The Family Tree – Parts 1 & 2

The call came while we were at dinner. “There’s a F*%&$ tree in the F$%&*! house. Get home.” And so began the story of The Family Tree.

January 28, 2008 –  Evening.  Part 1. 
The call came while we were at dinner.

Chris and I, our friend Claire, who was staying with us while receiving rehab for the effects of cancer treatment. We were taking her out to introduce her to a colleagues wife, who had been through her own difficult cancer diagnosis and treatment.

A thunderstorm raged while we dined. The kids, then 16 and 17, the dogs, the cats, at home.

About 40 minutes into dinner the first in a series of 3 calls came. Each making the reality of what was happening at our home more clear. The final call received as we carefully and quickly navigated the tree and power line covered streets of our neighborhood.

“There’s a f$&!@ tree in the f&@$! house!”

All I wanted to do was BE there with the kids. I could hardly tolerate the drive. Claire, doing her best to be supportive and calming. “Breathe Whitney.  We’re almost there.”  Chris, having to drive, strategize and imagine the scene while I freaked out in the back seat. And the kids. Who had endured this on their own. It was one of the longest drives home of my life.

Our daughter, 17, frozen, in shock, could barely tolerate the smothering hugs I delivered. Her room was where the tree landed. And she lost everything.

Our son, 16, quick to receive some love and support and retell the experience of being in the house when an unwanted oak crashes in. Surreal and terrifying.

The neighbor, my friend, who grabbed me, embraced me as I cried “They could have been killed!!!” and he said “But they weren’t.  They’re ok. You’re ok.  It’s ok.”

The dogs and cats, traumatized, either hiding or clinging close.

Neighbors and friends came to help us navigate the next few hours of police and firemen.

Our friends down the street suffered their own losses. A fence, artwork, tools, supplies, strewn about. They opened their home to us and together, we endured the dark, cold and stressful night, awaiting daybreak and a closer look at the damage that blew through our homes and our lives.
January 29, 2008- Daybreak, Part 2. 
The light of day brought a deeper sense of fear and loathing.

Chris was amazing. Kicking into crisis mode, he arranged and navigated the dozens and dozens of details and next steps while I found myself paralyzed, in shock and numb.

Phone calls. Visits. Family. Friends. Colleagues.

The people driving by.

The insurance agent who came to assess the validity and totality of our claim.

The reporter. Who got the wicked side eye from me when he asked that most annoying of questions wrapped up in his sound bite banter – “Your home has just been devastated by this massive tree – How are you feeling right now?”

The neighbors walking over to see the spectacle.

All while wearing the clothes we put on Tuesday morning as we went about our day, with no idea what was to come.

The friend who took us to target to get some clean clothes and toiletries and invited us to her house to shower, to set up command central.

Hours of standing in front of the house, because going in was too dangerous until they got the tree off the house.

The outpouring of love, support & assistance that day and in the days and weeks that followed continue to warm my heart and soul.  We are so loved, so blessed, so surrounded by a community of generous and loving people.
At one point the Red Cross van stopped by.  They offered shelter, blankets, coffee, resources.  It was an amazing thing to be able to say to him, we’re good.  We have everything we need.  We are covered.   I’m grateful they exist, because I know we are fortunate and that there are many for whom this would have been the only support they had.

Even writing this, I can feel my chest, my gut, my heart remembering those first few hours of daylight. I can feel the cold. I can smell the air.

It’s in me. Still. Always.

To be continued…. Parts 3 & 4 coming soon.


Becoming Nana

It started with a phone call. And then I realized news like this had been shared before. Twice. A tale of unplanned pregnancies and the journey to becoming nana, becoming whole.

The Sound of Sunshine

The sound of her ringtone, an excerpt from Mr. Wendel by Arrested Development or her “tweet” text tone always made my heart smile. Since she’d moved to California the number of times I would hear her voice or see her smile were random, highly prized opportunities. Like the weather, this one was hard to predict, changed her course on a whim and could knock the “power” out of us all with one of her big decisions.

On the afternoon of February 19, 2013 she mercifully ended a 14 day silence, which extended beyond the previously agreed upon 7 day rule. More than 7 days without hearing from here and I would begin Operation Sunshine. I would book a ticket, fly to San Francisco or wherever she’d last been seen and begin talking to every happy hippy I saw with one request. “Take me to the one you call sunshine.”

Elated to hear her voice and to have a clear connection, the inquisition began. Where had she been? How had she been? Where was she now? What was she doing? Was she hungry or in need of money? Who was she with? Was she ok?

Cue the long distance eye-roll.

 “I’m fine mom, gosh! I’m sorry it’s been so long, really sorry.” There was a series of pleasantries and then the familiar “sooooo…….” that typically preceded a request for money, assistance or an announcement of some kind.   I was prepared, or so I thought.

“I’m pregnant.”

And then came the pregnant pause.

The tension was palpable.

The Sound of Silence

Mine…wanting to say exactly the right, best thing to convey my surprise, without revealing my panic and shock while also conveying my love and support.

Hers…waiting to see how I would respond.

In the warmest, calmest, kindest and most loving tone I could imagine, I spoke.

“Woooowwww.   How are you feeling?????”

“I’m feeling good Mom. I’ve been really confused and not really sure what to do, but I’m feeling good and I’m gonna have the baby.”

“Oh darlin, congratulations.” Immediately followed by “Well honey, you’ve had a good run. You’ve had some great adventures and done some fun things.”

She laughed, said she still had a few great adventures left in her and we carried on.

