In the 5th grade, we were given an assignment to write a short story about ourselves. Mine was titled, "My Two Dads". Although I grew up in a home with a mother and father, my mom had been married before, to my birth father. As an 11 year old, writing that part of my life story didn't seem like that big of deal. Actually, it felt like the only interesting thing that set me apart from all the other kids in class. Growing up in the 80's and 90's, divorce was slightly less common then today. In public, this seemed a more private, taboo topic, but at home, my mom had always been completely open and honest with me. Somehow, she had managed to put her feelings on the subject aside and willingly answered all of my many questions, as unbiased as possible. In fact, she had done such a good job of making sure to not bad mouth my birth father, that she made him sound absolutely wonderful. Obviously, since they ended up divorced, there were marriage issues, but she explained everything to me in such an understanding and forgiving way that those problems weren't the ideas that I held on to.
She told me stories of a fun guy who was incredibly handsome, who made her laugh, who liked to dance, and who drove a little too fast. She told me of being so in love it makes you oblivious and of being so hurt it makes it seem impossible that you will ever recover. She explained why she felt he made his choices and why it wasn't my fault. She explained why I was so lucky to be adopted by my dad and how blessed we were to have this family, most importantly, my little brothers.
As a child I was taught that we lived in heaven before we came to Earth, that we lived as spirit children of God and that we all knew each other and we chose to come to Earth. Most importantly we knew what we would encounter in this life: love, pain, joy, heartache, growth, and death. We knew every experience we would have and we still chose to experience this life. I was taught that one of the reasons we knew we could survive the trials we were most certainly going to experience, was that we were going to be given the gift of family.
In my heart, I knew that having "My Two Dads" was just a part of the life that I had wanted so badly before coming to earth. There were very few times growing up, that my knowledge of my birth father had a strong impact on my life. I was very lucky to have a relationship with my biological grandparents and aunts. We weren't incredibly close but long distances and divorces can do that. I knew I had cousins that I wanted so badly to have a stronger relationship with. My grandparents did their best to be as open with me as they could and willingly answered any questions I felt like asking. But as I got older and less selfish, I realized that my questions were like tiny scratches in an old deep wound and that the questions I really wanted to ask, no one had the answers to.
The first time that this part of my life story caused me pain was when I was visiting my grandparents on a trip up north from my home in Florida. Like always, I was looking at all the pictures on the fridge and taking in all the faces of my cousins, trying to match names with the faces, realizing that they got to see each other often and that I was more of a stranger. I moved on from the fridge to the other pictures on the walls and on shelves until I saw a face I didn't recognize. I looked around to see if she was in any of the other pictures, to see if this was somebody I was supposed to know or recognize, but this was the only one. As I turned to ask my grandmother who the little girl was, I saw her turn and look at my mom. I knew something I was asking was making this awkward feeling, but I just wanted to know who she was. My mom said something along the lines of "If this is what I think it is, go ahead and tell her."
As it turns out, my birth father remarried and had a daughter. I had a little sister. A little sister. The one thing I really wanted (I loved my brothers, but there was 2 of them and 1 of me), and I had it...but I didn't. I am sure the next thing I said hurt my grandmother more then I could understand at the time, but it was an honest question in my mind.
"Is he going to keep Her?"
From that visit on, I thought about my birth father and my half-sister often. Everything that I thought I understood, didn't answer any of the questions I now had. I went through periods of anger and judgment to feeling worthlessness and rejection. Sometimes I would go months without it crossing my mind and other times it consumed my thoughts. My mom even reached out once to try and set up a meeting, but he wasn't ready. I am still not sure how my mom put her own feelings on the matter aside and remained so encouraging. I have had friends whose parents divorced and allowed their own hurt feelings to be pushed on the kids. I know of kids who have had to choose "sides" and I have seen the damage. I am so thankful that she chose to deal with her own feelings instead of pushing them on me
Being a teenager became just slightly more complicated. I used to think that if I became really great at something, that my birth father would hear about it from my grandmother and he would see I was worth it. Each time we went back up north for a visit, I had this hope of seeing an extra truck in the driveway as we would pull up. It never happened and my heart would break a little knowing that this wouldn't be the year I would meet him. I wrote poetry and put all of my feelings and questions into a little book.
Then I met my husband. We were only 15 but I knew he was the one. John had every quality in a human being that I needed. He filled in some of the pieces that were missing in me and his family was great. Both sides of his family amazed me. His mother's side was huge and loud and slightly dominating. I loved it because I had grown up with very little extended family around and seeing how much they loved to be around each other made me feel safe. His father's side was smaller but just as close knit and just as loud. Between the birthdays, baby showers, graduations, and sports events, there were family get-togethers almost weekly. It was like a tornado of family that I loved getting sucked into.
