These Are The Days

Smart ~ Writer ~ Mom

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A Mother’s Day From a Few Years Back

It had always been my dream to be involved with Disney somehow. In the 1990s, I was living that dream and if I’m being perfectly honest, I often felt guilty for how happy I was. Does a birthmother really deserve to experience happiness again? I ask that question not with some sort of false humility. I ask it with total sincerity. Did the fact that I worked at the happiest place on earth mean that I no longer felt sad? Not *could* I or *should* I feel sad because surely I did; but rather, was I sending the message that I had somehow neatly compartmentalized all that had transpired and it was no longer a big deal? That I no longer grieved the loss? That I was somehow turning my back on this part of my life story and living in some fantasy world?

For years, I danced between two realities – the reality that I was indeed happy and thriving and proving to myself that I wasn’t bad, that I could, in fact, be good, as Alanis says. And the reality of knowing I was a birthmother and that any happiness I experienced or exuded might be construed as being dismissive or reductive of the magnitude of what I’d done. It was a tricky dance that I orchestrated day by day – don’t be too happy, people might wonder if you’re just heartless. Don’t go to parties and drink or have sex because that will just perpetuate the myth that you’re a slut. Don’t make waves, don’t push the boundaries of what’s allowed and don’t tarnish your reputation because you might be fired. Transferred. Sent away.

In short, working at Disney allowed me to reclaim myself without the pressure of answering to – or putting on a show for – anyone.

One of my absolute favorite jobs at Disney was as a Guest Relations hostess at the Disney-MGM Studios. I was working “the window,” a small building just outside the park where guests come to get Disney information. Every day at the window was different and sometimes the guest situations were difficult to resolve. There were plenty of scammers illegally selling and reselling tickets so we had to keep our guard up.

One spring morning, a family approached my window. They had long, yellow tickets which may have been the old five or seven-day park hopper tickets. As the mom told her story, I noticed there were six people in her family, but she only had five tickets.

She tried her best to piece it all together.

Ticket … lost … had them yesterday at the Magic Kingdom … searched the hotel … no receipt … bought tickets through a travel agent … cost $1000 for all the tickets … can’t afford to buy another …

The mother was frantic because she was the one that had lost the ticket. Back then, Disney required guests to sign their names on their individual ticket. Hers was the one that was missing.

Guest Relations employees were empowered to resolve most situations on our own. But when a large amount of money was in question (more than $50 or so), a supervisor was required.

I connected with that mom in that moment. Not sure what it was about her story or her family, but I believed her 1000%. I asked her to wait a moment and I went to the back office to tell my supervisor that I wanted to re-issue her ticket, at a “loss” of about $200 to our department. No receipt or proof of purchase. No theft report from the police. Nothing other than this woman’s word. But I pleaded to my supervisor on her behalf, and to my surprise, he said, “Well, if you believe her, then do it. You have my support.”

The next few moments were among my fondest as a Disney cast member.

I told the woman I’d be happy to re-issue her ticket. She was completely overwhelmed. Her family was ecstatic. I handed her the new ticket, which she promptly signed. And then she grabbed both my hands, looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, “Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day.”

In fact, it was indeed Mother’s Day. I moved through that day as I had many previous Mother’s Days, carrying the secret that I too was a mother. Not a parenting mother, but a mother just the same.

Clearly, this woman didn’t know if I was a mother, but she said I had the heart of a mother.

Well.

I signaled to her to hold on one moment, quickly closed my window and met her outside in the queue line. She hugged me tightly and we cried. But it was the good kind of cry.

She was the first person to ever say “Happy Mother’s Day” to me. And I will always remember it.

A Mug Full of Love and Dreams

(Foreword: I may have implied on Twitter that a portion of this post would be written in French, or ‘en francais.’
And then I realized how truly awful and rusty my French is. And so, at the 
end I have a lovely French quote. C’est la vie!)

Twenty-five years ago this week I missed out on an opportunity that could have changed the trajectory of my life. I’ve always felt a little bit resentful of how the whole thing turned out, but I’ve come to realize how very different my life would have unfolded had circumstances been different.

In 1991, I moved to Orlando to work for Disney. I was full of dreams and felt sure that this is where I needed to be. I had worked as a tour guide at the Backstage Studio Tour the previous year on Disney’s College Program and when I returned in the fall of 1991, I became a ticket seller at the DisneyMGM Studios Main Entrance.

After a handful of Guest Relations (customer service) people were fired for theft, a Tickets supervisor noticed my I speak French button and he quickly moved me over to Guest Relations to replace one of the fired employees. Speaking a foreign language wasn’t a requirement to work in Guest Relations, but with millions of visitors from all around the world, it was helpful. So it was the luck of the draw. My French had come in handy.

