I thought my life would seem more interesting with a musical score and a laugh track. – Bill Watterson, Creator of Calvin & Hobbes
Sometimes I have to share with you just how ridiculous I am. There are so many occasions in my life when I have to stop in my tracks and laugh at myself. I get into some crazy situations, mostly because I say what I am thinking and don’t take the time to employ a filter.
On a recent visit to Dylan’s classroom, I had the opportunity to meet the brand new chicks that had hatched from eggs the night before.
The 1st and 2nd graders were obviously excited and the chicks were providing the entire focus for the classroom that morning. The teacher, Miss Jean, mentioned that the students’ primary job for the day was going to be coming up with names for the new chicks.
So, here’s when I said it:
“You should name one Rachel.”
You know how I am about my name, right? Reprise this post. I grew up in a town and went to a school where there were no other Rachels. And to this day, I can’t seem to get used to sharing my name with other Rachels and Rachaels. I know, I know–it’s my issue.
Anyway, I really don’t know why I suggested they name a chick after me. There was no specific motive. Perhaps I was just trying to see what kind of a reaction I would get? Or maybe–like Bill Watterson–I’m trying to create my own sound and laugh tracks as I skip through life. Or maybe I just speak more than necessary.
In any case, the children thought my suggestion was a completely ridiculous one and I left for the day. And I thought that was going to be the end of it.
However, when Dylan got home from school he announced that there had been some kind of last minute swing vote and that one of the chicks had been named Rachel after all.
So the chicks’ chosen names were Cinnamon, Chocolate, Fuzzball, some other names of a similarly light and fluffy nature…and Rachel. Do any of you remember “One of these things is not like the other” from Sesame Street?
So the next time I went to visit the classroom the kids were all abuzz about my new namesake. Though one boy named Nick pointed out with some schadenfreude that he did NOT vote for my name. He might as well have said, “Take that, crazy lady who thinks she should have a chick named after her!”
So then I made a joke that since the chick’s name was Rachel she was probably a great speller–I do the spelling tests for the class every other Friday–and that she must have a fabulous sense of style.
And so I added more intrigue to the storyline. I fanned the flames. Rachel the Chick was now observed with even more interest.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the chicks have flown the coop (aka the classroom) and are now living on a farm. So I thought the whole episode was behind us.
But then I got this email from my friend Joan–who also happens to have a daughter in Dylan’s classroom. Joan, by the way, knows about my issue with sharing my name and since she knows only one Rachel (me) she says that I can be her one and only Rachel. This is a wonderful thing for me. And I trust that she will not tell me if she finds another Rachel. ( :
And here is what she shared:
Hey My Rachel
I thought you might enjoy an entry from Ruby Lou’s April Journal
“The biggest change in our chicks is most of the chicks chirp more especially Rachel at table 2 when she is by herself she is super loud.”
So not only did you have the honor of having a chick named after you. It would appear she is also extra chirpy and loud!
Have a good week.
And my reply to this report that Rachel the Chick was extra chirpy and loud?
Of course she is!
But I also think that she is an especially good speller and certainly very stylish too.
You just have to set yourself free, and that’s what talking about it does. – Ruth*
On the day of my 94-year old Grandma Sylvia’s wake, I watched my mother pick up her accordion to play Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. I was transported back to the age of 9, listening to mom warming up for a church service. Because it was one of Grandma’s favorites, mom had chosen this hymn as one of the few we would share at her celebration service.
I think I understand at least part of the reason why that song had touched my Grandma so deeply: It was the hope that looking into Jesus’ face might finally make this world’s sorrows fall away. Over the 43 years that I knew her, I don’t remember Grandma–Grandma Brown as we affectionately called her–ever being truly carefree for more than an hour here or there.
Grandma Brown had a wonderful sense of humor. She was impish and loved to play pranks and chat with her children and grandchildren. She was fiercely loyal to her “kin folk.” She was also an exceptional student. She had been valedictorian of her high school class and then graduated with top grades from nursing school during middle age. She was a very capable and caring nurse for the few years she practiced. She was incredibly proud of this particular accomplishment. Even after her memory had diminished greatly, Grandma could still brightly recall the names and dosages of medications and knew just how to take someone’s blood pressure.
But most of the years I knew her well, Grandma was caught up in a cycle of nearly constant worrying. She fretted and questioned and doubted and lamented and regretted nearly all of the time. She wanted to be positive. She really did. She wanted to exhibit the strong, unwavering faith of her Southern Baptist upbringing. She spoke of grace and God’s love, but she couldn’t seem to hold onto joy or hope for very long. It slipped through her fingers, even more so as she tried to hold on more tightly.
