren’t quite in ‘DALMAC shape’, but we had a good time.

After that, I basically stopped riding for several years. My long commute and growing family just pushed cycling to the bottom of the priority list.

About 7 or 8 years ago, I started getting back on the bike. My old community riding buddies invited me on a ride with them. I rode about 5 miles, and thought I was gonna die. I had to stop, and lie on the ground, and wait for my heart to stop pounding out of my chest. It was really pretty humiliating – I used to ride 35 miles just as a routine matter, and here, I could barely do five miles without dying.

But, I knew the only way for me to get in better shape was to keep riding. If five miles was all I could do, I was at least gonna do five miles. And then eight, and then ten, and then twelve. For the next several years, I went out as often as I could on the weekends, riding miles considerably reduced from what I’d once done. There was a 17-mile ride that I used to do as my first, shake-out-the-legs ride of the season. Now, it was my goal for the summer – if I worked hard, I could do a 17-miler by the end of the summer. Or maybe (*gasp*) a 20-miler. I didn’t track my miles for those years, but I vaguely recall that something around 200-300 was a typical season for me.

And Molly, solicitous as she has always been for my health and well-being, would ride with me, when she could. Which provided another marker for how far I’d fallen. ‘Back in the day’, I’d ride with Molly when I didn’t care how good a workout I got – if I rode hard, she couldn’t remotely keep up with me. But now, she was dusting me. It became one of my goals to get strong enough to where she didn’t have to wait for me.

In 2006, I started my weight-loss program, and, as part of the program, I took a more aggressive approach to riding. Instead of starting the season with 10-12 mile rides, I started with a 15-miler, and built up to 20 miles pretty quickly. My ‘pinnacle’ goal for that year was to do the 35-mile ride that I used to do ‘back in the day’. It was actually kind of an exciting year – I was rediscovering miles and miles of really nice rides that I hadn’t done in years. I think I finished ’06 with something on the order of 600 miles.

Last year, I was even more aggressive. We built up to 30-milers pretty early in the season, did a 50-miler over Labor Day, and ended up with over 1200 miles for the year. And this year, I’m on pace for 1300-1400, depending on how the weather falls in November. . .

This is all like the next chapter of The Great Weight Loss. It’s like a whole chunk of my life that had been lost has been restored to me. I had almost forgotten the joy I got from being out on my bike. And, when I was over 300 pounds, even though I was getting on the bike in whatever ‘reduced’ capacity I could manage, I was pretty sure those days were gone forever.

So, as I said, when I started being able to ride miles that I hadn’t been able to do in years, it was like being re-introduced to an old friend. Corners of the countryside around OurTown that I hadn’t seen in years, were becoming familiar to me once again. . .

There is this huge sense of having gotten a reprieve, a ‘do-over’ on a massive scale. I am so grateful to be able to ride again. At age 52, I’m in as good a physical shape as I’ve been in many years.

And, it’s a complete, gratuitous bonus to be able to ride with my sons. At various times, if my regular riding buddy has been unavailable, I’ve been able to ride with 4M or 5M; both of them are high-school athletes, and I’m sure, if they really put the hammer down, I couldn’t stay with them. But, I can make them work harder than they used to have to. . .

So, next year, I’m thinking of doing DALMAC again. 23 years after I did my last one, and 13 years after I even rode any part of the route.

And Molly and I are saving our pennies to buy a tandem. . .