Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On being adopted in the 60s...

With all the complaining I do about my parents, there are a few things they did right by me. They never kept it a secret that I was adopted. They kept other things secret such as my birth mother's age when I was born, the fact that they had a court document with her last name on it hidden in their safety deposit box that I didn't get my hands on until I was in my 30s, the name of my adoption agency...yadda. But the fact that I wasn't their biological child? They were open about that; at least to us kids. They did NOT want us blabbing about it to our friends, the neighbors or our school teachers.

That could get rather tricky at times. There were those school science projects... I remember one assignment where we were studying genetic characteristics and I was told to go home and study my parents' ear lobes and then report back to school with who had ear lobes the same as mine. Apparently lobes are one of those traits you get from one parent or the other. Ah. Yeah. I have large, detached lobes (great for earrings). My parents both have attached ones that are close to their heads. I announced this in class and my teacher was going to flunk me for not really doing the assignment. *sigh* Naturally I had to come clean as to why it was possible for my lobes not to match. And yikes, the can of worms! You feel like an act in a side-show. Other than my brother, as far as I knew I was the only adopted kid in my entire school.

That incident, at least, didn't happen until high school. I was able to nip another potential disaster in the bud when, in elementary school, we were assigned to fill in our family tree. I had recently shared with my best friends that I was adopted (and they swore to keep it quiet). They flooded me with questions like, "Where is your REAL mother and father? Why did they give you away?" etc. etc. Questions I didn't have the answer to. But I got stuck on that question of "real". Real? If my mom and dad weren't my REAL parents, did that make them fakes? With how secretive they were all the time and how they always insisted on privacy...maybe I wasn't really adopted. Maybe I'd been kidnapped and my REAL parents were out there, somewhere, looking for me.

Naturally, my friends let the cat out of the bag by telling their parents my secret. Then one of their parents (a real busybody) called my mom to ask if it was true and to grill her for all the dirt. I got into some serious trouble for blabbing. My mom was embarrassed to answer all those questions. She wanted to just pretend I was her natural child so she could nod and smile at people when they said, "Oh, she looks just like you!" Then I found myself wishing they weren't my "real" parents. They were mean!

Oh, back to the assignment. Like I said, I was stuck on the question of "real" and my ability to complete the assignment honestly. So I approached my teacher in private and told her I was adopted. She just shook her head and said, "Your current family is your REAL family, like it or not. You don't call anyone else 'Mom' or 'Dad' do you?" She said some other stuff that made total sense that I can't recall now, but I was grateful that she set me straight on that point. Plus it was a challenge to get info about ancestors out of my Dad. He wasn't the easiest person to talk to.

Other than those two instances and my own perpetual curiosity about my biological family and the circumstances of my birth, my childhood wasn't really all that deeply affected by the fact that I was adopted. Their insistence on privacy may have been another thing my parents did right. My mother used to talk about her infertility woes to me (something we both share) and the fact that they didn't hide things from their close friends at the time. Their friends all knew they registered with an agency and one friend threw them a shower once I arrived. Mom says they got some strange looks at church where, obviously, the weekend before she was NOT pregnant and then voila there was Mom carrying ME into a pew. But no uncomfortable questions. Maybe it was the mid-west decorum (we were in Kansas at the time). She would not have escaped unscathed in Massachusetts, of that I am pretty certain. Talk about nosy neighbors!

Mom says not all agencies did things the same way. Theirs was rather progressive. Others still advocated NOT telling the child about their origins so they wouldn't feel out of place in the family. I mean, seriously... I know there are times where adopted kids do look like their adoptive parents (just look at us; people tell us all the time how much our boys look like us). But what about the kids who look nothing like their parents. What if there are biological siblings who DO look like the parents. Kids aren't stupid. Plus they just might end up getting those annoying school assignments that call attention to the fact that you have no genetic relation to your parents.

Oh! That reminds me of another incident where I got into an argument with a teacher. Advanced Bio...we were learning to type our own blood. Again, we were told that one of our parents would share our same blood type. Ahem. Wrong! I told my teacher that I was A and my Dad was O+ and my Mom was AB-. LOL She started an argument with me. Being a wiseass teen, I was insistent that I was right (and totally messing with her head) and had her good and riled up before I told her, finally, that I was adopted. *snort* Sometimes being adopted came in handy, if you wanted to mess with people. Like how I told my little friends in elementary school. "My mom can't have babies. She's allergic to my dad." Heh. They were all superior in their comments, "You liar! Then how did they have you and your brother!" "Oh, they found us abandoned at an amusement park and just took us home." "No way!" I was such a fibber when I was a kid. ;-)

5 comments:

Lori said...

Great comeback!

It's such a shame that there was shame around adoption, that it had to be kept secret for all involved.

I enjoy hearing your experiences, Becky.

Dawn said...

Isn't it nice that it is no longer necessary to keep being adopted a secret.
A Couple of Nomads

ally said...

i really liked the post. funny story about your high school teacher & the blood type. i loved biology in high school and that would've thrown me off, too. -=)

Donna H said...

I bet you loved being able to mess with their heads. I can only imagine what you would have been like had you been a twin;)
Thanks for sharing.

Becky said...

Hi Becky, I'm Becky!
Adoptive mom to 2 of the greatest kids!! Haven't read much here yet..but would like to come back and visit.