I always assumed that much of this anxiety could be attributed to my grandfather’s death from a heart attack at the age of just 59. But as I got older, I was told that long before my grandfather’s passing, Grandma had been hospitalized for a time due to a “nervous breakdown.”
In addition to this great loss, she had suffered others. She reminisced tearfully about the tragic deaths of her three brothers: Harlan to alcoholism, Bill to a heart attack at a young age, and Earl to a house fire that may have been deliberately set. It’s not surprising that she expressed so much fear about losing those closest to her.
But a few years ago, I found out that there had been even more loss. Grandma Brown had kept a secret that was so far in the dark that most of us didn’t find out about it until she was nearly 90 years old. She had experienced something so deeply painful and traumatic that the other losses over the years merely compounded that first one, making it fresh and new each time she lost someone or something of importance to her.
And what was this secret?
In 1937–at the age of 20, the eldest daughter of an Arkansas farming family—my Grandma found herself pregnant and unmarried. She had been dating my grandfather, her high school sweetheart, for some time but they had not yet wed.
We are not sure exactly what happened because Grandma only revealed certain aspects of her story to my mother, but this is what I picture:
A stressful and tearful scene in which Sylvia is told that she must go to a stranger’s home in Kansas City to live until the baby is born, after which time she would have to give her baby to another couple for adoption.
My grandfather’s mother didn’t support their continued relationship, blaming my grandma for the transgression. (It certainly seems that they were no longer a couple throughout the pregnancy, and blaming the pregnant woman was a common practice at the time.)
She had only one visit from family members or friends while in Kansas City – her younger sister. My grandmother lived in a doctor’s home. It had three levels: the expectant mothers lived in the basement, the doctor and his family on the main floor, and the delivery room on the upper level.
Grandma didn’t use her real name while living there (this too was a common practice.) She used her own mother’s name.
In January 1938, she gave birth to a daughter. The next day her sister arrived by bus and they left the doctor’s home. The day following, Grandma Brown decided that she had made a mistake leaving her baby–not that she was really given a choice—and she returned to the doctor’s home to reclaim her. She was told that it was too late. The baby had already been given away.
It had to be an incredibly painful and profoundly lonely time for my grandmother. She was told to forget her daughter, to pretend that all of this had never happened.
Two years later, she married my grandfather, and they had two more children. Yet, there was another child–a full biological sister to my mother and uncle– somewhere, unknown and not spoken of, but surely constantly in Grandma’s thoughts.
This is conjecture on my part, but I imagine the following painful emotions, surfacing and resurfacing over the years:
Deep grief at having lost her firstborn;
Regret and guilt at “giving up” her child;
Anger at being forced to make a choice she didn’t want to make;
Resentment at her parents for sending her away and at her in-law relatives for blaming her (my mom and I later discovered that Grandma’s mother was already pregnant when she married her husband, Grandma’s dad, which might have made them less understanding or more so, depending on how they felt about their own experience);
Anger at her husband, who was not with her during this most pivotal of life experiences;
Feelings of worthlessness for having made such an unforgivable mistake;
Anger at God for the injustice of it all.
Is it any wonder that she struggled so?
She never expressed an interest in finding her daughter, at least not out loud. Just a few months before Grandma Brown passed away, my mother located her sister’s family—still living in the Kansas City area and, it turns out, very close to where Grandma had lived for many years. Although my aunt had died the year prior, her family welcomed my mother with open arms. It would have been nice for Grandma to know that her daughter had had a happy life, long and loving marriage, 5 children, and many grandchildren. But since Grandma’s Alzheimers was quite advanced by that point we’re not sure that she ever really understood what was discovered about her adopted daughter.
At Grandma’s wake we shared our gratitude that we had been able to find out about this deeply painful period of her life. It helped us to celebrate her more fully, understanding better why she wanted so badly to believe that “amazing grace” was available for her while never quite grasping the full extent of God’s love.
Shortly after my mother revealed this secret to me, a book titled The Girls Who Went Away practically jumped off the shelf into my cart at a second-hand shop.
I devoured this incredible book and through it discovered that my Grandma’s experience was shared by millions of American women during the years between 1943 and 1973.
The title is apt. Not only did Grandma get sent away to have her child, the girl that she was before she left also disappeared, never to return. How could that girl ever come back? She could certainly never be the same person after that experience. And the healing and restoration that she so longed to experience were always just out of her reach because of the secret she couldn’t reveal, the emotions she couldn’t express, and because of the many things she couldn’t say out loud.
