Tell Me A Story

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz


I began April 7 by singing “Jive Talking” as an audio post for my blog readers. A reward/punishment for them helping me to exceed two Walk America goals in as many days. That afternoon my daughter decided to check her own diaper, which resulted in a midday bath. My infant son woke up during the bath to find me not with him and he had a hard time settling back into sleep. I finally got a toasted cheese sandwich at 4:30, when both kids were asleep. My husband called at 6:30 to say he was on his way home. I’d checked e-mails, blog and news feeds, eaten… what else to do? Maybe I should see what’s in my spam folder. I haven’t looked in there for weeks.

Delete. Delete. Delete. Hrm. A spam with my real name in the title. I usually sign up at sites and such using my online identity, occasionally just a first initial (sometimes an S, sometimes an E) but rarely my real name. As I click it to open, it registers that adoption.com is also in the title of the e-mail.

Its first line is: “I think I might be your birthmother.”

This doesn’t happen, I say to myself. You don’t just put up a profile and six years later get an e-mail from someone who says, “I think I might be your birthmother.” I’ve put up at least three profiles in my life, posted on message boards, signed up with the national adoption registry. Then one quiet evening a spam e-mail reads: “I think I might be your birthmother.”

I went to the adoption.com forums to see what info I had posted and if she had a profile. Adoption.com’s search feature was down except for adoptee info. Eventually I got around that and found her profile. It had my name on it, with a different middle name and the 12/21 birthdate. It also listed a birthfather’s name, age, and military service. After that, I went Google-crazy, her name, his name, everything.

I e-mailed her a reply and I sent her my Flickr URL so she could see photos of me. I realized afterward that the reply-to address was not one she’d listed in the body of the e-mail. I forwarded a copy of what I’d sent to those two addresses; the AOL one bounced back as “no such mailbox.” The other e-mail address was obviously a work e-mail. Since this was late on Friday, I didn’t hold out much hope that she’d see it quickly.

I barely slept Friday night.

There was no response on Saturday so I tried the AOL address again around 3:30. Amazing how after 34 years, hours made such a difference.

I spent that first anxious weekend turning the names over in my head. One is Welsh, the other Scottish or Irish (with an excellent tartan). It’s a common thing among adoptees, to look in the mirror or at photos of yourself and wonder about your ethnic background. After so many years, it’s more fun than frustrating to wonder where you come from. You can invent your own background. I made it a point to be Scottish, French, and Greek just because I like the idea of belonging to those groups.

Looking at myself since that weekend, attaching a new name to my face has been bizarre. To say “I’m a ___” or “I’m a ___-___” has affected how I see myself. It’s like I had my choices taken away. I wondered if it would have been better never knowing and continuing with the mythology I built about myself or if knowing the truth is the best possible outcome. In the weeks since, I can confirm that knowing is better.

I finally heard from her on Monday morning, first thing in the morning her time. We spent Monday writing brisk e-mails, exchanging the basic information, and getting into more details about who we were.

Then late Monday, it hit me: oh my god—I have a birthmother.

I have a name and a background. I know that Zoe’s green eyes (and our red hair) come from her grandfather. I know that my father went to Vietnam, dammit, and that he was wounded in combat but came back alive. I have Irish, Welsh, and German blood but I’m still holding out for the Scottish, French, and Greek.

On Tuesday morning, I had fresh photos in my inbox. It overwhelmed me to see someone who looked so much like me. I’d never had that before. Until my kids were born, I had no one who looked like me in the world. When they both had my chin and hair color and little else, that was more than enough for me.

At 5 p.m. on Tuesday, I called her and we talked for two hours. She told me about a vacation to California that ended with her meeting Al Jardine. I could picture the tree-lined lanes and hear the surf just over the cliffs. She related what happened to her family during the Johnstown Flood in 1977. I imagined my grandfather in his work clothes, the only clothes he had time to find, evacuating the house. I could see the heirloom rug that was ruined and the waterlogged boxes of photos and childhood souvenirs in the basement.

She told me stories about the things she and my father would do together, from going to burger joints to hockey games. She described his car, a bright orange Roadrunner with the horn that went “beep-beep.” The only orange car I’d ever been familiar with had a horn that played “Dixie” and John Schneider would slide across its hood every week.

She’d been reading my blog since before my son Holden was born and therefore had an excellent knowledge of who I am. It was a strange feeling that she knew so much about me and I knew next to nothing about her. After our first phone conversation, the scales began to tip. She was open and honest, using her natural storytelling skills to show me who she was. I’ve spent most of conversations listening instead of talking. Not because she rambles or because I’m shy about speaking, but because she has stories to tell me, from how she told my birthfather about me to what’s happening in traffic while she drives to pick up a lottery ticket.

We both knit, we both love peanut butter, and we both like to tell stories. She confessed that she’d tried her hand at writing stories for children. I told her that it’s very difficult and to keep trying. I don’t know if I came by my love of stories through nature or nurture (I’m inclined to say it was both) but I can see it springing up in Zoe.

As I write this essay, Zoe is watching her new favorite show: “Pinky Dinky Doo.” It’s about a little girl who bonds with her baby brother by making up fantastic stories about people and places they know. Storytelling is a skill worthy of nurture, whether we cultivate on our own or inherit it. But now when I encourage Zoe to tell me stories, as she’s begun to do, I know that the skill to do it and the love of doing it is something we’ve both inherited.

pencil

E-mail: baker[at]toasted-cheese.com.

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