Habits can be extremely rewarding.
One of mine is to write my holiday cards on Thanksgiving day. I have kept this tradition for more years than I can recall. No matter where I have lived or what happened on that day, I always found time to think about those in my life, including family and friends.
The act of writing and remembering reminds me of the bonds of connection I have with people far-flung across this country. Some of these connections help sustain me, good times and bad. Some have little impact in my life.
I went with an Oregon-themed card this year. In past years I have made my own. On each of the cards I create a personal message, written by hand and signed. A regular theme, if I can find one, is to share a positive wish of good fortune for the coming year. It is always preferable to be positive, even when we know some persons may be experiencing hard times, like some of my relations and friendships.
In my case, my card writing involves my circle of friends who seem to remain a part of my life as I age. They can be called my “chosen circle.” They are not family, for me at least. They matter a great deal in my life.
My “family card list” includes my step-family, my adoptive family, and my biological family. Because I am adoptee, and because that status is fraught with complexities about the meaning of “family,” my holiday card tradition has challenged me.
Having had a step-family since I was 18 years old, I can vouch first-hand that these relations are not easy. Step-family bonds are not blood-based or kinship-based.
Everyone in those dynamics knows the minefields, and to deny these tensions is to deny the critical role of genetic kinship in how all species, including humans, care for and help their close genetic relations succeed. This is equally if not truer of adoptive-family relationships.
I explore this in my greater detail in my adoptee memoir and critical exploration of the U.S. adoption system, in my chapter appropriately titled “Blood is thicker than water.”
In my book, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, I write about the meaning of relationships with non-biologically related step-family and other distal adoptive kin: “There simply is no bond that joins us, much the way I feel about my adoptive cousins, uncles, and aunts. For me, there is no blood that ties us, nor DNA to bind us. We are not true kin, both as I perceive it and as I have experienced this relation for decades now.”
Yet each year, on Thanksgiving I will still write letters of fellowship for the coming Christmas, or winter holidays if you prefer to call it that.
There is very little power I have to create relations where none are hardwired to exist by the determinant laws of biology and genetics. What I do control is my ability to offer a hopeful gesture. Whether that gesture is accepted or rejected, like so much in our lives, is not in our power to manage.
Because I was separated as a newborn baby from my biological family by laws and systems that erased my past and discriminated against me and millions of others by status of birth, I only began my biological family relations in my mid-20s. I explain all of this in my book for any reader seeking to understand what that means for me and other adoptees.
As someone who is now in my mid-50s and getting older, I remain clear-eyed how those relations will remain forever impacted by this system of separating families. And with my surviving biological family members who I do have contact with, again, I am not able to control how they respond. It has never been simple or easy to explain to anyone who is not adopted and separated from their biological family relations.
So with Thanksgiving now behind us, and my holiday cards on their way to my blended, adoptive, and biological family, I will celebrate what some may call our betters selves, to be the person I prefer to be.
Yes, adoption as a system forever made my holidays a mixed up time, but I have, for decades now, not let this define the meaning I give this time of year freely.