The title of this post took quite a number of revisions. “The Strangest Strangers: Becoming Part of a Family”, “Belonging and not…”, “You’re Not One of Us”.
Truth be told, I have been mind-boggled by things I have heard over the last thirty something years of my life. If only people could understand how their words could cut so deep that forgetting is not possible, forgiving may never occur.
Chosen to Belong
I was adopted through Catholic Charities from Angel Guardian Home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York in May of 1966. This was a time before Roe v. Wade, open adoptions and all the other options available to people who wanted children but could not have them on their own. For background, I was the only offspring of a union between my eighteen year-old birth mother and my thirty-six year old birth father. I like to make up a soap opera like story of how that union occurred, but that is fodder for another post sometime in the future. The nuns at the Angel Guardian Home put me into the arms of the only woman I know as my mother on April 26, 1966 – “the happiest day of my life” as she often tells me. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and friends welcomed me home that day – the family that embraced me, loved me, shared in my triumphs and consoled me in my losses.
A piece of paper and a judge’s swoop of the pen and I belonged to my parents. The three of us made a cute little family; my extended family always a strong and active presence in my life. We lived in a two-family house – my parents and I upstairs and my mother’s parents downstairs. We saw each other everyday – always a kiss, a hug and a playful tap from “Pop”.
My grandmother passed away one night in 1973, in the house. My other grandmother was babysitting me upstairs as my mother was visiting my father who was in the hospital. “My wife, she no move” was the cry from Pop and with that, one member of our household was gone. Her suffering from Alzheimer’s was over. Pop would live many more years alone but filled his time sitting outside, talking to anyone who would pass, reading his Italian newspaper and listening to the Italian radio station. There had been arguing between my mom and her brother and sister over their parents and the long-term care they both needed. But what needed to be done was done as far as my grandparents were concerned and who was right and who was wrong is now irrelevant.
Pulling the Rug Out
But one question posed to my grandfather by his son threw my very existence in my family into a tailspin. My mother, middle child stayed home to care for her aging parents. Her sister and brother left most of the decisions and day-to-day care to my mom because of her proximity. As my grandfather reasoned, each of his children had their homes; my mother did not so he would leave his house to my mother. My uncle was told this by his father and reacted strongly; one question – “So Jane gets the house?”
His own daughters were outraged and told him so right as the words came out of his mouth. My mothers was stunned and as we, the kids, were told to get out of the room, someone said, “Because she’s not blood?”. I know who said it and would rather leave it as ambiguous as stated. Regardless, that question/statement had devastating consequences to an already fragile psyche.
I have had friends who ask me about being adopted. I tell them being adopted at such a young age, I know only my parents and my family – there is no feeling associated with “being adopted” for me. But there is an increasing sensitivity I feel towards comments being made toward individuals and their “belonging” in their families. To say that a person who has spent years, decades even a lifetime being “part” of a family is “not really part of the family” or even calling them “a stranger” is completely not in the realm of understanding.
There comes a point in time when you really have to wonder about the people you surround yourself with. Although they may seem quite cordial and sincere on the outside, sometimes there are underlying issues that confuse event the most seasoned adult. I have heard that young children entering into a new family with their divorced and remarrying parent are “not really so-and-so’s kid”. Children adopted at younger ages than I was are “not really their kid”. Family friends who have been part of people’s lives for years, even decades are told “they are not family”. I have even heard some call their “married-in” relatives “nothing more than strangers”.
Are we not all strangers to each other in the beginning of any relationship?
Are you Serious? Then Get This Straight
A newborn is a stranger to their mother – the woman who carried that baby for nine months. You are not in their minds, however impressionable they may be – you cannot know what is going on in there. A woman meeting a new friend. A man meeting a girl he would one day would like to make his wife. Someone you pass on the street. The person on line in the grocery store. Yet these encounters with strangers lead to some of the most intense and lasting relationships we will ever have in our lives. A child and parent, best friends, a married couple, a neighbor, an acquaintance. At whatever level, these people enter our lives and it is a choice we must make as to the depth that relationship takes.
I know many children whose parents remarried after many years and created blended families. Father is father to each one of the children in that family, mother is mother. Some of those semi-adopted children (some are indeed adopted by their step-parent, others are not) actually become more of the family oriented member of the family, treasuring the relationships he or she was given a second chance at. Adoption makes families where there were none. There are plenty of people we all know that are part of a family by birth-rite not by anything greater than that. That “natural born” status should never give anyone the power to diminish another’s standing in their’s or anyone else’s family. I dare someone to state that an infant would know any difference in belonging, be he or she adopted or birthed into the family they wind up in. Whether your husband-wife, wife-wife, or husband-husband relationship has children as part of it or not is unimportant – that “significant other” is just that “SIGNIFICANT” to that person; relevant, significant, meaningful, thought of, their one and only.
And everyone should really be on that same page – whether it is a step-child, a half-sister or brother, a friend, an integral part of a family for decades, your life partner – those that surround you should be respectful of you and that person and the relationship you feel is important.