Tag Archives: identity

The Mother Who Waited

The week of Thanksgiving, and I pause to recall the five days of solitude I took years ago at a retreat run by Franciscan nuns. I also joined them in their vow of silence for those days.

I committed myself to frequent silent retreats then, to write with more seriousness, by now relieved to end my long-lasting rebellion against my parents and their careers, both English professors and writers.

This particular retreat, in the dead of winter in Wisconsin woods, landed me in a one-room cabin heated by a wood stove. I’m a city girl and had to learn how to keep the wood dry and ready to stoke the fire. I loved the challenge, and rather than write that week, I meditated about my mother and our battle of a relationship.

This is the mother who endured a few decades of my rejection as I reminded her she wasn’t my “real” mother. This is the mother whom I plotted to gas to death, and also the woman whose face my fist grazed before it punctured sheet rock, my every bone shattered in my right hand.

This is the mother who stood by me no matter what, the mother who waited, as did my father, for me to come out the other side of hate, fury, and pain.

My parents adopted me around three or four from foster care. Before foster care I’d spent a year with my other mother in prison. When authorities removed me around age one, I unconsciously held out for over twenty-five years for my prison mother to “come get me,” held out without knowing it.

Fast forward through a disturbed childhood and a more troubled life as a teen and adult, a life of drugs, crime, and violence. When my mother was in her 70s and I was thirty-something, I finally “hired” her as my Mother. At last the girl my parents adopted, turned into their daughter.

This is the mother I never mention on-line. I don’t Tweet about her, or blog with stories about us (the way I do about my prison mother.) Not exactly a Facebook status update kind of woman.

At last I learned to release the past, to accept what I imagined for years would never happen — my return to live in prison with my other mother. At last I opened my heart to the woman who loved me day in and day out, even when, and probably especially when, I’d been estranged and absent for years.

Along with acceptance, gratitude replaced anger. Compassion and forgiveness healed our wounds. I learned the art of forgiving. I forgave my mothers, forgave myself.  The journey to achieve our redemption, my own and ours as a family, is the story of the memoir I’m working on.

For the two years up until this retreat, almost every weekend I flew to visit my mother, now in chemo treatments for ovarian cancer. I had to catch up for a lot of years. We’d sit and read magazines, watch TV, and nap together. I massaged her swollen feet, puffed from cancer now in her liver. We talked, something new for us.

I flew in on the Thanksgiving after my silent retreat in the Wisconsin woods and my mother sat, almost a pile of bones, in her wheelchair through the whole dinner. She scolded me when I tried to force feed her whipped cream. Some hours after I arrived that day, right after our family feast, my older brother wheeled her back to bed. She died in my hands, my father and brother on the other side of her hospital bed.

I’m grateful for our victory, the six or so years of our mother-daughterness. Without this, I’d be a different person, not a woman speaking in prisons, not a writer. Probably not a mother myself. She’s the woman who taught me to see humor even in the darkest of moments.

I’m convinced my mother waited until Thanksgiving, waited for my arrival, to die. Every Thanksgiving week I honor her, my mother’s stamina, her maternal endurance to wait for me for thirty years to accept her.

Sometimes attachment takes a long time. This is the woman I call Mother.

@ Sign Now in The Museum of Modern Art

This week MoMA acquired the @ sign.

What belongs to everyone and to no one — the @ sign — is now an art object.

I think this is one mutty symbol:

  • It started in merchant history long ago.
  • Ended up on typewriter and computer keyboards.
  • Is indispensable, across the globe, for our daily communication, and.
  • Now it’s in a first class museum.

Interesting history: @ appeared in 1885 on the keyboard (American Underwood typewriter.) But it goes back to Portugal, in 6th or 7th century trade. Curious!

Its journey into present day is sort of sketchy, and linguists are divided as to when the symbol first appeared.

Didn’t anyone ever think to ask it’s neighbor to the left, the 1/! key? Or the 3/#? Why not ask the 2, right below?

