This is a tribute to my Aunt Meg who is in the last hours of her life. It’s a eulogy of sorts. I know she’s not gone yet, but I wanted to write this now because once she has left this earth, I fear I will be too overcome with grief to give her the tribute she deserves.
Aunt Meg actually. Meg is my aunt, though I never really called her “Aunt Meg.” It’s not because she was born with Down Syndrome and so therefore less worthy of the title “Aunt.” It’s because she was only five years older than me and our relationship was more like that of an older sister-younger sister, or friend. I can’t really remember exactly when I realized that Meg was different from others, different from me. I was probably in first or second grade. Before that, she was just Meg. Meg, who played with me when I visited my grandparents home. Meg who pulled my first tooth out because somehow we thought it would be a good idea for my 5 yr old self to place a jump rope in my mouth and play tug-of-war with her. I remember going to the Ringling Bros circus with my grandparents, Meg, and my cousin, Barrie Michelle. We all fell asleep in the back seat of the car on the way home.
When Meg entered what we now call the “tween” years, she did seem a bit more withdrawn from us. She would spend hours in her room alone, venturing out for big glasses of Coke, or to show us her latest “homework.” Homework was what Meg called her writing. It could rarely be recognized as any coherent writing, mostly a jumble of letters and occasional words, but she would tell us about them. A lot of them involved stories about Tom Seaver, he favorite pitcher for the NY Mets, and her crush. Meg had a huge box of crayons, hundreds of crayons, and she would share them and her coloring books with me and my two sisters. Sometimes when we would arrive at Grandpa and Grandma’s, she and Grandpa would be out. Grandma didn’t like to grocery shop, so that was something she and Grandpa would do together. They had their routine. They would go to ShopRite for some things, to A&P for others, and occasionally to the Grand Union for other things. Saturday and Sunday mornings, Grandpa would go out to both bakeries in town to get “bakery.” He had certain things he liked to get at The Viking Bakery and other things that he would only get at Three Crowns bakery. I remember Meg being his companion on those trips a lot of times too.
Meg was obsessed with Tom Seaver of the NY Mets. Later, she was “in love” with Eric Estrada. She loved Snoopy. She loved the American flag and would salute it whenever she saw one even if that flag was on the shirt she was wearing. Eating a meal with her whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, would require having plenty of ketchup on hand. She loved ketchup on most anything. She also drank a lot of Coca-Cola. I think she influenced my preference for Coke products over Pepsi products, so imagine my horror when Meg changed her loyalty to Pepsi. Unthinkable!
I can’t quite capture her voice in writing because it was unique, probably mostly unintelligible to all those except those who were family, but she had this way of talking to the people she really loved. She was a very big teaser. To grandpa she would often affect this exasperated tone, today she would have probably learned to roll her eyes at him and say “oh Dad,” like he was the biggest silly in the whole world. She would affect the same for Grandma. To her sister, Marianne, she took up calling her “Fats” some time in Marianne’s 30’s. Marianne wasn’t fat but like a lot of women she had her struggles with the scale. Sometimes that number on the scale was lower than other times, but Meg would mercilessly tease her calling her “Fats.”
Most of the time she didn’t tease her nieces and nephews, but definitely in her adulthood she developed some sass and that she would turn loose on us. Although I don’t remember that sass in my younger years, I think it developed sometime after she went to live in “New House.” When Meg became an adult, she went to live in a group home with other women with Down Syndrome. That home became “New House.” She visited my grandparents’ home frequently and that was home. Maybe it was being around those other women but Meg certainly picked up a sassy attitude. Not sassy in a talk-back kind of way, but sassy in the mischievous, got the world by it’s tail kind of way. One specific incident I remember so vividly involved Meg, a dress, my husband and her sass. She was in Tulsa for the 4th of July holiday. Aunt Marianne was here too and they were visiting at Aunt Lisa’s house. Aunt Marianne had taken Meg shopping and Meg insisted on getting a dress that was way too small, and way too short. She proudly modeled it for us, her curvy body stuffed into the dress quite like a sausage casing. But she put that dress on, worked the room, then proceeded to try to perform a lap dance on my husband. The whole time she had the sassiest, most mischievous grin on her face, and she was laughing. I looked at her in mock consternation and said, “You can’t have him. He’s mine.” She laughed, walked away, and flipped her hair over her shoulder. My poor husband was so embarrassed but the rest of us were filled with laughter. And, I felt like I had finally entered the club of those she will tease. She was pretending to try to steal my husband.
