Again and Again

We’re working on a second book — about which we can’t reveal too much yet — except to say we’ve been conducting many, many interviews for it. We interview adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents alike, and are constantly stunned and deeply touched by the stories people choose to share with us.

One of the themes that has emerged is that many young adoptees who felt rejected by their birth families harbored a great fear of being rejected by the adoptive family, as well, no matter how loved they may have been.

One adoptee in particular, James, told us about one of his birthdays when he was a young boy growing up in a house of four other adopted children. His account so moved us, we asked for his permission to share it with you all.

I can still remember the night before I turned ten. I was restless and my legs wouldn’t stay still. My mind was running in circles, too, and I couldn’t sleep so I turned on the light next to my bed, reached for my sketchbook and pencil, and began to draw. I still have the drawing I did that night. It’s somewhere in a box of things my mother saved. Anyway, it was a picture of me, my two sisters and two brothers. I was standing in the middle, wearing a birthday crown. Around my neck was a string from which hung a sign. FOR SALE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS ME, it read.

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When I was finished, I turned off my lamp. I remember that for some reason I felt better and was able to go to sleep after that. The next morning when I woke up, I noticed  wet streaks across the drawing. And I couldn’t remember crying. That’s when I saw the note next to the picture. In my mother’s careful handwriting, this is what it said:

IF YOU ARE FOR SALE, I’LL BUY YOU. AND EACH TIME YOU ARE FOR SALE, I’LL BUY YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN. 

For My Mother

Mother and Daughter
Mother and Daughter

It is late morning

We sit together

At the white marbled table

In your chic NYC 17th floor apartment

*

We discuss our manuscript

*

The subject changes

To the occasion of our dinner

The night before

The dinner at Trattoria Dell’arte

Where you met

for the very first time

“My Family”

*

We laugh

We smile

We are glad for the experience

*

“It’s time for me to leave,” I say

Go home

Home to Florida

*

You take my hand

Your countenance changes

Your eyes reshape

A seriousness

A tear

Which you hold back

*

“I have thought of you as mine,” you say

“After meeting them,” you pause

“I realize you’re not”

*

Silence

*

Irony

*

In your pain

I feel

loved

wanted

needed

treasured

*

And then I realize

This is the bond

Between

us

This is the bond

Between

Every mother and child

*

A bond formed

by

Sacrificing

So

That child may feel

*

Loved

Wanted

Needed

Treasured

*

In this moment

I see it

I feel it

I live it

*

In this moment

I know

*

I am yours

I’ve always been yours

I will always be yours

All my love,

Kathy

Motherhood and Miracles

I always wanted to be a mother. Ever since my first doll was put into my arms, I never played dolls for some strange reason. I played mother instead. I changed diapers on a small wooden dresser, gave all my babies baths in the sink, standing on an old wooden stool, and put them to sleep all around my room under blankets my grandmother crocheted for me. I set a small table with linen from my grandmother’s cabinet, put leaves and flowers into tiny vases and set out a real miniature blue and white china tea set. My babies sat around it on pillows collected from all over the house.  Every day, I took my babies for a stroll up and down the sidewalk in a navy-blue carriage, making certain they were all tucked in safely. Most times, there were at least half a dozen of them, each sent to me by my parents from a different country on my birthday or Christmas or other holidays. I had lots of baby clothes made by my grandmother, that I kept in a box under my bed. Since all my dolls were about the same 14782844084_c299a5c302_osize, what one wore on a certain day could easily be put on another, the day after.

I was a very busy mother. There was always something to do. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. As a mother, my days were long and full.  At age five, when I went off to a convent boarding school, I packed all my babies to take with me. “Girls big enough to go to school don’t need dolls,” the Mother Superior told me, as she reached to take my basket of babies away. I looked at her, astonished “You can’t do that!” I told her in no uncertain terms. “I am their mother. They need me. Who will take care of them if I don’t?” Without a word, the white-faced woman in the long black habit snatched my basket of babies away. When I tried to grab them back she held them high over my head. I tried to jump up to get them, but my attempts to regain my status as Mother was thwarted when she turned her rigid back on me and walked away.

I will always remember the sound of the long rosary beads at her waist swinging briskly as she disappeared out of sight. I would never see my babies again. Since I was the youngest of the boarders it was arranged that I would go to bed ahead of the others. “Your dolls will be sent to starving-orphans-in-China,” I was told that night by one of the younger nuns, as I cried myself to sleep in the unfamiliar white metal bed, one of twenty in a long, narrow hallway-room. I ached for my babies and I knew that they ached for me. Never, I promised, would such a thing ever happen to me again. As long as I lived no one would ever take my motherhood away from me again.

But they did. When I was eighteen the same thing did happen again. But it was one baby. A daughter. And she was real. She would not be sent to starving-orphans-in-China, however. Instead, she would be adopted by a family who would nourish and love her very much. Unbeknownst to her, as she grew up, she would have two mothers: the mother who would kiss her sweet, pink baby cheeks and sing her to sleep at night; and the other mother, me, her birth mother, who would yearn for her and love her, too.

