Birthday Blues and Blessings

Birthday Blues and Blessings

Can Birthdays continue to be special no matter one’s age? Or do they cease to be a cause to celebrate in a certain decade? Perhaps only special when reaching a milestone year? I remember years ago being told by someone I thought thought of me as family that she had no reason to note her birthday anymore, she had children after all. I understood the subtext, that I was silly to still want to have my birthday mean something. As if I wasn’t already little in physical stature, I felt even more belittled. ‘Tis true that I’m not married nor have children yet I still hope my Birthday to be special. While I may cringe at the increasing number every October, nonetheless I do look forward to each October 22nd. There is another reason why I want to celebrate…as more of a diversionary tactic. If I don’t have anything to look forward to, then I’ll look back and ask questions that I’ll likely never receive answers to.

Because of surgeries gone awry over the past 9 years, I am no longer independently mobile. But I would definitely make sure to be helped get up and into my current mode of transportation, a wheelchair, to celebrate. If no reason, then I would certainly stretch out on my comfy bed which is much easier and not as painful. Then I would think all the thoughts that I’d rather not and wonder if they remember what this day is. Do they remember me this day … do they remember October 22nd, 1967…do the man and woman who left me at the hospital remember… questions I have asked every year since I was fully aware that there was another couple responsible for my being born…questions I’ll always have, especially every time the 10th month comes around. Do the Cosmos know? If they are still living, do they wonder if I am, too?

All the above doesn’t mean I haven’t had great birthdays with the family that chose me and in the years since growing up. But it is hard to separate the conflicting thoughts and memories in my head. Two weeks ago while watching Hoda Kotb and filling-in-for-the-on- maternity-leave Jenna Bush Hager Maria Shriver on (the only hour I watch) Today Show I felt uncomfortable pangs as the discussion turned to the importance of skin to skin touch between a newborn and a parent. Any other season or month this topic would not have unnerved me. New questions coming upon my birthday. A few days later a friend shared her daughter recently trained to become a surrogate “rocker” for babies born to perhaps drug addicted women who are unable to be there themselves. From Erickson’s Stages of Development and innumerable research we all understand that babies need cradling, snuggling, nesting just as animals of varying species do …a primal need for all living creatures.

So was the 6 lbs. 6 oz. misshapen newborn ever held skin to skin by the biological mother on her breast? Did somebody hold my face up to their face, cheek to cheek? Was there ever a kiss on the forehead or on my nose that first day, that first week, the next two months until I was transferred to Blythedale Children’s Hospital? I’ll probably never know.

To avoid these painful perennial questions, “the birthday blues,” I need to celebrate so I can end the day having blessings to be thankful for. Mom and Dad never considered the day they brought me home as a special occasion. My Birthday was the date to celebrate. Mom planned several parties while growing up …treasure hunts, sleepovers included. Three months before he died in 2015, Dad treated me to a Birthday dinner while he was up in New York from Panama…the last time I’d see him in person.

The first time I heard Dennis James read the poem “Heaven’s Very Special Child” on the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon decades ago, tears trickled down my cheeks. All the stanzas are meaningful but these excerpts especially resonated then and now still:

“A meeting was held quite far from Earth!
It’s time again for another birth.
Said the Angels to the LORD above,
This Special Child will need much love

Please LORD, find the parents who
Will do a special job for you.

And soon they’ll know the privilege given
In caring for their gift from Heaven.
Their precious charge, so meek and mild,
Is HEAVEN’S VERY SPECIAL CHILD.”

If indeed there is a Master Plan, then Doris and Bill Mariano were chosen to be my parents despite an initial misplaced delivery.

And for my 50th in 2017, I celebrated big, having planned for a shindig for nearly a year. I knew I needed to do that for myself. Yes, even if some may scoff that birthdays are not important, I disagree. I will always want my birthday to be special, to remind myself that I was one Heaven’s very special child. While at 52 I still haven’t figured it all out I have to believe that I’m here for a reason… and so I will continue to celebrate every year because every year that I am here must mean something.

