New Ideas

by Luanne

I’m the mother of two young adults, both adopted from Korea when they were babies.  But my relationship with adoption began much earlier.  I’m the sister of an adoptee, too.  Back in the early sixties, it was still a new idea that adoption wasn’t a secret to be kept and that an adopted child could grow up knowing he was adopted and still feel loved and accepted by others.  My parents embraced this idea.  When they started the adoption process for a boy, they explained all this to me and I thought I understood.  Yet it wasn’t quite that simple.

Sister meets her new baby brother at the adoption agency

Luanne and baby Teddy at the agency

It was a March day, when my parents and I drove downtown to pick up my brother Teddy from Catholic Family Services. We weren’t Catholic, but Mom explained that their agency was the one with the babies and we were in need of a baby.  We pulled up in front of an old house on South Street and went in. Teddy lay in a white bassinette in a small room. My parents and I encircled him, looking down at our new baby. Our case worker said, “He’s just six weeks old. Isn’t he a darling?”

Though shocked to see his face covered with a red rash, I quickly decided not to be picky since I had been waiting all seven years of my life for a brother.

A few months before, when the case worker was going to visit us for the first time, Mom and Dad had warned me that she would ask questions, and I sensed that our family getting the stamp of approval rested on me and my answers.

I kept things businesslike, asking for a brother since our family needed a boy more than another girl. Since it was 1963 and I’d never met anyone who was adopted, I assumed that kids, adopted or not, would automatically look like their parents.  I had my mother’s brown hair and blue eyes, so I put in an order for brown eyes to match Dad’s.

Now I peered closer at the baby with his frill of reddish brown hair.  “He’s got blue eyes like mine!”  I’m sure I sounded accusatory.  The case worker explained they were fresh out of baby boys with brown eyes, so they had chosen Teddy because he looked like Mom and me.  I considered the logic and figured he would do.

When we got him home, all the relatives started coming over to meet him. For two weeks, we had somebody at our house almost every day. They liked to have me sit on the couch and hold Teddy while they took our picture. Teddy felt like one of my dolls, but warm and heavier, and yet I was conscious of how fragile he was and how careful I had to be with him. Every day I rushed home from school so I could see him.  Day by day, I learned to be more comfortable with him, and how to hold the Playtex bottle with its plastic bag insert so he could get formula without swallowing too much air. I learned how to burp him, patting his back which seemed barely bigger than my hand. He relaxed and smiled at me when I picked him up, and he wrinkled his forehead when I lay him back in the crib.

I’d been in the choir at the Methodist church all school year. A group of us would walk from school to the church. We were six kids, all ages, from an afternoon kindergartener to a tall fifth grader, a girl I’ll call Jane.  Her size and confident demeanor gave her a lot of authority.

That day we decided to cut through the backfields to the church, although we usually just marched down the side of Gull Road. Jane said it would save us a lot of time to cut through, and nobody wanted to argue with her, although the snow was melting in the field, leaving ruts filled with mud.

Since having a baby brother was a new phenomenon in my life, I liked to bring up the subject–a lot.  After having been an only child, I loved the sound of the words my brother.  As we walked, I chimed in with something about my brother Teddy.

Suddenly Jane, who was leading, turned around and said, “He’s not your REAL brother. Don’t lie about it.”

My skin seemed to peel back from my limbs, and my stomach got a sick flipfloppy feeling. “What do you mean he’s not my real brother?”

“He’s ADOPTED. That’s not REAL.” A sea of bloody red anger splashed across my eyes.  Jane had no siblings and, since she was eleven, probably thought she’d never get any. But I wasn’t thinking from her perspective.  To me, her words were an act of violence against Teddy.

That’s the first memory I have of being angry.  I lowered my head, aiming straight for her stomach.  Eventually Jane and I got back on friendly terms, but I never forgot that some people don’t really understand what adoption means for those of us whose lives are changed by it.  My parents’ philosophy had become my philosophy, but I now knew it wasn’t shared by everyone.

Comments

  1. Love the story. I probably would have head-butted Jane as well. No wonder Teddy wanted to tag along with whatever we were doing when we played together. It was all that loving from his big sister.

  2. Thank you so much for reading and your comments! I had forgotten that he used to do that! I’ll have to remind him about it . . . .

  3. You are a fantastic writer, Luanne. I can feel, as best as I can, what you must have been feeling when Teddy came along. I can’t wait for your next blog post!

  4. Luanne, what a great jumping off point for your blog! Your descriptive powers shine as always… especially in the Jane moment: the visceral stomach descrip is spot on! That’s exactly what it feels like. I’m glad you’re still educating the Jane’s of the world and in such a lovely literary way! -Best, Renee

  5. Wow! How beautifully you discussed your first experience with adoption. The relationship between your child self and your brother Teddy was so tender and touching. I can hardly wait for your next posting!

  6. Love this raw and authentic look of a child’s perspective of adoption. Your words carries us through the excitement, exuberance, sadness and anger as you talk about Teddy.

    Congrats on your new endeavor. I can’t wait to read more.

  7. Darcy Pavlack says:

    So glad I found my way to your “blog”. Love, love , love your writing Lu….I have such a great visual picture of you as a young girl as well as seeing you ram “Jane” in the stomach!!
    I am hungry for more of your & your daughters insights into the world of adoption!!!
    Hugs,
    -d-

  8. Barbara Crawley says:

    Luanne, you obviously took being a big sister like a duck to water! I love your description of taking care of your real live doll, especially since you had put in your order for him (even if you thought at first that the caseworker got the details wrong, LOL) And although we’ve never “actually” met I feel like I know you well enough to say I can SO see you head-butting Jane!!!

  9. Jane Saginaw Lerer says:

    Luanne– It is hard to remember the days when adoption was considered something to be kept secret. What harm and hurt was caused by this deception. Your blog is excellent. Your topic is an essential one to grapple with. Thanks for the clear issues you raise.
    Jane S.

  10. I wonder how often my own kids have this kind of experience and perhaps never tell me or anyone. You were kind enough to “like” one of my posts about telling your child’s adoption story… I’ve just posted another on what makes a “real” family,” which you and your readers may find interesting (and for which I’d like to hear any comments) http://wp.me/p2zjO9-R

Trackbacks

  1. […] can go back and read my very first post on this blog for that.  It was when I had a friend named Jane . . . […]

  2. […] local sources. My brother was adopted as a baby when I was eight, so adoption was familiar to me (link to my very first blog post about my brother). When we decided to adopt, we first thought of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: