Category Archives: Gratitude

Joy of Connections

Last weekend I had the pleasure of joining a lovely group of women in Dana Point, CA for their monthly book club meeting.  I was the invited guest for the evening to discuss my book, “It Had To Happen This Way.”  This was a thrill for me because it was the first time since I published my memoir that I have had the opportunity to talk with people I am not accainted with who have read my story. 

The host of the evening was a former high school classmate of mine; a woman I hadn’t seen for 52 years.  Phyllis Bierman Wachenheim and I attended Clayton High School in Clayton, Missouri.  It was magical to spend time with Phyllis.  It felt as though I had been transported to another time zone.   I was so comfortable being with her.  After our 48 hours together I could not get her out of my mind.  She was the same beautiful soul I remembered from my youth.  Friendships we make throughout our life are invaluable but I am especially appreciative of my earliest connections.  According to Phyllis she was absolutely shocked by my story because no one knew of the deep, deep secrets I kept all those years.  It is because of these wonderful friends and their families that I had the courage to survive and now am healthy, happy and well.  I share these feelings in the story below.                                      

                                                        Joy of Connections

An invitation unlike any I had ever received; brilliant orange and blue with a greyhound bounding through a large letter C, which stands for Clayton.  I was being invited to my 50th Class Reunion in Clayton, Missouri a suburb of St. Louis.  I was overwhelmed with a fusion of excitement, fear, wonder and curiosity.  I could feel the rhythm of my heart, throbbing in my chest.   I knew it was going to be a journey of emotions.  Will I recognize my classmates, and they meIs it possible to catch up with 50 years of living?  Am I too scared to go alone? Giving it much thought, I decided to leave my teenage daughter and husband at home to fend for themselves.  What I hadn’t anticipated about this trip, was finding buried treasure.

The community of Clayton, Missouri is unique.  It always has been and is still today.  Even as a child I knew I was fortunate to live in such a cosmopolitan city.  But the fact of its sophistication seems to be lost on anyone who doesn’t live there.  Having lived in California for the past 40 years I have often spoken of Clayton with fond remembrance. No one ever seems to have heard of this marvelous city but that doesn’t stop me from gloating about my past.  Times were different in the 1940’s and 50’s when I attended Glenridge Elementary School and then went on to graduate in 1959 from Clayton High. Unfortunately our high school class wasn’t diverse ethnically; but the folks who were drawn to this community were liberal, open-minded and well-educated.   

“I have nothing to wear!” I spoke dramatically out loud to myself.  My days are spent in my studio/office and in my car.  I wear the same clothes, although comfortable, over and over adnauseam.  It just doesn’t feel right to wear fine clothing when there is a good chance of paint splattering or stains from dirt and dust clinging from soccer fields.  I want to be comfortable when I work but for this special occasion, I knew right where to go to dress myself.  In the village where I live there is a small shop run by a lovely woman who truly enjoys helping women feel confident in the clothes they choose.  She imports garments from Paris and Canada from talented designers at a fifth of the cost of New York or L.A.  It was great fun trying on many different outfits, mixing and matching, adding up to at least eight different looks.  As I lined my bed with all my purchases, choosing jewelry to compliment each outfit, I had a flash-back.  I had done this before in my teens with clothes I made for myself. I was in an entirely different state of mind back then; obsessive-compulsive. 

I thought, “Today I am a healthy woman and am eager to reconnect with my dear school friends who were instrumental in grounding me during the years I spent growing up hiding secrets behind closed doors.  Will they know how sick I was and are they aware of the unbalanced dynamics of my family life?”

The first day I arrived in St. Louis I rented a car and drove straight to my old neighborhood.  It was amazingly as beautiful as I remembered it.  When I turned left on Byron Street I was surprised to find that all the cars were pointing in same direction.  It now was ONE WAY.  It was surreal as I parked and got out of the car.  There wasn’t a soul in sight.  Do I have the right to investigate the premises?  What will people think if they see a strange woman casing their property?  It didn’t matter.  I had to see where it all happened: my father’s death at age 45 when I was nine years old, the intruder who got away, denial of my brother’s illness, several hospitalizations, and alcoholism permeating our household.  I found myself walking around the apartment building many times before I could focus on the windows at the back of the building.  What had always seemed like a black hole amidst a sea of green trees now had a different story.  I was able to stand there silently and forgive my parents and also forgive myself for any grievances and pain inflicted upon us. 