In talking with her about this recently, she remembers nothing of the thoughtful and deliberate first response and just that I said “Well kid, you’ve had a good run!”. I still give myself points for this initial response.

Going Deeper

The next series of questions needed to be asked delicately.

Tentatively, I asked…“Are you planning to stay in California honey?”

“Yes Mama, I’m gonna probably stay out here. We’re gonna figure this out together.”

Ah, WE are gonna figure this out.

I knew better than to ask, who’s WE and just went straight for the answer I really wanted.

“Who’s the father honey?”  

“This guy I’ve been hanging out with out here, you know, I told you about him, me and Steph gave him a ride from the last show and we’ve been hanging out and well, we’re gonna make this work.”

“What’s his name?”


“Right. Ok. So, I guess since he’s the father of my grandchild I get to ask this next question without a lot of fuss. What’s his whole name, his given name?

Cue the Mission Impossible Music

Laptop at the ready to do an instant background check. Thanks internet!

She reluctantly responded to my request for all the relevant details about the father of my future grandchild. Dripping out details slowly.

He was there. Listening to her share his pertinent info, I could hear his anxiety level rising through the phone.

“Congratulations to you both sweetie. We’re here for you and will be all the way. You know that, right?”

“Yeah Mom, I do. Thank you soooooo much.”

“Have you called your Dad and brother yet?”

“No, not yet, I will though!”

“OK darlin. Do it soon. They’ll want to know.

Are you nervous about telling Dad?  You know he’ll be OK as long as you are OK, right?”

“Yeah Mom, I know. I just need to do it. It’s all happening so fast.”

“I love you honey.”

“Thanks Mama. I love you so much. Gotta go. I’ll call you soon.”

Three beeps and the screen fades.

Call ended.

Bomb dropped.

Gag order in effect until Dad and brother get the news. Damn.

My husband, having overheard my end of this conversation from the comfort of our bed, was primed as I entered the doorway to give him the news.  We recognized that life, for her, for all of us, was shifting into a different reality.  A new season was upon us.

My next step was to create.

I picked up a crochet hook and started making a blanket for my new grandchild. I focused on the blessing of a baby. I thought about when I found out I was pregnant with her. The recollection of that moment and the similarities began to soak in.

And then it hit me. Hard.

This kind of news had been delivered before. Twice.

Once by my own mother, a young woman of 18 in 1965 who found herself pregnant following an affair she defined as a relationship and he defined as a fling. The stigma attached to unwed mothers in 1966 was strong. Ultimately, it was stronger than her. She would commit suicide when she was 21. I was 19 months old and my family would conceal this from me until I was about 8. They left me at the sitters until the sad news was over and never came straight out and told me what happened. They strong-armed the biological father out, believing it was in my best interest, had him sign over rights. They didn’t talk about it. They didn’t talk about her. They still don’t.   Any of the answers I needed I sought out myself with my Mamaw, her mother, who was my biggest advocate and greatest love. Sadly, she died when I was just 15 and I haven’t gotten a straight answer from anyone in my family since then. A story for another day…

As I reflected on my own discovery that I was pregnant with my sunshine it wasn’t my family I turned to for support and guidance, it was my friends. I was 23 and in a tumultuous relationship with the manager from the restaurant I worked in. We were in love. This carefully curated group of girls and boys with great parents and families became my family in ways my adoptive family couldn’t. I trusted these strangers instantly more than my own family. Eventually I shared the news with those who should be told. My adoptive mom was accepting and had that “well, ok honey, it’ll all be okay, don’t worry.” I don’t even remember my Dad’s response.The boyfriend and I broke up. I explored my options.  I pondered abortion and adoption.  When the weight of making this decision on my own finally broke me, I went back to tell my ex-boyfriend that I’d decided to keep her and he was happy. We were a wrong fit, but had big hearts and big hopes that we could work it out. A baby would create a focus that was greater than our relationship and respective baggage.

And then, the baby comes….

I was born and loved as best I could be while my Mom and Mamaw were alive.

I was loved by my adoptive family the best they knew how, and still am.

My sunshine was born and was loved, is still loved, by us all. A committed quad of co-parents who each fill a special place in her heart.

Acacia Cadence Estock came into the world on August 5, 2013 in Grass Valley, California.   She was loved, is loved and represented a kind of healing and wholeness I hadn’t felt since I’d been with my own mother and grandmother, nearly 45 years prior.

That moment I walked into that hospital room after traveling all day from Kentucky and saw my two girls, embraced them together, was a healing I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to sufficiently capture in words. It was a coming home to myself. I felt as though I’d been made real, that my very existence was now confirmed, now undeniable. I was at home in this union of souls and hearts and looking into the eyes and faces of two girls who looked just like we did when we were born.

The trio of women I’d been missing for most of my life, the composition of the hole in my heart and my soul – my grandmother, my mom and me together – was reshaping itself. I felt this coming home in every cell of my body. I was home with these girls in my arms. And they were too. And we are here for each other in ways I never understood people could be there for each other.

The healing that Acacia has brought to my world is being radiated backwards and forwards in my maternal line. Just as the birth of my own children gave me a deeper desire to KNOW my own parents and my own story, Acacia’s birth and presence have given me a deeper connection to my mother and grandmother. They are here. They are looking over us. They are our angels. And we are together again in ways I couldn’t have predicted. And I am forever changed.

Coming Attractions

There’s a new grandbaby on the way. Lorelei Brooks Spurling is due in February of 2016. I received that call from my son. And my response was a little different. But that’s a story for another time. Stay tuned.

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