When I was two years old or so, my parents and I were playing on their bed. My father asked me what color the pillowcase was. I answered proudly that it was white. My father, with a gleam in his eye I was too young to understand, said that it was black. I stood up for the truth. He was a teaser and I knew it was white. He, with a perfectly straight face, said no, it was indeed black. "Go ask your Mom." I did and she concurred. It was indeed black. I kept looking back and forth between the two of them and the pillowcase and finally, I burst into hysterical tears.
My parents tell this story now with chagrin as well as with laughter. They had no idea at the time how dependent I was on their view of the world - what an impossible dilemma they had created by asking me to choose between believing them and believing what I knew to be true. Sometimes I wonder if I actually remember this event, or if I simply remember the family lore about it. This I know: it happened. I know this because when I return to my emotions, I still feel the pain and horror of that dilemma. It still makes me feel afraid and alone. To this day, I am completely intolerant of what I call "let's pretend" attitudes.
Did I mention that I grew up in an adoptive family? It was back in the days when the little book from the adoption agency said, "Tell them they are adopted. Don't try to hide it. Once it's out in the open, you've done your job. It is a non-issue."
This little book had more pages devoted to acknowledgment of an adoptive family as a real family (just like a natural family!) than it did to adoption. If we really were a family, just like any other, why was there a book? Why did people ask me if my sister was my real sister? I knew what they meant and I didn't like it. I didn't know what to say and I felt ashamed of that.
It is only much later in life that we, as a family, have been able to talk about the worries we all had about being an adoptive family. It is only in talking about it that we have each begun to heal our own sense of fear and shame - fear that maybe we weren't a "real" family, and shame that we felt such a fear.
It's funny: back then I think many people looked at our family with a tinge of envy - the All-American family with a little bit of sainthood thrown in because of adoption. Now that we are more clearly different and more open about our struggles and doubts, I think we all feel more sure of our membership than ever before. Now that we've talked about it, it's difficult to imagine that there ever was a fear.
Understand this: adoption is an issue for all members of the adoption triad. We are not families defined solely by adoption (although I think that was more true for my family before we acknowledged it as an issue than since). Adoption is one part of our makeup as a family. Like our race and our gender, it is integral to us but not all that we are. The beginning of support for all of us comes from comfortableness with the truth. This doesn't mean no fears, no worries, no shame or no sadness. It does mean acknowledging the feelings and experiences we have and figuring out what we choose to do with them.
Don't play "let's pretend" with your children. As for the two-year-old I once was, in doing so we present them with the intolerable dilemma of choosing between what they know and what we say.
© Beth Hall
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