Good will towards men.

So we had a visit a couple weeks ago, and it was lovely. Paul and Linda came down to Philly for the day and we got to do all sorts of great things, and there were presents and food and all that and it was generally as lovely as it usually is. Danger has still never had a haircut so he looks like a little surfer dude, and he is wonderfully assertive and adventurous and academically inclined (he can do simple math, which is ridiculous as he is a BABY) but the real noteworthy thing about this visit was the family that came.

My mother’s mother met Danger when he was a little itty bitty thing, when she came to my NYU graduation, and since she’s getting up there in years and lives in Texas we all sort of said “well, it sure is great that she got to meet him once, cuz man, that’ll never happen again.” My mother’s sister lives near her in Texas and was married to a man that I didn’t particularly care for, as his Republican and religious leanings were easy for me to vilify as a teenager – I saw things in a very black and white manner. But he passed suddenly, and my aunt is justifiably going through a hard time, so she and my grandmother decided to venture out from Texas all the way east to spend Christmas with us and my father’s side of the family. So my grandmother got to see Danger again, and my aunt got to meet him for the first time, and they seemed genuinely delighted by him (WHO WOULDN’T BE)?

Okay this is an entirely roundabout way of me getting to the fact that MAX POWER’S DAD CAME.

Max Power’s dad is a very stoic dude. He is quietly Catholic and very private – I feel like when Max Power and I were together, his dad and I may have exchanged a total of 25 words, 20 of them being at our first meeting when he thanked and congratulated me for not getting an abortion. (He also never managed to remember that I am not Jewish. “Max Power, what’s Lia’s family doing for Hanukkah?” “I don’t know, dad, as she’s not Jewish. “Oh, right.” ONE YEAR LATER “Hey, Max Power, what’s Lia’s family doing for Hanukkah?”) While he’s never been outwardly AGAINST the adoption or the openness of it, I think he’s just from a different generation and didn’t care to participate. He came to the hospital the night Danger was born, said his hellos and goodbyes, and never mentioned it again. We have invited him to every visit we’ve ever had, and Paul and Linda have made it very clear that they want to meet him and are very open to his presence, but he always politely declined or found himself conveniently absent.

BUT HE CAME TO THIS LAST ONE.

When we heard he was coming it was all, “Nobody make any sudden movements. Or breathe too hard. Just act casual. BE NORMAL. OH GOD WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS.” And it was totally cool. He only came for the first part, when we all went to the Please Touch Museum, but he interacted with everybody and actually met Paul and Linda and though he remained the stoic dude I’ve always known him to be (it’s not like he saw Danger, melted, and repented his absence) he seemed to enjoy himself and everyone enjoyed him. So maybe he’ll come to more things! Yay open adoption!

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They say it’s your birthday! Part 4.

So this title is becoming misleading – the first “they say it’s your birthday!” post was on the actual day of Danger’s birth, and so in part 4, he is actually three years old.

This is the first time I am missing his birthday.

I am not doing well with this.

We will have a visit December 21. Paul and Linda have graciously agreed to come spend the day in Philly with Max Power, my parents, and me. I am looking forward to this very much.

I sent him a present and a card (and a very, very sappy card for Paul and Linda) and they should have arrived by now, but I’ve heard nothing. I also asked a few weeks ago if perhaps we could Skype today, because I was very anxious and upset about not being able to see him at all on his birthday. The past two years they’ve been so lovely about allowing me just a little bit of alone time with him at 5:05 on December 10. This year, I’ve heard nothing, though I followed up with a terrifyingly cautiously worded email last night, and have been lying awake poking my phone waiting for them to reply and going out of my mind. I’ve heard zilch about the gift (did they not get it? did they get it and find it inappropriate? did they get it and decide they hate me and set it on fire? did they get it and decide to wait until today to open it?) and nada about Skyping (do they not want me to see him? do they think it would confuse or upset him? he’s such a tech savvy little boy, that seems unlikely, but maybe they think he just wouldn’t get anything out of it? have they just been too busy to respond? have they decided they never ever want to see me again? are they mad at me? and on and on and on).

Not entirely sure I will make it through the day, though there’s lots to do. Never realized his birthday could make me so sad – usually it’s so happy, because I know I’ll get to see him. But today it’s snow in Staunton, and my world is bereft of Danger.

Falling Slowly.

