An adoption blogger I follow posted that simple question on Christmas Eve morning and asked adoptees to respond. I was too busy to think about the question at the time. My (adoptive) brother and his family were coming to open presents and eat dinner later in the day, and the task of preparing dinner had fallen to Jeff and me because my (adoptive) mom has acute bronchitis. But yesterday, in the still and quiet of Christmas Day, I thought about it, and I share those thoughts now.
I (thankfully) have been in the business of adding parents to my life rather than losing them. Same with siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I have lost (again) all of my grandparents to death, so I do know a little about how that loss feels at holidays. I remember the first holiday after my (adoptive) maternal grandmother died, and it was strange. I could feel her presence because I could still envision her in the places I had always seen her, but the fact remained that it was only my memories compelling that presence. It was oddly comforting in the midst of a harsh reality – I could conjure her presence at will even though she was gone.
I think the reason I have struggled at various holidays throughout my life is because I had no image to conjure of my (natural) mom and dad or the rest of my (natural) family. On days when “family” is a central theme, it’s difficult to not have ALL of your family there, and especially when you can’t even envision them. While I was separated from my natural families on Christmas Day, I now have pictures of them in my mind and could easily envision them enjoying the day. And those pictures, from memories of times we have shared, helped to make my Christmas complete.
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.
I was adopted through a closed adoption process. In short, that means no one met anyone else, nor was any identifying information about any of the parties given to the others. In fact, my natural mom never even saw ME – I was born and taken from her before she could even look at me, know my gender, or hold me.
Part of the challenge of a closed adoption process is it forever shuts a door on the adoptee looking into the eyes of his/her natural parents. I know to some that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was for me. I always wanted to look into the eyes of my natural parents to see how much of me was reflected in them.
I was blessed to be born in the State of Tennessee, which passed an open records law. This allowed me to gather identifying information about my natural parents and start the process of finding them. In fact, the State ran the original search for my parents and was the way I reached my natural mom. I found my natural dad through Facebook (because the State couldn’t find him – go figure), but that’s another story for another day.
My reunion with my natural mom, grandmother, aunts, and brothers has allowed me to look into the eyes of my family and see me. In fact, in my first moments with them, I felt at ease and it’s because of everything we have in common – thanks to genetics.
I am traveling to Pensacola next week and hope to meet my natural father. I look forward to this opportunity because there are some things about me that didn’t get explained in meeting my natural mom and I suspect he is the key to those items.
Looking in their eyes is a big deal. For those who agree, I pray you will have that opportunity. And if you aren’t adopted, I hope you take the time you should to look into your parents eyes – don’t take it for granted. It’s an amazing opportunity.