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 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.