A few months ago, I was working the American Shakespeare Center’s annual leadership conference with International Paper. This was only the second one (we started doing it last year, when I was a bright eyed and bushy tailed intern, as opposed to an utterly consumed and terrified grad student), and it’s an incredible program – we bring in people in various positions of leadership in this MASSIVE company (International Paper is a multi-m/billion dollar company) and spend a week interacting with them and teaching them ways that Shakespeare and theater can help with interpersonal relationships and leadership in a business setting. Both years have been wonderful experiences on both our end and theirs. We all have a ball and learn a lot from each other. But this past time, one thing happened to me that I will absolutely never forget.

We break  the International Paper people into groups, and spend the week doing various activities with them, punctuated by lectures and performances by ASC actors. Since the actors are all (for the most part) very accomplished musicians, we will often end some sessions with a song or performance. One day, before we took a break for lunch, two of the actors graced us with a rendition of the song “Falling Slowly,” which they had performed in a show in the not-too-distant past, and which was written for the movie-musical Once (which is lovely, and I highly recommend its viewing).

We were sitting in the theater, and I was off to the side with my notes and schedules, listening. The two actors performing the song are people I respect to the highest degree: talented, beautiful, friendly, and warm. And did I mention talented? Anyway, the song is hauntingly gorgeous, wistful, lamentful. I know it well and did before the day in question. But as they sang, I found myself openly weeping. And I don’t mean I got choked up or felt a bit teary; I mean I was sobbing. I wanted to get up and leave, but that would have called even more attention to me. The lyrics that killed me go thusly: 

Take this sinking boat

And point it home

You’ve still got time.

Raise your hopeful voice

You have a choice

You made it now…

 

This is one of those things that I feel completely separates my experience from those of others who relinquished their children. There was an era when “adoption” (and let’s be honest, it was kidnapping) was foisted upon young, terrified, ashamed, unwed mothers. You can’t call that a placement, which is why I say relinquishment. Those women were told they had a choice. They didn’t.

I did. 

I had a choice. I made it. And I live with it every day.

I had my last pre-grad-school visit with Danger a few weeks ago. It was incredible. It always is. Danger is two and a half, and he’s growing into quite the little man. He’s now very engaged in things like interactive pretend-play, and with naming and using names (he seems to definitely know mine now). The whole visit all he wanted to do was play with me, making up elaborate make-believe games with his trucks and his bunny, and when the adults sat down to eat he kept saying, “LIA LIA LIA come play with me! LIA WE HAVE WORK TO DO!”

(Needless to say I SCARFED my dinner so I could go be with him.)

When I got back to our play after the dinner break, he said, “We have lots of work to do. I’m so glad you’re back.”

I had a choice. I made it. I live with it every day. But for him to say, “I’m so glad you’re back” broke my little heart. I never wanted to leave, Danger. But I made the choice to do so.

Sobbing in the theater, I felt a fool. Who would make such a choice?

Me, it seems. I did. I don’t regret it, because I love 98% of what our lives look like now. Paul sent me pictures today of Danger at soccer practice (something he’s started now that he’s in preschool, and he seems to love it, judging by the pictures). They’re great. He’s great. I’m flourishing – school has started and I’m a pile of excitement and terror over my graduate life. 

Nobody took him from me. Nobody forced me. 

I miss him. But I made my choice. And no matter how much that choice hurts me, how much it hurts me that I needed to make it – at least I had the choice, right? This is a new world, I hope. There will always be unscrupulous people who will trick and cajole and steal babies from scared mothers. But I was not one of them. I hate that I had to make the choice – but at least I got to make it.

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The majesty of the creature in the respect of the mother.

I posted this last year on Mother’s Day on the American Shakespeare Center Education Intern’s blog. Guess I had some stuff on my mind.
 
