Posted by: nancyowriter | March 25, 2012

The “Slob Gene”

I’ve been having a terrible time over the past few years getting my youngest son to be neat.  Our house isn’t that clean, so I don’t understand why he has trouble keeping up with our minimal standards, but he does have trouble – a lot of trouble.  If he cleans his room on a Sunday, by Monday morning the floor will be strewn again with clothes, back packs, crumpled papers, and empty Gatorade bottles.  If he spends an evening watching basketball in the living room, the next morning I find plates, cups, and food wrappers on the coffee table and socks, remote controls, and blankets on the floor.

When he was little, I helped him put his pajamas under his pillow and make his bed every morning.  Every evening I helped him get ready for bed and we put his clothes from the day into the laundry hamper.  After every meal everyone in the family puts their dishes into the dishwasher.  I thought we’d gotten him off to a good start.  So what happened?  I’ve been alternately shaking my head, joking, threatening, and yelling about it with no success.  I’d just about decided that he had inherited a “slob gene” and was incapable of being neat, but this week something changed.

I was having lunch with a friend and she mentioned that her college aged son, who has been sharing an apartment with his 2 best friends (and is not particularly tidy himself), had decided that he and one roommate just couldn’t live with the third roommate any longer.  Apparently this third roommate is messier and dirtier than either of them could stand, in spite of many requests that he clean up his act.  So, they are moving out and leaving him to find 2 replacements who can put up with him.

I realized at that moment that the stakes for my son are higher than I had thought.  If he can’t learn to be neater, he may be doomed to living alone and to alienating friends, girlfriends, or spouse, not to mention setting a lousy example for my future grandchildren.  So, today is the first day of a new program.  I’ve told him that every night before he goes to bed I’m going to inspect his room and he has to have everything picked up off the floor.  Every morning he has to make his bed before getting a ride to school, and every day after he goes to school, I’m going to pick up all of the belongings has left lying around the house and take them away for a week.  He may have a genetic tendency towards messiness, but we all have things we need to work on, whether inherited or not.

I have a feeling that this will as hard on me as it will be on him…I can just imagine the arguing and complaining.  But it has to be done, and who knows, maybe someday he will thank me.

Posted by: nancyowriter | March 4, 2012

Look Alike

The other night at a high school open-house, my son’s homeroom teacher started by walking around the desks and asking parents which child was theirs.  To each response she had some quick, pleasant reply:  “Oh, he’s so polite”, “She sits right up front!”, or “He’s quite the ball player.”  When I told her our son’s name she blurted out “Oh, I can see the family resemblance!”  I couldn’t help myself – I had to laugh.

My husband is half Spanish-Mexican and half Scotch, I am of English descent, and our son is Salvadoran.  True, we all have dark brown hair, but that’s where the similarities end.  My husband and I both have long, narrow faces; straight, thin noses; and medium complexions.  Our son has a more rounded face, broad nose, and darker complexion.  Our hair is fine and straight; his is stiff and wiry.

Not wanting to embarrass the teacher, I stopped myself and explained “he’s adopted”.  The young woman blushed and apologized.  “No worries” I assured her with a grin.

Clearly this teacher didn’t really stop to think about our appearances before she made her remark.  She was just trying to make polite conversation with a group of strangers.  So that got me thinking – what is it that makes people think it is a good manners to tell someone that their child looks like them?

Of course, biological offspring of 2 parents will usually look somewhat like their parents, but what I don’t understand is why it is considered courteous or flattering to say so out loud.  Maybe it has something to do with reassuring a father that his wife’s children are really his?  Maybe it has something to do with reassuring a mother that her children were not accidentally switched with someone else’s by incompetent hospital staff at birth?  I realize that these are far fetched scenarios, but I’m really stumped here.

I could understand if someone said ‘you and your son are both very handsome’ or ‘you and your daughter both have beautiful eyes’.  But just saying that you look like your son or daughter, if you think about it, could be taken as an insult as much as a compliment.  Maybe everyone thinks that their children are beautiful, so we all take any comparison as a compliment?  That seems more likely, but I don’t know.

In the United States today, 2.5% of children under the age of 18 are adopted.  So, in a school of 1200 students, about 30 of them will be in that category.  It seems to me that comments such as “I enjoy having your son in class” are much safer.  And, in fact, that’s just what she said as we left the room.


