Friday, May 15, 2009

Nature or Nurture

Every child has, at one time or another, wondered what it would be like to pick the perfect parent. The movie, Coraline, is about a little girl who finds out that indeed, you should be careful what you wish for, when her dream of the perfect mother, suddenly turns into a nightmare.

In the small town of Heppner, Oregon, two women found out that their DNA proved they had been switched at birth, resulting in 56 years of living a life with the wrong parents. The two women, Kay Rene Reed and DeeAnn Angell, were born in 1953 at Pioneer Memorial Hospital. They grew up, got married, had children of their own and are now grandparents. 

One day a neighbor of the the Angell family and friend to Kay Rene's mother, called Kay's brother with a secret that turned the lives of these two families upside down. The neighbor, now 86 years old and living in a nursing home, told a story of how Marjorie Angell was sure she had been given the wrong baby while she was in the hospital. Her concerns were brushed aside and after a year, she couldn't imagine giving up her daughter and let her questions go. 

Kay's brother, Bobby, was stunned by the news but decided to follow through with the information. There had been rumors and family stories that had eluded to the mix-up. Hard to explain one blonde, blue eyed beauty amongst a family of brunettes, and vice versa. When DeeAnn was told of the switch she jokingly asked if it meant she would not be invited to the family reunion. After the two women had their DNA test results prove there was a 99.9 percent chance of being related to the other's family, the truth was undeniable.

With both sets of parents deceased, it was left to these women to determine what course their lives would take. Pioneer Hospital agreed to pay for counseling for the women, but they both declined. Choosing to embrace their lives and share a birthday, the women are moving on rather than looking back.

They were no less loved, no worse for the wear and had the blessing of yet another family to fill their lives with even more memories. These women had the courage to accept what they could not change and the wisdom to recognize that a parent is the one who cares for you and about you and may not necessarily be the one that gives birth to you. 

My husband is an adopted child and I am the mother of an adopted child. My grandmother married a man with three children and no one ever knew she was not their biological mother. People are often surprised to learn that my daughter's two sons are from her husband's previous marriage. They are her sons. They are my grandsons. And no one can convince us otherwise. So I know first hand that the labor of love is just as binding as the labor of birth. Sometimes it is more about nurture than it is about nature. Families come in all shapes and sizes and apparently sometimes as a complete surprise! 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stories Preserved

My mother and I spent Mother's Day remembering Mamanina. She was my grandmother, my godmother. That is what Mamanina means and StoryCorps gave us an opportunity to perserve her story in a recording that will be in around as long as the United States of America stands.

It began with a story in the newspaper that StoryCorps was coming to our town to listen to the stories told by ordinary people. To give them the chance to tell their stories. Stories about events they witnessed or about people that were important in their lives. These stories would be recorded and stored in the Library of Congress and possibly edited and aired on NPR (National Public Radio). The call was to schedule an appointment during the visit of the StoryCorps mobile recording studio. I saw this as the perfect Mother's Day gift.

The airstream trailer was set-up with a small recording studio inside. We sat at a table with microphones. I interviewed my mom and she answered questions about her mother. Although we had decided on the questions ahead of time, we had not rehearsed and we let the conversation flow between us. My grandmother had lived with us for as long as I could remember so I was sure I knew most of what my mother would say. But I was surprised that I learned new things about Mamanina and about my own mother as well.

The interview was an hour long and when it was over, we received a CD of the recording. A tribute, a treasure, a moment captured in time. My intent is to make copies for my six siblings, sharing with them a piece of their history and the story of a woman we all knew and yet are about to discover.

My grandmother was a woman ahead of her time, possessing a strength of character that I now see in my own mother and yes, even in myself.

StoryCorps has recorded 23,000 stories from all around the country, from all 50 states. They now have 23,001 - the story of a courageous woman, a determined woman, an immigrant who became a citizen of this country and whose story truly belongs in the Library of Congress. Thank you

StoryCorps photos by ChrisPietsch/The Register-Guard
Pictured are Geneva Kesey, mother of Ken Kesey and granddaughter Sunshine Kesey

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spring Cleaning

May day! Mothers Day a week away. It is finally time to air out the spring and summer clothes and begin that timeless tradition of Spring Cleaning! Mine began while searching for my resume, I found myself sifting through stacks of receipts, certificates and warranties from products I haven't had in over a decade. While rummaging through the several file cabinets in my home office I decided it was time for some serious paper recycling.

Cleaning out the three file cabinets of documents, product warranties, tax forms and my newspaper clipping files, I found our will. It was a simple will. At the time, we were traveling overseas and decided it was good time to put our affairs in order. In our mid 30's, we had few ducks to put in a row, but our son was very young and we wanted to be sure he was protected. Our daughters had left home to pursue their own lives and we felt they were too young to have to take on the responsibility of a young child. Our parents were approaching their 70's and the care of a young child, also seemed a burden to lay upon their aging shoulders.

My son is now in his 20's so I realized this was a document that needed a serious make-over. My parents put together their will several years ago, asking their seven prodigy to label things they wanted to keep once my parents had entered the pearly gates. It was fun to look back through the footprints of our childhood and memories that lead us to choose those things that would continue to make those moments precious.

My in laws, now close to 90 years old, recently put together a will after we discovered this was something they had never done. I know that in this day and age of litigation and probate courts, this seems hard to believe. Add my father in law's ever increasing decline to Alzheimers disease and you have the makings of a disaster. Somehow it marked the end of life to place a will on a to do list.

Paperwork! From cradle to grave, there seems to a trail of paperwork that follows us. We understand the need to update and upgrade our closets, furniture, cars and houses as we upsize and downsize our lives. For some reason, though the thought of detailing a last will and testament, is tantamount to sending an engraved invitation to the grim reaper. And yet, if we could stick around after the graveside service, we would witness the absolute chaos that procrastination has caused those we truly love most.

As you put the wool sweaters in moth balls, plant the lettuce in the garden and wonder if you can still fit into that bikini (or even dare to wear one!), make an appointment to draw a will and living trust. Many of the forms can be downloaded, some for free. Taking the time to engage an attorney is probably the best money you will ever spend. Every state has certain probate laws and adding misery to loved ones because a t wasn't crossed or an i dotted, will have you rolling in your grave.

And while you have the pen in your hand and the good intentions to protect all you have worked so hard to attain, get a power of attorney. In the new age of the god HIPAA, it has become crucial should something happen to you and you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Trying to help my mother in law with taxes and banking issues has been a nightmare without that power of attorney in place. We have spent more time, phone calls and aggravation, that one hour of paperwork would have eliminated.

Add a few pieces to your paper trail and put this on your to do list this spring. It may be the best thing you do for your family, and it will certainly help you to rest in peace. No pun intended. That's what a wise grandma would do.