Shine Bright

comments: 63

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I had such a wonderful Mothers' Day weekend. It was filled with sweetness and food and family and fun. Amelia's birthparents and -grandparents and -siblings were all here on Saturday and it was such a perfect day. On Sunday we went to brunch with my mom and sisters and brother-in-law and nephew and had a great time. It was alternately busy and relaxing, and included lots of pampering and lots of playing and, best of all, lots of snuggling with my baby girl, who's no longer a baby but still loves to cuddle and have her back rubbed and hold my hand and give me Eskimo kisses and look into my eyes to see what color they are. I return every gesture in kind, a thousandfold, and thank the heavens above for giving me the gift of her life and love. She is the sweetest, most darlingest, most lovable, lunatic of a creature and oh I love her so much!

Life with a five-and-a-half-year-old is filled with the usual prosaic sort of chaos. There is constant climbing on everything, falling off of everything, interrupting you talking to them with some random completely bizarre talk of their own [indicating they're actually not listening to you whatsoever], playing "kitty" with totally realistic and seriously terrifying meows, refusing to sit on those automatic-flushing toilets in restaurants or stores [I hate those things!!!], climbing trees that are too small, climbing trees that are too big. Always running or otherwise crashing through every place. The other morning I was about to get in the shower and I asked Mimi if she wanted to get in. She likes to shower at the pool but she's only ever taken one shower at home, preferring the bathtub here. But this time she said yes. We have one of those corner, capsule-like showers upstairs; it's a standing shower but also has a little cedar bench for me to sit on. So I'm sitting on my bench and holding the doors open for Amelia to come in. She's standing outside the shower trying to decide if she wants to, sticking her hand into the water and yanking it back while I am saying with, admittedly, some urgency in my voice, "Come in if you want to. Water's getting all over the floor." Shower doors still open. Her standing there, reaching vaguely toward the water with her toe. Then her hand. Then her toe. Hand. Me: "Do you not want to?" Her: "No, I want to!" Me: "Okay, well, decide, so I can shut the doors either way," and as I'm saying this she apparently decides she doesn't want to and instead turns quickly on her heel and starts to tear out of the bathroom, only to wipe out on the wet floor and face-plant into the wastepaper basket and the dog's water dish. Wailing. Tangle of arms and legs. Bathmat bunched. I come lumbering quickly (oxymoron) out of (still running) shower, dripping more water everywhere, to help her up. She stops crying abruptly, apparently having remembered something else she wants to do. Exits. I climb back into shower and sit down and crank the water up, almost as hot as it will go, face in hands, steaming water streaming blissfully and finally over my head. Thinking: "God. It's only 6:32." This, and things like this, all. day. long.

Other moments, reading together, snuggling together, her sweet drawings and her forty-five stuffed animals (I protest), her singing to herself and talking to herself in the sweetest voice, her good nature and her easy smile, her smushing my face so hard to her own face that I can't breathe, her spontaneous hugs, her head against my chest, her "shop" in the window of my studio where she sells 6" pieces of yarn, her trying to write words, her love of Dairy Queens [sic], her portraits with big earrings and big smiles, her outfits (for Blue Day, White Day, Pink Day, Pick-Out Day), and her spiderwebs of yarn/embroidery floss/tape measures wound between table legs and drawer pulls. All of this sweetness. It's everything, everything to me.

I didn't bake any pies for Birthmother's Day. I wanted to, and had wanted to get up early and go to New Seasons (grocery store) all by myself and get ingredients and bake them that morning. But instead the pies you see above were baked by New Seasons bakery. I was too tired to make them because I wound up staying up late the night before, having finally, after about a year of searching, found my dad's birthparents — or at least the two people who I am pretty much 100% sure were his birthparents — on Ancestry.com. It was a total coincidence that I found them in the very early morning hours of Birthmother's Day (which is, if you weren't sure, the day before Mother's Day), but I had gotten a few very important DNA matches with close relatives on Ancestry within just the past couple of weeks and I knew I was close to figuring it out. When I did, when that last puzzle piece in the form of a marriage certificate between the two families whose names just kept showing up in my ghostly family tree, I actually got lightheaded. It was late at night and I was in bed in the dark, looking at my iPad, and I swear I literally heard something in the universe go click.

