Tag Archives: Italian women

Life Without Conditions: Motherless Mothering

There are stories we yell out to the world with a megaphone, stories we tell only in the dark, and other stories we keep buried under the rubble in our thick skin, the skin thickening with time, loss, disappointment, and hurt.

Recently my mini me, a proud and soulful preteen, had the chance to scratch the surface and get a pinhole view of her mom as a child. She had 3 full days with my adoptive brother, whose stories of our time together in foster care, she never heard. I watched her face light up and dim all weekend. Some were stories of hope, others of fear and mayhem. This weekend was my daughter’s first real lessons about her mother’s personal past. With so much unknown history from my side of her family at all, this was her chance to scribble the first few pages of her own history book as well.

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Me and my girl.

I’ve been very skillful in my disclosures to her. The stories in between the basic timelines, I usually gloss over. My daughter knows a lot about children in foster care, but I am often impersonal about my experiences because they are part of her also and I want her to be nothing but proud of her background. There are a lot of things to not be proud of in my history, but I never wanted her to see the blemishes. As she’s gotten older I feel uncomfortable with some of her questions. They are no longer shallow and easily answered. I write academically about transitioning foster children at universities and about strong mothers in literature. But, often talking about my own vulnerabilities is not easy for me. 

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Orphanhood and Batman: Redifining Foster Children’s Labels

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It has been a long time since anyone looked at me and used the term “orphan,” but it happened this week. In a clinical sense, the word may fit, but its connotation implies weakness. As my mini me told me, “Aren’t Batman and Superman both orphans? So that’s it, you are my Batman.”

While I do not look good in capes, I do want to redefine the term “orphan” away from the idea of victimhood of foster children, and instead define it by eternal superpowers. Orphans do not have parents as children and are raised by strangers. While they do lose the grounding of being consistently parented, foster children have an inner strength that others do not gain until adulthood. They can use that energy to become their own heroes as adults.

Foster children are children who are taken away from biological relatives due to abuse, neglect, or parental addiction. They are placed in temporary homes until they can be reunited with a safe family member, or even adopted. Many are left in children’s homes or on the street. Homelessness, academic failure, drug use, and suicide rates are very high for former children in care. My goal as a former foster child, is to help others become advocates for themselves, create their own family, and encourage girls in foster care to redefine their strength as they become women.

I was taken from my mother and placed in foster after I was found in her basement starved, abused, and left to die. For years, a lingering court case against her and others kept me as an emotional prisoner to her apologies and to biological connections I lost forever. I was adopted, but both of my adoptive parents died within months of each other, when I was 13. Orphan-hood was in my blood it seemed and so I navigated alone. I watched foster brothers and sisters come and go, some living a life of crime, depression, and drug use. Others, who succeeded, went on to love themselves and won their internal battles against those who left them at their most vulnerable.

Without any guidance, good or bad, as a developing child the brain takes in the environment with little shelter. For some orphans, we see only the bad and keep ourselves in a bubble. For others, they absorb attention and affection anywhere they can, and often the abusers of the world hone in. Orphans are, after all, a weak link. In some ways, this is true. My weakness was and is a codependent helping of others. Out of guilt and maybe shame, I blamed myself for whatever happened in that Brooklyn home as a toddler and infant. That guilt led me to try to fix anyone and anything. It led me to poor boundaries personally. My real solace was found in being alone. When I was not fixing friends or lovers, I sought out time with myself by wandering aimlessly to recoup. It gave me a convenient excuse for not taking care of my own heart. 

While my past did dictate my solace, it did not lead me to victimhood, in fact I was determined to rewrite my story. I  had loose connections with some foster brothers and sisters. Some were good influences and believed in my few talents. I never drank or partied, in fact I was basically a very short adult, even as a teen. I studied hard and became absorbed in books. What my favorite writers like Emily Dickinson or Sylvia Plath could not heal for me was a sense of belonging to something. I was introspective, very much self-aware, and a mother hen. As I look back, I grew very attached to women teachers, friends’ mothers, strangers even. I sought out maternal attachments everywhere.