Then I remembered the reason I came to Clayton; my reunion.  What had saved my life (and not my brother John who committed suicide in 1988) was the loving link I had and still have with my neighbors and classmates.  I needed to explore the area of my childhood where the roots had grown deep enough to carry me through years of codependency and then through many more years of therapy and on to wellness.  Several of the parents of my schoolmates had helped out when they had become aware of the severe problems in our household.  I was invited to slumber parties (that is what we called them then), dinners, and sometimes even weekend holidays.  Because of the innocence of children these wonderful friends were not actually aware of what was going on in my home.  It didn’t matter, they cared, and listened, played, made me laugh, and gave me hope for a better future.  Because I was so often included with devoted families I actually believed that it could happen to me.  I hung on to this picture for 30 years. The children themselves, now adults, I was about to see in just a few hours.

The first event of the weekend was a luncheon hosted by one of my oldest and dearest friends.  Before arriving she had e-mailed me and said, “Kay, I have a surprise guest, just for you.”  My reaction was, “What if I don’t recognize her! Help!” To my delight it was my college roommate from neighboring University City.  We were roommates our freshman year at the University of Missouri, Columbia.  I hadn’t seen her since I had been in her wedding about 48 years ago.  Thus began the strange feeling that permeated the weekend.  I was suspended in a time-warp, hovering between youth and adulthood.  One by one our “girlfriends”, now many of whom are grandmothers anxiously joined the party.  There were sighs of glee, little hugs and giant bear hugs, but most of all a shared feeling of connectedness.  It was as if our friendship as children had carried us to this point today.  Interestingly at this age, we didn’t talk about degrees, careers, children, or grandchildren.  Our success has been in living our lives to the fullest with the fondest memories of our time spent together.

The atmosphere was electric at the spectacular kick-off cocktail party later that evening.  Classmates, wearing picture nametags with their graduation photo, and many spouses, crowded together happily.  As I looked around the room I saw the most youthful joyous faces.  Then, as in a dream, the fleeting image of the collective group with gray hair, wrinkles, and extra pounds.  But the reality was, everything had changed and nothing had changed.  For the next few hours we were kids again.

Saturday night was the reunion dinner celebration at a lovely Italian restaurant.  It felt like I was going to a ball.  We chose our own seat at large round tables accommodating about 12-15 people.  It was pointed out that at our table every person had gone to Glenridge, our elementary school.  We passed large plates of food that contributed to the intimacy.  It couldn’t have been better.  After dinner we honored 17 of our classmates who have passed with a chime and a moment of silence.  It was heartfelt and quite moving.  We were then asked to speak for one minute to share the highlights of our life. One by one as we went around the room it seemed as though there was a light coming from within, illuminating each guest.  Although I don’t remember the exact words that were spoken, I will never forget the flow of energy connecting the group.  It is an honor and privilege to be a part of this special Clayton High School Class of 1959.  I feel blessed.

 

Road To Mariah

Posted in: Adoption, Gratitude on 05/13/11 by

A Telephone Call That Changed Lives

As we are walking in the house my husband Bryan excitedly says, “The red light is blinking, pick it up, it might be someone important!”  Underneath strewn clothes and luggage is an answering machine used for one purpose, calls with an 800 number from prospective birth mothers, nurse mid-wives, doctors, pregnancy crisis centers and anyone who might have information about adopting a baby.  Although our search for an infant is well into the third year, I don’t want to pick up the phone today.  Bryan is home for just two days; I have missed him terribly.  He travels extensively as a marine engineer and is on his way to Japan for a ship overhaul after working in Louisiana for three weeks.  I have been answering calls for months feeling nothing but disappointment and frustration.   No, today I just want to enjoy our short time together and forget the difficult roller coaster ride we share.