Sophie. Veronica. Manda. Anna. These are the names of my father's birthmother and -grandmothers and -great-grandmother that neither I nor he (he passed away in 2000) ever knew existed. Well, surely I knew they had existed — somewhere in my rational mind I knew that someone must have existed. But really, more frequently, I felt like maybe I had (mostly) fallen straight out of the sky. Until last year, I only knew one-quarter part of even just my biological ethnicity. My dad's was entirely unknown, and my mom's mother's was unknown. Or rather, we thought we knew, based on names (Lucile DuMont sounds French, doesn't it?) and legends (Italian, Italian, Italian). But we were wrong. I'm Croatian and Polish on both my mom's side and my dad's biological sides, with 1/8 English from my mom's half-English (not French) mother.

It's hard for me to explain why any of it even matters. I mean, I honestly don't exactly know why it matters now. Most of the time I'm not thinking about it. I'm living my life in the present moment, chasing my little butterfly as she zooms around on her scooter and brings me dandelion bouquets eight times a day and nose-dives into the dog bowl. But I always wanted to know how I got here. How we got here. I was always interested in history. I was always interested in geography. I was always interested in peoples' stories, and I always felt like I didn't truly know any of my own.

It goes deeper than that, though. In researching my family's history, in discovering just how many people in how many different families on how many different sides and for how many generations were keeping secrets, I can see that the legacy of . . . confusion . . . sadness . . . loss . . . insecurity . . . and even anxiety . . . around these mysteries runs deep, and also lasts for generations. It has certainly affected my family, and my sisters and me, in ways I'm only beginning to attribute. Eight years ago when Andy and I began the process of becoming parents by adoption, we always knew that in the best-possible-case scenario we wanted a local, open adoption, and we are lucky enough to have that. I don't talk about it that much because it involves so many other people, and their stories just are not mine to tell. But every single part of it, even the hardest parts and the hardest days, has been a total blessing (even in the days before Amelia when, oh trust me!, it didn't seem that way at all). I think, in life, you can try to mitigate the losses and maximize the gains. And what we have all — Andy and I, and our families, and Amelia's birthfamilies — gained from loving Amelia and loving each other is so profound it still regularly brings me to tears of gratitude and joy. How lucky we all are to be in this together! I think it's pure magic.

I obviously cannot and would never presume to speak for any other adoption experience or decision. People have very strong feelings about these things and I have the absolute, utmost respect and deep reverence for that. But I'm just telling you how I feel, and how it's been for me (and Andy), and how Amelia's birthfamily tell us it is for them. We'll always encourage Amelia to express how it is for her, especially as she gets older and is better able to articulate her thoughts for herself. All of us want so badly to be the best moms (and dads, and grandparents, etc.) we possibly can be. And for me, that effort is starting to include truly examining my own feelings about my own growing-up in a cloud of secrecy. Finding real names of real people who lived and breathed and gave life to the people who gave me life is an effort to peel back some of those layers, and let in the light. So that I can shine bright for my beautiful baby girl.

63 comments

I was really calmed by your words on both family history and adoption. I have always loved researching my own family history and also am now in the adoption home study process. I've had dialogues with myself about what that will look like that I will likely not have biological roots to leave and depending on the eventual course of adoption, may or may not know about my future children's lineages. But reading your words about openness actually opens my heart up more to that (as scary as openness sounds early on), because family secrets can be hard things and take years to uncover, if ever.

In my own family ancestry research, I've uncovered some family secrets that were often wondered about but now confirmed. It can be a hard discussion to have with people living about people long deceased.

***
As an aside, some English names are actually French going way back to William the Conqueror...or at least Anglicized French names. I have seen that in my tree. :)

One of the items that I found so helpful when my daughter was younger was to have postit notes in my purse for putting over the auto flush sensor. That way it didn't flush until I chose to flush. It helped her not be so scared.

Heather Rose says: May 18, 2018 at 11:32 AM

Your posts always bring me such a sense of cozy warmth and joy. This was beautiful, thank you!

Marie Bailey says: May 18, 2018 at 11:32 AM

Beautiful words. Its strange how the NEED comes to find out your own history and the regret that you didn't start earlier when answers may have been easier to obtain. I could kick myself for not asking. Marie

katie s. says: May 18, 2018 at 11:43 AM

I'm a birthmother, and reading this today, two days before going to my son's high school graduation, makes my heart happy. Being at the end of his childhood has had everyone in his adopted and biological families touching base in the last few weeks and we're all in agreement this has gone even better than the most optimistic among us had hoped, and we're all glad we ignored the negative comments and fears from some people who were tangential to the situation early on. There's no guaranteeing that my (our) son won't have different outlooks on his upbringing as he goes through adulthood, but right now - we're all certain we're better for it. It sounds like you all are on the same path.

Beautiful post. Happy belated Mother's Day!

