Here, Michelle gives her opinion of trust and also shares a little bit about her personal life and upbringing.
I was raised by a celebratory family. My mother’s side was known to praise any and everything that I did. No matter what I accomplished – piano recitals, school functions, dance programs – my grandmother, grandfather, and great aunts and uncle would proclaim, “you were the best one!” On top of that, my mother was known for creating parties. Some planned and some instant.
“Punch in a glass is just punch,” she’d say, “but when you pour it in a punch bowl, with sliced oranges, well that’s a party!”
We partied often. And it was something I grew used to.
Similarly, my father’s side of the family is known for arriving from out of town to celebrate accomplishments. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t seen or talked to the person in months or years, if they’re invited to a graduation party, birthday event, or funeral repast, they will find a way to join in and turn up.
My childhood was wonderful in this way. But then my mother died, and so did her parties.
Eight months later, I threw my own seventeenth birthday party. It was the first time since the funeral that family members were all in one space. It was the first time since we’d buried my mother that things felt normal.
When I graduated high school, I asked Grannie if she was going to have a party afterwards. Some call it an open house.
“You want a party?” she asked.
“Yes,” I beamed.
“Well, you’re gonna have to pay for it yourself.”
So, I did. I bought royal blue streamers, royal blue tablecloths and napkins, and ordered myself a white sheet cake, with royal blue icing that read, Congratulations Kathy! After graduation, family and friends celebrated the occasion with me in Grannie’s basement.
Throughout the years, this pattern continued. If I wanted to celebrate me, then I created an event to do so. Sometimes these were joint, out-of-town birthday parties with friends. Other times, like my doctoral graduation or 40th birthday party, I planned a celebration independently to physically say congrats.
Over the past few years, I’ve grown weary of planning festivities for myself, yet I’ve continued to achieve. To maintain a commemorative spirit, I’ve begun taking myself out. If I do something that I believe is extraordinary, then I splurge on a meal.
I also share great news on social media, because even though sites like Facebook can be annoying, the reality is that Internet communities love to uplift you when you’ve done something positive. To be honest, it’s like dipping a glass ladle into that fancy bowl and scooping out the bright red punch my mother used to make. It tastes sweet. It feels special.
But as I approach 46, I realize those things are all outside of myself. And because I seek growth in everything I do, I’ve developed a new mantra. What I’m doing is important, even if no one else acknowledges it.
Don’t get me wrong. I still celebrate myself in explicit ways, but this phrase reminds me to also turn inward. It reminds me that my self-worth is not tied to my success or anyone’s validation of it. And it liberates me from expecting external gratification in the form of celebratory acts. This is a new practice. We’ll see how it goes.
In the meantime, tell me if you’ve ever had to re-frame how you function in the world because of your upbringing? Are you a celebratory person?
If you don’t already follow her on social media, then please allow Lady G and I to introduce you to Michelle! Here she discusses the importance of her family and the role she plays in it.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to begin this post.
Humorous? Those ancestry.com commercials are cute, right? White people finding out their brown, African roots; black people finding out their white, European roots. It’s all fun and games, until you click on that other link and find out who your biological father is.
Somber and Poetic? Aunt Catherine said she asked my pregnant mother one question, who’s the father? Joyce looked at her, lifted a finger, and pointed at the janitor, a lanky, white man. DCFS had reported a janitor found me as a baby. Not thinking there could be more than one, the storyteller in me put two and two together and made myself biracial. Turns out, I’m not. My father is an African American male. I know because of an ancestry DNA kit.
Straightforward, yet Cheeky? Like 4 million other people, I thought I’d spit into a tube, mail it off through UPS and find out from what part of Africa I hailed. Cameroon/Congo, Benin/Togo, and England/Wales are the top three. But ethnicity isn’t all you can learn there. When I clicked on the little green icon called, View DNA Matches, the full name of my biological father appeared. This is how I found him.