Our journey toward adoption began when we circulated 4000 Dear Birthmother Letters stating our desire to adopt a child.  Almost immediately this brochure found its way into the hands of a beautiful blonde Russian woman who approached us with a proposition we hadn’t considered.  She offered to be a surrogate mother.  Both Bryan and I had mixed opinions about this option.  I think I was keener than he to accept her proposal because I felt it was providence.  Galina was from Kiev, Russia the city my deceased father had immigrated from at the turn of the 20th century, plus the fact she looked exactly like a picture of my mother which hung in our family room for years.

 We located a professional team at a center for surrogate parenting to help us with the details.  Galina, Bryan and I spent months visiting a variety of legal, medical and psychological programs which included an infertility specialist, sperm laboratory, psychologist, attorney, and hospital.  Each step was costly, time consuming and waiting became commonplace.  Finally after about six month’s preparation we were ready for the big event, the first artificial insemination.  Three days before the scheduled procedure Galina called with the horrible news that her twin brother had died in Russia.  We didn’t know she had a brother.

After a gap of months, that we assumed was due to her mourning, Galina was ready to plan another attempt.   This time her cycle of ovulation was to fall when Bryan would be overseas.  He was emotionally and physically exhausted but agreed to fly home in the middle of his job.  Again we were eagerly anticipating a baby coming into this world.   It was not to be.  Galina left us a devastating message on our answering machine that she couldn’t go through with it and that we were not to contact her for several weeks.  We were both left in a state of shock. Our funds were depleted and we had lost a year of our lives.

 Although discouraged, we began studying open adoption.  We took classes, read books and watched videos.  Visualizing our desires we made a photo scrapbook for prospective birthparents.

Unfortunately there were two more experiences that were hurtful and debilitating:  One young woman who lived in Wisconsin convinced us we were the perfect parents for her unborn child due in four months.  We traveled to meet her and were met by a social worker who was bewildered and confused.  Apparently the birthmother was telling another couple the same thing and had been doing so for months.  The second situation involved me driving by myself all night through a terrible rain storm (Bryan was out of town) to visit a woman who also said she wanted us as adoptive parents for the baby she would soon deliver. After weeks of indecision she decided I was too old to be a mother.

 At this point I was almost ready to give up our dream.  

 I notice the clock reads 4:00 pm.  “Oh, I guess I’ll answer it,” I say with trepidation.

 A melodic voice clearly announces “Hello Bryan and Kay, I hope you are not out of town.  I am Nurse Fisher calling you at noon on October 7th.   We have a birthmother who has looked at the letters of several couples and she has chosen you to be the parents of her child.  Please call us as soon as you get this message.”

 We are stunned to silence.  Slowly we come to our senses and Bryan says, “Call her back immediately!”

 My heart is pounding as I am dialing the number.  When the nurse answers I anxiously say, “We are delighted with your news.  Tell me, when is the baby due?”

 “Oh honey, one of our patients, a young woman of 15, has given birth to a baby girl this morning.  How soon can you come to the hospital?”

 We are smacked in the face with the knowledge that over night we are about to become parents!  Our adoption counselor has told us we never know how or when a baby will arrive and we need to be prepared.  Fortunately we believe her and we have a crib, a rocker and changing table.  Bumping into each other we check off the layette items necessary for a newborn to leave the hospital.  After quickly packing a bag for ourselves, and arranging animal care for our three cats, we grab the car seat and drive several hours to our destination.

 As we approach the pale green maternity room I am thinking, “It begins now, the most gratifying experience of my life.  At the age of 54 I am about to be a mother for the first time.  I wonder how long it will be before I again get 8 hours sleep.”  Around the corner I see a lovely teenager sitting up in bed.  I feel an instant connection with this young woman.  We have heard from other adoptive parents that they love their birthmothers immediately.  I didn’t believe it until today!  She feels like family; I want to hug her and cry.

The baby girl is nestled in the acrylic bassinette.  My heart swells as I touch her sweet head filled with thick, straight black hair.  She looks up at us with her eyes wide open and purrs like a kitten.  I feel her say, “I’ve been waiting for you.  So glad you are here.”  For a long time I have felt the presence of a soul wanting to come to me.  I am sure this is she.