Posted by: nancyowriter | February 12, 2012

A baby without a name

Groping in the dark, I found a door, and now a tiny keyhole, but no matter how I strain to press my eye to the hole, the pin point of light on the other side is too small and focused on a point too peripheral to give any clear impression of the scene that lies on the other side.  The keyhole is the paper that rests on my lap.  It has an edging of blue scroll work, a marbled water mark, and the top of it reads “NON-CERTIFIED COPY OF RECORD OF BIRTH PRIOR TO ADOPTION”.  It holds secrets, I know, but I cannot unlock the door to reveal them.

With the first line comes the first disappointment.  I read “Full name of child”.  There is a blank followed by a last name of English origin so common it fills pages of every phone book in America.  I was a baby without a name.

The entire section beneath the heading “Father” is blank.  I was expecting that.  But wouldn’t it have been nice if there had been something there?

The section under “Mother” is completed, and I drink in the words greedily:  I’ve never heard the first name before, but it is pretty, and I smile as I say it out loud several times “Marlys.  My birth mother’s name was Marlys.”  She was 22 at the time, but her birth date is not given.  I eagerly snap open my lap top and start searching for her place of birth.  She was from the Midwest, but Google tells me that the town printed on the paper does not exist.  Did she lie?  Was it a typographical error?  There is a county with a similar name, spelled differently.  Is that what she meant?

I’m not sure how, but I spent over 7 hours yesterday searching for clues about this mysterious woman who gave birth to a nameless child and then disappeared westward to an imaginary town and a life I can find no record of.  I fell into bed late, eyes sore from straining to see something obscured, heart aching with disappointment, head throbbing from knocking against a locked door.

Posted by: nancyowriter | February 5, 2012

Lessons from The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Homes

I recently read a memoir about a woman’s reunification with her birth mother:  The Mistress’s Daughter, by A.M. Homes.  It is a touching story, beautifully written, and I think if I wasn’t adopted myself I might have really enjoyed it.  But given my own situation, I found myself dreading the turn of each page.  Homes’ birth mother is my own night mare.  She is sad, needy, dysfunctional, and somewhat manipulative (my own assessment, not the author’s).  Stories like this are why I hesitate to expose myself to a complete stranger who may have the power to turn my life upside down.

Faced with a similar situation to Homes, I think it would be hard for me not to want to help a person so intimately connected to me.  I tend to be a sucker for a sad story; a rescuer of lost animals; a person not very good at saying ‘no’.   The last information I received about my birth mother suggested that she might not be very well off and hinted that she may even be living in an abusive relationship.  Before I rush forward, I need to decide for myself how much I owe this person for giving me life and arranging for me to be raised by a wonderful family before she disappeared.   Hmmm…that sounds like a lot when I write it on a page…

Those of you who have been following this blog know that I recently requested my original birth certificate from the state of Massachusetts.  It has been three weeks since I sent off the forms, and I’ve been checking the mail with increasing anticipation – and disappointment – each day.   While I’m still eagerly awaiting the arrival of this window to my past, I’m becoming more wary about opening that window too widely.

Posted by: nancyowriter | January 28, 2012

Right to Know?

On Thursday of this week I enjoyed listening to The Diane Rehm Show on Public Radio.  She presented a program entitle Adoptees Using DNA to Find Family during which her guests discussed ways in which adoptees can search for their birth families, and the issue of whether adoptees have a right to know where they came from.  Of course, people called in with examples from all different perspectives.  Some felt that the birth mother’s right to privacy is the most important issue, others that the adopted child’s emotional well being is the ultimate concern, and still others raised the question about medical information and whether knowing your biological history can affect your health care choices as you age.

I was interested to find out that around the world more and more courts are siding with adoptees’ right to know more than birth parents’ rights to confidentiality.  The show even said that in Canada there is no such thing as closed adoption at all any more.   This sounded wonderful to me until they raised the flip side of this, which is the question of whether pregnant women who might have considered a closed adoption would prefer an abortion to the forced publicity of open adoption.   I cringe to think of that unintended effect.

My son recently wrote one of his college application essays about the concept of entitlement.  He aptly noted that his generation is often accused of having a sense or attitude of being entitled to things that were once considered luxuries and of taking for granted things that previous generations had to work hard to achieve.   He raises the issue that we Americans seem to be claiming a lot of new rights lately.  We might all agree that we have rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech, and the other rights outlined in the first 10 amendments to our constitution, but what about other rights?  A quick review of recent news media showed me articles about the right to work, the right to protest, the right to privacy, the right to die, and others.