My feelings about finding my biological father, who we’ll call CB, are just as varied as these introductions. I’ve been trying to pin them down, but they range anywhere from a #KanyeShrug to elation. Those of you who’ve followed my blog for the past four years might understand clearly.
Much of my time has been spent healing and talking about my adopted father, who passed in 2015. His death brought pure peace to my being. An integral connection ended for good. Although a different person, CB is still my father, and finding him had the potential to open another relation called, father. Was I ready for this? Did I need this? These questions swarmed in my brain.
It is my belief that no matter what your head says, your heart and soul always know better. I’d released the idea of knowing my biological father, not because I didn’t want to know, but rather because I thought it an impossible feat. I’d forgotten my own 2018 mantra: Anything is possible, especially finding your father via 21st century methods.
So, I am ready for this. Relating to my deceased father and processing hurtful emotions has prepared me to connect with whoever CB is. I’ve learned not to judge as harshly as I used to. This has been useful. When CB described the circumstances surrounding my conception, a one-night stand, I felt liberated, not judgmental. Who am I to judge a one-night stand, or a baby born out of wedlock to two unprepared people?
I also needed this. It might seem shallow, but I finally have a complete picture of who I am. This is something I’ve noticed biological families take for granted. Growing up, I always felt physically out of place. No one’s skin color was like mine. No one shared my body type. No one walked like me. No one held their head like mine. In fact, the size of my butt was often the topic of conversation; I now know that comes from my mother’s shapely frame. I was also often told to stop walking slew-footed and to stop walking like a turtle. It might not be healthy, but now I see why these things were challenging for me to “correct.” CB and one of my sisters have similar characteristics.
I’m prepared for this. Learning to love myself has had one major impact. I no longer seek relationships to fill a void. This means I now enter situations as a whole person, with clear boundaries. Therefore, I am good no matter what may come from this new connection. And if I’m not, I’ll add it to the memoir 😉
After delivering my first baby, I knew it was time. I had to find my biological mother. It was unfathomable to me that a woman could nurture a baby in her womb for months, deliver a child, and hold it in those first few proverbial moments, and then give her up for adoption. Something heavy had to hang in the balance to make such a decision.
So, in 1999, I contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
The woman who answered the phone told me that their department was not in the business of reconnecting families; they existed to find loving homes for children.
Her apathy left me little choice but to wait.
Months later, I placed another call. A different woman revealed the name of a group that was in the business of re-connecting families: The Midwest Adoption Agency. The social worker rattled off a list of information they needed to conduct a search: birthdate, (adopted) parents’ names, year of adoption, official birth certificate, and birth name.
It had never dawned on me that I had a different name. My father, unlike Grannie, was ecstatic to know that I was conducting this search.
“She had named you Petula,” he said. “Your mom and I always thought that was strange. Maybe she liked the singer, Petula Clark, we thought.”
I had never heard of Petula Clark, but I had heard of the song, Downtown, for which she is known.
The following year, the counselor had found my birth records and sent a detailed report. My mother, Joyce Belcher had considered abortion several times before giving up the idea entirely. This was noted by her social worker.
Joyce had been diagnosed with acute schizophrenia: undifferentiated type. Up until my birth on May 23, 1973, she was seen walking up and down the sidewalk talking to herself. After giving birth, she would lay on the sofa doing nothing most of the day, laughing hysterically.
By the time I was five-months-old, Joyce had left me in our apartment building. According to the report, a janitor found me and contacted the police. I’d been there several days. Joyce named this same janitor as the father; he denied it. Shortly after, she surrendered her parental rights.
Two more letters followed the report. Joyce Belcher had died when she was twenty-eight years old, about five years after I’d been adopted. Her cause of death: drowning.
She was survived by her father, her four sisters, and my older sister.
In 2001, I birthed another child. This time, I understood the circumstances surrounding my adoption. But another question lingered. How could four sisters allow the State to take their sister’s child?