The scholars, though, argue that the symbol Continue reading

Welcome to the New World, China

There’s a color war going on in China.

It’s the kind of race battle we’re still trying to wrap our hands around in parts of the U.S. (consider the mixed race couple that was denied a marriage license in Louisiana…and that’s in 2009! Who forgot to tell that judge that we have a multiracial President?)

Lou Jing is Mandarin-speaking 20-year-old who competed in Shanghai’s version of American Idol. She’s the focus of a passionate public debate: what does it mean to be Chinese. And it’s all about the color of her skin. Lou Jing’s mother is Chinese, her father an African-American whom she’s never met.

For sure, it’s a controversy that boosts ratings. Wouldn’t Simon Cowell be all over  this?

China doesn’t easily accept mixed-race children as Chinese. When a child is born the  parents have to register the child as belonging to one of the fifty-six government-approved ethnic groups. There are no mixed-race categories. We have that same battle here in the U.S., only we have four groups: Black, White, Asian, Hispanic. Sometimes Native American and Pacific Islander are bunched in with Asian. There’s always the Other box – that’s me. You can read my brief bio here about what I used to write on race forms: 100-yard dash.

On rare occasion, a form lists Multiracial. We need that on EVERY form.

While the U.S. is just now rising out of its shame about race-crossing, what happened here to the Chinese pride about MADE IN CHINA?

Missing Link Found!

In May, with much media fanfare, a 95% complete fossil of a 47-million-year-old human ancestor, a lemur, was revealed to the world after two years of secret study by an international team of scientists. The scientists say that the fossil’s significant state of preservation gives an unprecedented glimpse into early human evolution.

Scientists are divided on the interpretation of this discovery. One approach to this is that this is no missing link, rather it is a twig on the uncertain number of missing branches in our tree of evolution.

tree of life

leaping_lemurLeaping lemurs! This discovery gave me cause to think deeper about our instinct to belong, to know our roots.

Heck, I’d be happy to just know one generation back, maybe even two. Not that I don’t identify with human race, but don’t we all like to know where we come from?

For most of my life, I lived with unknown genetics. That’s the case with many adopted people, or anyone else with a missing never-met parent, like a divorced parent they never knew. I eventually found the link to my birth mother’s side, but my birth father…who knows. Maybe I’m in the sponge category? I’ve soaked up pools and puddles of every color…and I like it.

I’ve come to believe that even when we know our genetics, it’s up to each of us to build our sense of identity and belonging.  No one else can do it for us, even if we are branded with an identity at birth, like race or gender. We still have to define how and where we belong in our worlds, what fits and what doesn’t fit.

Bella Abzug (1920-1988), the former U.S. Congresswoman and civil rights activist from the Bronx, made an insightful comment on why she wore hats, for which she was known. “I began wearing hats as a young lawyer because it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee.”

Thought for the day: Best said by Arthur Ashe, professional tennis player (1943-1993):: My potential is more than can be expressed within the bounds of my race or ethnic identity.

I’ll add to that — gender and any other category of identity, personal or professional.

Secret Letter Reveals Prison Birth

A partial repost from Huffington Post

In honor of my mothers.

Mothers, mother-mutts and mentors, they all helped make me.

As a girl growing up in Seattle, I always sensed something amiss about me and often snooped around the house looking for clues to my differences, especially my racially ambiguous looks — caramel colored skin more Latina than anything but my eyes suggesting Asia in me somewhere, and some called me biracial: black/white. I never knew until later what races I could claim.

Altogether, my features differed from my parents’ Eastern European looks.

One day I went on a snooping adventure in my parents’ room that would change my life forever. I’d been grounded, banished to my room, a common enough event even though I don’t remember why. The thrill of digging around in prohibited terrain relieved my boredom.

The house was still except for the quick tick-tick of the second hand on my mother’s alarm clock on her nightstand. The smell of forbidden space hung in the air.

