Why I’m a Control Freak

I’m on vacation this week in Hilton Head, SC. It takes the solitude of a place like Hilton Head to open me up to write this blog post. I’ve been thinking about it for several months, but I just haven’t been able to muster the peace or courage or insanity or whatever it is that I’ve needed to write. Until now.

When I started first grade, I cried every day when my dad dropped me off at school. I don’t mean the tearful goodbye of a little kid who’s going to miss her parents for a few hours. I mean the screaming, holding onto his leg type of crying of a little kid who’s desperately afraid she wouldn’t see him again.

By that point, I already knew I was adopted and that knowledge messed with my world. Before you lash out about telling children too young, I want you to know I forced my parents into the conversation with questions they couldn’t answer without being open about my adoption, and they did a great job of explaining the whole thing. Adoption was and is part of my reality, and my parents felt it was important to acknowledge that fact and I am thankful they did.

It’s difficult for a little kid going to school for the first time not to have irrational fears. But mine were different; they weren’t completely irrational because they were built in some reality. For all the right reasons, my natural parents chose not to raise me. I was told that fact from the first time my parents told me about my adoption.

But when you’re a kid, that means other people can decide not to raise you too, and when I went to school each morning, I was afraid that’s the decision my parents would make while I was at school. I envisioned them just deciding not to pick me up. So I would be “that kid” who sits on the school bench, waiting for someone who is late to get them, but my situation would be different because my someone just wouldn’t be coming at all.

My parents always came, but I still believed it would be possible for them to decide not to and in my head that could happen at any time. All that seems silly now, as an adult, after I’ve heard my natural parents talk about their respective decisions, and witnessed the agony of the decision for my natural mom, who still can’t talk about the whole process without getting emotional.

But who I am at 38 is shaped by who I was at 5, and I like to be in control because it ensures that I will never be “that kid” – physically or emotionally. I protect that part of me with every fiber of my being. I see that 5 year old every time I think about whether I can trust someone. I see that 5 year old every time I consider whether I should reveal my heart to friends and even family. I see that 5 year old every time I think about letting someone else have any semblance of control in my life. I see that 5 year old and I think it’s my responsibility to protect her.

I’ve lived 38 good years on this earth. I have a few close friends, and they are the best I could ever ask for in my life. I have married a wonderful guy, who I love deeply and who loves me despite my weaknesses. I have families (adopted and natural) that I love with all of my heart and who love me.

But I hold part of myself back – even from my friends, and my husband, and my families. And I think they know it. And I think they respect it. And I think they hope one day I won’t. And I think they will love me even if I do. And I think it’s something I want to change. And I think it’s something I may never be able to change. But I’m trying. And I think that’s worth something.

Advertisements

My Brothers and Sister

I spent the last week at Camp Manatawny, a Christian youth camp in Douglasville, PA, working with 7th and 8th graders. On Thursday night, the campers participated in a talent show and some family and friends came to watch. I was mesmerized by one particular family interaction – between a young man and two of his older siblings (a brother and sister). The older siblings looked to be between 5 to 10 years older than their brother, but that didn’t negatively impact their interactions at all. They laughed, hugged, and talked the entire evening, and even cried when it was time to leave. I talked with the camper the next day and found out he’s from a family of 10 kids and that the brother and sister who visited live close to him. As I was wondering why their departure would still be so hard for each of them, he added that he loves his brothers and sisters so much that even though he knew he would see them in a couple of days, it made him cry to see them leave because he enjoys being with them as much as possible.

I’ve been thinking about why this family scene was so captivating to me, and I think I finally determined the “why.” I have an older brother (Shawn, who is a member of my adopted family) and he is the best older brother I could ever imagine. From the time I was brought home, he watched out for me, played with me, talked with me, and made sure I was never left out of any activity – even if that meant taking me to Friday night high school football games in Seneca, SC when he was 17 and I was 10. While our relationship has matured (no more fighting over room in the backseat of the car), it still carries the elements of concern, conversation, and play that it always did. I am lucky to be his “little sister.”

But the “why” doesn’t stop there.

