by Kim Heinke
I was just over a week old when my parents picked me up from The Children’s Home in Boise, Idaho. Today, my daughter Rachel thinks I lived the life of the fictional character Annie. She often asks me if I had to do chores, or if the people in charge were mean.
“No Rachel, I was a baby.”
“Oh. Well, did you just lie in the crib all alone all day?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it .” It’s hard for her to wrap her head around the whole idea.
The phrase “I don’t know” has been a big part of my life. I remember in grade school when we were given an assignment to write about our ethnic backgrounds. I wanted to say, “I don’t know” because I didn’t know, but I wrote down the backgrounds of my parents and called it good.
It’s strange to grow up and not know where you came from, or who you are. There are definitely missing pieces. I often wondered if this was how people with amnesia felt. I can relate to people who go through an identity crisis. I definitely had one (refer to my high school years).
I didn’t have anyone to relate to biologically while growing up. And although my mom and I looked so much alike, it just wasn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my parents with all my heart. I am glad I grew up with them and had the experiences I did because I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. But the answers I wanted are things an adoptive parent can’t give to an adoptee. I often thought of the day I would have a child of my own–have that connection and know what it felt like.
That brings me to Rachel. I was riding behind her on the bike trails one day, watching her and deep in thought. I see so much of myself in her. She is tenacious, for one. She has a great sense of humor, is really goofy and has a hearty laugh. She is such a hard worker, a bit intense at times. She’s deeply empathetic, cares very much about the feelings of others. She is loving and kind. She purses her lips when focusing and has sudden bursts of crazy energy that come out of nowhere. She is incredibly athletic and picks up any new sport easily. She is a go-getter and loves life. She is definitely a free spirit.
I see myself in you, Rachel. Or, as they say in Avatar, “I see you.”
Oh, but let’s go back some years before Rachel. I met my birth mother, Bette, when I was 23. I wasn’t looking for her at all. My brother, Tod, was looking for his biological family. When he called The Children’s Home and spoke with someone, this is what he was told: “Wow, it’s funny you called, because your sister’s birth mother just sent us a letter to open up her files.”
Tod called me in New York, where I was living at the time. Imagine my surprise!. I think I forgot to breathe for a while.
It was a lot to process.
A few months later I went to Seattle to meet my birth mother. Not long after that, I moved to the Seattle area to get to know her and her family. Meeting my birth mother came with a definite honeymoon period, then reality and settling in. Even though there is that biological connection, we don’t share the same early memories and that bond wasn’t instant. It never has felt anything like a mother/daughter relationship to me, but more like friends.
It’s been a journey–mostly a good one.
I’ve gotten answers to some of my questions. Bette and I share the same laugh, handwriting, fun-loving energy, dimples (the pursed lip thing too), and we look a lot alike! We were also both in drill team as young girls.
Bette and her husband, Keith, weren’t able to have children of their own, so they adopted a son, Ben. Ben was 13 when we met. He has recently met his birth mother, too. Are you confused yet?!
My birth father, Kari, came into the picture later. My mom actually helped me find him. Because he lived out of the country, he was harder to track down. Out of sheer luck, in an AOL member search, I found one person who shared the same last name with him. I emailed her and said, “This is a shot in the dark, but . . . .” She responded, and through her (for which I am so thankful) I was able to find Kari, as well as so much information about that side of the family.
Kari lived in Sweden. He and I spoke on the phone for the first time when I was 30 years old. I discovered that we share the same temper, face shape (eyebrows), short, muscular stature, love for athletics (we both studied exercise science/physical ed. in college), and especially skiing! He was a World Cup skier and a member of team USA (biathlon) for the 1972 Olympic Winter Games. We never met in person, but got to know each other over the phone. He passed away in 2007, just weeks after my Dad died.
Kari had a son, my half-brother, Kai. Kai grew up in Hawaii with his mom, Tere, who is a wonderful soul. Kai and I have been lucky enough to meet. He is five years younger than I am, and we have a lot of similarities. We were comparing photos of us as kids. It’s funny how much we looked alike. You know who else looks like him? Rachel. Kai and I now have a good friendship, and I am really happy to have him in my life. He has visited us twice and we’ve had fun getting to know each other through the visits and many phone calls. He’s a great guy and we love him a lot.
I’ve discovered so much, including the answer to that long-ago school assignment prompt. I am Irish, Norwegian, and Finnish, in case you were wondering!
Now that I have been through this path, finding and getting to know my birth parents, I want to clarify my relationships. When I talk about my Mom and Dad, I am talking about Jerry and Sharon, the parents I grew up with. They are now unfortunately deceased. When I talk about my brother, I mean Tod. Speaking of Tod, he also found his birth mother and they are getting to know each other.
When I talk about Bette, she is my birth mother. Kari, my birth father. My younger brother is Kai, my youngest brother, Ben.
In a note of irony, as my daughter is growing up, I am left with many unanswered questions that only my adoptive parents could answer. Rachel wants to know the answers to questions. Was I “like that” when I was her age? How did I handle this or that situation? What kind of student was I in early elementary? Growing up I had questions which only my birth parents could answer, and now I have questions only my parents could answer. Questions, always questions.
Kim Heinke is best described as a grounded free spirit. She lives with her husband, John, and daughter, Rachel, in Bellingham, WA. Kim owns a cottage industry where she makes soap to sell to stores, happily volunteers for her daughter’s school, loves being active and adventurous and being outdoors. She is enjoying the journey.