Day 26 – Time marches on

One of the interesting side effects of all the writing and the letter writing I’ve been doing the last few weeks is a clearer realization of just how easy it is to fall out of touch, how quickly time is passing. It hit me this week that Henry is just about the same age my youngest brothers Beau and Collin were when I reunited with my birthfamily and met them for the first time.

Blows my mind to think those little boys are in college now, that’s been more than 17 years since I stepped into their lives.

How things have changed! There have been a lot of twists and turns in the 17 years since, but the best part of the reunion has been building new relationships and watching my three different families slowly melt into one. I was having a conversation with some folks at work a few weeks ago, and they were intrigued by my very unique definition of “family,” as I explained that my family doesn’t just include my husband and kids and my closest biological and adoptive relatives, but all of the close friends and people in my life that I feel a deep, emotional, and somewhat inexplicable connection to. My family is the people I was born to, the people I was raised with, and all the people that I invest my time in and love deeply.

And it strikes me sometimes, as time keeps marching on, that I have been unimaginably blessed.

Day 14 – It’s here and it’s home

In all the writing I’ve done, I’m often given the most positive feedback on my ability to set a scene. I’m obsessed with settings, with painting a clear picture of my characters’ surroundings and establishing a vivid and concrete sense of place.

Dig deep into my psyche and there’s likely a link to my adoption. Adoptees often struggle establishing a firm sense of belonging. But my obsession also stems from the fact that my family moved around…a lot. From the time I was born to the time I graduated high school, my family moved to five different towns in two different states and lived in ten different houses, including a three-week stretch where my parents, sister, and I lived in my grandparents’ motorhome. My dad had a new job managing the Four Circle Co-op in Bird City, Kansas and we’d moved before he and Mom had a chance to find a house to rent, so we parked in a vacant lot across the street from the town’s only gas station.

We arrived in Bird City in the summer of 1986. I was five, and living in Grandma and Grandpa Luethje’s motorhome for a few weeks seemed sort of exciting at first, like an extended camping trip. Lindy and I fought over who got to sleep on the bunk bed that perched above the driver’s seat (an argument she won because my tendency to sleepwalk proved hazardous when the bed was more than three feet from the ground). It was a bit strange to be camping next to a grocery store on the main drag of a tiny town with one stoplight instead of some ironically-named campground out in the woods near a lake, but it didn’t much faze me at the time. It was just another pit stop on the parade of homes that dotted the landscape of my youth.

I can close my eyes and still see each house we ever lived in in detail. I can see the little  bungalow on Norris Avenue in McCook where our dog Tu-tu had her puppies. The concrete floor in the unfinished basement was always cold, but Dad built a makeshift pen with some blankets and spare pieces of plywood to keep the squirming black pups contained and comfortable. There was a little steel safe built into one of the concrete walls, and I sometimes imagined we were a family of spies locking away our collection of stolen secrets.

The kitchen was painted bright yellow, and Mom used to watch One Life to Live and General Hospital on the little black-and-white television that sat on the counter. Lindy and I shared the little bedroom at the front of the house (of course she got the top bunk), and Mom and Dad’s room was through the Jack-and-Jill bath. Sometimes when both bathroom doors were left open, Dad’s snoring would jolt me awake in the middle of the night, amplified by the bathroom tile.

I can see the first rental house in Bird City where we moved after the excitement of living in the motorhome officially wore off. The two-story house sat on the corner of Burr Avenue and West 3rd Street, just a block from where my best friend Mandy lived, which gave us license to spend just about every moment together when we weren’t in school or sleeping. There was a chainlink fence around the backyard, and in the winter the tumbleweeds would catch there and take over until Dad would eventually light a small fire to burn them, scolding us when we got too close or threw too many tumbleweeds on the crackling pile, sending orange sparks spiraling into the crisp autumn air.

