Tag Archives: adoptive parents

Adoption

Hiding Adoption from Adoptees: It Still Happens

I thought parents no longer hid adoption from their sons and daughters. Moms and dads broach the topic with their children at a young age, explaining what adoption means in simple terms and letting the little ones ask questions. At least that’s how my friends and acquaintances handled it with their kids.

Unfortunately, though, some adoptive parents never tell their children. For whatever reason, they feel compelled to hide the adoption from the adoptee, who grows up believing lies about her family.

If you don’t think telling your child the truth is the right thing to do, then consider how difficult or impossible it will be to hide the adoption forever. In spite of your best efforts to conceal the adoption, it will come to light eventually and you will have to face your son or daughter and deal with a damaged relationship.

Cousins Talk, Adoption Revealed

Here’s a recent example. In a support group, a man revealed that his cousin, a woman in her 30s, did not know she was adopted. Everyone in her extended family knew, everyone except for her. The guy felt burdened by the knowledge. He thinks his cousin should know. He tried to persuade his aunt, the woman’s adoptive mother, to tell her daughter but the aunt refused. She told him to butt out.

The discussion generated dozens of comments, with most commenters in favor of telling the woman but recognizing the truth, especially coming at this late date, would cause inevitable pain. One commenter noted it would be better for the woman to hear it from her mother rather than through a DNA test.

Ultimately, the man bravely told his cousin about her adoption. This guy had the guts to do the right thing, knowing it would turn her life upside down and possibly cause family trouble.

I think his conscious and thoughtful decision to tell his cousin the truth signals how times have changed. I was born in the 1960s and never knew I was adopted. Everyone in my extended family knew but nobody breathed a word. Adoption was the elephant in the room. My sister, Melissa, confirmed everything with one phone call to a cousin. We were in our 30s when we learned about our adoptions.

When to Tell Your Child She’s Adopted

For adoptive parents, the question should not be “do I tell my daughter she’s adopted,” but “when do I tell her?”

Experts encourage adoptive parents to explain adoption to kids at a young age, though exactly when is open to debate. Some experts think it’s best to tell the child  when he is between the ages of 6 and 8, while others believe children may benefit from knowing about their adoption at an earlier age.  While talking about adoption can be a nerve-wracking experience, adoptive parents should realize telling the child is their obligation.

The adoption talk doesn’t get easier with the passage of time. Putting off the discussion only makes it harder for the adoptee to process the truth. And there’s always a chance the adoptee will find out from someone else.

These days, it’s not realistic to expect an adoption to stay hidden. Anyone who thinks she’s adopted can confirm her suspicions with a DNA test or just by calling the right cousin.

It’s disrespectful for parents to not tell their sons and daughters the truth. Adopted people deserve to know about their biological origins just like everyone else in the family. If parents could trade places with their child, they’d understand why this basic knowledge about one’s identity is so important.

The renowned author Alex Haley eloquently summed up this need:

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” 

 

 

 

Adoptive Parents and Biological Parents

When I set out to discover the families I was related to by blood, more than anything I wanted to learn my family history. As an adult adoptee, I needed to find my roots. I wanted to meet my birth parents and other blood relatives if they were open to it.

But I didn’t yearn for new parents. After all, it wasn’t as though I grew up without a mother and father. Claire and Bob, my adoptive parents, raised me from infancy. They showed up and did the things parents are supposed to do. Dad chased down Maureen Murphy after she jumped me on the stairs outside of our elementary school. My father taught me how to drive. When I was about 17, Mom and Dad lined up an entry-level job for me at Talman Home, a savings and loan in our neighborhood.

My parents lost sleep when I ran around on Friday and Saturday nights with friends. (This was before young people used cell phones to ignore text messages from their parents.) Mom, Dad and I argued over my running around, smoking, friends, boyfriends and spending habits.

Bob and Claire never wanted their young single daughters to move out but I flew the coop when I was in my early 20s. Once they calmed down, my parents helped me settle into my single girl apartments. Our relationship improved.

My Adoptive Parents, Warts and All

Like all parents, my mother and father were flawed. They fought constantly. At least that’s how it seemed. Their bickering sounded like nails against chalkboard, an unpleasant, unrelenting racket that filled our home with ugliness. If only their fights had been a TV show, I would have switched channels after the first 30 seconds.

