Confronting Hard Truths

It’s my (natural) dad’s birthday. I’d like to call him, but I’m uncertain if it’s okay. He has a lot of people in his world who don’t know I exist, so I’m always hesitant to pick up the phone. Just in case he’s with someone who doesn’t know. “Oh that? That was, uh, my daughter I never told you about.” Could create awkward moments for him.

As I review that first paragraph, I’m struck by the words it contains. Uncertain. Hesitant. Awkward. Most people wouldn’t associate those words with me. I think most people would say I’m confident, self-assured, and in control.¬†But here I am. Using those words in a public forum. Because those words describe me too. Particularly when it comes to relationships (e.g., family, friends, etc.). Because relationships are complicated for me.

But why??? I’ve thought about that question over and over. Let’s just go down a brief list of answers I’ve identified:

  • I’m a natural introvert. I have always been bad at small talk, which seems to be the starting point for many relationships.
  • I (generally) don’t trust people. I often don’t take my foot off the brake long enough to allow a relationship to start.
  • I over-think. I’ll spend months trying to determine if it’s the right move to start a relationship or I’ll dissect a relationship until it falls apart.
  • I’m not good at feelings (and relationships involve those). I keep a list of “feeling words” at my desk because when people ask me how I feel, I often wrap my feelings in a cloak of “thinking words” because it’s more comfortable.

That list is probably enough to explain my relationship challenges, but lately I’ve been wondering if those are the core problems. Maybe the real challenge is in a promise I made to myself when I reunited with my (natural) family. A promise that sounded something like, “I’ll have whatever level of relationship they want to have with me.”

On the surface, that promise sounds appropriate. It took into consideration their life circumstances, their thoughts/feelings about me surfacing after 37 years, etc. It honored them, and I still believe it was the right approach. But underneath, I think it reveals my core relationship challenge. I hold back. I wait. I survey the situation. I let other people dictate the flow of relationship. I don’t invest until they do. And that’s probably not the best way to have a relationship with someone.

Relationships are complicated. They need both participants to be invested and engaged. But here’s the hard truth–at times, one party just won’t have enough energy to be fully invested and engaged. And that’s where I often fail in my relationships. Because when they appear to back off, I back off. When they appear to disengage, I disengage. When they appear to turn down the energy, I turn down the energy.

Even in my best relationships, I fight that tendency. With my husband, with my best friend, with my (natural) mom, with my business partners, with a new friend that I want to turn into an “old friend” as times passes. Thankfully, this tribe (my tribe) seems to get me. Maybe they know how hard it is. Maybe they see me trying. Maybe they are like me and the relationship’s quiet spaces just seem natural. Maybe they are the opposite of me and give everything no matter what.

But the push/pull is always there. Always tempting me to play it safe. Always reminding me that other people are in control of the relationship. Always encouraging me to protect myself from the pain of potential rejection.

And that brings me back to my first paragraph. It’s my (natural) dad’s birthday. I’d like to call him. And I think he’d be happy that I called. But I won’t. Not because of him. Not because of people who don’t know I exist. Because of me. Because today I lost the fight within myself.

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

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.

The Meeting of the Moms

One week ago, I had one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had – I introduced my mom, dad and brother to my natural mom. My husband (Jeff), my natural mom and I arrived to my parents’ home in Nashville around 9:30 p.m. The first moments went as I thought they might – my parents made sure my natural mom was comfortable in their home by showing her around and letting her know where everything that she might need was located. My parents are, and always have been, gracious hosts – their home is comfortable and they strive to make anyone who walks into it comfortable as well. After we got settled, we watched a bit of TV together and then hit the sack.

Sunday morning dawned and with it the prospect of attending worship with my family. Pretty cool experience really. Faith is a huge part of my life story (in both my natural family and my adopted family), so it was cool to sit in worship with 3 of my 4 parents. My brother, Shawn, was there as well and that made it even better. The preacher, Joe Beam, talked about warriors in the Kingdom of God – he even managed to address our situation when he said that parents who allow their children to be adopted and those who adopt are warriors as well. I thought that was pretty slick – especially because he had only been informed of the reunion at hand a few minutes before it was time for him to speak.

Lunch brought time for conversation about my adoption and the events that led to it. While I had felt a bit of tension during the first moments of lunch, at some point that disappeared as my parents talked with each other about their stories. I wish I could eloquently describe what I heard, but my synopsis is simple – I have two families and I think it was part of God’s plan for my life. I’m still trying to sort through why that might be true, so stay tuned for future blogs on that topic.

Sunday afternoon and evening were filled with a celebration of my niece’s high school graduation. Hannah, the younger child of my brother and his wife (Vida), was cheered by family (including her sister, Sarah) and friends as she completed that phase of her education and brought a chapter to close in her life. I am thankful we had the opportunity to be there.