It makes me wonder – as an adoptee, do I really have the right to know?  What if my right to know interferes with my birth mother’s rights to privacy and the pursuit of happiness?  That’s one of the problems with rights – sometimes one person’s right to something can interfere with another person’s right to something else.  Soon I will receive in the mail my birth mother’s full name at the time that I was born.  I realize that this information is a huge responsibility.  With it, I could unintentionally cause pain and turmoil in the life of someone I have never met, but care deeply about.  I’m not sure exactly what I will do with it, but I do know that I will have to be sensitive, discreet, and thoughtful as I proceed.   I just hope that I can find the ‘right’ balance between my desire for information and her desire for discretion.

Posted by: nancyowriter | January 21, 2012

What’s in a (last) name?

Soon I will receive a piece of paper with a name on it that I’ve wondered about my whole life.  It follows that this week I’ve spent more than a sensible amount of time thinking and reading about last names.  So what kind of information is in a last name?

What if, for example, my birth mother’s last name was Merlo?  Apparently that would suggest that I was of Spanish descent.  Or what about Smith?  That would indicate English.  Abrams, Fisher, or Shain would all reveal that I had come from a Jewish family.  I mentioned my musings to a friend, who asserted that surely I must be Italian.  So, I looked up some Italian names:  Albricci, Bellini, Fiori…some of them sound so musical…  I recently signed up to take a French class and was planning a  trip to France, but maybe I should switch to Italian?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I was somehow related to my actual family who raised me?  I did a little sleuthing on and made a list of last names in my adopted family tree.  But on the other hand, it would be really disturbing if I found out that I was related to my husband’s biological family – yikes!!  I can’t let myself think about that.  There are other, more fun possibilities, like maybe I’m related to one of my best friends, or maybe I’m related to some famous family.  Hey, what if I’m a Windsor or a Rockefeller?  That has a nice ring to it: “Nancy Rockefeller”.

I hope the certificate comes soon…I sure am wasting a lot of time waiting for it.

Posted by: nancyowriter | January 14, 2012

Searching for my birth mother…again

In 1995 I first contacted the court that handled my adoption and asked them to help me find my birth mother.  I had so many unanswered questions floating in my mind, so many emotions swirling in my heart, and no where for them to land.  The court found my birth mother, but she would not reveal her identity to me.  Logically, I could understand her reasons, and tried to content myself with the knowledge that  she had not forgotten me and had wanted the best for me when she had given me away.  But over the years my heart would not be still.  I long to see her picture, know if I have any birth siblings, understand my medical history, and a host of other desires that shift and change as time goes by.

While reading about National Adoption Month at the end of last year, I learned that Massachusetts has passed a law allowing adult adoptees to obtain a copy of their pre-adoption birth certificate, including the name(s) of their birth parent(s).   A possibility for me!  But what if my search causes problems for my birth mother?  What if, once found, she wants something from me?  What if my adoptive parents’ feelings are hurt by my desire to find her?  What if…what if…what if…  Questions, questions, questions, and no answers, again.

I’m tired of wondering and doubting.  I’m starting to suspect that just maybe I’ve been more respectful of other people’s feelings than I’ve been of my own for too long.  I think it’s time to reverse the pattern.  So, yesterday I pulled together copies of the required documents, filled out the forms, had them notarized, wrote the check, and mailed the request.

Obtaining the information is entirely separate from what I do with it.  Once the certificate arrives in the mail, I’ll have a whole new set of questions to answer for myself.  But,I’ve taken a step and it feels good…for now.

Posted by: nancyowriter | December 3, 2011

Overmedication of Foster Kids

It was so sad this week to read about and see the ABC News investigation about overmedication of kids in foster care: and

When we were foster parents, we had a teen live with us for year who was put on 3 different psychoactive medications at one time.  She hated taking them and we could not see that they helped her at all.  We couldn’t understand at the time why her doctors prescribed 2 of them, and they refused to discuss the issue with us when we questioned them.  When I read about the ABC reports this week, it brought back all of those memories and made me see the situation from a different perspective.  I wish now we had fought harder for her.