Living with old-fashioned parents, I felt oppressed. Traveling with friends to Cancun for spring break, going away to college, working as the editor of the college newspaper, my parents put the kibosh on everything I wanted to do.

More importantly, though, I wish my adoptive parents had been honest with me. I grew up unaware that I was not related by blood to any members of my immediate or extended families. Everyone in my mother’s extended family knew I was adopted except for Melissa and me. I’ll bet the neighbors, my teachers, even the mailman probably knew. When I found out, I felt like a fool. It’s taken me years to process and come to terms with the big lie upon which my childhood was built.

Adoptive parents
My adoptive parents, Claire and Bob, and me on my wedding day

My Birth Parents — the Mom and Dad I Never Knew

While I never wanted new parents, I regret not getting to know Lillian and Steve, my birth parents. I will never know the sound of their voices, the things that made them laugh or how they sounded when they laughed.

In a different reality, I imagine the three of us sitting down and talking over coffee at a restaurant. I would have asked a million questions, taken notes, looked into their eyes, studied their faces and features, checked out their clothes, taken note of how they took their coffee. Maybe they didn’t drink coffee.

Lillian and Steve, their gestures, mannerisms, personalities, habits, opinions and interests, all buried along with them.

birth mother
My birth mother, Lillian
Biological father
My biological father, Steve

Sometimes adoptees connect with their birth parents in ways that were never possible with their adoptive folks. Who knows what would have happened if I had gotten to know Lillian and Steve? Maybe we would have hit it off.

Even so, I cannot imagine thinking of my birth parents as Mom and Dad. Claire and Bob will always be Mom and Dad.

I’d love to hear from other adoptees who’ve gotten to know their bio parents. Feel free to share your stories in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Meeting Bio Cousins, Uncovering History at Family Reunion

Adoption search journeys are not for the faint of heart. Recently, I traveled to southern Indiana for a big family reunion of cousins on my birth mother’s side.  Though the cousins are my blood relatives, they were strangers to me.

I’d never been this far south in the Hoosier state. Daviess County, Indiana looked and sounded nothing like the concrete jungles where I’ve lived most of my life. Cornfields, critters, big open skies, winding roads and Amish buggies – that’s what you find in Daviess County. Sirens, car alarms, honking horns, endless construction and millions of vehicles and people rushing around – that’s what I’m used to in Brooklyn.

My birth mother, Lillian, would have felt right at home in this little farm town, just seven miles east of her birthplace.

Far from feeling at home, I felt anxious as I parked the rental car at the Amish hotel in the town of Montgomery. In a few minutes, I would meet blood relatives on Lillian’s side.

I didn’t know what to expect at this family reunion. Growing up with my adoptive parents and sister, Melissa (also adopted), I saw my extended family at weddings, showers, wakes or funerals in the suburbs of Chicago. I loved spending time with my cousins and aunts and craved more time with them.  Most of my childhood unfolded at a painfully slow and boring pace – or so it felt – in our bungalow in Gage Park, just Mom, Dad, Melissa and me. I felt isolated and different from my parents.

A Chance to Learn About Family History

As an adoptee wanting to learn about my roots, I was intrigued by the prospect of meeting  new blood relatives. I knew the Arvin-Armstrong reunion would be different from anything I’d ever experienced. (In case you’re wondering, the Arvins and Armstrongs are linked by marriage. Somewhere back in time, two Arvin siblings married two Armstrong siblings, blending the families and creating double first cousins along the way. I’m related by blood to the Arvins.)

I had no idea what the vibe would feel like or whether I’d hit it off with my cousins.  I wondered if I would feel like an outsider in someone else’s family. Throughout my childhood, I felt like an outsider, which is common for adoptees.

My cousins probably would be curious about me, the adoptee who didn’t find out I was adopted until age 38. People find my story interesting even though they cannot relate to it.

After six years of learning about my biological family and getting acquainted with a few relatives, you’d think I would be an old hand at first meetings with new blood relatives. In 2015, I met my half-sister, Michelle, and her daughter, Chrissy, in Galveston, Texas. In 2017, I bonded with another new half-sister, Stephanie, and niece Rachel, on my home turf in Brooklyn. Earlier this year, I spent a week hanging out with Stephanie in our home state of Illinois. All of those experiences were rewarding (and none of us ran out of things to talk about!)

