My anthology of short stories, essays and poems will be published and available soon. Here is a sample essay, “Normally Dysfunctional,” which was first published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family.
I hope you enjoy it.
“At least you’re not my real mother!”
My daughter’s words interrupted my tirade. I was fixing dinner, worrying about work, and wondering why my husband was late getting home. Six-year-old Marcy had brought me some small problem. It was one thing too many for my frazzled brain, and I yelled at her across the kitchen island.
But her tear-filled eyes and quiet voice stopped me. “What on earth do you mean?” I asked.
“I know I’m adopted.”
I stared. Was she in that phase already? For years as a child, I had wanted to be adopted, painfully embarrassed by my not-so-cool mother and father. Surely my real parents were out there, I thought, ready to sweep me away to a world where I would be pretty and popular. If only I could find them. But my desire for different parents hadn’t surfaced until I was a pre-teen. At six, I hadn’t worried about where I fit into the world.
And my yearning to be adopted hadn’t lasted long. Once I could calculate that I was born nine months and ten days after my parents were married, and knew the significance of that timing, my dreams were dashed. I couldn’t be adopted. No one in their right mind would adopt a kid that soon after marriage, particularly not a good Catholic couple, who were far more likely to have been surprised by their quick fertility than to have sought to raise someone else’s child.
But that evening Marcy was serious. She thought she was adopted. I needed to set her straight.
“Marcy,” I said, “I was there when you were born. Trust me, you weren’t adopted. I’d know. Besides, you know people always say we look alike.” Back then, she did look like me.
Marcy looked dubious. But she didn’t say anything more. I never heard her mention her adopted status again, and I forgot about this incident for years.
# # #
Marcy and her older brother Jamie grew into young adults. We had our ups and downs. Some undisclosed speeding tickets, some underage drinking. But they both got good grades and worked hard most of the time. Jamie did well in forensics, and Marcy in athletics. Both could hold their own in dinner-table discussions. By the time they graduated from high school, they were good company.
After they left for college, my husband and I didn’t see much of them, because they went to school far away. But we enjoyed them when they returned home on breaks, which came less and less frequently.
One holiday when they were both home, the kids and I were chatting. The conversation turned to how they had gotten along as children. I suspected there had been more sibling rivalry between them than they had disclosed when they were younger. They confirmed my suspicions.
“You know, Mom,” Marcy said, “Jamie convinced me I was adopted when I was a kid.”
“What?” I exclaimed.
“Yep. He said you and Dad didn’t want me to know until I was older, so I wasn’t supposed to say anything to you.”
“You believed him?” I asked, incredulous.
“For two or three years.”
I sat in shocked horror. My baby had thought she was adopted?
And then I remembered the incident when she was six.
“How could you have done that?” I asked Jamie. “Why were you so cruel?”
He just shrugged and smiled sheepishly.
We talked some more, about the awful things that family members do to each other. They mentioned friends, some of whom had serious problems with substance abuse or eating disorders, whose parents had gone through nasty divorces, or who were unable to cope with the stresses of school and peer pressure.
“I’ve always been grateful our family was just normally dysfunctional,” Marcy said. “We may have done mean things sometimes, but we generally liked each other.”
Normally dysfunctional. I raised my kids in a normally dysfunctional family. I still think that’s the best compliment I’ve ever received as a mother.