Thanksgiving turned out to be wonderful. My sister’s birthday was the day before and she, fave-bro-in-law, and fave-niece went to one of the Island’s pricier restaurants for her birthday dinner.
I looked at them, sighed, and said: “you’re my only family.”
“No” they said in family synce, “we’re ALL your family.”
Then I told them my plan to find my birth father’s family. I know his name, his ethnicity, the approximate year he was born (very approximately) as my birth mother was very vague on details, the approximate (more fixed) year he died, the number of children he had, and the approximate years they were born. Every-thing’s very approximate.
I think that I know the actual town he was born in and the town he died in. The historical society in that town lists births and deaths beginning with the seventeenth century. I love scanning lists and wish that this information was on the net. As it’s not, I’m going to have to take a long trip to New England to see the records.
All my family offered to come with me and make it into a family thing. I’m pondering the offer. Life’s a bit different than it was sixteen years ago when I met my birth mother almost by accident. For many reasons it wasn’t a successful meeting. One of the big outcomes was me feeling like a failure because I hadn’t lived the life she had envisioned for me when she gave me up.
I always realized that was stupid because it had nothing to do with me the person, but me the fantasy. But as she had kept me for three weeks in the home for unwed mothers and called the agency for two years for progress reports until they told her she wasn’t allowed to anymore, I felt somewhat responsible for not living up to her fantasy.
Totally irrational but that’s the world of closed adoption records. It makes people irrational because when you’re cut off from knowing about your genes, you’re cut off from understanding your beginnings. Everyone needs that road map to origins.
My parents had always been honest with me. They shared whatever knowledge they had with me, and my father was totally into the search. It was beyond his comprehension that the law would stand between me and my roots.
I think that every birth parent who doesn’t want an open adoption (and I can understand that) should be required to write a letter to the child to be given to her when her parents think she is ready explaining who she is, what her background was like, who the father is and his background. I think that both parents should be required to follow-up with yearly health reports for as long as they live.
The child should be allowed to write letters to her birth parents and at certain ages ask if the birth parent(s) want to meet her. While this sounds like too much work, it could prevent many problems. Because every thinking person goes through a “who am I” stage, but none go through it like people who have no idea about their genetic roots.
My adoptive parents were my real parents and I was happy to adopt their roots. But I went through my teenage years wondering about what generation of my parents’ grandparents stopped being mine. Was it my great-great grandparents since my parents had never known them?
Minor questions that occupied major amounts of time.
I always knew that meeting my birth mother wouldn’t make me feel complete. I didn’t know that it would make me feel empty; devoid of who I had spent my adult life becoming.
People in the adoption movement then said that the meeting was enough to make you feel complete; now they say that it’s just the beginning and that you should work at getting to know one another. Trust me, I thought of that then.
She would never have gone into counseling with me. She wouldn’t even meet in neutral territory. We had to meet at her house where I wasn’t allowed to walk around in case somebody saw me. (We look nothing alike.) Once I realized what the weekend was going to be like I should have left.
But I had gone knowing that my instincts told me we should have met in a motel in some town where neither of us were known. The playing field would have been more level.
She accused me of playing with her head when I called and had her nephew to back her up when I told her that I was sorry for having paused for too long in between my name and my birth date. I know, I know–that’s totally irrational. I thought so too but what was I supposed to say? I paused too long. I’m sorry. Usually I speak way too fast. I suppose that I was trying to compensate for that.
After the long horrible weekend was over, we corresponded for awhile. Her letters were filled with admonitions and lists of cities for me to move to that had nice Jewish men. Dating was not one of my problems.
A year or so prior to the meeting I had been diagnosed with an alphabet soup mishmash of problems and learning disabilities. While I had compensated for my problems, I was getting older (late 30’s) and scared that I wouldn’t be able to compensate as well when I hit 40. I had an amazing life, but it was one that I assumed was held up by mirrors and smoke.
I spent my early 40’s working at the most difficult job I could find. Then I went to grad school–all to prove to myself that I had a working mind. My dad died suddenly; my mom became frail; my sister and I became care givers. The difference was that my sister had met fave-bro-in-law the summer before my dad died and had a daughter. My sister had new life around her. I was a gerontologist who was constantly surrounded by old age and death. It was very depressing.
Now that I no longer work in the field I feel a thousand pounds lighter.
I didn’t feel entitled when I met my birth mother so I played the game her way. I should have felt entitled. I was raised to feel great about myself. But the synapses in my brain never allowed me to feel good for too long.
About eight months ago I went on Strattera. It began working slowly. Little by little I began noticing changes in my attitude and behavior. For the first time in my life I feel at peace; I also feel entitled. Entitled to a good life; entitled to have fun; entitled to joy; entitled to laugh when people say that ADD is a byproduct of being adopted. I know that for many reasons that I will be writing about, but I knew it mainly because Strattera wouldn’t have had such a dramatic impact on my behavior and thought patterns if I hadn’t needed it.
One day in the not too distant future all of my family is going to go to some small town in the inner depths of New England. If I can get my naturally bubbly sister to promise not to tell anybody why we’re at this historical society as my birth uncle is still involved with it. His (mine?} was the first Jewish family in town.
I’m going to find the names of my three half siblings. They might be grandparents by now as they were born soon after I was. They might be dead; they might be bums. I don’t know what type of expectations I’m putting on them.
I know now that I expected my birth mother to love me unconditionally. That was wrong as only my real parents could or would love me unconditionally, and they loved me so much it hurt.
On Thanksgiving my sister (born to them) and I forgot to listen to the family song “Alice’s Restaurant,” but we talked about it, and how our dad recorded it and would make people listen to all 22 minutes. We talked about the parking ticket he got from Officer Opie–on purpose of course.
We talked about the Thanksgiving dinners our mom would put together from scratch (using many convenience foods) for 35-40 people. Only my sister shares my whole past; she was jealous when I went off to meet my birth mother, but understands now that even if I decide to meet my half-siblings, she will be my only true sister.
My niece told me that she was mad that she never got to meet my dad. So was I and I told her so. But I told her that
she was named for him and it’s a great name and I feel comforted by her having his name. She smiled for she loves her name, and is old enough at ten to understand what I was really saying. My parents live on through her, the stories we tell her and she devours.
Though our Thanksgivings are different now they are still the best of all holiday’s, the time we put aside our differences and celebrate our intertwined lives in the USA, still with all its problems, the best of all countries.