Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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D*I*V*O*R*C*E(D)

This is a falling out of love story. It happens slowly, incrementally. It happens so slowly you barely notice it.

It happened to me after 28 years of marriage to the boy next door.

And maybe it has happened to you.

His name was William. He was witty and smart and wrote poetry. We would sit on our front lawns talking long after the sun went down. I asked him out first — to the Queen of Hearts dance at my all girls high school. But our first date was to the movies to see Easy Rider. It was 1970.

We were very hippy-dippy, very crunchy granola. William and I both had long hair down to our shoulders. We both wore “granny glasses” with wire frames. We both bought our jeans and flannel shirts at Sunny Surplus.

We spent our Saturdays at beatnik bookstores and cruising curiosity shops. We’d go to foreign films at the Biograph Theater and drink pitchers of beer at the Tombs — a bar so loud you could barely hear yourself speak.

Just a year older than me, William was my best friend not just my boyfriend. And being just a year younger, I skipped my senior year at Immaculata so that we could matriculate together at Catholic U (For more than one reason, you may already know, if you have read: Scarlet Letter, No More.)

William and I got married in a little civil service at the courthouse. We set up household in a tiny little efficiency on Connecticut Avenue. We even worked together at bilingual daycare center in Adams-Morgan.

It seemed we were meant to be.

I was happily, happily hyphenated for 28 years as Joani Peacock-Clark. Together we juggled jobs, school, three children, friends, family, vacations, church, and just about anything else that you can think of. We juggled things beautifully for a very long time.

William was a stay at home dad and a fabulous cook, and he did all the grocery shopping. I was the career mom who was very good at doing the dishes. And when it came to parenting Zach, Colleen, and Jacob, we were very simpatico — at least on the things that mattered most.

But the last two years of our marriage were bloody awful, god awful. All the things that we had been juggling came crashing down on our heads. And just like Humpty Dumpty, we couldn’t quite put our marriage back together again.

I love you.” became just something we said but no longer did. Some might consider my marriage a failure. I certainly felt like a failure for a very long time. But it was death that we were dealing with. Our marriage had died.

uncoupling divorce herbal tea picture

Marriages die. Relationships die. Some by neglect and some by design. Some by both.

In 2003, I signed the divorce papers. And this Peacock, after 28 years, uncoupled herself from the Clark.

Uncoupling is a railroad term. Circa 1985, Potomac Yards in Alexandria was the largest railroad switching yard in the country. Struggling to fall asleep in our Delray Bungalow at 212 E. Windsor, we could hear the train cars crashing in the middle of the night. We’d hear the cars coming together and being pulled apart. It sounded like bombs going off. It sounded of wrenching, tearing, coupling, thrashing, and crashing. Passionate hearts breaking in the middle of the night.

Now I have only been married once but I have been divorced many times.

And maybe you have too.

I uncoupled from William in 2003.

I uncoupled from a crazy colleague in 2005.

I have uncoupled from two not so healthy congregations.

I have uncoupled from a dark and dysfunctional friend.

I have uncoupled from a therapist who thought she knew me better than I know myself.

And I am happier for it, healthier for it, and stronger for it.

Maybe you’ve been “divorced” more than once too.

So how does this jive with Jesus?

Please, allow me to explain away, or at least put in context this passage from Mark because it is really harsh on 21st century ears.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female…So they are longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus celebrated marriage we know. Along with the other guests, Jesus partied for three days at the wedding at Cana. And when the wine was running out he famously turned water into wine. (I imagine he got a whole lot of other invites thereafter.)

First century marriage, enjoined not just partners but families. In the first century, women were essentially property. Marriage was a civil contract that handed  over the father’s daughter to her husband. Women had no rights, as we would define them. They owned no property of their own. Their word would not be accepted in court. Their status came from being wife, mother, sister, daughter. As part of a family. As part of a tribe.

