I’m an outsider.
I never felt like I belonged to my family. My adoptive parents, Claire and Bob, were old enough to be my grandparents, unusual for sure, and while they both came from big families, with lots of brothers and sisters, we rarely saw the extended family. I never knew my father’s family – they were from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I also didn’t feel very connected to my aunts, uncles and cousins on my mother’s side I only saw them at wakes, funerals, showers and weddings, never on holidays.
Claire and Bob loved me and I loved them, but they didn’t understand me. I spent too much time reading books in my bedroom. My parents wondered, what’s up with Lynne? All she does is read. They were not bookworms and I devoured books. I even read the dictionary for fun. I seemed a little strange to them and they seemed like fairly odd parents to me.
I knew there was something different about my family. A savvier girl would have done the math, figured out the truth and confronted her parents. “Am I adopted?” I never asked that question. My head was someplace else, probably in a book. As my second grade teacher noted, “Lynne is in her own little world.”
My sister, Melissa, asked questions after Claire and Bob passed away and that’s how we found out we were adopted. What a strange thing for me to discover at the age of 38. I sat on the bombshell for years. Occasionally I wondered who my original parents were, if I had other brothers and sisters, but I wasn’t ready to dig deeper, and learn truths about my first family. About three years ago, I started poking around.
Recently I made a trip to Northbrook to see the house that would have been my childhood home if I had not been adopted. Gazing at the gray and white house, on the grassy suburban lot, I wondered what it would have been like to grow up there. I can’t imagine my sister and three brothers, my birth mother, Lillian, and her husband, Dick, squeezed in that little house. How did they manage to live there and not explode? No, there wouldn’t have been space for me in that house. I would have been child number 5.
I felt uncomfortable on Alice Drive, taking pictures of Lillian’s home. I don’t belong here, I thought, aiming my camera lens to capture a shot of the front door.
I can imagine all of my parents, Claire, Bob, Lillian and Bio Dad echoing my thoughts. “Get lost, you don’t belong here, you’re an outsider.”
Actually, feeling like I don’t belong is a running theme in my life. I’ve felt that way with my husband’s sisters. Listening as they recalled funny stories from their childhood, I smiled politely but could not share the memories that only siblings who grew up together have.
I also felt out of place in Virginia, where my husband an I lived for a few years in the 1990s. The natives would ask me where I was from and I’d tell them, Chicago. Oh no, a Yankee from the tough city of Chicago, no less. Seriously, that’s the reaction I got a couple of times. I almost felt like I needed to apologize for being from Chicago or at least stick up for my hometown.
I feel like an outsider when I’m with certain people who are not adopted. Adoptees know what I’m talking about. Spend time with people who take their family history for granted. They have deep roots. They have big family get-togethers, even reunions. They know which countries their ancestors came from and have family trees fleshed out on both sides. They cannot imagine the oddness of having adoptive parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins – people with whom you have no biological ties — and a separate set of blood relatives, some of whom you discover for the first time as an adult.
Fortunately, there are places where I feel completely at home. I love living in New York City, the ultimate destination for outsiders. You can be from anywhere, you can have a weird story or a strange accent and nobody thinks anything of it.
I feel comfortable with my cousins who I’ve gotten to know better since beginning this adoption search. We see each other occasionally, talk on the phone and stay in touch on Facebook. We are making up for lost time.
Another place where I feel like I belong is inside Melissa’s warm, welcoming home in the suburbs south of Chicago. Melissa and I are not blood sisters but we grew up together, played, argued and bonded over Claire’s kielbasa and pot roast. We are closer than many biological sisters. Maybe it helps that we are not related.