Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Mom Has Alzheimer's

My mom has Alzheimer's. We never talk about it because it is scary. We never talk about it because if we did, we would be admitting that Alzheimer's is her truth. We would be admitting that it is our truth. And we would be admitting that we are scared to death.

My uncle, who is a Catholic priest, also has Alzheimer's. Recently, he got on a plane to go visit friends and when his plane landed, he wandered through the airport unsure of where he was, why he was there, and who he had gone there to visit. Eventually, employees of the airport helped him piece his story together and helped him reach his friends.

My grandfather, who died over ten years ago, lived his last days in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer's. I remember the last time he came to my parents' for dinner before he moved to the nursing home. He didn't remember me. My dad explained that I was his granddaughter but he looked at me with fear in his eyes, trembling on the couch. He had no memory of me at all.

A lot of people think it is ridiculous that I go to my parents' house nearly every day. But someday, she is going to get lost. And someday she is not going to remember me. So while she's still of relatively sound mind, I am going to spend as much time with my mom as I can. I might come out of the other side of this completely alone. But it will have been completely worth it.

We never talk about the Alzheimer's. We just pretend that life is as it always was and that it will always be this way. I hate that this is our truth. And I am more scared than I have ever been in life about the toll this disease will take on our family. But it has given me perspective. And it has given me a relationship with my parents like I have never had.

My mom has Alzheimer's.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Cherokee nation is mourning the loss of the custody battle involving a native child. Her father, a Cherokee member, is mourning the loss of his right to parent his baby. Her mother, who is not native, is mourning the loss of her right to give her baby up for adoption. A non-native couple in Charleston, SC is rejoicing the return of a child they adopted four years ago. A child of mixed heritage, both native and not, has been shuttled between families over the course of her four years but there is no report regarding how she feels in this moment.

In 1971, when I was adopted, fathers did not have paternal rights with regard to adoption. While men could petition the court if they knew their child was being put up for adoption, mothers were not required to get permission from fathers before starting the adoption process. Because of the lack of paternal involvement in the process, I was not aware of my native heritage until I was 17 years old and that nugget of information was not confirmed until 25 years later. My father is of mixed heritage like the baby mentioned above. He is the culmination of the melting pot that is our country, boasting a little bit of Irish, a spot of English and some combination of Cherokee, Apache and Blackfoot. While I am not an official expert on the subject, I am Veronica in many regards.

Throughout the battle for parental rights, people on the outside have formed an opinion. Most of those opinions focus on the racial differences. It's the Indian vs. the white man. It's Indian government vs. the U.S. government. Jurisdiction vs. jurisdiction. Parent vs. parent. Where is the baby in all of this? Where is Veronica? Many will say that they are each acting in the best interests of the child but I challenge that notion. Who's right is it, really, to say what is in Veronica's best interest?

Adopted children host an internal battle throughout theirs lives between their nature and who they are raised to be. But we never talk about that. So maybe the best interest of the child is to stay with the birth family. However most birth families are not equipped to offer a world of possibilities to the child so maybe the best interest is to place the child with a family who will broaden the horizons for the child and help turn the ancestral tide for the birth family.

There is no one solution. But whatever the best interest is, it should not be based on race. If ethnic heritage played a role in my fate, would we have lopped off a leg for the Irish, given an arm to the English, offered my art to the Apache and my voice to the Cherokee. What about the Blackfoot? What would their portion have been?

Is there an obligation of adoptive parents to make sure the child's cultural heritage is shared with the child? Yes.  In whatever way possible. And while I won't offer what I think should have happened in the case of Baby Veronica, I will say this: Cherokee nation should step up and offer cultural education instead of continuing to fight the adoptive parents and the adoptive parents should vow to encourage a connection between their daughter and Cherokee nation.

This case is not uncommon. There are Veronica's everywhere. What is in the best interest of Veronica and everyone like her? It is a world of peace and understanding, where the racial divide is diminished by the love of diversity and a curiosity of culture. It is a world of endless possibilities. It is a world where all cultures are experienced and appreciated and honored by all cultures. The best interest of these children is the best that life can offer.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Forty-five Years and Counting

On Friday the 13th, in September of 1968, my mom and dad were married in church on the south side of St. Louis. She wore a short, lace-covered, white dress because she was over 30 which was far too old, back then, for a big wedding with a ball gown. He wore a black suit with a thin black tie, his hair parted on the side and slicked back by a small black comb which he later used until there was no hair left to comb.

I met them in 1971, when they adopted me through Catholic Charities. Of course I don't remember that meeting because I was just six weeks old. But I have many early memories, most of which include the blue shag carpet in the living room or the velvety blue chair he used to rock me in or food. We ate. A lot. 

Dad worked all day and sometimes all night while mom kept our home up. Every evening, dinner hit the table the moment he lumbered through our big, creaky front door. He always sat at the north end of the table and she sat to his left. They still sit in the same places and they still eat dinner together every night, although she rarely cooks anymore.

In the evenings, they watch TV. We used to go for walks but neither of them move very well anymore. Sometimes they sit on the front porch and watch traffic pass or talk about the neighbors or how old the trees are that line their city street. 

"Look at that one, Betty," he says, pointing out a monsterous pin oak a few houses away. "It's all dead at the top. We should call the city and let them know."

Earlier in their marriage, mom was more of a busy body and dad, just stayed quiet but since he retired, he meddles just as much in the business of others as she does and I find it very humorous.

They spend nearly all day and night together now which was a difficult adjustment after years of being apart while he worked. He didn't know what to do with himself at first and it drove mom crazy. But now they are both content to just sit and do nothing sometimes and that's fine. They deserve to do nothing. After all, staying together for 45 years is hard work. It didn't come easy. I remember times when I thought they'd get divorced and it scared me. But they stuck it out, partially because they had to and partially because they didn't know anything other than the life they'd built together.

He still buys her flowers. They hold hands when walking outside. Once in a while I will catch him sneaking up behind her while she's washing dishes at the kitchen sink to give her a kiss. It's all the stuff that marriage is made of right? Or maybe it's just the stuff that keeps it going. Either way, happy 45th anniversary, Mom & Dad! I love you.