The most important thing I want to convey about Meg is how she loved. She loved unconditionally. She didn’t really know how to love any other way. That is the gift of Down Syndrome. Love is just love for love’s sake. As with most people I imagine, there were a lot of times when I didn’t feel special, I didn’t feel good enough, I felt that I had to earn love or I might lose it, but with Meg, it was never that way. After I became an adult, moved away from NJ and so only saw her once or twice a year, I would look forward to seeing Meg with great anticipation. Meg had this way about her. I bet if you polled every family member, you would hear them say they thought that they were Meg’s favorite. I know I did. I felt like I was “the favorite” niece because when I would attend family events after an absence of six months or a year, I would walk in the room, Meg’s eyes would find me, then she would light up with a big smile, run-walk over to me to say “Kimmie!” while giving me the biggest and best hug ever. Then, she would talk to me about her outfit she was wearing, the latest homework she was doing, or the fabulous vacation she had just taken with the women at “New House.” I felt so loved and so very special in those reunions. Those moments are what I most cherish about my aunt, and they are what I will miss the most.
Lastly, to Meg, I just want to say this: I know you are up there in Heaven with Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Marianne, and my My Love, and you are having a blast I am sure. But just remember, he’s is still mine.
I wrote this story while we were waiting for our oldest son’s Travel Approval to arrive from China. Today he turns 13, a teenager. How did this happen. When we first “met” him, he was a handsome little two-year old with a precocious grin. Every once in a while, I see that grin and though the face has filled out, and his chin isn’t quite so defined, I still see that boy in my man-child. His name has been changed to keep it anonymous.
Waiting for Our Boy
We first met our oldest through Holt International’s child sponsorship program. We had signed up as sponsors in 2002 because our niece was adopted from China through Holt. We requested to sponsor a girl from China, any age. We were matched with three girls in very quick succession. When the third girl, Hua, was adopted in July 2003, we were sent a picture of a lively little boy, Jin Zhenfei. Zhenfei was 2 years old at the time. We thought, because of some of the wording in the letter, that he had a family but was not living with them at the time and was in foster care. He was so cute, he captured our hearts immediately. We had started to think about adoption as a way to start our family and naturally had been thinking about China. We said to ourselves, “Too bad we can’t adopt Zhenfei. He’s our boy.”
Each quarter we received an update on Zhenfei with a picture. His updates indicated he was healthy and happy. His foster-mother reported that he sometimes had a temper. Looking at his picture I could see this would be true. Our boy had a determined look about him. Every time we got our sponsorship update I would open it up, dreading that our boy was no longer “ours,” and relieved to find the latest information about him. The update in March 2004 indicated he had started school and cried the first day when his foster-mother dropped him off. In July 2004, at three, he had learned to like school and got along great with other kids. He likes to play football (soccer we assume) with his foster-father and the neighborhood children. He sings and dances when he is happy. He likes to draw and color. Once again we remarked, “Wish we could adopt Zhenfei.”
Later that month, we did start our own adoption journey. We applied to a local agency for their China program. We knew that most likely we would be adopting a girl of just under or slightly older than a year. We were thrilled! In September, my mother came to visit us for my birthday. One day she looked at Zhenfei’s picture on our refrigerator and said, “Why can’t you just adopt him?” I explained to my mother that we would love to but he was not available for adoption.
