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!

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.

Crazy Questions for an Adopted Kid

Turns out, when people discover you are adopted, they ask some very crazy questions. I’ve had my share over 37 years, and I thought I had heard all the crazy ones UNTIL I reunited with my natural family. The questions got even crazier at that point. My personal favorite crazy question from the “reunited” set of questions comes in a pair – how do your adoptive parents feel about your reunion with your natural family AND is it weird having two sets of parents?

Let’s see – how do my adoptive parents feel about my reunion with my natural family? Well, I think they feel fine. Turns out, we don’t spend all of our time talking about that reunion. We have our own family traditions, conversations, etc. that typically are the focal point of our time together. While they will ask how things are going, they don’t seem interested in “prying” for details. I know they support me – in fact, my dad said he was surprised it took me almost 37 years to go exploring – and they have genuine care and concern for my natural family that is expressed in asking how they are doing. So when people ask how my adoptive parents feel, I’m not sure what they expect me to say. Maybe they are hoping it’s turned into a “free-for-all” worthy of the Jerry Springer show when I mention my natural family – people LOVE drama. Perhaps they imagine hurt feelings expressed in long silences and tearful glances – again, people LOVE drama. Maybe they imagine we are all one big happy family in the less than 10 months since the reunion – the thing people love MORE than drama is a HAPPY ENDING. Perhaps it’s even their way of saying, “How dare you look for your natural family?! Don’t you know your parents wanted you when they didn’t?” – yeah, that one really irritates me and I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced it from people who seem a bit judgmental about the reunion process.

After we settle the “how my parents feel” question, the next most common question is whether it’s weird having two sets of parents? Seriously?!? THAT is your question? Nothing about how the reunion is going? Nothing about how much I have discovered about my identity because of the reunion? Nothing about how great it is to discover you have a grandmother again (because all of your grandparents in your adoptive family are now gone)? Nothing about how cool it is to have two more brothers and aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.? You want to know if it’s “weird” having two sets of parents? I don’t know – is it weird having more than one kid? Because that’s how I like to think this thing works. I have two sets of parents – four parents total (not including my parents-in-law). They are all different. I have a unique relationship with each of them. I love each of them for who they are and value what they mean to me. I am blessed. Is it weird? No more than you having more than one kid or dog or friend. It’s my reality – and I love it.

Now, for those of you who have asked these questions – please don’t be offended by this post. I know you mean well in asking – so do all other adopted kids. It’s just funny when you are on the receiving end of the question, trying to figure out how to answer it. No harm, no foul, no worries. Okay?

Becky