           Mothers. We all have them, or did at some point. There are many different types of mothers: biological, adoptive, absent, neglectful. In honor of this upcoming Mother’s Day, let’s take a look at all the different mothers who appear (or critically do not appear) in the shows currently on during the Spring season at the Blackfriars Playhouse. The unwillingly absent but eternally loving Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, the self-interested and transgressive Annabella in‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, and the Indian votaress in A Midsummer Night’s Dream all have one thing in common: they do not get to raise their children. But does that mean they are not mothers?
            When Hermione is with her children, she is happy and content, a loving mother and a normal one. She gets annoyed at Mamillius a time or two, telling her lady to “take the boy to you; he so troubles me / ‘tis past enduring” (2.1.1-2) – but it’s hardly unusual or unnatural for a mother to occasionally be wearied by her rambunctious ten-year-old. But when Leontes’s jealousy removes her from her family, resulting in her son’s death and her daughter’s banishment (and presumed death), we see the full pain of a grieving mother.
           Hermione never grieves for herself. Even after Leontes throws Hermione in jail, where she endures the pain of childbirth alone in a dirty cell, and then is “hurried / here to this place, i’ th’ open air, before / I have got strength of limit” to stand trial before her husband for her supposed crimes, she never weeps or pleads for her life (3.2.104-6). “Sir, spare your threats,” she says to Leontes. “The bug which you would fright me with, I seek” but not because she has been “on every post proclaim’d a strumpet.” Her first sorrow is the loss of her husband’s love, and hard by is “my second joy / and first fruits of my body, from his presence / I am barr’d, like one infectious.” What cares she for life, if she does not have her son? On top of that, “my third comfort … is from my breast … hal’d out to murder.” Her desire for death stems not from pride or slander but from the loss of her children – every mother’s nightmare. “Tell me what blessings I have here alive,” she tells Leontes, “that I should fear to die?”
           And die she does, at least for awhile, when she loses Mamillius for good. When she is not a mother, she simply ceases to exist. Whether she is dead or in hiding with Paulina is not important: the only important thing is that she is not there. It is not until her daughter Perdita reappears, restoring her title of “mother,” that Hermione herself can exist again. She is a mother more than she is a woman, a wife, or a queen. If she can’t be a mother, she’s nothing.
           Annabella and Giovanni, from John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, notably lack such a motherly presence. Annabella’s maid, Putana, is a poor substitute, and their father is too preoccupied with arranging Annabella’s wedding to one of her many suitors to notice that she is sleeping with her brother. In fact, there are no mothers in the play at all – except Annabella herself, who becomes pregnant with Giovanni’s child.
           Her pregnancy, the play’s only concession to motherhood, is a calamity. There is no joy in the prospect of this child. Putana’s way of telling Giovanni the unhappy news is to wail that his sister is undone and shamed forever. When Giovanni anxiously asks her if Annabella has died, Putana says, “Dead? No, she is quick; ‘tis worse, she is with child” (3.3.9-10). Even Friar Bonaventura has no pity for the scared expectant mother. “You have unript a soul so foul and guilty / as, I must tell you true, I marvel how / the earth hath borne you up” (3.6.2-3). Annabella makes one tender to reference to her unborn child, telling her already-cuckolded though newly-wed husband Soranzo cryptically of “the man… that got this sprightly boy / for this a boy, that for glory, sir” and then launches into praises for her anonymous baby daddy (4.3.33-4). No one speaks another word about the gestating child until Giovanni stabs Annabella in a jealous rage and, as an afterthought, realizes he has also killed his son.
           But lest you think all early modern plays take such a dire view of motherhood, you must remember A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Certainly Athens has moments where a much-needed mother is absent – notably Hermia’s mother, who might have been able to tell Egeus not to kill their daughter for wedding her true love Lysander – but the fairy world of Oberon and Titania is different. Titania is parenting a little Indian boy, son of a votaress who died during childbirth. (Hear more about this in Dr. Ralph’s podcast here.) Titania loved the woman and tells Oberon, “for her sake do I rear up her boy / and for her sake I will not part with him” (2.1.136-7). Oberon wants the boy for his own page for unclear reasons, and the fairy subplot hinges on their fight over him.
           Take out the supernatural elements and you find a very modern familial situation. Titania and Oberon were lovers once but now, divorced as they are, their main and most vicious battle is over custody. Oberon may want the boy out of jealousy of his beauty or just to annoy his ex, but Titania loves him as if he were her own. “The fairy land buys not the child of me,” she tells Oberon (2.1.122). Does the lack of Titania’s blood in the boy’s veins make her any less his mother? Perhaps not, but does her love for him nullify his connection to his birthmother, the Indian votaress who died giving birth to him? Doubtless if she had lived she would love him just as much as Titania does – but she did die, and Titania loved her, and for her sake will raise her boy to remember her. Had she left him behind, he would be motherless. By taking him with her, she gave him two mothers – herself and the memory of the votaress.
           This Mother’s Day, honor all the mothers in your life. Not all mothers get to raise their own children. Maybe they are separated from their children through unfortunate circumstances, like Hermione. Maybe they are never born, like Annabella’s. Maybe someone else raises them, due to the birth mother’s death, like the Indian votaress’s. Likewise, not all mothers give birth to their own children, like Titania. Yet, all of these women are mothers, and they all deserve recognition on Mother’s Day.