Tag Archives: getting real

For shame

I have buried two shameful secrets for most of my life. Today I’m coming clean.

Which is not easy for a recovering perfectionist.

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The first involved the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee. When I was in 6th grade I made it to the district level and breezed through the written portion of the contest. I got through a round or two of the spotlight spelling, but fell later on the easy-peasy word gauze. Shame filled me. How could I have failed so spectacularly? I was certain that everyone in the room was laughing at the stupid idiot girl who messed up on a one-syllable word.

My parents arrived shortly after my crash-and-burn (they must have had a scheduling conflict for they rarely missed any of our activities) and I was relieved that they had not witnessed my fall. I was more than relieved — I was opportunistic. I thumbed through the Scripps-Howard booklet of words and chose the most difficult one I could find.

I told my parents not that gauze was my downfall, but that psilophyton was. It made my shame more bearable to create the illusion that a more difficult word had knocked me out of the competition.

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The second took place a few years later when I turned 16 and set out to get my drivers license. Of course, I aced the written test. All that stood between me and new-found freedom was the actual driving portion of the test. My dad had spent hours teaching me in our family car, and I’d gotten an A in Drivers Ed (they used to offer it in our high school). So I wasn’t worried.

When the time came, though, I bombed the test. I failed to yield to oncoming traffic when turning left. I’m lucky I didn’t cause an accident.

My shame was of epic proportion. I could not tell my parents the truth. Instead, I told them that the instructor must have had it in for me. I just could not face them or myself. I practically convinced myself that my story was true.

Only it wasn’t.

Looking back, and being a parent now, my mom and dad probably knew the truth of both situations (I have never brought it up again, but I suppose this post will open up a conversation!). And of course they loved me anyway, in spite of the failures and the lies about the failures.

I didn’t really get off scot-free. Easing the burden in those moments had the counter-effect of weighing on my conscience all these years.

But instead of now feeling more shame for the young lady who failed, I offer to her compassion for living in fear and forgiveness for hiding her shame with lies.

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Why am I bringing these minor-in-the-scheme-of-things up now? Because I’m excavating.

By virtue of burying these episodes for decades, they gained much more power than they merited. Small potatoes, truly. But through the deepness and the darkness, two small kernels of shame became supercharged.

It’s time to neutralize by shining light.

Often, in the light, the things we are most embarrassed by or even ashamed of suddenly seem not so dark, so charged, so burdensome. If we are fortunate, we are able to look at the thing with compassionate eyes and forgive our previous selves for the transgression. We know that most of the time we do the best we can with what we have.

And I think this notion has implications way beyond any spelling bee or drivers test.

Find the perfection in imperfection

In the early 1990s, when I was a lonely yuppie, yearning to meet the man who would make my heart sing and to start a family with him, I read a book by Dan Millman called The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose. I knew that my life was off-track somehow, so career-oriented, and I didn’t know how to open myself up to finding someone worthy of me (and how to be fully worthy of  such a man). Finding someone NOT worthy of me was not a problem; but finding that soul mate, which was a prerequisite to everything else I longed for seemed permanently elusive.

Foo-foo though it may sound, this book uses numerology to reveal one’s life purpose. You take numbers from your birth date and, using Dan’s recipe, boil them all down to a single digit.  I discovered that my number was 4, which meant that my issue to work out for the persona I have in this lifetime was to find the perfection in imperfection.

That resonated for me, an eldest child, the daughter of a perfectionist, someone prone to seeing what’s wrong before she sees what’s right. While I’ve come a long way since that little diagnosis, I am still working on the issue of finding the perfection of imperfection.

As recently evidenced.

Imagine my delight-slash-horror at being invited to be in front of the camera for some boudoir photography. Writers for Mile High Mamas had been invited by the amazing Iman Woods for a portrait session. Iman is renowned for her vintage, pinup, boudoir, fantasy and even family photography and art. I knew from perusing her website that she had all these genres going on, but I fixated on the “boudoir” part. In my mind, I was going to be in my lacy skivvies not only for the camera, but also in front of my fellow Mamas.

Yikes! Preparation for the event felt a little like a walk to the gallows. Naked.

As I got ready that morning, all my body’s imperfections popped out at me. There were spider veins. There was a bruise from falling out of bakasana at yoga the other day. There were scars from minor surgeries, other skin flaws I get for the privilege of living several decades, hairs that don’t belong there, and flesh movement that reminded me of Bill Cosby commercials. The thought of being so exposed and vulnerable in front of my Mama friends made me feel faint. I seriously considered cancelling and making up a reason to not go, I was that distraught.

Our culture does not encourage us to see the perfection of imperfection; our culture counsels us to hide our imperfections. Botox this, plasticize that. Cover up this blemish; whiten those teeth, touch up these grays. Spray on a tan, pluck those eyebrows, plump those lips. Lose some weight (because of the way you look rather than the way you feel), hide those zits and/or wrinkles or at least have the decency to feel bad about them.

Finding perfection in all our natural glory is HARD.

I breathed through the urge to cancel and got myself out the door with the items I thought I might need: a selection of outfits, pearls, makeup, hair pins, shoes and undergarments that worked with each outfit. I arrived early at the studio, the magically-transformed basement level of Iman’s home.

