Skip to content

Mother’s Day in Paris

May 16, 2012

Vierge a L’Enfant, Cathedral of Notre Dame

Before I met my birth mother, Mother’s Day was never about anyone other than my mother and my grandmothers.  Even after I had my own children, I didn’t think of the holiday as mine in any way; rather, it belonged to the three women, the mothers of mothers, who helped me become who I am.  When Mother’s Day rolled around each year, I wish I had been the sort of person who acknowledged my birth mother as well, if only in some secret place in my heart.  I wish I had thought of her, this woman who was the first mother, the essential mother, but only “the mother” for a few short days.  But in truth, on Mother’s Day, I thought only of the second mother who became “the mother.”  I thought only of my mother.

Several months after I learned who my birth mother was, I sent her a card on Mother’s Day.  The gesture was earnest, as was my gratitude, but it was saddled with confusion.  I wasn’t sure what Mother’s Day was supposed to mean to us.  Without a name, she had been only a ghost body, hovering in the shadows of my past.  Cloaked now in a name, and a story, her body bore the vague outline of a mother, but still, it was hard to make out who she was supposed to be to me now, in the light of the present.  There wasn’t a card in the racks to acknowledge a stranger who brought me and my twin into the world, then left us to another, no card for a mother to whom we are eternally grateful not only for giving us life but also for giving us up.  I think I settled on “To Someone Special” with wishes for a lovely day.  I suspected her children would call her, as I would call my mother.  I suspected one of them would make sure she had a corsage of colored carnations to wear to church, take her out to dinner, or make her a meal.  She didn’t need me or my sister, or a card from us that said “To Mother,” to feel like a mother on Mother’s Day.

At the American Adoption Congress conference in Denver last month, following a film screening to which I had invited my birth parents, an audience member asked all of the birth mothers in the room to rise and be acknowledged by a round of applause.  A friend of mine reached over and nudged my birth mother’s elbow as if to say, “Get up!  Get up!”  My birth mother swallowed an anguished groan.  I saw the distress in her eyes, saw the way her entire body tensed in a pain I didn’t fully understand but could appreciate.  I blocked my friend and leaned toward my birth mother, whispering defiantly, with a familiar, filial protectiveness I have often felt toward my own mother:  “You don’t have to stand.  You don’t have to get up.”  She stayed put, tense, a seated statue, until the moment passed.  Later, I mulled the scene over in my mind, surprised still by my own reaction to her discomfort, my desire to shield her from it, even if it meant erasing myself.  Maybe, I thought, my birth mother doesn’t want to be that mother.  To four other biological and adopted children, my birth mother is simply the mother, just like my own is to me, just like I am to my children.

This year I sent a card again to both of them, one to “Mother” and one to “Someone Special.”  I told them both how grateful I was.  I signed both cards “With Love.”  But on Mother’s Day itself, I was far from the confusion of the mothers.  I was in Paris with my oldest son, who, overwhelmed by crowds and a swirl of language he doesn’t understand, gripped my hand all day.  At the Eiffel Tower, lovers embraced all around us, dipping each other, planting kisses–all lost on my nine-year-old son.  “Here we are!” he exclaimed, his face filled with an engineer’s wonder.  “Can you believe it?”  I squeezed the hand of my first-born son and thought, with a fierce longing and love, of my other children, at home with their father, waiting anxiously for our return.

In the Parc du Champ de Mars, directly behind the tower, somebody offered to take a picture with my camera of my boy and me as a souvenir, a token of remembrance.

“Smile for Mama,” the woman prompted in halting English. “Say cheese for Mama!”

My son looked at me and smiled, then turned toward the camera.  “Fromage!” he chirped, throwing his arms around my body with a force that nearly knocked me over.

In the photo, I am slightly askew, trying to keep my balance.  But my face is shining, sure.  In Paris, on Mother’s Day, I am on my feet, glowing with a mother’s love.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Helen permalink
    May 30, 2012 3:56 pm

    Did you not enter your oldest son’s name or photo at his request? What a precious memory, both for you and for him! Does “fromage” mean “Mother” or love? I am always anxious to read these chapters! What an exceptional experience for one so young to be in Paris!

    • twinprint permalink*
      May 30, 2012 4:20 pm

      I do try to keep my children’s names and photos off the site, not at their request, but to keep them safe since the blog is public. Fromage means cheese! 🙂 And yes, lucky kid, so young in Paris!

  2. May 30, 2012 3:09 pm

    “…the desire to shield her from it, even if it meant erasing myself”. This is striking to me for this is what I do, in a way. By staying a secret, willingly, I suppose one could say this about me. I don’t feel erased though, maybe because ultimately I am in charge of my presence, or lack thereof, in my biological family’s world. I’m enjoying reading your adoption posts : )

    • twinprint permalink*
      May 30, 2012 4:22 pm

      Thanks for your comment! Erased is a charged word. I’m now wondering if it’s the best one because, like you, I do feel a certain amount of power in this situation (not power in a bullying sense as much as in an self-strong sense). I’m going to keep pondering this one–thanks for keeping me thinking about it!

  3. Judy permalink
    May 17, 2012 6:23 pm

    This is a heartwarming, lovely story of your struggle, Jenny. I thought of you and Jackie on Mother’s Day–so glad that you and your boy had that unforgettable moment together. Hope sometime we can talk about the conference.

    • twinprint permalink*
      May 30, 2012 4:22 pm

      Thanks, Judy! I’d love to talk more about the conference at some point.

  4. May 16, 2012 5:41 pm

    You render this story so tenderly. It aches, it laughs, it cries out. Thank you for your bravery and insight into what this is like. You must be a gift to all your mothers and certainly your son as well! I look forward to following you. – Renee

    • twinprint permalink*
      May 17, 2012 11:47 am

      Thank YOU for your kind words. It doesn’t feel brave. It just feels like something that must be told. The challenge: to do it without hurting anyone but also without denying myself.

      • May 18, 2012 5:41 am

        You point out the exact crux of great writing: “The challenge: to do it without hurting anyone but also without denying myself.” This is the rock and a hard place in which all great writers writhe! Your discomfort translated into amazing material. Stay brave! I look forward to traveling with your stories!!!

  5. May 16, 2012 4:47 pm

    Lovely post. I’ve struggled with the Mother’s Day card issue, too. Fifteen years into reunion, I now usually send her a book or some other gift rather than a card.

    • twinprint permalink*
      May 17, 2012 11:51 am

      Thanks so much for the comment! I always appreciate hearing how others handle similar dilemmas.

Leave a Reply to unpackedwriter Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: