“Cradled”

An excerpt from my story published in The Irish Times

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I have two mums: Mary,  my Irish birth mother who, in 1973, gave me up for what she hoped would be a better life, and Pat, my English mother who adopted and raised me. When they met for the first time, Pat told Mary, “I’m so happy to meet you. I’ll never compete with you for our son.” Mary, hugging Pat, repeated what she’d said to me the day we reunited, “A stone that’s been in my shoe for 24 years is finally after lifting.”

Theirs is an awkward algebra. Having had me to herself, Pat learned to share me with Mary, who can never recover the lost years. Despite that, and being from different sides of the Irish sea, the two women have much in common. Each initially childless —one out of shame, the other from illness— only five years separates them in age. They are equally superstitious. Mary, a devout Catholic, sprinkled a few drops of Holy Water over me every time I left the house and Pat, more attuned to the secular spirits, likes to place a pink crystal in my suitcase to protect my aura while travelling.

Mary died recently. The last time they saw each other was my 40th birthday party, an event to which I’d invited all members of my very large, very modern family. At the start of the evening, Mum and I were waiting for Mary to arrive. Getting out of her car,  Mary nervously smoothed the front of her dress. Looking towards the 100 or so people gathered—all the relatives and friends who had known her son far longer than she, as well as my future husband—she couldn’t have imagined when giving me away, that she’d return as one of two guests-of-honour to her first-born’s 40th.

We stepped forward to greet her and the two women leaned in to kiss one another hello. Eager to defuse any nerves I took their hands and reassured them like a good mummy’s boy—with a proud smile and a gentle squeeze—that “We. Have. This.” But, just as my event-planner’s mind was taking over—plotting who I’d introduce Mary to first and the fastest way to get them, and me, a stiff drink—I noticed them squeezing back. I relaxed my grip. Inhaled. I was an adult son holding both of his mothers’ hands at the same time. I closed my eyes, enjoying the symmetry of being joined to the two women I called Mum; women who at different times in different places had born and nursed, comforted and consoled me. In that instant, I accepted their maternal concern for me was greater than any I could have for them.

I was complete, in a way I’d not felt before.

Opening my eyes, I saw the smiling faces of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins friends and my father taking the measure of our sacred, unusual geometry. Comparing adopted mum to birth mum, with me in the middle of the triangle, perhaps they were questioning who I resembled more? Was I Mary’s nature? Pat’s nurture? Or a combination? Something less easily solved?

If I’d died at that moment, it wouldn’t have mattered. I saw everyone I knew finally bear witness to who I really was.  Two ends of a circle were now joined. At the pit of my stomach swam the giddy chill one feels having crested a rollercoaster.

I could have stayed cradled there forever.

/ends
The Irish Times, Saturday, July 21st, 2018 | here.

10 thoughts on ““Cradled”

  1. Clare Horgan aka Roxy McCarthy says:

    Lovely article. Delighted for you. I am a sean nós singer on the eve of submitting an application for a P3 culturally unique visa and being buried by no broadband and all that jazz, in stunningly a gorgeous remote neck of the South Kerry woods. I would love a chat about the forthcoming tour. .Anyway comhghairdeachas on your reunion. Roxy

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    1. nikquaife says:

      Thanks Clare. Lucky you to be in South Kerry. Good luck with getting the tour together. I don’t actually manage tours but I have worked with Irish Arts Center in New York and they might be a good place to start even just for information. There’s also the Irish Centre in Long Island City in New York. Is that here you are based?

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    1. Clare Horgan says:

      Thanks nice work Maybe you’d have some time to discuss my sean-nós singing tour Due in New York April onwards Could do with your input. Keep up the good work with the writing. Clare Sent from my iPhone

      >

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  2. Margaret Lamb says:

    Thank you for sharing. Last year I reunited with my daughter who I gave up for adoption 47 years ago.
    She and I are building a solid and loving relationship. I have not met her adoptive mother but I have met her adoptive father and expressed my gratitude to him for caring for this treasured child.
    We are traveling to Ireland in July along with two new aunts and an uncle. Making memories.

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    1. nikquaife says:

      Margaret, thank you for writing. I’m happy to hear that you and your daughter were reunited and are building a relationship. I love that you’re traveling to Ireland too. Is that a part of the birth and adoption story?

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  3. Susan Butler says:

    What a truly wonderful story.
    I would wish this for my beautiful daughter, whom we adopted 32 years ago, when she was five weeks old. Our children are not ours to own, however they come to us, but a beautiful gift to cherish and nurture, in order to go forward and live a fulfilling life.

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    1. nikquaife says:

      Hi Susan, thank you for your note. I think your sentiments are spot on and my adopted mother would absolutely share them. It was her and my dad’s nurture and love that let me feel safe enough to explore meeting my birth family. And the fact the they never stood in my way meant I never had to choose. It’s a delicate balance. I wish you and your daughter all the best with the journey you are all on.

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