Check the dresser, I thought. Lodged under silky slips and parchment-wrapped bars of French soaps at the bottom of my mother’s drawer, I unveiled a copy of a typed letter, only a few sentences long.


The Letter provided facts that would distort my life forever.

While I don’t recall the exact words, I stood alone at the dresser and soaked in more than a little girl could ever understand, that I:

  • Was born in prison
  • Heroin addicted at birth
  • Had foster family(s)
  • Was multiracial and no one knew what

There’s more to the story, but isn’t this enough for now?

I don’t recall much in the moments after I found the letter, other than my guts sunk into my socks.

Prison? Heroin and foster care took the back seat to the startling prison news.  I didn’t have any recollection about foster care and only knew I was adopted.

I don’t remember the walk from the dresser into my parents’ bathroom, where I faced the mirror over their sink.  My body in overload, my eyes gritty, a sour taste in my mouth, I tried to wash the sensation away.  The skin itched on my arms as if tiny ants crawled along the bones in my forearms.

What does this make me now? I wondered.  The prison-born offspring of a heroin addict and convict, or the daughter of two Jewish professors?  Right then and there, I felt compelled to choose which girl to be.  The contrasts were so extreme, my world spun out of control. I never told a soul I found that letter until years later.  Its truth stirred an inner agitation and restlessness, a sensation that took me over like a hunger.

I was a wild child in the making, transformed into a raging, rebellious, violent and rule-breaking adolescent, attracted to everything against the norm. At least, I thought, now I belong somewhere.

I started to resent the whole idea of white families and their interracial adoptions.  In time, though, I came to understand the complexity of human nature as reflected in my parents and accepted that they truly did love me from the start. It is their support, love, and encouragement all along — even when I estranged myself from them — that led me to where I am today.

Since I’m attracted to brevity, the six-word (or less) memoir idea led me to distill my life into:

Secret letter reveals prison birth.

But it’s the miniscule spaces in-between the letters, the pauses between words, that make all the difference as to why I’m not right now in prison myself.

It’s what you don’t see before those six words, and what follows, that give me my ultra-creative energy to innovate, invent, and build. Whether it’s with writing, or in marketing or business and program development, my passion to create is how I’ve taken what was given me and made the most of it. That, and at my side, the strength of all the people who have believed in me.

It’s all about the attitude. I  look at what I want to turn around, what feels like a setback, and then give it a new twist. I find a glimmer of positive, and watch it begin to glow once my outlook changes. Pretty simple.

What do you do that pulls you through adversity?

Urban Dictionary: It’s Official … Mutt-ossary!

At last, the English language will benefit from my muttilicious (http://tinyurl.com/urban-muttilicious) love of language.muttic-screenshot3

Gawd, imagine my parents, my father a scholar of 17th century English literature, and my mother, her thesis on James Joyce’s Ulysses, thinking, “…and we sent this girl to college for this?”

Yep, that’s what happens when nature vs. nurture embattles inside, from prison to poetry, so to speak. But it was my family — parents, brother, uncles and aunts, cousins and all the rest (it’s a huge family,  you don’t need the whole list here!) — that helped my nature settle with the nuture. That’ll be a post all on it’s own, so keep an eye out.

Thanks to all that stirs within, I’ll soon have a survival guidebook for Musings for Mutts, to include a full mutt-ossary.


Thought for the day: Ideas are as important as words, but why use a gallon of words to express a teaspoon of thought? Sometimes one word says alot.

Sprake? Mixed race or mixed rakes.

Now I’ve just heard of the sprake, an invention in the U.K. Talk about innovation!

Is this a new take on mixed race, I mean mixed rakes?

Sprake. Quality garden tool


Described at http://www.complete-gardens.co.uk

“The cutting rake. Unique all in one cut & rake action. For close to the ground removal of saplings & large weeds like nettles & brambles. Weed cutting on gravel paths. Easy clearance of overgrown areas. Perfect for clearing ponds.

Carbon steel blade.”