Fast forward to November 13, 2004. Our home study is complete and we are awaiting approval, the nursery is painted a lovely light green, we have a crib, our dossier documents are coming together, and we are greatly anticipating a daughter. That afternoon I received the latest issue of HI Families magazine – Holt’s monthly magazine highlighting adoption. I flipped open the magazine and it opened to the Waiting Child page. In the bottom right-hand corner was a picture of a little boy with [an American name] typed across the top. My heart almost stopped. It was our boy – Zhenfei. I looked at the description for the birth date, just to make sure it matched. Yes, it was the same. I ran into the kitchen and pulled the picture off the fridge to double-check once more. Yes, it was definitely our boy. My husband was there and I said, “Look! Its our boy. He’s available for adoption!” My husband took one look and said, “We need to call them about adopting him.” No hesitation, no doubts. We called that evening but were disappointed to find out that the person we needed to speak with was out of the office that day. She would call us the next week.
Now, any of you who have ever completed an international adoption can understand the frustration of waiting. For those of you who have not adopted internationally, the phrase “hurry up and wait” is incredibly appropriate. You hurry to get your part completed but then whoever is handling the next part has a stack of files for people just like you who want their “stuff” done. So was it really surprising to me when it was nearly a week and a half, a couple of rounds of telephone tag before we were able to speak to the Director of the Waiting Child program about adopting Zhenfei? Nope. She has lots of people she’s dealing with each day and their needs are every bit as important as mine. But I still hated the waiting.
Our talk with Holt’s Director of the Waiting Child program left mixed feelings. On the one hand, we heard more about his situation and his particular “special need.” On the other hand, she mentioned there are other families interested in him and the fact that we would be first time parents was a concern when adopting an older child. My emotions ran the gamut from desperation that we HAD to be his family, to nervousness about adopting him at almost 4-years old, to relief that if we were not chosen to adopt him that he would at least have a forever family. After a couple of weeks consideration and reviewing his medical records, we have decided he is, after all, our boy if Holt’s Waiting Child Committee chooses us to parent Zhenfei. We are first time parents and so the agency is hesitant about placing an older child with medical needs with us. There is also another family petitioning to adopt him.
In the meantime, we wait. Wait for the Waiting Child Committee to meet and decide who will be Zhenfei’s family. We have amused ourselves by discussing what we might name him. We had a list of about 15 names we liked, with meanings we thought were nice. In the end, we decided Holt had it right. The name they gave him in the magazine, a name not on our list of 15 names, was really the name meant for him.
Update (December 31, 2004)
We heard from the Waiting Child Committee on December 30, 2004 that Paul and I were chosen to be Zhenfei’s parents. I cried and cried when we were given the news. After we received the news, I posted a message on a message board I frequent, and I was overwhelmed by the response I received from people. Many had seen his picture on the Waiting Child page and had been praying for him to find a family. How awe-inspiring it was to read of the sheer numbers of people who have been praying for our son. Our son…that’s a phrase I never thought I would say. God has truly remembered.
This is a post I first published on one of my other blogs (with some minor edits to keep things anonymous). I am recycling it here because I have become more aware of how many times in my recent life that I have not used my voice nor have I really been heard. It’s something that bothers me. “Finding my voice” for me has been more than just an exercise as a writer, but it’s about learning to speak my truth and expecting to be heard. Maybe not understood, but heard. From September 25, 2013:
What is my voice? This is a question I have asked myself over and over since I began blogging, “What is my voice?” It is a question that all serious bloggers should ask themselves. Part of my problem is that I have compartmentalized my life and with it, my blogs. I have a family blog where I kept my relatives and friends up-to-date on the happenings of my children and where I sometimes talked about adoption. But, apparently some of my relatives couldn’t handle my openness about the struggles of motherhood, adopting older children with special needs, what I believe about my Catholic faith and how I feel about my Protestant roots. They told me I shouldn’t speak of these things. I was hurt, felt invalidated, and after a conversation with my husband, I began a second blog so I could say what I wanted to say without criticism from relatives. I chose a name with meaning to me, and more than anything, I write about what I am working through as I struggle to live out my faith in Christ fully. I felt I could be more myself. It was about my thoughts, my struggle, my joys, my hopes and dreams. It represented more closely who I was at the time. That was three years ago. However, I still held back because there was always the possibility that those who read my family blog, would find this blog. After all, it would only take a google search of my name and there it would be, so although I felt more freedom, I still held something of my voice back. It still wasn’t fully my voice.
