Our daughter found her birth/first family. And when they responded—in kindness with no doubt a good dash of curiosity—they invited her to visit. She took them up on the invitation. (And yes, gut reaction: I was thrilled for her—and them—but, at the same time, died a little inside.)
An adult now, she needed no permission to go. Using her own instinct to confirm this was the right time, she and her boyfriend made the trek several months ago. I heard later that all who gathered were delighted how well she fit in, particularly with sibling sisters—in looks, height, temperament—for they were amazed that they all share the “same” nose, thin hair, and baby blue eyes. (Amidst the giggles, their mantra: “Oh, thank goodness, I’m not the only one!”)
It had been over 16 years since she’d seen them face to face. I daresay she might not have remembered much of that visit, but I do. That was a trial because she wanted to stay with them. Felt right at home. Did notwant to get in the car and drive to our house. Kicked. Yelled. Begged. The whole gamut of emotions. All of it—anguish included—broke my heart at the time.
With screaming by her and blubbering by me, my husband had quite a time driving in torrential flooding rains through several states. At one point, she started a new wave of hacking emotion and blurted once again, “I want to go back home—back there!” When I protested and said we would miss her too much, she looked at me with a puzzled stare, “Well, I’d only stay if you and dad stayed, too!” (Hmmm. Good to know.)
We never hid from her the fact that she is adopted. In fact, we used the term often–both casually and formally. It was a natural, any day term she grew up hearing. I imagine it shaped her identity somewhat, even when she was quite young and didn’t understand all of its ramifications.
Carroll Connor (the actor who played “Archie Bunker”) was reported to have said to his adopted son, “It’s like this: when your mother and I got married, she ‘adopted’ me and I ‘adopted’ her, and then we adoptedyou!” I liked it. Simple. Clean. Sweet. True.
And isn’t it true how much we do “adopt” each other within family circumstances, neighborhoods, church or temple communities, or even workplace teams! We labor at cultivating harmony by adopting and adapting to the practices and ideas of others, even when doing so pushes our buttons. Even as it makes us grow and reminds us that we are each a “work in progress.”
We adapt and weave our unique threads in many tapestries within our lives. Sometimes we adopt good or even great things from one another. Sometimes, we take on, shall we say, some less loveable characteristics. Nonetheless, they help form us (and the tapestry to which we contribute), making us more of who we grow up and in to being.
Remembering that didn’t stop my heart from pounding when she said she was going on her adventure. Or when, at five, she wanted to stay in the house of her first parent. Rather than react, we thought it best to respond—in kind and kindness. But there are natural questions adoptive parents have. Will she still love us? Will she want to be with us? And bottom line: now what do we do?
I always sensed that her natural inquisitive nature would, at some point in her life, win out and she would opt to search for her biological roots. We told her when she was ready to find her first family members, we would do whatever we could to help her. That she found them on her own was to her credit and her will. (She has both, in spades!)
One of the most difficult things any parent does is let their child(ren) grow up. In an adopted child’s life, this might extend to being okay with or even supporting them to discover their roots and go “home” to a first parent. Not easy. Not necessarily comfortable. But real, nonetheless.
During the visit, we Skyped. After she left the chat, those who stayed behind told us how well she fit in and said how fun it was to see what a remarkable young woman she is becoming. (Of course, we concur!) I did my best not to cry (and, in a feat quite remarkable for me, succeeded!).
Giving her wings and encouraging her to fly was a bit risky, because—well, she did just that! (She’s always been and will forever be fiercely independent!) Referencing the Khalil Gibran quote from The Prophetabout our children being the arrows—I would say, in her case, she was both archer and arrow; she saw the target and willed herself there. She discovered the door and could not but open it. She looked for and found (another) home. In her case, search and reunion resulted in a true reintegration that was wonderful for all involved. Seeing them, Skype-face-to-Skype-face, after so many years was quite amazing; it was obvious how delighted they were to be with her again. We heard their laughter, as natural and knowing as any family’s, for in the span of being together less than a week it was clear they cultivated private and “had to be there” jokes.
What I wondered (okay, worried) about was: would she “settle” there–in that home–or would she return and still be “at home” with us? It is a valid question to which only she held the answer! No matter the hurt on our part, we would have supported any decision she made. So this left us with a choice: be sad for me/us or be happy for her/them. We chose and continue to choose to be happy for her/them.
True to her nature, she let us know her most amiable answer: to be in touch with all. To love and respect all. As the archer, she shot for a distant shore and could have remained there. But, as the arrow, she found she could consider home, for her, where the heart is. Hers. Ours. Theirs!
Before she went, we faced the possibility that she might no longer acknowledge her adoptive home. After all, she had stars in her eyes, adventure in her back pocket, and a passion for the unknown as scintillating as any pioneer who crossed the prairies in search of a new home.
Upon her return, I asked her what she felt about “family” now? Her answer: “Oh—nothing different, really. Family?—it’s just bigger, that’s all. I am like them in some ways. And I am more like you and dad in other ways. But it’s all good.”
While I experienced a wall between us and some quite palpable distance before she went, the months since her return, much to my surprise, there seems to be emerging a unique and different closeness—she calls a bit more often to tell us news and even asks our help now and again.
She went home and came home and is home—all at once. Based on this experience, this I know is true: all
of us are working toward going home and finding
“home”—being with people we love and “at home” as ourselves with them