Visiting Family for the First Time
For Hal, who asked about my trip.
I wrote in an earlier blog that I was going to Montana to meet some of my birth family. I wrote that I was afraid and that if I could have turned around on my way to the airport without anyone noticing, I would have.
It was awesome.
For me, being in a room full (an uncle, a cousin, three of the cousin’s children and the two wives related to me by marriage) of people who are connected to me by blood means 1. There is going to be a lot of laughing. 2. We are going to talk about farts. 3. We are going to get serious on a dime and talk about God and love and Jesus and good nutrition. 4. Then we are going to talk about poop and laugh some more.
What I found sitting in a room with people who shared my DNA was that my cells expanded. I felt bigger, like there was more room for me in the room. After a lifetime of trying to be smaller--please let me get into these jeans; please let this bathing suit fit, blah blah blah--there I was, spreading out like a human puddle of self. It was amazing. It was so easy.
(As an aside, I feel terrible right now because I think of my family, the family that is my family, reading this, and thinking: Oh, she was never really at home with us. Oh, Thanksgiving was just an act, and that's not true. Not 100% true. And there lives the knife-in-the-gut reality of being an adoptee. You have to admit that your family wasn't enough. And that is just a terrible thing to feel, never mind to say. But it's true. And it's fair. They aren't enough because you came from more, and you have a right to all that you are.)
But back to the show:
When I was getting ready to leave Montana and head back to San Jose, my uncle’s wife, my aunt, came downstairs and sat on the couch. “I have a problem,” she said. I looked at her and wondered what I had done wrong. “You are leaving,” she said. “That is not a good idea.” We hugged. “I love you,” she said. I said I loved her. Four days earlier we hadn’t even known each other.
And you wonder why some adoptees make good first dates.
Later, I went upstairs to tell my uncle I was ready to go. “I want to tell you something,” he said. “It’s serious.” I sat down. I had messed up. “I love you and I will hold on to you forever,” he said.
He looked so much like my father, the father I had grown up with, that the whole scene felt painted by Salvador Dali. Everyone loved me. No one was letting me go. And yet because my adoptee brain, I didn’t know if I could believe them. I also didn’t really know who was my father any more. I had a dad whom I loved who had raised me. He for sure was my father. But now I also had a birth father who didn’t feel prepared to meet me but who was still alive, and I had my uncle, who looked like my dad and who had claimed me like a birth father would in an adoptee’s fantasy. (When he’d heard I existed, he got me a plane ticket and flew me to his house and brought me into his family. His family that he called my family.)
I looked at my uncle who looked like my father and said the same thing: “I love you and will never let you go.” As I go deeper into what it means to be an adoptee, I’m still learning to feel, and so I wished I felt love click like you do when you screw on a child-proof lid so I could know for sure it was real, but I had to just hope that the fullness I was feeling was love, and that I would do a good job of sticking around, of claiming my place in their family.
Mostly during my trip, I felt full. We ate a lot, laughed a lot, talked a lot, sat around a lot, prayed before every meal a lot. They kept checking in with me, asking how I was feeling, how I was doing with the whole situation. They could not have been kinder or more accommodating. I’m still trying to process the breadth and ease of the love they held for me. And that I held for them.
It’s strange to feel full when you are more used to feeling empty. And any change, even if it’s something like winning the lottery, comes with stress and confusion. I am learning that I may have a habit of confusing joy with stress. I may need to learn that it is okay to be happy. I’m not sure what that is about. I suspect that maybe adoptees have some sort of burden they carry for surviving even though their mother gave them up. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about that.
Mostly I’m thinking I have balloons for shoes these days and that I’m walking on air. I met some of my family. And the roots take hold so quickly. I had no idea it would be like this. I had no idea what it would feel like to float in family. I love everyone, is what my heart says. And this is both frightening and wonderful. As you might imagine.