But unlike a family reunion, those first meetings were small in size. The Arvin-Armstrong family reunion brings dozens of siblings and first cousins together for three days of conversation and meals. The siblings and first cousins have a lifetime of shared history and memories that makes the reunion easy and comfortable. As the newcomer, I would not be so comfortable.

My cousin, Shannon, who invited me to the reunion, put me in contact with Helen, my cousin Jim’s wife. Helen assured me the relatives are friendly and that I’d learn a lot more about my bio family if I made the trip. I could hang out with her and Jim.  Ok, that did it. I booked a trip to Indiana.

At the hotel, I spotted a group of people talking outside of the hotel entrance. Are those people my cousins, I wondered as I wheeled my carry-on to the inn’s front door. Helen saw me approach.

Meeting My Blood Relatives, Learning About Ancestors

“Lynne, you made it,” she said, smiling broadly as she reached out to shake my hand. Helen introduced me to Jim, Rod and Lynn and their spouses. Jim, Rod and Lynn are first cousins to one another and second cousins to me. Like me, they traveled from other states for this reunion.

That was the beginning of many more introductions I’d make over three days. The Arvins and Armstrongs welcomed me with warmth and kindness and regaled me with tidbits and stories about our ancestors.

My cousin, Afra, who I met at one of the dinners, knew I wanted to learn more about my maternal family history. An avid genealogist, Afra brought heavy binders containing photos, obituaries and other historical documents. She offered to make copies of any photos I wanted.

Flipping through the pages of a binder, I felt a thrill when we reached the George Arvin section. For years, I’d wondered what my grandfather looked like and now, for the first time, I gazed at photos of George, taken when he was a young man

My maternal grandfather George Arvin and his daughter Mary
My maternal grandfather, George Arvin, with his daughter Mary

In the 1920s and ‘30s, George and his wife, Susan Melissa, were a young married couple with lots of kids, a dozen or more. Raising a big family during the Depression must have been difficult for many people. George struggled to hold down a job. Though he made a little money doing various jobs, even raising raccoons for their pelts, George was not a good provider. I’ve heard that he got arrested for stealing a loaf of bread just likeJean Valjean in “Les Miserables.”

My Grandfather: A Black Sheep?

George wasn’t around much. He deserted the family a couple of times, eventually settling in Minnesota where he died. His family in Indiana struggled. Social workers found foster homes for the children. George and Susan divorced.

In the photos, George has a long face and serious expression. In one photo, an adorable baby is perched on a table next to her daddy, George, who wore suspenders and a brimmed hat that covered most of his hair. The little girl was Mary Arvin, who was only 11 when she died.

Afra’s binders contained a slew of photos I’d never seen before. Pictures of my grandmother, Susan, George and Susan’s sons and daughters, George’s siblings, Susan’s sisters, George’s parents, Susan’s parents, all preserved for posterity. These are my ancestors, I thought as I studied the black-and-white images of mostly unsmiling men, women and children.

My biological grandmother, Susan Melissa
My maternal grandmother, Susan Melissa, was only 19 when she got married.

I felt like I had just hit a genealogical jackpot.

From talking to my cousins, I learned a lot about more distant ancestors. One of my late cousins, Charles, better known by his middle name, Bob, spent three years as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II. Another cousin named Bob ran unsuccessfully for Indiana Attorney General in 1980. One ancestor sired 19 children with two wives. Some Arvins were Catholic, some were Protestant.

Listening to all the stories and connecting the names with the faces made my head spin. I felt stimulated by the openness.

Daviess and Martin counties are full of graveyards. With my cousin Jim and Helen, I visited Oak Grove Cemetery in Washington, the town where Lillian was born. It was exciting to find Susan Melissa Arvin’s headstone in section D.

My grandmother Susan Melissa Arvin's headstone
My grandmother Susan Melissa Arvin is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Daviess County, Indiana.

In Loogootee, we visited Truelove Cemetery, the final resting place for many of my ancestors including my aunt, Mary C. Arvin, who died at age 11.

Making Memories with My Blood Relatives

The fun started at my cousin Jason’s place near Loogootee. He lives on a big parcel of farmland with persimmon trees, horses, cows and at least one friendly dog. Jason and his family live in the same modest home where his mother, Frannie, and her four siblings grew up. They maintain an equestrian center where local kids come for riding lessons. Jason keep bees and makes and decorates fancy cakes. His two younger children have amassed a huge collection of 4-H trophies, which are on display In the house.

