The Human Condition
As a person who has been on this earth for over a half-century, every new “methodology” or “way of thinking”, I have usually met with skepticism. Now maybe it’s because I am a born and bred New Yorker, but that’s me. Excuses for bad behavior never went over well with my family and there was a plethora of behavior that fell under the “bad” category.
That being said, everyone these days talks about “self-care”. As the COVID-19 pandemic began, we were told to stay home, “flatten the curve”, they said. I sewed our first masks together in March of 2020 and we wore them when suggested. Vaccines came out – how fast could we get an appointment? Vaccinated twice, boosted, wearing masks when in large settings, staying away from those who we know are unvaccinated.
Here’s where the self-care comes in. On the growing list of identified “pre-existing conditions” that made one more susceptible to infection with COVID-19, I seemed to be checking off more of them as we went through 2020:
Older? (Really? I didn’t think I was that old…) – Check
Obesity? (I like to think of it as “fluffiness”) – Check
Pre-diabetic? (Jury still out on this one – endocrinologist says “no”) – Possible check
As the yes went on and more and more issues made me nervous, High Blood Pressure? – Check
Blood Type A? – Check
Besides the fact that I have been a somewhat closeted Germaphobe since the age of 8 (thanks to my dad and an inundation of poinsettias at Christmas), this pandemic and the thought of catching some “could-be-deadly” virus had me beside myself. My wife’s business was completely impacted as the shutdown of the restaurant industry led to her (thankfully) being home for long periods of time but put a tremendous strain on an already strained business.
Oh yes, you might think that washing hands, using hand sanitizer, wiping everything that came in the house down with Lysol sprays and cleaners and staying home might have been the best steps in self-care one could have taken. Staying away from large gatherings of people, meeting friends and neighbors outside, cooking every meal at home, shopping with home delivery – all privileges we took as the various surges hit our area.
With older parents, being an only child, running my own business and commuting an hour both ways every day to that business, I didn’t have a lot of time, nor did I have the inclination to invest any time in “self-care”. Maybe an errant massage once or twice a year but no regular doctor’s visits, no meditation, no retreats, no journaling – just a lot of running around and appointments and expectations to be met. I am not telling you this to have you feel sorry for me – only to give context to what I will say next.
With this pandemic, I finally chose to worry about ME; to take care of ME; to keep ME (and my wife) somewhat safe; for ME to be a responsible member of the human race and keep others safe as well – this was my way of saying, “Enough! I want to make sure I’m still here to see another day”. But with events scheduled at the very beginnings of the Delta surge (which we didn’t attend – 150 people, mostly unvaccinated – one having to be postponed due to COVID infections; another “indoor-outdoor” with about 70), we became highly aware of the vigilance necessary around rising infection rates. Other events were outdoors; we even celebrated my wife’s 60th birthday in August when almost all numbers in New York were down – we did a small family gathering – 30 people and outdoors.
And yet, it has caused nothing but trouble with family and in a community that are (for the most part) diametrically opposed to science, the world community and the “Golden Rule”; dressing-downs referring to what we should do and how we should behave have been vocalized loud and clear; I have encountered push back from friends and family alike – those that I always considered close but now realize (or maybe just solidified the thinking that…) if I don’t play the game by their rules and compromise myself, I’m not going to be considered or respected or remembered.
Definite on the respected. And with every passing day, remembered less and less.
I know I missed things and if you knew me well, you know, I live with the regret of missing things, so I try my best to NOT miss things. No one has asked why I am doing the things I am as far as COVID is concerned – no one has asked me if I am concerned about others I consider “family”. No one has asked if I’ve been able to see my family during this time – no one has inquired about loss. Keeping myself safe, keeping my wife safe and also, not wanting to be responsible for bringing a germ that I might be carrying to someone else and making them ill was how I chose to choose ME first this time.
That time I chose self-care? I’d do it again – regardless of the opposition. There’s a bigger picture here and when self-care broadens itself to community-care or worldwide-care, I’m always going to come down on the side of responsible and safe.
I was duped.
I thought that after many years, an issue had been resolved. Finally, once and for all, not to be an issue again.