Today, fifty years later, I am happy to share my daughter’s love with another mother. And happier still that she grew up so treasured. It is a miracle that she found me, that we have come to love one another and that we were able to write Secret Storms together. My cup truly does runneth over.

To all of you mothers out there in the world, I send you my deepest congratulations on this Mother’s Day. Creating life is a miracle. Nurturing life is a miracle. Love is a miracle. I believe that tomorrow is a miracle, too.

-Julie

The Tree

In Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon introduces the intensely intimate and complex stories to follow, by defining two terms. Vertical identity: “Attributes and values [that] are passed down from parent to child across theapple tree generations not only through strands of DNA, but also through shared cultural norms.” Horizontal identity: [When] “someone has an inherent or acquired trait that is foreign to his or her parents…”  This is a book that brings together the divergent stories of families with biological children whose horizontal identities fell…well, very far from the tree. The whole business of being human is a messy endeavor. But it’s noteworthy that if you tease out the concept of identity from the larger concept of humanness, identity is what is ultimately defined in direct or indirect relation to family. Some parts of who we are exist because of who loves us and how, and other parts exist despite who loves us… and how.

This is why I’ve always been deeply curious about adoption. Not because I’m confused by how a parent can love a child who isn’t biologically related, but because I’m fascinated by how the soup of identity is molded when there is no biologically shared, common language (an absence of vertical identity). I’m using very broad strokes here, of course, but this curiosity is somewhat akin to trying to figure out whether what you’re drinking is the water or the wave. It’s more complicated than nature or nurture (because it’s nature and nurture) and less easily definable. In my travels through the peripheries of communities of adoptees, I have informally gathered that an overwhelming majority of people who were adopted were perfectly “fine” until they discovered their true origins. With the knowledge that they were adopted, usually gained around the start of adolescence, their entire concept of identity is rattled (and, in most cases, shattered).  Of course, the obvious familytreereason is that when even one of the  truths–previously thought to be inalienable– that are the foundation of identity, is threatened, the whole thing comes crashing down. And yet. Is it really that fragile, I wonder. What is it that compels adoptees who have had idyllic childhoods to nonetheless go in search of birth parents? All things being equal, why does not knowing the body through which you passed in order to enter this world feel like a “missing piece in [your] soul”?  I suspect that to answer by simply using the known tenets of biology is the same as defining love as “a powerful neurological condition”. It’s true… but it doesn’t feel like the whole truth.

This is where community comes in, I suppose. It is such a singular experience, being an adoptee, that to find oneself in a community of people who share that horizontal identity, is often a source of great relief and joy for many. Humans’ chief complaint in life is loneliness. Despite  the great value we place on individuality, we’re always seeking others who are like us.  Whatever it is that happens to identity when the rug of where-I-come-from is pulled from under it, it seems to find solace in company.

Secret Storms is a book written by two people who were able to heal. Who, for reasons no one can fully know, were among the lucky (very) few who reunited, worked hard on a relationship that depended a great deal on forgiveness and empathy, and have a beautiful heritageconnection to this day. This is rare. What isn’t rare is that their story is out there to inspire relief and joy in others. Because I’ve yet to read both sides of the story of a failed reunion, or a story about the fruitless search for a birth family or child who was given up for adoption, I suspect there is a great need for them. Many people search their whole lives and find nothing, while many more find what they search for and are deeply disappointed. Because whatever it is that happens to identity at the moment of learning the truth, one can only imagine what happens to it when the truth turns out to be a tragedy. This is why The Adoption Reunion Stories Facebook page, and many networks like it,  are so important. They are forums, virtual communities, where thousands of people get to share their truth, a lot of which is the kind not found in inspiring books…and find solace in company.

-Aida

A Sixth Sense

I heard the rumor on the way to the lunchroom.   Mary Ellen, my best friend since second grade, whispered in my ear, “Melissa is adopted.  Shhhhhh, don’t tell—”  Her secretive tone cloaked the news in shame.

Melissa was the new girl at our small Catholic grammar school, and today, she was sitting two down and across the table from me.  At first, I couldn’t bring myself to look at her face, for if I did she would certainly see the pity in my eyes.  I watched her twiglike hands slowly and methodically unpack her red-trimmed Holly Hobbie lunch box.  First, she opened and squared her paper napkin parallel to the table’s edge.  Next, she arranged the contents in order of nutritional importance:  turkey sandwich, front and center; carrots at 2 o’clock; thermos opened, and apple juice poured into cap and placed at 10 o’clock.  Her gestures were robotic, her moss-colored eyes without feeling.   If my mother had given me away, I’d be dead inside too, I thought.