And they could be cast out with a divorce decree sworn out by their spouse. Cast out without protection for themselves or their children. No recourse, of any kind.

She had no power to divorce him, however. And if the wife remarried, she was labeled the adulterer not him.

But Jesus raises the bar.

We know from reading scripture that Jesus befriended women in such a way the Pharisees found scandalous. Women were prominent among his disciples. Some even bankrolled his ministry: Mary of Magdala being the foremost of these.

Remember the woman with the alabaster jar who washed Jesus’ feet?  Remember Jesus railing at the rabble rousers to drop the rocks they were about to hurl at a harlot?

Prostitutes became his friends.

In Mark, Jesus puts husband and wife, man and woman on more of an equal footing. No, you can’t discard her.  Faithfulness is a two way street. And women and children and family were to be protected.

Jesus never got married himself. But he advocated for a radical understanding of marriage – foreign in his time.

What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.

But God can separate, whoever has been joined in his name,

God can call us into marriage and God can call us out. When relationships become toxic, dysfunctional, beyond repair, our resurrected God calls us back to life. The Episcopal Church celebrates marriage (marriage for ALL) but, also allows divorce. While  divorce is often tragic and never easy it can be the best decision.  A life affirming decision.

A decision I made and maybe you have too.

Uncoupled, I am on on my own but not alone. And I am not at all lonely.

Uncoupled, I am free to fall in love again and to be loved again. I am open to love wherever I may find it. Professional, personal, playful, passionate or platonic.

I am not looking to get married again. (You could not pay me enough money to get married again!) I am looking for someone who might like to try and keep up with me. Someone who drinks deeply from the well of life. Someone with a sense of adventure. Someone who reads. Someone who laughs. A partner in crime.

(And if you know anyone who fits this description, please, see me after the service.)

Should this someone come along, that would be lovely.

I’m game. I am open.

Sometimes you have to fall out of love, I believe, to find it again.

Thanks be to God.

JoaniSign


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Rebecca Has Two Mommies

Yes, this is a ripoff of the 1989 classic “Heather Has Two Mommies” — but in title only not in plot.

“Rebecca Has Two Mommies” is a maternal tale not of partnership but of parallel universes.

And it’s the story of a child – caught in between – who had no choice in the matter.

Many of my U&U followers have read the story of Rebecca’s return to my life, in one or more of these posts:

Scarlet Letter, No More,

A Room Full of Mothers,

The “Nua” Normal.

I have shouted this story from the rooftops every way I know how both here and in print and on the Story District stage.

For forty-five years out of fear, out of shame, I locked Rebecca away. I was seventeen years-old and kicked out of my Roman Catholic household, the Hester Prynne of my high school. My sin was so mortal, it was dangerous even to speak of it.

My father’s medical practice would be ruined. So Father Kelso, the parish priest (I believe), with a wink and a nod, assured my parents I could be sent to some discrete location. To spare them the scandal. Some Magdalen Laundry. Some home for unwed mothers.

That’s what happened to knocked-up pregnant teenage girls in 1972.

But William and I forged a different path – disowned and on our own.

The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was about to come down. But I never struggled with my choice. It was a no-brainer. It simply did not occur to me to “terminate” her or to vacuum her out through a tube. (While I totally understand and support the difficult choices that other women make.)

She was a life inside me. She made me throw up in the mornings. She kicked my insides. She gave me stretch marks. For nine months, occupying my every crevice, she was my most intimate companion. It was just the two of us in the delivery room the day that she was born. No other family members were there.

IMG_2901

A child, I gave birth to a child I was unable to keep. The social worker from Pierce Warwick collected her later that week. And handed her over to her older, more stable, more educated, more mature, the so much more ready adoptive mom and dad.

Two people for whom I will be forever grateful.

But before I could let her go, I had to fill out the form. Her birth certificate lay on my hospital tray table. My hand shaking, I filled in the blanks.

