Solitary – A Continuing Story, Pt 2

operation_babylift_baby_shoesMy adoptive parents never lied to me about being adopted. They never tried to hide it from me, the way some of my adopted friends’ parents did. Whenever I asked where I was born (hoping for the name of a local hospital,) my mother always answered, “We were lucky. We got to pick you out.” It made me feel so wanted, and a little more special than other kids. When I pressed for more, she always told me that she didn’t know what hospital I was born in. I don’t remember any further conversation on the matter, just that one answer. When I was around eight years old, I put two and two together and asked, “Does that mean that I’m adopted?” Mom answered, “Yes.”

Over the next few days, I asked her many questions about my birth parents – why they gave me up, where I was actually born, anything I could think of. She told me that she knew that I was born in Rome, Italy, but that she didn’t know any more about my mother or father, or why they gave me up. All she would say is that my mother must have loved me so much that she wanted to give me a better life. I didn’t understand that at all; apparently none of my friends had mothers that loved them that much, as they kept their children. As long as she lived, this is all my mother would tell me.

Later, as I wished aloud for an older brother, she told me that she and Dad “were supposed to” adopt both a boy and a girl, but that they decided against the boy because Mom was too sick and frail to handle two children. I accepted this explanation, because my mom was pretty fragile all through my childhood, never feeling completely well and having repeated bouts of sickness. It seemed a plausible reason for why they backed out of adopting two children instead of just one.

My wish for an older brother never abated; I asked Mom & Dad to just go ahead and adopt another child well into my teenage years. It’s like something crucial was missing from my life. Mom always deflected by musing about who among the boys whom we knew were adopted around the same as I would have ended up as my “brother.” Thinking about it from a mother’s perspective now, it must have taken a little piece of her heart every time I requested a big brother. But I had no idea, no way of knowing of the truth hiding inside the “two children” story, and wouldn’t discover it for many years.

My adoptive parents provided a secure, stable, and loving life for me. Honey and Bob were solid, good people, deeply rooted in their Italian-American families and the Catholic Church. Mom, “Honey,” was a first-generation American with immigrant parents from the Abruzzi region of Italy. Dad, Bob, was the son of a Sicilian immigrant and a first-generation Italian-American mother. Family was the center of their lives, and I grew up among many aunts, uncles, and cousins, most of whom accepted me as one of the pack, as if I was born into it. Mom & Dad gave me everything they could. I was spoiled in all the good ways. I always, always felt wanted and cherished by my dad. I can’t say the same about my mom.

I don’t have many memories from my childhood, but what I do remember is playing alone a lot and being rebuffed whenever I asked my mom to play a game with me. She was a stay-home mom, as most were in the early 60’s, and she always seemed more interested in keeping a clean and tidy house than being an interactive mother. When I found myself playing alone, I’d ask Mom if she’d jump rope with me, or maybe play a game of Hi Ho Cherry-O with me. The answer was almost always a brusque refusal. “Can’t you see that I’m in the middle of washing the kitchen cabinets? I don’t have time for that. Go play.”She wouldn’t even let me help with cooking when I was older. It wasn’t this way every time I asked – I do remember her teaching me how to play Jacks – but it was often enough that my strongest association with my mother is that of rejection and disappointment. It was often enough that I used to wonder why she adopted a child in the first place.

Dad was never too busy for me, although he was always busy doing something when he was home. A locomotive engineer in the steel mills, he worked every extra shift he could get his hands on to provide a comfortable life for his little family. When he was home, he was usually working on something in the garage; he repaired televisions and radios as a hobby, and seemed to always be under the hood of a car, tinkering with it to make it perform better. I’d wander out there and just hang out with him. He never shooed me away – in fact, he usually put me to work, holding flashlights under the car hood, holding the solder to fix a connection in a radio, pumping the car’s brakes to bleed the lines, anything. He also took me along with him on any and all errands. He taught me how to hit a baseball and throw a football. I felt needed and appreciated by these small gestures. I also learned a heck of a lot about vacuum tube TVs and radios, and how to install a new muffler on a car. But most importantly, I learned I was important to my dad. He wanted me around, and didn’t ever treat me as a bother. He was happy to share every minute he had with me. I learned that he really wanted to be a dad. I was never that sure about my mom.

I’m still not, after all these years.

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Solitary – A Continuing Story

operation_babylift_baby_shoes

It’s hard to explain to the non-adopted what it feels like to be the only member of a family. There is nothing behind you. Others can look at their parents and say, Oh, I see that I got my hairline from Dad’s family, or My temper comes from my mother’s side. I have nothing. Just questions. Where others have history, ancestry, I have a void.

The abandonment is something that I’ve never gotten past. I wish I could explain it, because even typing the words I know that they don’t make sense. I was an infant, unaware of myself or anything else. I also know that not all adoptees feel this way. But it’s real to me, and no matter how much or how hard I try, I have not been able to deny it. I have not “gotten over it,” so to speak. But over what, exactly?