Jason drove us around the property on a golf cart. Riding on the open seat in back, I tightened my grip after we hit a couple of spots hard on the way to see the steers. What if I tumble off this golf cart, I thought, not wanting to make a fool out of myself or mess up my clothes.

Helen sensed my anxiety. “Jim, let Lynne sit in the front with Jason,” Helen told her husband. We switched seats. In the front seat, I could see what was coming along the path.

Some of my cousins traveled from Florida, California, Illinois and Michigan for this reunion, which has been an annual event since the 1960s. On each of the three days,  there had to be 35 to 40 or more people who gathered for meals and conversations about family, houses, jobs, pets, genealogy and travel. Politics never came up.

Abby and Frannie, my second cousins on my birth mother Lillian's side of the family
Abby and Frannie, my second cousins on my birth mother Lillian’s side of the family
Here I am with my second cousin, Jim, and his wife, Helen
Here I am with my second cousin, Jim, and his wife, Helen
Blood relatives
My cousins Jason, Frannie, Autumn and Rod (in the black shirt)

Several times I found myself repeating the story of learning that I was adopted as an adult and searching for my biological parents. My cousins seemed to sympathize and understand my need to uncover the family history that had been hidden from me for most of my life.

I liked the friendly, relaxed vibe. On the last day of the reunion, I hugged and shook hands with my cousins at Whitfield Hall, where we gathered for salads, fried chicken and lots of desserts. Whitfield is in Martin County, next to the St. Martin Catholic Cemetery, where more than 100 Arvins are buried.

I felt satisfied as I traveled back to New York with copies of family photos and historical records packed in my carry-on.

This must be how you make family history, I thought,  when you find your blood relatives later in life. I felt closer to my biological roots.

The next time I go to the reunion, I’ll leave the anxiety at home.

 

 

birth mother

Exploring my birth mother’s Indiana roots

As I drove south on Interstate 69, the green rectangular sign for Daviess County on the right gave me a jolt. Up until now, Daviess County was an unfamiliar location listed on the digital records I had found for my birth mother Lillian, not a real place that I could see up close.

A child of the Great Depression, Lillian spent her childhood and adolescence in Daviess County. She lived briefly with her large, impoverished family before she was sent away to live with strangers who took her in as a foster child.

I was about to see the places where my birth mother and her family had lived, places I’d never been to before. It felt exciting to be near Lillian’s roots in rural southern Indiana.

Continue reading Exploring my birth mother’s Indiana roots

Adoptive Mom Feels Left Out Of Son’s Reunion with Birthmother

I tried to read between the lines as I perused the letter from the adoptive mom who feels excluded from the unfolding relationship her adult son is having with his natural mother.

It’s not clear if Mom or Dad wrote the letter to The Ethicist at the New York Times but let’s assume Mom wrote it. She portrays herself as a supportive mother who has always been open with her son about his birth parents and adoption, who made adoption a part of his life story and followed the rules of the adoption agreement. The adoptive parents even agreed to the natural mom’s request that they attend therapeutic meetings with adoption experts. The meetings were set up “because (the natural mom) wanted to loosen the arrangements and spend time with our son,” the adoptive mom wrote.

Adoption Agreement Stipulates Rules

Adoptee and birthmother reunite
Adopting a child is complicated for everyone in the family

When mom and presumably her husband adopted their son, they reached an agreement that stipulated they would provide pictures and updates once a year and be open to answering any letters the natural mother sent to the adoption agency. The agreement permitted the adopted boy to search for his birth parents with permission from his adoptive parents after he reached 18; after age 25, he would be allowed to search without permission from his adoptive parents.

At some point, the natural mom wrote to her son’s adoptive parents expressing an interest in opening the adoption arrangement. Naturally, the letter startled the parents who opposed any changes to the original agreement.

“Every expert we met with advised us that we should stick with the original parameters of our agreement,” Mom wrote.

