Saturday, January 20, 2007

My Family

Family has been in the forefront of my mind lately. This January my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Perhaps this is why I am quietly reflecting upon family and family history now. I know that I am not alone in the experience of step parenting. I married a widower with three children when I was 22. The children have always felt like my own. How could they not? Most of my life I felt like I was hatched and not actually born; leaving me with a sense of belonging to those who chose me. When I got married I felt connected to this little family because I chose them. The people around the family saw my attachment and bond to my children much like they saw my attachment and bond to my adoptive family: there was always something not quite “true” about it. This included my adoptive family who, bless their hearts, never totally embraced my family as they did their biological children and their offspring. This too I learned to accept and excuse with the faith that they “didn’t mean” to exclude or to support their biological children more than me. Later in my adult life I came to accept that, even if unintentional, that this was a dismissal of my place in the family; just as my role as mother has been dismissed so many times by mother and father in-laws, and other biological relatives of my children. When I was 14 years old my niece, my sister’s daughter, came to me on her own when she was 5 years old and said, “You’re not really a Sampson are you?” Truth, as we know, flows freely out of the mouths of babes and there was no exception here. I would always prefer the truth because at least if you have the truth you can settle on a committed response to it that is real. I got a clue to the whole adoption deal early on as a result and decided that bread crumbs, and at times whole loaves, were better than the lot I began life with in my biological family and acceptance came along with the hurt that this experience created. Now, at the age of 47, I realize that I have had to try and find my place in the world through family where the recognition of my place has always been questionable. My commitment to belong and my need to be recognized has brought me much lamenting. I wanted so much to be recognized for my belonging, my effort, my love of my families and it has been long in coming. I have lost the dream that I will ever be wholly invited in. The grieving for this lost place has been deeply felt. My age and years of experience have taught me acceptance, but mostly I recognize that my history with both my adopted family and my stepfamily has given me the right to a place in both of these families. Perhaps each member will not fully recognize my place and that is indeed their right, but I recognize my place and this is where the healing lies. Years ago I was in a women’s group and it was there that I got it for the first time that I belonged. I realized that I got an invitation to the party of life from the man upstairs just like everyone else and I didn’t have to say I was sorry for existing and beg to be embraced and included. It was very freeing. I still grieve about my children though. They are older and I have 5 wonderful grandchildren. We are closer as a family than ever before, but there is still this unstated piece around my place as mother. A few weeks ago I ran into an acquaintance. She knows my husband and me through my husband. She asked me how I was doing and we caught up on surface doings. She then asked me, “How are Fred’s kids?” I wanted to melt into a puddle. Why would she ask this? Would any human being ask a biological mother how her kids are by naming them as their father’s children? I think not. Invisible. Invisible. Invisible. My insides were crushed and for the first time I got angry about it instead of feeling powerless and nonexistent. I know that this woman simply did not understand what she had said and I excuse this behavior to a certain extent. The healing work is changing the button inside my heart and grabbing my belonging like the oxygen mask on a descending plane bound for some disaster. I told my son that he truly was my son; not through birth certainly, but that I had only known family through my heart connection to them and not a blood connection. I have little positive emotional knowledge of that experience. How could these children not be my children? We have loved each other for a quarter of a century. I have tended, embraced, encourage, taught, loved, and wept for them. What is a mother if not these things? I am clear about how I feel about my birth mother…there is an aching…a longing…unsatisfied in my case…but real and emotionally tangible. Even though my birth mother did terrible things to me and my siblings, I love her desperately. My children must feel this about their mother who died when they were all very young. Two of them have no memory at all of her because they were so young. Can the heart make room for two mothers? It must be such a dilemma for them to try and place their loyalty when society and family do not embrace my place in the family. My answer is to keep on loving. Somewhere, somehow there will be a day of recognition. These have come in many ways through the love given to me by my children…they speak of my place in their hearts without ever knowing they are giving it away. This is what I hang my heart on; this is where my belonging lives.
Grampa and Owen
Owen is our oldest son's little boy and Miranda is his daughter from his first marriage. Owen is now going on 9 months old. Fred plans on marrying his partner, Jennifer, next fall. Looks like we will be making wedding plans asap!

