Tag Archives: Creme de la Creme

On DNA

For a teeny-weeny double helix, DNA sure packs a punch.

A couple of readers asked earlier this year what I thought about how one’s DNA answers the question “who are you?”  — especially in light of adoption. This was back when Who Do You Think You Are? debuted on NBC (it is scheduled to return next month).

So I had to sit down and think some thoughts.

I’m not a genealogist, but I do enjoy looking at old photo albums that belonged to my grandparents and that feature their parents. The generation of my great-grandparents goes back to the 1880s, and we don’t have any photographs from before that time.

I enjoy the stories of my maternal Scotch-Irish grandfather, who grew up in a sod house in Nebraska, a twin and one of nine children. I mourn that I don’t know much about my paternal Jewish grandmother’s history, other than the fact that her father owned a shoe store in Manhattan. She converted to Catholicism before my Dad was born, and her Jewishness was hidden from us until a decade before her death. I missed out on some of my heritage.

When you think about it, isn’t it amazing to contemplate a thread that goes back farther than your mind can grasp? That there is an unbroken line from you stretching to the dawn of humankind? That line, and the relationship webs that accompany it, connects each of us to every person who has ever taken a breath on this planet.

Teeny-weeny DNA makes me think gigantic thoughts like that.

DNA and the role of genetics can weigh even more heavily on people  involved in adoption. Adoptees grow up with the biology of one clan and the biography of another, and are sometimes unsupported in healing that split. Adoptive parents must accept that they have no hereditary influence on their child. Birth parents may grapple with the idea that a child of their own genetic line was lost to them.

So the question is: do I like poring over those musty photo albums because the people in them are part of my genetic line? Or do I like poring over those musty photo albums because I can see the people who raised the people who raised me?

It’s probably both. Nature AND nurture both play a role in my fascination with my roots.

I don’t have to put nature and nurture in a hierarchy because in my case they are the same. But people who were adopted are often asked to rank their influences. Who made you MORE of who you are — your parents or your birth parents?  In asking the question that can’t be answered, there is no win, only loss, because the question itself emphasizes and reinforces the split.

Why can’t we simply acknowledge that both biology and biography are important? Why don’t we move from either/or-thinking to and-thinking? I’m not even talking about 50-50 or equal measures because some things should not be put on a scale.

I’m just saying that DNA matters. And as a mom via adoption, that doesn’t bother me at all.

Because I matter, too.

A moment in open adoption parenting

Tessa was distraught, after a Halloween party, for not getting the nod for a sleepover at her aunt’s house. The excitement of the kid-oriented haunted house, the disappointment about the sleepover and a sugar high made for a meltdown.

I got her into the car and she continued to wail about how mean her dad and I are. Roger and Reed were in the other car (long logistical explanation), so Tessa and I had some rare alone car time.

The wailing changed tone as we headed home.

“Why can’t Crystal and Joe be my parents!? I have never even been with both of them at the same time!”

Whoa.

I silenced the GPS lady so I could focus. Here’s a slowdown of my processes during moments like this.

  1. Calm, center, open. Breathe, and be aware of my breathing.
  2. Listen. Let her do most of the talking.
  3. Assess. What is she really saying or asking?
  4. Trade places. What might this look like, feel like, to her?
  5. Abide. Give her space to feel her feelings.
  6. Speak. Equal parts head and heart.

Following are the salient parts from the ensuing conversation, which lasted about a half an hour and culminated while we cuddled in her bed.

“Tell me more,” I said while driving home.

“If they got together, maybe they would LIKE each other. And then…”

“And then…?” (pause) “And then they could be your parents?”

“Yes.” (pause) “But Joe is married, and Crystal has Luke.” (pause) “They will never be married, will they, Mom?”

Now, the best thing I did here was not personalize this and make it about ME. Her words, and the thoughts behind them, had NOTHING to do with her feelings for Roger and me, her attachment to us, her love for us. The best way for me to help her find resolution about having two sets of parents, and about her own road not taken is NOT to pretend that one set of parents doesn’t exist, is NOT to feel bad that I can’t be everything to her, is NOT to “fix” it for her by pointing out all she does have.

It’s by giving her space and support to find her own way.

“No, Sweetheart. They were together many years ago, but they were not a good match. You know, don’t you, that they both love you?”

“Yeah, I know that. But why aren’t they my mom dad?”

“Would you like me to tell you the story again? After we get home we can cuddle and talk.”

“Yes!”

10 minutes later we pulled into the garage. Tessa got on her jammies and brushed her teeth. We climbed into her bed, about an hour past normal bedtime.

“Crystal and Joe were very young. Twenty may not sound like young to you, but it’s a time when some people don’t have a lot of skills in dealing with other people, with being frustrated. You know that class we took together, Taming the Anger Monster? Well, at that time, neither Crystal nor Joe had learned how to tame their anger monsters.

