Family Resemblances

A strong family resemblance between me and my mom
as we watch pelicans dive into the marina a few years ago.

Mother/daughter resemblance

A substitute teacher, the mother of my regular teacher, taught this morning’s t’ai chi chih class. It was eerily wonderful to see the same tilt of the head, the same gesture overtake the fingers on a smaller set of hands, a similar look of joy on an older face.

Across 3 generations

This past week during the visit from my son and his family, my younger daughter and my son’s wife pointed out the family resemblances between my son, my older daughter, his oldest child, and me. It’s the way we walk, they said. Our basic body language.

This is not remarkable at all–unless you have been separated by adoption. When you meet your child for the first time when he’s 20, seeing those resemblances is a profound experience. It’s a reminder that you’ve been connected all along by genetics even though you had no idea where your child was. Even though you didn’t even know his name.

I see some of these resemblances in the next generation, too. In my role as grandmother it feels sometimes that I have been yanked backwards in time when I catch my older granddaughter out of the corner of my eye. Like some portal has been slit open and I’m slipping back a dozen years into my older daughter’s childhood. Once again, not remarkable at all. Unless I’d never found my son. In that case, I wouldn’t know that my granddaughter existed.

My granddaughter at age 11
My older daughter at age 25.

Adoptees and resemblances

The day I met my son for the first time, he told me what a shock it was to see the resemblance between us. It was weird to learn he was not unique, he said, as he always felt he was. Other adoptees have told me they have the sense of having “fallen to earth”—they feel alien, unconnected by the family resemblances that bind biological families. Biological families engage in a running commentary about who looks like Mom or Dad or a particular sibling, aunt, or uncle. The discussion extends beyond physical attributes too. In a biological family, talents, temperaments, and failings are all attributed to genetics without a second thought.

Eric Mueller, a Minneapolis based artist and an adoptee has a book called “Family Resemblance” which includes photos of family members with shared resemblances.

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