You see, I was told from a very young age that if you could not add to something through monetary means, you needed to work your hardest, do your best and show whoever was “in charge” of you, that you were of value – hard-working, never backing down from a challenge, getting the job done. My family instilled this in me, and I always believed it to be true. It had served me well all my life; I was always considered to be a great worker and as my experience grew, one with leadership qualities and a fine work ethic.
When that mixes with a supervisor/boss who is a narcissist; one who has a truly fragile ego and must be the star of the show, you will have a toxic workplace. Nervously being at work every day – never knowing when you would be called to the “principal’s office” to be chastised and for what. The smallest incidents would blow up without warning, resulting in mayhem when it was least needed. In fact, I have been in this position several times throughout my careers.
When I say that I thought the issue has been resolved, I meant my internal issues. I was raised to be respectful. Yes, I am sarcastic with my humor, when I am comfortable with someone, I will share many laughs and comments, but I never want to be disrespectful – any one of my relatives would have eagerly given me a swift kick in the pants if I behaved badly. But my issue is truly wrapped around the respect I have for myself.
When I say I was duped, I did it to myself. My younger self did not possess respect for me to allow getting out of that situation quickly. Somehow, I continued to put myself in similar situations – a narcissistic boss who cannot handle someone who does what they say they have come to do, working well with people, and getting the job done. I finally realize that I need to respect the value I bring to the table, stand my ground and stop being disrespectful to myself.
And in that respect for me, I will not make apologies to the way I have worked, nor how easily I work anyone else, and the results achieved. Whether it is a 97% passing rate amongst my students on a final exam or completion of a business plan to help a startup, teaching business foundations to my balloon decorating competitors or becoming a published author, I will not allow someone to diminish me and everything I can do.
The old saying of “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” is to be considered at its face value – it will not happen again. For that, you can be sure!
It’s backwards from the usual but it makes sense here.
In a year when so many of us have experienced loss, 2020 gave me the opportunity to find. I have been able to find my focus in business, I have found understanding of some of my life’s situations. I found the woman who chose an adoption plan for me and better understand the magnitude of her sacrifice and the gift she gave to my parents.
I must believe that finding her was made easy through technology, government intervention and divine reason. I always believed that the search was going to be long, drawn out and would probably not end the way I hoped. Within a year of searching in earnest, mission complete and I now have an extended, new part of my family that can only enhance the person I am, through our connecting and sharing of our lives’ stories.
I have found not only my birth mother, but her wonderful husband and some people close to them (not easy in a time of social distancing and lockdowns). I am learning about my grandmother and what an amazing life she led, “Dahlink”. When beginning my search, a DNA test connected me with a gentleman whose last name I tried not to mess up, who was kind enough to take time from his busy life to help me connect some dots. Almost too good to be true, he is extensively involved in genetics and history, his understanding and contacts made the search end quickly.
Through DNA, a finally opened adoption record and his colleagues who knew what questions to ask, we determined that said gentleman was my uncle, he had two sisters living in New York and his father was still alive.
Once names were determined, my uncle asked his father who remembered a young post-war love – “She was beautiful!” He recalled, over seventy years after they parted. He knew of their daughter, but timings and circumstance did not allow them to meet. He was still living overseas after a well-traveled life, successful career, and long marriage.
My original contact with my birth mother arrived at her door at a complicated time. When I didn’t receive any correspondence right away, I of course assumed that this was indeed not going to go the way I hoped. I contacted my uncle and said, “If nothing else happens on my end, if we could at least get her to meet her dad – that would be great.” Life of course always has other plans and over the summer, my uncle and I both held off trying to contact my birth mom again. I knew that my grandfather was well into his 90’s and I felt bad that we had gotten this far – I feared for a lost opportunity.
Technology being what it is now, a Zoom call with my uncle and two aunts was an amazing introduction to three incredibly fascinating people. Millions of questions will be asked when we can all gather safely down the road, but we all wanted their father to meet his daughter. At the beginning of September, my second letter went out – as only I could – with a copy of the first (in case it was never received), some pictures and all the legal papers. Within a day of receiving that letter, I was on the phone for an hours long phone call with my birth mom.
Among the gifts I was able to be part of, my uncle and aunts got to “Zoom meet” their sibling (my uncle is happy that he’s no longer the oldest!) and arrangements would be made to have their father on a call with all of us ASAP.
