Anonymous asked: In your post about traveling & your family, you refer to your mother as your "birth mother" and I was just wondering why? Is it because she died when you were young and you never really knew her as anything other than your birth mom? Or was there some sort of early estrangement that leads you to refer to her in a semi detached manner? I think both the woman that birthed you and the fearless, independant woman you grew up with can be your mom! Unless, you feel otehrwise! Just curious (and nosy).
Good question. That’s what we’ve always called her. I was only two and a half when she died, so while she was my everything, my primary caretaker, and by all accounts, a superb and doting mom — I’ve never known her. I would feel weird calling her simply ‘my mom’ — in fact, I always did. (When I was around five I would say, “I don’t have a mom,” and Dad would have to remind me, “You do, but she died.”)
And as for the woman my dad married — I call her ‘my mom’ as shorthand with people I don’t know well but I have always called her Shelley within my family and friends. It would feel weird to call her Mom to her face. Really weird.
Here’s the thing though. She’s IS my mom. Legally — as well as in every other way except the biological (though people occasionally say we look alike, which is amusing). She adopted me when I was 15 (though they married when I was 9 I didn’t ‘let her’ adopt me until then — it was too much, I guess, and I needed to mature until I could get to that point of acceptance).
When you are adopted, you get a brand-new Certificate of Live Birth. It makes no mention of adoption. It says that Shelley was my mother at the time of my birth (living it up in Santa Barbara while I was gettin’ born in Germany, a miracle of science!). Denise is not mentioned. (Strange, right?)
I’m sure that other people would feel comfortable calling Shelley Mom to her face, or having ‘two moms,’ one dead, one living, but I just don’t. ‘Birth-mom,’ to me, is accurate and respectful to both women. But perhaps it is a form of detachment. I suppose they’re not mutually exclusive.
PS: It’s worth noting that my dad calls Shelley “your mother/mom” to me, and that I usually call her mom when referring to her with my sister. That wasn’t always the case, though. I remember when she was little she once asked why I called her Shelley. Where to begin, sweet Gena…?
cossmiclovee asked: Hi! I've been following you for a while and am so intrigued with how many places it seems you've visited. Where have you been? Do you travel for work? What was your favorite place? Sorry for the million questions, I'm going to grad school and would love to move after graduation, but don't know where I'd want to live. I'm from NJ and have traveled a lot, but have not lived anywhere besides NJ & London for 6 months..
Hello! You’re so sweet to ask. Let’s see … I’ve been to a lot of places (but never enough). There was a long time, more than a decade, that I didn’t stay in the same city for more than two consecutive years — and then I discovered New York, and here I have stayed since October 2006. It satisfies my wanderlust, I suppose.
So, I was born in Darmstadt, Germany, because my self-proclaimed “dot-communist” dad was (ironically?) working as a computer programmer for The Stars & Stripes, the Army’s newspaper. Then we moved back to his hometown, St. Paul. A few years after my birth-mom died, he went down to Managua to do some computer programming for the Sandinistas (unironically, this time) and on the tarmac, saw a gorgeous, fearless, independent lady that he determined to make his wife and mother of his child. But she was determined to continue being a gorgeous, fearless, independent, single lady for as long as she pleased, so he had to write long love letters and wait patiently. He brought me down to Managua the next time he went and while the local news made it sound pretty neat (it WAS pretty neat), I was a bit of a terror, so I didn’t help matters in wooing her.
He didn’t give up, though, and even moved us to San Francisco to complete the courtship. It worked.
Then he knocked her up and we all moved back to St. Paul, where his company was and most of his family was and where it just made sense to be.
…except the fact that it was Minnesota, and that gorgeous, fearless, independent lady wasn’t into THAT idea.
We won her over.
Wow, long story long, right?
When I was a kid and teenager, we went back down to Nicaragua a number of times. On spring breaks, my parents led me to the jungles of Guatemala and the mountains of Chiapas (and all I wanted was something ‘normal,’ like Acapulco). In middle school I spent a month studying in Vitoria, Spain. Then my whole family went to Barcelona and Tuscany to visit my birth-mom’s family (I must return like NOW). When I was 15, I went back to the little town my parents were living in when I was born, Rheinheim, and went to school there for seven months.