I loved studying French in high school and I became enamored with France. My teacher was amazing and she taught us more than just the nuances of the language. We learned about the culture, literature, art, traditions, music, and food that make France such a wonder. Now, at Disney, it had been a few years since I’d studied French and I was a bit rusty. Thankfully, as a Guest Relations hostess, I was always able to cobble together enough words and sentences to help French-speaking guests find Mickey Mouse or the bus back to their hclose-up-1839974_1920otel.

I was in love with all things French and of course all things Disney, so when “EuroDisney”, as it was called then, was set to open just east of Paris in April 1992, I was on a mission to somehow be a part of it.

I applied and interviewed for an intern-type position open to all Disney cast members. If accepted, I’d be living in dorm-style housing and participate in a work-study opportunity as part of the opening crew. I was hopeful I would get in….and sure enough, I was selected.

Over the moon excited, I hit the local library and started brushing up on my broken French. Details were still coming together so I was told to hold tight while the paperwork was being finalized and the actual program was planned and set in motion. I was also told to get my passport up to date just in case it was a “go.”

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Isn’t this castle awesome? It’s Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland Paris and it’s one of my favorites.

As I waited for more of an official word, another opportunity to go to France arose. This time it was through Guest Relations. Disney was looking for tour guides to work the grand opening event – basically, a huge press conference and media tour. Although I’d only worked in Guest Relations for little over a year at that point, one of my supervisors put my name in the hat for consideration. The fact that I spoke French made me a shoe-in. Luck of the draw again! I told my supervisors that I had applied for and been accepted to the program that was still being assembled, but they told me not to worry. One way or another, I’d be going to Paris!

And then it all started to unravel…

I got my passport. And I also heard from the special program manager, who called me in for a meeting. This should have clued me in that something was weird because I was just an hourly cast member. What could she possibly want with me? Turns out, she was the daughter-in-law to a man that had worked closely with Walt Disney back in the day. He had also served as the President of the Walt Disney Company for a while. His daughter-in-law was well-known throughout the company, although many surmised her position was more in title only rather than based on any competency. I swear that’s not my bitterness talking; that was truly the word on the street.

Anyway, I met with this lovely woman who proceeded to barrage me with questions I was unprepared for. Looking back, I can see a slight resemblance to Cinderella’s wicked stepmother…

Wicked Stepmother: Are you committed to going on this program with my team?
Me: Yes.
Wicked Stepmother: Then you can imagine my surprise to learn that you have also accepted a position to go with the Guest Relations group? (her eyes narrow, the room darkens, and flames erupt in the background)
Me: (stammering) Well….I,
WS: You can’t do both.
Me: Yes, I know but you see I told my supervisors and –
WS: You have breached your commitment with our group and as a result, we’ve revoked your visa as of yesterday.
Me: What?? How can you –
WS: You will not be going to EuroDisney with my group. And if I have my way, you won’t be going to EuroDisney with ANY group.

OMG. What a bitch, right?

I was floored.

I left the Team Disney corporate offices defeated, with my head hung low. I climbed back into my 1989 red Hyundai Excel and cried all the way back to work. I confided my disappointment in one other Guest Relations co-worker and friend. He listened and let me cry on his super handsome but gay shoulder. (dammit).

And then the other shoe dropped.

I didn’t have enough seniority in Guest Relations to make the cut, so I would not be going to France as part of the press event tour either.

I was crushed.

At 21 years old, I thought for sure I’d just screwed up my entire life. You see, if I had gone to France, my intention was to stay for longer than the assignment. I wanted to work at EuroDisney and live and travel in the French countryside. I wanted to get a Eurrail pass and backpack through the continent. I wanted to shop in French farmers markets, see castles, buy fresh flowers, drink French wine, read books along the Seine, and fall in love at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

None of those things happened, of course. And I mourned my so-called lost life for awhile. But then a few years later I traveled to France with some friends and we had a ball. I worked many jobs at Disney and met many wonderful people, including my husband. Life went on and was wonderful and exciting and adventure-filled.

If I had gone to Paris in 1992 and stayed, I would have missed out on meeting and knowing so many amazing people here in Delaware, in New Jersey, and especially in Syracuse.

Life is full of so many different opportunities. Some we say yes to and others we say no. And sometimes the decision is made for us. It’s interesting to travel back in your life and see how everything strings together. How your life has progressed and bobbed and weaved with the flow.

However circumstances unfold, they’re all stitches on our life’s tapestry. While we’re busy stitching on one side, all we have to do is flip it over to see the beauty of the life we’ve created. I like my tapestry. And I adore the people in my life. Those that I see every day and those that are far but always close in my heart.

