Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Being Normal

I promised myself (and any readers we might actually have) at least one post a week. And the week is almost up, so I have to post.

So I'm thinking about my struggle coming up with a post this week. And I realize that in the last few days, I'm just wishing I could be normal. I wish I weren't adopted.

Not in the sense that I don't love my family. Not in the sense that I wish my first mom had kept me. (I suppose part of me does wish my first mom had kept me, but that raises all kinds of conflict in my head and my heart, so I don't intend to go there right now.)

What I mean is just that I wish I didn't have to think about all these things. I wish I didn't have to stumble with words trying to say something simply like "I'm going to visit my family this weekend." I want to not have to think about my complicated family and what they are all thinking about in relation to one another. I just want one set of parents, one set of siblings, and so on.

I know that there's no use wishing for that. I can't change the past, so I can't change my present situation. I can, I suppose, forget one side or the other, but that would just be self-deception. I don't like having to deal with this oddity of adoption. I don't like the complications. But they are a reality in my life. So I have to face up to them.

It does make me wonder... What might have helped? Growing up, I mean. What could society, or my parents, have done differently that would have made this easier? Anything? Is it inherent in having multiple families? Or is it simply an effect of closed adoption and the secrecy and denial that was inherent in the system decades ago?

I realize I don't know. I don't have any answers. I think it would have helped me to be able to talk about these things. But I don't know if it would be easier now. I just don't know.

And as all of these thoughts race through my head during large portions of the day, I can't help but wonder what it's like to not have to think about these things. And I begin to shut down about adoption. That makes it hard to know what to post about here, because I feel like I'm trying to run away from it all again.

But I can't do that. I need to process all of this. I need to find a way to integrate all of this into my psyche. I want to be whole. I don't think I can be normal. But I don't want to shut parts of myself off again. I did that for too long. And it hurt too much.

So all I can do is ramble on, in the hopes that one day, things will fall into place a little bit more.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


There are many beginnings to my journey. It's hard to pick one to talk about. But one beginning involves Shelly (who I hope is still around sometimes) and how this whole blog started.

I had just started my search back in April 2007. I was getting ready to give a talk on the topic of "Home." I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop when Shelly came over to me and asked what I was writing. I told her about the talk I was working on and told her that it was slow going. I was distracted. And for some reason, I mentioned that I was searching for my first family. Without batting an eye, she told me she was adopted as well. I don't know what made me say it. But she didn't seem surprised and we talked for hours about it that day. (And many days thereafter.)

Now I am reading through Betty Jean Lifton's Journey of the Adopted Self. And I was struck, this morning, by her comments about home. They struck various chords in me, and it took me back to that talk I wrote and gave last spring. And since I was thinking about it, I started reading through the text again.

Not all of it is appropriate to reprint here. (There's a lot in it that's specific to the audience for which it was intended.) But I'm struck by how much of what I wrote was shaped by adoption, even though, in the final version of the text, I don't mention adoption. The first page or so, really stuck with me, and seemed to echo (indirectly) Lifton's comments. Home seems like such an important and difficult issue for me, as an adoptee. Figuring out where home is, and what home is, or even whether I truly have a home. All of that weighs on me as I think through this topic.

On the off chance it might be of interest to someone else, I offer you the opening paragraphs of that talk "The Long Way Home":

"Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in." A friend of mine said this to me once. At the risk of playing on your emotions, she's dead now. She killed herself less than twelve months after saying these words to me. My response, at the time, was that "home is where, when you go there, they want to take you in." It struck me, upon hearing of her death, that she never found home. She was lost, and alone, and never found a place where she felt as though she was wanted.

I tell jokes during these talks, and during my classroom lectures, because I'm afraid I get too heavy, too serious. I don't want to take myself too seriously. And I don't want others to take me too seriously, either. I don't know how to tell light, happy stories. And the truths I've found, while sometimes reassuring and comforting, don't usually seem light-hearted. So today I've started by relating to you one of the saddest, darkest moments in my life. I figure I can only go up from here.

