After Watching "This is Us" Part 2
My writing partner saw me walking to coffee this morning and she stopped her car and leaned out the window. “You okay?” she said.
I shook my head. “That show.”
“I’m getting out,” she said. “No one better come.” She left her car in the middle of the street and ran up to hug me. “You kept yelling at the TV last night.”
“But you like the show, right? You think it’s good?”
I nodded again.
“You’re going to cry, aren’t you?”
“This is the anniversary of my mom’s death,” I said.
“Oh, no.” She stood back and started brushing off my jacket as if it were covered with lint. “And your birthday’s tomorrow.”
Sometimes being adopted is too much. As a human being, I’m a cup of water, full to the brim with myself. As a human being who was adopted, I’m a cup of water that often spills over--I’m too much--and it’s not uncommon that the only people who understand this phenomenon are other adoptees.
And the writers of This is Us.
When you pay attention to something in a loving and interested manner, it thrives. To have a program on national TV that focuses on adoption in a way that feels fearless and loving and smart makes me think I am now living in a whole new world. One where I might flourish in a whole new way.
There are people—millions of people—who watch this show and they are now being told—shown!—what it can be like to be adopted (not to mention what it’s like to be part of a transracial adoption) and the viewers are PAYING ATTENTION. They are not turning off the TV when the word “adoption” comes up. They are actually HANGING AROUND EVEN AFTER THE SHOW ENDS to go online and TALK about the show.
I can’t tell you what this means to me. I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I do know that I can’t take in a deep breath when I think about adoption being not only acceptable to talk about, but interesting for all parties. Maybe, even, hope upon hope, interesting for the parents who adopt.
Would MY mother have watched this show? (I’ve said this before, but I can’t assume you’ve read all my blog posts since they are basically pouring out of me, but when I say “mother” and “father” I am referring to the parents who adopted me.)
No. She could not have stomached it. What does that mean? It means that my mother lived in her cloud where her children’s stories started “The day we got you,” as anything that suggested there had been another mother was untenable. In my mother's eyes, she was the only mother. End of story. (Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.)
Can you imagine if all your life you had a third arm that sometimes didn’t hurt and sometimes hurt a lot but that mostly ached in a way that was distracting? Imagine it was ungainly enough to make life more difficult than it was for two-armed people, only it was an arm that no one could see. You quickly learned it wasn’t even worth bringing up because no one wanted to hear about an invisible arm (especially doctors--I want my money back, Dr. Fisher. All those hours of therapy at $250 each. Being adopted does matter and you should have known that, Mr. PhD.)
Adoptees are afraid of sounding like whiners, like victims, and so many of them learn to dismiss the pain and confusion they feel and to try to act and think like everyone else. But if you have a third arm, it’s going to get in the way, even if no one but you can see it.
There was a scene in the episode of This is Us I watched last night where Randall introduced his birth father to his brother. It took my breath away. It was like watching someone do the impossible and force two opposing magnets together. It was on par with the scene in Aliens when that thing shoots out of Sigourney Weaver. I didn’t know that could happen.
I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if one afternoon I came home and my mother and my birth mother were sitting at the kitchen table, chatting. Even more unimaginable would be the scene of me bringing my birth mother into the kitchen and introducing her to my mother, my mother whom I love so much. My brain knows it isn’t even ALLOWED to imagine it, and so I don’t. All I know is that such a meeting would have killed my mother, and so my brain goes blank.
I grew up knowing I could not have all of the defining pieces of my life in the same place. Why? Because the grown-ups were afraid. And when you aren't allowed to have what it yours in the room, it means there is something wrong with you, something less than.
I am fighting my brain now and imagining all of my parents, my two birth parents who didn’t want to meet me and my parents who adopted me in a room together with me in it.
Holy cow. It would be as if the heavens opened up and the light of understanding came shooting down upon us. I was all there, complete. I would revel in the knowing that the world cared enough to show me all of my pieces. My parents cared enough about me to put aside their personal fears and to show up as parents.
There is so much room for love in this world, and adoptees need even more than most people because they have experienced the most profound loss a person can: that of their source. Giving adoptees pieces of themselves: their stories of origin, their names, their roots, their freedom of speech, even, helps make them feel even more human. The first thing I saw when I got a picture of my birth mother was, I’m not from Mars. Many adoptees feel they came from another planet. That may sound cool to you if you're not adopted, like an adventure, but it's not a good feeling. When humans walk, we like to feel our feet on the ground. It makes us feel safe. Grounded. At home. No one from Mars knows that feeling. And they want it.
Crowd the room with family. Let everyone in. Love. And watch what happens.