Baby Name: Elizabeth Catherine

Name of Mother: Joan Louise Peacock (Me, that’s me.)

Signature of Mother: J o a n________ (Me, that’s me.)

A sealed adoption, this form was locked up tight in a D.C. courthouse for 45 years. In fact, its locked there still.

And for a year and a half now, Rebecca and I have gotten to know one another. We’ve grown close. It’s really quite impossible to imagine my life without her.

I am not her parent. I am Joani. I am bio-mom. But after 18 months, bio has become a cumbersome distinction.

Rebecca says that people have fought for a long time to have two moms. So she reserves the right to call both the mother who raised her and the mother who gave her birth – simply mom.

Rebecca has taught me much about the realities of the adopted life. An adopted child is the only person in adoption who has no choice in the matter.

Adoptees live in an in between world. They are grateful for their adoptive parents and genuinely love the families they grow up in. Simultaneously, they yearn to know where they came from — not just for information but for connection. The hope of reunion. It’s a both/and aspiration.

But many adoptees grow up in an either/or world. DNA does not matter anymore. Only love does, so the adoptee is told. So whatever came before does not matter. In fact, it’s something you shouldn’t talk about or ask about. Because after all, we’re your real family.

And of course, they are. Of course, that is true.

But an adoptee’s life does not begin at adoption. It begins at birth.

Its not just a story of joy, but of grief and loss. Adoption is often born of trauma.

And the stories of the birth moms are written out of the story — whatever their story may be.

Rebecca’s birth certificate, her certificate of live birth has her adoptive mother’s name where mine used to be.

I was so startled. Already a thing of shame, I was erased, irrelevant, like a Handmaid to a Commander’s wife in the Margaret Atwood tale.

Made invisible.

I am one of untold numbers of silent 1970’s birth moms of the “Baby Scoop Era.”

Since I have told my Rebecca story in print, in the pulpit, on stage a swarm of people have come up to me to share their own. That’s my story too. I was adopted. I adopted a child. I adopted a baby from a teenage mother.

But not a single woman  has told me that they did what I did. Not a single one.

Because, I believe, even though it is 2018, the shame resonates still.

The birth mom is a sinner. The adoptive mom is a savior.

It is the ultimate and unforgivable sin for a woman to give up a child. You abandoned her, didn’t you?

And so people like me are written out of the story. And because of the shame, we keep writing ourselves out of the story, as well.

But not anymore. No longer hiding, I refuse to be invisible.

And  I want to help other birth mothers like me to come out, as well.

So I am determined to write this story — a truer story.

And guess what it’s called?

Rebecca Has Two Moms.

Of course.

(And stay tuned for a guest post from Rebecca!)

JoaniSign


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“Reel” Time Revelation of Rebecca on the Story District Stage

For those of you loyal readers who have followed the tale of reunion with my firstborn daughter Rebecca – and for those of you tuning in for the first time — here is my December 2017 telling of it live on the Story District stage.

Eight minutes of riveting entertainment!

Joani Peacock in Story District’s Home for the Holidays!

Also published this year in Turning Points: Stories about Change and Choice. Scarlet Letter No More is on Page 37 of this excellent little anthology.

A great 10 minute read!

Stay tuned for new posts on U&U! God only knows what might be up next!


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Jesus: The Electric Album

Take out your pencil. Today’s post begins with a pop quiz on that Jesus-on -a-mountaintop story in the Gospel of Mark.  Have you read it? Have you heard it? Do you know what it means?

Don’t worry. There’s only one question on this quiz and it happens to be multiple choice:

Trans-fig-ur-a-tion means:

a. First century plastic surgery

b. A biblical plan to compute your tithe

c. A Christian weight loss program

or….

d. The glory of God breaking open the heart of a man on a mountaintop.

(Ding. Ding. You’re right. Of course, it’s “d”.)