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Musings on Birthday #49

Since Sunday, I have shared a slew of Baby Pictures on my personal FB account. The Baby Pictures only begin at approximately 12 months though. I’ve definitely been looking back at a time I don’t remember. I’ve also been reflective as my 49th Birthday approaches Saturday. Some friends who I adore believe in the idea of a month long celebration!! Being a middle aged single woman sans partner of any kind, being motherless and currently being more housebound than not means I don’t have lots of ways to celebrate for long, let alone a month, but I will admit I DO LOOK FORWARD to my Birthday each year.

Quite a while ago, a person commented that Birthdays really aren’t that important – and she doesn’t care much when they roll around… the underlying message being that I was too old to want a big deal made of my special day. This person also demeaned me and a dear friend who came to share in my grief when my Mom died last year, sneering when knowing we were sharing a King size bed in the hotel.

Yes, I do look forward to October 22nd each year – though the day comes with sad thoughts and lingering questions that will trouble me to my end of days. I was born unbelievably at 5:15 AM (never again would I arrive anywhere so early!) at White Plains Hospital to an Italian couple. I will likely never know if I was ever held by either the man or woman – or if only by the delivery doctor and nurses and later nursery staff. I’ll never know if there were any tears of joy (doubtful) but rather tears of shame or dare I wonder, horror. Logically and intellectually, I can understand the fear and disappointment of the couple who had already lost a baby daughter a few years earlier to the same genetic condition. That baby died within a few days. For whatever reason unexplained, my internal health was sturdier if not my skeleton make up. Diastrophic Dwarfism (as I first remember the condition being called) or Dysplasia is a recessive hereditary condition so both haywire genes were present from the egg and sperm in the embryo that resulted in me. Having taken Anatomy and Physiology some time ago now for my MS Ed/CTRS requirements I was amazed how the slightest change can result in either life threatening illness and/or body malformation, even something as seemingly minute as a missing protein.

Many people know by this blog and website that I give school presentations and give older students an overview of my life story including details of being given up by my biological parents. Thankfully, I was given the chance to live out in society rather than an institution as was the usual decision through the end of the 1960s. And despite an handwritten note of instruction “No Pictures to be taken of this Baby” put atop my Hospital records (copies received when in my mid 20s), Department of Social Services workers decided to put my picture in the local county newspaper seeking a family. The family decided upon was the Marianos, then of Bronxville, NY – Doris and Bill with their daughters Joanne, Beth and Andrea.

Sadly, I lost both my Mom and Dad in 2015 so my main story tellers are silenced forever but I have memories of the stories told to me and pictures that accompany the story. An official family portrait and individual baby pictures were taken soon after my arrival. And there would be many more pictures over the years. What a gift of acceptance and love.

Ironically, I developed a love/hate relationship with pictures. After my cute baby days were over and I entered the awkward teen years and adolescence doubts took hold, I really did believe I was a freak. I so wanted people to want to take my picture and then when they did, I would pick apart each photo to decide if I looked weird or not. I’m particularly sensitive to anything shown below the waist. Last year was my HS Class of 1985’s 30th Reunion. Though not pleased I was confined to a wheelchair and slouching back, I nonetheless decided to glam up as much as possible and was thrilled when friends/classmates wanted to take pictures. Ridiculously, I still remember there were no candid photos of me in our Senior yearbook. Of course I was never a cheerleader or played on sports or part of the popular cliques but I still wonder why I didn’t rate one candid back then and chalk it up to my not being pretty enough.

Once during a summer camp week away, fellow campers convinced two sweet boys with developmental disabilities from Long Island that I was cute and interested in them; the message being that only those with diminished capabilities would be interested in me. I never told anyone about that until a year or so ago, but the humiliation has always stayed with me. That and women whose sons I “crushed” on would subtly tell me that girlfriend or wife material I would never be…messages I can never shake though I desperately wish I could.

