My mum recently sent us a little book she'd printed of photos from the course of her life. She had been going through attic files of photos, and had discovered many that we haven't seen or remembered for years.
There were many powerful photos in this book, but right now I need to post this wonderful shot from the opening page. This must have been just shortly after she and her parents came to the USA. I believe that my grandfather must have taken this photo, because he was always a talented and sensitive photographer. I love everything about this shot - the composition, the dress just a little too short for her growing frame, the wonderful thick braids with their ribbons, the bare, girlish ankles, the walk. My mother has always had so much more of the Dutch than the French in her, even though she is genetically equal parts of each. She came out Dutch in looks, coloring, figure and temperament. It's interesting.

That fascination with genetics that I think we all harbor gains an extra facet for those of us who parent adoptive children whose genetics we will likely never know. I feel for our daughter, that she will never be able to make these comparisons. I know it will cause her pain and angst at some point in her life. She may never understand that this genetic cocktail is a mystery to all of us. She will probably always regret that she doesn't know her own. She may even believe that this kind of family knowledge would have been the magic key that would open up the vast mystery of her own self-knowledge. And that is a very real and tragic concern.

Still, I have to wonder, do any of us - even those with a comprehensive family history - ever entirely know and understand ourselves? I am dubious. I love having little pieces of family history, but I also know that family history is subjective and interpretive. When I try to record a comprehensive version of my own, I quickly realize that every member of the family tells a different story, a slightly (and sometimes greatly) but appreciatively different version.

So, do any of us ever really know ourselves, our relatives, our history, our cultural heritage, and what it means? What do you think?


Jeanne-ming said...

Hello dear Maia,
I am commenting from Taipei, sitting in the computer lab of my sister in law's third grade class room surrounded by a legion of little adorable kids.

I recently also came across some old family photos too and in spending time with my sick mother, this question of genetics has come up a lot. I agree with you, its a mixed bag. Some of its useful and some isn't. But I know this; there is not a more sensitive and aware mother than you and so I have no doubt you will help Q find the right balance.

The photograph of your mother is beautiful.

Yoli said...

Thank you for sharing such an endearing photo Maia. We are a mixed bag aren't we? I sometimes think I am of all things, more like my great grandmother, Arab.

Anonymous said...

My husband is half portuguese and half swedish, but except for his blue eyes there is NOTHING that suggests he is half scandinavian. He is dark haired, olive skinned and lower than average height in Sweden.
The funniest part about this, though, is that his brother, who has brown eyes, is the very picture of a tall, blond viking.

I think that if you have the support of your parents and siblings throughout life, genetics play a very small part in how you come to feel about your family.
Q is probably more loved than many other children who live with their biological parents. Ultimately, the only thing that counts is love.

FDChief said...

I think that we grow into ourselves - if we take the time to stop, think, reflect, feel our way into the corners inside ourselves - in a way that stops short of "knowing". How do you "know" the feel of the wind on your face, or the stretch of a muscle, or the sound of a sigh?

And then...just when we think we've become the people we think we are...we notice some little niggling thing out of the corner of our minds...and realize that we're changing, we've changed...and we have to learn ourselves all over again. we "know" ourselves, where we come from, where we're going?

Probably not. But in this case, as with any enlightenment, it's not the destination.

It's the journey. And how we make it.

Nancy said...

Your concerns about Q are interesting in how they differ from mine, parenting a child through open adoption. I worry that my daughter will feel overly defined or constrained by her genetics. There's something to be said about not being able to interpret the limitations of blood relatives as the result of a biologic makeup that you may share. And of leaving life's possibilities to your own imagination. It seems quite freeing to me.

Of course, I don't think we'd be adoptive parents if we didn't believe in the power of a nurturing environment. Continue to enjoy the magic in watching your little seed germinate and take flight!