Summer Boating with grandkids

This has been my absolute favorite pass time in the summer. We anchor off the coast line in our special spot and play in the sunshine and water for hours, then grill burgers and goodies, and as the day comes to a close we watch the sun set and feed the seagulls. What a complete wonder and balm for the soul this is!

Two granddaughters Miranda and Alyssa

This is Alyssa and Miranda. Miranda's mother lives in Florida and my son has "custody" of her. The cost of adoption has stood in the way of this process being completed. I wish that there was more monetary support for kinship adoptions. My son met Miranda's mother when she was pregnant with Miranda and stayed with her through her pregnancy and delivery. They married and my son has commited himself as a father to Miranda. Their marriage lasted several years and then they grew apart. Miranda's mother simply hasn't been able to solve the challenges in her life, but we stay connected with her and Miranda and I talk about her mum and this relationship. I watch my granddaughter struggle in her life with all of these issues of belonging and wanting to know who she is and where she belongs. She and I are tremendously close. She has been the biggest gift in my life and she has taught me how to receive love as she offered it so unconditionally and freely ever since she was a small baby. She is an absolute wonder with tremendous inner strength and the greatest sense of humor.

Natusch Family 2004

Sadly, we don't have a more recent family photo. We all have such scattered lives these days and when we do get together we don't remember to get a family photo. I am thinking we need to schedule a studio session and that way it will get done.

Three Siblings - Alyssa, Brendyn, & Bryan

(Our daughter Carrie's children)

Carrie has been married close to 13 years now. She and her husband own and operate a fencing and landscaping business here on the island. They do quite well. Her husband's family, like Carrie's father, have been long time residence of the island. Bryan is particularly gifted with telling stories of island people from current and from the past. My husband was born and raised on the island and his ancestors date back to the first whaling captains some 300 years ago. He and I couldn't be any different in this regard and I often wonder what it must feel like to be so deeply rooted in one place...and in the world as a result. Alyssa is very interested in costumes and acting and art! This grammy's dream come true. My grandson is thrilled by improv acting and we have begun to explore this arena together. It will be such joyous adventure watching our two newest grandchildren blossom into individuals as well!

Uncle Adam with Brendyn

(lovingly known as "Unc")

Side Bar: Adam is in Vietnam right now. He is actually living in Thailand for the winter. We have been traveling along with him via his My Space. It has been so cool to be a part of his travels in this way as he regularly posts photos and writings of where he is and what he is up to. In Vietnam he and his girlfriend are having clothes tailor made for them for the price of a song. How amazing that they are seeing such a different kind of world. Adam is into studying the Vietnam War right now and plans on visiting the Vietnam war tunnels and other places in the area connected with the war. Adam is a devout bachelor and claims that marriage will never suit him. All we want is for him to find happiness and satisfaction from the choices he makes. He is really one of a kind!

Post Reunion Integration

My thoughts have been meandering to places inside me in reflection of my post reunion experiences. What has come clearly to me is that at this time, the year following my reunion, I began to partake in different aspects of my self. I believe it was the self that I had abandoned so long ago in order to function safely within my adoptive family. My birth parents are creative people. My adoptive family are educated and intellectual people. Post reunion I began to write poetry as a means of understanding my experience. I also began to create art. Although not a particularly talented artist I began to understand my art as a healing tool that opened up the secrets of my past to me in regards to loss, trauma, and reclamation. I also began to write.

Within that first year post reunion I painted, wrote poetry, and wrote and created a 2 and half hour variety show as a fundraiser event that was focused on creating activities and programs for teens on Martha’s Vineyard. The variety show was a historical perspective of history, fashion, dance, theatre, and music. It covered the decades from the 1920s to the 1970s.

At the time I was very active as a costume designer through several venues. I had a very large costume inventory and business. In fact my collection was the largest, at the time, of any on the Cape and Islands. Within my costume inventory was a large collection of vintage costumes going back to the early 1900s. These inspired me like paint pigment inspires a painter.

