Tuesday, February 16, 2010

True Family

I've written a couple of posts on Over A Candle about quotes from Richard Bach that have significance for me. There is a quote from Bach that seems adoption related, and that I have a changing relationship with.

The bond
that links your true family
is not one of blood, but
of respect and joy in
each other's life.
Rarely do members
of one family grow up
under the same

For the longest time, this made me think of my friends in college. They were my real family. We hadn't grown up together, but we took great joy in each other and respected each other.

I still think of my college friends, my third family, when I think of this quote.

But I also realize that, for an adoptee, this is such a layered quote. The quote works so well for people who were raised by, but didn't fit into, their biological family. For adoptees, we didn't grow up under the same roof as those people we're blood related to.

For me, I didn't fit with people I was raised with, but there was little reason to think I would: they weren't blood related. So how surprising is it that that bond was missing? And if the bond was missing between my blood relatives and me, well how surprising could that be since we didn't grow up together?

I had to go through two families before I found my true one.

Of course, I've gotten a little older. And I do find some joy with my adoptive family. And my blood family is still new, and we have connected pretty well, all things considered.

So maybe I come out ahead. And I hope so.

But with everything, I still relate better to people I am not related to, by law or by blood. Whether it be my third family, from college, or my fourth family, my wife, or my fifth family, my fellow adoptees. I often feel more myself around non-family than I do around people who are nominally family.

I think, for a long time, that seemed like a sad state of affairs. Now it just seems to be a normal part of my life, a simple observation that doesn't have to be awful. It is what it is. And I have a big family, some of whom I'm related to without relating to them all that well, and some of whom I relate to well, even though I'm not related to them.

If any of that makes any sense.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Worse than "Grateful"

I hate the word "grateful." In this, I know I'm not alone. Adoptees are often told they should be grateful for being adopted. To be sure, I don't often hear the word from adoptive parents. My parents, for instance, never said anything to suggest I should be grateful to them for adopting me. Most commonly it seems to come from either other adoptees who feel an intense loyalty to their own (adoptive) parents or from people who have no immediate connection to adoption at all.

Yet, there is something worse than being told to be grateful. Sometimes adoptees feel as though they are expected to bear the weight of hopes and dreams of their adoptive parents. Frankly, every child can experience this. It's not a uniquely adoptee experience, though I do think it's even more onerous when it falls on adoptees, who already have other issues to struggle with.

There is a song that gets at this, one that has always made me feel sad...

"What a Good Boy" by Barenaked Ladies

When I was born, they looked at me and said,
"What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy."
And when you were born, they looked at you and said,
"What a good girl, what a what a smart girl, what a pretty girl."

It's hard to hear that song and not think about the expectations that children are supposed to live up to.

For some, it can be more than just doing well and being successful. It can be an expectation to save the parents from some wound or other. People sometimes have children in the hopes that they will save their marriage, or provide what's missing. That puts a kind of pressure on a child that no one should have to bear.

And when people adopt with those ideas, it seems even worse. An adoptee has already lost so much, and now to be asked to fill some hole... It just breaks my heart.

So when I heard the story of a woman adopting twins from Haiti after the death of her husband, I felt a great deal of empathy for the children. Her husband died in the collapse of the 35w bridge in Minneapolis several years ago, itself a tragedy. And now she has adopted twins from Haiti.

The comment that really struck me?

"I don't think I rescued them," Sathers, 33, said of the twins. "I feel like if anything, they've rescued me."

Think about the pressure this puts on those children. How much will they have to stuff because they do not want to disappoint their mother, who already lost so much herself, and has invested so much in them? How could they ever find the courage to express how they might feel, knowing that they are expected to fill such a gaping hole in this woman's life?

You can read the whole story, if you want: Minn. bridge collapse widow adopts Haitian twins | Minnesota Public Radio NewsQ

I feel for this woman. But I feel even more for these children from Haiti.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Honestly, I don't think I hate my birthday. I just think I'm incredibly ambivalent about it. It's hard to explain, I guess. Who doesn't like cake, and ice cream, and presents, and being the center of attention?

Well, this adoptee, for one.

I don't know when I realized it, but at some point, probably in my teen years, I realized that everyone who wanted to celebrate my birthday had missed it. They weren't there for my actual birth. And I don't know why that bothered me, but it did. And I didn't want people making a big deal about the day because it just reminded me that I didn't know ANYONE who had been there for my birth. Except for myself, of course.

I went through different phases about this, but sometime in my mid-20s, I think I began to mellow a bit. I still didn't much care for the day, but I wouldn't hide from people who wanted to celebrate it with me. (I did do that for awhile earlier in my life.)

And when I met the woman who I would marry, she seemed to take so much joy in celebrating the day, that I couldn't resist going along with her, even while the ambivalence remained.

Now I'm in reunion. And last year, I actually got to spend my birthday with my first mom. And I was thrilled. This year, she couldn't make it. I completely understand. I didn't expect her to make it. But the ambivalence came back, a little stronger than last year. I still enjoyed dinner with my wife. And I appreciated all the well-wishes from family and friends. And I do like presents, even if I suck at accepting them.

And I know that the day won't kill me. That it's not even a horrible thing. But there is still that old habit of feeling melancholy about the day. I still feel as though, for too many years, I missed out on something. I try not to dwell on these things too much, but today, of all days, it gets harder to ignore it.

Still, as much as I still have my issues with my birthday, I'm glad I get to talk to my mom when it comes around, even if only on the phone. I don't think that will ever get old.