I have a very strange brag. It goes like this:
I am the only person I’ve ever met that has never looked into the eyes of another human being to whom I am related by blood.
And if you’ve read my book, Toxic MomToolkit, you know that because I was adopted and never had children that this is technically true. Although… I may have met one relative on my journey to Iowa. But I’m not sure. I can never be sure.
According to my adoption records my birth mother and her parents are Norwegian. When I grew up and found my birth mother, the one thing that she was very cagey about was saying anything about my birth father. One time she said he was Finnish. Which, when you grow up in an agricultural area peopled by Scandinavians is plausible. But really, who is HALF Norwegian and HALF Finnish? People are all sorts of things that their grandparents and great-grandparents contributed to the gene pool.
For most of my life I’ve thought of myself as Scandinavian. My adopted mother was mostly Swedish and my adopted dad was German and English and they loved going to health spas in the Scandinavian mode with steam rooms and cold plunges and alder sapplings to beat your own back with to encourage blood flow. With straight teeth and good skin, I joke that my Viking genes have been good to me. So, am I Scandinavian? I think so.
But what if I’m not? What if I’m Irish, too? What if I’m Persian, too? Or Russian, too? Of course, the specifics, the national origin doesn’t matter so much. I already know I am a combination of things, like everyone else. What matters is knowing what everyone else takes for granted.
One of the most toxic things my birth mother ever did was to withhold half of the basic information on my nationality. I have to think that the reason she holds this information so close is because she knows I really desire to know. Is it a way for her to hurt me? Perhaps in her mind, I hurt her by being born, so this evens it out?
When I was a reporter and stories would come across the wires about DNA and proving if one person was related to another through genetic testing, I read every word. And as the cost of DNA testing fell, I always hoped that one day, I could swab my cheek and finally find out what I was.
My birthday was this February and my darling husband gave me a $99 Ancestry.com ancestry test kit. Others have warned me that you end only get a colorful pie chart that may include countries of origin, but it may also just say that you’re 85% Northern European with a few percent Hawaiian thrown in. Nevertheless, I was stoked.
And because life is not always fair, a few days after my birthday my husband and I had a BIG fight. The kind you may only have two or three times during an entire marriage. By the time I cracked the test kit case open I was feeling very low and unloved. Plus, I didn’t know who I was, I thought to myself for the millionth time, as I endeavored to create sufficient spit to fill a (seemingly bottomless) vial.
I mailed the small box off and promptly made up with my husband, therefore regaining some sense of love and belonging. And it occurred to me that what I felt when I briefly felt unloved by my husband and then loved again might be akin to my desire to know my nationality. I have been born into a perpetual state of loss on this basic level of my identity. As everyone deserves to be appreciated and loved, everybody also should know where their people come from.
The turnaround takes 6 to 8 weeks, the pamphlet said.