I spent 4 months researching the history of the 1920s to the 1970s as well as the dance and music through these decades. I knew the costume, hair, and makeup and so the history and study of the dances of these times filled my days.

The show format was within each decade I created a video montage and narrative script to go with it, a costume showing, a dance presentation, and a theatrical short that reflected the decade. There was a live band that played music from each decade throughout each decade’s presentation. The decades were all tied together creating a trip back in time. It was an amazing experience to envision this show, write it, and then have it come alive on stage.

What my mind has been thinking about in regards to post reunion is that I find it interesting that I would, in my newly impassioned creative state, choose to create a variety show about history.

I have a guess as to why I needed to do this…and what I believe is that after finding my birth family I had many questions answered. Placing my self for the first time in a completed context I think the creating of this variety show was an attempt to place myself in the world.

Post reunion for me was about integrating new truths, new awareness’s, and this new permission I had to fully be that secret self that I had stuffed down for so many years. Creating this show was literally creating my own context for being in the world. It was as if I could actually feel that I was born into the world and not secretly hatched by aliens. I was a human being with a right to a history and the right to find my place in the broader context of the family of man.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Adoptees as Nomads & Gypsys

Nomads & Gypsys & Soft Sculpture

There is an author out there now who has written an article mostly pointed at international adoptees, but I think some of her points are true for adoptees adopted domestically as well. Her name is Mary Watkins. She writes, "What matters is what we do with what has been done to us. Identity reflects the influences of both those who have tried to make the adoptee one of their own and those who have sought to exclude them." These influence our sense of self and our core working identity.

She writes about nomadic identities of adoptees and how we have multilayered selves and that we are a continual "self in process" or a continuous becoming that moves against the fixing of identity. In general experts have seen sameness as conducive to self esteem and as a protective factor for psychological resilience and protection from psychopathology. Difference has been seen as the opposite, bringing a lack of a total sense of one's self or identity. This idea of sameness being the best choice is changing.

Watkins calls adoptees pilgrims who are unconventional in their sense of self. Adoptees are the "ensembled self" that in our multiplicity resists cultural norms. This unfixed sense of self encourages the adoptee to pass beyond easy identification and thus allows us to cross bridges and gaps among different groups of people of all kinds. It allows us to see a deeper human being and a more unique life and that is not based on cultural norms, but moves beyond these into individuation that is on a different path from sameness.

Adoptees live on the boarders of family and often feel trapped in between and are denied the identification of either family, birth or adopted. Adoptees are nomads of the world and can claim their own unique citizenship while shifting and changing how they perceive their connections. The search for self is an odyssey in which the adoptee discovers and understands the multiple roots of their own identity and the process of repression and exclusion of themselves (Watkins).

I’d like to think of us as Gypsys. I connected this image as a result of the idea from another adoptee who shared it with me after she read my post on Chosen Babies about adoptees being nomads. Gypsys are nomads. I have always been drawn to them. I like the idea that I could be comfortable anywhere in the world. I would venture a guess that a lot of adoptees don’t feel pinned down to any one place and have a speckled and creative history of living situations and places. It would be a gas to do a study about where adoptees lived at certain ages and see if any patterns emerge. At any rate I have put my soft sculpture gypsy at the top of this post. I love her…she took 22 hours to make and is completely hand crafted from top to bottom. She has on pantaloons, a petticoat, and an over skirt, a hand made shawl, a blouson blouse, and an embroidered vest. She is one of a series for sale that I call Gypsy Mysteries. Corny, I know…but it’s great to have a little corn every now and again!

My life was gypsy like until I was 22 and married. We moved a lot in the early years of my marriage, but have lived where we are now for 18 years. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this month and as retirement approaches we are planning on making a move…a real life change. It’s time…for me it has been time for quite a while…I have itchy feet and am ready to see a different part of the world…meet new people…see new horizons and watch the sun set from a totally different perspective.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Images of the Artificial Self

Images of The Artificial Self

These are paintings of paper dolls. I adored paper dolls when I was young, but today they take on a different meaning in regards to adoption and my search for authenticity.

