Adoption: Badge of Honor or Scarlet Letter? Your Choice
“How does it feel to know that your mother did not want you?”
I took a step back thinking that I must have heard her wrong. Searching the faces of the girls next to me on the playground, I hoped to find shock and awe, but instead, they were all looking at the same spot on the ground. Either I had missed the memo that intense staring would part dirt like Moses at the Red Sea, or they were equally as mortified.
Suddenly, I was inside a Dali painting, and everything started to spin. I remember feeling great shame for the first time in my life, and the irony was that it was for something that I had no control over.
I scanned Alicia’s face for some remorse, or at least a small gesture of back-pedaling, but instead she just stared straight into my eyes awaiting a response, completely unaware of the callousness of her words.
“But, don’t you want to know who your real mother is?”
Real mother? What does that mean anyway? Even twenty years after being reunited with my birthmother, I still struggle with the words real mother. What makes one mother more “real” than another, and what message do we send to ourselves and others when we demean one, and award one dominion over the other?
Although, I will say that for the most part, being adopted did not affect my life on a daily basis, over the years I did become a pro at filing away certain memories in a shoebox marked—“Reminders that you are different” when others offered a badge to jog my memory.
Each annual school physical, the nurses reminded me with their apologetic looks when I told them I did not know my family medical history; classmates, not so subtly, pointed behind my back as they shared my secret each time a new student arrived, and I found myself face to face with several other Alicia’s over the years asking, “but don’t you want to know why your mom gave you away?” “Which mother are you talking about?,” and “who do you consider your real mom?,” with the same inflection that someone asks what kind of sandwich you brought for lunch.
And my favorite were the teachers after learning of my scarlet letter, who whispered in my ear before the family tree assignments, “well, just fill in what you know, and make up the rest.” Boy, were they clueless that I had already done that assignment numerous times before.
Sure, when I was mad at my folks a time or two, I had created my own fantasy world with famous parents, clutched my hairbrush and sang Maybe from Annie more times than I can remember, and sharpened my comeback skills “Well, my parents waited two years for me, but yours HAD to take you.”
Thankfully, all adoptees have (or learn) great coping skills, ways to compartmentalize information, mad skills as word sleuths to be able to create alternate definitions for words like “mother,” “real,” and “family,” and distinct abilities to create a vivid fantasy world to enter any time others call our own existence into question.
It is a unique and magical place that gives Alice in Wonderland a run for its money, protecting us from words, thoughts and myths forced onto us by ourselves and others about who we are, and what we MUST think and feel.
I lived as a victim of my differences at times over the years, but it all accelerated once my birth family appeared. That’s when I really started to feel sorry for myself, asking why I had to go through so much, and why people had to be so insensitive with their comments and questions. I cursed having to re-examine myself, learn new “languages” to communicate with both families, and essentially find out that I might be someone very different than I thought I was, just when I thought I finally had a handle on everything.
I lashed out, judged others, thought I knew everything, imagined that I could ‘save’ others and teach them the ‘truth.’ I screamed and yelled, though mostly to my hairbrush and the help of Christina Aguilera, Alanis Morrisette and Peggy Lee, and lived as the peace-maker between my two families until realizing that was just a cover for being a control freak.
And then one day, I woke up and decided to leave that limited place. I understood that it was my choice to stay a victim and continually bang my head against a wall, or drink the potion and keep moving on no matter how bizarre, like Alice had, finding new solutions in life’s journey and truly reaching a place that embodied “everything happens for a reason.” I had surrounded myself with that saying for years, so why had I not truly embraced it?
I am out of the rabbit hole, and can tell you, there is great wisdom on the other side of fear and judgment, changing your mind about old ideas, and learning that truth is not absolute, but instead relative, and once you break out of thinking you know everything, ironically, you find that true insight, understanding, and peace were waiting patiently for you all along.
Yes, our upbringing, whatever it is, shapes us, but that we also have a distinct personality at birth, and it takes both, along with how we choose to utilize the skills we learn throughout life, and direct those we were born with, to define us.
I am not going to say that I still don’t want to give a Texas titty-twister to some folks from time to time with their insensitive comments, but in the end in a strange way, I also thank them.
They forced me to question all that I knew to be true, and to see that being different is a positive attribute. In fact, now instead of hiding my shoebox highlighting my differences, it has a prominent place in my room next to my fairy princess pink hammer and diamond tiara that give me the strength to smack any negative thoughts away.
I learned that once you have traveled more than one road, or been forced to step outside yourself, you see the rhetoric that we are fed daily that is meant to divide us for what it is, and discover that underneath everything, we all really want the same things, even if our roads to get there look different at first glance.
Now instead of looking for differences between people, I search for the bridges that connect us all.
And most importantly, I learned that there is great power in our words, thoughts and myths, and though there is little that I can control in my daily life, I always have control over those three.