This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on February 6, 2000.
I work in a family-friendly office. My fellow employees and I will stop what we are doing to admire a newborn baby, a three-year-old niece or a child home from college. We can show off our progeny with immunity.
Lucky for us, our boss knows that spending a few minutes gushing over a child is time well spent. We don’t have to hide our pride in our families because it doesn’t diminish our dedication to our work.
One day last week, a coworker walked through the office, introducing her long-lost daughter to her fellow staffers. Most of us knew the story. Our coworker had become pregnant when she was in her late teens, brought the baby to term and surrendered her daughter to an adoptive couple who raised her with love and care.
The long-lost daughter was born after Roe v Wade became the law of the land. My coworker had a choice in the matter and chose to give the crisis pregnancy an opportunity to live.
When she introduced her daughter to me, I felt pride and the mother-daughter connection, with a difference. I was well acquainted with her other daughter, born five years later within the bonds of marriage. The love was there for both girls; the connection was different.
I felt free enough to ask the mother and long-lost daughter to stand together as I observed the family resemblance. They willingly agreed and locked arms, hamming it up. There was a physical resemblance. There was a tiny link between the two but not much. After all, they were strangers.
As I watched the two women strike a pose, I tried to understand the pain my coworker must have felt as she made the decision to bear the difficult months of pregnancy, the physical agony of childbirth and the lifelong pain of separation from her child.
The two were smiling broadly as they posed for me while I looked for a family resemblance. I saw it loud and clear. The mother gave life and the daughter lived it. The mother was too young and unprepared to raise her baby, but she didn’t shy away. She did the right thing.
I’ve always known about adoption and heard numerous stories about biological parent reunions with their biological children. Until that moment I had never really stood face to face with the miracle of adoption.
Adoption takes a loss and makes it a gain. Adoption solves problems for people at opposite ends of a terrible spectrum, who may never meet, but meet each other’s needs.
A very young woman gambled and lost in her search for love. A sad and frustrated couple gambled and lost in the search for fertility. The birth mother did not let her child lose the opportunity to have a family.
That is what biological mothers and adoptive parents know when they make the precious exchange. Both have traded disillusionment for hope, despair for joy and a solution to a mutual problem.
As the long-lost daughter left the office and things returned to normal, I was left with warm and wonderful thoughts about adoption. How rare in life it is when a wrong can become a right. In the case of adoption, it can truly happen.
The birth mother can place her baby in the loving hands of a family and continue on her journey to adulthood. The adoptive parents can fill the hole in their hearts with a tiny bundle in need of love.
I cannot know the thoughts of my coworker as she went back to work after her long-lost daughter left. Surely here feelings of pride are tempered by regret, her feelings of love diminished by distance and surrender.
At the heart of it, she must know she did the right thing for her daughter’s family. She gave the most precious thing a mother can give her child, a family of her own.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on May 17, 2006.
When I tell people I “lost my job,” I get a sympathetic look and an expression of
concern. The word “lost” is a euphemism that is designed to soften really bad news, like death. It is appropriate for death, but not for a job. It doesn’t ring true for a job. A job is just a job – until you lose it.
I know how to get to the office, I know where my desk is and how to turn on my computer. I know where the bathrooms are and I know how to sign in – and out. Losing something implies that we can’t find it. I was told, in quite surreptitious ways, to get lost.
After almost ten years at the same job, I got the boot. Getting the “boot” seems more appropriate than “lost.” I’ve heard about people who got the boot, right before they were to retire, and lost their pension. I know about down sizing and massive lay-offs. I used to think those people should have seen the writing on the wall, that they should have done something before they lost their jobs. Then I found out that sometimes the writing on the wall is written in invisible ink, and you just can’t see it – until you are shown to the door.
My ouster (also better than lost) was preceded by a process that I naively believed was “change management.” I stood with my little break-out group, in front of a flip chart, armed with several felt tip markers, during our change management training. Buzz words like: “opportunities” and “challenges” were flying around the room. We thought outside-the-box as hard as we could, but no one answered the question in all our minds: will we still have a job when all of this is over?
Another part of the change management training was designed to teach us to relax and to focus on the positive things in life. The trainer asked each of us to share a happy moment that had happened in the last 24 hours. A pregnant woman said she felt her baby kick, a man described a tender moment with his mom. Everyone laughed when I said I was grateful that I finally found a plumber who fixed the leak in my toilet. I should have known then that the final laugh would be on me.
