Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I'm Irish?

The first person that I ever met that I was biologically related to, was my birth father, Tim.

Shortly after we met, he looked at me hard, and said, "Wow, I can really see the Irish in you."

I politely told him that I am not Irish.

He said, "I'm Irish."

I told him what I was, French and English.

Again he said, "I'm Irish."

It finally dawned on me, Holy Crap, I'm Irish!  I was 20 at the time, and I sure could have used that information 10 years earlier.

I grew up about 40 minutes south of Boston.  It seemed that, with the exception of a handful of kids, everyone was Irish and Catholic.  Or Irish and Italian and Catholic.  I was none of those things.   I always hated St. Patrick's day.

My biggest problem?  Those big green buttons kids would wear on that stupid day of green,  "KISS ME,  I'M IRISH!"  At first, I loved those buttons and wanted one,  but when I told my best friend this, she smugly asked, "Are you even Irish?  I mean at all?"

I told her that I was pretty sure my mother is a little bit Irish. She, knowing my adopted status, pressed me and asked,  "Yeah, but are you?" She clearly did not subscribe to the 'everyone's Irish on St. Patty's day' policy.

She knew the truth.  I shared my extremely limited, non-identifing, adoption info on my birth parents, with her.  They were both of English and French descent (and Protestant to boot).  She was letting me know that I was not qualifed to wear the "KISS ME…" button.

It really wasn't about my wanting be Irish.  I didn't think I would get a pot of gold or suddenly be blessed with the luck of the Irish.  It was about belonging to a larger group.  I knew I totally belonged in my family.  The problem was their ancestors weren't actually my ancestors.  Their story wasn't actually my story, but I really wanted it to be.

When I finally met birth family, I found out a few things.  Like being Irish.  Like both sides of my birth mother's family are Mayflower descendants.  As much as I wanted to, I didn't feel connected to those ancestors either.  It didn't really feel like my story.

I have always been interested in the history of my adoptive family.  My cousin Gary (who we recently lost, far too soon) was a genealogy wizard.  He told me that we are descendants of both Presidents Adams and Samuel Adams.  That's cool.  But also not exactly my story.  My interest is not so much genealogy but stories.  I love to know about my parents and their parents and so on.  The genetics are not mine to claim, but, the people are.  You know, this man and woman fell in love and had this child, who fell in love with this person and had a child who turned out to be my grandmother, who loved and raised my mother, who fell in love with my father who in turn became my parents, who loved and raised me, so that I could grow up and love Kurt and become the parents of our four children and so on.

It took me a while to figure out that that was my story.  All of it.  Being adopted is part of my story.  Not being part of my family's genealogy didn't matter.  They are still my people.  I am part of their story, like they are part of mine.  My birth family is also a part of my story.  They were able to fill in the missing pieces for me.  All the details make up a pretty interesting story.  A good story. Mine to tell.  Mine to pass on to my kids.

Turns out I don't need that "KISS ME, I'M IRISH!" button to be part of a group (plus I can't find it anywhere).  But if you run into me next March 17th, feel free to pucker up and give me my due.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Guest Post by acclaimed memoirist Susanne Antonetta (plus GIVEAWAY!)

The following post was written by Susanne Antonetta:

I remember when my son--adopted from Korea--was small, he told me he knew his birth mother and her name was Kimchi. He said he lived with her for a while, and at times he would tell his father and me that he sent away for us, and we came in a package in the mail. It took years to get the story straight with Jin—that he had a birth mother and a birth father, plus a foster mother who kept him for four months after his first few weeks in an orphanage.
And that, while kimchi might be Korea’s national dish, it probably wasn’t his first mother’s name.
            Now Jin is going on seventeen. He’s six feet tall (taller than both of us, so he stares down at the parts in our hair while we scold him) and likes to point out that we’re unfair and really really (really!) don’t understand him. Usually we hear this in between Jin pointing out that a) he’s hungry and b) he needs a ride somewhere. In a year, at age eighteen, Jin can use our adoption agency to search for, and initiate contact with, his birth mother. I expect the agency would search for his birth father, too, but though we always remind Jin he has both, he tends to think of searching in terms of mother. At age ten, he badly wanted to find her. As a teenager his interest has lessened some, replaced by the unending now of teenagers:  what’s happening tonight? this weekend?
                When I mention to people that Jin is this close to the age at which he can contact his birth family, they often ask me how I feel about it, as if my feelings are somehow the true north in the matter.  Mine aren’t; his are. At times people ask and then commiserate: it must be so hard for you! Or we hear that Jin must search to find himself.  I think the truest response is the least movie-of-the-week: we have and will continue to give Jin all encouragement to find the other parts of his family, but whether he does or not, it’s not our choice but his. And whatever he decides, he will remain his own whole and amazing self. We’ll still be his parents, and we’ll still tease each other (“Why would I look for my birth mother? One mother’s bad enough,” he grumps at me sometimes) and set off fireworks on the Fourth of July, and do the things we do.
                I hope Jin’s biological family—mother, father, siblings if there are any-- turn out to be the lovely people I’m guessing they will be, given the Jin I know; they’re alive for me in him. I hope he loves them. Love is the ultimate renewable resource: I don’t love my husband less, but more, because I love my son; I don’t love either of them less because I have a tight and beloved circle of friends. We love each person we love differently, and the love you feel for the woman that made you and the woman who raised you from infancy must be different: not less, just not the same. I envy languages like classical Greek that have more than one word for love, but even four or five words wouldn’t be enough: we need one for every person. Let’s call Jin’s love for me Moe and his love for his dad Larry and the love he may feel for his birth mother Curly, because while they have things in common, each is its own unique relationship.

                So: all I can say for sure is that odds are, Jin’s birth mom’s name is not Kimchi. Beyond that it’s part of the mystery of his future—the life beyond the start we’ve given him, full of loves we don’t know yet but I imagine we’ll share.

I was sent Susanne Antonetta's latest book free of charge.  I was under no obligation to review it on my blog or give it a favorable review.  This book is such a fantastic fit with the message of this blog, I am thrilled to recommend it.  On the surface it is a book about the adoption and raising of her son, Jin, from Korea, but it really is so much more.  Becoming a mother, the intensity of love, the funny moments and the hard stuff.  All of which she shares honestly and with a huge amount of grace.

Susanne has generously donated 2 signed copies of  Make Me a Mother.  When you leave a comment, you will automatically be entered to win a copy.  I will draw 2 names next Friday, February 21, 2014 and announce the winners in the comment section of this post (and then I will ask you to go to 'contact me' with your address, so I can send your book to you.)