Family comes in many shapes and sizes these days, a far cry from the traditional four-person family of the 1950s. How fortunate for us. If some of you have been bitten by the genealogy bug as I have, I’m sure you’re familiar with the requisite research-based websites. There are also more than a few television programs that discover people’s pasts. In some cases, they reunite adopted folks with a member of their birth family. It’s always a happy ending, on tv anyway.
From the time I was old enough to understand (6 or 7), I’ve known I was adopted. It meant, to me, that I was chosen to live with people who could provide for me and that, due to circumstances beyond control, my birth parents were unable to care for me. Though my upbringing was far from easy, I was provided food, shelter, love, and a chance to achieve higher education. My “home training” was well done. I was raised to be kind to all, to demonstrate good manners, and to do my best at whatever I tackled. I’m proud to be who I am.
Several years ago, I was vexed by a number of medical oddities that had befallen me over the years. Spurred on by cautious curiosity, I made the decision to search for my birth parents. I certainly didn’t want to cause angst or to shame anyone. However, I did want to know if I was in store for more weird medical situations and I needed to understand what had shaped me.
For much of my existence, I’ve never felt as though I’ve belonged. I was a tomboy who thrived as a child in Burlington, VT., because of the opportunities for tons of play time outdoors. Moving to upstate NY was a huge change and put the brakes on the development of myself as an individual. I learned quickly to fit in and do what was expected. That said, I wasn’t afraid to create my own niche, that of “jock bookworm.” If I wasn’t bouncing a ball, I was reading a book.
But I yearned to ride horses, play the drums, water ski, ride dirt bikes, and many other things female suburban teenaged girls were not encouraged to do. I loved traveling back to Burlington each summer to spend time with my friends. We swam, played tennis, rode horses and all that wonderful outdoor stuff I missed. As life progressed, I began to work during the summers and old friends moved on. I passed up a great opportunity to attend college in Burlington, but I can’t cry over spilled milk now. I spent decades fitting in. But I still wanted to know who I am.
After many years of research, endless hours staring at computer screens and at microfilm screens, perusing newspaper archives and making telephone calls, I can say I’ve discovered my roots. Though the one meeting I had with my one living birth parent was less than idyllic, certainly not like the tearful, joyful things they show on tv, it was not awful. I was not inspired to pursue that avenue much further but it didn’t dampen my spirits in moving through the family tree.
And you know what? I’ve met some wonderful people. Even better is they are my blood relatives. My mother is the woman who raised me. She will always be my mother. She sacrificed tremendously to provide for me and I will forever love her for what she has given me. But meeting folks with whom I share genetic components has been very humbling. My mom and I are the last of our family. And while that’s sad, it’s life. I go forward knowing how much family I really have. I’ve met several cousins now, mostly first cousins. They are warm and loving people.
This past weekend I was invited to a post-Thanksgiving celebration where I met more relatives I’d never met before. It was truly one of the happiest days I’ve had in decades. It’s always a risk to step into the unknown but I seem to have a guardian angel. Those I met this weekend: an aunt, some first cousins, and several first cousins, once removed were so thrilled to meet me it seemed unreal. It was a beautiful experience. And it took place at a “cabin in my head” setting, like my very own Hallmark movie. Did I mention they live in Vermont?