Now this is what every good  urban mutt  needs! Good for the street…who’d mess with you if you wielded a sprake? Don’t tell anyone you have a spork in your back pocket,though. You might really get busted. Too much cross-over action.

Think about it: here you are, multiracial or multi-anything (religion, professions, you name it) with a sprake in one hand, a spork hidden in a pocket, and you think you’ll be left for innocent?

Talk about profiling!

The sprake and gardening bring me to think about mud, and mot just the dirt/soil kind. There’s the trashy talk, gossip, and the put-downs that some people do to elevate themselves. My response to that? Just stop it! It’s best to first look at  how we can clean our own houses before we try to clean up other people’s.

Thought for the day: Put-downs are just like flinging mud on a clean wall. Even if it doesn’t stick, it leaves a dirty smudge on the wall.

More about the Spork

spork-4Who was thinking what when they invented the spork? I know there’s the true story of how it happened, but inventions also come with lore. And isn’t imagining it better then truth? Isn’t imagination often a bunch of notches above reality?

Did the spork start with the pitchfork? Maybe a farmer wanted to pitch hay one second and then dig a hole to plant potatoes the next. Potatoes do grow in the ground, don’t they? Or do they grow on bushes? Too much city girl here.

Let’s say the origins of the spork is rooted in agriculture. Because every second counts, and who has time to fling hay then set down your pitchfork, grab the shovel, flurry away at the soil and then back with the pitchfork. So one day this farmer duct tapes her shovel handle onto her pitchfork handle and there it is! The first spork! Like everything else, it got downsized into the white  mini-spork as we know it today.

And somehow this kooky invention migrated from the farm to fast food, the spork as we know it wrapped in clear plastic ready to scoop/stab some vegetable stew, then off to its destiny as it clogs our landfills. How many plastic sporks are buried below? There’s probably even bird nests with spork tine splinters woven in with natural nest weavings.

Thought for the day: A sense of humor feeds the imagination, and laughter can help smooth some of life’s edges. As for imagination…use it! Let it be your teacher, to stretch you into new territories. Our brain will starve if we don’t constantly feed it. Laugh. Imagine. Nourish your brain.

It all started with Obama…sort of

obama-sunglasses1Publicly, it all started with President Obama’s opening act, his racial quip that sliced tension when he announced his Mutt Club membership during his first press conference after his election.

That makes his girls, Sasha and Malia, part of the same Club.

obamagirls1By saying so, he joined my Mutt Squad. Little did he know I’d been concocting edgy micro-essays for my own personal multiracial/Jewish muttness for years. Stayed tuned for further announcements from the Mutt Pride Movement, not only for the multiracial experience in America because remember, there’re hybrids of other ingredients also. Browse this blog and you’ll learn more. I’m all about learning and curiosity — the big adventures. It’s want flips my trigger, and I highly recommend this way of life.

Thought for the day:  The more we learn, the more we’ll want to learn, and the more curious we get, the more we need to know.

Hands Off My Genetics

Obama aspired to a place which America is still striving to reach. In the 2004 Democractic Convention, he said, “there is not a black America and a white America…there’s the United States of America.”  In truth, there is a color coded America, as he acknowledged in his remarkable speech on race http://preview.tinyurl.com/nyt-obama-on-race.

We’re each a sum our parts, as Obama said, and so is this country. But can we choose which part we want to dominate, as a nation or as individuals? What’s with the controversy and chatter about which race biracial or multiracial persons choose to claim as race? Is it only about perception, what others see? What if Tiger wanted to say he’s Thai, why not? Would others “allow” that? What if Obama referred to himself as biracial instead of Black? Why does it matter to anyone but the “self?”

To those who have some stake in what others call themselves, I say, leave our genetic make-up alone! genesjpg

And meanwhile, though the U.S is still color coded, we’re on our way to a better day.

Thought for the day: The future comes in steps, and never all at once. But every step of the way, keep in mind that freedom ends when we take it from others.