To be transfigured, to have your whole self, your whole person turned inside out, is an experience that many a mom knows well. Carrying a child for nine months reshapes everything.  Your heart swells with love and your body with life but so do your hands and your feet. Rings no longer seem to fit and shoes are too tight.

And just when you think there is not a single inch of you that this little person does not occupy, delivery day draws nigh.

Upon a tidal wave of contractions, you surf the ecstatic — burning stages of birth.  And with every fiber of your being, this little tiny person is propelled into the world.

You feel like you have just climbed a mountain.

And when they place that little slippery purple person on your naked chest, there and then, life itself is transfigured. In the baby’s face, you see your loved one’s eyes and maybe your grandmother’s nose.

The spitting image of your hopes and dreams.

(And I know that adoptive moms go through their own transfiguring experience, too. And it often takes a lot longer than nine months!)

Bring that little person home and very soon your mantel and your hallway are lined with photographs: baby pictures, school photos, family portraits. Images, reshaped and transformed and transfigured over a life time.

Some of us work like the devil to try to live up our parents’ expectations. While some of us run like Hades to avoid turning into our mother or our father, our parents or grandparents.

Most of us are also scared to death, I believe, to discover whose image actually is stamped on our souls.

The catechism says it is the image of God — the image of Christ. Can you believe it?  In a culture that is prone to value firearms more than families, in a society where profits are often more important than people, can we still believe that each and every on of us is created in the image of Christ?

Jesus of the People by Janet McKenzie

“Jesus of the People” by Janet McKenzie

At the turn of this century, there was a contest that called on artists to create an Icon of Christ for the third millennium. It was sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter and it drew nearly two thousand entries from over nineteen countries. Sister Wendy Beckett selected the winners, as well as, the runners-up.

The chosen images drew visceral responses – many written up in the Washington Post.

One anonymous e-mailer shrieked: “It is nothing but a politically correct, modern, blasphemous statement reflecting the artists’ and the judges’ spiritual depravity.” 

 Another critic complained that a certain entry made the Prince of Peace look like the artist formerly known as Prince. And yet another called the winning entry – a blatant rip off of Jimi Hendrix from the Electric Lady Album!

But others were deeply moved by these newly cast images of Jesus. A Catholic priest wrote, “I am sitting here with tears brimming over and running down my face.  These are magnificent images of haunting, inviting serenity. Jesus would recognize himself in these images.

Jesus as a thick lipped and broad nosed ebony woman. Jesus as an olive skinned, dark haired Middle Eastern peasant. Jesus as a gaunt, gray haired, gay man. Jesus portrayed in bursts of color and glorious light.

Jesus transfigured before our very eyes.

Now the transfiguration of Jesus as the Christ, a scholar writes  “is one of the strangest tales the gospels have to tell.  Even with the voice from the cloud trying to explain it, the transfiguration is a cosmic and a confusing event. Even Jesus — who spent his life in conversation with the prophets — has no words.”

Instead, a vision erupts on a mountain top and images appear. Up the mountain, Jesus climbs with Peter and James and John. When they reach the top, Jesus can no longer contain the glory of God.  It splits his heart in two. It spills out of his every pore: blazing and blinding, exquisite and ecstatic.

The image of Elijah is seared onto his soul. The commandments of Moses beat in his heart. The holy three enveloped in a cloud. But when the cloud is lifted, only the image of Jesus remains.

And it is the same Jesus, the man with whom his friends had traveled a dusty mile. The same Jesus whose mother and brothers they knew. The same Jesus they had seen hungry and tired and sore. Out of the cloud, steps the spitting image of God. Jesus of Nazareth. Flesh of our flesh. Bone of our bone.

In this last flash and blast of Epiphany, walk down the mountain, friends. Take a look around and try to catch a glimpse of such glory. In the eyes of a child. In the arms of a beloved. In the voice of a friend.  In the face of a stranger.

Just about anywhere. Just about everywhere. Just around the corner, the human face of God waits to greet us – if we but recognize him.