20170412_152339Footnote: Many of my friends and co-workers went to Paris for the grand opening and I loved hearing their stories. And that sexy gay friend of mine? Well. He was unbelievably kind and thoughtful. He brought me back some grand opening souvenirs and a EuroDisney mug, which I still have. He gave me a big hug and said I was with him in spirit and he thought of me when he first entered the park. How sweet was that?

Second footnote: No clue what happened to the wicked stepmother. I don’t wish her any ill will, but the next time she travels, I sort of hope her passport is expired.

 

Il n’est rien de reel que le reve et l’amour.
(Nothing is real but dreams and love) – de Noailles

Essence

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I polish like the coin collector
Carefully, intently
But mine is not of rare copper
Silver or nickel

I guard like prized fine art
The kind worth more to the buyer than the seller
And mine is not of oils or watercolors or pottery

I arrange as the thimble enthusiast
Tiny jars displayed neatly, delicately
In a glass case
But mine is not of miniatures

I treasure as the vintage music lover
Blowing clean the dusty jackets
Smoothing faded labels
Feeling gritty vinyl grooves
But mine is not of melodies. Of lyrics. Rhythm.

Mine are treasures
My collection. A deep longing –
THE deep longing of my life
Residing in the edges of my heart amid the
Creases and crevices where light and darkness live.

And warmth.

These heart songs linger as the last whispers of a sunset slowly drip into the horizon
Edging out the last glints of color.
They reverberate
In the echoes of days gone by and of the days

That never were

I hold close the memories
I carry them gently. Cherishing. Agonizing. Wondering.
So I can remember what I never had
What is here now but is also lost
What I see and feel but never lived

About Good Mothers and a Lion

It’s not often that I’m completely blown away by a movie. But this past weekend, on a whirlwind trip to New York City with my husband, we saw the Oscar-nominated film, “Lion.”

And, well?

Wow.

I haven’t cried that hard in a long time.

The themes of loss, guilt, redemption, and longing that run through this film pulled at my heart from the opening credits.

lion-565820_1920Lion is the incredible true story of Saroo, a young Indian boy who, at five years old, becomes separated from his family. He awakens on a train some two thousand miles from his home and, after a series of heart-wrenching and dangerous encounters with strangers, realizes he is lost and alone.

Eventually, he is adopted by a couple from Australia. I held my breath as little Saroo walked out of the plane and into the room where his adoptive parents were eagerly waiting to meet him. He wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t crying either. My guess is that in that moment he was feeling an uncomfortable mixture of sadness and confusion along with a tiny sliver of hope.

Nicole Kidman portrayed his adoptive mom, Sue. In that first meeting with Saroo, she knelt down, smiled at him sweetly, and through tear-filled eyes said, We’re so happy to see you…we’re your mum and dad.

As joyous a moment as that must have been for this couple who longed to adopt a child, my heart couldn’t help but ache for little Saroo and his longing to go home. This ache was deeper than I’d anticipated because I found myself suddenly overcome with emotion. You know the kind I’m talking about. The kind that seems to bubble up from nowhere and spill out through your eyes. Your nose. Your throat. My sobbing was audible and decidedly unflattering and terribly hard to control. As I sat there, embarrassed, watching my husband scramble to find a napkin or tissue for me, I found myself instantly connected to that little boy.

**********

The story then jumps forward two decades. Saroo, now 30 years old, is a man with a good life and good friends. It’s evident he was raised in a loving home by a caring family. Still, for 25 years, he’s wondered about where his story began. You can sense that something is still pulling at him. A longing to return to India, to the home he remembers in his heart. And so he intensifies his search – using the new tool Google Earth – and slowly begins to piece together his fragmented childhood memories.

**********

Yesterday, I came across a clip from an interview on Australian TV with Saroo and his (adoptive) mother, Sue. The interviewer asked Sue if she had been worried when her son first began his search. Was she worried he would find his birthmother and leave the life he’d known in Australia? Or worse – would he discover that perhaps his birthmother had abandoned him and didn’t want contact?

Sue wasn’t afraid of any of these things; her response to the interviewer was incredible.

She smiled and said that no she wasn’t afraid for herself, but rather for her son. She didn’t want him to be disappointed or hurt. But she wasn’t worried or insecure about his search for his birthmother. She said that although she didn’t know the circumstances of how he came to be her son, she knew from the first moment she saw him that he had been loved by a good mother. There was a kindness in his eyes and a warmth in his heart, she said, that told her he had been well taken care of.

Although this isn’t a traditional story of adoption (whatever that means), there are similarities that struck a chord with me. In the months following my son’s placement, I often wondered what kind of relationship would evolve between him and me and more specifically between me and his mother. I felt vulnerable and less than. Would the love I have for my son be questioned because of the choices I made? I’m embarrassed to admit being nervous that I would be categorized with negative stereotypes about unmarried girls that get pregnant. As it turns out my fears and worries were unfounded. For nearly 30 years, my son’s mother has never looked at me with anything other than kindness. She’s a good mother. And somehow she always made me feel that I could be good too.