I soon found out two things: (1) our focus would be on vintage, not boudoir style (whew!), and (2) Iman’s special talent, indeed her entire outlook, is to enable her subjects to see and FEEL their own perfection. She has declared her studio a No Dissing Zone, and she, the hairstylist Dawn, and the makeup artist Sarah focused on making us know our beauty from the inside out.

Photo by Jaime

It was a delightful afternoon with Iman and the Mamas. We unleashed our perfections and even flaunted our imperfections (still, I wasn’t ready to bare the spider veins).

Photo by Jaime: Gretchen, me, Lisa

I think, when you see Iman’s final product, you can see perfection through and through.

(And STILL I can pick apart things about my look. Shut up!)

Photo by Iman Woods Creative

Susan, Amber, Jaime, Lisa, Heather, Gretchen, and, with the high hair, me.

More pix and a slide show on MileHighMamas.com.

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Have you signed up yet for the book tour for Found: a Memoir by Jennifer Lauck?

There are just a handful of spaces left.

What Does “Real” Mean: Adoption Talk with My Daughter

We were thrilled to hear that my son’s birth mom had put us on her itinerary during her visit to Colorado.  Reed hadn’t had contact with her in nearly 4 years, and for the first time he would meet his half-siblings, ages 3 and 1.

Reed showed no signs of either distress or euphoria in the weeks leading up to Michele’s visit or during her dinner with us. Nor did he after she left. For him, and for her, Even Keel seems to be the name of the game.

The surprise was in a conversation with Reed’s sister, Tessa.

“You know, Mom,” she said as I peeled carrots for that night’s dinner, “Reed’s not my REAL brother. He’s just a step.”

real vs fake in adoption

My heart stopped and then broke into pieces. Since the first day of Adoption School nearly 10 years ago, I had been prepared to be discounted as a real mom, but it never occurred to me that my children might discount each other. I was saddened and knocked off balance, not knowing what to say.

So I resorted to my habits when I get adoption stress: Breathe. Be aware of my breathing. Silently ask for wisdom and guidance.

“What does it mean, Tessa, to be a real brother or sister?” I asked, mindful of the peeler and the tender web of skin between my forefinger and thumb.

“It means you have the same parents. Reed and I don’t have the same parents, so we’re just steps.”

“You mean because your birth parents are Joe and Crystal, and Reed’s are Michele and AJ?”

“Yeah. We come from different parents. So we’re just steps,” she repeated the phrase that she was stuck on, that we were now both stuck on.

Tessa had been trying to figure out “steps” since reuniting with Joe two years ago. Joe and his wife have a daughter (Tessa’s younger half-sister) and the wife has a son from a previous marriage, Joe’s stepson. Who was, in explicit terms, her birth-step-brother (or step-birth-brother?).

Likewise, Crystal has a son (Tessa’s older half-brother) and Crystal’s boyfriend also has a son, who is not technically Crystal’s stepson but is considered a full-fledged son. This boy was, explicitly, Tessa’s practically-birth-step-brother.

Got all that? It’s a lot for anyone, especially for the 9 year-old in the center of it. If only “step” were as straightforward as the stool Tessa was perched on.

“Well, Sweetie,” I began, moving on to chopping celery, “Could it be that you and Reed actually have TWO sets of REAL parents?” I emphasize the words that encompass and validate.

“No, Mommm,” she said, exasperated with me, feeling prickly. “Real means the people who are really your parents, the ones who made you.”

So I pulled out my stock answer, which I thought would be used only on curious strangers who weren’t acquainted with so-called Positive Adoption Language. And I spontaneously added some levity.

“Well, you know what THAT means, don’t you?” I said with a twinkle in my eye as I dried my hands on a dish cloth.

“What?” Tessa said uneasily, until she realized that I was about to get her.

“That means…” I picked her up (I can still do that, though not for much longer) and carried her into the adjacent family room where we have room to play.  “That means that Fake Mom changed 5000 of your diapers!” I tickled her sides.

“And Fake Mom sang you all those lullabies!” I tickled her underpits (as Reed calls them).  I got nose to nose with her, giggled hysterically with her, locked eyes with her.

She joined the game. “Fake mom makes me do my homework! Fake Mom tickles me! Fake Mom takes me for pedicures!”

Soon we were out of breath from laughing so hard.

I propped myself up on my elbow and brought the level down a bit. “Sweetie, both Crystal and I are real. Both Joe and Daddy are real. And Reed is real, too. Who fights with you over popsicle flavors? Not Fake Brother. Who annoys you when you have a friend over? Who plays School with you and always lets you be the teacher? No Fake People live in this house.”

“I know what you mean, Mama.” I know when she uses this term when she has softened.

Michele, who had been playing with Reed and her children in the backyard, entered the kitchen to retrieve a diaper bag. Tessa and I pulled ourselves up from the family room floor and joined her in the kitchen. The conversation was over. This time.

I realize that there was no final resolution, no definitive happy ending to this very complex issue. This was merely a pause in what will be a very long story arc. But there was progress in our process. Tessa and I worked through something, we connected, we allowed each other the space to explore and talk.

We stayed real.

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This post is part of the Open Adoption Roundtable #26. Check out what other open adoption bloggers have to say on the topic of siblings.