Happy birthday to me

Whenever I’m interviewed about my book or adoption in general, invariably I’m asked what advice I would give to adoptees who are considering such a search.  The first thing I always say is “Expect the unexpected.  But don’t be surprised when the unexpected is not what you expect.”  When asked to elaborate, I tell the interviewer that there is no way a person can begin to prepare himself for the journey he’s about to pursue.  He will encounter emotions, feelings and situations unlike any he’s encountered before.  And he will then need to determine how to deal with them.

These emotions, feelings and situations run the gamut of humanity.  Identity, acceptance, frustration, cultural differences, nature versus nurture awareness–all will play a part in this enduring episode.  There will be bad times, heart-wrenching emotions, disagreements and frustrations.  But there will be joys, heartfelt emotions, and moments of epiphany.   All will reverberate throughout the adoptee’s life.

I was thinking of this last weekend.  My birthday was January 26; I turned fifty-five.  The double nickels.  I am vacationing at my timeshare in Central Oregon at a resort called Eagle Crest.  I have a beautiful condo all to myself that sleeps six.  It hugs the cliffs of the Crooked River Gorge.  When I walk out on my deck, I hear the rushing of the river.  The scent of juniper and sage fills my nostrils and cleanses my lungs.  I’m exhilarated.

But I’m alone.  Granted, I came here to write and work on publicity for my book, This is My Lemonade–An Adoption Story, so truly, would it be good to have company?  Possibly not. Nevertheless, when the 26th hit, I realized that I would be spending my birthday alone.

I arrived in the early morning hours of my birthday, revved up on caffeine for the drive over the mountains.  Unable to sleep, I turned on the boob tube looking for something stimulating.  At 2:55 a.m., the time of my birth, I began to think of my mother.  My mind wandered to that little rural hospital in Silverton, Oregon when I entered the world for the first time and my she held me.  According to my adoptive mother (who I always call “Mom” because she IS my mom), after I was cleaned up, my birth mother, Gwen, held me a few moments before handing me over to Mom.  “From then on, Mom said, “You were mine.”

So the separation occurred quite soon and quite quickly.  And it’s still there.  Always will be.  But that is not why I digress.  Digression is in my DNA.  It’s why I mention the blessings that occur from adoption.  And that brings me back to Eagle Crest Resort outside Redmond in Central Oregon, during this sub-freezing January week.  It’s a sweet tale of little blessings that come into our lives.

I was driving to the store for groceries when I saw two cars stopped along the road in the resort.  Several people emerged and were out photographing the geese that were standing on the ice-covered lake.  I decided I would stop and take a few photos also.

As I snapped pictures and observed the geese, I heard these people chatting away in what sounded like Russian.  Being the outgoing (some would say “nosy”) person I am, I asked them if they were Russian.  They responded affirmatively.  In an effort to connect with these people I casually mentioned that my sister-in-law (ex, actually) was Russian, and my nephew was half Russian.

This interested them immensely and they approached me.  “Where does your brother live?”  “Is he Russian?”  “Are you Russian?”

I then had to explain briefly about my brother’s international exploits in the world of oil exploration.  I also mentioned that I had visited Russia in 1999.  They asked where I was from.  When I responded “Oregon”, they were more intrigued.

From there I had to give them a crib note version of my life as the questions flew.  Two women with them were from Ukraine and I told them that I was one-quarter Ukrainian and how my mother’s family fled Poland in World War I.  This thrilled them no end and one of the women, Olga, insisted on giving me her phone number because she wanted me to stay in her home in Kiev.

From there, I was graciously invited to have dinner with them in the house they were renting in the resort.  I accepted immediately and said I would bring the wine and dessert.

Well, the evening lasted until about 1:30.  The food was out of this world; the tequila ambrosial.  I had specifically requested no Ukrainian vodka and they complied.  I had been asked my age by two of the young men and I told them I was “fifty-five today”.  They couldn’t believe it, which endeared them to me forever.  This knowledge led to several toasts in my honor and candles for me to blow out after dinner before we dove into the desserts.

This family had immigrated to America from Azerbaijan.  The wife was Jewish, the husband, Muslim.  The Ukrainians were Christian and one of the young men had brought his fiancé, a beautiful young Chinese gal who was Buddhist.  I was swept away by this mini United Nations.

We had a wonderful time eating, drinking, laughing and telling each other about ourselves. I gave them an autographed copy of my book and expounded a bit more on my story. They were fascinated.  The whole evening was an overwhelming blessing.

OK, there is a point to all these tangents.  The point goes back to my original assertions that adoption is fraught with many negatives, but also with many positives.  In this case, the experience was obviously positive.

My perspective has been altered radically from my adoption experience.  I grew up in a vanilla environment of casseroles, mashed potatoes and gravy, Sunday School and Mayberry RFD.  Was that bad?  Certainly not.  And I would never change the life I had.

But, I was on a course that would have perpetuated the Mayberry RFD ethic.  My goals and plans for the future were decidedly unexciting consisting of college, a job, a suburban home, a family with trips to Disneyland and, ultimately, death.

When the opportunity came to meet my biological family, I was unprepared for what my future would bring.  My search led to an upheaval in how I viewed life.  I suddenly saw possibilities that I never considered–world travel, new ideas, new people.  Dreams that never occurred to me began to come into hue.  I recognized detours opening for me on the highway of my life.

Because my birth family had such an international flavor, I embraced it and began to celebrate it.  Because my brother is world-traveled and very savvy, I began to push the boundaries of my existence.  And that’s what led to the encounter with this beautiful Russian family.

Without the luxury of an international identity, I probably wouldn’t have stepped out of my comfort zone to introduce myself to these people.  I would have passed them by, thinking nothing.  But, by reaching out, I met a wonderful, fascinating clan.  And I didn’t spend my birthday alone.  It was actually celebrated with continuous toasts, candles and the “Happy Birthday” song sung with various accents–Azerbaijani, Chinese, Russian, Jewish, Ukrainian and English.  What a blessing.

We can never know what our lives would be like if we had made different decisions in the past.  We can surmise, but we can’t know for sure.  This decision my mother, Gwen, made obviously changed my life forever.  Seeking my birth family obviously changed my life forever.  Despite the harrowing abuse, arguing and yelling, I’ve been blessed.  I’ve been blessed.  I’ve been blessed.  I’ve been blessed.  I can’t say that enough.

I know this little episodic tale is not earth-shaking.  It’s one little blip on the timeline of my life.  But it’s important to pursue these little blips if our lives are to be painted in colors other than white.  It’s important to pursue them if one has sought his family and had good, bad or good and bad experiences.  No matter what one has experienced in his search, there is good to be had.  You have to look for it.  You have to recognize it when you see it. And then it’s up to you to reach out and grab it–or walk away.

That’s true for anyone, not just us adoptees.  “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  This is true not just for the financially poor, but the poor in spirit who don’t take the plunge.  Life is a banquet.



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