Isabella says: May 18, 2018 at 11:45 AM

Your descriptions of your darling girl are so sweet. I love family history too. In college I took a course in which I had to trace my ancestry and make a scrapbook. It was a lot of work! This was the time before the internet. Think looking through rolls of microfilm, censuss records etc.

When my Mom passed away, I became the guardian (by default) of the treasured family photos. I recently completed the monumental task of sorting, scanning and uploading them on a photo sharing/printing site. I have four albums and have now archived well over 500 precious and dear family photos. I limited my scope to my parents and their six children and the family and ancestors before us. Including in-laws and grandchildren would have made it too unwieldy. We even have a photo of one of our great-great-great-great grandfathers! (The original Irish immigrant) My five siblings are thrilled, and I am so proud that we have preserved our family history in an accessible way for all.

Hélène says: May 18, 2018 at 12:13 PM

I'm astonished from the beginning to follow your adoption. Here in France, the link is cut between birthmother and adoptive mother. And I think it's so sad for the child, for everyone.
I'm also practising genealogy, and I saw secrets are poisonning a family.
Your adoption is the opposite : it gives much morte roots to Amelia, 4 parents instead of 2, etc. That gives more strength, because more love, more attention. It's fullfilling.
It really is a good way to practise adoption, I wish we could have that here too.
I also agree about french names : a lot of french people were living in England, and speaking french language there. Names have crossed the channel. If you ever need, ask me, we have online registers in France now, and it's very helpfull (when one can read french !).
May your family be blessed for decades as you seem to be all today.

I'm honored to have been a reader of yours for many years and to have felt a part of your and Andy's journey and the joy when Amelia joined your family. I've loved watching her grow and become such a wonderful little girl. I'm happy for you to have found some of the family that was a mystery to you. I'm doubly thankful to my genealogist uncle who did all the work for us to trace our family back to one of the kings of England. I'm have 2 DNA tests done, on 23 and Me and Family Tree DNA and I'm thinking of getting a 3rd done. :-) I'm 99% European. LOL. Have a fabulous weekend.. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

Thank you for talking about all the special families and love that surround Amelia. There is so much generosity and respect in her life, lucky girl. I'm sitting here, drinking coffee, nothing ruffling my morning routine, and the dog is snoozing on the floor. Then your description of the dramatic early morning in the shower took me right back to equally dramatic mornings with two little boys. I could never have the radio on in the mornings as there was too much noise and general mayhem. But how lovely and warm those days were.

The Ancestry thing is SO fascinating isn't it? My mom's birth father abandoned the family and she was adopted by her stepdad. Her birth last name was Manning so she thought it was just more English to add to the mix. I finally was able to find out her birth dad's parents names (on Ancestry) and requested a copy of the marriage certificate because it was old enough to be available to anyone. Turns out Manning was an anglicized version of Majewski (on the certificate Majewski is actually crossed out with Manning written above). My mom is half Latvian. That was a real shocker for all of us :) Now I'm checking out all the cool Latvian knitting patterns!

KristenfromMA says: May 18, 2018 at 02:41 PM

Wonderful post, Alicia. I'm glad you found some long-searched for answers.

This is so beautiful and gives me such hope. I will be a grandmother this summer in a strange and evolving situation. I don't know how it all turns out yet, but I hope I'm able to be involved in this little one's life. Hugs to you for being so open and loving.

Susannah says: May 18, 2018 at 07:46 PM

My mum has recently been telling me more stories about our family history on her side, and you are so right about how many family secrets there are. Some she knew about when growing up, but some were revealed after her parents died in digging through old family documents. My great hope is that more openness in our communities, less judgement and shame (especially about young and otherwise stigmatized mothers) and more respect for women's bodies, choices and consent can lead to fewer secrets... no matter the reasons for or outcome of the situation.

On another note... my girls also HATED the flush-by-themselves toilets and I would go in with them to hold my hand over the sensor while they used it. Built a nice trust between us too :)

I don’t often comment here, preferring to just text you when your beautiful words communicate love and beauty that simply overwhelm me, but this post is simply beyond beyond! Thank you for being you. Thank you for being the woman who loves my son and granddaughter beyond measure. Thank you for sharing your heart’s meandering, lovely feelings about your everyday life and your higher, deeper meanderings into the past. You’re awesome- in the true meaning of that word. I am in awe. And incredibly blest. 💞

Post-it notes over the sensor on the auto-flush toilets. Not my own idea, but just spreading the word I learned while reading a million and one potty training forums.