May God’s glory break open the hardest of hearts – no matter who we are – no matter how impossible that might seem.

May God’s love transfigure and transform us into the likes of love, into the likes of him.

So, let us pray. Day by day.
JoaniSign


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The Third Peacock

Middle child of six siblings, this third Peacock often got lost in the crowd.

Girl. Boy. Girl. Boy. Girl. Boy. Our six birthdays, from the oldest to the youngest, spanned just nine years.  No wonder my mom could barely keep us straight.

Maureen. Tim. Joani. Bernie. Clare. Joseph. She would rattle through our names till she found the one that fit.

It’s me, mom. It’s Joani. Remember me?

And with six kids in the suburbs, it was no wonder that my mom made use of all the help that she could get. My Grandma Cady, my mom’s mom, would cook, make lunches, and help get us off to school. My dad was a doctor, a surgeon, so we could afford to hire help. Cornelia cleaned, Cora did the ironing, and Sonny, Cornelia’s brother did all the heavy lifting.

Outwardly, we all appeared neat and tidy, organized and orderly. But that was so not the case. My mom’s bipolar disorder, along with my dad’s addiction to work, wreaked havoc on our home.

But we six kids, whether because of our circumstances – or in spite of them — compounded the chaos tenfold.

There was a lot of yelling, screaming and name calling. Middle child, I learned to keep my head down. Middle child, a translator at the bargaining table, I tried to keep the peace.

As much, as any little kid could.

the third peacock book cover

And there was more than just a little competition. Who has to do the dishes.  Who gets to sit up front in the car. Who gets first crack at the Oreos – when my mom got home from the store.

Our birth order was also our pecking order — but often in reverse. My grade school idea of fairness was quite literal. I remember sneaking down the stairs, on Christmas Eve, after everyone had gone to bed, and counting the packages under the tree. Invariably, Baby Brother Joseph always got the most.

Always.

Joseph, was the most beloved, it seemed. Too little for household chores. Too adorable to be held accountable. He could always hide behind my mother’s skirts.

Or so it seemed to me.

Who wouldn’t want to murder their little brother? Or throw him into a pit? Or sell him off for twenty pieces of silver?

This is the story of Joseph. Not my baby brother Joseph. But Joseph of Genesis. Joseph, one of the great novellas of Hebrew Scripture. Joseph, the youngest and most favored son of Jacob. The one who got the awesome coat.  Baby brother Joseph, who did not endear himself to his siblings.

An angst filled family story of biblical proportions.

Joseph was seventeen years of – shepherding the flock with his brothers. Joseph, the apple of Jacob’s eye, put his brothers in a bad light. He ratted them out for some unnamed offense. And Jacob rewards him for betraying his brothers — with that amazing technicolor dream coat. The child of his old age, he loved Joseph best of all.

His brothers hated him for it. They could not even spare him a peaceable word.

Jacob sends Joseph out to find where his brothers are keeping the sheep. Before the distance is closed between them, the siblings conspire to do their little brother in.

Here comes the dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into a pit.

We’ll tell dad a wild animal devoured him.

No, the eldest counters. Let’s just steal his coat, go with the pit and not kill him.

It being a waterless pit, this was Joseph’s brothers’ singular kindness.

Callously, they sit down to eat – while up comes a wandering band of Ishmaelites – nomads and merchants on their way to Egypt.

This inspires in Judah, another of the brothers, a very profitable idea.

Let’s sell him to the highest bidder!

So, they pull him out of the pit and hand him over for twenty pieces of silver.

 Joseph, the youngest, the interpreter of dreams, quite ironically is put in the middle. His protective father behind him – ahead, his brothers plotting his demise.

They could all use a little family therapy, don’t you think?

So, could we all.

Our families of origin. Our communities of choice. Our workplaces. Our psychic spaces. Our social circles and political cul-de-sacs. We all tend to hang out with our own tribe. The folks who look like us and think like us and agree with us.