Birthmother Contacts Son, Upsets Adoptive Mom

When their son left for college, he told his parents that his first mother had contacted him via the Internet. While on a college break, he revealed that his first mother had asked him to attend her wedding. The young man and his natural mother eventually reunited and since then have gotten together a few times. While he didn’t initiate the search, he didn’t rebuff his mother’s overtures. It seems he finds value in having a relationship with his first mother. Maybe they have bonded emotionally.

Meanwhile, his adoptive parent feels left out.

“This is not the connected, united family situation we were hoping we could offer our son,” she wrote.

Mom thinks the natural mother “placed our son in the middle of a difficult situation.” She resents the natural mother for circumventing the rules of the adoption agreement.

Adoption Rules Infantilize Adoptee

While it’s true the birth mother violated the rules, let’s look at the rules. I think they infantilize the adopted son. People who are 18 drive cars, work, pay taxes, marry, have babies, vote, and in some states buy guns legally. Under this adoption agreement, the young man was not allowed to search for his bio parents without permission from his adoptive parents until age 25. That’s ridiculous.

While the adoptive mom says she’s glad her son and his other mother have met, she seems a little threatened by their relationship, a development she was not able to manage. While she portrays this as a difficult situation for her son, it seems to be more of a problem for her, a situation she’d like to control but cannot.

My advice to the adoptive mom is don’t go where you’re not wanted. The birth mother doesn’t want a relationship with you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe she’ll change her mind some day but don’t count on it. Treat your son like an adult. Support him and show him you love him. Don’t interfere in his relationship with his other mother.

As Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote in his response, the adoptee can bring all of his parents together some day if he wants to.

What did you think of the adoptive mom’s reaction and Appiah’s advice? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

 

You’re Adopted: The Late Discovery Adoptee’s Moment of Truth

It hurts to find out, as an adult, that you were adopted.

Every late discovery adoptee’s moment of truth is delivered differently but there’s no way to sugarcoat it. The blow may come in a relatively gentle way as it did for me.

Thirteen years ago, my sister, Melissa, called me one evening. “You and I were both adopted,” she said very matter-of-factly, with no tears or anger in her voice. (Melissa and I both hate drama.) MeIissa, who suspected we had been adopted, confirmed it with a call to our cousin, Gina. Gina had been adopted by a couple who were close friends with our parents. She knew about our adoptions.

I felt stunned and betrayed by my parents. They never so much as hinted at the possibility that I was not their biological daughter.

My parents, Claire and Bob, and me on my wedding day
My parents, Claire and Bob, adopted me without telling me. Here we are on my wedding day

They fooled me and now I felt like an idiot for not having figured it out. Here I was, married, a mother, 38 years old and finding out for the first time that I had been adopted. It must have been obvious to everyone else. Mom and Dad were both in their 50s when Melissa and I were born. Women in their 50s don’t have babies. I should have put two and two together but I didn’t.

Continue reading You’re Adopted: The Late Discovery Adoptee’s Moment of Truth

Advice for Adoptive Parents from an Adoptee

From my own adoption experience and as someone who hangs out with adoptees on Facebook, I know many of us have grievances with our adoptions.

Here’s mine. My parents, Claire and Bob, never told Melissa and me we were adopted. Claire and Bob were recovering from the death of their only child, Bobby, when they decided to adopt a baby girl – that would be me. A year later, Melissa joined our family.

claire, bob and bobby
Bob, Claire and their son, Bobby

Claire and Bob took these “secret” adoptions to their graves. I use the word “secret” ironically since everyone in my family except for Melissa and me knew about our adoptions. I didn’t find out until I was 38 years old. By that time, my parents were both gone so I could not ask them about the adoptions. When I asked my cousins for details, they knew very little so I was left with many unanswered questions.

I don’t like being a late discovery adoptee. Really, who would?

I’ve been thinking about what I would tell a couple planning to adopt a child. I’ve never done it but as a mother, I think I speak for many parents when I say parenthood is a job you can’t really prepare for. Doesn’t matter if you give birth or adopt. No parent knows what she’s getting into when she has a child.

Of course, adopting a child brings with it some special issues. I’ve put together a short list of suggestions for would-be adoptive parents. Call it the “do’s and don’ts” of adoption from the adoptee’s point of view.

• Be straight with your child. Tell her the truth about being adopted. That doesn’t mean you have to reveal every unpleasant detail about the circumstances behind your child’s birth especially if those details are painful. Tact is not a bad thing especially with a little one.