This is one of my favorites of your lyrical posts, Alicia. While I have known much about my mainly English ancestry since childhood, my mothering has explored great mysteries ...a miscarriage, two Hispanic foster daughters for several years, an adopted son from South Korea, another adopted son whose dad is in Ethiopia while his mom is in the USA, and then two biological daughters. I have known joy and sorrow and a great amount of uncertainty as a mother, but like you, I am beyond grateful to the Lord for the opportunity to mother. I continue to celebrate your mothering and thank you so much for posting xxx

Marianne says: May 18, 2018 at 09:50 PM

I know this is not really completely rational, but I'm so happy that you're half Croatian (sort of) since I'm 100% Croatian and 100% Canadian and 100% a huge fan and long-time reader and sometimes customer of yours. This info just makes me so happy. OF COURSE we're cosmically connected in this way!

Hi Alicia. I have to say I am regularly blown away by the mature and generous way you approach your special family situation. I think you are all amazing. Amelia is one very lucky little girl.

mribaro says: May 18, 2018 at 11:17 PM

Hallo, I've been enjoying your soothing words and photos since before Amelia and I am DELIGHTED to have learned you're partly of Croatian descent!!! I am a Croatian living in Croatia.

I have been following you and your story before Amelia . . .
And have loved reading the pages, chapters of your life, living
and sensing your artistry, warmth, joy, zest, transparency . . .
A gift indeed to enjoy these views into yours, Andy’s, Amelia’s life . . .
Happy Mother’s Day . . . each day . . . you are such a treasure Alicia . . .

I'm adopted and love this. I was born in the days of closed records (born in '73, Virginia) and what feels like shameful secrecy. Even in the age of Facebook where I randomly reached out to a name and location I knew,where I learned the term melungeon and that it matched up with my original birth last name (just a handful of core original family names), where I was adopted into a traditional southern family that guards the closet door of secrets.....ah, I still know nothing really. I have fun making up my heritage and feeling that I create my own deep roots but really, I'd love to know more. ...time will tell how your little one will feel about all of this but I have a feeling she'll be quite grateful for all of the love and appreciate the value placed on exactly who she is and where she is from. ....also, because it's been an issue with my own family, medical history is huge...you're doing a great job loving and raising her but she's also got a great benefit of this one little thing that can have a huge impact as she grows. ....peace, love, happiness from here to there.

Laura Nelson says: May 19, 2018 at 08:12 AM

Always enjoy your posts and have been reading like others since before Amelia, there when you came back from that trip empty handed. Hate the phrase "things happen for a reason " but there you have it.
I have never felt the need for the ancestry thing as I am 3 degrees of separation from everyone in a 200 mile radius. Thats fun when you are a Home Health Nurse...lol.But glad it was there for you.
Its so wonderful to read and listen about Amelia, what an interesting person she will be. To grow up learning to knit and sew , wish someone had taught me as a youngun. most prodigius knitters I have known grew up knitting. And shes almost there, you are indeed blessed as you know. Enjoy your spring, Maine is so slow. We are just now getting leaves on trees.

I once read a nytimes piece about how important narratives are to how we see the world. And now I wonder how too many unknowns might damage the restorative power of a narrative.
Also, you don't need to keep post-its. Just spit on a piece of toilet paper and it will stick. Not glamorous but it works

I loved every word of this post and finished it with tears in my eyes. Your description of parenting a five and a half year old is so fitting and true (and still very true for my seven year old, who can't go more than five minutes without falling off something and/or shouting nonsense songs at the top of her lungs). As far as connecting with family history, it's funny because my parents have always been very interested in their family history (it's kind of a requirement in their church), and I know all my ancestors on both sides back into the late 1700s. However, it's only been in the last year that I've felt a strong pull to connect with them, to see them as people and not just names on a paper. I pulled up some pictures of my great grandfather the other day and was shocked to find that he looked exactly like my older brother. I've been pumping my mom and grandma for stories about my ancestors, and it has surprised me how much peace it brings me to learn details about them (even if they're about their heartbreaks, their tragedies, their secrets, their regrets). Maybe it makes me feel better to know that I'm not the only one who's a bit of a mess sometimes. :)

And P.S. those automated toilets are the BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. Whoever invented them must have hated mothers of young children. I can't tell you how many hours of my life I have spent squeezed behind a toilet in a tiny stall in a public restroom, covering up the sensor with my hand, while a terrified and shaking Lizzy tries to will her body to use the toilet, so afraid it's going to flush while she's sitting on it. I'm seriously considering having her see a therapist about it, because it's basically a phobia at this point. I never thought that the sight of a flush handle could give me so much joy!

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About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.