A birthday video conference with all of us (with new cousins for me as well) and we were able to make a connection over seventy years in the making. Grandfather was very sharp and knew exactly who the two new faces were. He ended the call telling us he loved us and was happy to see us. An amazing day indeed!
Now for the lost… Grandfather’s brother died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic. He commented to his children how he lost him to something we were now going through once again. I had so hoped that we all would have been able to take a plane ride and meet in person, but COVID had other plans. Reading a Presidential memoir in French a few weeks ago, even surrounded by his books and papers when diagnosed, vibrant and sharp with clarity of a brilliant mind until a virus changed his course.
Grandfather passed last Friday. My new family celebrates the life of a father they knew, and I look forward to connecting with them and hearing of his life well-lived.
Jane connects powerful women with an international network of “Phenomenal Message Makers”. Resources, connections, opportunities and trainings to help them clarify their message or brand, increasing their visibility, and growing their audience. Join her Facebook Group, Phenomenal Message Makers, for tips & downloads on focusing & promoting your message. Read more of Jane’s writings at BrainzMagazine.com, in her upcoming collaborative book, Voices of the 21st Century: Resilient Women Who Rise (release date February 23, 2021) or at janeparmel.com.
A “speed limit” birthday – what a ride to 55 and for all that lies ahead!
Here we are on November 21, 2020.
National Adoption Day is a collective effort to raise awareness of the more than 120,000 children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States. A coalition of national partners — the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Alliance for Children’s Rights and Children’s Action Network — founded National Adoption Day.
My 55th birthday AND National Adoption Day – how appropriate that they land together – especially this year. 2020 has been a unique year, to say the least. And this birthday, has been, for me, the most unique of all.
I didn’t see the TWO voice messages on my cell that morning in September. Then a few hours later, my house phone rang. Thanks to “Caller ID”, I saw the caller. I so wanted Rae to be home when I called because I had no idea what the outcome would be (I will take a risk but I am more comfortable with a plan!). My curiosity won – I couldn’t wait for her to be home. I called back.
I wish I could have recorded the call, but I didn’t. I was excited, apprehensive, nervous and petrified all at the same time I was convincing myself that in the end, this wouldn’t change my day-to-day, or maybe it would; this would be a defining moment in my life, of that I was sure.
She picked up. “This is Jane”, I said. And we began a conversation that lasted over an hour. Details about her and her mom, how they wound up in all the places they did, and how I came to be. I told her of her half-siblings located not too far and her father, whom she had never met. I started this journey to possibly make a connection then realized that my connection was secondary to my birth mother connecting with her siblings and father, most of all. We planned a call with the siblings which was one of the most amazing calls I have had – a collection of amazingly intelligent, accomplished, warm and welcoming people. My uncle was happy that he was no longer “the oldest” and we shared many questions and laughs along the way. My grandfather’s 96th birthday was upcoming and a Zoom celebration would be planned. Ninety-six and completely aware that he was speaking to his oldest daughter for the first time as well as a granddaughter he even imagined. It was the most amazing call!
With COVID restrictions (at the time) being somewhat eased, I met my birth mother. Masked protocols followed, we could not help but to embrace each other and she said to me, “I waited 54 years to do that!” We talked and talked and shared details about our separated lives. I told her about my parents and she explained why she chose an adoption plan for she and I.
She told me she struggled with her decision and that was why I was adopted at five months old. I never thought that was different, but she explained that it was time she needed. Did she think of me? Yes. She didn’t know if I was told of my adoption and she held back from contacting me because she did not want to upset the life I had. And the biggest question? The why.
An answer so truthful – “I wanted you to have a mother and father – a family.” She had grown up with an amazing mother but did not have her father in her life. She wanted a different way and she was in control of that narrative for me; she also had to make the best decision for her as well. My birth mom was sure to tell me that she knew my mother was my mother – who raised me, changed diapers and who did every other thing for me. She always respected that.
