Mad Question Asking will be hosting a party for the book Reunited written by Pamela Slaton.
A few months back, my friend Donna asked me to go with her to Barnes and Noble for a book signing for the book Reunited. The author was Pamela Slaton, famous for helping some well-known folks find their birth parents. Pamela had helped Donna, an adoptee, find her birth parents, and Donna was very excited to meet her. I was just coming out of a wretched, three-day stomach bug fog, still sweating bullets; but, I had said yes to Donna and, if you ask me to show up for something, I will no matter what.
I sat down in one of the folding chairs that had been set to the side of the registers, in the middle of stationary and leather-bound journals. This wasn’t the sort of book I usually read, but my nephew is adopted and I’ve certainly known many adoptees, as well as friends, who just plain didn’t know who their parent was. My mind flipped through the adoptee rolodex stored somewhere in my brain and led me to think of an old friend named Kevin, who, although he wasn’t adopted, did not have any idea who his father was. I worked with him for many years. He was one of the few people in my life to take an interest in me, so much so that it changed me, built up my nonexistent self-esteem. He grew up in New Bedford, MA and told me stories of growing up on government cheese in that poor whaling town of Moby Dick fame. Any time he asked his mother who his father was her reply was “He died in the war.” Kevin wasn’t the first person I knew who didn’t know who his parents were, but this question, this unknowing, laid an impression on me that a part of him was lost; a ghost of a father was living in his mind.
I tried to tell Kevin that having a dad wasn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. My own dad was magnificent, but also a cruel S.O.B. But I knew my story; I got to know and forgive my dad. Kevin didn’t.
Kevin’s mom’s dismissive answer is sad to me, not just because it swept Kevin’s need-to-know dirtily under a rug, but because it highlights what our cookie-cutter culture defines to be a family. If you ask me, so much of what is taboo in terms of sex, birth and family is due to our puritanical need for all of it to be picture perfect.
I have always found it strange that if the act of sex (which should be considered the most generous and affectionate human act of all) produces a human life, but not within the bounds of marriage, that life is forever marred, a product of shame. I myself know what it feels like to be holding a human life in my body and have the unbearable weight of our culture forcing my hand, telling me what a family looks like, what the right thing to do is.
Talking to Donna about what a family is made me think that Pamela’s stories in Reunited are about all of us, about the biggest questions of all. Who am I? Who are my parents? Who are we as a family? What is a family?
I am now a single mother – a different kind of family. I don’t fit into the puritanical Sears portrait anymore; but unlike many people who live unhappily married for the sake of their children, I may be able to, one day, show my children what love looks like (if I’m lucky enough to find it). I get to say, for now and for myself, what a family is.
We are living in an age where this image of a family is changing. Open adoptions, IVF, egg and sperm donors, gay parents, single parents, you name it…it’s happening now, in our time. Ideas and acceptance of what family is may be changing, so that in the future shame and secrets won’t be the foundation for a human life.
That night at the book signing I was fascinated by Pamela’s story of her own reunion with her birth parents. I loved listening to her, but was annoyed with the employees at Barnes and Noble for not having the chutzpah to hustle and fill those seats next to me. I said to myself “I can throw a better book signing than a fortune five hundred company” having had two wonderful book parties in my living room last year.
As we waited in line to get our books signed I saw the wheels turning in Donna’s mind. As soon as she had hugged Pamela, thanking her for finding her birth parents, she said in her beautifully, enthusiastic way
“This is my friend Ingrid and she has salons and parties at her house for books. Why don’t you have a book signing at her house?!??!”
Pam smiled. “I’d love to”, she said.
I smiled back at Pam and Donna and, through my lingering cold sweats, said “Sure.”
That moment is exactly what Mad Question Asking is. It is being open, fearless, enthusiastic, supportive, asking questions and just wanting to share stories. I was so proud when she asked me to be there when she met this woman who had changed her life, and even more proud when she spun a few words together and created a party to be held in my living room, where the biggest questions of all will be asked and shared.
This is going to be a beautiful night. My sister is inviting her son’s birth parents to the party. I have never met them before. This is bound to be an emotional night, filled with bittersweet stories of what a family is, what a family can be.
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