I have two younger brothers and a younger sister (who doesn’t yet know about me). I think as I watched the camper with his family, I realized something I have lost by being adopted – the chance to be the “big sister.” I wasn’t there to help my brothers and sister as they were growing up – to play with them, give them advice, help keep them out of trouble with our parents, etc. I will never have the memories with them that I have with Shawn because we didn’t grow up together. And now, we are all adults and the forging of our relationships will be much more complicated.

Perhaps without having Shawn as my role model, I wouldn’t have been a very good “big sister” anyway. I don’t know. But I do know this – I am a “big sister” and I am proud of my “little brothers” and even my “little sister” who I have never met. And I’m thankful God saw fit to let me have a fantastic big brother and I hope I can be 1/10 as good for my younger siblings as he has been for me.

Rebel or Compliant?

I spent the summer and fall of 2011 reading books, blogs, and articles about adoption – studying may be the more appropriate word. I wanted to understand the experiences of others who found their families so that I could “prepare” myself for my experience and understand more about the experiences of the others impacted by my decision to seek my natural family. In the midst of reading, I encountered (over and over again) a very intriguing notion – that adopted children have a tendency to become a “rebel” or a “compliant.” The literature suggested that most adopted kids choose one of two paths – they are “hellions” within their adopted families and society in general or they are “perfect angels” in those same circles. And I had to ask myself, “which one am I”?

I’ve been thinking about that question for almost 2 years and I think I’m both. Growing up, I did some things that I am not proud of today. Made some bad choices, some known to my parents and some not. Found myself in some situations that I am lucky to have survived. But I also got straight A’s in school. Won more debate trophies than I can count. Earned scholarships to college (where I did more of the hellion stuff). And (finally) “settled down” to a life of law school, marriage, and then a real job. Bottom line? I had some great moments and some not-so-great moments in my youth. And I figure my story isn’t that much different from yours.

Except for one thing – the “why.” You see, I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it. In every good choice, in every bad choice. And the reasoning went something like this…

“If I do X (insert bad choice) and people give up on me, it just proves that people don’t really care, that I’m disposable, and I should get out before they can hurt me.”

“If I do X (insert good choice) and people think I’m great, they’ll always want me around.”

As I type the words (and consider erasing them and this entire blog post because I’m not sure I’m ready for the world to see this much of my psyche), I waiver between laughing and crying in my head. Laughing because it’s all pretty laughable. People are much more complicated than I am giving them credit for – a few bad choices won’t make people who love you stop loving you and a few good choices won’t make people who don’t love you start loving you. Crying because it’s all pretty sad. People aren’t always more complicated – they have a tendency to love those who are easy to love and reject those who aren’t.

I was blessed to be raised by parents who were more complicated. My highs and lows never seemed to rile them too much. They praised me appropriately for the good stuff and punished me appropriately for the bad stuff (at least the stuff they knew about). But they taught me that love is love – and it remains in place regardless of what you do because love is about who you are.

And I believe that. And I don’t. And I trust that. And I don’t. And I want that to be true. And it’s scary to rely on it.

So at 38 years old, I wear more earrings than my professional colleagues think appropriate, while I deliver the best leadership content I can create. And I am careful not to show off my tattoos to those who might be offended by them, while I plan my next two to honor my natural families. And I cautiously enter friendships with people, while I hold my best friends very close. And I look like a slacker, while I pride myself on my work ethic. And I wear t-shirts of my favorite rock bands and comedians (some you likely would think are inappropriate), while I read my Bible and pray. And I keep my inner-most thoughts to myself, while I write a blog that I hope will help people like me.

I don’t know about most adopted kids, but I am neither a “rebel” nor a “compliant.” Those “boxes” aren’t quite big enough to contain the complicated, nuanced juxtaposition that is my life. And I doubt they are for you either – adopted or not. So, here’s my advice – just take what God has given you (including your nature and your experiences) and be the best version of you that you can muster. It’s enough for the people who matter. And you need to know the ones who really matter – sooner than later.