There were two bedrooms and a large playroom with a 3/4 adjoining bathroom on the second floor, which meant Lindy and I finally had our own separate spaces. Our rooms were far enough away from Mom and Dad’s bedroom on the main floor that, for the first time, I could wake up and not hear Dad snoring. The entire second story floor was covered with mismatched scraps of brightly colored carpet. It gave the space a psychedelic circus vibe that started to hurt your eyes if you looked at it too long.

The kitchen had a set of ugly swinging doors, the kind you might see in an old-timey saloon–a wooden frame around a piece of orangish-brown opaque plastic. Mom nearly lost her voice hollering at us to “Stop running in the house!” as we chased each other down the stairs through the den and the kitchen and into the dining room, laughing each time we burst through those doors and heard the satisfying THWAP! as they slapped against walls and swung back into place.

Moving—to a new house or apartment, town or state—was always a nauseating mix of excitement and anxiety. I fancied myself an explorer, and I tried to imagine the fun new adventures I’d have when I arrived at each new place. But the unpleasant byproduct of the recurring upheavals was that it made it nearly impossible for me to ever feel truly grounded. I never really belonged anywhere. Thus, it became an exercise in survival for me to burn all the details into my brain so they wouldn’t get lost each time we packed up our lives and left another place behind.

When I graduated high school and decided to move to New York to attend college, everyone told me I was crazy. They couldn’t imagine a small-town midwestern girl like me fitting in in the big city. But this was the move I desperately needed. It was a chance to throw myself far outside my comfort zone and headlong into the depths of independence. It was a chance to figure out who I really was and who I was going to be.

And for more than 15 years now, Stevie and I have been doing a lot of moving of our own—from New York to Arizona to Nebraska, from apartments and rental houses to our very own homes, packing and unpacking boxes, trying like hell to find the place that fits.

Here we are now, living in a quiet neighborhood in the heart of the Heartland. We’ve got two sweet kids, one crazy hound dog, and a house filled with books and memories and mismatched furniture collected from our families and our childhood homes—a table that came across the country in a covered wagon, framed family photos whispering stories from days gone by, the faded floral couch and matching swivel chairs where Richie and Diane sat drinking coffee each morning in their living room on Long Island. Our walls are covered with movie posters, our children’s scrawling artwork, and photos of the people and the places that we love most.

We are a collection of the people we meet, the places we’ve been, and all of our lived experiences. Our genetics and our childhoods give us a starting point—where we’ve gone from there is a hodgepodge, mishmash, shaken not stirred blend of all we learned and loved and left behind along the way. It’s messy and it’s beautiful. It’s ours and it’s everything.

It’s here, and it’s home.

Soccer & Sibling Day

At some point, people are probably going to get tired of seeing photos of Cadence playing soccer, but I don’t care. My blog. My rules. Right? But seriously, Stevie and I just have too much fun at Miss C’s games, and it’s a blast to take photos because Cadence is out there having so much fun. Today the Chipmunks were playing awesome, and Miss C even managed to score two goals to help her team get the win. And even better, C’s godmother, Tammy, joined us.

It was a bit windy, but the sun was shining, and Henry was having a blast watching his big sister play (though this week he was trying his hardest to crawl right out on the field to help her). Cadence could hear him hollering from the sideline, so she even managed to sneak in a few good luck kisses during one of the water breaks.

Go Chipmunks!

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And in honor of national sibling day, I want to give a shout out to my siblings–Lindy, Kassie, Kolter, Eddie, Beau, Whitney, Collin, Nicole, Janna, Garrett, Tanner, Richard, Jeremy, Michele, Mike, Keith, John, and Heo. Love you all!

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Life in pieces

As I try to get back into the writing groove with my memoir, I’m finding that the hardest thing is figuring out where to start. I have a pretty decent draft, but there are a lot of holes, a lot of moments and details that need to be fleshed out and incorporated into the story.

Each time I sit down and try to begin, I get overwhelmed and have a hard time figuring out where to start. Bits and pieces of my life begin flashing and get all jumbled, making it hard to pull them apart and hone in on one moment.