**********

I won’t ruin the movie’s ending, but let’s just say there are way more tears.

Tears of loss and struggle. Reunion and sadness. Closure and peace.

If you haven’t guessed, I loved this movie. This extraordinary story of a young boy whose name means Lion and his two mothers … it’s easily going down as one of my favorites, although I don’t know how easy it will be to watch again anytime soon. But it will definitely stay with me for a long time.

What She Will Become (Movie Review: Hidden Figures)

Have you seen the Oscar-nominated film, “Hidden Figures”? I’ll jump to the end and tell you right off the bat that I loved this movie. We went a few weeks ago and brought our 12-year-old.  What an extraordinary history lesson for us all.

If you didn’t know already, this film is the true story of three black, female engineers who were vital to the space program in the 1960s. The three main characters worked with other female engineers and mathematicians in the “colored” facility of NASA. The racism of the time is portrayed in subtle ways that hit you in the gut when you least expected it.

When the extraordinary talents of one of the women, Katherine Johnson, were finally recognized, she was moved to the “white” part of NASA to work with the mostly male engineers. The white people were perplexed when she left her desk for long periods of time each day. It never occurred to them that there was no “colored” restroom for her to use. Turns out, once per day she would literally run a full mile and a half back to her old building to use the restroom – since there was no restroom for “colored” people in the “white” building. Gut punch.

In another scene, we see Katherine pour a cup of coffee from the office coffee pot. The white people looked on, in disbelief. How dare she pour from the same pot. The next morning she discovered someone had set up a pot just for her … and they were kind enough to label it so she would know it was hers: COLORED. Gut punch.

While there were many really great scenes, one in particular settled in my bones fairly early in the film. It took place in what appeared to be a school principal’s office.

A young Katherine Johnson and her parents sit opposite the principal, who tells them their daughter has been identified as gifted. The school strongly recommends she move to a more advanced school and, as the parents soak in this good news, the principal hands them an envelope filled with money. The other teachers took up a small collection to assist the family with tuition at the new school. At first, the parents are unsure whether they should accept the money, but the principal asserts, “You must consider sending her to another school. You have to find out who she will become.”

And to me, that is the crux of the movie. How many stories like this one have yet to be told? And worse, how many stories like this were never even possible so many years ago.  How many heroes never made it into the history books?

*************************

When I was enrolled for a semester at what is now UMass Lowell, I took a history class as part of my full-time liberal studies curriculum. I don’t recall the exact name of the class, but I do remember the teacher. He was an older white man who I naively wrote off as ‘out of touch’ and a ‘curmudgeon.’

Couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Although he was kind of grumpy (at least on the days when he didn’t have a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup on his desk), he was one of my first teachers to teach beyond the history books. This was before the Internet (the dark ages, as my daughter would say) and so he relied on literature, poetry, and other kinds of cultural data. His passion? The American Indian. He walked us through the American History we thought we had learned in grades K-12 and filled in the missing pieces of how settlers treated Indians and the state of these groups today. There were tears in his eyes when he talked of broken promises, the struggling reservations, and the near-extinguishing of the language, culture, and traditions of Native Americans.

When I attended UCF, I had many terrific professors, but again, one stood out to me. Professor Jones was kind of hippie-ish. He brought his guitar to class once. And his teaching style was to leverage the power of storytelling. He was captivating and, as my UMass Lowell professor, he enlightened us about various groups that were essentially omitted from our standard K-12 history books.

I don’t remember thinking too much about it at the time, but in both instances I look back and wonder why I didn’t learn about these stories in middle school and high school? Why did my history books focus on the white man’s experience with little more than a glossed-over mention of Native Americans, slaves, women, Latinos and others? How many other stories have literally been white-washed out of our books and our standard curriculum? Why is white history the default history?

Looking back, I now see that the privileged kind of history I learned about in school was for the most part framed within the lens of what was possible for me and others like me. It was framed within the context and from the perspective of white, suburban, middle class folks. Of course, it was tipped to favor my male counterparts, as much of women’s history was omitted save for the notables like Betsy Ross and Susan B. Anthony. Yet in spite of the glossing over of most of women’s history, I never had much doubt about what I could become. About what was possible for me.

After learning about stories and experiences other than my own (like Hidden Figures, the story of Ruby Bridges, the stories from my teachers of Native Americans, the Inuit, Japanese-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and more),  I realize that the privilege of knowing what you could become doesn’t yet exist for everyone.

If you haven’t seen this movie, go. Bring your kids. Have a discussion. And don’t stop talking until every kid knows the possibility of what they could become.

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