My Two Doppelgangers

Adoption

I don’t really have two, or even one, doppelgängers, but over the last four years, people have been telling me and J how much our kids look like us. This includes people who know we adopted, and people who don’t. Strangers will tell me they can tell that BE and I are mother and daughter. Friends will tell us they’re surprised at how much we look alike. A friend, who has known my kids since the adoption, told me a few weeks ago that we’ve become more alike over the years. And it doesn’t seem to matter that both my kids have blond hair while J and have brown hair.

This made me wonder if there is any evidence that adoptive families really do begin to look alike over time. I couldn’t find any evidence to support it, but I did find some studies involving married couples. One study, described on physblog.com, explains that couples often do begin to look alike. The site shared four possible explanations, with one that was selected as the most probable. Here’s an excerpt:

“People grow to look similar because they are empathizing with each other and so copying each other’s facial expressions. Over time because of all the empathizing they are doing, their faces come to look more similar.”

I’d like to think that I’m empathizing with my kids, but of course I don’t really have any proof that this is the reason we’ve come to look alike, or even that we look alike at all. Another problem is that the study involved couples who have been married 25 years. We’ve only known our kids four years. Maybe we’ll have some proof that the study applies to us in about 21 years.

If you’re part of an adoptive family, do you look like your adoptive relatives? Tell us about it in the comments.

look_alike

I still don’t think we’d win.

The Forgotten Garden

Adoption

I read a lot of adoptee blogs, and one message I often encounter is that adoptees don’t always see adoption as entirely (or at all) positive. I recently read “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton, which did an excellent job of expressing this idea. Spoiler alert: if you plan to read this book, or haven’t finished it, you may want to stop reading this post now!

In the book, Nell discovers – at 21-years-old – that she was adopted. This news alters the path that her life takes and even changes her attitude toward herself and others. Although she loves her adoptive family, she spends the rest of her life looking for her first family and never again feels that she belongs anywhere.

In one of the early chapters, the narrator describes Nell’s reaction to the news:

“But Pa’s secret had changed everything. His words had tossed the book that was her life into the air and the pages had been blown into disarray , could never be put back together to tell the same story. She found she couldn’t look at her sisters with seeing her own foreignness …. Things had changed and she could no longer meet her father’s eye. It wasn’t that she loved him any less, only that the easiness had disappeared. The affection she had for him, invisible, unquestioned in the past, had gained a weight, a voice. It whispered when she looked at him, ‘you’re not really his.’ She couldn’t believe, no matter how vehemently he insisted, that he loved her as much as he loved her sisters …. She was a lie, had been living a lie, and she refused to do so any longer. ”

Nell’s granddaughter, Cassandra, finds out about Nell’s adoption after her death. Cassandra has her own reaction to the news:

“It had come to her in a wave. The certainty of her grandmother’s loneliness …. She suddenly understood an aspect of Nell she’d known very well. Her isolation, her independence, her prickliness. ‘She must have felt so alone when she realized she wasn’t who she’d thought she was.'”

I’m not an adoptee, so I certainly can’t attest to the truth of these feelings. But, I do appreciate that this book presented a different side of adoption, that it explored the negative affects that adoption can have on both children and adults.

What’s Your Opinion on “Gotcha Day?”

Adoption

My nearly-tween daughter, BE, has long since given up cartoons for Disney Channel shows and movies such as “Hannah Montana” and “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure.” Her latest obsession is “Jessie,” which is about a nanny taking care of three adopted children in New York city.

This family is very rich, and in one episode, celebrates elaborate “Gotcha Days” for each child. BE has watched this episode several times, I think because she relates to the adoption themes. We celebrate Adoption Day, but BE has asked me several times why we can’t call it “Gotcha Day.” I explained that I don’t like the term because it implies that I took her and BC. However, she’s become very set on “Gotcha Day,” and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the family on “Jessie” celebrates with gifts of live zebras, while we have to settle for cake.

I’m just as stubborn as BE, and I have no intention on switching to “Gotcha Day.” Do you use “Gotcha Day”? Why or why not?

Happy Adoption Day #3

Adoption

On June 25, 2010, we celebrated adoption day at the courthouse. The kids were just 5 and 2 when the adoption was finalized. Now, they’re 8 and 5 and about to be a 3rd grader and a kindergartener. BE remembers a little bit of that day, and in classic BE-style, the thing that she talks about most is that she ate two cookies. I know BC won’t remember it all, but thankfully we have photos.

We’ve been celebrating adoption day every year since with a family activity, and most importantly, cake! This year, we went to the water park, which is probably BE’s favorite place. She spent most of her time going down the water slide.