I mourn for the lighthearted girl that Grandma Brown once was. The girl she might have remained if she hadn’t lived during a time when her mistakes were considered confirmation that she was fundamentally unworthy to mother her own child. The girl who didn’t know that there were compassion, forgiveness and redemption for her. Living with her secret and its unresolved emotions was an unjust, cruel burden for my Grandmother to carry throughout her life.
This secret is a part of my heritage, but it is not my legacy. Though as I child I was frequently compared to my grandmother for our shared tendency to be anxious and sad, my life has emerged in a vastly different way. I am immensely grateful that though I have been given the gifts of Grandma’s sensitivity, empathy and sense of humor, I am not bound by the same societal conventions. And, I have been able to break free of the lies and secrets that at one time kept me locked in shame and fear.
Today, I carry a lantern and offer it to women who want to shine a light on the secrets they think they have to protect.
The truth I have discovered and share? The very secrets we believe we must guard to ensure our emotional safety are actually keeping us locked up in a very dark place. The inverse is true: When we don’t have to hide, we can be free.
Grandma, this lantern is for you.
Now that she’s in heaven, I’m imagining a reunion and a celebration: The woman Grandma Brown was here on earth has become whole again, reconnected with the carefree girl she once was. And she and her husband have finally met their daughter, that girl who also went away but who has now been restored to them. Beautiful, beautiful redemption.
p.s. Many heartfelt thanks to my mother for graciously sharing her mother’s story with me, and for giving me her blessing to share it with all of you.
The Girls Who Went Away, Ann Fessler *
There is no accurate count of the number of surrendering mothers in the United States today, but the number of children placed in non-family adoptions is believed to be 5 million to 6 million.
In June of 2002, I began tape-recording the oral histories of women who surrendered a newborn for adoption between the end of World War II, in 1945, and…1973.
Fearing that sex education would promote or encourage sexual relations parents and schools thought it best to leave young people uninformed. During this time, effective birth control was difficult to obtain. In fact, in some states it was illegal to sell contraceptives to those who were unmarried. The efforts to restrict information and access to birth control did not prevent teens from having sex, however. The result was an explosion in premarital pregnancy and in the numbers of babies surrendered for adoption.
Though sexual norms were changing among the young, the shame associated with single pregnancy remained. The social stigma of being an “unwed mother” was so great that many families—especially middle-class families—felt it was simply unthinkable to have a daughter keep an “illegitimate” child. These women either married quickly or were sent away before their pregnancy could be detected by others in the community. Between 1945 and 1973, one and a half million babies were relinquished for non-family or unrelated adoptions.
Just about everyone who lived through this era has a memory of a girl from their high school, college, or neighborhood who disappeared. If she returned, she most likely did not come back with her baby but with a story of a sick aunt or an illness that had kept her out of school. According to the prevailing double standard, the young man who was equally responsible for the pregnancy was not condemned for his actions. It was her fault, not their fault, that she got pregnant.
The girls who went away were told by family members, social-service agencies, and clergy that relinquishing their child for adoption was the only acceptable option. It would preserve their reputation and save both mother and child from a lifetime of shame. Often it was clear to everyone, except the expectant mother, that adoption was the answer. Many of these girls, even those in their twenties, had no other option than to go along with their families or risk being permanently ostracized. For them there was generally little or no discussion before their parents sent them away. Those who went to maternity homes to wait out their pregnancies often received little counseling and were totally unprepared for either childbirth or relinquishment. They were simply told they must surrender their child, keep their secret, move on, and forget. Though moving on and forgetting proved impossible, many women were shamed into keeping their secret.
“As soon as the time was near and we were going to do this interview, all these physical things started happening. My jaw doesn’t want to open and my lungs are all tight. I thought, “I wonder why I can’t open my mouth.” Then I realized, I’m supposed to be silent. I’m not supposed to tell this story. The secrecy has dominated everything. It’s so powerful and pervasive and the longer you keep a secret, the more power it takes on.” – Diane
I never felt like I gave my baby away. I always felt like my daughter was taken from me. – Pollie
These women describe the surrender of their child as the most significant and defining event of their lives. Given the enormous number of women involved and the impact the surrender had on their lives, not to mention the lives of their parents, their subsequent partners and children, the fathers of their babies, and the surrendered children, it is remarkable that so little is known about these mothers’ experiences even now, decades later.
