I read J. Wolffe’s story yesterday about the hateful letter from that ignorant sperm donor to his son, and it made me think about my kids… all the ones I didn’t give birth to (there’s only one of that sort). There’s an old phrase, “kith and kin” that best describes my house at Yuletide. “Kin” are the blood relations, and “kith” are the heart relations, the family we’ve acquired over the years through love. My kids are my “kith”.
I never purposefully set out to be anyone’s second mom. It was always a matter of taking in one of my daughter’s friends, or a friend of a friend, who needed sanctuary. When I tried to explain my series of adopted kids to folks, I told them that I got them when they were too old for their parent’s houses, and too young for the real world. I seemed to get them when they were trying to figure out who they were, and needed an adult to talk with who could listen and not judge, whose own self-image wasn’t involved.
At this point I couldn’t tell you the chronology of these “adoptions” without seriously straining the brain, but here are some of their stories:
Tessa – We’d known Tessa when I’d been interning with the theatre teacher at the local high school, working on my Master’s in Education. She was a very energetic and endearing girl, clean-cut American, whose fundie-preacher father was seriously opposed to her involvement in theatre. She was one of those kids who wore a purity ring and traveled around with her church youth group to promote sexual abstinence.
A couple of years later we found out she was living on the streets through a mutual friend. We got her off the street and into our home for awhile. Turned out she had rebelled against her father and gotten thrown out. By the time she got to me, she was Questioning. We talked a lot, her and me. She’d turned her back on her dad’s religion and turned pagan without really knowing what it was – being a real grown-up practicing pagan myself, we talked a lot about that. She had discovered sex, and was trying to figure out if she was straight, gay or bi. She finally settled on bi. She left us a few months later, after she was somewhat on her feet. Haven’t heard from her in years, but we hear she’s doing okay.
Pam – Pam wound up with us for more than six months over cigarettes. I’ve always wondered what her folks would have said if they’d known that she was the queen of European-style rolled joints and quite sexually active. She had been a frequent visitor, another daughter-friend. She lived with her family in a town outside Rutland, worked here in town as a barista, and had been spotted outside the coffeehouse having a smoke break… and word got back to her mother. Mom went ballistic, claiming that Pam would shame them in front of the entire church (which I didn’t get because they were Episcopalians, not fundies); Pam was going to lose her car, have to quit her job and was basically facing extreme isolation until she mended her ways. It got ugly real fast that morning, and I got a call to please, please go to her house to rescue her. It was very weird, pulling into that driveway to find her standing at the end with her backpack and duffle bags.
Pam was an emotional wreck, but she recovered pretty fast. She moved out of my house to take an apartment in Burlington with another one of my kids. There were further adventures, and she came back for a while when that fell apart. She got accepted at a prestigious culinary school in New York State, and then found out that because of her age, she had to file her parents’ information for financial aid even though she was independent. That’s what finally prompted her reconciliation with her folks. She went away to school, got her culinary arts degree, met her perfect guy there and is now married and happily working in her field. Yay!
Matt – Matt is a very lovely young man who suffered through the torments of being gay in a redneck high school, even though his teacher-parents were very supportive. Their issues with him were never about being gay; they had to do with him being financially irresponsible in their eyes. We first encountered him when he was a young teen dancing with a troupe that traveled internationally. At this point I don’t remember how he and Jo got to be friends a few years later; he wound up with us when his boarding house burned down. It was quite a learning experience having a working drag queen living with us… I remember walking in on him filling a condom with water to stuff his bra. Matt finally found his niche working in resort hospitality; he’s been with the Sugarbush resort for years now, settled in a nice place with his dog Bandit. He still hasn’t found the love of his life, and I so wish he would. He’s a loving person, and deserves to be happy. He used to sit and watch old Broadway musicals with my mom.
Paul – Paul never really lived with us. It just seemed that way for a couple of years. He was a constant presence in our house, along with his little sister who was Jo’s closest friend for years. When Kendra’s boss took his entire restaurant staff to the Bahamas one year, Jo went along on Kendra’s “significant other” ticket.
Paul was gay, and we met his series of boyfriends over those years. We had the one who had a seizure at our house, which resulted in EMT’s and cops (I had the kids stash all the pot paraphernalia in my car before they got there). There was the one who became a stalker because he didn’t accept Paul breaking up with him. There was the one Paul moved to Colorado with; he was supposed to be the “one”, promise ring and all, until the day he moved out and dumped Paul.
Paul is still in our lives, a friend who visits regularly. He works with troubled families, has just purchased a house with female friend from Colorado, and is getting his Master’s degree.
Among a lot of other things, Paul is a musician, a trained vocalist. Six days after his apartment in Denver burned, he flew back here to Vermont for my mother’s funeral. He was in jeans and a t-shirt, because his suit was still in the apartment and the fire department wasn’t letting anyone in. Because the music he’d planned to sing was also still in his apartment, he sang her a German lullaby instead. He was one of her pallbearers. He is one of my sons, forever and always.
Shawn – This one adopted me. We met when he was around 22, through a Wiccan group I mentored at a New Age shop in Brandon. Because he lived a block away from me in Rutland, Shawn started coming over when he was angry or upset or drunk and needed to talk. Being an abuse survivor, he had issues with sex; being a drop-dead gorgeous young New York Italian, he was pursued by just about every female he knew… except me.
One Saturday he dragged his voc-rehab counselor over to my market tent to introduce us. When she asked if I was his mother, he threw an arm around me and announced that yes, I was.
He’s been with his current lady for several years now. They have a little girl, Ayla. He still has his issues, but he’s found a balance point he can live with. He’s happiest out in the woods, hiking with his dog. He visits often, helps me around the house, and mows the dog’s yard for me. He’s a good son.
There are others who are still in our lives… Jen the elegant and dangerous dancer; Kendra and her daughter; Skot and his son; Steph and Scott and their three kids; Dev the belly dancer and Jay and their three hippie boys; Courtney and Daubie and their two little girls. I’ve an embarrassment of riches.
In spite of the ones, like Sean and Jay-dog and Chris, who used our family and left pain and heartache behind, I’ve never regretted opening our home to all those young people. Whether they lived with us or not, they found acceptance and healing here. They brightened my mother’s last years, some even helping to care for her. They found their paths, and left to pursue their life journeys. The ones that have returned, as adults and friends, are a blessing.
While I am furious with the sperm donor for so viciously rejecting his son, I also feel sorry for him. He has deprived himself of ever knowing the man his son will become; of ever knowing his son’s life partner; of ever meeting his grandchildren. Because he cannot accept his son, because he cannot countenance that he so failed as a father that he has a queer son, he has cut himself off from all the joy.
Me, I’ll take the joy.