Midwest Adoption Agency allowed me to ask for a Request for Non-Identifying Information. You can only ask for this information one time, from one person. I chose my birth grandfather. As the family’s patriarch, it seemed he would have the most information.
Not only had each of his seven children been a part of the Illinois foster care system (he had two sons), but also only one of his five adult daughters kept in contact with him. Her name was Catherine. I would later find out that she was the only one that he didn’t molest, thus their continued connection.
Aunt Catherine and I spoke for the first time on February 6, 2005. It was Super Bowl Sunday. She was excited to hear my voice and wanted to hear all about who raised me and who I’d become.
“I always thought you were raised by some rich black people,” she confided.
I assured her I was not.
“I tried to get you, but the State wouldn’t let me. They told me to leave you alone and not ask about it anymore,” her voice trailed off.
Later, her daughter would tell me that each weekend, Aunt Catherine would get drunk and cry about finding Petula.
Aunt Catherine and I met once and marveled at our similar wide smiles and pointy noses. We talked weekly, until she suffered a heart attack and died in June 2006.
That’s when I decided not to seek out my biological father. There was little reason to endure more emotional pain.
Ever since I found my biological father, brother, and sisters by completing one of those Ancestry.com DNA tests, I’ve answered a barrage of questions. They seem to come from people who cannot seem to wrap their minds around what adoption is or from those who cannot conceive the relationship that adoption offers. So, here’s some clarity.
#1 “Your dad wasn’t your dad?” To put it simply, yes and no. I was adopted as a ten-month-old baby by two parents who did not birth me. Growing up, I called these parents mommy and daddy, the same way you called your parents something affectionate. I hope no one’s reading this with sarcasm. I find this is the first part that people just don’t get. When you’re adopted as a baby, you don’t call your parents, adopted mom and adopted dad. And when you find out you’re adopted, you don’t start calling them, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory. They’re just mom and dad, like your parents are. But for the sake of this post, I’ll add the adopted in front.
#2 “Aha! That’s why your grandmother took care of you!” No. My grandmother did not adopt me when I was a baby. My grandmother is the mother of my adopted mom. I know for some my history is a bit confusing, so here’s a brief explanation in less than 100 words. My adopted mom died when I was 16 years old. I never knew my biological mother, because she gave me up for adoption when I was a baby. The drama I write about concerning my dad is from my adopted dad. After he kicked me out of his house and gave up his parental rights, my adopted grandmother took care of me when I was 17 years old and provided whatever I needed from that moment forward.
Usually by this point, I get a blank stare or silence during a text message. But some people have returned with this one:
#3 “So, your cousins, aunts, all the people you visit and talk about…they aren’t your family?” <sigh>Like #1, the answer to this is twofold. No. These are not my biological family members. Yes. Of course, they’re my family. I’m 45 years old. These are the people with whom I was raised. Similar to your family, they watched me take my first steps, learn to eat solid foods, babysat me, played with me, shared secrets, bought me necessities for school, took me on family vacations, hung out with me at family reunions, paid for my undergraduate education, attended graduations, visited when I birthed my own children, attended my wedding, etc., etc., etc. They did family things, just like your family may have done for you.
Whew! Now that I’ve cleared that up, I’ll write what it means to find and know my biological family.
Until then, let me know what your family situation is. Are you adopted? Have you adopted children? Was it an open/closed adoption? Do you wish you were adopted? lol (I have someone who told me that) Do you have adopted children in your family?
“Why did you come?” That’s what Dwight asked me as we drove down I-10E, away from his brother’s home.
I came because I should be able to visit family without there being a problem.
I came because it’s what I do. If I’m in your city or state for business, then I let you know so that we can see one another, even if the other person wouldn’t do the same.
I came because I finally realized that it’s not anyone’s job to like, love, or validate me, so how they feel about me (positive or negative) doesn’t matter.
I came because, despite what people may think, I actually do like family.