After we were trained-for-change we got the new “org” chart – a flow chart with tiny boxes cascading down the page, all linked together to describe the chain of command (no, I am not in the military). Some people panicked when they saw that their jobs were no longer on the chart. Others gasped when they saw who would be their new supervisor. My job was still on the chart, but another department was added. Not to worry, I told myself - I’m still a contender.
Then I was told I had to apply for my “new” job and that the boss was recruiting “outside” (code: younger) candidates to compete against me. My boss asked me for the web address of a professional organization I belong to, so she could post my job on their site. Perhaps the handwriting on the wall wasn’t invisible after all, I just didn’t want to see it.
After the change training, the org chart, the boss’s request for help in advertising my job to competitors, and some other things that are not fit to print, I got the message. It was time to get out of Dodge. As with many of life’s unexpected surprises, this one turned out to be a change for the better.
Rather than becoming a casualty of change management, I have chosen to be liberated by it, and I count my blessings every day. First, there are the twice monthly checks from the Employment Development Department. Second, I have the opportunity to re-invent myself and start something new. Third, I know I did my best at my former job and left it in better shape than I found it. Fourth, I can sit at my computer and look for a new job. Last, but not least, I don’t have to wear pantyhose.
I was handed a great big lemon and, after I figured it out, made lemonade. I now manage my own changes, and know that I have a lot to look forward to. Since I lost my job, I have gained much more than I lost, and for that I am grateful.
This piece was published in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles on November18, 2005
First, he told me that Jewish husbands are the best husbands because they “only cheat
a little.” He grinned up at me and I smiled back. At five feet eight inches tall, I am used to being taller than many men, but when I put my arm around my diminutive father-in-law, the top of his bald head barely reached my shoulder. Still, he stood as tall as any man I ever knew.
When my father-in-law, Jack Stein, congratulated me on converting to Judaism, he said, “don’t be ashamed.” That time he wasn’t kidding - he really meant it. His admonition made me sad, but also taught me more than any book or museum could teach about persecution, cruelty and hatred. I knew intellectually what I was in for, but Jack’s words hit me in my new Jewish gut – don’t be ashamed.
When I met my husband-to-be more than twenty-five years ago, I had no idea that I would gain not only a wonderful mate but an entire culture and religion that was more than five thousand years old. What I learned in my conversion class was thimble sized compared to what I soaked up by spending time with Jack and his friends. When I came into the family, Jack was part of a group of survivors who had been together since they arrived in Dallas after the war and raised their families together. What I learned from them is that being Jewish leaves one open to irrational hatred that no one can understand, much less explain. What Jews do, I learned, is survive.
One night I sat on the couch with Mrs. “red” Goldberg and Mrs. “black” Goldberg (so designated by the hair color of their respective husbands) and listened as they described the Nazi horrors inflicted on them and their families. They described their hardship without self-pity or bitterness but with a will to survive that didn’t have to be expressed specifically because it was infused in their words. They talked with gratitude about the life they had been able to build in this country.
Mrs. “black” Goldberg told me the Nazis liked to watch her husband, Herschel, run up a hill while carrying two soldiers, one under each arm. It amused them, and probably saved his life. Herschel was still a bulldog of a man who, well past retirement age, worked part time at a deli and was the source of day-old bagels for the group.
When Jack told me not to be ashamed of being Jewish he spoke volumes about what it is like to belong to this tribe. An unbreakable thread runs through it that has never been severed, in spite of the most evil attempts. By telling me not to be ashamed, Jack was telling me to be proud of my decision to become a Jew.
Jack taught by example to survive terror and pain and go on to live a good, long life surrounded by family and friends. Jack didn’t just survive, he chose to love life again. He teased the ladies and cheered for the Cowboys and hummed in the shower. I saw a gleam of triumph in his eyes, filled with tears, as he watched his granddaughter ordained as a rabbi.
We lost Jack five years ago this month, just before Thanksgiving. Last week, as we rose for the Kaddish, I gave thanks to God that Jack was part of my life and that he taught me to be a proud Jew. I could not have found a better teacher.
Kathleen Vallee Stein