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Rewriting the story of me

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This column is included in Raising The Hardy Boys: They Said There Would be Bon-Bons which could make a pretty cool Mother’s Day gift, just sayin’. My next book signing gig is Saturday, May 9 at the Coffee Cottage in Newberg from 3 to 6 p.m. Come say “hi” and maybe pick up a copy of my book as a mother’s day gift? Oh, and tell your friends! By the way, there WILL be bon-bons! .

Whether you grow up in Disneyland or Dysfunction Junction, friction is a natural part of family life. Who doesn’t have moments when they look around the dinner table and wonder how they could possibly be related to these people?

Imagine my surprise when I found out, 21 years ago, that this occasional passing fantasy was actually fact in my case.

Let me set the stage for you. It was my freshman year in high school. The assignment was to write an autobiography, with the incentive of extra credit for creativity.

I decided to use a picture of my mom, pregnant with me, for the cover. But I couldn’t find any such picture.
I tried to substitute one from the period my mom was pregnant with my brother. None of those existed either.
I found it difficult to believe my father, who even takes pictures of his food, didn’t have a working camera available during a pair of nine-month spans. So, overachiever that I was, I had no choice but to take my project to the next level.

When my parents were out one evening, I went into reporter mode, snooping through my mom’s red address book. One by one, I called close family friends to announce I was doing a project for school.

Naturally, they were all happy to help. That is, until I asked: “Could you tell me your favorite memory of my mom pregnant?”

Whether by hesitation, an awkward pause or the sharp inhalation of surprise, my suspicions were confirmed.

A couple of them wanted to know if my mom knew about this project. She sure didn’t, but this was pre-cell phone, so no one could text my parents a heads up.
Why didn’t I simply ask my parents? I did in 1991, and purely by coincidence, it was on Mother’s Day.

After a painfully awkward brunch on Bainbridge Island, and a silent drive home, my parents finally told me the truth about my birth.

I felt as if my foundation had cracked.

In retrospect I wonder what that news changed exactly. I mean, besides where I spent my first week of life, everything else was the same.

But it wasn’t. Not really.

I wish I could tell you I handled the situation with grace and understanding. But, alas, I was 14. So there was plenty of drama.

Unconsciously, I started to ignore the idea that my parents loved me and instead dwell on the fact that someone I’d never met didn’t – at least not enough to keep me.

Now I understand the best way my birth mother could show her love was by acknowledging she couldn’t do for me what my parents could. But back then, I started telling myself the secret truth about me was that I was simply unlovable.

This became a core belief of mine, one I sought out and affirmed in my relationships.

It wasn’t until very recently that I learned the story I was telling myself wasn’t true. How could I have been so wrong about something I was so certain about?

The thing about our birth stories is that they’re just that: stories. The meaning we give the story is what matters.

I could focus on the fact that nobody was with me during the first week of my life, or I could instead remember that my parents canceled a ski trip to come and get me as soon as they heard they could.

At every birthday since, I’ve heard that story. And it delights me every single time.

I don’t know very much about my biological mom, besides the fact with was an Irish X-ray technician with four children. But I can tell you my real mom has cutting boards stained green with parsley, can make goulash in her sleep, has fingers calloused from a lifetime of hard work yet still capable of soothing a feverish forehead, keeps her nails clean and cuticles trimmed, has a favorite apron in green, and smells like Gucci and geraniums.

She is probably reading this with tears in her eyes. She should know that while I’m sorry for that one awful Mother’s Day, I have loved her as my real and only mom on every one of them before and since.

By the way, I did get extra credit for my bonus chapter: “My Adoption.” I like to think of that as my first investigative reporting piece, inspiring a career in journalism.

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