Saturday, August 25, 2012

How Do You Raise a Selkie? Adoptees and Mythological Creatures

I've got a lot on my mind these days, not surprisingly. Meeting my bdad and having my bmom here for two weeks on top of my usual practice of following a lot of adoption-related blogs and twitter feeds -- yeah, I've got a few things to chew on.

I'm currently dealing with a version of visit backlash. I've written about visit backlash before from the point of view of an adoptive mom, but this is different. In this scenario, I'm the child. I'm aware that I'm processing a lot of conflicting emotions from my recent outing with my biological father. It went well. Really well. But it has also had the effect of throwing new light on some of the ways that I was a square peg in a round hole in my adoptive family.

In some ways, it would be a lot easier for me if my reunions were a bust. If I met my original parents and discovered that they were self-centered screw-ups who could not possibly have succeeded in raising a well-adjusted child, I would get to believe that I'd dodged a bullet. I could buy into the adoption mythology that I'd let a charmed life.

But I don't get to do that. Instead I have to deal with a much more complex reality. I acknowledge the value of the life that I led, while simultaneously mourning the life that I didn't lead. I am glad to have my original parents in my life now, and I'm sad and a little bit angry that I was separated from them for so long.

One of the many things that has been swirling around in my head recently is a blog post by Racilous of Adoption in the City. She recently wrote a review of the movie "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," which included the following paragraph:
The other lesson the movie laid on in spades was more rolled up in the theme of adoption. This boy was different, different from his family, different from everyone – he had leaves growing out of his legs and came out of a garden. For much of the movie there was this attempt to hide his differences, to create a world where he pretended to be the same as everyone else, to be the same as his family. I think this idea has plagued adoption probably since the era of Georgia Tann. It used to be children were looked at as a blank slate – something that I think is finally being put aside. There was a period of time where children were put into families of a different race from them but the fact they were of a different race was never acknowledged. For some adoptees, they might look just like their family, but I would assume it is rare that they felt like they weren’t at least a little different – maybe because they had a different personality, different set of talents, different look to them, or were a different race. Some of those differences were harder for an outsider to pinpoint, others were as obvious as leaves growing out of their legs. In the Odd Life of Timothy Green, the Green parents took steps to pretend, they would make Timothy wear socks all the time (yes even in the swimming pool), at one point they tried to cut off his leaves, and they insisted with him to never talk about where he came from or about how he was different. But he was always different, and it wasn’t something that went away because he didn’t talk about it.
I recognize myself in this paragraph. I recognize my life.

One of the many things that my bmom and I have in common is a love of writing, and among her oeuvre is a young adult novel in which the main characters are selkies, mythological changeling creatures who are humans on land and seals in the water. Selkies shed and hide their seal skins when they take on human form, and they must have the skin to make the return to the sea in seal form. At some on our recent road trip, my bmom and I started joking about me being a selkie. It would explain a lot: why they wouldn't let her hold me in the hospital, the three week gap between my birth and placement in my adoptive family, the strong pull I have always felt toward the ocean. We speculated that the state of my birth not only sealed my birth certificate, they also hid my seal skin. It is probably locked in a vault somewhere in the state capital.

It was all quite silly and in good fun, but there is a truth to it, too. In many ways, I was a mythological creature raised by humans who didn't quite know what to make of me. Like Timothy Green, I was different. I look enough like my adoptive family to pass for biological, but in so many other ways, I am obviously cut from a different cloth.

I give my adoptive parents credit for having the wisdom to, for the most part, stay out of the way and let my nature emerge. They loved me. They nurtured me. They kept me near the sea. And watched in mystified amazement as I grew into a being that they could not ever fully understand.

In a lot of ways, my adoption story is as much of a success story as any adoption story can be. I came out OK.

But the question remains, and will always remain: why exactly did it have to be this way when I could have been raised by my own kind?


  1. Best description ever. Exactly how it feels sometimes, like no matter what, they are just trying to understand me and figure me out.

  2. I am thinking of you as you process these things. Thank you for sharing them as I sit over here and process them in my own way.

  3. Spot on, Rebecca. When I was found, I was so startled to discover how much I resonated (strengths, interests, personality, not to mention physical resemblance) with my original father that I was simultaneously delighted, angered and confused. My adoptive family loved and nurtured me, but I was clearly not of the same cloth. To be found by one of my own tribe is both exhilarating and discouraging. I can't wish not to have been raised by my adoptive family, because those shared experiences helped shape who I am now. And I am happy with who I am. But, at the same time, I mourn the me that might have been, raised among my tribe. I grieve the me that never got to be.

  4. I also love and identify with the Selkie legend. You must see the film "Secret of Roan Innish" if you have not, a beautiful retelling. Also the many versions of the old ballad "the Seklkie Song." Here are the lyrics and there are several versions on Youtube.

    I am a first mother, love the sea as do all my sons including the surrendered one, and we are more at home in the water than on land. My paternal grandfather came from the West of Ireland, County Galway, so that fits with Selkie country.
    How lovely that you have tied the Selkies to your adoptive narrative. Having just come home from a wonderful visit to relatives in Ireland, this really resonates. Thanks!


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