I’ve been thinking about heritage lately. K.J. asked me to remind him what his “original name” was – the name on the birth certificate filled out by his birth parents. Apparently, he had found a website that reported to help you look into your ancestry. I cautioned him that those sites usually wanted payment, but that he could talk to Tina or Kevin (his biological parents) to get started on the family history. K.J. didn’t say anything else, but I thought it was interesting that he was curious at this point, and I made a mental note to message his birth parents to see if they could provide details.
I was reminded of a story that a friend told me about her mother wanting to take one of her children to a family reunion. That particular child was not available, so my friend suggested her mother take a different child – the child in her family that was adopted. The grandmother said, “Oh, he wouldn’t be interested. It’s not his family.” My friend was appalled. How could her mother say this? If her son wasn’t a part of her family, then he had no family to claim. His was a closed adoption; and as far as his adoptive mother was concerned, he was one of them.
I was also reminded of a young woman and adoptee at an adoption triad meeting who told the story of her adoptive family coming home with the family crest and thrusting it upon her with great excitement. Her response was, essentially: “It may be your family crest, but it isn’t mine.”
Which is it? Our children through adoption are certainly part of their adoptive families by law, entitled to inheritance and the rights of children who come into families by birth to their parents. But what about ancestry? What approach are we supposed to take with our children as adoptive parents? It certainly seems that open adoption and the opening of once-closed records has changed the way we think about this issue. But can a child in an open adoption claim both families’ origins, or is that just too damn confusing?
I don’t have an answer, but I will tell you this. I have an aunt who has spent a lot of time digging into our family ancestry, finding relatives and relationships deep into the past. A couple of years ago, it suddenly dawned on me – when presented with the opportunity to review her work: I don’t care. I was the end of my line. What I learn about me only affects me. I am forward-looking when it comes to these sorts of things. I would rather find ways to embrace and support the diversity of human beings than cling to some identity with a particular ethnicity.
It’s funny. I was with my niece this past weekend and we got into a discussion about family traits. We were focused on her parents, but it suddenly occurred to me that she was “related” to me too. Maybe Kylie also carried some of the genes I carried. And, quite unexpectedly, I felt warm and touched by this. I’ve spent so much time wrestling with the sadness, anger, and other feelings associated with being infertile, that I haven’t really thought much about the fact that I am related to younger generations through my siblings. Hmmm.
Now, before you jump to conclusions, this new discovery does not compel me to seek out my aunt and ask to learn more about the family tree. I am still looking forward. However, if Kylie or one of my nephews needs me to advocate for them in a way that would benefit from knowing more about our ancestry, I will seek that out. But, in the meantime, I am focused on the family trees of the children for whom I am a parent. I want to help them know all they can know about who they are and where they came from. I am also aware that their “status” – whatever that may be, can affect their health, social standing, scholarships available, and employment because of the kind of world we live in.
In my United Methodist Women “circle,” we are going to study immigration and the Bible this year. The Bible is a series of stories of migrant people and a God who cared for and migrated with them. Even the God incarnate of the Christian faith is born a stranger in a different land.
One of the early optional “homework assignments” with this study is to make a collage or chart of your family’s immigration story using actual pictures or drawings of family members. I am fascinated by the idea of trying to create a display that represents the immigration stories of all the Falcos. If we had access to all the relevant information, it would require a large wall to display it – if not a larger space. John’s family is Italian on one side and Russian/Ukrainian on the other. Mine is Scottish and Irish. Emily is German, Swedish, and Cherokee Indian. K.J. is Polish and German. Skye is Italian and Irish (on one side). Journey is Dutch, German, Spanish, and Cherokee Indian (on one side). Becton is African-American (with unknown countries of origin).
I haven’t read very far into the study book yet, but one idea hit a homerun with me: a theology of acceptance. It is the idea that we are to embrace other human beings exactly as they are. The incarnate God teaches us not just to tolerate or put up with others, but to accept them. It is only through acceptance that love is possible. I’d like to think that my family is a place to practice this idea of accepting and loving the “stranger.” We are very imperfect in our practice, but I believe God understands that too.