Whose Eyes Do I Have? Finding Family Connections in Adoption
My eyes are a pale gray. A bit of an anomaly, considering my parents and all of my aunts and uncles have varying shades of brown. A small, select group of my cousins have the bright blue eyes of my maternal grandfather. Though they’re blue, not green, the family calls them Irish eyes because they stem from the Irish side of our family and they seem to appear as if by luck. My eyes, however, aren’t the dancing, shimmering blue of my Papa Joe. Mine are a soft, subtle gray that can sometimes look blue or green, depending on what I’m wearing. For years, I thought I had just a murky, watered-down version of the Irish eyes. Until one day, just a few years ago, my mom corrected me. My paternal grandfather had dark skin, dark hair, and (I always assumed) dark eyes. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. I don’t have murky Irish eyes. My eyes are the exact hue of my paternal grandfather’s. I guess you could say I have Dutch eyes.
It’s a beautiful thing, knowing whose eyes you have. Small, not necessary, but none-the-less a beautiful thing.
My son doesn’t have that luxury.
He lived with his birth mom and occasionally his birth dad until he was five-and-a-half. He has a lot of memories of them, but they’re unclear and as hazy as a road covered with early morning fog. His sharpest memories aren’t good ones. He remembers his mom throwing a shoe at him. He remembers his dad taking him to a party and giving him beer. He remembers his mom sending him to the neighbors to beg for food. But happy moments, which I know existed, seem to blend into the fabric of his past. Try as he might, he can’t extract those kernels of goodness.
My son’s birth mom and dad are a part of our daily lives. Though his memories are dim … though I’ll likely never meet either his mom or dad … they are part of our family. To preserve that, I take opportunities to discuss them. For example, after spending a day boating this past summer my pale Irish skin was burnt to a crisp (despite a thick layer of sunscreen), where his rich golden skin stayed the same. I commented how his skin tone probably comes from his Hispanic heritage (from his mom). We talk about how since he can curl his tongue, one of his parents could probably do that, too. Any little thing that can help him remember that he’s forever connected to his birth mom and dad is important.
But there are traits and characteristics that can’t be traced.
A good friend of mine has a son that looks just like she did when she was little, until he smiles—when he smiles he’s a replica of his father. My oldest niece doesn’t look much like her mother or her father, but her personality is straight from her mom—strong-willed, ambitious, get-it-done-right-now. When you’re blessed to be born into a healthy biological family, you can make these connections. My son can’t.
This beautiful boy with guarded brown eyes and glistening dark skin … with dark brown hair that turns blond in the summer. The boy that loves to take back roads and calls his scrapes and scars “war wounds.” The boy who laughs from his belly, but then glances at me as if to ask “is it okay that I’m laughing?” The boy who would pick playing outdoors over TV any day, but becomes so entranced with a TV show that he can’t even hear me calling him. This bundle of energy that is a natural born athlete, yet can stumble over his own feet. The king of one-liners who keeps me in stitches.
He’s the product of his birth parents and their troubled pasts. He’s created from homes he’s lived in—foster parents who shaped him and encouraged him. He may not remember all of their names, but pieces of them live in him still. Like a rough-edged stone being turned, softened and shaped by a sandy stream, I’m helping him smooth his edges into shapes he can live with.
But most of all he is himself. Spirited, scared, resilient and wonderful beyond measure. He is himself. And somehow—while not being able to connect pieces of himself to others might be lonely and sad at times—somehow belonging so strongly to his own soul is more powerful and beautiful than any other connection could possibly be.