June 13, 2011
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.