But you owe it to your child to be honest. Yes, adoption is complicated. It’s also one more way to create a family so why hide the truth?  Besides, isn’t it better that the truth comes from you rather than having your child discover the facts on her own? Believe me, if you choose not to tell her, she will find out anyway.

• Don’t play favorites. I cringe when I hear stories from adopted adults who are scarred, having been made to feel like second-class citizens compared to their parents’ biological siblings.

Note to parents: don’t bother adopting if you don’t have a big enough heart to love the child the same way you do your natural offspring. No one ever said blending a family would be easy but I assume as an adopter, you chose to bring a non-biological child into your home. Nobody forced you to do it.  So make the best of the situation, no matter how tough it is. Bend over backwards to make your adopted child feel loved and protected. Be sensitive to her feeling of being different. Whatever you do, don’t make her feel second-class by treating her differently than the other kids in the house.

• Don’t feel threatened. At some point, your adopted child will want to know about her origins. Don’t take it the wrong way when your child asks questions about her birth mother or father. Don’t be offended when she embarks on a search for facts about her biological family. Don’t be hurt when she wants to meet with her blood relatives in person. Understand that your child’s curiosity and need to know are natural.

If you are not adopted, you probably have known about your family since Day One. Your mom and dad filled you in on the story of your birth and the details about your first days of life on this planet. You’re not curious because you know your story. If anything, you take it for granted.

Put yourself in your child’s shoes. If you were adopted, wouldn’t you want to know about your first family? Be supportive of your child’s desire to learn about her kin. Oh, and if you happen to know things about your child’s other family, it’s time to come forward. Don’t be an obstacle in your child’s search for truth. She will appreciate your love and support.

• Educate yourself as much as you can. If you plan to adopt a child from overseas, go into it with your eyes open.  Ask questions. Do your homework. Many children from faraway countries have been hurt. They may have health and behavioral problems that you’ve never heard of. Can you make a lifelong commitment to loving and helping a troubled child? It won’t be easy.

Last year, Reuters exposed the underground practice of “rehoming,” where unhappy parents seek new homes for the kids they regret adopting with no official regulation or oversight. Vulnerable children, many from foreign countries, have ended up in the hands of unfit even dangerous people.

Until I read the articles by Reuters, I never knew giving up was an option for adopters. The idea of adopting a child and then changing your mind when the going gets tough makes me angry. When you adopt a kid, you make a commitment to loving and raising the child. It’s not a consumer purchase.

Before you adopt, ask yourself if you have what it takes to be a good mom or dad even when things become difficult. Maybe you’re up for the challenge. Or maybe not?

Christmas: The Memories and the Questions

Christmas always conjures up memories of Christmases past. This year for the first time, I also wondered about the holiday scene in the home of my first family.

I never knew my biological family so I have no idea how they spent the holidays. Last year was the year I became an enlightened adoptee. I uncovered facts about my birth mother, Lillian, and her four other children, my three half brothers and half sister.  I never knew they existed until a few months ago.

What a discovery! Each time I talked to a relative or friend of the family, I learned something new about my mother or siblings. Every time I turned up a new detail, no matter how small, I felt a sense of satisfaction.  A picture of this family began to form in my mind.

Of course, some of the facts were painful. Only two of my siblings are still living and Lillian is also gone.  Twice divorced, my mother was only 48 years old when she died of breast cancer 30 years ago.

As I’ve written before, we lived parallel lives 35 miles apart in the Chicago area. My adoptive family never crossed paths with my biological family.

I grew up with my parents, Claire and Bob, and sister, Melissa, in a working-class neighborhood of modest bungalows on Chicago’s southwest side. Melissa and I never knew we were not our parents’ biological daughters but we knew something was different. None of the other kids our age had parents old enough to be their grandparents.

I remember nice, quiet Christmases, just the four of us at home. We always had artificial trees. The one I remember the most was a silver tree, which we put up in the living room and covered with ornaments and garland. Claire painstakingly set up a Christmas village under the tree, with decorative villagers, ice skaters, animals and other characters on a bed of white tissue paper. Bob put colorful lights up in the front windows of our bungalow.

