What do Cher, President Obama and adoptees have in common?
This earworm was on the radio the other day and made me think of all three.
Half breed. That’s all I ever heard.
Half breed. How I learned to hate the word.
Half breed. She’s no good, they warned.
Both sides were against me since the day I was born.
I felt sorry for the subject of Cher’s song (this was before I saw the size of her waist and the length of her legs on the video — not mustering up much pity for those traits). Must be awful to claim parts of two cultures but to not have them claim you back.
I noticed the same about Barack Obama during the 2008 election. Wikipedia says his mother was “of mostly English ancestry” and that his father was from Kenya. I’m not the first to bring up the fact that some people consider him black (“the country’s first black president”) and others consider him not black enough. While he has claims on multiple heritages, those groups don’t necessarily fully claim him.
Sadly, sometimes a half + a half ≠ a whole.
For both Cher’s character and for Barack Obama, their two halves had trouble existing in harmony with the world at large, in being fully claimed by either of their sides.
Which can also happen with adoptees. I asked my friend Torrejon, who grew up in a closed adoption, about this idea of halves, and she had this to say about adoptee math.
I think it was BJ Lifton who said that adoptees are “betwixt and between” two worlds like Peter Pan. I always hated Peter Pan, maybe that is why. Other people compare being adopted to having one foot on each side of a road. I don’t think of it like either of those analogies. I’ve got both feet on both sides of the road at the same time. I’m not half here and half there…I’m fully both places at the same time. It is counter-intuitive and impossible. Have you ever heard the expression: “Half is something I want no part of”? It is sort of like that. And the Romani gypsies that I know will tell you that they are Spanish and Romani…not half and half…both things. Those two terms are not mutually exclusive nor inclusive. Not 1+1=0…but rather 1+1=1…adoptee math. However, I do think adoptees can end up with a 0 if they are divided into exclusive halves: ½ + ½ = 0
Whatever analogy or model I try to come up with, (haven’t yet found a perfect one) I always test it against my own kids and me. For instance, I’ve got two kids. I’m not half a mother to one, and half a mother to the other; I’m a full mother to both of them. That doesn’t mean I’m two halves…or two people. I’m simply a mom with two kids. So, by extension, I prefer to think of myself as existing fully in my two families. By the way, I don’t presume to speak for others…we’ve all got our own ideas about how to think about this.
Don’t you love how she reverses the generations to make her point? By splitting the parent between the children we can see the ridiculousness of splitting the child between the parents.
The key for adoptive parents, then, is this: how can we ensure that 1+1 = 1, like the Romani gypsy and not ½ + ½ = 0, like Cher and the President? One reason I advocate so strongly for openness is that I believe it provides a way for an adopted child to experience the first formula. Openness helps two halves become whole by having both families — birth and adoptive — fully claim the person.