Detroit: Open Your Art

It’s fun to tour a city you’ve skirted around your whole life.

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Before I get started, let’s talk about my tour guide Linda, who boldly drove me where no one had driven before.  (Because it’s Detroit.  “You’re gonna get shot if go there!” was the refrain of my childhood.)  When approaching this public sculpture park, I saw this ark and squealed, “Oh!  I have to get a picture of that for my daughter!  Look at all those lovies!”

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And in the next beat Linda called out “It’s The Love Boat!”  And to me, that is what it will forever be named because: perfect moment.

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When I spied the gutted Packard Plant earlier that day, Linda expertly drove down the pitted alley towards it, parked her shiny red car in front of its chain-linked gates and just before I squeezed through/broke the law, shouted “WATCH OUT FOR THE WILD DOGS!  BETTER TAKE A STICK!”  In other words, Linda was game.

First she drove me to Hamtramck Disneyland.  Yes, Detroit has a Disneyland because a retired General Motors employee named Dmytro Szylak believed in creating magic where he lived.

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Like Walt, Dymtro has since passed on to Heaven Disneyland where they are probably clasped together in an immortal high-five.

After Disney and the Packard Plant ruins, we lighted upon our ultimate destination, the Heidelberg Project.

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It is hilarious and touching to me that my kids have this same fish pillow.

 

 

It was created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton and his grandfather Sam Mackey (“Grandpa Sam”).  The Heidelberg Project is in part a political protest, as Tyree Guyton’s childhood neighborhood began to deteriorate after the 1967 riots. Guyton described coming back to Heidelberg Street after serving in the Army; he was astonished to see that the surrounding neighborhood looked as if “a bomb went off”.

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At first, the project consisted of his painting a series of houses on Detroit’s Heidelberg Street with bright dots of many colors and attaching salvaged items to the houses.

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It was a constantly evolving work that transformed a hard-core inner city neighborhood where people were afraid to walk, even in daytime, into one in which neighbors took pride and where visitors were many and welcomed. – Wiki

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I certainly felt welcomed.  I felt happy and uplifted and inspired and all the feelings public art divines in humanity.

I’m grateful to you, artists of Detroit.  Thank you for a great memory long overdue.

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If you’re in Michigan and haven’t been out and about in a while, take this tour, go see these magical places and please, share this post.  But most importantly – and by all means – BETTER TAKE A STICK!

Detroit: Ruin Porn

“Detroit, Michigan is a major center for ruins photography. Since manufacturing jobs began leaving the city in the 1950s, Detroit has not only seen a decline in population, but also has seen many buildings and homes abandoned, vandalized, and destroyed.” – Wiki

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I was born in Detroit but never lived there.  I have almost no sense of the city itself, but am familiar with its many suburbs since that’s where Mojżesza led my people in the early 80s.  Delta Airlines led me back this holiday season, and in the midst of all those cousins and cookie platters, I took in some ruin porn.

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I believe this is the old Packard Plant but I’m not sure because since I crawled through a locked gate and over a cemetery to get close to it, I wasn’t hanging around to read signs.  Also there were rabid and starving dogs sniffing around.  Also the tombs.

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I am drawn to these giant rotting spaces, monstrously looming in the urban background. I see one and I feel desperate to get inside.  This former building was so large and so soft it looked prehistoric in its decay.  It was a frigid day too, with a relentless wind pushing the rebar together; the dangling concrete slabs literally moaned with pressure.

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Ruin Porn.

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I am not a landscape photographer – a million people shoot better pictures of places and things.  What I would love to shoot though, what I can bring to a photograph that no one else can, is my kids.  What I wouldn’t give to capture my children running around this space – new and vibrant against aged and spoiled, David inside Goliath, life dancing on death’s floor!   A little on the nose as a subject perhaps, but what a memory we’d create.  If only it weren’t for those damn dogs. Or the law. Or gravity.

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Thanks Detroit.  One day I’ll come back and do a legit tour through your abandoned beauty and pump some tourist money into your economy hole.  Until then, take care of my extended family, okay?

Divining Beauty

My daughter’s current defining physical characteristic is her curly hair.  You see her, you see her hair.

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It’s amazing.

Like her brother, she doesn’t care much about her hair but for some reason she doesn’t want it cut right now, and that’s fine.  When it comes to parenting and hair I only have two rules; it must be brushed every day and it must be out of your eyes (and nose).  So clips and rubber-bands it is.

I work very hard to subdue my adulation towards my children’s appearance.  I strive to talk only about how they feel, never about how they look.

But it’s hard.  Lord, it’s hard.