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Feelart/Freedigitalphotos.net

We opened our presents on Christmas Eve. Once in a while, we would attend midnight mass but more often, we went to church on Christmas morning. Christmas was one of the few times we ate dinner in the dining room, which was packed with formal dark mahogany furniture, with a chandelier over the table. Baked ham or kielbasa often appeared on the holiday table. It wasn’t fancy but it was always tasty. My parents were not drinkers but they made an exception on Christmas. They served Mogen David at the table in fancy crystal goblets.

Thirty-five miles away, my biological family celebrated Christmas in a modest house in Northbrook. I have faded photos of Lillian with her children standing in front of a green Christmas tree decorated with shiny ornaments and silver tinsel. How noisy must it have been on Christmas day in a house with four excited kids! I imagine it was a little rowdier in Northbrook than it was on the southwest side. All those boys! I never had brothers. What would it have been like to grow up with boys? They were a tight-knit bunch of hard-playing kids, according to my sister, Sissy, who was a tomboy back then.

What was it like in their house on Christmas? Was it chaotic? Fun? Messy? What did they fight about? What did they have for dinner? My imagination will have to make up for my not having been there.

I cherish what I have, the memories of Christmas in Chicago with Claire, Bob and my wonderful sister, Melissa. Blood and genes did not tie us together. The powerful and loving bonds were formed over years of living together and sharing good times, bad times and thousands of ordinary moments.

Pain of Adoptee Rejection

Adoptee rejection stinks. I cringe every time I hear about an adoptee who is rejected by her blood relatives.

For all the happy Hollywood-worthy reunions, there are many sad stories of adoptees who get the cold shoulder from their bio families. This comes after many spend months, even years, looking for blood relatives. I don’t know how frequently it happens but anecdotally, I hear stories of adoptee rejection far too often.

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Adoptee rejection is a risk for adoptees who search for blood relatives. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com)

It’s a shame. How can people be so cavalier toward their own flesh and blood? We are not black sheep. Many adoptees just want to fill in the missing pieces in our history. We want names, faces and a few anecdotes. We are not looking to turn somebody else’s life upside down. Continue reading Pain of Adoptee Rejection

A Toast to Gratitude

Learning about my birth mother makes me feel grateful for what I have.

I started writing about Lillian a few weeks ago. She was born into a large Indiana family in the 1930s. Her parents were overwhelmed by the baker’s dozen of children who filled their rural home. Amidst the stress of being unemployed while trying to support this growing brood during the Great Depression, Lillian’s father, George,  left his family twice – the second time permanently.

nice photo of Lillian and Howard
Lillian, my birth mother

The children were parceled off to different foster homes, where Lillian spent much of her childhood before attending Indiana University and moving to Northbrook, IIl., where she had me in the 1960s.

The stories I have heard rival how people live in Third World countries. People are not supposed to live like farm animals, right? Two relatives have told me that Lillian’s family was so poor – and perhaps had recently lost a home? – that they were forced to make their home in a chicken coop.  The story sounded ridiculous the first time I heard it, but I believe it more after hearing it from another family member.  I have no trouble believing another bit of family history – that Lillian’s brothers occasionally stole chickens to put food on the table.

Me? I’ve never had to steal my supper. I will serve roast turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry orange relish, braised red cabbage and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. At this moment, I have a refrigerator and pantry stuffed with food and I’m not even talking about the Thanksgiving goodies, which I have not bought yet. The abundance makes me feel guilty.

I didn’t know what I was going to find out when I embarked on this journey. Learning about Lillian’s childhood, her family and her problems with alcohol and mental illness has made me look at my life differently. I think about my childhood now and remember the times I enjoyed with my family rather than dwelling on what I never had, couldn’t do and didn’t like.

My adoptive parents, Claire and Bob, came from big families, too. They didn’t have a lot of money. They survived the Depression and knew how to stretch their dollars. Claire and Bob didn’t spoil my adopted sister, Melissa, and me but they loved us and protected us. They were grateful for their girls.

“Children are your millions,” Claire used to say.

Gratitude should not be something we feel only during Thanksgiving week or, in my case, after digging up hard truths about my birth mom and the rocky childhood I escaped.

Gratitude helps people feel happy, according to recent research. Instead of focusing on what I don’t have, I think about the great people, wonderful dogs and other good stuff in my life.

phoebe and maggie looking cute
Phoebe and Maggie,
beagle-dachshund mix

I am trying to make a habit out of feeling grateful. What about you?