My Own Acre

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she states:

One image that helps me begin to know the people in my fiction is something a friend once told me. She said that every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one, everyone gets one. And as long as you don’t hurt any anyone, you really get to do as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetized rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale, or an auto wrecking yard, that’s what you get to do with it. There’s a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they think is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre.

She was talking about creating characters for her writing, but I immediately started thinking about how this applies (or doesn’t) to my (adopted) life.

I do admit that the parenting I received made this all worse, but I believe even adoptees with perfect parents may feel a little like this:

I feel like I didn’t get my own emotional acre.

I got an acre that was supposed to be the acre of my adoptive parents’ biological child.  They tried for a child to put in that acre, and it didn’t happen.  They eventually adopted me, and put me in THAT acre, but because it had lain fallow for so long, and untended, it became overgrown with scrub and weeds.

So I was plopped down in that acre.  Since it was all full of brush and weeds, and I was just a little baby, I got very scratched up and hurt trying to climb around in it.

My parents could see  nothing wrong. “What do you mean it hurts? It’s a fine acre! It is perfect for a child of ours! We gave you a whole acre, what are you complaining about?  You should be thankful you even have an acre.”  At some point they realized it was better for them to take off the gate and lock to get in and out of my acre more easily.

I very, very slowly learned to hack at and cultivate my acre a little bit.  But I only had MY kind of seeds with me, and they developed a very different kind of plant than my parents expected.  They didn’t usually say anything outright, but often enough I would see disgusted looks and hear, “Where are your tomatoes? Your zucchini? All I see are potatoes and apples.” *grimace*

Once in awhile I asked to look for farmers that grew apples and potatoes so I could learn to grow mine better, because I felt I was doing a terrible job.  But my parents would wail and cry, “How could you do this to us?? Please don’t, please don’t look for potato farmers. We make good tomatoes here.

So I secretly learned to hate my potatoes and apples and grow tomatoes and zucchini.

They would often look over my acre lovingly and say, “What beautiful land. What beautiful produce! What a good little farmer you are.”

I hate tomatoes.

 

 

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I come from the land of the ice and snow…

viking ship

Growing up I had a “friend.”  Friend in quotes because looking back, the relationship was far from a healthy one.

Anyway, this girl was half Italian and half Norwegian, and so over the top proud of that.  Wanting to be connected to her, wanting to be liked, I wished so much that I was at least part Italian and Norwegian, too.  My parents really didn’t know.  “I think I remember some Norwegian, maybe?”  That was not good enough for me.  It wasn’t good enough for my friend, either.

Also, my adoptive father was half Italian, so I felt left out of my own family not being those things. I felt like an outcast.  (If I, who am often mistaken for my adoptive parents’ biological child because of our resemblance, feel like an outcast, how much more must transracial and transcultural adoptees feel?)

Fast forward 40 years and decades of scientific advancement – spit in a test tube now and you can find out just “what you are” down to percentages.  It turns out I’m 23% Norwegian! (and a touch Italian somewhere).  And my ancestry addicted aunt has traced us back to Eric the Red.

TAKE THAT, mean snobby friend! 😉  I feel vindicated.

It’s a bitter, bitter-sweet victory though.

 

Chicken vs. Eagle

unsplash eagle chick

I came across a post that contained the following “well known” story that is supposed to be inspirational — to get you to realize you are not living your full potential and that you can do something about it. Since it’s apparently common knowledge (even though I had never heard the story put this way), I think I can just copy and paste here without infringing on copyright:

One day, a hardworking farmer found an eagle’s egg lying on the grounds of his farm. He was in a hurry so didn’t given much attention to it and quickly placed it in the chicken coop with all the chicken eggs. After a couple days, the egg hatched and the eagle was born.

 The eagle looked around and assumed he was a chicken and so the eagle clucked and pecked and dug for worms. He scurried about and occasionally jumped around, flying a few feet in the air like the chickens.
Over the years, the eagle grew old and tired. One day he saw a magnificent bird flying overhead with grace, skill, and profound beauty. The bird was unfettered as it glided through wind and rain across the sky.

“Who is that?” asked the eagle.

“That’s the king of the birds,” replied a chicken, “The bald eagle! She is one with the sky. The sky is her home. We are chickens – our home is on the ground.”

And so the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he believed he was…

This reminds me of my life, except I realized pretty early on I *was* an eagle. But I didn’t really know what an eagle was, because someone had built a coop and kept me in it, so I couldn’t see any eagles other than the Ugly Chicken Eagle in the mirror.

I tried to ask about eagle things, but the chickens just kept on clucking with no real understanding of eagles.  Mostly they looked confused. “What? Eagles? Why would you ever want to know about eagles? Just keep pecking. It’s time to eat.”  But my beak was shaped differently, and it didn’t work like theirs did. I was too big. I devised ways to attempt to meet my needs, but it was awkward and clumsy like an eagle mirroring chickens would be apt to be.

Sometimes the chickens would attack, or turn away and pretend I wasn’t even there, fed up and angered by my questions and my clumsiness.  Which only served to increase my desire for eagleness.