“They broke up because they were hurting each other. With words — you know that words can hurt. And as much as they both loved you, they knew that neither one was able to give you a stable home, a calm home. At that time. You needed a forever family then, though. And that’s what you got. Daddy and I will always be your mom and dad, no matter what.

“The Crystal and Joe you know now are different from who they were then. It’s OK to imagine what life with them would be like. What do you think?”

“Well…I would have an older brother from Crystal. And a younger sister from Joe. I’m not sure if we would live at Crystal’s house or at Joe’s house. And I would probably go to a different school. One I don’t even know. I might not even know Reed. Or Grandma and Grandpa. Or the OTHER Grandma and Grandpa. And all my aunts — I wouldn’t have any aunts! That would be weird.”

“It would be very different, wouldn’t it? You can tell a thousand stories of what your life is not. And only ONE story of what your life IS. This is your life, Tessa. Lots of people around who love you now and forever, including Crystal and Joe, daddy and me. All of Crystal’s family, all of Joe’s family, all of our family.”

“Mama,” she said sleepily, the anxiety and sadness gone for now, “I love you.”

“I love you, too Tessa.”

*****

There probably were wiser words I could have said, and things I shouldn’t have said. I’m putting this out there because in this space I try to share (within the limits I’ve set regarding Tessa’s privacy) as many facets of open adoption parenting as I can. It’s important to know that “open adoption” isn’t just something you do when you exchange photos, send emails, have a visit. It’s something that can come up even when you have other plans.

Image: JewelBasket.com

Please see my response to the reader comments (below) at my follow-up post, Hotel Rwanda and open adoption parenting.

Presence

I wait in the clearing for them to join me. It is my celebration, after all.

The sun is shining, bathing the lea in a warm glow. There is an entire meadow of soft greenery for us to dig our toes into. Nothing sharp, nothing dangerous, nothing to mar our time together. There is just the slightest breeze. The sky is the most pleasant timeless blue imaginable.

The first to arrive is a girl about 8 years old. Her skin has a sage tint, the downshot of difficulties in breathing. She brings me worms, leftover from when she gathered a bunch for her sister’s birthday. For some reason she thought worms would make a good gift. She is a bundle of fears, although she is well-fed and well-loved. I just want to hold her while she breathes. I want to breathe for her.

Soon, the 17-year old comes upon us, all arms and legs and attitude. She is skittish, like a colt, just waiting to be hurt. It’s because Doug, her boyfriend, has just dumped her for the 4th time. Well, they’ve broken up 4 times, but she was the dumper at least once. I think about telling her there will be many more heartbreaks, and that she’ll have ample opportunity to be on both ends of them. Each one hurts, but when it’s all said and done, she’ll be thankful that she and Doug (and the many that follow him) parted. I’d tell her, but she wouldn’t believe me. She hands me her diary, the one she just started and intends to keep for the rest of her life.

The next young woman arrives in a black gown and mortarboard and with a gold cord dangling from collar to waist. You can feel the promise that fills her. She looks both ready to tackle and tame the world and also petrified of taking her next step. She will face rejection after rejection before she comes on a job with a meager paycheck that will fulfill her emotional, if not monetary, needs. She is planning a wedding, but is having thoughts of calling the whole thing off. The burden of this thought weighs down her shoulders. I whisper to her, “listen to your gut.” She looks at me hopefully and shows me the keys to her first apartment. Where she will live alone.

A very sad woman enters our circle. She’s in her 30s and she’s been crying, crying, crying. The losses she has endured have sucked the very life out of her. She has beautiful, glorious child-bearing hips, which are going to waste. Her dreams have evaporated. She feels alone (although, still well-loved) and without hope. We instinctively move toward her, trying to sense if she will allow us to comfort her. I barely recognize this woman — the toll has been so drastic. Can’t she see that this chapter, like all the others before, will end? Her hands hold only tissues full of tears.

The next woman to grace the clearing has graying hair, still long like I knew she would. She is weary — after all, she is raising teenagers. The one knows how to trip all her wires and the other is just growing up and away too quickly. She has a peace about her…the peace that comes from repeatedly being shown that this, too, shall pass. Her eyes pierce through me, chiding me for my petty complaints about the drains of childrearing. She has brought me a watch — one that ticks twice as fast as normal.

We turn to receive our final guest. She walks toward the west and is a few inches shorter than the rest of us grown women –still a head taller than the child. She is white-gray in hair, fissured of skin, and her eyes and lips have lost several shades of their original vibrancy. For all her physical feebleness, the corners of her mouth are upturned. Her eyes are kind, and she exudes patience. Like the sky above us, there is something timeless about her. She extends only her trembling hand, representative of the enduring body that houses her immortal spirit.

These are my Selves. They have come to honor the fact that I have been on the planet for another turn around the sun. They bring me their tokens and dreams and insights. I envelope them and am enveloped by them. One by one, I welcome each into my heart, accepting the gifts they have brought. I acknowledge the gift she is, she is, she is, she is, she is, she is.

I am.

Image: C Victor Posing Studios