Posted by: nancyowriter | November 25, 2011

National Adoption Month

I’ve been meaning for weeks to honor National Adoption Month and now here we are at the last weekend in November; it’s time to get to it!  The reason for my hesitancy is this:  Most of what I write about adoption is about my own personal journey.  I don’t pretend to be an expert and don’t want to advise others how to do it.  I can only share my experiences and hope that others will find meaning and companionship in them.  National Adoption Month did not exist when I was growing up, and although it was created when we were foster parents, it was not on our radar.  But I will step out on a limb here and say that I think National Adoption Month is important to all of us who are or want to be members of the adoption triad.

When I was a child, my adoption was a ‘family secret’.  The few times I let it slip to someone outside the family that I was adopted, I was shushed and scolded.  I didn’t know any other adopted children.  Finally, when I was a junior in high school, my boyfriend of four months confessed to me one night in the darkened back row of a movie theater that he was adopted.  He was the first other adopted person I had ever know.  I have struggled against the silence surrounding my adoption most of my adult life.  The culmination of this struggle is my book, Stretched, which I hope may be published next year.

In 1984, President Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week, and in 1995, under President Clinton, the week was expanded to the entire month of November.  I’ve spent several hours this month perusing the National Adoption Month web site (  It is full of interesting information and links.  I’ve learned that Massachusetts has passed a law enabling me to get a copy of my original birth certificate complete with my birth parents’ names, if I so choose.  I see that more work is being done to train prospective foster parents, that the training program we went through fifteen years ago has now been proven to be mostly ineffective at teaching foster parents how to deal with behavior problems, and that there is still a huge need for more foster and adoptive families throughout America.

National Adoption Month is important to children and youth awaiting adoption and to all of us in the adoption triad.  It helps take adoption out of the shadows and into the national spotlight – no more festering secrets.  To the 107,000 children and youth in foster care who are awaiting permanent families, it represents hope that someone out there will hear of their need and step forward.  I’m sorry that I am no longer at a time in my life when I can offer to nurture a foster or adoptive child.  But I’m hopeful that someday others will read my story and be inspired to travel that path – in their own way.

Posted by: nancyowriter | November 19, 2011

Baby Book

While I was organizing a shelf in our study recently, I came across our 3 kids’ baby books.  The first two are a couple of inches thick and overflowing with photos, sonogram images, scraps of wallpaper from their baby rooms, cards from family and friends, birth announcements clipped from the local paper, and other miscellaneous treasures.  The last one is thinner and neater.  When our third child came to live with us, he was 10 months old and very few photos of him had ever been taken.  There were no cards, no announcements, no congratulations.

His birthmother, Y—, gave us several pictures when we met them.  In the first, her great aunt is holding him as a newborn; he is just a lump under a white receiving blanket in her lap and I had to take her word for it that it was him.  In another, Y— is sitting in a rocking chair in her hospital room smiling down at him.  Her fourteen year-old face has a surprised look about it, as if maybe she hadn’t realized until then that she was going to be a mother.  His infant silhouette rests on her arm, one tiny, skinny, red fist is clenched and held to his cheek in that cute way babies sometimes do.

His daycare worker gave me a blurry snap shot of him propped up in the corner of a sofa, which she had taken a few months before he came to us.  His birth mother also had his foot prints and several photos of herself as a child living in El Salvador, and I borrowed them and made copies.  Last, I was able to get a copy of his record of birth from the pediatrician and a Y—‘s birth certificate and the social security card bearing J–‘s former name from a social worker.

I really wanted to make him a baby book, but all of these things could have fit on 2 pages.  So, I gradually collected what I could and finally, when he was three years old, created a story book.  “The Story of J—“ I entitled it.  In my neatest handwriting and using language a three-year-old could understand, I wrote what I knew of Y—‘s childhood in El Salvador, how she had been brought to America after her parents died, how happy she had been to have him, and how sad when she realized she was too young to be the mother he needed.  I wrote of how smart she was and how she was good at sports, kind, and pretty.  I told of how hard his social workers and day care had tried to make him happy and find him the perfect home, and then about the day that he joined his family.  From then on, we had lots of photos, and I was able to show all of the important milestones in his life from age 10 months to 3 years.  Each page holds a few photos or other mementos that illustrate his life and document where he came from and how he found us.

When he was a preschooler, he would ask me frequently to read it, but for the last 10 years, it has been sitting on a shelf, forgotten.  I’m still glad that we have it.  Even if something happens to me, I know that his story is preserved and waiting for him.  I hope that some day he will pick it up again and remember how many people loved him and all that they did to find him a happy home when he needed them the most.

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