Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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“Knock the Unicorn Off the Cloud”

From Rebecca, my new found firstborn daughter, in her own words:

What happens when the people that you MOST want to talk about your life and adoption with are also the people who might be the most confused and hurt by what you have to say? What do you do when your loaded, intense and central-to-life story is also someone else’s….but from a completely different perspective? How do you handle the unremembered (but very much present) pain of separation when most people expect you to just be “fine and grateful”? How do you reunite with people who are all at once your closest relatives and at the same time complete strangers?

I dont know the answers to any of these questions. But I am trying to figure it out. By living it.

In times of great trauma (like war) children get torn asunder from their parents and their families. Sometimes, children are sent to live with other people to keep them safe from battle torn areas. Families in these situations perhaps spend years being apart, not knowing about the wellbeing of those they are separated from. When these families reunite, it is a clear cut story of wonderful reunification and a return to familial wholeness.

When families are apart because of adoption, there is an expectation that loss and separation are not felt in the same way as the war torn family. The original trauma that caused the need for adoption is not acknowledged, and the loss for both parents and child is not recognized. Somehow, this trauma which caused a need for separation and the subsequent loss and pain is not seen as valid or even present. If it is present, then something must be wrong that has absolutely nothing to do with being adopted or having relinquished a child. These feelings should all be washed away with a pervading feeling of being “grateful”, “making the ultimate sacrifice”, “moving on” and “growing in someone’s heart, not their belly”. While these sentiments are likely well intended, and meant to put adoption in its most positive light, it also has a dismissive quality that does not allow for the true complexity that is relinquishment, adoption and reunion.

Just because my name was changed on a birth certificate, and because I was handed to a childless couple who wanted nothing but a child of their own at 1 month old does not mean I did not experience a loss. A lifetime of wondering, and trying to interpret myself through a mirror that did not properly reflect my unique self as inherited by DNA set me up for perhaps never being able to fully be a part of any family. I always feared I would never have a complete sense of self, and never fully belong. Anywhere.

With one family I share a history, with the other DNA. I never knew until reunion how important and influential DNA is. Raised by linear thinkers, this circuitous brain of mine often felt improperly wired at best and damaged at its worst. My extroverted, overly expressive and impulsive self was reflected back to me as “overbearing”, “selfish” and “unable to be alone”. A good head taller than my adoptive mother, I felt “huge” and “amazon” and like an abnormal ogre. I remember a teacher telling me that my terrible posture was caused by “lack of confidence” and “laziness”. I felt misunderstood, and often inadequate. When I could not read maps and cried over simple math problems, no matter how hard I tried, it was just another proof that I “did not work to potential” (a regular quote on the math and science portions of my report cards). My love of all things religion and religious cult made me appear “flaky”, “gullible” and even “unstable” outside of my true genetic context. Imagine my shock and surprise when I found that these traits of mine that I was trying to find environmental causation for were actually already programmed into me. Out of my control. Out of my adoptive parents’ control. Heck, out of my natural family’s control. The years I spent over analyzing what should have just been assumptions….now, that is loss.

Don’t get me wrong. Not one ounce of me wishes that my life was any other way. I would not have the three children I have now and the life that I love without my adoption. But this does not make adoption a gift to me. It does not make it like a unicorn riding on a cloud. unicorn pillow i poop magicIt is real, complex, multi-layered and I will likely be trying to make heads and tails of it for the rest of my life. Adoption, my adoption, JUST IS. It is not all good, it is not all bad. It is what it is. And it sure is fun to reunite. It is exhilarating to finally see context for my features, my temperament and way of thinking. I would take gaining new siblings as an adult again and again, even with the conflicting life of an adoptee. This adventure of reunion could never have happened without the event that triggered my needing a reunion.

So, I will not try to reflect too much on what could have/should have/would have been. That ship has sailed. I am just going to enjoy it. Knock the unicorn off that cloud. I much prefer it here in the muck and depth of reality. And I am happy that what I found when I finally met my natural family was an openness and willingness to understand this paradox. The 44 year elephant in the room has finally materialized.

I realize now that placing the inflection of a question at the end of a statement an inherited trait…..my sister, biomom and I all do it….although I do it with definitively more alto style diaphragm support (thanks theater, voice training and social smoking!). So, I will refrain from making statements that don’t have room for an open ended question at the end. And most profoundly, I am grateful to finally know my family so I can get the rest of the story.

