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May 10 2015

Strong Women

A little over twenty-nine years ago, my name changed, and a woman had to make what probably remains as the hardest decision of her life. She wrote about this in her posts Surrender Part 1: Legal Proceedings and Surrender Part 2: Saying Good-Bye. This is a follow up to that but I could not call it “surrender” anything. I learned so many things but the main thing I learned is that over the last twenty-nine years, we have both become two strong women.

Yesterday, I took my birth mom on a trip. The day before mother’s day, we took a road trip around Chicagoland. I will be naming suburbs and neighborhoods in Chicago as I write this. I gave her a tour of the part of my life she missed because she chose to give me stability instead of spending the first twenty-nine years of my life with me. I will always be grateful for that gift and that sacrifice. I wanted her to know, at least somewhat, what she missed. I expected us to be done by 3pm at the latest, and that is even adding time for unexpected stops. I could not have been more wrong. I have for the entire duration of my first twenty-nine years thought so little of myself I did not realize all the things that made me who I am.

Our first stop was Schaumberg itself, nowhere specific but I told of family who always lived there, and some still do. The links I had to the large mall in the town and the enjoyment I have had there. We met the place because it was relatively central. It was a god place to start the story even if it was not chronologically accurate. In fact, if I tried to stay to chronology I knew it was going to take all day… Turns out it took all day anyway.

I, of course, refused to tell her the first place we were going. All I had was an address. I wanted it to be a surprise but it was not long before she figured it out. Moms always know… I picked her up in Schaumberg and my first planned was in Grayslake… It turned out we were going right past a different place that meant something to me…

She had me turn off the main road and onto a residential street somewhere in Mundelein. We had ended up going by the home where she returned with me and I lived for my first five months. It was a moving moment for us both. She told the story of a crowded small household and that it was apparent to her after five months that it would be incredibly difficult for me to live starting my life in this way. She told me more about the difficult decision she came to and the journey that was the story of my life began again.

My birth mom reflected repeatedly how much the area had changed. Twenty-nine years ago, it was not nearly as developed, it was not nearly as populated. They were observations that made me realize exactly how much time had passed. I realized now, the scope of what I was planning. How could I fit twenty-nine years into one day? How did I ever think it was going to fit in the morning? It was an overwhelming thing to realize and I started going through my mind of things that I could “cut”…

Following the GPS, there was no way I could follow memory, lead me to a building that was now a veterinary clinic. She knew it as an adoption agency. The adoption agency has since left, but the same building is there. The same place in space now had a new purpose, but to me twenty-nine years later. To me that place signified a divergence of our paths. Other than some fixing up it was unchanged from that day twenty-nine years ago when my birth mom placed me in the arms of my adoptive mom.

As I sat there talking to my birth mom, I got a text about plans for next weekend. For most of the last twenty-nine years, my adoptive mom and I have celebrated mother’s day the weekend after the actual holiday. Since we were in the car all my texts happen over the car speaker system. Therefore, my birth mom heard the conversation over text as it was happening. Who would have thought that twenty-nine years later we all would have rejoined at the same place again? Twenty-nine years after she placed a boy in the arms of new mom the three of us shared another moment, now circling around a woman who is growing though the pain of being assigned male at birth. I have to tell the story of what happened to my mom, she did not know at the time because I always try to keep conversations over texts somewhat short, and that is a story to tell in person.

I just realized the confusion I have written into this post by referring to both my mom’s as mom. In fact, I have a step mom as well. To me, they have all become mom. There is no denying that. On this mother’s day, I reflect that I am a strong woman who has three strong mothers. It makes me feel extremely lucky. That is one planned stop done, many to go. It was time to share the things she missed.

Our trip continued down IL-41 and the Lakeshore. We took what may possibly been the same trip I took on that day twenty-nine years ago. I had another address that would take us where I had no memory. It was the second time I came home for the first time. This time, it was in Glencoe. However, a detour happened on the way though Lake Forest.

In Lake Forest, I told stories from all the holidays I spent with my mom, uncle, aunt, and cousins. I almost every Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, and major holiday was in their wonderful company. They have moved to various places since. The majority have gone to the Baltimore area. One Cousin is in Alaska, and one other cousin is on the west coast. I miss all of them. I showed my birth mom the house and neighborhood where all that happened.

We again followed GPS to a place I did not remember. We sat in front of a ranch style house in Glencoe and I relayed stories that my adoptive mom told me about my infancy in that home. My birth mom spoke about the infancies of my siblings. I did not live there long because we moved shortly after I turned one year old. I still wanted her, and I to see it.

As we continued down US-41/I-94 I pontificated (is twenty-nine too young to pontificate?) about how certain roads and numbers always had meaning to me. I was saying how I always felt at home around Harlem Ave/IL-43. In addition, I felt like Fullerton Ave, Grand Ave, and IL-64/North Ave, connected my childhood, to my adult hood. I always felt happy that my life was coming together when I was near US-41/Lake Shore Drive. As we rode down 41 we passed by Skokie and I was relaying stories of my Maternal Grandmother when I spent time with her in Cincinnati as a child and later as a teen/young adult when she moved to a nursing home in Skokie.

