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.

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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.

Adoption, Search and Reunion, and God

I found out I was adopted very young. I didn’t really know how to handle the whole concept for a while, but as I got older it became a much bigger deal in my life. I would sit for hours and wonder who my natural parents were, what they looked like, what they enjoyed doing, if they had other kids, etc., etc. I had ridiculous thoughts about who they could be and at very trying moments in my adolescence even made up stories about it – which I understand is common among adopted children, but it makes me no less embarrassed and remorseful.

After I turned 18, I thought about starting the search process, but I ultimately decided against it. Repeat process at 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 years of age. At 25, I decided to take the first step and retrieve non-identifying information about my natural parents. I found out a few facts in that process, and the information satisfied me for a while, but then I needed to know more. So I started the search and reunion process through the State of Tennessee on several occasions, ultimately stopping each time because I felt like the door to that part of my life was closed.

At 38 and two years into the search and reunion process, I see things a little differently and that’s what I want to share today. I’m going to put the rest of this post in bullets because the thoughts are varied and it may help me keep common thoughts together.

  • Information and relationship aren’t the same thing. For a long time, I truly believe I just wanted information about my natural parents. I wanted facts and figures, but I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I needed to know who I looked like, but didn’t necessarily want to see myself in that person on a daily basis. I wanted to know where my personality traits came from, but didn’t necessarily want to add another person to my circle of family and friends. I thought it would be cool to meet my natural parents, but didn’t necessarily want to invest the time and energy it would take to heal any wounds from our separation. Information is easy. Relationship is not.
  • I have repeated the same process with God. The interesting thing about having parents you’ve never met is that you can make them into whatever you want them to be. You can create the best pictures or the worst pictures depending on your mood on that particular day. And when you get information about them, you can begin to feel satisfied just knowing some facts and figures. After all, reconciling with a mom and dad who decided to relinquish you (and their parental rights) to another family would be messy and painful. At various points in my life, I’ve felt that exact same way about God. I knew all the facts and figures, but I hesitated to really know God because that meant I had to give something of myself. I had to deal with my feelings of anger and resentment about times I felt like he abandoned me. I had to address what appeared to be contradictions in his nature. I had to do something in response to his desire for a relationship with me. And that’s just not easy all the time.
  • Reality is better than imagination. Developing relationships with my natural parents and other members of my natural families has been one of the most deeply rewarding experiences of my life. My natural parents are actually way cooler than any picture I created of them. And once I decided that I wasn’t going to hold my natural parents accountable for decisions they made when they were teenagers, the whole concept of search and reunion changed for me. I began to embrace the potential of having a relationship with each of them and moving forward. I still have questions about the past, and I ask those when they surface in my mind, but there are no wrong answers. Just honest answers.  And that makes the reality of relationship with them better than anything I imagined. The relationships aren’t perfect, but they are real, and that makes them as close to perfect as human relationships will get.
  • I want to get better about relationship with God. I’m not sure how much I really know God versus imagine what he’s like and have information about God versus having relationship with him, but I think it’s time to address that situation. Because he is perfect and whatever I imagine about him pales in comparison to how awesome he really is and that’s exciting to me. So I think it’s time I started a search and reunion process with God. If you are interested in joining me, let me know.

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!

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 🙂

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.