Then I moved to New Orleans for college, did my JYA in Dublin, and returned to Dublin for my Masters. I got to travel around Europe a lot — soaked up the sun in Portugal, sipped crisp white wine in Austria, did mushrooms at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, that kind of thing — and once my then-boyfriend won a trip for two to Malaysia on a TV quiz show. That was super-cool. (I mean who actually wins that kind of thing? The kind of guy we’ll never stop missing, that’s who.)
But back to this never-ending story. As I was finishing my dissertation, Katrina hit, and I returned to Nola for eight months to join the rebuilding effort.
Finally, after a summer stopover back at home (during which my little sister made all kinds of fun of me for turning 25 in a camper at the wedding of a family friend, whoohoo, don’t go crazy now), I arrived in New York.
Since then I have been lucky enough to regularly travel around the country (especially California and Chicago) and to France and Dublin to see friends and family. (Me and my girls, we love to get together.) I’ve tagged along with my boyfriend to Colombia twice while he was developing cocktail programs for two bars. I don’t travel all that much for work — I’ve only been to Chicago for Greenbuild and glamorous Charlotte, North Carolina, for meetings. Sexy timez.
I see from your blog that you’re 22 and I’m going to say the cliched thing here: travel while you’re young. Don’t max out your credit card to do it … well, maybe max it out once. It’s worth it.
As for where to live after graduation, the door to New York is always open, but go wherever your heart leads, just so long as you have a few friends there (imho). You’ll find a job once you get there. You just will.
Happy trails, my dear! xx
Anonymous asked: Can you tell me about your boyfriend who passed?
Hmm. Let’s see.
He was a comedian and a writer.
Obviously the funniest person I’ve ever known.
We met at the beginning of my JYA in Dublin.
We met at the Trinity College pub — the Buttery, not the Pav. His friends were playing Boggle, I believe. I butted in. Typical American.
We dated that year and through the next, when I returned to Tulane for my senior year.
He came to visit me that fall. He spent a month with me in New Orleans. We had such a blast. My friends adored him (he was easy to adore). We went to New York for a weekend before he left. It was my first time in Manhattan. We talked about moving there, someday.
For my 22nd birthday he made me a book about a little baby elephant (for you see it was that year that I got my elephant tattoo).
The little baby elephant is from India and her name is Nora (“I know this is a strange name for an Indian little baby elephant but she was a strange little baby elephant and besides, Indian elephants are open-minded and cosmopolitan and read Joyce and Ibsen and O’Casey and Shaw and wouldn’t even think twice quoting Proust at elephant dinner parties and some of them even have doctorates in the Hindustani Literature from the Hindustani Elephant University of Higher Elephant Learning in Bombay.”).
It is funny and profound.
On her birthday, all the elephants gather ‘round Nora to blast their trunks in a great show of elephant love — “and even some little baby elephant ex-boyfriends, well-wishers, passerby, moochers, skivers, and even some little baby elephant wedge-drivers.”
An allusion, of course, to my friend and editor Shane who had recently confided to Liz that he had a crush on me and would like to “drive a wedge” between me and Cian — an absurd thought, for, as longtime readers know, Shane is my most fabulous and successful and handsome gay friend.
But he didn’t quite know that at the time.
For my 23rd birthday, he brought me to Paris. It was my first time.
We lived together in Dublin for eight months while I was doing my M. Phil. (Masters) at Trinity. We partied a lot. We had fun. We adored each other’s families. I thought I might marry him, but then, I thought that less.
After a time, I knew I had to break up with him.
I remember a late-night call with Liz. It would have been evening for her, 2 am for me. We were both torn. We were both in love with boys (men) we had fallen for in college, and we both knew we had to break up with them.
We both did.
It was very hard for awhile. Cian and I didn’t speak. We avoided each other at parties.
