Back in D.C. after fourteen years, I felt bracketed on one end by the visceral memory of the first time I felt, with the fullest force, how much motherhood could compel me to behave in ways unforeseen and uninvited by my previous self, and on the other by a decade-and-a-half of living with and for two humans I had created inside me.
It wasn’t my mother's prejudice regarding her potential adopted offspring that struck me; it was this racism infecting my adoption origin story. She hadn’t waited years and years for me because there was some baby shortage in our small Midwestern town. She had waited to adopt because she wanted an "all white" infant girl.
Every Sunday afternoon for two or three years, my parents took a long drive across town to attend Chinese church.
We were guests in the building, renters. The hymnals and Bibles of the church’s own congregation stayed in the pews. Every week, an usher hauled in the church’s box of books, with the name of our church written in marker.
Sometimes I suspected we were guests in Christianity, too.
1. Spend your entire childhood and adolescence in Australia reading books from the northern hemisphere. Pretend that you understand the following things: mint jelly; tobogganing; conkers. Dream about snow. Dream about roasted chestnuts. Dream about mince pies. Dream about Christmas tree forests, the heavy scent of pine and cold. Dream about Christmas sweaters, the uglier the better. Dream about opening presents in front of an open fire. Dream of deep, long, dark nights, and the hope
Adoption has such a huge effect on how I see gifts now. If I am expected to be grateful for anything, I would rather not have it. I don’t want to feel in debt. I find it hard even to write the word grateful in an email. I feel both overly thankful for any offer, for any help, and yet extremely stressed out about having to pay it back.
It is profoundly disturbing to imply that adopted kids should feel lucky to be alive, which is exactly how it felt every time my grandmother (or religion teacher, or other various and sundry well-intentioned commenters) spouted off some iteration of “your birthmother chose life.”
I think a lot of adopted children feel they are Not Allowed to be angry; I think a lot of adopted adults feel, still, that we are Not Allowed to be angry. The predominant narratives of "National Adoption Month" explain why: most adoption narratives, particularly those available to children, leave no room for pain.
Last year, a couple in Florida – presumably hoping to distinguish their $45,000 adoption crowdfunding campaign from others like it – came up with a gimmick they referred to as the “Baby Draft”: If you donated, you could vote for your favorite football team, and the adopted child would be raised as a fan of whichever team got the most votes.
Giving up or going forward would require all hands. And there was one additional problem: among his crew was an incapable infant me. So my father did what any good crew member would: He put me in my car seat, tied the car seat to the mast below deck, with a bungee cord as my baby sitter, and finished the race. My attachment to boats, wild and innate, grew from that day forward.
In 1949, when I was five, my cautious Catholic parents bought a movie theatre in a Lutheran-Mennonite village in southern Ontario. My mother later told me they were trying to give my father a break from teaching high school—a rest from the long hours, the conscientious prep and marking, and the stress of dealing with unruly teenagers.
She was a mesmerizing storyteller, with an eye for the lurid detail and a sense for just how much to exaggerate. I had her repeat her stories over and over again, as children do. They were touchstones in a vast, confusing universe. Her experiences and those of our counterparts in Pine Valley roiled beneath the surface of my quiet suburban childhood.
Nintendo was to be my central fasciniche, and more than that: it would be my lantern in the dark, offering me the means to comprehend my existence and the will to try. I had been a boy without a role, trapped in a world I couldn’t understand. But a game gives you a role. A game gives you a world you’re meant to understand. In a game, it’s impossible not to belong.
These are facts: three years ago you were 23, you were in graduate school, and you had cancer. This wasn’t always the case, of course, but that’s what became of you over a single Thanksgiving break. Other facts will emerge over time, many will begin to feel as though they had always been a part of yourself, but these three are constants. You hold them close to yourself.