Thursday, June 7, 2007

Thoughts on adoption

I have no idea why my brain keeps going the places that it has the past few days. I have a feeling that it relates in some way or another to the adoption. (What doesn't relate to the adoption right now?) No matter what I do, I can't get away from it, though:

My family.

By nature I am one of those people who has a desire to know about the folks that have come before me. I have dug deeply enough into my own genealogy to trace my mother's line back to England and my father's line to Ireland. And while these things are good to know--and explain in small ways my tendency to burn rather than tan and why I flush beet red when I drink alcohol--they don't fascinate me nearly as much as the more recent history of my bloodline. This is where I find myself right now: pondering all the little stories that came together to make me who I am.

Without really realizing it, I googled "Southerners and Detroit" this afternoon. I don't consider myself a Michigander, but I was in fact born there. My grandparents were part of the Southern flight up the so-called "Hillbilly Highway" that led them from hard scrabble conditions in hollers to work in the auto industry in the 1950s. To hear my family members tell it, life in the supposedly modern and cosmopolitan metropolis of Detroit was hell. One story my mother tells involves being mocked by a shopkeeper when she asked if she could have a poke to carry her purchases home in. The cashier, who had a large enough Southern clientele to know what a "poke" was, leaned over the counter and shoved his finger into her arm. "There, you've had your poke. Do you want a bag now, hillbilly?" she says he asked her.

The teasing was bad, but the living conditions were not much better. The apartment my grandfather had rented for his family of five to live in while he worked at the Chrysler plant had two bedrooms, a bathroom to share with the rest of the building and a coal stove to heat and cook with. My grandmother says that she kept the place clean, but the filth of the factories found its way in no matter what she did. It's these associations, I think, that have woven in to me the fact that while I was born "up north," I am not a Northerner. Northerners are people who belong there. We--I--do not.

I found a handful of websites with my google search that related to other families who changed the entire course of their future by driving north on I-75. Nothing really spoke to me, though. Disappointed, I remembered a book that I read years and years ago called "The Dollmaker." I found it and pulled it out to read, thinking that maybe whatever it is that I am feeling (it's not homesickness exactly, I can't name it) will be assuaged somehow in the reading of it. I take comfort in the dialect that I grew up hearing; I can still slip easily into asking if someone kins someone else, I can still reckon and I can still say "yu'uns" without thinking it strange. My ear longs to taste that accent and drink it in. At least I can read it and hear it in my mind's eye.

I'm sure that this sudden hunger is related to my feelings of sadness for the child or children we will adopt. The truth about adoption is this: unless the bio parents choose to disclose their background, we--and our children--will be in the dark about the lives that came before them. We will never know about crazy aunts or uncles, about family tragedies or triumphs, the story behind their coming to America. It will all be a void that can't be filled with a few quick surname searches on rootsweb. Even if we do receive some information from the birth parents, chances are good that it will be primarily a medical history. Dates and diseases on a form are not the same as oral histories passed down through generations. They do not set scenes and they do know endear earlier generations to newer ones. An entire rich line ... reduced to cold facts on a document.

How must that feel?

I can't imagine. For a person who carries with her every day the fact that my nose is my grandmother's, and my eyes are my mother's, and my temper is my father's ... I can't picture looking in the mirror and seeing nothing but me.

I hope I can do a good job at filling in what blanks I can for my adopted children. I have stated over and over again to our workers that we want an communication agreement, that we want extended family information, that we want to have anything that might be of use to our children down the road. Because while I want to fully encompass these new little people into our family unit, I just don't see how someday they might not long to hear the stories that brought them, finally, to the place they find themselves. I want them to know our stories and to feel that they are theirs to claim as well, but I don't ever want to deny them the bigger story that will enrich them all their lives.

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