Now back to my Birthday …the big 49! 49 is big, one might ask? Well considering I have vivid memories of wondering if I’d make it to 50, yes, 49 does seem to be a milestone. A few times over the years I asked a couple of doctors, two women actually (maybe I felt safer asking the tough question with them), what my life expectancy was. Both times the responses were “Don’t really know.” Yet, doctors have looked after me and have done what’s needed to prolong my life. During 10th Grade, I underwent a tremendously difficult spinal operation that left me in a body cast for 6 months and cut short my Sophomore year. The reason given was that my spinal curvature was increasing and would “crush” my heart. In 1992, a C3-C4 degenerated disk was removed before it could slip and slice through my spinal cord. In 2015, there were two more arduous and complicating spinal surgeries to allow continued breathing and hopefully a return to mobility. 50 doesn’t seem to be much of a question mark anymore though my other questions of whether I’d still be scooting and doing acrobatic leaps on/off the Throne and over the tub wall are more or less answered.

The weeklong retrospective back to baby pictures day has helped me realize how far I have come. I may not be so adorable anymore (really what 49 year old respectable woman wants to be cute?) but dang, when I try …I can be pretty and even sexy! Happy Birthday to me!

Happy July 4th, America!

Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write. ~ Elie Wiesel

Today is July 4th, 2016, 240 years after the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence – for the 13 colonies, from that point on to be known as the United States of America, to sever ties with England, from their oppressors, to rebel against taxation without representation among other iniquities.

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”

Can’t help but read these words with new appreciation and insight. These are tumultuous times we live in. Within the past week, we saw our original Sovereign power declare its independence from a modern international union.

For all of America’s current faults and divisions, and they are plentiful, I am grateful to be an American citizen. Am grateful to have been born on this land. Am not sure how or when exactly I became a mini Yankee Doodle Dandy and Patriotic fool – was as far back as Elementary School. My parents were always involved in politics and we celebrated the 4th of July each summer with cookouts, sparklers, fireworks over the Hudson River and later right over Orange Lake. Dad would buy us Commemorative Coins – including the 1976 Bicentennial Set. I’d read books set in the Revolutionary Days, including one about a little girl living in Bedford (and for the life of me, I can not remember the title or the character’s name). I read biographies of important Americans. I delighted in the Bicentennial Celebration during 3rd grade with Miss Partalis. Holly Hobby, Martha Washington, Betsy Ross were a few of my “idols” – yes, I was a bit of a geek way back. 6th & 8th Grade Social Studies classes brought more American History and my fascination grew.

Then came 9th Grade Non Western Studies with Mr. Klinger. Herbert Klinger who wore drab olive green sweaters and slacks. He was a world traveler and had made numerous educational films. (Seriously, what kid wasn’t thrilled to see the projector set up when entering the classroom?) We learned of the caste system in India I remember. And surely we learned something about ancient China (I think?). What I remember most, though, is sitting in my mid row seat hearing and seeing about babies in Africa that were left out for Animals to eat or to die in the elements – the babies that weren’t healthy or “normal.” I remember shifting around in the chair, not knowing what to do ..wanting to cry but not wanting to draw attention to myself. Back in those days there were no such thing as “trigger warnings,” not that I do think it was or is necessary. Life happens and survival of the fittest means rising to the occasion and facing difficulties when they come. If we were all to be warned ahead of time, where would our strength develop from? Back to the point at hand, 9th Grade Non Western Studies Social Studies Class was when I knew for sure I was blessed to have been born in America. Sure I was left in a hospital by my biological parents, but I wasn’t put outside to perish.

And I wasn’t even left in a hospital forever because wise women (and I do believe the powers to be at that time were wise women) decided I should have independence to a degree, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness out in society – my unalienable rights as much as the next baby.

Our government is not perfect, there are the pros and cons to Benefits – but I’ll save those for another time.

For this July 4th, 2016, the 240th Anniversary of this great imperfect nation, I am grateful to be an American and I pray to be here in 10 years for the 250th Celebration!! Regardless of my physical independence, whether it bounces back some or not, I am still of Independent Mind and that is everything.