As we reached Uptown, we got off Lake Shore Drive and within minutes were at the clinic that means something to me now. As one of the best clinics in the area for these issues, it is where my doctor is for hormone therapy. Near US-41, my life is piecing together. We went a little bit south and found the place where I lived in the city while working my first real job and finally moved out of my Mom’s house. It was the neighborhood where my “adulthood” began in Lake View. The same apartment that my stepsister lived in is where I began to blaze my own trail. My Dad lived the same place when he was younger. He still owns the place.

Further south was Lincoln Park and the amount of time I spent there with friends and getting to know my now husband. The next stop was my first job that allowed me to move and begin to start my own life, just a couple blocks south of IL-64/North Ave, was in the Neighborhood around Goose Island.

From there we rode Fullerton over to a neighborhood called Belmont Cragin. As we drove across Fullerton, I drove back in time. It was an odd moment for me. I had driven back and forth on Fullerton when I visited my stepsister in Lake View. It was the same road took me to see my husband when we dated and I still lived out of the city. The same road took me home to see my mom when I lived in Lake View. My grandfather lived, when I was a little child, near the same road. I wish I had looked up the address for sure, but it was in a bungalow like all the others on Parkside, just north of Fullerton where someone saved my life.

My baby sitter was Mary when I was little. She eventually started dating and moved in with my Paternal Grandfather. I called her Grandma Mary even though she never married him. She will always be my Grandma in my heart. I never met my Paternal Grandmother. Her name was Josephine, and people called her Jo. Although, there have been many stories told over the years of her wisdom, kindness, and love. I spent Christmas Eves in that house. I spent many days after school in that house. I spent my childhood in that house. One cold day, she passed. It was cold in temperature, but not in heart. She saved our lives that day. When she was cooking hamburgers, she was aware enough to turn off the stove because something was going to happen. She passed in the kitchen and if she had not turned off the stove, my Grandfather, and I would probably not have survived the resultant house fire.

We had a few emotional moments. After that, he moved to Elmwood Park and that was our next stop. The condominium was in the circle near one of the most dangerous train intersections in Chicago Land. It was a nice condominium where many fond memories were as well. We spent some time sitting by that train crossing on lawn chairs because he and I both loved trains greatly. He lived the rest of his days there. Today, that crossing remains a very dangerous grade level train crossing instead of the overpass that it should be. From there it was south bound to River Forest.

The first stop in River Forest was the grade school where I attended preschool through fifth grade. While the grade school itself is gone, the land has become some very nice, very large, very expensive, houses, the park behind it remains. As we walked around the park I talked about how much has changed and standing in certain places recounted some very fond memories of the last couple of years I had a happy school experience. There were a couple of other stops to make in River Forest including my first job and where I first met my stepmother, at the time, she was dating my dad.

Then we crossed Harlem Ave/IL-43 into Oak Park, my hometown. The first stop was the grade school where I spent my 6th grade year. We took some time to get out and walk around the park behind that school as well. I recounted some of the very painful memories of bullying and not fitting in on that playground. I also told of how it used to be my favorite park when I was a little child. It was the first time I had been to that park in just over 10 years, and only the second time since I graduated from that school in 1998. I was amazed how little had changed. It remains the park of my nightmares.

We went by the house I grew up in and where all my friends grew up. I told stories of each of them as we went around Oak Park. It was nice recounting some nice memories, some painful memories. We went by both my Junior High School (which completely reconstructed since I was there) and my High School. As we went by my Junior High, my mom mentioned that it looked more like a High School to her. As we went around my High School, she commented that it looked more like a College. The size of the school building astounded her at four flights and two city blocks… In addition, the grounds were another two city blocks including a three story tall stadium. I spoke about how returning there to work was like a rematch of my extremely difficult high school years. A rematch that allowed me to be able to pull out of my high school the growth I needed to become my own person. I was finally able to take from the ruins of my high school experience the closure that let me grow into my own woman.

As we rode across Lake Street though downtown Oak Park, I recounted various memories in various locations. Turning left on Harlem Ave/IL-43 to go south was an interesting experience. She said, “I used to work in that building.” We immediately started trying to line up dates. A couple of years before I would ever enter the building she worked in a place that was mere blocks from places I was frequently and just over a mile from where I lived. A couple years later that building contained Borders, the bookstore. I spent many hours and days in that store buying gifts for others and myself. I found books there that would help me construct a religion that was right for me. I found books there that would bring me happiness. It was the only bookstore that every provided me those feelings. WOW!

Straight down Harlem, it was off to Riverside. It is a small village where, if you do not know it, you will have trouble getting out. It is a historic village where the street lamps are powered by gas and always on, and where my father and step-mom live. I told the story of the 6-month rehab project which started in 1997 and is still underway. I told her the comfort I took in having a ‘home away from home’ and the pain I had when my stepsister passed in that home. As we explored Riverside, I told stories of some of the area. The locals stood on the water tower and watched the Chicago Fire as it happened. However, local to me, I told the story of where my dad and stepmom got married under a tree in one of the parks. My stepsister and I were standing beside them in support.