Those are the answers I gave. But there is one more. I came because I believe part of my purpose is to work out relationships and their challenges. That’s why I write about them so much. Visiting my brother and sister-in-law was one more opportunity to work through how to be in relationship with them.
To be clear, the visit was pleasant. In fact, I had great conversations with my nieces and nephews; we even laughed and played on their trampoline.
Even though it was great, a few concepts were reinforced about interacting with family.
Compromise is required sometimes. My brother and sister-in-law are Christians. We visited on the weekend; therefore, SIL announced that the six of them would be attending church Sunday morning and we were welcomed to attend. The alternative? “You’ll just be here in an empty house if you don’t come,” she said.
Neither Dwight, nor I believe or participate in organized religion. I haven’t attended a church service in countless years. But from 11a until 1p, we listened to praise and worship songs and a lengthy sermon on the Samaritan woman (John 4).
We could’ve stayed at their home. But we didn’t for one reason. We hadn’t seen them in seven years. We came to spend time with them, and if they’d planned on being at church while we were there, then that’s where we would be too.
Differences make connecting difficult. The more I conversed with my SIL, the clearer our differences became. She likes rural communities; I like major cities. She’s introverted; I’m extroverted. She likes the cold and snow; I live for the warmth of the sun. She has a very quiet voice; I speak from my chest (a colleague once told me). She prefers tea; I love a full-bodied coffee. She’s conservative; I’m liberal. I could probably continue but I’m sure you get the point.
There’s nothing wrong with being different; however, it does make establishing a relationship a bit harder because there rarely seem to be common liftoff points. For example, although it was nice of her to buy coffee for me to have prior to church, it was instant. She didn’t realize this might be an egregious act to a coffee drinker. But because I was in a space of compromise, I drank it with gratitude. This brings me to the last lesson.
It’s okay not to be close with family members. It really is. Sometimes family is just family. Sometimes they are just the people to whom you are related. Sometimes family are just the people who married into your space, or you into theirs. For a long time, I thought otherwise. I believed family should be the people with whom you connect with the most. This isn’t always true, and I was reminded once again last week.
Close relationships require shared activities that allow for bonding. There are families who bond over vacations. Some families bond over holiday drinks. Other families bond over sports. I’m not sure our differences will allow for many bonding experiences. And without those, I’m not sure how the relationship can be closer.
While my visit was enjoyable, it was clear that we will more than likely remain as simply family. And that’s okay.
So, that’s the update. Let me know what you think about either of these points. Also, it’s the holiday season! Will you be spending time with family you aren’t particularly close to? If so, how will you manage?
A week or so ago, I revealed that there was some anxiety surrounding my upcoming visit with my brother and sister-in-law. For months, and all the way up to the moment we drove to their home, there were three specific things I did to prepare.
#1: Let go of all grievances! Like many people who have had challenging relationships, I had a list. The list was mainly comprised of interactions with my brother-in-law. They spanned from 1993, when Dwight and I first met through 2015. Everyday leading to the visit, I thought of each act where I felt mistreated. I actually saw the sentence in my mind on a piece of paper, until there was a list. Next, I crumpled up the list and threw it in a fire (in my mind). Because I believe that we’re all energy, I knew that I couldn’t possibly go into their space with a twenty-five-year-old list of everything I was angry about. I couldn’t bring that negative energy with me because it would be disruptive and it would cloud how I engaged. I’d be speaking and functioning from a space of hurt, pain, and suffering, instead of love, which was my ultimate intention.
#2: Love them the way I would anyone else! Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that if I like, love, or care about someone, then I interact differently. For example, if I care about you, then I look you in your eyes, ask you about your well-being, and fully participate in conversation. If I don’t, then one of those actions is missing. For this trip, I knew it was my sister-in-law’s birthday, so I decided to act as I would if I was visiting a friend and it was his or her birthday. Dwight had already planned to buy a bottle of wine, but I also suggested bringing enough gourmet cupcakes for her and her family of six. We’d also chosen a beautiful card to accompany her gifts.