NOTE from Joani:  Stay tuned for more U&U guest posts on our shared story of reunion.

Thanks be to God.


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The “Nua” Normal

Pondering and prepping, I packed for my Saint Patrick’s Day weekend in Pownal, Vermont.

Anticipating reunion, I puzzled, Rebecca puzzled, and her children all puzzled over what to call me. 

Just who the hey am I when I step off that plane? Who am I when I reach Meeting House Farm?

Just Joani, I had decided beforehand. Well, “biomom” for Rebecca also rang true.

Colleen, my daughter and Rebecca, my new found daughter, have magnetically clicked, thick as thieves. Talking and texting , parsing and plotting they have already devised short hand code for the “new normal.”

SM – Shared mom

SWB – Sister without baggage

SD – Shared dad

That’s  all I am privy to, so far.

The usual labels and conventional titles do not capture who we are becoming for one another. Just yet. 

Just before Christmas, I had my resurrection experience with Rebecca. Once upon s time, unbeknownst  to her, ever so briefly, she was to me, baby girl Elizabeth. 

What, what, what do I call her now?

“Long lost offspring” seemed to work. I did not raise her as I did Colleen.

 But in our kinetic conversation, it became clearer who she is — my child. Carried in my belly and flesh of my flesh, deeply connected and woven together by DNA.

Yes, my beautiful child.

Rebecca texts Colleen the news of my evolving vocabulary.  Typing “child” with thumbs on tiny letters, autocorrect, spells out “chips”.

Chips! What a great name for Rebecca’s three to call me, these two decide. As in “chip off the old block”? As an acronym possibly, I propose: Crazy, Hysterical, Peacock, Super/Shared mom??

Fun, yes. I try it on but it does not quite fit. 

Before my arrival, Rebecca’s youngest, little Meir, blonde and pony tailed, asked his mom about me. But he struggled with just what to call me. “You know the NEW one,” he said.

Ah, “the new one”! I have entered into your lives as if from another world. Strange and foreign yet  at the same time remarkably familiar.

That’s exactly how it feels.

“Familiar” is a family word, you know.

So call me: Nouvelle? Nueva? Just to fancy it up a bit. But better yet, what is Irish for “the new one”? This branch of the family tree did not know they were rooted in Celtic soil.

Google says “Nua”

Honestly simple and perfectly apt. 

Together we are discovering this  “nua world”.

These last three days, this Peacock and the Dragons packed as much as we possibly could into a weekend: bookstore, library, Irish Step classes, MASS MOCA, birthday party, heated pool and hot tub, Apples to Apples, Sunday church, and beer and tacos “al pastor”. 

It was a trip of a trip with Matt and Rebecca, Bella, Jude, and Meir. Pasted already as collages into my Instagram scrapbook. Take a look here.






“The Nua normal” – just begun!


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Scarlet Letter, No More

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

For 45 years, I have locked my secret away in a vault.

Lead lined, buried deep, for me and me alone, always to keep and never to tell.

Under lock and key, it seemed safer that way.

Forty-five years ago, just sixteen years old, I went looking for love, wherever I could find it.

And it wasn’t at home.

Outside looking in, I was Doctor Peacock’s daughter, well to do, parochial school girl, goody two shoes, and middle child.

Inside looking out, I parented myself from a very early age. While my alcoholic bipolar mom was behind closed doors and my workaholic dad was forever making rounds, I learned to take care of Joani.

So I found love in the boy next door. Both refugees from our dysfunctional households, close friends, we clung to one another for love and support.

And then I was “late”. O my God, O my God, what have I done?

1972. Alone and disowned by my parents, I had become a disgrace. A shame on my family, impossible to erase.

Should we have a shotgun wedding? My parents said no. His parents said yes. But both sets agreed that teenage parents, we were destined to be.

But I was a minor, just a child myself. And though I had conceived this child, I could not possibly conceive of  being a mom at 17. No, not yet. No, not now. No visible means of support. No diploma. No degree. Not even a bank account to call my own.

I was terrified. Out and out terrified.

A junior in high school, at Immaculata Prep, I hid my belly beneath a sweater buttoned up well into the spring. And on May 19th of ’72, the priest having refused us, we were married at the courthouse by the Justice of the Peace. I bought a calico hippy peasant dress for the occasion but my mother insisted I wear white.