Some were positive, some were not, but I concluded that rather than seeking out answers from the past, searching for long-lost family, (which proved disastrous emotionally), having my own child was the biggest part of my healing. After years of quiet envy listening to friends complain about their parents, siblings, extended family, I wanted something of my own. On January 22, 2003, whatever higher power exists, decided I needed a little blue-eyed girl to put my heart into, to build walls around, and to help design her own future with strong roots.

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It has been 12 years of non-orphanhood for me! In my eyes, becoming a mother shatters that term altogether. I finally got the normal I heard so much about. It has not been easy. Everything I wanted for her did not happen as I expected. But I got the up all nights, the lioness protection, the graduations, the crying, the sadness, the pain, and the joy of childhood laughter. For the first time, I found myself playing hopscotch and picnicking in the park. I started to love who I was and was proud of my new lineage. I had photos to hang on the wall, photos that resembled me, the good parts of me. With this new piece of me, I strived to become better. I stumbled a few times, but she helped me believe in myself and improve myself. I am forever in her debt.

For other fellow successful orphans, a strong network of close friends, or animals, or successful relationships, became their family, but the commonality is that we all tried to rebuild what many people took for granted. While my girl cannot be my only grounding, which I’m learning painfully as she gets older, I finally have let myself become more vulnerable to a deeper adult relationship and a sense of not being alone. I may even have another child or let someone lift ME up when I need it. For this orphan, that is a huge feat.  After all, what I want my daughter to see, and other former foster children to see, is that Batman or not, every orphan has the opportunities to find success amidst the ruins of our childhood enemies.

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This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

Feeling Devilish!

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Life has gotten particularly hotter these days and truly more quiet. With my recent life overhaul, my foodie ventures are verging on dangerous. And undeniably, this unchartered territory is more than welcome! Using tamed jalapenos in lighter deviled eggs brought a little zing to an overdue and well-deserved celebration. Using greek yogurt, rice vinegar, tamed jalapenos, and smoky paprika really played tricks on everyone’s  tongue. I hope my addition to the party showed everyone the fiery side of me. After all, when food is your passion, all you really want is your flavors to be appreciated and remembered.

End of the Line ?

Former foster children live a patchwork life, with bits of  small recollections of the past, often blurred by emotional pain. Most of their own heritage and lineage remains a complete mystery. Identity is shuffled and recreated in different foster homes. In adulthood it can remain precarious. A lifetime of sorting through a past they will never find, leaves them in the cold.

In my collaboration with other foster child advocates, we talk a lot about abuse cycles, attachment issues, success, stability and strength. What is often overlooked, outside of the adoption arena, is identity and the lack of a concrete past.

Me and my end
Me and my end

Dissimilar from adoptees taken or given away at birth, most foster children are taken from their biological families after attachments, negative or positive, have formed. Children enter the foster care system due to neglect, abuse, addictions of the parents, or abandonment.

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Winter Tagliatelle

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Us Italians know how to warm things up for the holidays. In looking at my traditional gluttonous Christmas Day gorge of meat laden pasta, me and mini lighten things up. ( Christmas Eve is meat free. Christmas Day, not so much).

Here is our winter tagliatelle, perfection in its imperfection, due to a pasta roller mishap!

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Carrot Souffle Heals All

Is  the saying that Spring is itself eternal or is it hope? When neither seems definite, me and my girl wait out the changing seasons in the kitchen. I like when new beginnings are on the cusp, so to me, the Spring tease and cold days are very welcome. The  cool evenings of March and sporadic tulips are a welcome contrast to the monotony of a full-blown season.  Everything is more exciting when it is ABOUT to happen.

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Mini me learning the ropes!
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I LOVE this dish.

Food cravings in these in-between moments are even more adventurous. Depending on where you live, the greens, golds, reds, and yellows of spring are slowly emerging. When it comes to culinary fare, Spring tends to lighten itself up. But, I find myself still clinging to darker fall flavors. I am fickle, choosing is painful for me.

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Spring peeks out!

