Thursday, July 23, 2009


At my Jewish day school, our principal was British and preferred being called "headmaster". Occasionally, he'd visit our 8th grade classroom during the half of the day reserved for secular studies. He would knock and politely ask the teacher if he might interrupt for a moment. Then, with that dignified but musical accent, he’d read us a bit of literature – poetry, perhaps, or part of a play. Or he’d lead us on a journey into the unknown by presenting us with an algebraic problem or two.

The 15 of us in the class had moved as a group through the grades, gaining or losing one or two along the way. So I probably could have predicted who’d surreptitiously groan at this interruption (usually a boy).

I, on the other hand, adored every moment of every visit. Later, when I enjoyed all of high school algebra and geometry, chances are there was a connection. Even today, a long time later, I keep on my book shelf a plane geometry review book I once came across at a yard sale. Some day, I hope to find the time to relearn all those theorems. They can take me from a problem’s skimpy offering of givens to the seemingly impossible proof, if I just discover the necessary connecting steps and take them.

At college, I majored in English and spent a lot of my extracurricular time with the university's theatre groups. Math courses were not among my requirements. Besides, without really thinking about it, I had begun to divide the world in certain ways. Scientists and mathematicians were other people. I was in the arts.

But what makes something an art?

I don’t know if Mr. Plotnick, our headmaster, pondered such matters when, before a visit, he'd contemplate what to bring to our classroom that day. Literature? Math? Did it matter? Did he realize on a conscious level what he was teaching us? A Shakespeare play and a well-solved math challenge are more the same than different. They are both poetry.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


She phrased it differently than I’d ever heard it phrased at meetings like this before. Just slightly. Did anyone else notice how it made all the difference?

“I wish,” she said, with a longing that I could feel from across the room, “I wish they’d been inside me.”

She was talking about her twins, adopted at birth. It had been an open adoption, with a birth mother passing them along carefully, having decided that it was best for them. They were five years old now. At this adoption support group meeting, there was a clear sense that we could say absolutely anything – and we often did. And yet, this group member didn’t think of saying that she wished she could have born children, any children. These particular children were hers so definitely, that she felt the need to have had them inside – them and no one but them. It wasn’t the experience itself that she wanted for herself. It was the closeness she felt for her son and daughter that made her wish, for their sake, for that missing piece.

I realized that I would express my yearning in a different way. After all, our stories were not the same. My two adopted children, two years apart in age, had each spent time in institutional settings before my agency had discovered them. I wanted the abandonment in my children’s past to simply cease being true, before they grew old enough to think about it.

A few months after that meeting, my son developed a curiosity about his birth mother. Sitting on my lap at home, he pieced together this question in the careful words of a three-year-old::

“What . . . her . . . name was?”

I offered her first name. That seemed to satisfy him for a year. It wasn’t until he was four that he brought it up again, in a very different manner. It was bedtime. We had just finished reading a book together and perfecting our duet of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” I had turned out the light and was lying on his bed with him, waiting for him to drift off to sleep. But he wasn’t ready for sleep that night. In his voice in the dark, I sensed the same yearning I had heard from that mother a while back, at the meeting.

“I wish that I came from your tummy,” he said.

I wanted to rescue him from the deep mourning I could hear. So on went the light and right there, right then, we arranged it. At my suggestion, he tried pushing his head under my T-shirt. It startled me how very much bigger than a newborn he was already. It wasn’t easy for him to get even his head under my shirt.

Then, I went into labor.

“Ooh, the baby’s coming,” I called. “I can feel it! He’s ready to come out. He’s coming now!”

As might be expected with a birth, he had some trouble exiting my T-shirt, so there was indeed a sense of triumph when he made it. He had but a moment to glory in it, with arms stretched high and a victorious shout of, “Ta da!” before I grabbed him in my arms.
“My baby!” I said. “My baby.”

Now, seventeen years later, the woman who did give birth to him and three others has phoned them all, even before the youngest had reached the age of 18, the earliest age when the law says okay if both parties want it. (It just took one of them to give her the numbers of the other three.)

When she has called, she has opened with these words: “This is your mommy.” And then she has called them by the names she says she would have given them. They want to see her, to get to know her. They want to fill in empty spaces. They’ve been spending a lot of time with her.

I worry for all of us. Is she trying to convince them to recognize her now as their only mother? What if her reason for making contact doesn’t have anything to do with their good? She left them once already. I can’t let that happen to them again.

As for me, I comprehend, as never before, how it feels to be abandoned.