Tag Archives: family history

A Tale of Two Families

Our circle trip began late this July. We were on a mission, two families in ten days … my family in Tennessee, and my husband’s in Canada.

The trip began gleefully with a music mix from my friend, Amy. The first day of driving was shortened by a stay at an Indiana horse ranch. After a couple of nights and a trail ride, we were back on the road to Tennessee.

At first, I had extreme hesitation. While I love my family, I do not love the closed minds and prejudices in Tennessee. We began with the stark contrast of Adult World and the huge cross along the interstate.

 (If you cannot view this, please see it here: http://mothermade.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-two-families.html)

The anxiety began to creep in and cover me just as the kudzu drapes and kills the trees in Tennessee. Racist memories from my childhood flooded my mind. I took deep breaths so as not to alarm my kids. Since having children, I worry about their well being, and more specifically, their racial identities.

The conversation in the car began.

“Who are we seeing in Tennessee? Are we going to Papito’s house (my father)?” the kids asked.

“We are not going to Papito’s house. We’ll be staying in Knoxville, where your dad and I met. And you will be meeting your Puerto Rican cousins today,” I answered.

“When are we going to Canada? How long do we have to stay in Tennessee?” the kids continued.

“We will be in Tennessee for a few days, and then we will meet up with your cousins in Canada,” my husband answered.

The conversation then moved on to my husband’s family. Canada is home to his aunt. She and her husband own a lake cottage where we had planned to meet my in-laws for their 50th wedding celebration; however, due to my father-in-law’s recent health decline, my husband’s sister and her family would be the only Brits coming to the party. The kids asked about their relatives across the pond. They all talked happily about similarities. My husband spoke of how our daughter reminded him of his sister at her age. Other biological family traits were bestowed on the kids, and they beamed.

I felt myself receding. My kids weren’t interested in seeing my Puerto Rican family as much as they wanted to see my husband’s. Granted, we haven’t seen my Puerto Rican family in more than five years. Plus, there is the language barrier. But I must admit, I felt slighted. My son does not identify with his Puerto Rican family, but my daughter does. I want desperately for my children to feel the love that I have felt from my family.

The Puerto Ricans, also known as the “Gonzos,” are my family. When someone asks me where I would like to live, I say Puerto Rico. With this side of my family, I feel sudden comfort and security. The Gonzos talk about my son’s resemblance to our great-grandfather. The Gonzos kiss and hug and dance. Boy, do they dance.

We met my father and my cousins, Missiel and Kike, in Tennessee and went to Dollywood. Missiel and I reminisced about their childhood visits to Tennessee and teased Kike. I learned my Spanish pronunciation from my cousins in our backyard. My children stood on the periphery. Missiel and Kike have two children each. Kike’s daughter followed my daughter and wanted to bond with her.

The boys played a little at first.

And my father encouraged more play together as they all sifted for treasure.

While things were going well, most times, my kids still clung to one another.

Then, we found the perfect ride to unite all children … against the grown-ups.

 (If you cannot view this, please see it here: http://mothermade.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-two-families.html)

As the boys played and joked, Missiel leaned over to me and said, “Noah is a Gonzo! He and Andreas have the same motions!” All the tension and anxiety within me suddenly slid off, and I felt just as I always have when I am with my family … loved.

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Geez! You must be “adopted” …

This blog post has been housed in my head since I heard This American Life’s Episode 498 a few weeks ago.

You can listen here.

On our way up to the Korean culture camp on July 4th, I took the opportunity (long car journey) to catch up on my listening. My husband and I were seated in the front seat, listening.

Act Two, The Gun Thing You’re Not Supposed to Do, began playing. A woman from Texas told the story of how her family prided themselves on their responsibility in teaching gun safety to the children. However, this woman, after the Newtown shootings, revealed to her family that she had, as a teen, secretly used the handgun hidden in her parents’ dresser, and narrowly missed shooting herself.

The father and mother were devastated but changed their behavior by locking up their guns. Her brother, Matt, (at minute 45:59) says, “I kept callin’ her how stupid she was! That she must have been adopted!!”