 It has been 15 years since that incredible phone call.  We enjoy an open adoption with our daughter’s birthmother and grandparents. There is not a day that goes by I don’t think of this special woman with love and gratitude for her unselfish decision.  The path to Mariah may have been paved with bends and bumps but it led us to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the gift of a precious child.

Do Computers and Friends Mix?

Posted in: Gratitude on 05/11/11 by

Do you feel frustrated learning workings of the computer?   I don’t feel confident when it comes to mechanics of any kind.  I resisted learning the computer precisely because I freeze when there are too many choices, buttons, icons, and instructions.  10 years ago I finally realized that if I wanted to reach the world with my writing and art I needed to take a class for dummies.  That isn’t exactly what they called it but it certainly was the way I felt.  I ended up taking an eight week class and a weekend workshop.  When the instructor showed us what to do during the session I felt overwhelmed but I thought I know I can do this because I am determined. Holy Moly . . . as soon as I returned home I would sit staring at the computer and felt just as stupid as I always had.  I actually took out my notebook, yes paper, and tried to follow the step by step instructions.  Forget it, I couldn’t remember anything!  For the last many years I have been able to coast because I basically have been using Word and e-mail.  Even then when I needed to do something like put a manuscript together I had to call on my publicist for help.  She painstakingly would read all the chapters and format them correctly for submission to publications.  If I tried to make any corrections on the finish copy my sentences would fly off the paragraph, or I would have a blank page with a number at the bottom, or the wrong size font, etc.  You get the picture.  Not pretty.

When I realized that I wanted to be a part of the amazing social web network the fear began creeping up my spine like a slithery snake. I know many of us are naturals when dealing with the computer, including my teenage daughter, but I am not one of them.

I have to be able to handle my own blog and be able to post my new series of You Tube videos.  I talked to myself, and remembered that I have the most wonderful web designer and friend, Eric Reynolds of www.trancefusiondesign.com.  What a great guy!  He is talented, thoughtful and caring.  He genuinely wants his clients to do well.  I called him and he came to my house and helped me post the first few blogs on line.  After they were posted he had me go through the ropes to see if I had it down.  Oh no! I didn’t, although he was kind he said, “You did great.”  I said, “Eric I know I will have to call you when I am ready for the next post to walk me through it again.”  He replied he would do that gladly and then he had an idea, a great idea.  He would make a video tutorial for me on my blog spot with the detailed maneuvers involved.  Wow!  In no time he said I would get it.

Thank you Eric for all that you do for your family and friends.  We love you and appreciate you!

Gratitude – Thank You

Posted in: Gratitude on 05/9/11 by

Not long ago I visited a yogurt shop in southern California.  I noticed how long the line was snaking around the counter.  I assumed the yogurt would be tasty because of the size of the crowd.  I could barely see what flavors were offered.  As I approached the two young woman servers, working diligently to satisfy so many customers, I became aware their job didn’t seem fun at all.  They had very serious expressions on their faces.  I hadn’t eaten any lunch that day so when it was my turn my mouth was practically watering.  I was undecided about a suitable topping and was frustrated because I didn’t want to hold up the line.  Finally after asking too many questions I placed my order.  When the girl handed me the wonderful sugar cone topped with vanilla yogurt and almond topping I almost knocked it out of her hand from excitement.  Imagine that kind of thrill from a yogurt cone?  I know, over the top, but remember I was starving.  I said, “Thank you very much, this looks delicious.”  In sync, both girls dropped their jaws and stared at me.  I wondered if the yogurt was sticking on my nose.  The dark haired girl replied, “You are the first person in six months to say thank you!  No one thanks us for doing our job.”  What . . . I was surprised.  I believe that when ever someone does something nice for you they deserve thanks.  I make it a practice whenever I pay for an item or a service with a check I write “Thank you” with a heart in the blank space in the left hand corner.  Thank you is a form of appreciation which allows you and the other person to feel pleasure. What about you?  Please pay attention to how many times you thank someone for a job well done, for being a friend, for a favor or thank your loved ones.  Also, be aware of missed opportunities and write an e-mail, make a call or send a card to say those two coveted words.  It feels great!  On that note, THANK YOU for reading my first blog.