The relationship between a mother and her child is one of the strongest, most visceral bonds in the human experience. When I became a mother, I was completely unprepared for how entirely, utterly, completely and fully I wanted and needed my babies. The moment that my firstborn was put into my arms is the first moment that I understood, at a cellular level, absolute connection. I cannot imagine severing that bond. I cannot imagine what it must have taken for my mother to allow a stranger to take the baby from her arms, knowing that she would never seen her again.

My mother rejected me. That knowledge makes me both deeply sad and deeply angry.

How could she?

Why didn’t she want me?

My mother, from what I’ve been able to piece together from the shreds of evidence left to me, did not want to be a mother. She’d already had one child she didn’t want. A second one must have felt like the end of the world to her. And yet…how do you give away a human life? One that you nurtured inside your own body for nine months?

She never told anyone about me.

She never officially named my father, as far as I know.

But she gave me a name.

She gave me a name. Maria Luisa.

She told a friend, years later, that she had a recurring nightmare in which she is cradling a baby, a little girl, and someone comes along and tears the baby from her arms. She screams and begs for the baby back, but the person just walks away. Maybe, after some distance from whatever circumstances caused her to relinquish me, she felt remorse. Maybe she missed me. Maybe she wondered who I was, if I was okay. What became of my life. If she made the right decision.

She gave me a name.

The most puzzling part of the entire story.

She gave me a name.

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Where Are We Going, And How Did We Get Into This Hand Basket?

nypl-digitalcollections-6c3fd3a0-c012-b7e1-e040-e00a1806549e-001-r
Art & Picture Collection, NYPL, “The Wolf Comes to Grandma’s Cabin”

It has been hard to find hope this week. The disorientation I feel ebbs and flows, diminishes at best, but never dissipates completely. I’ve been through difficult elections before, and I’ve had to accept losses that did not look fair (Bush v Gore comes to mind) and losses that hurt like heck. But this one is different. With all other election losses, I never feared for the future. I may not have agreed with the winner’s policies or ideas, but I knew that the United States of America would be fine, that the checks and balances the founding fathers built into the system would assure that the country wouldn’t come apart at the seams. This time is different. There is a very real possibility that, within a short period, we will be ruled, not governed, and that possibility stops my breath in my throat.

 

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several days trying to make sense of what happened, why it happened, and where we go from here. These are my conclusions, in no particular order.

The electoral college is an anachronism and should be abolished.
There are now five elections in which the will of the people has been subverted to the electoral vote. One should have been too many. When do we look at it rationally and decide that enough is enough? If the discounting of nearly 3 million votes is not enough evidence of a system failure, what is?

I lay a great deal of responsibility for this mess directly at the feet of the media.
During the primaries, Donald Trump the reality TV star sucked all the air out of the news cycles daily, with his outrageous statements. He was the lead story on every station, in every time slot. The news directors allowed ratings and clicks to drive the content of their broadcasts. Instead of providing a clear-eyed assessment of a clearly off-the-rails candidate, they fed his insatiable need for attention with their slavish attention to his increasingly unhinged pronouncements. They gave him so much free air time that it almost seemed they were on his payroll (if he actually ever paid anyone, that is.) At the same time that Donald Trump was bragging about sexually assaulting women and insinuating to his Second Amendment crowd that they could “take care of the problem (Hillary Clinton) for him,” getting absolutely zero castigation from the press, they kept flogging Clinton’s email server as if it was the single most important ethical failing of the 21st Century. This ultimately emboldened and fueled his base of voters angry that the economy of the 21st Century had passed them by – a fact that was virtually ignored by all the reporting I saw about the people who attended his rallies. Whatever happened to news judgment? The major networks, the 24-hour cable news giants, and most major newspapers kept Trump above the fold, regardless of the cost to real news.

The debates were pointless. The “moderators” allowed both candidates, but most egregiously Trump, to interrupt and talk over each other to the point that it was like Sunday dinner at the DiPasqua house – everyone is shouting, but no one is listening. Rarely did they step in with any force or authority to control the situation. The questions were mostly softball and inconsequential to the nation’s future. Where were the policy questions? Where were the questions about how to handle Kim Jong Un and Bashar al-Assad? Taxes? Plans for reining in out-of-control military spending? The Zika virus? Ebola? The erosion of the middle class? Sacrificed again at the altar of ratings.

Democracy depends on journalism. A free press is essential to running a government of, by and for the people. The electorate has no other way to know what the people they’ve elected are doing if the press doesn’t do its job. They are supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To speak truth to power. They failed miserably.

Our two-party system is a sham.
The Democratic party has been chasing its tail for so long that it’s fainted from dizziness. The debacle of this Presidential election laid bare the yawning chasms of disorganization and failure of vision that has plagued this party for decades. They squandered a stellar opportunity to back a candidate who represented what the party is supposed to stand for in favor of a candidate whose “turn” it was.