At these words, I sucked in my breath. My husband looked, wide-eyed, at me. We both glanced to the backseat, but both kids were busy and distracted.

The brother continued to talk about how his sister asked him if it changed the way he would handle gun education with his children.  At this point, the host, Ira Glass responded, “So your plan is when you have kids, they’re not going to be idiots like your sister.”

The brother answered definitively, “Right.”

Ira Glass then said, “You know I’m making a joke here, right?”

That joke and the comments were not funny to me. I wanted desperately to stop the car and write it all down. Luckily, I was not able to do so because my post would have shown my initial anger.

I like to think that I am not an angry person, but the misuse of the word “adopted” upset me. It hurt. Being adopted does not make you immediately “stupid” or an “idiot,” but hearing those words in the same conversation, in jest or not, does not help. I have the utmost respect for Ira Glass and listen to him every week, but his attempt at irony was lost on the brother, on me and who knows what countless others.

This misuse of the word, “adopted” happens everyday. The Twitter page, @AdoptionHonesty, is documenting all uses of the word “adoption” and its derivatives.

In the last post, I spoke about my calculated and careful writing when I write about race. But in actuality, I am mindful when I write every post.

My goal in writing this blog began in 2007 as a way to record my feelings on my adoption, my race and my life for my children and their children. It would be my way of creating a family history that wasn’t oral, but concrete.

As I transitioned from a private life blog to a more public presence, parents and grandparents began contacting me and writing me. They wanted to hear my stories.

Since meeting other transracial adoptees and learning more online, I have heard many angry stories. I fear that anger only shuts down a conversation.

To keep the conversation going, I can merely give my personal story and impressions. Hopefully, these stories will become threads in the fabric of families and the quilt of adoption.

Mother Made

Rows of fresh orchids in plastic shells lined the shelves of the White Way Five and Dime. We picked each up and examined it. We were looking for the perfect red one …

Red symbolized life, and white for death. On Mother’s Day Sunday, we chose our best dresses and proudly wore the red orchids. A simple flower meant immeasurable, unconditional love. That same Sunday, we would take my mother and her mother, my grandmother, out of eat at a sit-down restaurant. This was a treat for everyone as we usually gathered at my grandmother’s on Sundays for lunch. Mother’s Day also included a visit to my grandmother’s mother’s gravesite.

My mother also saved the handmade cards we made as children for her. No Hallmark would do.

Today, I despise the lead up to Mother’s Day.  I get confused and angered by the numerous commercials that urge us to buy, buy, buy to show our love for our mothers. I’m angry in that my mother is not around to see me proudly wear a red flower or to share a special dinner with her grandchildren.

My last visit with my mother before her stroke, she had flown to Colorado to visit me in November of 1998. With her, she brought Kerr jars of canned green beans (immediately and proudly displayed over the window in the Thanksgiving photograph below). Proudly, she said, “I learned to can green beans on my own! I really wish I had learned from your grandmother, though.” It was times like this that my mother would get somber. Her last memory would crop up.

“You know, the worst thing I remember?” she would start, “I was cleaning up Mama’s kitchen, and I opened the Crisco. There inside, I found her finger marks.”

I imagine them today. Deep crevices in the Crisco. Grandma used her hands when she cooked. She didn’t have all the special gadgets that we have today. She didn’t measure but learned from her mother that biscuits took “about this much.”

So today, I celebrate the beans. The last jar has moved with me from Colorado to Maryland to Virginia and now, Wisconsin. I doubt I will ever open them. They represent the love and the loss.

I never learned how to can, but I plan to try canning tomatoes this summer. (My mother did learn the art of canning tomatoes from her mother, but I did not learn from her.) Repeated mistakes.

I can make her pinto beans and ham hocks, and her cornbread.  Again, no fancy measuring devices. Just eye-balling it.

I do enjoy the quiet time in bed with my own children as we cuddle on Mother’s Day. Our tradition is a breakfast in bed, and I love that.

If you could wear that red flower on Sunday, I encourage you to learn from her, and I plan to teach my daughter the art of mothermade.