June 13, 2011

Tokens

My mom has been going through my grandmother's keepsake chests with her. The tangible memories of not just her ninety-seven years, but also those of my grandfather, who died over thirty years ago now.

Yesterday they discovered that he had saved every letter my mom wrote to him. Letters from summer sleep-away camp, from her college years, from the early years of her marriage until she moved back in with them and went to grad school while my dad was deployed to Vietnam. One letter each week, like clockwork.

We dipped into them at random last night. It was incredible to trace the origins of my parents' relationship, stories I've heard my entire life, here dropped in tiny tidbits amidst talk of classes and sorority life. She meets my dad, they date. ("This Sigma Chi," she calls him for weeks, referring to his fraternity. "Does this Sigma Chi have a name?" her parents finally reply.) They break up. She spends a summer abroad and falls in love with a local boy; she's convinced they will marry. That ends (you're shocked, I'm sure). She and my dad get back together. They get engaged. Much wedding planning ensues. Post-wedding, she chafes against the restrictions of life on an army base. She writes of trying to learn how to cook.

I only have the faintest memories of my grandfather, although I'm told we loved to be together and that I remind people of him in many ways. He died when I was just three years old. Touching those stacks of carefully bundled letters felt like making a new memory. I now know he was someone, like me, who saved things, tokens of occasions or relationships which were important to him. I know that these letters mattered to him. I know that my mom mattered to him.

Beth, Mari's first mom, spent the first year of her life in foster care. She doesn't know much at all about that time, since she was so young. But she has a letter from her foster mother that tells what she was like as a baby. It's understandably precious to her. She's mentioned the letter many times in the three years we've known her, always in almost reverent tones. I wonder if her foster mom looked ahead to these years when she wrote it and knew how much it would mean.

Eddie has been bugging me lately about finishing his baby book, ever since we came across it while cleaning up a bookshelf. He is a child who adores hearing stories about himself. I've promised him I'll work on it this summer, and I will, but it's pressed me to think about finally getting off my duff and making lifebooks for Eddie and Mari, too. I'm embarrassed that I haven't done them yet; way, way back in the earliest days of Eddie's adoption, when I was clinging so fiercely to the idea that open adoption was entirely different than other forms of adoption, I dismissed the whole idea of making a lifebook. (More embarrassment!) He has relationships with his first family, I told myself. He has the actual people and the stories we already tell him. He doesn't need a book.

I missed the point. I saw the book as a lopsided substitution for the connections open adoption lets my children have. But that's not it at all. We hold onto momentos and create stories all the time involving people in our lives. We do it because they are in our lives. I'm pushing myself work on books for Mari and Eddie in the hopes that, in some small way, they will say to each of them that I want to be alongside you as you pull the different strands of your life together. I have this information, this story, and I want to put it together in this way because it belongs to you, too. I want you to be able to hold it in your hands now and years from now and know how much it matters to me. How much you matter to me.

12 comments:

KatjaMichelle said...

"He has relationships with his first family, I told myself. He has the actual people and the stories we already tell him. He doesn't need a book."

I've been stuck in this thinking as well. For years J has asked me to put in writing some family history for Kidlet. and for years I've been slacking (dude it's hard!) But you're right I need to finish the book I started 5 years ago (and conceptualized 5 years before that) I will do it little by little but I won't let the emotion stall me indefinately.

Heather said...

@KatjaMichelle - We should hold each other accountable...

oneinchofgrace said...

My kids both have life books, but they are mostly empty. Their foster family was much better about it than we are.

Elly said...

I keep almost finishing the little man's lifebook. Maybe we do need a lifebook challenge for mutual encouragement.

On the subject of letters. I used to write to my maternal grandmother. She wasn't a person who hung onto material things, but apparently she kept all the letters. I was really touched by that. And reminded me of the value of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard and printer).

Heather said...

@Elly - "And reminded me of the value of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard and printer)."

I was thinking about this, too. I had a weekly phone call with my parents for over a decade, before we moved back to the same town. It was great for our relationship, but what remains of those calls, you know?

AmericanFamily said...

I was also putting off finishing L's lifebook. I just felt I couldn't do it while we were so close to finding her family because I knew the story we had wasn't true. Now that we found them, the lifebook would need to be entirely different than those from China and I don't know where to start. I guess this summer I should just do it already.

mama2roo said...

Thanks for this! I got up to Roo's 3 month mark on his lifebook. Mommy FAIL!

I think its terribly important, and thank you for putting words to the "why" of that.

Kristin said...

Creating D's life book is on my summer To Do list too!

Part of my struggle is knowing when it should "end," and that has implications for format. So, I'm very interested in learning from others' experiences and suggestions!

harriet glynn said...

Great post. I recently realized ( had it pointed out to me) that we need to create a book for Theo in particular just to start the conversation with him about his adoption. I totally get now why it's SO important.

luna said...

I created a book for baby Jaye but I'm not sure that it is really a true lifebook. it doesn't start at her birth, but rather when we first cultivated a relationship with her birthmom. it documents all of her birth family that we've met and her first year of life. it has a longer story up front but it's lacking more age-appropriate text.

I love this book, but will probably have to create another shorter one that tells the story of her birth and placement better with words rather than mostly images.

Heather said...

I think we may have something in the works to help us get these done. (Especially procrastinators like me.) Stay tuned!

Rebeccah said...

Me too ... Squeaker's empty baby book guilts me from a shelf (although I do have a folder stuffed with things to put in it) and haven't gotten farther than thinking about a life book. Sigh ...

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