Then we hopped on I-55 down to Romeoville for my experiences at Lewis University. Traveling down 55, I do not remember what we spoke of but I remember feeling very emotional. As we reached Lewis, I spoke about wanting to be a pilot and quickly becoming drowned by the competitiveness in that program. We went around the university and I spoke about each building and what it meant to me. The small airport attached and had its own meanings too. We hopped on I-355 back toward Schaumburg. I felt like I had managed to share twenty-nine years of history…. However, it was a long trip. It was around 7:30p as we reached Schaumberg again.

As we traveled the highway, we spoke about mothers and mother’s day. Both our throats were dry from all the talking and sharing. Both our voices were becoming horse. We spoke about how much life there is in twenty-nine years. We spoke about how amazing it was that we were so close so many times, even though Chicago Land is so big. It felt like a huge trip. I was amazed that my life covered so much ground and yet at the same time it had covered such a small area. I felt a closure about the adoption that I had never felt before. My intent was to have a nice dinner where we first had our reunion, but it was already 7:30p and they had an hour and a half wait. We ate somewhere nearby and spoke quite a bit. That made me think about many other things as well…

Here is a list of places visited:

Town List

And a map:

Map

It was an amazing day. As I sit here on Mother’s day, I am reflective. I have been rushing my way through this post, because I am already late for work, so I am sorry if it is hard to read in places. I am reflective and sad of the fact that two of the strong women that helped shape me can no longer  be with me. I feel sad that I have not appreciated them as much as I should have. I wrote in this the physical side of the story. Where we went, what we did, the things we said. My birth mom wrote the more emotional side of the story. You can read that here.

To my mom, the woman who razed me: Thank you for seeing me though to become an adult. Thank you for always looking out for my best interests. Thank you for the tough love, and the soft love I needed. I know it was painful at times. I know it was difficult at times. Your love means so much to me. I will be by your side forever; please stand by mine.

To my mom, the woman who placed me for adoption: Thank you for placing me in her arms and allowing her to give me stability. I know it was painful at times. I know it was difficult at times. Your love means so much to me. I will be by your side forever; please stand by mine.

To my mom, the woman who married my father: Thank you for putting our happiness above your own, and giving me a home away from home. I know it was painful at times. I know it was difficult at times. Your love means so much to me. I will be by your side forever; please stand by mine.

To my grandma, the woman who saved my life: Thank you for giving us happiness saving our lives. I know it was painful at times. I know it was difficult at times. Your love means so much to me. I miss you so much, more than you could possibly know.

To my sister, the woman who showed me that my life is unique: Thank you for giving me a path out of depression. Thank you for teaching me I can blaze my own trail. I know it was painful at times. I know it was difficult at times. Your love means so much to me. I miss you so much, more than you could possibly know.

To the five strongest women I know: Thank you for being strong. It allowed me to become the strong woman I am today.

About the author

Josie

I’ve never been good at writing about myself. I’ve never been good at ‘talking up my strengths’ but at least I should try…

I am a 30 year old (gasp), woman. To me, it is just that simple. My life is slowly coming together into a form where I can be proud to call it my life.

Who am I? I’m a strong, loving woman that was assigned male at birth and is finally correcting that egregious error by biology. For most women if they have an urge like wearing a sundress, they just do it. For my first 29 years on this planet, that wasn’t a possibility.

I write to heal, then publish to inform. I hope my journey can make the journeys of people that come after me just a little less painful.

I also have a ‘day job’ as a Data Center Technician. I do an incredibly physical job lifting fixing and moving servers. I daily, walk into and then maintain ‘the cloud.’ Servers are still quite a bit larger and heavier than your desktop at home. So much so that I am the only woman on my team of 20 and one of 5 in the entire building of about 75. Technology is without a doubt a male dominated industry. Which makes me quite sad.

I wish I could better express who I am. I don’t feel like I’ve done justice to my history, my life, and my story, but for now, this will have to do. To me the most beautiful thing in the world is understanding and empathy. If we can have only one thing for each other person on this planet, I choose empathy.

2 comments

1 ping

  1. Marcy

    You were right, it made me cry. I was already on the verge of tears, as you know, I was also writing a post about our road trip. I will stand by your side, with the other strong women in your life. We surround you with love.

  2. Mary Ann

    Thank you Jo for sharing this experience by writing yr blog. Your tribute to yr moms and grandma touched me today. Perfect day to read this on Mothers Day, which has been hard for me since losing them. However reading about what you did yesterday was sooo special and loving. I will always be your proud Aunt!!

  1. Intentional Mother’s Day | Flight of a Phoenix

    […] is where I was at in writing this post when Jo posted her thoughts on our road trip, Strong Women, it amazes me that although we take different approaches to our time together we have similar […]

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