There has been levity in my series of posts and I appreciate every one of you who have read along. I want to be quite clear in a few things – first, my parents, my family are MY FAMILY. All the scrapped knees, school events, music lessons, and family gatherings are the indelible marks on my life that make me who I am. Secondly, know that in no way was this search an attempt to disavow, disrespect or forget who my mother and father were and will always be to me. My love for them will never change, as the love for my extended family, cousins, aunts, and uncles will always remain. Finally, this was something I needed for ME – to answer questions that only a few of my friends (Frann, Frank, Dolores, to name a few) and my cousins (Matthew, Kristen, Christopher and Annalisa) could share as fellow adoptees. Things have been made clear for me and I finally acknowledge the good in everything that has happened over these five and a half decades. Anyone who has ever rattled me by questioning who I was, the character I have or the motives behind my deeds is now just a mere blip on the screen – I have been made complete in this final piece of the puzzle.
I am looking forward to many years ahead getting to know a whole new set of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents, through talks, pictures, and memories. I hope for a time when we can all be in the same room to do that. I am so excited to have been blessed with the connection to my birth mother – I truly thank her for making my life possible. It may sound cliché, but it really was the most amazing gift someone could give another.
For my birthday this year, I received a very early morning text from the one person who was there when I came into this world – something so many people take for granted. It will be in my opinion, the best birthday ever!
These DNA kits – oh, these DNA kits. Which one to use? One of them, two – maybe three. A few years ago, I decided to take one of these tests. A little bit of saliva in a tube, send it in, wait a few weeks – at the very least, I would know what kind of blood was coursing through my veins – maybe not who’s blood but at least where said blood came from.
23andMe and Ancestry both done and both showed more Eastern European, a lot of South American, and smaller percentages of almost one-third of the globe. So the Balkans, maybe Russia, possibly Germany, Hungary, and a half dozen other places I wasn’t too familiar with. One test connected me to many third, fourth and fifth cousins; another test showed an uncle/cousin and a great-uncle/grandfather/uncle result. Well this was promising!!
I sent an email to the uncle/cousin match and crossed my fingers. Not too much information, just that I was adopted, looking and did he know any relatives who might have been in New York in the 60’s. I knew from the information in the test results that we shared a female relative, most likely, my birth mother. A day later, I received an email that said he would be happy to help me with my search. As my incredible luck in 2020 goes, my uncle/cousin was extremely well-versed in DNA and genealogy – this almost seemed too good to be true. (I honestly thought it was a program that the testing kit company was offering but, hey, if he could help and was willing, well, I would be happy to accept the help.)
Let’s make something clear, this had not been an all-consuming-I’ve-gotta-know thing every day of my life but if you know anything about me, I’m curious. My favorite word was “Why?” and heaven-help the person who would say “Because I said so” to me. But at the strangest times, during the oddest moments, I would wonder if there was someone who looked like me out there – was my birth mom thinking about me, did she remember my birthday, would I ever get a chance to meet her? So the ride began and I definitely wanted to be in the car!
End of year busy-ness, travel and then a world-wide lockdown. It would be months before I would hear from my uncle/cousin. I gave him my birth mother’s name and the few dates we could find through immigration records. In May, I received a phone call from the Middle East and suddenly, my family has expanded to include an uncle, two aunts, and a grandfather – 95 years young and living outside of Beirut. My new found relatives were closer than I would have ever thought – although “Uncle” and “Grandfather” were in Beirut, my aunts are but a few hours drive from my home.
My uncle spoke to his father who fondly recalled the girl he fell in love with in Germany in the late 40’s. Allied-occupied Germany, “Grandfather” had to return to Syria, while my “Grandmother” left for Paris after she had their daughter. At 95, he clearly remembered my grandmother – “She was beautiful!” he remarked with a smile. He did know of his child but was unable to meet her. Europe to America in the 1950’s and New York in the 1960’s – my “Grandmother” appeared on paper to be an independent soul and she and her daughter forged a life together. Not much more information on where or who they could be but at least it was a start.
I sent a letter in March – not sure if it would reach its destination as it was mailed two days before the lockdown here. My birth mother, the woman who carried me and made what I believe is one of the hardest decisions a women could, was not that far. The distance? Another state over or so. Would she answer the letter? I let it go over the summer. I figured things went so well so quickly, something was bound to get hung-up. But….
Who am I kidding? You know I sent another letter.
My address, my e-mail, my cell phone, and my house phone number. I told her to look me up – check to make sure I wasn’t a crazy nut! In all my letters to my new uncle and to my birth mom all saying the same thing – I didn’t want to bother them or upset their lives in any way. I sent the second letter in September and three days later, the phone rang.