When it was time to leave the nest, I didn’t really know how to be a chicken, and I certainly didn’t know how to be an eagle.

One day many years later I actually met a few eagles!  I was so excited! (read: scared to death).  But it was too late,  they could not teach me to soar, or even fly.  I was an old Misfit Ugly Chicken Eagle at that point, and could not make my wings do what theirs did, no matter how hard I tried.

What the Old Misfit Ugly Chicken Eagle does at this point is anyone’s guess.

The Power of the Social Brain

A fascinating TED talk on the social brain.  At the same time my mind was going “YES! he gets it!”  my stomach was hurting with grief.

It hurts to be kicked out of your clan. A real pain, as bad or worse than any physical pain.  I don’t think the suicide rate of people who’ve broken limbs is 4x greater than average, but it sure is for adoptees.  When will people wake up to this pain?

Feeling like Atlas

Today I was reading Unwelcome Inheritance: Break your Family’s Cycle of Addictive Behaviors by Lisa Sue Woititz and the late Dr. Janet G. Woititz.  The reason I’m reading it is another post for another day, but I was struck by one line in the introduction.

She says a particular chapter suggests that ” we ACoA [Adult Children of Alcoholics] expand our life view to include the other generations of our families. Doing this helps us to see ourselves as part of history, which takes us out of and beyond ourselves.” (emphasis mine)

I don’t know about you, but as an adoptee I have always felt the great burden of the lack of this in my life. I always felt dropped from outer space.  “Viewing other generations” of my adoptive family just felt weird, foreign, not mine. Hearing that the grandfather of my adoptive mother stowed away on a cargo ship to reach America was fascinating, but just as personal as if I had heard it about my friend’s great grandfather.  I care(d) about my adoptive family, so what was amazing for them made me happy, but I was happy for *them* not *for us.*

Being other in a family of not other made me stuck in myself, and not in a selfish way — I was not full of myself or thinking I was top dog or anything — but because it felt like my story began and ended at me, I felt everything was up to me and everything was because of me and my fault.   I say “felt” but honestly, I have a very hard time shaking this and it’s really still present tense.

This is a horrible burden for a child. Your family abandoned you, you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, you somehow have to “fix” it because it hurts, you have to “fix” your family because they wanted a girl and couldn’t have a girl and you’re it, you’re that girl it’s all up to you…and you’re seven.

Baby Girl Vanished

I’m almost finished reading Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and her mother Clare Dunkle.  (I know how it turns out because I just finished the mother’s book that tells it from her perspective). It’s a memoir of a girl struggling with anorexia.

(((SPOILER ALERT!!! But I’ll try to be somewhat vague))

I’ve just reached the part where she realizes that a trauma that occurred in her life at 13 really *was* a catalyst of her descent into anorexia.  Until that time (I think it’s about 7 years later) she blamed many other things.

The title “Elena Vanishing” not only refers to her getting thinner, but also how her personality, the Elena that she really was pre-trauma, disappeared until she was a shell.

The realization I mentioned above seemed to be instrumental in her getting a handle on her anorexia. She was able to remember who she was and revisit this person and somewhat piece her back together. She had memories of love and connection and a strong life force.

This, my dear readers, is to me one of the most difficult and terrifying parts of being an adoptee …let me rephrase that, being an adoptee out of the fog of denial.  (I know many adoptees who swear there is nothing wrong but hold their lives together with a super tight obsessive control of the details of their days, or in any number of other ways. “Oh, I’m just a control freak, that’s all…” Yeah, right.)

The adoptee who feels like an alien, who feels like a piece of driftwood, a pulled up sapling in a forest of deeply rooted people, one forever treading water…the adoptee given up early on in life has no pre-trauma personality.

That “shell” that Elena became after trauma? It’s all we know.  We feel not just vanishing…but vanished. There’s no “me” to look back on to put the pieces back together.

I have a theory that so many adoptees contemplate or attempt suicide to put to rights that cognitive dissonance that occurs when they realize that they feel dead inside, a shell of a person.  They want to make it whole again…either all alive (but how, when no one gets us and screams at us to be thankful for how we feel??) or all dead.  (Dear readers, please please get help if this is you…)

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I wrote this post, like I said, before finishing the whole book. In the last few pages, it was revealed…

(SPOILER ALERT! 🙂  )

…that her mother almost died in childbirth and was unavailable to really parent much for an  amount of time as she recovered.  The therapist in the book suggested that Elena’s mean “inner voice” was actually something that took over when her mother was unavailable, and that once her mother was “back” that Elena had, as a tiny baby, decided she “didn’t need her” , became hypervigilant, because she had gotten along without her and, I’m adding, she didn’t want that abandonment to happen again!

So that kind of pokes a hole in my using this book as an example of a pre-trauma personality for this post, because her initial trauma WAS at birth, with another trauma later. I’m keeping it though, because while my example may be flawed, I’m sure if I had time I could find another book or story with a correct example.  Plus, the rest of the book makes sense in light of our abandonment issues, and is a good example of those.