All could use a little family therapy.

Yahweh does not rescue Joseph from the pit – at least not in the swoop down from heaven – Deus ex machina — way. Instead, God, quite providentially, leaves his children –- including us — to our own devices. The devices, God has equipped us with. By our wits, by our skills, by our gifts — to work out this family squabble on our own.

To literally appeal to our better angels.

Three weeks ago, July 21st, the Washington Post reporter, Colby Itkowitz wrote:

On a Wednesday evening, Donna Murphy joined about 30 people in a nondescript basement…for a Better Angels’ “skills workshop” to learn the fundamentals of how to have difficult conversations, to bring Democrats and Republicans together for a three day Better Angels dialogue.

 Better Angels began as a civics experiment in rural southwest Ohio several weeks after the election. With the emotions of the campaign still raw, a room of 21 strangers, ten who voted for Trump and 11 who voted for Clinton spent an entire weekend together talking.

 They listened. They debated. They vented. There were tense moments and emotional ones.

 After 13 hours of discussion, the participants did not change their views but left with a softened view of the other side.

 Better Angels went on a thirteen-city summer tour to promote this red-blue dialogue – to facilitate conversations across a deep political divide.

 The program is the brainchild of David Blankenhorn, a Republican, and onetime opponent of same sex marriage – who later changed his position after a friendship with a gay man changed his mind.

 The group takes its name from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, will swell the chorus of our Union, when again touched, as surely, they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 Blankenhorn concludes:

 “One consistent message we’re getting is, there are strong disagreements, but we’re not as far apart as we thought we are. There is passion and disagreement…but the main takeaway is that this is good, this kind of talking with — rather than at or about – our political opponents is good for us and good for our country.”

 Some of these groups have decided to meet on a monthly basis. Some not. But meeting even once like this could be a really good idea, don’t you think?

A really good idea, we could put into practice here in Alexandria.

Maybe?

On behalf of Emmanuel, I have sent Mr. Blankenhorn an initial inquiry of how, as a parish, we might sponsor a Better Angels training weekend in our own backyard.

Just a possibility that could come to pass early next year.

A way to equip ourselves, as sisters and brothers, to speak and to listen to one another in love.

Let’s think about it. Talk about it. Pray about it.

The third Peacock, in me, wants to believe that we can work towards healing our tribal divides.

This middle child wants to believe that we can work towards putting aside our self-righteous needs always to be right.

Dear God, please, help us to both temper and to tame

the destructive side of our, all too human, sibling rivalries.

JoaniSign


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 Who Am I Really? A “Rebecca on Reunion” Podcast

Here, in my firstborn daughter’s own voice,  is Rebecca telling the story of our reunion.   Who Am I Really? is a project of Damon Davis: a series of very personal podcasts about the life journey of an adoptee and their search for reunion. Rebecca’s is Episode 18:What I Gained Through Reunion Is Context.

Listening to Rebecca’s voice, I definitely hear Joani. And I hear my daughter Colleen’s voice, too. Maybe even my niece, Lauren’s, as well. Not just the timbre of our voices resonates but how we all string words together. We use the same verbal punctuation. It is uncanny.

And Rebecca’s description of reunion dovetails incredibly with biomom’s. No coordination involved. Just DNA. Incredibly delightful.

So take a listen to Rebecca and let her fill you in on Who She Really Is!


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A Room Full of Mothers

How many children do you have?

Not a trick question, right? But it is a tricky one for me.

Publicly the answer has been an easy “three”  for twenty-nine years since I bore Jacob, my third following  Zach and Colleen back in 1987.

But behind closed doors, when asked, I would falter. The gynecologist would look at my chart and say: “How many pregnancies? Number of successful deliveries?”

Do I lie and say “three”? Does it really matter for my medical history?