These past three years have been very challenging, but with every year, I have more hope for the future. Happy adoption day!

adoption day cake

My Twisted, Not-So-Secret Story

Adoption

I love the Moth Radio Hour on NPR, so I was excited to discover a relatively new storytelling organization in Detroit – The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers. The organization hosts a storytelling event each month, featuring five or six local storytellers. In March, I got to tell my story and it was a lot harder than I expected. I don’t think I’m natural storyteller, and I’ll probably never do it again, but it was a great experience. Check out my 10-minute story on YouTube.

The events are a lot of fun with some very moving and funny stories. If you’re local, please consider attending the next event on April 26!

Michigan Radio: Adoption and Early Childhood Trauma

Adoption

I’m a big fan of Michigan Radio (the local NPR affiliate) and I’ve often linked to stories the station has done as part of a project called “State of Opportunity.” This project looks at how the state can improve opportunities for disadvantaged children. So, I was ecstatic when the station asked me to do a guest blog on adoption and early childhood trauma. Check it out on the “State of Opportunity” page!

When your Child is a Hoarder

Adoption

BE isn’t really a hoarder, but she does show a lot of interest in trash. She always wants to pick up things that she finds lying around, such as a broken crayon in her school hallway, or a cracked cell phone case in the grass. In her recent newsletter, Heather Forbes answers a reader’s question about why her adopted daughter hoards, or collects things. She explains:

“It could be that your daughter’s resistance to throwing things away is representative of her perception of not feeling valued and worthy. This resistance is perhaps a way to recreate a new experience for herself.”

Her solution is a real challenge for me. Both my kids, but BE especially, seem to have an unusual addiction to sweets and even having them in the house can cause a real problem. I think that for my kids, this addiction and the hoarding come from the same place. Here’s what Heather said:

“By accepting her desire to have these items and by working with her on this issue, you are giving her the message that she is valuable, that her ideas are worthy, and that she is lovable — the core issues that are behind this behavior to begin with!”

This is really tough because I want to be in control. I just need to work on accepting my kids where they are. I’ve come a long way, but there’s still a lot of work to do!

Check out Heather’s newsletter on her Web site.

It Finally Happened

Adoption

Yes, it finally happened, the moment every adoptive parent anticipates, but dreads. The moment your child says he or she wants to live his or her first parents.

I knew it would happen, and when BE was mad at me the other day, it did. I’m not even sure what she was mad about; sometimes the things that upset her seem trivial to me, but are obviously significant to her. So, she told me that she wanted to go live with her first mom and that she was going to look for her. I tried to be understanding and asked what she thought it would be like to live with her first mom. BE told me that it would be fun, because her first mom would give her chocolate and let her stay up late.

BE later apologized – she usually does once she calms down – and I found that I had survived this milestone in tact (although a little sad)!

Understanding Adoption History

Adoption

Lately, I’ve been interested in the future of adoption and what can be done to fix the existing system. However, I hadn’t thought much about the history of adoption until I came across this site from the University of Oregon. The site offers an interactive history of adoption in the United States beginning in the 1800s. And, as anyone who’s ever taken a history class knows: we can’t understand where we are today, or where we’re going, without understanding the past. If you’re interested in the history of U.S. adoption, visit “The Adoption History Project.”

A First Family Visit

Adoption

About a week ago, we had visit with a member of the kids’ first family, one that they hadn’t seen in years. The kids experienced some anxiety about it, both before and after our visit. Afterwards, we had a debrief about expectations and how things aren’t always exactly as we remember them. The kids are still too young to really express their feelings, but I believe that overall, the visit was beneficial. There are certain members of their family that I want to maintain contact with, because I think the kids need to know people they are biologically related to. They need to understand that both of their families can co-exist peacefully. I’m not sure what our relationship with this family member will look like going forward, but I do know that we’ll continue to explore the possibilities.

The visit was difficult for me too, but in different ways of course. During our debrief, I imagined the conversation that we’ll have when the kids are adults and they’ve found their first parents. The experience of expectations clashing with fact and memories differing widely from reality will undoubtedly be there. Maybe the experience will be more intense because it will involve their parents. Or maybe it will be easier to talk through, because as adults, they’ll be better able to express their feelings. It’s hard to imagine how it will all play out.

Apparently, several people at our visit commented that BC looks just like his father. Lately, I’ve been tricked into forgetting that my kids actually would look like their parents. This is because I’m fortunate to hear often that my kids really do look like me. I almost forgot that they really would look like their parents, more than they resemble me. It’s hard for me to admit it (and I certainly never would to the kids), but I have mixed emotions about their parents. On one hand, I respect them for being my children’s parents and I sympathize with them for making mistakes – after all, who doesn’t? But, it’s hard to forget that their mistakes hurt our kids, and other people as well.