Meet the Parents: The Parent Edition

In two weeks, I will have a unique opportunity – I will be introducing my parents to my parents. Yep, you read that correctly. My natural mom is moving to WV (so that we can spend more time getting to know each other) and the trip from Pensacola, FL to Parkersburg WV, with its natural stopping point in Nashville, TN, will give me a chance to introduce my mom and dad to my natural mom. Unfortunately, my natural dad (now affectionately known as Pop) won’t be there, but more on that in a minute.

I’ve told several people about this opportunity and the reactions have all been fairly similar:

“Wow! This is cause for a celebration” – true
“Stuff like this only happens in movies” – also true
“God is definitely directing your course” – definitely true

I agree with all of those sentiments, but I am still nervous. Why? Because this is just a little awkward and weird. There, I said it. I’m very excited to have my family meet my family – it’s actually an awesome chance to bring together people who I love and who love me – but it’s also just a little strange. “Mom, meet my mom.” Yeah, I think you see what I mean.

I’ve been doing what I do, which is dissecting the potential reactions of my family members upon meeting each other. Thing is, I’m not sure what will happen. I hope it all goes really smoothly (like my natural mom thanks my parents for raising her baby and they all laugh and cry and that’s that), but what if it all goes horribly wrong? What if there is crazy tension in the room? Yep, I thought about that too and here’s what I’ve got:

1. My natural mom will cry and thank my parents for raising her baby – she’s consistent like that 🙂

2. My dad will talk about the situation – talk about how unique it is and how numerous emotional responses are appropriate – he’s a counselor, so he gets clinical about stuff at times – something that is actually comforting when you aren’t sure how to handle a situation

3. My mom will make small-talk and then distract us from the tension with one of her best desserts – yeah, don’t mock it, you’ve never had her red velvet cake – it’s awesome and very distracting!

As for me, I think I’ll just be standing there thinking, “This is awkward….” which is where my Pop comes into the discussion again. I really wish he was going to be there too – not only because it would be cool to get all the introductions accomplished at the same time, but because he would GET how awkward it is and probably just admit it. Yep, I come by that naturally.

How do I know this would happen? Because when we met the first time, he hit “head-on” the topic of being nervous (“didn’t think I would be but after we made plans, I got a little nervous, though I’m not now” – a sentiment I echoed almost word for word) and why he didn’t stick around when he found out my mom was pregnant (a story that is his to tell, but one that I definitely understand and can even relate to in some ways).

You see, while I CAN react like my other parents would react (except I don’t really cook, so it would be “let’s go get frozen yogurt”), I WOULD react like I think my Pop would – just admit what’s up and see what happens next.

Please be praying that this reunion is just another in the long line of happy reunions that have taken place thus far in my adoption journey. I love all my parents and want them to appreciate each other as well.

And, Pop, if you’re reading this, I will happily buy you a flight to Nashville to bring this event to completeness – and so I can have a “wing man” who gets EXACTLY how I’m reacting to the situation if it all goes horribly wrong.

A First 38th Birthday

Today is my birthday – my 38th to be exact. I don’t remember my first birthday, but I’m sure it was pretty cool. My adoptive parents always made birthdays special for my brother and me. We were allowed to choose a restaurant for dinner (for inquiring minds, I chose Long John’s for a long time – yeah, I know, greasy, fried fish, but I was a kid). And, my mom would make a cake of our choice. Mom and Dad even had a party for me one year, but I’m not much of a party person, so we discontinued that tradition as soon as it started. Celebrations are a big deal in my family – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July – so it’s no surprise that birthdays would be cause for celebration as well. I always enjoyed “my day” but I also typically felt a little sad because I wasn’t able to be with my other parents too. In fact, for a long time, I thought my natural parents might show up for my birthday at some point. I don’t remember exactly when I gave up that thought, but I think I was in middle school – the only other times that thought surfaced was when I turned 16 and 18, pretty pivotal years. Today, my birthday is unique because my natural Mom showed up. Okay, not quite in the dramatic fashion I always imagined, it was a pre-planned visit and I picked her up from the airport myself. But, still, she showed up. Because she’s sitting in the room with me as I write, I thought it would be cool to have her to speak to you as well – about what she views as my first birthday, despite the fact it’s my 38th. The rest of this blog is her voice, with my fingers typing. Meet my natural Mom, Carol.