John and I got married and had our first child during our sophmore year of college. It was hard. We had to live in an apartment in my parents basement for the first two years of marriage to make ends meet between paying for college and raising a baby. John worked so hard to get us both through school and nursing school hours were hard with a newborn. I started my first hospital clinicals just 7 days after having our daughter and only 5 months later, I was pregnant again. Our second daughter changed our world. She made a real effort to get to our family as soon as possible and almost showed up 3 1/2 months too early. After a very long hospital stay, she came at 36 weeks.
Around the time I was pregnant with our fourth, I decided to start doing some searching on Facebook. Got to love Facebook. Within a few minutes I was able to find 3 girls who might possibly be my sister. I had an idea about her age was and where she lived. I sent all 3 girls a message trying to find out if they were the person I was looking for. I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but I was trying to be as kind as possible, not knowing whether or not she knew about me, but at the same time not trying to seem like a creeper on Facebook. I quickly heard back from one of the girls and she wasn't my sister. Two days later I received another message back and it was the girl I was looking for. I found my little sister and better yet, she knew about me! Just knowing that I wasn't a secret in her life was huge for me. Looking back on it now, if she hadn't known about me.... I am just not sure how well my self esteem would have handled that.
The night I got her email I practically jumped on my couch and was so terrified to read the message. I had to have John sitting beside me the whole time because I was so scared that at any moment my world would come crashing down. I was waiting to hear that she wasn't allowed to talk to me or that even worse, she didn't want to. I wanted to know what she knew about me and what she thought about everything. I wanted to ask a million questions but knew that I was a 24 year old talking to a 14 year old and that I was the adult who needed to be careful with her feelings. There was this fine line between wanting to know all about her and what she was like growing up and then asking questions that would come across as wanting to know more about him instead of wanting to get to know her. We wrote messages back and forth for weeks trying to find all the things we had in common: a love of orange juice, horses, and Harry Potter, just to name a few. John sat up with me for many late night as I had to talk through all of my feelings and as I was trying to figure out the healthiest way to form a relationship with this wonderful girl who is my little sister.
Its been 6 years. 6 years that have flown by and dragged on, all at the same time. Sometimes I feel impatient at having to spend another birthday separated from part of my family, upset that I still don't have the same relationship with my sister, as I do with my brothers. I adore my brothers. I think life would be unbearable with out them and so much better because I do have them. I get angry that everyone involved can't just choose to be okay and that we can't just be one big happy family. It's hard because there are so many people involved and that means so many different feelings and issues that have to be worked through. It hurts that I have waited this long and hurt this much, and my feelings still aren't the ones that matter.
We all have families that have different issues and our relationships with family members are some of the most complicated relationships in life. They are the relationships that can heal you with something as simple as a hug and the relationships that can break you with something as simple as words. I know that family is God's greatest blessing to us, even though at moments it can be the cause of some of the worst pain imaginable. I watch families that seem to have it all together and envy them on some level, wondering how they have it all figured out, even though I know that no family is perfect.
John asked me "What's the point? What is it in this post that will help others or help you?" I first thought that it might help others who have children like me, that were blessed to have "extra" family. Then I thought, maybe it would help others to know how lucky I consider myself to have a mom who was open and honest with me and never made me feel that the path our life had gone, was for a reason. I think that if it had been this big family secret, that maybe I would have felt that I had something to be embarrassed about or that there was something I had done wrong. But as I began writing I realized that it isn't really about the fact that I am a child of divorce or that I have two dads; it's about the fact that we all have relationships in our lives that we need. We all have family members who we have grown apart from or that we haven't taken the time to get to know well enough and we all have relationships that need healing.
The reason that family relationships are so important, the reason they are our greatest gift no matter how broken they may seem, is that those are the relationships we chose to get us through this journey of life. They teach us what we need to learn in order to be better and stronger. Sometimes we learn what we "should do" and sometimes the lesson we teach each other is what "not to do". Most importantly, family relationships teach us to stop focusing on ourselves. If we spend this earthly existence focusing on ourselves, on our own feelings and on our own problems, then we have wasted a life. If we can take a step back from those family relationships that are causing us pain or discomfort, and try and figure out what we need to learn from it and what we can do to help our family members, we could all avoid so much pain. Our families were meant to have the strongest effects on our heart.
I guess I have a lot to learn because I was sure blessed with lots of family.
(This post was turning out so be so long I had to write it in sections. Hopefully I can finish it up over the next few weeks.)