The Summer Knows……

As the boys finished school for the year this week, I found myself reflecting not only on what they had both accomplished this year, and what lies in store for them this summer for enjoyment, but on my own childhood and summers past.

I wasn’t much of a fan of school.  It wasn’t the work involved, nor the learning, that bothered me about it.  It was more to do with the prospect of spending month upon month consigned to an atmosphere I was ill-suited to be in.  I was never particularly athletic, nor outgoing. Therefore, as the days of elementary school waned and middle- and high-school approached, I found my circle of friends reduced greatly as my peers separated into cliques.

There were those who showed physical prowess…those who showed intellectual prowess…and those who showed social prowess.  I was not a member of any of these groups.  Unfortunately there was not a clique for ‘introverted children of divorced parents who have taken refuge in the society of reading and are usually debilitated by the notion of making new friends and insinuating themselves into groups.’

I was a reticent child…who eventually became a somewhat reticent adult.  I found more enjoyment, due to this being my nature, in opening a new book or exploring the woods surrounding my childhood home than I ever found in the company of my familiars. When the summer came, and I was deemed old enough to care for myself during the day sufficiently to escape the need for a sitter, I reveled in the freedom I had in spending full days completely alone thinking my strange thoughts and planning out my excursions in the radius from home afforded to me as ‘acceptable’ for me to navigate.

Before that time, I was the daytime ward of a local woman who, on her own, had charge of no less than fifteen children that she ‘babysat’ during the day.  Her husband drove the school bus in my area.  Their home, no more than half a mile from my own, took in more than a dozen children for the summer, during work hours, in the days before daycare was more regulated and each caregiver had a maximum number of children they could be responsible for.

Days there were spent in the front yard of their home, no matter the temperature outside.  Inside there were other adults, but they spent all day in one of the upstairs bedrooms smoking pot and doing goodness only knows what else.  Occasionally one of them, the girlfriend of one of the woman’s adult sons, would wander down the stairs for something to eat or drink, and when the bedroom door opened, if you happened to be in the vicinity of the stairs, a cloud of smoke, accompanied by a smell I would not identify until my teen years, would roll down the stairs like an out of control freight train careening down a steep hill. The morning was frittered away digging in the dirt or playing with toys or simply sitting on the sparsely grassed lawn and talking with other children.

Except for me.  I participated in these things, certainly, but more often than not I found my way up to the small, nearby village library. I had been granted permission by my mother to go this far, though no further, and check out books as often as the library was open, which was not every day.

The librarian, an older woman with a welcoming smile and even more welcoming voice, would greet me amiably each time I entered through the door and ask what treasure I was searching for that day.  She introduced me to the ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators’ series, finding that I was a fan of mysteries even at a young age, and did her best to steer me clear of books ‘less appropriate’ for my age, which were grotesquely dust jacketed horror novels in the ‘adult’ section of the one room library.  Unbeknownst to her my own personal library at home contained titles by Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and a host of other authors of blood-soaked tales of terror.  I thanked her, always, for her recommendations, and immersed myself immediately upon returning to the home of the woman who watched me during the day, aside from her one hour weekday soap opera indulgence in which you had to be bleeding out or on fire to gain her attention, and found a quiet, shady spot (a scarcity on some days with so many children and very few trees in the yard) to read in until pickup time when my mother came to retrieve me and my brother.

Once I was home, I secluded myself just as much as I did during the days, although I was able to travel further than during the days.  The woods behind my home became a South American jungle and I imagined myself an Indiana Jones type explorer on the run from violent natives as I wound through trees and jumped across the trickling brook that wove through the woods behind my house.  The wide open field across the street from us, a popular local sledding spot in the winter, became the plains of a foreign country and often times I would carefully cross our busy street, descend down over the embankment on the other side, and walk out into the expanse before me, crackling and buzzing with summertime insects and the heat of the sun overhead baking the breezeless sky, the tall summer grass swallowing me whole until I could no longer see my house behind me. This never frightened me. Rather, it comforted me to know that not only could I not see the house….the house, and anyone in there, could no longer see me.

I traipsed through that field to a small pond up over a hill, not far from where the grass gave way to trees, and laid down by the smooth waters, my body compressing the tall grass into a makeshift bed, decidedly softer than the ground beneath.  There I would lay, for hours, day-dreaming about far off people and places; places I had read about in books, places where I would one day take myself and bid a not-so-fond farewell to this life, and this place, and to all the long afternoons of childhood where I wished and hoped with all my might to be anywhere but there….to be anything but frightened….to be anyone but me.

