“Did people belong to people because of what lay tangled in their cells?” – Marisa de los Santos
I have always been the kind of adoptee who would pore over my friends’ family photo albums for longer than the usual polite amount of time with purposeful interest, the one who would notice family resemblances even things as innocuous as same ears, same eye brows and such. I would notice little gestures and stances that gave away DNA at work. So it comes as no surprise that I have been looking and looking for years to see what sort of family resemblances I have with my Umma. When she first came here, I sneaked a chance to slip my feet into her shoes and low and behold, they fit! What I didn’t expect was that my Umma did the same with my shoes. And after admiring a pair of fuzzy mules, I found myself in the store shopping.
Confession.. I always wanted that hollywood moment where mother and daughter shop together. We didn’t go together, but I got a pair of shoes, two pairs, the same size and same fabulous purple. She loves them, I was walking on cloud nine. Now, I know there are plenty of women who are not their mother’s size, but having never seen a likeness in anyone my whole life – not a sister, not a distant cousin or crazy aunt….this was truly a mind trip for me. Later that same night, I casually looked over to my brother falling asleep on the floor watching baseball. We have the same hands! Growing up, my hands were the one thing I got complimented on and to see my hands on another person, nailbeds the same size and the same long fingers, I woke him up to make the comparison aloud. To top it all, P has the same hands. This child, who is a mini-me of George, has my hands and now I know what they will look like 30 years from now. Sigh.
I continue to believe that shared history is what defines a family but perhaps that was a bit of snow job for myself as one who never looked like or sounded like anyone in my family. True, when I look behind me, the traditions and the skills I have learned to live my life is much attributed to my adoptive family, I am beginning the journey to figure out what is just me, uniquely me. And now, I am seeing that the way I fill spaces in a room is in no small measure, a version of my Umma. She takes up little space, she quietly moves around my place with dishes cleaned, towels hung and placemats squarely placed. Pehaps too is her strong opinion, her blunt comments of likes and dislikes and constant talking through a tv show…that’s me too.
Still, there remains the cultural divide. The Korean way of looking at things was still something to adjust to. Admittedly, I take things personally. As one who spends a little too much time worrying about the comforts of others, I was shaken by my Umma’s confidence as my mother and her simple comments rattled me to my core. But she seemed to know when she went too far, something I was not used to. Turned out, she had been keenly observing my moods too and seemed to inately know when she ticked me off and backed away. I was unnerved by her knowing and thus on notice to make sure she knew I still wanted her here. For now.
Fascinating still, this was all so “normal” for my boys. They made jokes making sure I have translated properly to my brother and Umma. At pick-up from schoo, they looked for my brother almost as quickly as they looked for me. They are even beginning to be ok with being left at home for a stretch of time and for the first time since they were born, George and I were thinking about going out to dinner and drinks, just the two of us. I could get used to this.
I was getting used to my brother, the bodyguard, shadowing my outings. And I was actually able to play games with my boys while someone else folded the laundry and washed the dishes. And while I was still getting used to having a mother in my home, I was trying to hold my tongue to let the love come through.