“This is the first birthday I don’t have to wonder if Becky’s smiling when she wakes up because I saw her smile this morning. It’s the first birthday I don’t have to wonder if Becky’s had a good year because I’ve been blessed to share the past year with her – even though not always face-to-face. It’s the first birthday I don’t have to wonder if other people know how special Becky is because I’ve seen for myself all of the birthday wishes from Becky’s family and friends. It’s the first birthday I don’t have to wish Becky could know that I love her because she knows that now. It’s the first birthday I get to make Becky’s birthday cake – and it’s cooling in a heart-shaped pan (how appropriate!) as I’m talking – and I actually get to celebrate her birthday on March 20. Showing up for Becky’s birthday is something I’ve wanted to do for each one of them, but I wasn’t able to, so it’s awesome I’m able to this year. I’m hopeful that I will be blessed with the opportunity to show up for the rest of them – at least in my lifetime. You would think I would have a million more things to say, but if I allow myself to say them now, I will flood Becky’s office with tears and that might dampen the spirit of her birthday. So, the bottom line is, it’s an incredible joy and delight to finally be present with my daughter for her birthday. And hopefully, showing up this time will help make up for all the times I wasn’t able to be there before.”

It does, Mom. It does.

Meeting the Parents

On March 16, 2012, I boarded a plane in Charleston, WV that was bound for Pensacola, FL where I was to meet my natural mom for the first time. We had been separated at my birth – a birth that was to be celebrated for the 37th year a short four days later. I had been talking with my natural mom since February 19 (the day after she celebrated her birthday), so the meeting was a pivotal moment in a relationship that had already begun to shape. I had barely slept the night before because I was so excited to meet her. I already knew I liked her (and, in fact, that I loved her too), but I was pumped to actually see her. We had discussed getting on Skype with each other prior to our first meeting, but I wanted the moment when I first looked into her eyes to be in person. After what seemed like an excruciatingly long morning (two flights – one delayed, which meant I was several hours late getting to Pensacola), I pulled my bag from the overhead bin, got off the plane, and walked straight into an embrace with my natural mom – who was so excited I could feel her rapid heartbeat during our hug. I can picture everything about that moment in my mind right now – what she was wearing (jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes – cool points for the laid back wardrobe), the first time I saw her smile, and the loving eyes of a mom (MY mom) who had wanted to see her “baby” for almost 37 years. It was a pivotal moment – and a perfect one too – that was followed by more pivotal moments over the weekend as I met my grandmother, brothers, sister-in-law, niece, and an aunt and uncle.

Yesterday (Thursday, January 17, 2013), I had another pivotal moment in my adoption journey as I met my natural dad for the first time. As I stood in the foyer of a Ruby Tuesday yesterday morning waiting for him to arrive, I grew nervous. It was a feeling unfamiliar to me in this reunion process because I had really only felt excitement about meeting my natural mom, but I realized it was because we had talked on the phone almost every day for a month prior to our face-to-face meeting and my natural dad and I had communicated exclusively through email and Facebook messages. In fact, I had only heard him speak two times – Wednesday night and Thursday morning when we made plans to meet each other. The majority of my nervousness went away in the first moment we shared as he walked into the foyer, smiled, and asked if it would be okay to hug me (cool points for asking in that moment). We proceeded to a booth, ordered some drinks (sweet tea for me, coffee for him with cream only I believe), and chatted for the first time. I was immediately struck by the fact that I have his eyes (deep brown) and hair (especially if I let mine grow long), and a smile that is a unique combination of his and my natural mom’s. We shared about two hours together yesterday and agreed to share more in the future. We may even try our hand at Skype so we can see each other when we talk – turns out, the reason we didn’t talk on the phone before was because neither of us like to talk on the phone – go figure! My take-away is that he is a cool dude – from his musicianship all the way down to his jeans, t-shirt, and flannel shirt wardrobe.

And now that I’ve met my natural parents, I can confirm I am a unique combination of both of them – from looks to personality to thought patterns – but that’s a blog for another day.