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My tongue hurts from all the biting.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing more adorable than my three-year-old in a hair clip but I can’t tell her that, not until she divines her own beauty.  What do I want my daughter to know?  That her appearance is her own.  Her looks are to please and provide for no one but herself and as she comes full of herself and into her own, I will support her whether straightened or cropped, dyed or dangling.  I will gush.  I will swoon.  I will compliment her choices.  Until then I nod and simply ask “How do you feel?  Good?  Wonderful!” and smile my silent adulation.

Every moment of motherhood is noticed; to my reflection I now say “I need a haircut!” rather than “I hate my hair.”  I’m not “fat”, my pants are simply too tight.  I don’t “look like crap”, I need to rest more.  Personal grooming.  There are snacks to make and clothes to fold and toilets to scrub but there is also beauty to be divined and I work too to make that path clear.

Paying for the Privilege

Questions my six-year-old son has been asked at the barbershop:

“You’re not scared of a little water, are you?”

“You need to be a man.  Are you a man or a little boy?”

“You have a girlfriend yet?  Come on, you must have a girlfriend … ”

I take my son to a barbershop because he is not particular about his hair, he just wants it out of his eyes.  He has been to three local barber shops and every time he’s gotten his hair cut, he’s also been draped in machismo bullshit.

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I’m not having it anymore.

The ten dollars I save every six weeks is no longer worth my son’s discomfort.  I’m speaking with my dollar.  I’m voting with my money.

I’m paying his way out from under a detrimental influence.

I’m paying for the privilege to go elsewhere.

I’m paying for that privilege.

I’m privileged.

Ah.

It dawns on me that escape is easy.  My stylist (Mike at Salon Helmet) is skilled and professional.  He also possesses a progressive attitude and gentle nature, so from now on I’m taking my son to him for a haircut.  He’s the kind of person I want influencing my children and because I have privilege, I don’t have to just want it, I can pay for it.

There.  I’ve fixed my problem.

Now it’s your problem.

Ah.

Someone else’s problem.  There’s that privilege again.

I can’t very well leave it at that, can I?  I can’t just make my son’s world a better place.  I will not just cut and run. (Literally.)  I will strive to make your son’s world a better place too.  I’m going to contact these shops and lift up the drape.  Enough is enough and not just for some, but for every son.

Mercy

It was one of those days, you know?

I couldn’t face one more meal denied before it even made it on the dish.

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Not one more afternoon of shuttling, scuffling, entertaining and refereeing.

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Not another Friday before another weekend with nothing to do but stare slack-jawed at all the eyes, ears and bodies attached to my own.

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Then my son looked at my t-shirt and said

“Oh Momma! I really like how your shirt says “MERÇI”!”

Bless that sweet bilingual child because in that moment he reminded me of who I am and of all that I am capable.

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There is never a day when I don’t have more to give because of who I’m giving it to

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but a little merçi sure feels good.

For All The Marbles

First it was a small marble, an average one really, but clearly new as it bore no chips or scuffs.  My six-year-old brought it home and showed it off proudly.

The marbles kept coming, one every day, each found and each new.  When I asked of their origins my son was coy, cagey even, a curious posture from my usually forthcoming child.

Then one afternoon he pulled a Jumbo out of his backpack – a marble so big and sparkling it looked like the whole world.  This was no lost object; this was precious.  Still though, he insisted he found it on the playground.  Suspicions sufficiently raised, I pressed him as delicately as I could.  Where on the playground? “In a corner.”  The same corner, everyday? “Yes” There’s a new marble waiting for you in the same place at the same time in your playground?  “Um, yeah.”

Someone was baiting my child.  Somebody – a pervert obviously – was going to the playground every day and planting a new marble there and then watching my child find it.  Someone was planning to hurt my son.

I began formulating a plan to lurk at the playground the next morning.  I checked my phone see if I could set up a video.  Or what about our old baby monitor – I think I still have that.  I could set that up and catch the fucker from around corner.  Who would watch my daughter?  Could someone take her tomorrow morning?  Or should I just call the police now?

My friend, whose son was also “finding” marbles, was a step ahead of me and discovered what never crossed my mind: our boys had taken the marbles from their classroom.  Ah, yes, okay.  So NOT an elaborate kidnapping scheme concocted and currently being executed by a neighborhood pedophile.  Got it.

I handled the truth discreetly and with care, and my son and I moved on.

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This was my first experience with a child’s intentional wrongdoing and my instinct was to believe him and then shield him, no matter the suspension of reality required. I was pleased with this self-discovery because I come from a world where children are up to no good and not be trusted.  But I don’t live there anymore and that’s not where I parent.  My world is big and sparkling, with something precious to discover in every corner.

Adopting Salvation: Tim

I found my birth parents this summer.  Adopting Salvation is our story in three parts.

