This is in response to the Daily Prompt: Modern Families
If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?
When I was a baby my Nana refused to hold me. She had held all of her other grandchildren, but you see, I was adopted. I’m not sure what her reasoning was. I wasn’t blood related so maybe I wasn’t a “real” family member to her. Or maybe she thought of me as some defective item from the store that would surely be returned.Her not holding me was not the end of the world. My mother got the brunt of it, for as long as my Nana was alive she’d find a way to devalue and criticize her. While nothing my mother did ever got approval from her own mother, adopting a child as a single woman was a very pungent icing ruining the cake. Things were handled very passive aggressively. Rude comments here and there about my mom’s weight, illness, lifestyle choices etc. If my Nana is any indication of what previous generations might have been like, they would be shocked to see how open I am with my own family now.
Problems are discussed openly and prejudices are called out, not swept under the rug. Everything is egalitarian; no one person is responsible for working, dinner, cleaning, etc. My mom did everything in her power to create a relationship with me that was completely opposite to the relationship she had with her own mother. This began at a very young age. As soon as I was old enough to comprehend it was explained to me that the woman who gave birth to me was too unwell to look after me. As I grew older I was encouraged to ask questions in order to understand what mental illness was and why I had to be given up for adoption. It was important that, although still a child, no language was dumbed down or simplified to the point where the truth became distorted.
My mom requested an open adoption so that she could stay in touch with my biological mother, Chris. She sent her letters with pictures of me and updates as the years went by. When people would ask where my father was I’d always tell them I was adopted by a single mother. I’d watch shock register on their faces. It always threw me off when someone would react by quickly saying they were sorry. I felt lucky and also kind of proud. My mom had fostered many kids, and one thing I learned from her stories was that biology isn’t everything. I didn’t have to endure foster home after foster home; I lucked out at the first one! I became a ward of the state at 6 weeks old when someone reported a screaming child to Child Protective Services. It was the middle of summer in the humid Northeast and I was fully wrapped up in a blanket in my manic mother’s arms.
Services are put in place to protect those that cannot protect themselves and there’s nothing negative or shameful about being linked by those services. Rather than hiding or stigmatizing what my biological parents had to do, my mother explained the complexities of mental illness to me. I learned about empathy and the importance of community, as opposed to judgment and double standards. I met Chris when I was 19 and I had a wonderful relationship with her for 9 years until she died prematurely. Sometimes the only way cycles can be broken are by severing ties. I’m talking about cycles of abuse, neglect, poverty, illness, and addiction. When I was around Chris, I sometimes felt like her mother, like I needed to protect her. There’s no doubt in my mind that her difficult decision to give me up gave me a chance at life.
I wrote a piece on adoption here: