My essay about reunion has been published in “The Beacon,” the newsletter of the American Adoption Congress. Reunion, as we know, is a really big deal. Probably everyone involved in adopted has some fear about it. And of course after you reunite with your son or daughter, you might also meet their adoptive parents. The meetings and introductions might go on and on. Aunts, uncles, grandparents siblings. It’s a tsunami of emotion. I was super nervous about all of it. The title of the essay is “How the World Didn’t End and Nobody Died.” Here’s the link.
The target audience for the AAC is mostly adoptees, I think. And some birthparents too.
But I wrote this essay about reunion with adoptive parents in mind. I would especially like adoptive parents to know that reunion can go well. And that their pre-conceived notions of what birthmothers are like might not be true. So if you know some adoptive parents, maybe pass it on.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is, at it’s heart, a play about identity. I saw a production of it Saturday that was a perfect confection. The play is a classic, written by Oscar Wilde, and first staged in London in 1895. Chockfull of wit and humor, it mocks social conventions. And, though the word adoption is never uttered, it’s also a play about adoption and coincidence.
The complicated plot
The plot is immensely complicated with one farcical turn after another. But suffice it to say that the play’s main character, Ernest (a.k.a. Jack Worthing,) lives a double life and invents a fictitious younger brother as an excuse to avoid certain social obligations. As the play opens, his best friend, Algernon, good-naturedly traps him in his lies. And so things begin to unravel most comically.
Ernest is known as Jack at his house in the country where he lives with his ward Cecily and her governess Miss Prism. Jack frequently excuses himself to travel to London, ostensibly to rescue the made-up brother he calls Ernest. Keep in mind that he himself is known as Ernest to those who keep company with him in the city. Because Cecily has a mad crush on the fictitious Ernest, she longs to meet him. Finally, she gets her wish when Algernon, in his plot to unravel Jack’s lies, shows up at the country house, impersonating Ernest. Unfortunately, Jack has ,moments before, in an effort to simplify his life, announced that Ernest has suddenly died.
The big plot twist
Meanwhile, Algernon and Cecily fall in love. Jack gets a visit from Gwendolyn, the London girl to whom he’s engaged, (remember she knows him as Ernest.) And in the ongoing investigation of Jack’s suitability as a husband, Gwendolyn’s mother, Lady Bracknell, (who is also Algernon’s aunt) prods Jack into revealing that he was a foundling. With his parents unknown to him, his standing in London society is jeopardized.
A few twists later we learn that it was the governess Miss Prism who accidentally left the infant Jack in a large handbag in a train station when she worked for Lady Bracknell’s sister. Are you ready for it? Yes indeed, the friends, Jack and Algernon, are really brothers. Jack investigates further to find out what his original name was before he was re-christened after being taken in by a benefactor. You guessed it….Ernest!
Real life adoption coincidences
Most adoption/reunion stories I’ve heard are full of co-incidences. They’re just not as funny. You need somebody like Oscar Wilde, I guess, to pull that off.
My search for my son yielded its own amazing coincidences. He was adopted in a closed adoption in a state that still has sealed records. Yet a coincidence led me to a person who helped me find him. After I learned my son’s name and whereabouts, I called directory assistance, (which was where he happened to work) to double-check the phone number I’d been given for him. He answered my 411 call.
Who’s in the audience?
I love “The Importance of Being Earnest.” And I’ve seen it at least a half-dozen different times over the last few decades. I love how the audience always gasps when Jack finds out who he really is. Every time, I think about all those strangers I’m sitting with in the dark as they realize they’re watching a play about adoption. How many of them are adopted? Do they have brothers or sisters they don’t know? How many would give anything to know the name they were given at birth? And how, in real life, that’s not funny at all.
National Adoption Month began in 1976 in the state of Massachusetts as a way of bringing awareness to the plight of children in foster care. Designating a month to this consciousness-raising effort had its heart in the right place. Children need families.
This year’s theme
This year the focus is on sibling connections–which I hope means that siblings ought to remain together, rather than be separated by adoption. All of this is mostly good. Although, I’d prefer a campaign that got more to the heart of things. Something like “Adoption: Designed for Children Who Need Families.” Maybe even throw in a subtitle. Like, “Not designed for families who want children.”
N. A. M., a different perspective
National Adoption Month can be a festival of pain and frustration for people who’ve been separated from their loved ones through adoption. Adoption is often touted as a fairy tale. But what if the tale doesn’t end happily ever after?
Adoption is more complex than you think. Explore it from all points of view. There’s always plenty to read about adoption. Type adoption into the search box on Facebook and see what turns up. Then try it on Google. Check out the links under the “take action” tab in this blog. Maybe check out my book. Keep your eyes and ears open, and ask yourself how often it’s really necessary to remove an infant from a mother simply because she is very young, economically disadvantaged, or lacks family support. Is that ever really necessary?
Ask if adoption is necessary
I don’t think it was necessary in my case. If my narrow minded hometown/Catholic Church/Catholic school environment would not have made the lives of everyone in my family miserable, I could have kept my son.
My sister was already married and living far from town out on a farm. What if I’d had a hideaway deep in a cornfield–a little cabin or house trailer? Every night I could have carried my baby down a stubbly path to her house. I might have had supper at the kitchen table with her and her husband and her two little kids. We might have sat together after the dishes were done, rocking our babies and feeding them their bedtime bottles. Then she’d carry her baby upstairs, and I’d carry mine back through the cornfield, fireflies lighting our way.
In our secret abode I would have loved my son, and he would have loved me. No one would learn my secret. Happy years would go on in this secret place, my clothes wearing thin while I witnessed my son learning to walk and talk. He would grown tall, and my braids would grow long, so long that they reached the ground.
That was the fairy tale I imagined as a 17-year-old. It’s not what really happened.