#3: Visualize positive interactions! Law of attraction and creative visualization have undergirded the last two decades of my life. If you’re not familiar, at the base of these teachings is the idea that emotion and images create the life you want or the life you have. As I mentioned before, I intended to bring love to the situation; accessing that emotion was no problem; however, visualizing it in their space was challenging sometimes. I imagined myself ringing their doorbell and both of them opening the door. I created an image and a dialogue where I was very excited to see them.
I’d planned to say, “Heeey Happy Birthday!”
She would then say, “Thank you so much.”
Then, I would hand her the box of cupcakes and she would be very appreciative.
I’m sure there’s some scientific name for this, but visualizing positive interactions was hard to do because my brain kept reminding me of the old story. It goes like this: even if they knew it was my birthday, they would probably never bring me a gift. Then, my brain reminded me of something on the list: one year my brother-in-law convinced his father that my birthday was two days later, which was hurtful. When that happened, I reverted back to strategy number one, removed the act from the list again, and continued visualizing. I imagined holding an in-depth conversation with my oldest nephew, and even though I didn’t really know my younger nieces and nephew, I saw us laughing and playing games.
These three things worked for me, and as promised, I will update you on the actual visit tomorrow.
Written for Debbie’s blog and #ForgivingFridays.
I was going to tell you the greatest thing about my brother and sister-in-law, until I realized…I don’t know. The truth is I cannot.
That’s what happens when you don’t take the time to get to know someone. That’s also what occurs when you’ve allowed what you perceive to be a person’s flaws to dominate your interactions.
I have to admit that’s happened here.
Between 1993-1996, I was so busy trying to get my brother-in-law to see that I was a ‘good’ person and worthy to be his brother’s wife, that I didn’t just stop and communicate in an authentic way, a way where I’m listening to and understanding him and his point of view. I was in a space of proving.
Once I realized attempts at demonstrating my worth were futile, I entered another mode. Today, you’d call it IDGAF. Twenty years ago, I suppose I just distanced and detached myself from the entire situation. By 1999, he had a wife. But I didn’t give a f*ck. And I certainly wasn’t going to treat her better than I’d been treated.
Over the years, I fluctuated between proving myself and not caring at all. I’d show interest by purchasing Christmas gifts for their one, two, and eventually four children. After all, Dwight and I are their aunt and uncle. The strain in my brother-in-law’s voice when he’d say, thank you, sounded like a child’s forced greeting. So, I returned to a lack of care. Who cares? This isn’t going to change anyway, I convinced myself.
I was right. Partially.
In 2015, my sister-in-law and I agreed to read books together. We both enjoy reading, so it seemed a great way to bond. It wasn’t. We don’t even like the same genre. Her answers to our first book, A Terry McMillan one I chose, were terse. My answers to her selection, The Book of Negroes, were filled with insecurity and arrogance. I didn’t want to sound like a university professor analyzing a book, and I also loathe historical fiction. Turns out we didn’t need to read together.
Later that year when my father died, I took score. Who called? Who didn’t call? Who sent something? Who didn’t? In essence, who seemed as if they cared? Aside from a sorry to hear that via Facebook, neither reached out. That was the proverbial straw. I mailed a letter telling them as such. I also let them know it was okay. It was clear they didn’t like me. And it was okay.
As of today, there are three years of unspoken words between us. However, I’ll be in their hometown in less than a week and plan to visit with my husband. Similar to times past, I’m in a different space. I understand we’re all human beings, with histories that shape how we interact or don’t interact with others. I care about what this visit will yield, but not because I’m trying to prove myself to anyone. I stopped that behavior a couple years ago. There’s little reason and like this relationship showed, it doesn’t work anyway.
In my new space, I’ll be fully present. I’ll engage in conversation without wanting to show my worth or to denigrate theirs. I’ll attempt to get to know both of them. Maybe this time next year I can feature them for the Greatest Thing About category, or maybe I will have finally learned what people mean when they say, “it is what it is.”