The Meaning of “Adopted”

I don’t spend most of my time focused on the fact that I’m adopted. That’s not to say that I am not acutely aware of it, but I don’t obsess about it or spend every waking moment thinking about the implications of being adopted. Most of the time it’s just like any other fact about me – it just is and doesn’t demand much thought or explanation. Granted the reunions with my natural families have brought it to the forefront in the last two years, but even that has just become part of the fabric of my life now. On most days, I’m just being me and that means I have lots of families. All of this is true on most days. Today is not one of those days.

Today, I am wondering what it really means to be adopted. My day started innocently enough. I went to the gym, led a lunch and learn opportunity, ate a late lunch with a client, and answered emails. Then, I went for an afternoon haircut. And that’s where my day shifted. The conversation in the shop was pretty casual and focused on the fact that an individual’s mom just celebrated a birthday. The lady telling the story explained that her mom is now 83, but they put the candles on the cake backwards so it would say 38. Of course, her mom got a big kick out of that fact and snickered because the daughter always says she’s 39, which prompted the mom to say, “Oh, I guess I couldn’t have had you. You must be adopted.” The daughter laughed while telling the story and noted, “Well, if I was adopted at least I was wanted by someone.”

Ouch. Is that what adoption really means? That someone wanted me – with a heavy dose of implication that someone else did not? I have to admit, that thought stinks. Not just for me, but for all adopted kids. I’ve always thought it was a bit more complicated. That my parents probably did want me, but life circumstances led them to make a decision to give me to someone else rather than keep me. Now that I’ve heard their stories, I think that is true. But not every adopted kid has heard their parents’ perspectives. And that means there may be a bunch of kids who really stress over that heavy dose of implication. Wanted by some, but not by all.

Interestingly, I’ve often struggled with what it really means to be adopted. As I was growing up, my parents had a tendency to “claim” people – meaning they would take them in (sometimes physically, but always emotionally) and support them. In fact, they still do that, which I think is cool. But in introducing those folks to others, they would often say something like, “this is our adopted son/daughter.” In some ways, I knew I was distinguished from those individuals because I was never introduced as adopted, but because I knew I was adopted, I wondered if there really was a difference between them and me. I have always been a good thinker, so I often rationalized the distinctions – for instance, I was living in the home and the “adopted son/daughter” was not – but I still struggled with the idea that I might not be so different from one of those people. That in reality, it could have easily been one of them living with my family rather than me if the timing would have been different.

One of the cool things that has come from my reunion with my natural families is that I’ve seen where I belong with both families. But on days like today, when I struggle to understand what this whole adoption thing really means, I wonder if it’s more like I don’t quite belong to either family. And that thought does not help my already well-established tendency to believe I should rely only on myself because you never know when someone might walk away (by the way, this is apparently a common reaction in adopted kids).

I realize this post isn’t exactly encouraging, but it’s real. And because I was still thinking about it after a 2-hour lawn-mowing expedition, dinner, and an ice cream cone, I figured I better get the thoughts out of my head and onto paper. Here’s to hoping the next post is more positive. In the meantime, I’m going to try to stop thinking and get some rest. Hope you guys have a great night!

Symbols of Connection

Throughout time, individuals have sought to identify themselves with each other. Whether we use last names, tribal paint, jewelry, or team clothing, it appears we use those symbols to let others know to whom we belong or who we claim.

When I married my husband, I took his name, but I kept my maiden name as well. While it was important to me to identify myself with him (and his clan), it was of equal importance for me to keep my maiden name because it identifies me with my clan. I like carrying my full name – even though it’s very long and I have to spell it every time I meet someone because most people just don’t get the hyphenated name thing.

I like using my full name because it properly honors my families. At least it did until last year. Now, I have two additional families to honor and it’s just not practical to add two more names to an already lengthy set of names.

So, yesterday I embarked on my journey to recognize my other families by getting a tattoo to honor my natural dad’s family. I started there for two reasons. First, because yesterday was his birthday and I thought it was another cool symbol to have my tattoo done on his special day. Second, because my connection with my natural dad’s family is more loose than with my natural mom’s family, I need the symbol to help remind me I am part of them too.

I’m posting a photo, and here’s the explanation of the key elements:

1. Peace pipe = honoring Creek Indian heritage
2. Reynolds = my natural dad’s last name
3. The words peace and love = my natural dad’s signature phrase

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

THE TATTOO IS ON MY UPPER THIGH.

SCROLL DOWN AT YOUR OWN RISK.

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

Reynolds Tattoo