It was after my husband died that I wanted a place that I could really, truly, speak the truth of my heart without reserve, and I knew to do so, I would have to make my blog anonymous. My name could not be associated with it. There could be no links back to the other blogsAlthough I do not use my children’s real names on the family blog, I use their pseudonym’s on this blog and anyone knowing our family would know them. On this blog I morphed into “The Reluctant Widow,” my husband became “My Love,” which is what we called each other for most of the time we knew each other, and my children were just identified as “son” or “daughter” and which place they held in the birth order (only with my sons because there are three, I have only one daughter). No names, no link backs, no identifying my home location or state. This blog most clearly represents my honest and open feelings. But is it really “my voice?” I think my voice lies somewhere between these two blogs. When I started “The Reluctant Widow,” I “hid” the blog you are reading, de-activated it, so that I did nothing with it for 14 months. Signing up for Story 101, I came to the conclusion that if I was going to have a writing space, it had to be here. I wanted to keep my anonymity on “The Reluctant Widow.” I am just two days into the class, and I realize that in order to do this most honestly, in order to really represent myself and my voice, I am going to have to combine these two blogs. I am not sure how I am going to do it, but I will be working on it over the next 10 weeks.
I never really felt I had a voice when I was younger, never felt I had anything worth saying or that I was even allowed to say anything, until I met my husband. He helped me find my voice, he thought my voice was fascinating, he thought it was intelligent, and when I went from just verbal conversations with him, to writing on a blog, he was an avid reader and follower. The fact that I have any courage at all to step out and do this, is really because of the gift of his love. I hope that as I continue to write in this space, I can honor that gift by staying true to my voice.
I know I haven’t been here blogging in over a month. I have had writer’s block. And life happening. And a time of deep spiritual healing. It’s all good. Mostly. I have a post in the works, and a couple more sketched out. I think I am going to be able to start writing again in all sincerity.
See you soon! Don’t give up on me. In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure:
Seriously? Did I really just go over a month with nothing to say here? I guess so. Well, it’s not that things haven’t been happening, they have for sure, it’s just that I haven’t felt comfortable posting. Here are some random snippets. And a confession or two.
Only a few people in my life know this, but beginning back in January, I signed up for an on-line dating website. I felt that I might be ready to dip my big toe into those waters. On-line dating appeals to me for two reasons, 1) I live in a state where single, Catholic, free-to-marry in the Church men aren’t exactly thick on the ground; and 2) I met My Love through a Catholic on-line dating website. I figure it worked out for me once, why not try again. However, the on-line dating scene is WAAAAAAYYYY different than when I me my husband back in 1999. What I have found is that most men aren’t’ really serious about meeting anyone. At least that’s my opinion. They look, they might send a smile, but God help you if you indicate an interest because they immediately turn and run. For the most part it’s pretty easy to shrug it all off. Who wants a commitment phobe anyway? There have been two men that I “met” that I thought we had serious potential. One I still occasionally pray will become interested again. The biggest issues I face in the dating scene are my four children and my location. I think for most men, even the idea that he might become an instant dad to four children still in their formative years, is downright terrifying. Especially because I am an only parent and there is no other co-parent in the picture. One man, not the two I mentioned but someone I wrote to a few times, flat out told me he just couldn’t afford to support a woman with four kids. Fair enough on the surface, but who says I need him to pay all the bills? So yeah, I get a lot of “your children are a problem for me.” That’s when I say, “Moving on…”
One of the two services that I signed up for has a forum where people can post on various threads and I can honestly say that I have learned quite a lot. One thing I learned is that both men and women on that website that post to the forum all say the same thing: no one is really serious about finding a potential mate. I think I remember that those who post to the forum are a relatively small group, and there are “success stories” published quite often, so some people are meeting and marrying. But I fear that Catholic Christian dating has gone the way of most secular dating. It’s not really about looking for a potential wife who will help you get to Heaven. No, almost every man I have been matched with says they are interested in finding a woman who is: “physically fit,” “attractive,” they have “chemistry,” are “interested in an adventure,” “has the time to focus solely on the relationship,” and I could go on and on. Sometimes they pay lip service to “someone I can share my faith with.” Bleh. Moving on… Sometimes when a man just out of hand rejects me, I want to retort back, “well you aren’t exactly all that and a slice of bread either,” but I don’t because who wants that kind of guy anyway. Don’t even get me started on the number of scammers who contact me. Oh I tell you they are thick on the ground if you are listed as “widowed.” Fortunately, both dating services are pretty good at identifying them and blocking them from the site.