Or do I tell the truth and say “four”. Then hold my breath and hope I won’t have to explain why I gave the first one away.

Every doctor’s appointment was a little flashback to my 17th year. The year the rabbit died. The year of seasick mornings and solitary trips to the Medicaid clinic. The year of the swelling belly and iron capsules to choke a horse. Remembering being ostracized by my family and terrified by the little life inside me.

Sitting on the examining table in a hospital gown, I would recall the mysterious being who kicked and elbowed and crammed their little self  into every little square inch of me.

And every year, September 28th, on her birthday, I would think of her and wonder where she was. I would beam powerful positive thoughts in her direction — to her unknown location.  And I would permit myself a melancholy moment or two, stuff it down, and then move on.

Stretched, so stretched beyond my teenage capacity.

She gave me my very first stretch marks. A badge of honor.

And just prior to Christmas past, she found me. Rebecca found me. I have told this story on U&U. And I have blogged about our Saint Patrick’s Day weekend reunion.

So serendipitous that we reunited on this Celtic feast. As an adoptee, in a sealed adoption, Rebecca’s “non-identifying information” identified her biological maternal family as Jewish.

Uh, no. Def got that wrong.

DNA and Ancestry.com identified a healthy dose of green blood. Irish. Definitely Irish.

Somehow deep down in her bones, Rebecca intuited this all along. All three of her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir are all steeped in Irish step dancing.

On my visit in March, I tagged along to their class at a dance studio in a nearby town. Kids of all ages in comfortable clothes and special shoes shuffled and kicked to Celtic tunes.

A Room Full of Mothers Jackie Wade mother an daughter

Parents, meanwhile, and by “parents”, I mean mostly moms crowded into the windowed little waiting room. Kindly one mom gave up her seat so that I could sit up front and see.

As other moms came and went, Rebecca introduced my unfamiliar face. Some already knew our story and some did not. Those who knew smiled and nodded. One very sweet mom even made us a celebratory strawberry tart.

But for those not in the know, Rebecca would quickly try to catch them up, starting with,

“This is my mother.”

Startled by her words, instinctively I looked over my shoulder and thought:

“Where, where is your mother? OMG, she means me!”

A singular mom sitting by the door had a quizzical look on her face — which compelled me to explain myself. I spew forth my teenage tale, circa 1972.

I didn’t need to do that. Or did I?

And I wonder about all of the moms in the room and what their stories might be. I wonder about the maternal ghosts and mothers in abstentia – who haunt this waiting room. Rebecca’s mother. My mother. Adoptive mothers. Birth mothers. Grandmothers. Stepmothers – both evil and good.

I wonder about all of the overlay and layers of expectations that our culture slathers onto maternity.

From our very first December conversation, I wanted to be especially respectful of Rebecca’s mom — the one who parented her so wonderfully. And I wanted  – and still want – to be especially careful not to offend her in any way.

Rebecca, 44 years old, reminded me that she is a fully functional grownup. Ha! And that it is hers alone to manage these relationships separately. I need be responsible only for my own.

And Rebecca has taught me that it is okay to say that I am her mother. That is biologically and verifably true. “Biomom” is what she most appropriately calls me.

Six months have now passed since Christmas. Rebecca and I talk, text, and email with some frequency. We have a loving relationship, a rippling relationship that now ripples throughout my family: with her siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and even cousins many times removed.

I now include Rebecca on all family emails, both the good news and the bad news. And when I send an email to “my kids”, I simply sign it “mom”. It was just too wonky and weird to qualify it as bio/mom or biomom/mom/Joani. And it seemed really silly to leave it blank. Its just an email for heavens’ sake, right?

It really is more though, isn’t it? Yes, I think it is.

And so back to the question:

How many children do you have?

No longer a tricky question,  I answer “four”.

One in VT. One in NYC. One in D.C. One in NC.

All rocking adults.

And I am happy to answer any questions, if you would like to know more.

JoaniSign