Part 3

Tim I heard from first.  Tim I spoke with first.  When I opened the door to finding my birth parents I was the definition of vulnerable; my whole self lay exposed.  Tim stepped through that door without hesitation and that’s when I knew I was safe.  My birth father said yes and showed me it was going to be okay.

He also showed me pictures of himself so more fun could be had:

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Tim also showed me pictures of his family and that’s when I learned I was the eldest of his four children.  Technically.  Genetically.  It was a shock to see a large, happy, cohesive family that had nothing to do with me.  Honestly.  The feelings are difficult to articulate so I won’t try again, instead I’ll share what I wrote to him:

“I have no expectations and appreciate what is here and now.  I cannot imagine the position you were in 46 years ago and I do not feel angry about decisions made.  Well, a sting of rejection perhaps but nothing more and I assure you, nothing lasting.  I cannot miss what I never had.  I am grateful I had the chance to live, for look at me now!”

You would not believe how often and how deeply I have relied upon the “fake it ’til you make it” tactic throughout this process.  Transparent or not, Tim never hesitated to answer my questions and in that way he emboldened me to ask more.  As the layers slowly peeled away, he made it so I didn’t have to fake it, and isn’t that parenthood?  In addition, each of his children, my half-siblings, have reached out to me on their own and welcomed me to whatever lies ahead.  That level of acceptance, openness and kindness seems to me a direct reflection upon Tim and their mother and I have been blessed by their efforts.  That is trickle-down parenting at its best and in this case, most bizarre.

Tim and his family live far away but it is my greatest hope that I will see him one day.  I believe it will happen.  Tim has never laid eyes on me, never held me and I don’t think either of us wants to end the same way we began.

So until we meet, I say thank you, Tim.  You made me safe by saying yes when you didn’t have to say anything at all.  Everything is going to be okay.

I have had the best possible outcome of something long wished for.  Thank you to Annette, Linda, Tim, my four siblings and to everyone who wrote me and commented with notes of encouragement and care.  I lived this story while parenting my two small children during the summer of 2016 so I lived it quietly.  I wrote this story for my two small children so that one day they will know all the branches of their tree and the roots that hold them strong.  Finally I thank my husband who, when asked to step back and follow my lead, said yes, setting me free.

Part 1: Adopting Salvation
Part 2: Adopting Salvation: Linda

Adopting Salvation: Linda

I found my birth parents this summer.  Adopting Salvation is our story in three parts.

Part 2

When I told my Confidential Intermediary that I was born in 1970 she said, “Oh, that’s good!  Most of those women are pissed off.”  (If you ever need a Michigan CI and hate minced words, Annette is your girl.)  In other words, in her experience, those women are more open to contact; they still feel short-changed by their lack of choice after all these years.

When Annette found my birth mother and first spoke with her, she said she “wept with relief”.  To date, this is my only unselfish act during this entire process; offering the relief of knowing I was okay.  Annette sent her my information and a request to release hers.  She said yes.  Within a week I had her name, Linda, and 30 seconds later I had a face, courtesy of Google.

And that’s when something unexpected happened; that’s when the fun began.

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It’s fun to see so much of yourself in someone else.

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It’s especially fun to see yourselves at the same age while appearing to be in the same bar while wearing the same jewelry and drinking the same drink  – basically appearing to have lived the same I-am-up-to-no-good-and-loving-it life.

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What’s really fun is discovering that when you look this similar, age doesn’t even matter.

Similar, familiar, comfortable.

Similarity came through old photos, while familiarity came through e-mails and texts and phone calls.  Linda spoke of herself with confidence and clarity; she was deliberate with her words and generous with her history and as she spoke I thought

that sounds like something I would say.

Comfort came in the gift of a lifetime when Linda and her husband John came all the way from Michigan to meet me here in Montreal.  She renewed her passport, drove fourteen hours and came to a city she had never seen to meet someone she had met only once, and then just barely.

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Not only was meeting Linda like looking in an actual mirror, there was an ease in our togetherness.  It was emotional without being devastating; joyful without being delirious.  Or maybe that’s just our personalities — but that’s just it isn’t it? — our personalities.  We were comfortable during arguably one of the most significant moments of our lives.  I am grateful for that, for the ease of our togetherness.

What does it feel like to be wanted?  To be important to someone else?  We assume we all start off that way but to hear it and feel it when we are capable of understanding it, that is a gift.  Outside of respecting my boundaries – if I actually had any – there was nothing that would stop Linda from meeting me, from telling me, from holding me.  And as she opened herself up to the child she gave birth to, I thought

this feels like something I would do.

