Reunion: Year Three

I just celebrated my third year of reunion with my natural family. Well, almost. The anniversary of my reunion with my natural mom was Feb 19; my reunion with my natural dad will be celebrated on April 9. 

A lot has happened in those three years. I’ve been introduced to lots of family members. I’ve been told about others who don’t know about me. I’ve celebrated the birth of new family members. I’ve mourned the death of others. I’ve spent countless hours on Skype getting to know my natural mom. I’ve spent a few treasured hours on my natural dad’s back porch. I’ve awakened on some mornings wondering what in the world I’m doing with a stranger living in my house (for those who haven’t been reading my posts, my natural mom moved into our home to aid in the establishment of our relationship). I’ve awakened on other mornings in awe that I’ve been blessed with this opportunity. 

Despite the monumental nature of all these things, on most days, I just live my life and none of it seems like a very big deal. I have two moms, two dads, three brothers, four nieces, two sisters-in-law, nine uncles, six aunts, and lots (and lots) of cousins. And that just counts my adoptive family and my natural mom’s family. And it’s just my family. No big deal. And, yet, the biggest deal ever. And that’s what three years of reunion feels like to me. 

Becky

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Would the “Real” You Please Stand Up?

A winter wonderland has descended upon the Mid-Ohio Valley. Our church is one of many that cancelled services today, so I’m sitting in my recliner with a warm blanket while Jeff is checking Facebook in his office and my mom (Carol) is reading a book. The quiet is nice, though my mental peace was interrupted a few minutes ago by a blog post I saw on Facebook.

The gist of the post was that “Duck Dynasty” is fake – not just the parts of the show that the family has admitted over and over are scripted – but that the people themselves are fake. Before you start to worry this is going to be a “Duck Dynasty” rant and stop reading, don’t worry, that’s not where this is going. But, I do need to tell you about the other blog post before I can get to my point, so stay with me. The “evidence” used to support this claim primarily comparing photos of the Robertson men without beards to photos of the Robertson men with beards. A few jumps in logic from there, and voila, the Robertson men (and their entire families) are fake. While I am hoping that particular blog post was a bit of sarcasm that I missed, I’ll continue to my point anyway.

When did it become our role as humans to deem other humans fake? Especially when we base the judgments on something as simple as their exterior appearance? When I worked at a university as their in-house lawyer, I dressed up every day. For those of you who know me well, you know that was a chore because I much prefer to wear blue jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. But I did dress up to match the expectations of my employer. Does that mean I was fake then? Does it mean I am fake now because I typically wear my preferred wardrobe? Does it mean I am fake when I meet with clients and dress up to match their expectations?

Most of us have many layers, and even those of us who insist that we are the same with everyone no matter what, would be hard-pressed to support that argument to its logical conclusion faced with complex situations. We may have a certain style that is most comfortable for us, but I suspect we dress differently for certain situations based on external expectations. We may generally be open about who we are, but I suspect we tell our best friend things we would never tell strangers. We may have an opinion about something today, but I suspect we would be open to change that opinion tomorrow in the face of new facts to consider.

People are complicated and life situations make us more so.

When I finally decided to seek out my natural family two years ago, part of my journey was designed to help me gain understanding of who I am. I clearly knew how my adoptive family impacted me, and my friends, and my co-workers, and the various people who had been put in my life to that point, but I didn’t know how my natural family had impacted me. I am beginning to discover those things now, and I suspect it is shaping me. Does that mean the pre-reunion Becky was fake? Or perhaps it means the post-reunion Becky is fake?

I say it’s all me. Granted, it’s an evolution of me, but it’s still me.

I wish we would give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume we are all the “real” us. Does that mean we will sometimes look like we contradict ourselves? Probably so. Does that mean that we will reveal more of ourselves to some and not others? Likely. Does that mean some will like us and some won’t? I’m guessing so.

But we all need to give ourselves and each other room to evolve. Humans aren’t meant to be static. We are meant to grow. People, places, and circumstances alter us and that’s what it means to be human.

So, go out and be you. Some people will hate it, but some people will love it. And those who hate it don’t need to see your multi-faceted layers, and those who love it should see those layers. And you can rest in the knowledge that you are real and anyone who says otherwise is just going through their skeptical phase as a human and you can pray for them to get over it – quickly.

My Payne Family Tattoo

Last weekend, I spent about 4 hours at Lure Tattoo in Vienna, WV getting my fourth tattoo. Mat Ward, the tattoo artist, created another beautiful piece of art to honor my natural family – this time my natural mom’s family.

From the minute I reunited with my natural mom, the Payne family has been “all in” with me. There was no hesitation in accepting me as part of them, because to them I always have been part of them. The first communications with my natural mom quickly escalated to calls with Grandma Audrey, email exchanges with Aunt Arlene, Aunt Teresa, and Uncle Kenny, and additional Facebook friends in the form of my brothers (Damon and Jared) and sister-in-law (Anyse). When I met many of the Payne family members during the spring and summer of 2012, it was like I had come home after being on an extended trip and just needed to get acquainted with everyone again. I have no idea why God made our genetic connections so powerful, but it has been a blessing to me in reuniting with the Payne family.

The tattoo is a very special design based on some key moments in the reunion process with my natural mom.

  • There are two dates – March 20, 1975 and February 19, 2012 – which are our separation and reunion dates. March 20 is my birthday and February 19 is the day we first spoke.
  • The tattoo also features a river that separates over a hill into two branches and eventually comes back together over another horizon. Having come from the same source, we were separated, but are now united again. The river is particularly important because very early on in our reunion, my natural mom sent me a photo of rivers merging with a promise that she would not allow anything to separate us again.
  • The river also has significance because one of my favorite songs is “Aqueous Transmission” by Incubus, which includes the lyrics, “I’m building an antenna, transmissions will be sent. When I am through maybe we can meet again, further down the river. And share what we both discovered, then revel in the view.”
  • The landscape scene is “framed” in a heart-shaped bouquet of flowers with the family name “Payne” at the top, representing the love that my natural mom and the rest of the Payne family had for me regardless of the fact I was separated from them.

The tattoo is on my upper right leg. I tried to be modest in having the photo taken, but please forgive me if you are seeing more of my upper leg than you desired to see.

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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

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.

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image 2

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Becky in Crib

Becky Christmas

Becky 3rd grade