Monday was the Memorial Day holiday, which means a cook-out in my family’s tradition. We all sat on the screened-in porch at my parents’ home and relaxed. At some point in the mid-morning, my mom asked my natural mom if she would like to see photos of me growing up and the true bonding began. I have no idea how many hours they sat together looking at photos, but I know I spent at least 2 hours scanning pictures for my natural mom. Thankfully, my mom had some duplicates and was happy to share them with my natural mom or I would have spent all day doing that activity. My dad and Jeff, sensing the importance of the moment, disappeared to grill and my two moms just spent time together. I popped back up occasionally to get more photos to scan and I saw two moms – both equally important – joining together to talk about their daughter.

While I call my natural mom “Mom” when we are together, I had intentionally chosen NOT to do so in front of my mom, but about mid-way through the day, my mom pulled me aside and said it would be okay for me to call Carol “Mom” because I have two moms – the only caveat was that I should be clear which one I mean so they both wouldn’t be responding at the same time. I understood the caveat, though I must admit the idea of saying “Mom” and have two awesome moms running to see what I need was pretty appealing.

The day wrapped up with photo-taking and a movie as we all just got comfortable with my reality – I have four parents. And I love them all.

I’m posting some photos from the day – they include:

My two moms together
My two moms, my dad, my brother and me
My two moms and me

Oh, I’m also including a few photos of me as a child – just a sample of what my two moms spent all day viewing.

image

image 2

photo

Becky in Crib

Becky Christmas

Becky 3rd grade

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 ūüôā

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.

Love Like an Ocean

I am in Marco Island, FL for the week, and as I sit in my condo on the 8th floor, I can see the Gulf water as it approaches the beach below. Earlier today, I had the pleasure of learning to sail a Hobie Cat on that same water. To most, that water represents fun. To some, it represents power. To me, it represents love. On first blush, that may sound a little crazy, but if you continue reading you will understand.

In April 2012, I visited my natural mom (Carol) for the second time in less than four weeks. My second trip quickly followed my first for a simple reason – after 36 years apart, a weekend is not enough to satisfy the need to be together. It’s a strong bond that is created between a mom and her baby in the womb – and once that bond is experienced, it’s gut-wrenching to separate again.

During my April visit, Mom asked if I would like to go to the beach. I enjoy the water and the feel of sand under my feet, so I quickly agreed. As we watched the waves crash on the beach, Mom started to explain that her love for me is an ocean. She told me that despite our separation, she had an endless supply of love that was designated just for me from the time she found out she was pregnant with me.

I had never considered the ocean as a metaphor for love, but I must admit I immediately liked the idea. The ocean is massive. The ocean is powerful. The ocean constantly flows. The ocean is overwhelming. The ocean is mysterious. The ocean is profound. The ocean is deep. The ocean is beautiful. The ocean is my Mom’s love.

It would take an ocean of love to allow another family to adopt your child because you believed it would be best for her. Likewise, it would take an ocean of love to keep loving that child through 36 years of separation – especially when you were never allowed to see that child or hold that child and had reconciled yourself that you never would.

I took a photo of my Mom on that pivotal day. It’s one of my favorites because she’s standing on the beach with the water behind her – the same water she used to describe her love for me. Yeah, my Mom’s love is an ocean and I am blessed to actively experience it now.

image

Daddy’s Girl

A week or so ago, I wrote about how much my mom and I have in common. I would be remiss not to write about the characteristics I share with my natural dad because I definitely belong to him as well. While I haven’t been able to spend as much time with him as my¬†natural mom, one need only start looking at our photos to see similarities. I definitely have his eyes and hair, a bit of his smile, and more of his natural build. In fact, as soon as I¬†saw the first photo of my natural dad I thought, “Yep. No denying that he’s my dad.”

As we’ve shared emails, messages, and even a face-to-face conversation over the last 10 months, I have discovered other similarities as well. He’s a deep thinker, so I got a double dose of that trait, which explains a lot. I also noted he’s a deep feeler, but rather than sharing those feelings quickly or directly, I think he shares them in his music. As a musician and song writer, he uses music as an outlet for what he feels. While I don’t write songs, I write other things – most of which I have never shared with the world (or anyone for that matter). I admire that he shares his music, and I must admit it was a small piece of the inspiration it took for me to share this blog.

Shortly after we met, I found another common trait. He “disappears” for a while when he is in thinking mode. I discovered this because I didn’t hear from him for a few days right after we met. I hesitantly checked in via an “everything okay” Facebook message and he explained that he had been thinking and writing a bit. I laughed as I wrote my response because I do the exact same thing. I need time to process my thoughts and feelings most of the time, so I have a tendency to go “radio silent” for a bit in those moments. The good news is that we’ll understand those silent moments; the bad news is that if we ever have them at the same time, we may not talk for a while.

I also credit him with my natural athletic talent. I’ve basically been good at sports my entire life (and that was definitely honed in my¬†adoptive family¬†by my big brother, Shawn), and I think that’s attributable to my baseball-playing natural dad. I’ve always liked that part of me, so I happily give him credit for it!

I’m not sure all of the other ways he may have “stamped” me, but I am excited about discovering more of them as we get to know each other better. In the meantime, I can definitely say I’m my natural¬†daddy’s girl too. I guess I’m a good mix of him and my natural mom. That’s pretty cool to know after all these years.

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.

Looking in Their Eyes

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.