Over the years, I've talked with several people about what "home" means. One theme keeps coming through all of these discussions. Acceptance. Fitting in. Belonging. Wherever we don't fit isn't home. And wherever we do, is. When we feel as though we belong, we feel "at home." That is all there is to it. The rest is elaboration.

Other important things seem so complicated. What is evil? What is love? What is comfort? What is tolerance? What is salvation? All of these are difficult and complicated questions. What is home? That seems easy enough. It's where, when you go there, they want to take you in. And, just as importantly, you want to be there. And it doesn't matter who they are. Whoever. All that matters is that you belong. That belonging is what connects us to the world, to others, to humanity.

What is complicated is finding that place and those people. Finding out what you need to belong. That can be the hardest thing in the world. And sad as hell when it isn't found, even terribly tragic. How much can we survive when we are home? And how easily can we be devastated when we aren't?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Little Things #2

Last week, I was talking to a student who was worried how much I was going to focus on grammar in her paper. Another student, hearing the conversation, jokingly pointed out that, since I wasn't an English teacher, I probably wouldn't focus as much as I might if I were an English teacher.

I found myself saying, automatically, that my mom was an English Professor, so I might notice grammar more than they realized.

I didn't stop and explain, or hedge, or hem and haw. I just identified my mom as an English Professor. I didn't bother explaining that I was talking about my first mom, not my adoptive mom. I just talked about my mom, to people who have no idea how major a step that sort of off-the-cuff comment truly was. To simply own my own parentage. To own my origins in such a natural, automatic way.

In a different situation, I might remark that my mom's a nurse. Indeed, I'm certain I have done that. (I'm talking about my adoptive mom, now.) So to be able to casually talk about my first mom in that same way... Well, I spent the rest of the afternoon smiling about that.

It's a little thing, I suppose. But it's huge in my own story.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Birth Day

I have long struggled with my birthday. I'm not terribly fond of it. I always felt like it was a lie, somehow. No one who was actually present for my birth had ever been around to celebrate it with me. Celebrating felt wrong; I always felt uncomfortable.

One year, in college, I even hid in my dorm room for the entire day. It seems odd to me now, but I know why I did it. I didn't want friends making a big deal about a day I had such conflicting emotions about.

In recent years, I've been a little better about it. My partner and her family celebrate birthdays. And she enjoys doing something special for me. Her happiness is a bit infectious, so I've tried to put aside my long-standing dislike of the day. I'm not being dishonest. She knows that I am incredibly ambivalent about the day. She is always very respectful of that.

Over the weekend, I had my first birthday since reuniting with my first mom. I was anxious for weeks before the day. She had mentioned, months ago, that she loves giving gifts, especially at Christmas. She idly mentioned that she might forget birthdays, but she loves Christmas. I didn't think she would forget my birthday, not this year. But I was worried. This was the first chance I had for someone who was present, the most important someone, to celebrate my birthday. I was worried I'd be devastated if she forgot.

The day before my birthday, some of my fears were put to rest. She sent me a package. I didn't open it until the next day, but I knew she had remembered. I didn't care what was in the package. She had remembered. That, for me, was everything.

I went out later that night. There was an event at midnight I wanted to attend, so I was out until four in the morning. I checked my phone shortly after 1 AM. She had e-mailed me a happy birthday message just after midnight. She even said she thought about calling (and I wish she had, but she had no way of knowing I was still up). That sent me soaring on an emotional high that lasted the entire weekend.

We did actually get to talk the evening of my birthday. It was, in a word, unreal. I don't think I've ever been that happy on the anniversary of my birth.

It seems silly to me, a little, that I was worried she would forget. But I've spent over three decades wondering if she thought about me at all. And since our reunion, I knew that she had. But my birthday brought up some of the hardest things to deal with surrounding this whole experience. And that she remembered, that she called, that meant everything to me.