Now, I am on a break. I still have my membership, it’s paid up for a while, but I am not going to make anything happen. Recently someone posted a thread asking if we thought we were marriage material. I thought about it for a while and concluded I am marriage material but my kids are not. There are just some emotional healing issues that need to happen first. I will just wait on God and wait on “Mr. Right” to find me, and I’m sure by then, all of us will be marriage material.
A friend posted a funny dialog on her FB thread today in which she referred to herself in the third person while talking with her children. She asked, “why do we mothers do that?” I know I have done it a lot and still do sometimes. I will say to my kids, “Mommy has a huge headache so she’s going to lie down for a while.” Huh? I don’t know why other mothers refer to themselves in the third person but I know why I started doing it. When I adopted children and I was trying to create attachment and an identity with them, I often referred to myself as “Mommy” because that is who I wanted them to think of me as to them. I didn’t want to be just another female care-giver, I wanted legitimacy and permanency in their lives. However, I think that one of the things that I struggle with, and I suspect a lot of women struggle with, is that we so identify ourselves with “Mommy” that we lose our identity as an individual or as a woman with our own intellect, our own dreams, goals, and plans for life. For me, that feeling heightened when my husband died. I was angry about just being “Mom” now and having lost my identity as “wife, best friend, confidant, lover, and partner in future dreams.” Truthfully, it probably has something to do with wanting to date again. To be validated that I have something other than motherhood that makes me interesting to another person (i.e. men). But mostly, I am trying to reclaim a bit of myself independent of my children.
What about you Mamas? Do you refer to yourself in the third person and how do you feel about this habit?
I am really excited about a little vacation I am taking in June. I am going to a fat camp. Well, not really. It’s a 5-day Wellness program down in Dallas at the Cooper Aerobics Center. One of the big stresses I have in life now is that I feel as though I have no balance. I eat OK but not great. PB&J sandwiches and eating out figure far too prominently in my diet. The former because I mostly eat gluten-free so if I cook something for my kids that is not, I just eat a sandwich. The latter because I tend to be flying through each day with no specific plan other than to get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there and to be sure that homework is done. Several days a week we have back-to-back-to-back activities and driving the kids through the golden arches or picking up sub sandwiches is almost necessary (but not quite if I planned better). The result is that I feel I am always behind the eight-ball, I feel life is not organized or structured, and I feel a lot of guilt over the things that my kids eat. I don’t work out on any consistent basis, and I have gained half the weight I lost in 2011-2012 back. It’s not exactly great for one’s self-esteem. Signing up for this week is meant to be a giant “Reset” button for me. I will be working out, taking nutrition classes, learning to menu plan, getting a few massages and other pampering treatments, receiving a few private training sessions (one for mat Pilates so I can do them at home), and I will be eating healthy meals that I don’t have to cook. Probably most important is that I will have a whole week, with plenty of downtime and quiet, to think, to dream, to plan, and to write. Heaven on earth for me!
I am really thankful to you readers that keep coming back here even though I publish so infrequently. Now that school is winding down, I am promising myself to post more. It’s not that I don’t think of really good topics from time to time, it’s just that I rarely take the time to sit down and write out the blog posts. But in the coming weeks, look for a post on Jennifer Fulwiler’s newly released memoir Something Other Than God, a post about adoption, and prepping to go to a fitness camp. Until then, I hope you are having a blessed Easter Season!
~ The Reluctant Widow