Thank you Linda.  You could have been anyone, said or done anything, but you gave me exactly what I was hoping for.  I’ll always be grateful to you.

Part 1: Adopting Salvation
Part 3: Adopting Salvation: Tim

Adopting Salvation

I found my birth parents this summer.  Adopting Salvation is our story in three parts.

Part 1

I was born in June, 1970 in Detroit, Michigan and placed for adoption.  My parents took me in one month later and formally adopted me that October.

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My family

I’ve always known I was adopted but never gave much thought to finding my birth parents until I lost my first pregnancies.  In 2007, desperate for an explanation, I started the search so I could learn my medical history.

The Confidential Intermediary I hired via the court system asked me to release my full name, address and other personal information.  “This will act as a sign of good faith,” she said.  I said no.  “Them first.” I said.  She said no (this was a legal issue).  I had very young nephews at the time who shared part of my last name.  I was uncomfortable.

“What if they are convicted pedophiles, rapists, murderers?!?”

“They’re not,” she replied, adding – and I’ll never forget this – “They’re you.”

Of course they might very well have been deviant creeps but her point was clear – was I a deviant creep?  Well then being cut from the same cloth, they likely weren’t either.  Take a chance.

I said no.

Instead I received what the courts would allow; something called “Non-Identifying Information”.  I discovered that at my birth my mother was 22 and single, had brown eyes and a fair complexion with a “sprinkle of freckles”.  She enjoyed basketball and baseball and was “described as warm and friendly”.  At birth she gave me the first name of Linda.  My father was 19, also fair with brown eyes, was Irish, Scotch and French and “described as intelligent and friendly”.  He was aware of the pregnancy and voluntarily agreed to the adoption.

Safe and pleasant information.  I held it in my arms and then filed it away.  “A” for adoption.

This spring, nine years later, staring 46 in the face, the thought of finding my birth parents resurfaced.  At my age, (and theirs) I could feel doors closing and it seemed very foolish to let them shut.  Two healthy children later, it was not so much medical history I craved but a curiosity to be satisfied: where did these dimples come from, the same ones that kiss my children’s cheeks?  How is it possible I have no grey hair?  Who am I to thank for my low blood pressure and curse for my size 11 feet?

But most importantly, what if they’re gone and I’ve missed the chance?

I contacted the court.  I filed new paperwork.  I said yes to finding my birth family and almost instantly learned new things about myself; I was an eldest child, an older sister and even a cautionary tale.  New doesn’t come around as often anymore so I chose to embrace it.  I said yes, held the door open and waited for them to walk through.

Part 2: Adopting Salvation: Linda
Part 3: Adopting Salvation: Tim

10 Years

One night my husband dreamed he graduated from college and President Obama handed him his diploma.  That same night I dreamed Kim Kardashian and I were best friends.

We’re different, my husband and I.

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Today we had a fight in an ongoing battle.  In order to stop the fight he said he should just quit the thing he loves, the battle thing.  But quitting didn’t sound like a good idea.  It never does except for sometimes and then it sounds fantastic.  Like every-Tuesday-and-Thursday-evenings-and-every-other-weekend-to-myself fantastic.

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Marriage can be challenging.

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In addition to fights and differences, I know I do not give my husband enough.  I give everything to my children and hope my husband loves me for it or through it or in spite of it.  It’s like what that guy on Reddit said:

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(In case you’re on your phone and lost your new reading glasses:

“I love my kids. But there’s nobody I love more than my wife.  Why you ask?  Because my kids one day will grow up, start a family and leave us.  But my wife will always be by my side.  But you have to know and accept it won’t be the same for your wife.”)

Maybe you shouldn’t believe everything that an acquaintance of a stranger on the internet says but hey, you’re here now aren’t you?  And that doesn’t make it any less true.

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I pressed the wrong button in a Photo Booth once.  OR DID I?

A while ago we went on a family bike ride.  In the midst of it I looked at the back of my husband and thought, “I wonder where he and I will tour first?  Will it be Italy or the south of France?”  Not if, not when, but where.  That implies certainty and that is what I have to give.  Is it enough?

Fifteen years ago I pulled the future father of my children into my bed and stayed there until he proposed.  Ten years ago I married him in Montreal.  Even then I knew I wasn’t marrying my best friend but I did marry someone better – my complement.  We are different, my husband and I, but we are balanced.  Everything I am not, he is and and everything he is not, I am and on this single thing if nothing else, we agree.  It has made for a wonderful life, easy in practical ways and satisfying in most others.

As to thelizardkind76 of Reddit and his advice, I don’t know if my husband will ever forgive me for becoming a mother in the way that shortchanged his wife, but I hope he finds acceptance by the time we get to Italy.

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