I might, as well, have worn a Scarlet Letter.

scarlet-letter-two

And though, I knew I could not keep her, I also knew I had to bring her into this world.

The social worker at the adoption agency, whose name I wish I could remember, mothered me three trimesters through. But it was 1972. There was no Planned Parenthood. No birthing classes. No Lamaze. Just a stick figure pamphlet from the Medicaid clinic.

I remember going to the public library to find a picture book, so I could see and understand what was happening inside of me. Blushing at the circulation desk, I was terrified to actually check it out.

September 28th of ’72, in a cab all by myself, I made it to my final appointment at Georgetown Hospital. Already in labor, the nurse rushed me to the delivery room. No time for drugs. I did nothing but push.

And out she came. Purple and slippery and squawking and full of life. Shaking and in shock, I could not bring myself to hold her. I knew that if I did, I risked not giving her up.

I had no plans to even name her, for she was never going to be mine. But the birth certificate sat on my tray table. I had to fill in the blanks. Elizabeth Catherine. Or was it Elizabeth Beatrice? I can’t quite remember.

But I did visit the nursery, though I did not go inside.

“Please, hold her up to the window for me, so that I can see her before I go.”

“Goodbye, little Elizabeth. I wish you a good life. I wish you the best it can be.”

And I have never regretted this decision. I am proud of that child that brought this child into the world in 1972.

So I signed the papers, a sealed adoption. She would never know us and we would never know her. It seemed best for all concerned. And what did I know? I was only seventeen.

So I locked the secret up tight and threw away the key. Grieving was a luxury, I could not afford. Traumatized teenagers, kicked to the curb, we had to survive.

So I skipped my senior year and a year or so later, I made it to CUA. We got jobs in a preschool and the tiniest efficiency you have ever seen.

And now, to make a long story short, we took ten years to grow up. Built a marriage. Built a home. Built a life. And ten years later, in 1982, we had Zach and then Colleen and then Jacob.

All three babies made possible by Elizabeth, the baby I never held in my arms.

And even to my three children, she was a secret. Locked up tight. Never to tell. Why? What good would it do? What would I say? What purpose would it serve? Forty-five years is a very long time. It seemed the vault would hold forever.

And then she found me.

Through a DNA test on Ancestry.com (my brother’s account), just before Christmas, she found me.

An emotional tsunami broke loose in my head. Pummeled by waves, I was certain, I’d drown. Buoyed by therapy, I did not.

Rebecca Dragon is her name. Mother of three. Lives on a farm in Vermont.Spiritual seeker. Russian Orthodox, by choice. Theater major. She found and read my blog. My daughter’s too.

Excited beyond words, she had found her tribe.

Terrified beyond words, I froze, not knowing what I would do.

But, of course, I did.

The next morning, I called her. The hardest phone call I have ever made in my life. We talked for half an hour. Crying. Incredulous. Laughing.  And now, we have talked many more times. Texting, emailing, Face Booking, too.

She is happy, healthy, and whole. A down to earth, sort of off-the-grid parent, she home schools her three children. Crafty, she spins and knits. Comfortable in the kitchen, she makes real food from scratch. She is snarky and hysterical, theological and spiritual. And a blogger, herself, twice over. An urban expat, living on a rural route, she grew up in D.C.

Though those domestic genes are certainly not mine, she reminds me so much of me. Different, of course, taller, green eyes, and a different nose. She is definitely one of us. Primarily a Peacock, I would vainly say.

DNA is much more powerful than I ever could have imagined.

And now my children know and have happily connected with her, too. And my siblings know. And my coworkers know.  And my friends.

And now you know too.

Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, I fly to Vermont, to meet Rebecca and her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir. And her husband too.

I am going as “just Joani.” I am not “mom” or “grandma”. Rebecca’s fabulous parents, alone, deserve these titles. I did not raise her as my own. I like to call her “my long lost offspring” and as for me, maybe “biomom”, at least for now.

But we are definitely biologically joined at the hip. And I really, really like her. And I look forward to knowing her and her family, more and more.

So the “Peacock and the Dragon” will meet and we’ll take it from there.

No more “Mea maxima culpa.”

Scarlet Letter, no more.

(And meet Rebecca! Yes, also a blogger @ The Wee Dragon!)
JoaniSign