So, I made a list–I condensed all of the moments I wanted to capture and stories I wanted to tell into short one or two-word descriptions, and then jotted each of them into little slips of paper that I folded up and set aside.

And I gotta say, it’s a little strange to look at your life in pieces–all those big, powerful, defining, unforgettable moments reduced to little bits of paper strewn across a tabletop.

Once I had my little pile of topics, I put them all in a little bag and resigned to draw one each day to use as my starting point.

So far, so good, but there is still a long way to go.

Wish me luck.

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In a Sea of Strangers

It sometimes bothers me how long this memoir project is taking. I’ve been working on it now for more than nine years, on again off again, like one of those annoyingly tumultuous relationship storylines on General Hospital or Days of Our Lives. Yet part of me knows that it’s not exactly healthy to completely immerse myself in this particular project. It’s not easy to dive head first back into the worst days of your life, to dig down and dredge up all the pain and the uncertainty and the shit that you worked so hard to overcome and deal with and leave behind.

So, for nine years, i’ve been easing myself into it, working my way through the manuscript and the memories bit by bit, piece by piece, dissecting my life and the moments that have defined me with a surgeon’s precision, and bring it all up under the lights–the good stuff, the ugly stuff, and all the stuff that fell somewhere in between.

It’s interesting what you find when you go back through your life with a magnifying glass and a fine tooth comb. And the longer I work on this project and give shape to the story, the more I think about all the important moments–both good and bad–that ultimately define me.

But the one thing I never do is play the “what if” game, or look upon any of it with regret, because without those moments–all of those moments–I wouldn’t be here now with my hubby and my hound and my babies tucked snugly in their beds.

So, I am thankful for all of it–the shit and the sunshine–because it’s raw and it’s real and it’s mine. And I’m ready to dive back in again and keeping writing, keep writing, keep writing to fill in the rest of the holes and finally share my story.

In the meantime, if you’d like to follow along on the journey as I complete the project, you can find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/InASeaOfStrangers

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A Damn Good Place To Be

I can give you a long list of reasons why I haven’t finished my memoir–we moved (multiple times), bought a house (or two), got a dog, had a kid. We both have full-time jobs. Steven took a class two nights a week. I started a photography business and have a pretty regular influx of freelance writing jobs. On top of that, I like to hang out with family and friends, and actually spend quality time with Steven and Cadence when we can find a few free hours in the chaos.

There’s always something standing in the way, always some excuse.

But what I have realized, more and more, is that there is a part of me that has given into the excuses, a part of me that always willingly pushed aside the project. As much as I long to tell the story, I know it is also going to take me back to some of the darkest, loneliest, and most uncomfortable times in my life. I know it’s all in the past. I know that I’m in a different place. I know that I’ve worked through my issues and successfully battled the demons that I ran from and fought for so long.

But even if my brain knows that I’ve moved passed it all and found balance, there is still that part of me that is terrified of descending back into the abyss, even if I am walking in older, wiser, and fully-armed.

And it’s that part of me that has been quick to put the project on the shelf and tuck the manuscript away in the drawer anytime some relatively valid excuse presents itself.

So why haven’t I finished writing my story?

Yeah, I have no good excuse. I have allowed my fear to get the better of me.

It’s time to stop running.

With the dawn of this new year, I’ve decided that enough is enough. I’m calling my own bluff. The only thing standing in the way of me finishing and publishing my story is me, and I have stood in my own way long enough.

The past can’t hurt me. In fact, I am thankful for it, because every experience, every decision, ever step I took (not matter how painful or difficult) was one step on the path that led me to this place I am right now…and this is a damn good place.

So, I hope you will all come along. It’s been one helluva ride, but it brought me here. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

You can follow my memoir project as it continues to take shape on the In a Sea of Strangers page on Facebook.

In a Sea of Strangers

And feel free to drop by my latest post and let me know what you think…

June 1998 – Dear Mom