On the Republican side, the party of fiscal conservatism and family values has been so overrun by wild-eyed, raving, anti-everything zealots that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t even recognize it. The only people this party represents now are the NRA and the insurance, pharmaceutical, and oil lobbies.

Money Money Money
The Citizens United decision broke down the dam to flood Washington with all kinds of money that is untraceable to any one source, with no constraints on corporate “campaign contributions.” That, coupled with the explosion of lobbying in the last four decades, has resulted in Senators and Representatives who answer only to the people and corporations who keep them awash in cash. As a consequence, the only business that gets done in Washington is that which is ordered by the Special Interest Overlords, and it always goes in their favor.

Where does all of this leave the average citizen?

Completely without representation in a government that is supposed to be answerable to The People.

Feeling helpless outrage.

Fearful of a future that, for the first time in our history as a nation, might include the suspension of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

I made the decision weeks ago that I will not stay quiet, that I will not allow this to happen without a fight. But it is draining, and it feels dangerous. For the first time in my life, I’m afraid of the future. And that feels so very wrong in the United States of America.

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Just Like Today — Speaking In Pictures, Hearing in Color

The sky was crystal blue, just like today. It was a Tuesday (just like today.) I was doing my job, teaching people how to do things, just like today. A colleague rushed into my room and grabbed me by the shoulders. They’ve bombed the Pentagon, she said. No one knows where they will hit next, […]

via Just Like Today — Speaking In Pictures, Hearing in Color

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My 2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 940 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 16 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Confuse & Conquer the Class Troublemaker

Dear Lord, Dear Lord, DEAR LORD did I need to see this today! I am going to use this approach immediately. Fingers crossed.

Laura Randazzo – Solutions for the Secondary Classroom

Every year, without fail, the power play begins. In the first week of school, there’s always at least one class with That Kid. You know, the one who’s testing you. Rolling his eyes. Not-so-covertly texting on her phone. Or, more aggressively, dropping a snarky comment in the midst of your lecture. The battle for control of the class has begun.

Instead of launching the usual path of warnings/referrals/calls homes, try using the most effective tool in your Classroom Discipline Arsenal – Respect. Wait, what? Yeah, respect the kid even when he/she doesn’t deserve it. Here’s how the script rolls each and every year:

[Inappropriate moment has just occurred]
Me[in a calm tone]: Mark, I need to talk to you after class.[I continue teaching.]

[After the period is over and the classroom has emptied]
Me: Thanks for hanging back for a second, Mark. I noticed that you were…

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Freshmen

This is my first year teaching Freshmen. I’ve taught Juniors and Seniors for most of my career. Upperclassmen embody the best of the teenage years – still young enough to enjoy a good prank or to have fun in class, but old enough to understand when it’s time to get down to business. They’re warm and ornery and fun and obnoxious and responsible, and really quite mature. You can have some deep and enlightening discussions with Upperclassmen. Freshmen? Not so much. Here are some things I’ve learned so far:

Freshmen are squirrels. All those hormones are still finding the proper nooks & crannies in their brains in which to settle. This takes far too long. It’s not so much the puppy goo-goo eyes they make at each other that cause the problems, it’s more that

Did she just say "ass"?!

Did she just say “ass”?!

They still giggle when you say “ass,” even if it’s in reference to a donkey. Some days it’s very tough to get through a passage in a book if it has an ass in it somewhere. And once they go down the Giggle Path, God love you if you can get them back into the book, because

They have an amazing capacity for focus – just not on the right things. See “ass” above; also “he, she, it.” (Say it aloud. You’ll get it.) Make a mistake, misspell a word in a handout, and they will remind you of it through the entire class, and possibly the next two. I’m not entirely sure how much of this obsessive behavior is to boost their own self-image and how much is for their classmates to notice, because I’ve found that

It is all about them. The Freshman capacity for self-centeredness is nothing short of astonishing. If they want to talk to the kid behind them, they are going to do it – even after the teacher has asked for quiet. Or after the teacher has demanded quiet. Or even after the teacher has pulled out the playground whistle and blown it. (Yes, I have.) They’re going to FINISH THEIR CONVERSATION, because IT’S IMPORTANT. More important than being respectful and allowing the class to move forward. They’re also crazy needy. They have immense difficulty waiting their turn for an answer to a question. And they become indignant when you won’t answer a questions (because you want them to figure it out for themselves.) The worst part is that when they behave like this,

You can’t tell them they’re behaving like asses. You can do that with Juniors and Seniors. They’ll grin & admit it, apologize, quiet down & get to work. Freshmen are likely to take it personally, text their parents immediately (feigning injury to their delicate psyches), and giggle uncontrollably. Again.

I miss my Upperclassmen.

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