Mother’s Day: Another Holiday Fraught with Peril

This is the post in which I bare my heart to ask for your help. You should be afraid. I am.

Mother’s Day is approaching, and I am freaking out. Wait, I said that wrong. I am F.R.E.A.K.I.N.G. O.U.T.

Last year was fairly simple: I was not a mother. I was very, very sad. (Although I did cheer up when my mother left me a voice mail in which she wished me a happy mother’s day and then apologized because she forgot. She actually said “Oops.” It made me laugh (ok, ok, it made me cry first). Look up well-meaning-miss-the-mark in the encyclopedia. There’s a whole volume on my family.)

This year I have many challenges, the biggest of which is myself. My freak out has clearly revealed to me that I have three main coping strategies, all of which are problematic.

1) Avoidance. Ignore the problem and it goes away. I know, how emotionally third grade. I can’t believe after decades of therapy I am still using this one. (Who I am kidding, of course I can believe it, everyone uses this one.)
2) Food
, aka Emotional Death Grip on Chocolate. This makes a healthy balanced approach to nutrition never-gonna-happen. Also, it is expensive, and hard on my knees. Don’t take away my chocolate.

3) Focus on Other People. This is really good for depression, which in my case manifests as a narcissistic spiral of despair about my inability to be worthwhile. The downside is that it results in unconsciously placing my need to escape my current emotional quagmire on the unsuspecting focus of my attention. In other words: it results in ERH.

In our household we don’t just like TLAs (three letter acronyms), we believe they have magical powers. ERH is Emotional Responsibility Hell, in which one person’s emotional well-being becomes the responsibility (implicitly or explicitly) of another person. It is never, ever good.

The best antidote for ERH can be summed up by this little girl: You Worry About Yourself.

In this case, worrying about myself led me here, to you. Help! None of my coping strategies are working…mostly because I don’t use them in moderation. A little bit of ignoring the problem (like for 10 minutes while you drive) is ok. A little bit of food is, well, what other people eat. A little bit of focus on others, like soup kitchens and thoughtful gifts, is great. But more is definitely worse.

Back to Mother’s Day. Last year was simple and sad. This year is joyful and complex. I’m not quite brave enough to list all the reasons why I’m dreading next Sunday. Like you, I am shocked to discover that I’m not purely blissfully happy, disgusted that I’m mired in self-absorbed-angst, and disappointed that I had to show it to everyone.

But I’m an enneagram 6. This means that I need my people. So, people, share with me your best strategies for navigating emotional-messy-and-complex. I’m ready to try something, anything new.

Under the Dogwood

Our Dogwood Tree

Our Dogwood Tree

Full heart, open hands, wriggly toes. This week I sat with my daughter in the sun under the dogwood tree in our front yard. Spring breezes lifted our hair as we wiggled our bare feet in the grass and gazed up at the creamy dogwood blossoms.

Sitting under the dogwood reminded me of last spring, when I was crazy-mad with longing to be a mom. I wrote this post to the universe, one in a series of letters to my unknown child, desperate to be allowed to love. It still stuns me that I finally, finally get to be a mama.

Grass on our toes

My toes…and my daughter’s little ones!

Being a mom is without doubt the biggest, most incredible joy of my life. And I can’t think of it without gratitude and heartbreak for the woman who made it possible for me: my daughter’s mom. Lisa* chose me and my wife to raise her daughter. Even though we see each other often, even though I know Lisa is navigating her grief, even though I know it was her decision to make, my heart fills and my tears spill when I remember what my joy cost, what it goes on costing.

After that perfect moment under the dogwood tree last week, we met with our daughter’s mom for a picnic by the river. Lisa fed her daughter strawberries. They giggled together, playing in the grass under the trees, watching the people pass by on the waterfront. The afternoon sun sank behind the nearby office buildings, and we all shivered and felt cold. That afternoon was a perfect moment, too.

I’m an adoptive mom. My motherhood is not simple, and it is never just one thing. For me, motherhood, like life, is always joy holding hands with sorrow, cold wind and hot sun, shadows and light. It is sometimes hard and messy, but it is always full of hope…and I work every day to make it honest, to embrace it all, as it is, without holding back.

This is a Perfect Moment Monday post inspired by Lori Lavender Luz. Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between. On the last Monday of each month we engage in mindfulness about something that is right with our world. Everyone is welcome to join. Read more perfect moments on the blog hop.


*Lisa has given permission for me to use her first name online. I find it more respectful to call her by name than to refer to her always by her role or function as a biological mom. I know many folks in the adoption blogging community use initials, so I think it important to clarify that her name appears here in respect and with permission. ~ Liz

Lessons from the Great Airport Debacle of April 2013


Chicago on April 18 (credit: Stephen J. Serio)

I’m a new mom. 32 hours at O’Hare with a baby: definitely a new experience. When our flight was finally cancelled after a 13 hour delay, I realized we were going to run out of formula. I sat on the floor and sobbed. Strangers stopped to ask if they could help, but I turned them away, ashamed of my tears.

After security reopened its gates at 4am, my wife left the airport for a nearby drugstore. When her taxi couldn’t get through because the interstate was closed (semi-truck wreck), the roads were closed (extreme flooding and sinkholes), and the driver didn’t know the area, my wife got out and walked in the driving rain. A kind stranger stopped and gave her a ride. Another gave her a ride back from Walgreens. This took five hours.

I spent those five hours with our baby walking the K gates in Terminal 3. Somehow being alone in the airport with my daughter was infinitely worse, and my need to survive without help finally broke. I found an outlet, charged my phone, and started texting. The first text I sent was to my daughter’s mother: not the one walking in the rain, but the one at home, my daughter’s first/birth/bio/tummy mom.

delaysI know all new parents probably struggle with figuring out this adventure called parenthood. Maybe others are quicker than I am to realize that being a good parent isn’t something you can do alone. But as an adoptive mom, my determination to be a good parent is compounded with the layer of being-good-enough-to-adopt. My wife and I had to prove — to ourselves, to the social workers at the agencies, to the world in general — that we would be good parents, just to get the chance to try.

When other parents hear that we have a very open adoption, with weekly contact with our daughter’s birth/first family, they often say: “I could never do that. Too much pressure.” I won’t lie…it DOES hook into my need to get it right, my drive to do it well, my hope to be an awesome mom. But my relationship with my daughter’s bio mom also gives me support I wouldn’t have otherwise, because we love each other.

I suspect that this is not how it is SUPPOSED to work. I should be heroic, invincible, always reassuring my daughter’s bio mom that she made the right choice in picking me. Instead, I’m imperfect and flailing, a chaotic mess of brave struggle and hopeful love.

My daughter’s bio mom wrote me back right away. She checked in later as we waited through more delays, more weather. She was one of the first people to welcome us home. Maybe this isn’t the way it is supposed to work. Maybe other adoptive parents will call this “co-parenting” or accuse me of failing to hold up my end of the bargain: my daughter’s bio mom shouldn’t have to worry with me through the ups and downs of new parenthood.

But I’m a new mom, new to parenting, new to adoption. And I find that my daughter’s mom, more than most people, not only knows my daughter but knows ME. She gets what it means for me to be alone in the airport, frantic with worry about my wife, terrified about food for our daughter. She gets me and she loves me, just as I am.

So I don’t know if I am doing this adoption parenting stuff in the best way. But I do know this: love is never one-sided. Love is connection and vulnerability, helped and helping, giving and receiving back. That’s what it means when I say that, in our open adoption, we love each other. We, none of us, do it alone.