The summers of my childhood eventually ended.  After school was done for me, I began working and earning a living. No longer did I have months to roam the woods or peddle my bike or climb trees, or lay on a pile of grass and listen to the hums and the laughter of the bugs all around me, singing away my fears and hesitations with their comforting chorus. No longer was I confined to no more than a one mile radius from my home, unless it was a day that I had a special dispensation to ride my bike over to the main village of the town I grew up in.  Now I was confined to a chair….sitting at a desk….stifling my creatively active mind long enough to focus on the task I was being paid for.  At times I was successful, other times not.

I ventured from home over time, but not terribly far.  Even now, with a mere two hour drive, I could park my truck in the driveway of the house I grew up in.  I could cross the street, go down over the embankment, and enter the expansive field that would be stretched out before me.  But these days there is a large, modern elementary school there, which has displaced the elementary school I attended in my youth.  A black tar road weaves through the tall grass to reach the school from the main road.  Other children play there.  Other laughs ring out from their mouths in happiness. Other tears fall from their eyes in despair.  Other day dreams have supplanted my own.

No matter how far I have drifted from that place and that time, part of me will always wish to live that carefree again.  To experience, even for a day, that fabled nirvana that our parents warn us not to squander known as childhood.  We are only children for a while, but we are adults for the rest of our lives.  We must be.  The world frowns upon us if we are not.

I stood, not long ago, looking out over that field and a sense of nostalgia washed over me.  My mind pulled up images and feelings that I’d long tucked away.  The bugs still hum and the grass still grows and the sun still bakes the sky above that field.  And all the day dreams that I left there are still sunken into the ground, hoarded away in the dirt, the treasures of my childhood mind, lost to time…lost to age….lost to the cares and concerns and woes and triumphs and joys of life.

I don’t recall all of them now. They all just seem to melt into one long meandering train of thought.  They, the unfettered hopes and anguishes of childhood, remain buried in that field, beside that pond, trampled on by the feet of other children, who will perhaps one day visit there again, and look out over the tips of the grass and recall the hours they spent there, just as I do now.  Perhaps they, like me, will wonder what ever happened to those hopes and anguishes, and when that child, the child they were….the child I was….vanished into adolescence and adulthood…never to return.


A Gift To My Son For Father’s Day

Mother’s Day came and went recently, and neither of my boys have their mom in their life.  One has not seen his mom since he was two. The other lost his mom nearly two years ago.  It is a day that can invoke so many feelings in a person based upon their relationship with their mom, or the lack thereof.

I drove to Maine and took my mother out for lunch the day before Mother’s Day, just as I will with my father this coming weekend.  Mom and I made a pact long ago to dispense with exchanging gifts any longer. We send cards, and place phone calls, and when time allows see one another in person.  I developed a belief several years ago that nothing material you can give to an older person means more to them than the time you spend with them as I visited my grandmothers in the years before their deaths.  One grandmother passed away ten years ago next month, and the other just a year ago now. I miss them both terribly.

Father’s Day is coming this Sunday.  I’m not looking for breakfast in bed, or a new tie, or one of those elementary school clay ashtrays with enough cigarette holding places for 700 smokers to come to my home at one time.  I don’t want cards from the kids, or ‘excellent behavior’ or a new drill….or anything like that.  I want to spend the day with them and enjoy them and find a million new reasons to be grateful that I have the chance to be called ‘Daddy’ by such wonderful little men.

My adopted son has been asking many questions about his mom recently.  I’ve been able to tell him some information, such as when her birthday is, how old she is, and what her first name is.  I know more, though we have no contact with her.  We have no baby pictures of him, unfortunately, and this fact has always made me sad whereas we likely never will, due to his infancy foster placement that went very awry and was terminated on very short notice.  Whereas he went into foster care at three months of age, he also carries no photos of his biological family.

When my son asks questions about his mother,  I answer him honestly in terms of not knowing where she is, or how to reach her.  He of course is curious about her.  He of course wishes to know where, and who, he comes from.  She and her life are not part of my story, nor of ‘our’ story as a father and son, but she is part of ‘his’ story, and always will be.

Some adoptive parents (one in particular that I know) have a great fear of adoptive children finding their biological family….it’s a fear of ‘losing them’ to their biological parent(s).  They feel threatened by the idea of it.  I don’t share this fear.  I only fear that finding them will perhaps hurt him….and not give him the answers he might be looking for….or perhaps will…and they will be answers he isn’t prepared to handle.  My own sister, before her death, found her biological siblings, and learned the reason why she was placed for adoption.   I think in ways it did her more harm than good to know the truth.