Me and mini me have had some unique menus this month. Pear risottos, deep carrot souffles, rice salads and artichokes are abound in every way possible. March invites kale greens, but steeped in fall’s comfort foods. Pictured is mini me making our lightened carrot soufflé. We used about 2 lbs of organic carrots; cut them, steamed them, and pureed them with half a stick of melted butter. Then we mixed in 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, fresh cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg, 2 cage free eggs, half and half,  2 tb of coconut flour, 1 tp of baking powder, vanilla and 1 tp of kosher salt. We Mixed everything together very well, and baked it at 350 for 40 minutes in a well buttered casserole dish. The result is reminiscent of pumpkin pie, without the calories. You can add additional sugar, but I think the maple syrup is plenty. A good tablespoon of raw honey would be a nice touch. We paired our soufflé with a simple chicken piccata and kale salad.

In another month, menus will delve deep into light Spring fare, but for now,  relish in enjoying two simultaneous seasons at once!

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This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

Kit Kat Bars and Hope

I was 9 years old, but my little legs and little belly made me look about 5. I was cute, no doubt. Stumbling into the social service office, I looked over at my case worker Drew’s desk to make sure the picture I drew him was proudly displayed.

Drew was a very tall man, probably about 35 years old, though at my age he seemed ancient to me. Because of our stark height difference, he often patted me on the head like a puppy. I liked him a great deal; he was the first man in my life I ever trusted. He was kind-hearted, never raised his voice,  and lit up when I walked by. He lavished me with compliments.  I looked forward to our meetings, though at the time I did not understand his role.  I just knew that when I sat in his office, he had toys and Kit Kat bars. I liked Kit Kat bars!

The year after I was taken from my mother. I was tiny!
The year after I was taken from my mother. I was tiny!

One day, he seemed a little unnerved, almost shaken. His smile was different. I knew, even in my young mind, that our conversation was not going to be a fun one. So, I clutched a wooden doll and looked for my Kit Kat bar. I braced myself for some type of bad news.  A lot of what Drew imparted to me is being imparted to thousands of children a day who enter the foster care system.

Drew  was one of the social workers who found me at about age 5 locked in a basement with burn marks, bruises, and left very sick from malnutrition. I was not toilet trained, could not walk and did not talk.  His accidental finding brought me to a hospital and led to the arrest of my mother and others in my home. I was then placed in a foster home.  The brother I was found with was sent somewhere else.

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Lighter Pho Fare with Mini Me

wpid-2015-01-28_18.46.00.jpgMidweek, me and mini me try something out of our comfort zone to break up the monotony of our staple recipes. Routine bores me.  The chill factor climbed for us this month and heavy comfort foods are not comforting for my thighs! Sacrificing flavor for tight jeans is not my style either, so I found  a way to take my Italian cravings to the far east.

With some organic pork and ginger, our love for meatballs met my love for Vietnamese Pho.  While this traditional noodle soup is filled with mixed meats and seafood, portions can be heavy and the flavors can sometimes overwhelm each other.

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It’s My Party-Celebrations and Foster Children

2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!
2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!

Today is my Mini Me’s 12th birthday. Her big blue eyes have been rolling all week, because I dragged out baby pictures left and right all week. Mini me sighs heavily, simply because a  recollection of our connection, is already very real to her. For children in foster care, this day of birth comes with a painful clause in small writing. It is a reminder that their personal past has been erased or deleted. It is a reminder of  a history often long gone or wrought with pain.

Birthdays are a celebration of life, it is a mark of importance of the child to his or her family.  Foster children have been abused, neglected, or lived with a parent with addictions who is gone, and so this validation of importance is not fed.  The violent, or tragic separation or abandonment, of children by their parent or both parents rings loudly on this day. A connection to the happy event of their birth is often not ever born or shared with them. Generally, the day is wrought with mystery, confusion, or even memories of physical pain.

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Isn’t She Lovely? Lighter Lasagna

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Often lasagna is like  a beautiful Italian woman in a tight red dress. She may look like a siren, but she may be good for you too.  Italians are known for overdoing it. We are impulsive, impetuous, extreme, but passionate. In the kitchen our personality is in full force all the time. Nothing is off-limits.

The new year is about shedding many things. In an attempt to embrace a new life.. ..I also let go of the calories and fat in my traditional Christmas Eve lasagna. Basically anything that does not add to your lasagna, needs to be left out. Sounds simple but it does wonders.

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