There are women out there who lost their firstborn child and never got to grieve. I can’t even put it into words. It’s a weird thing, this whole adoption thing where people think that someone could just hand their child over and it will be okay. Obviously it’s not. We live this every day. Every day. – Suzanne
The public’s lack of understanding of these women’s experiences—and the notion that they did not suffer a loss—is a result of the women’s lack of voice, not their lack of feelings…These women were made to carry the full emotional weight of circumstances that were the inevitable consequence of a society that denied teenage sexuality, failed to hold young men equally responsible, withheld sex education and birth control from unmarried women, allowed few options if pregnancy occurred, and considered unmarried women unfit to be mothers. Asking the women to keep their secret and deny their child…their experience and their motherhood have been silenced and denied for too long.”
“I feel lucky. I feel lucky because I know my daughter is out there and she’s fine, and healthy, and productive, and beautiful. I feel lucky that she says she loves me. I feel lucky that my children love me and understand what happened. I feel lucky that I survived cancer. And I feel lucky that I now have a voice. I didn’t for so long, but you’re not going to shut me up now. Keeping things inside kills you. You rot from the inside out. I did a great job of punishing myself for thirty-two years. But you just have to set yourself free, and that’s what talking about it does.” – Ruth
beloved, change, childhood, children, courage, faith, first job, first paycheck, growing up, high school, independence, intimacy, Jennifer Richardson, journey, letting go, love, parenting, parents, progress, Ripplespeak, steps, teenager, tending to the turn, trust, wonder years
The boys finally return from their four dreamy summer weeks on Georgian Bay (Canada) on Friday.
Jeremy and I left them behind a couple of weeks ago, returning home on our own. The time has flown by as busy-ness with work, friends, and various projects–the ones that seem to never get done–have filled our days.
Our major focus though, has been redesigning, painting and organizing the room of a boy who has gone from a child to a teen.
Jesse starts high school in just 6 days. He had his first official job this summer and he earned his first paycheck. He went scuba diving for the first time just this very week. These are some wonder years, truly.
Despite our natural propensity to want to keep him close, we’re making the changes to his room as a symbol of this new stage of his life. We’re acknowledging–with a mixture of wistfulness and excitement–that he’ll be taking more and more independent steps from here on out.
How do we let our eldest child–he who is so beloved–step out onto this new road? How do we let him walk through the big, unfamiliar doors of a school where he will surely be one of the youngest students? How do we simply watch him join the throngs of strangers, trusting that he will capably make his way through uncharted territory?
There is no how.
We simply do.
We know that we cannot let our anxieties obstruct his eager progress.
This is the natural way of life’s unfolding. This is what God intended for us to experience in the often difficult dance between intimacy and independence.
So I deliberately don’t focus on all of the things that my boys will encounter on a daily basis that I simply cannot control.
I try to trust and hope and let them be them.
After all, they are pretty fantastic.
And yet this is a novice’s attempt at faith and parenting and letting go when compared to the one soon to be faced by my new blogging friend–who just happens to live in Charlotte–Jennifer Richardson.
She writes here, on her blog Ripplespeak, about what would be one of the hardest letting gos a mother could ever face. She calls it “Tending into the Turn:”
~~~~Please wrap this warrior poet in arms bigger than mine
and hold him close to the tender light
and love him whole even in breaking
….. cover him with your bright wings
and bring him home safe to us again~~~~~
Prayers for you, Jennifer. Prayers and peace across the miles, new friend.
May I have such courage each and every time I too am tending into the turn.
I have few distinct memories from my very early childhood but I do remember one in particular: My mother looking at me with tears running down her cheeks, with Judy Collins on the record player in the background, singing Turn Around.
Did I imagine this?
I don’t think so. Regardless, I know that my mom loved listening to Judy Collins and I am sure that the lyrics went straight to her heart.
As they do mine. The song’s an absolute heartbreaker.
TURN AROUND (Malvina Reynolds, Harry Belafonte, & Allen Greene) --------------------------------------------------------------- Where are you going, my little one, little one Where are you going, my baby, my own? Turn around and you're two, turn around and you're four Turn around and you're a young girl going out of my door Turn around, turn around Turn around and you're a young girl going out of my door Where are you going, my little one, little one Little dirndls and petticoats, where have you gone? Turn around and you're tiny, turn around and you're grown Turn around and you're a young wife with babes of your own Turn around, turn around Turn around and you're a young wife with babes of your own Turn around, turn around Turn around and you're the young girl going out of the door Where are you going, my little one, little one Where are you going, my ba-by, my own?
Where does the time go?
One of the most melancholy aspects of life is the fact that we cannot slow down time. We can’t even put it on pause for a moment. Try as we might, there is no way to hold on to anything, no matter how beautiful it is. Nothing is constant except change.
And so, obviously, we cannot stop our children from growing up.
This week marked the end of the school year and with it we recognized the passing of all sorts of milestones.