Eventually, I moved back to the States. We became Facebook friends. We exchanged notes.
I haven’t seen him since 2005.
I don’t know why he did what he did.
I wish he hadn’t.
I wish he knew what everyone else did.
I wish I could have saved him.
I wish he knew how much he meant to me.
I hope he did.
Yesterday I got drinks with a girl that was in my Anglo-Irish Lit Master’s program at Trinity in Dublin. There were only about twelve of us in the course and we sat in a room with tall ceilings, around a heavy wooden table. The building was not as old as the Great Hall, but it was older than almost any structure in this country.
I paid very little attention to anyone in the program. Through my boyfriend (whom I met during my JYA at Trinity), I had a ready-made set of very sociable friends, and I probably thought my fellow lit students were too nerdy for me.
I definitely thought that.
I would have lost touch with every last one of them if it wasn’t for that boyfriend’s death this year.
The girl I met last night became friends with him in the intervening years and though she knew at the time that I had an Irish boyfriend, and she later learned that he had an ex “from New Orleans,” she didn’t put it together ‘til we commented on the same Facebook photo after his death. (I spent more time on Facebook in those two weeks than I have all year, easily. I read somewhere that at this rate, in year X, there will be more dead people than living people on the site, and I suppose someone will figure out how to make money off that.)
Dublin is a very small town. It turns out that she also knew his sister, though until his death didn’t know she was his sister.
I didn’t mean for this post to be about him. I have so much to say about him but I will never feel right doing it here.
I think what I wanted this post to be about was how interesting it was to talk to this girl — someone I honestly don’t remember, though she remembered me. (It could fill volumes, all that I’ve forgotten.)
She is also an American. She has lived in Dublin for the past nine years. She did what I thought I might have wanted to do — make a life in Ireland — and when she described her beautiful six week paid holidays every year, her travels in Europe, and the successes of our now-mutual friends, I admit I wondered if I’d made a mistake. It was a sort of Sliding Doors moment.
And the interesting part was that she was looking at me in that way, too. She is planning to move back to the States, to either San Francisco or New York (I hear rumors that there are other American cities but I find them hard to believe).
“But I’m 30,” she said. “I’ll feel so behind, moving here. Everyone gets started so young.”
Nonsense! I said but of course I know the feeling. Psyching yourself out before you even begin.
We really put ourselves through the wringer, don’t we?
If only we spoke to ourselves as we would our dearest friend, how much more confident we would be.
My last year on earth
When I was little I believed that I would grow up, have a little girl, and die, just like my mom did. It wasn’t a sad thought. It wasn’t even something I gave much thought to. It was just there. The natural course of life.
As I got a bit older I ceased to believe that, of course, though the age that she was when she died has always loomed ominously. It’s a very common form of magical thinking among people who lost parents young, and it probably explains why I can’t quite keep her birth-date and death-date in my head. (They were a week apart, her death before her birthday, and both were in February, that terrible, terrible month.)
Now I am 31. And — as I recently had to confirm with my dad, though of course I knew without knowing — she was 32, almost 33, when she died.
There is a part of me believes — maybe that’s too strong a word — that I will die next year.
I’ve sometimes thought that I’ve held back in life because of that.
It feels like my life was in a holding pattern for god knows how long.
It’ll definitely be a strange relief to turn 33.
On another note, she was 30 when she had me. Which means that I am now experiencing a time in my life that she shared with me. Does that make sense? I know what it feels like to be 30 and 31, and because my peers — you guys on Tumblr, actually, and some Facebook friends — have babies, I can imagine pregnancy and motherhood through her eyes (she was heavily pregnant when she died). It is always crazy to realize how very young your parents were (and my parents were not so young, not by the standards of the time), but there is something larger in this. I don’t think I ever understood just how very young she was when she died. 32 seemed old. It was a dead-mom-age.
And now — 32?
I’m just getting started.
I’ve thought about wanting to mark ‘my last year’ in some special way. I want to make this time count. I want to make it to 33 and feel good that I did. But what will that entail?
(You see what I mean about a holding pattern?)