I Am

I am the abandoned child
The one left in a bus station
Not in a pretty basket with caring note
I am left with my brother and sister on a cold bench
All the strangers stare at us as they quickly walk by
They glance at us and continue on their way
Not letting our truth touch them

I am the unwanted child
Spun from slaps and inappropriate touches
Forced acts and deep soul screams
Locked in small places looking at my siblings scared faces
My hunger grips me and I beg for the uneasiness to go away

I am the foster child
Swept into the system
The giver of relief upon my placement
The answer to someone else’s need
These strangers want me to call them mom and dad
In the end they send me away
Because my tears won’t stop flowing

I am the adopted child
After awaiting my acceptance of people who will choose me
I travel to my new home
Here I have learned is where happiness lies
My “specialness” replaces my calling to my real mommy
My fairy tales are spun of gold
And my forgetting pouch is full of old memories
It hides all the horror from me.

I am the child whose gone away
To private schools
To life alone
I’ve given the gift of going away to my adopted mother
I learned long ago to do this
And now it seems an easy gift to give
To the one I’ve learned to love and call my mom

I am the child woman
All alone in my pain and confusion
It is only through inebriation now
That talk of my life’s truth is spoken
My forgetting pouch emptied that way only once
Carefully I put the pieces back and tied the strings tightly closed

I am the child stepmother
Creating the family I could never have
And the family that I lost
The family that couldn’t be
I am left with fractured families
I am left with the knowledge that it is too late
For that dream family

I am the woman standing on my own horizon
I am unsure if the sun is rising or setting
There is hope here
And there are blood red colors of pain and abuse
Yet blues and purples promise things to come
It seems as though my journey
Through the ashes of my childhood
Has yet to be fully traveled
I await with trepidation the emptying of my forgetting pouch

Gwendolyn (Ray) Natusch
(I wrote this poem in 1992 immediately post reunion)

The artificial self rises with the red pheonix to become from those ashes the authentic one who embraces and melds the one who was false.

Paper dolls, costumes, and masks have all been donned as a means to survive and as a means to protect my authentic self. Both my inner self and my outer self have developed in strong ways and in parallel to each other. Now, in my late 40s, I realize that I am fully integrated. I have embraced both the secret self, the adoptee, and the unwanted one. I have let go of the mask and the costumes and the false self in exchange for my own authenticity. I am no longer a paper doll made of cardboard bits and bobs decorated in fanciful colors, nor the mannequin that I have costumed for decades. I no longer need these tools as I no longer need to live in a one dimensional cardboard created world where all those I love are kept from my whole self, my real self. In seeing and living inside my own wholeness and authenticity I have become available to see who others are and to interact from a place that is not motivated by the fantasy paper doll I called my self. I’d love to know how other adoptees have experienced this sort of thing in their lives.

In my adoptive family they were intellectuals in many ways and education was a large focus. I did the college thing and am still doing the college thing after several degrees. They were also teachers. This was a big thing for the women in my adopted family. So, I became a teacher, but while I was teaching I became an artist underground. My birth parents are very different than my adopted family. My mother is a writer and artist. My birth father has a huge passion for theatre. The artificial self blossoming.

As a professional I became a teacher and “after hours” I became an artist, costume designer, and writer. The secret self claiming her space.

As a professional I am both a teacher and an artist. I am no longer teaching full time in the public school system. I teach art at a Charter School and do some tutoring. I create art around healing and am moving into being active in the adoption arena.

My heart and my professional life have blended. I am no longer compartmentalized, but living every aspect of my life out loud. No secrets…none….no shame in being who I am completely. It has been a long road to this place and I still am practicing staying here…but the view from this vantage point is indeed lovely.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Post Reunion Art

(This art piece is done on reverse glass.)

The following are art pieces that I created post reunion with my birth family. The majority of them are from my art sketchbook or what I like to call my art journal. I don't see them as great works of art nor are they intended to hang in frames. I have shown a couple paintings here that I have framed because of their emotional significance for me. These art bits and bobs show my process of integrating new truths, my journey through blending my two selves, and my inner push to reach for a higher and freer sense of my self as an individual in the world.

This is my blog address that shares my art exhibit
around telling my life story and my journey
as an adoptee.

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