Dylan finished up 1st grade at Armatage Montessori School with the fabulous Miss Jean. He’s reading chapter books like an addict. With both front teeth missing and getting lankier by the day, he has definitely entered a new stage of childhood. Thank goodness he still loves morning cuddles in our bed!
Here was his breakfast request for the last day of school:
Jesse graduated from 8th grade, which means that high school is just thirteen short weeks away. How could this be so? I’m grateful that he still wants to hold hands with his mother. Despite the occasional attitude, this kid is a total charmer.
These milestones are accompanied by a painful reality; we realize afresh that time is passing. Swiftly.
And four years from now?
Jesse will graduate from high school. He will be getting ready to head off to college. And our time with him will be limited to holidays and school breaks and summer vacation in Tobermory.
Having our children seven years apart has given us the opportunity to stretch out the milestones a little.
Still, in four years Dylan will be starting middle school.
Where does the time go?
My boys, if only I could keep you just as you are right now for a while longer.
But I know that I will turn around and you’ll be different.
(Still wonderful, but different.)
Just moments from now.
The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children.
– Elain Heffner
The above drawing was created by my father and depicts my mother and me, when I was approx. 5 years old. I’m grateful to have this original piece framed and hanging in my bedroom.
I wrote the following piece in honor of my mom’s 60th Birthday. I’m posting it here, several years later, to say Happy Mother’s Day.
Mom, you may be far away traveling right now, but you are never far from my heart.
Mom, here are some invaluable things you’ve taught me about living:
- If you’re cold, you should put your hands between your knees.
- Always put on lipstick before you go into the shopping mall. You never know who you might run into.
- You will feel better if you take a walk every day. Even if the wind is blowing and it gets on your nerves.
- Knee socks look good with jean skirts if you have thin legs.
- If you’re crabby, you might need to eat something. Preferably, something with protein in it.
- It’s important to balance your checkbook every month and to know what you are spending your money on.
- Typos are not ok. Stores named “Kleen Sweep” need to go buy some paint and get busy.
- Having dirty or flat hair is a crushing blow to any day, even if you are camping.
- Always use moisturizer on your hands so that you can offer a soft, cool touch to a feverish forehead.
- Being hospitable and creating a warm atmosphere in a home is an underappreciated talent. But it means the world to people.
- Being able to communicate in writing opens doors, especially if you can do it well.
- A good meal paves the way to closer relationships.
- It’s good to have a barrette and socks that match your sweater.
- If you are going to go on TV, it is important to have a special smile prepared for that purpose.
- If you are going out for the day, always pack a well-balanced lunch. If possible, include a few chips, a tuna sandwich and a chocolate chip square in it.
- You will feel better if you have a nap every day. Even 20 minutes of quiet time can give the restoration you need to get through the rest of the day.
- Sometimes it’s just plain better to have a dishwasher than to have an ocean view.
- Say “I love you” many times a day.
- If you love someone, it’s ok to call them silly names like “baby boo,” “lover,” or “monkey face pretty boy sweetness.”
- Constancy and reliability mean a lot to children.
- My mom may appear unassuming, but she is not to be pushed too far. (Just ask one of her kids!)
- Fulfill your responsibilities. Keep your promises.
- Always do your best work.
- Think before you speak. Kindness can soothe a world of wounds.
- It’s a good idea to push the envelope a little bit and be spontaneous sometimes. (Go ahead, have that extra bowl of popcorn! Stay up an hour late!)
- Going along with one of your husband’s crazy schemes when he least expects it keeps the romance in your marriage. Putting him in the doghouse temporarily and then flirting with him does the same thing.
- Get tough when you need to stand up for what is right, or defend someone who is helpless. At those times, be immovable.
- Giggling when someone falls down or bangs into something isn’t a sign of a lack of compassion.
- It really is ok to ask for help.
- What you give in life comes back to you ten-fold.
- It’s perfectly acceptable to pray with somebody over the phone.
- The Bible read aloud over inspirational music is one of the most comforting things in the world.
- No matter how low I might feel, I know that things will improve soon, because my mother is somewhere praying for me. God really pays attention when my mother prays.
- Psychology and faith are not mutually exclusive.
- Contributions which are “behind the scenes” are just as important in God’s eyes as those which are high-profile.
- A successful home makes room for family meals, prayer, humor and sharing stories.
- Fostering your faith and caring for those you love are the two most important things in life.
I recall a gentle voice and hand in a hospital room, a lovely smell as I walked in the door at home, a pile of fresh laundry folded neatly on my bed, hand-written letters and care packages, proud and affirming looks for my accomplishments, and conversations which make the hours fly by.
I love you.