Blog Picture Sixth Sense

Melissa’s heartache was not completely foreign to me, however; we did share a sorrow in common:  we were both motherless daughters.  My mother had died when I was in kindergarten, and although I felt the extremity of that loss, I was glad my mother hadn’t willingly abandoned me.  Cancer had taken her from me— and somehow, that made my situation more palatable.

I became increasingly curious about Melissa’s circumstances and began to study her from afar.  I’d watch her twist wisps of her long auburn hair as she read from chapter books, bite the end of her pencil when she was stuck on a math problem, and cross her arms impatiently when the kid in front of her at the water fountain took too long.  After a few weeks, I decided she needed a friend.  At first I just let her cut in front of me in line, but within a week, we were trading cupcakes at lunch and passing notes when the teacher’s back was turned.  It wasn’t long before Melissa and I became friends.   Now that I was on the inside, I was convinced I’d see the true despair of being adopted,  but all I saw was someone  like me:  sometimes happy, sometimes not, but mostly okay.   How could she be okay knowing she’s adopted?  Poor Melissa, I thought to myself, she’s pretending.

One morning before standing and reciting the Daily Offering, Melissa leaned across the aisle, cupped her hand around her mouth and whispered, “Wanna come to my birthday sleepover Friday?”

“Got to ask my grandmother,” I replied.  Finally, this was my chance to see Melissa in her inner lair.  Surely, when the family was assembled shoulder-to-shoulder, a hint of her unhappiness would surface.

Friday came, and with my grandmother’s blessing and a Skipper doll wrapped in happy-birthday paper tucked in my overnight bag, off to Melissa’s I went.  Dad drove me the six blocks to her home and on the way struck up a quick conversation with me.

“I know Melissa’s father,” he started.  “He works with me.”  He paused for a minute and then asked, “Is she tall?”

“Is who tall?”  I countered.

“Melissa.  Her father is 6’4”.  I bet she’s tall, too.”

With that one comment, I started to think how weird it would feel to not look like anyone in your family.  Every time she looks in the Blog Sixth Sensemirror, she’s reminded that she doesn’t belong, I thought.  I glanced at my reflection in the passenger’s side window looking for my own family resemblances.

“Whose eyes do I have?” I asked.

My father tilted his head and shot me a sideways look as if he was surprised by the shift in our conversation.

“Well,” he hesitated, “you have your own eyes.”

“No, who has the same eyes as me?”  I persisted.

“Same eyes?” he asked, hedging for more time.

“Yes, who has the same eyes as me?”

“Well—“ he paused again.

A wave of fear suddenly washed over me:  Am I adopted, too?  I twisted forward in my seat.

“Dad, please just tell me,” I begged.  “Whose eyes do I have?”

“Well,” he hesitated, “some people say your eyes resemble your grandmother’s.”

I slid back in my seat, relieved and mostly satisfied, as Dad pulled into Melissa’s circular driveway.  I kissed him goodbye and gave him an extra- long hug, feeling silly for thinking that I, too, could be adopted.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, I saw what life was really like for an adopted child.  Melissa had thoughtful parents who adored lite-brite Blog Sixth Senseher, despite her don’t-embarrass-me-in-front-of-my-friends attitude. Her home smelled of Lemon Pledge, the refrigerator was covered with her A+ papers, and the gold shag carpet in the living room begged to be replaced.  She kept her Lite-Brite on the floor of her closet and her shoes underneath her bed.  Her life smacked of ordinary.  I had assumed she led a lonely and miserable life, bluffing a well-adjusted front to avoid detection; instead, I was left with the realization that Melissa’s life was just like mine:  sometimes happy, sometimes not, but mostly okay.

***

Three years later, I was told that I, too, was adopted;

somehow, I believe my instincts already knew.  

***

There is no instinct like the heart.

-Lord Byron

-Kathy

the legs of a stranger

A short piece, written for Frisky. com

481972_342189362547438_300774006_nI was 12 when I found out. My stepsister hurled it at me during a fight: “At least I’m not adopted,” she retorted after I called her a four-eyed idiot. My real mother died when I was six, and the fact that I now had a stepmother didn’t mean I was adopted.

“You really are a blockhead,” I laughed “if you think I’m going to fall for that one.”

However, I soon learned the four-eyed idiot was right. I was indeed adopted. I had been given up as an infant. And worse, no one had ever told me.

“I thought your mother told you,” my father responded when I asked him if it was true.

The news left me feeling vulnerable and reminded me of a time when I was four, shopping with my mother at JC Penney’s. She was looking for a dress.I ducked under a waterfall of polka dots and paisleys and hid in the center of the circular rack – only to become frightened and reemerged, grabbing on to the familiarity of my mother’s legs — except they weren’t her legs; they were the legs of a stranger, but for a few seconds I was betrayed by a false sense of reality.  Here I was again, hugging onto the legs of a stranger—completely unaware —  and deceived for nearly 12 years by the same false sense of reality.

Click HERE to continue reading.

-Kathy