I suppose one day when he’s older my son might choose to find his biological family. In our technologically advanced society, it won’t be that difficult.

My other child, the nephew I am raising, has been talking a lot about his mother recently, and having grown up with her I have many stories to share…..and he has his own memories as well.  He has stories, some real, some embellished, that he’s been sharing lately.  It’s helping him through the grieving process right now and accepting her loss.

In being supportive and compassionate and talking to him about his mom, and the loss of her, I have to bear in mind that this is, in a different way, a similar loss for my adopted son.  With all the attention and love I am pouring into the child whose mother has died, I can’t overlook what this could be raising for the other child who hasn’t seen his mom since he was two.  No matter how much time and care I give to one child, the other child is bound to be affected by hearing all the ‘mom’ stories being relayed now.

My other child has no such stories.  He cannot tell you what his mom looks like, nor what her favorite color is.  He can’t talk about walking to the store with her and picking raspberries from a bush and eating them, nor relate trips to the park and playground with her and how much fun he had.   I have never been able to tell him to close his eyes and picture her in his mind when he’s missing her at night, and telling him to hold her there in his mind and keep her with him while he goes to sleep.

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet.  I find all the phishing and identity theft and scamming completely sickening and wonder why people can put so much effort into making the world more difficult for others….rather than doing something with their computer savvy to make it better?  I just don’t get it, and don’t think I ever will.  But when I find a two minute video online that allows me to fix (myself) a minor plumbing issue without calling anyone or spending a cent….I worship at the altar of the almighty WWW.COMToday I did some digging, on the internet, and was able to locate a picture of his mom.  It’s not terribly focused or fancy…she’s sitting in a chair with her feet up, smiling at the camera.  It took some effort to locate it, as she’s not active on social media (that I can find), but once I found this photo, the only one I could, I only had to look at her eyes to know I’d found the right person.  They are the same as my son’s eyes.  The likeness is unmistakable.

I decided to give my son a gift for Father’s Day, a little early, instead of anticipating anything from him. I printed off the picture and put it in a frame for him.  I will give it to him later on when he’s home from school, and tell him that the woman in the picture is his mom.  I suppose it will raise several questions for him about where I found it and if there are any others and why can’t we call her….I know the can of worms I’m potentially opening with this.  I know that it could give him some pangs of missing her and feeling sad that she’s not a part of his life.

More than anything, I hope that it gives him some comfort to at least look at her picture and see her face, smiling, and see the woman who gave him life.  At some point he may learn things about her that upset or sadden him, but at least for now he has something very real to hold onto, her photo, and look at and let his seven year old mind conjure up whatever stories and whatever life he wishes to ascribe to her.

It’s not my job, as an adoptive parent, to ever try to lessen the importance of where he comes from. It’s my job to focus on where he goes. That’s the promise I made, and the job I accepted….the hardest and most rewarding job I will ever have.  I hope that in giving him this gift I am steering him in a positive direction in coming to terms with his ‘story’ when he learns it all eventually.  I hope that if and when he does go looking for more answers, or even for his mom, he will realize that he has my full support in doing so, and I won’t try to stand in his way, and that he will recall this piece of the puzzle and where he got it, and know that I’ll be there for him to help him find the rest…and love him through whatever he finds.

I’m not giving this gift to my son to hurt or confuse him.  I’m giving it to him to show him (as I try to all year round) the depth of my love for him…that being his father means more to me than I can ever express, and that I want him to have the happiest life he possibly can, and to find all the answers to life’s questions, to his questions, and especially one of the biggest questions of all….who his mom is.

I give him this gift because no matter what he chooses to do with it…to put it on his bureau or on the fireplace mantle or tuck it under his pillow at night or toss it into a drawer and never look at it again….I want him to have his answers, age appropriately….and that having something of his mother with him in no way lessens or ‘threatens’ our relationship whatsoever.    She’s his mom….for better or for worse….whether she’s a part of his life or not.  Nothing I ever say or do will change that.

She brought him into this world…..I will help guide him through it.  I will give him this gift with a full heart and hope it means something very special to him.  Then I’ll hug him, and tell him I love him, and how happy I am that I get to be his dad, and know how much he thinks about her, especially right now, I wanted him to have something of her….I wanted him to have this gift…a picture of his mom.

Being his dad is the gift I gave to myself.