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Be Brave My Darlings: An Open Letter for My Littles

My darlings,

As I am writing this letter to you, the three of you are playing a game in the front room together. The sound of infectious giggling is filling the house; a sound that always brings me so much joy. It is a precious sound I wish I could bottle up, and open when the days are hard. I know that one day you will all be grown and gone, and the sound of your laughter will be greatly missed.

Your happiness means everything to me. I have tried to keep your lives enriched with fun activities, new adventures, and so much love. I know I am not perfect. Far From it. I just hope that even when I struggle, you understand one day that I always tried my best and can be forgiven when I failed spectacularly.

I have tried to protect you and keep you safe. The “Momma Bear” instincts are a very real thing. Even when you were just fluttering in my belly my desire to protect you would burn so strongly inside me. When you were newborns, I worried about illness and SIDS. When you were a few months I worried about you choking on small items since every object was chewed on. When you were a year or so, I worried constantly about bumps and bruises when you took your first steps, and had to child proof the house like Fort Knox because every nook and cranny was explored. It honestly goes on and on, and with each new stage comes new dangers and worries for a mom. Unfortunately, I cannot protect you from everything. This reality for me has been such a hard one to come to terms with.

The world we live in is becoming a scarier and more dangerous place. There are so many evils facing us now that I could have never imagined would be commonplace and on the news everyday. As horrifying as it is, these dangers are very real, and even now on American soil. In our cities and hometowns. I never in my life thought that white supremacists would be walking so proudly in the streets of my country openly promoting their sickening message and beliefs of hatred. It makes me physically ill to think that people can be so hateful towards other human beings.

The first time I saw a swastika I was six years old. I was in first grade, and during our art class, a boy tricked me into drawing one onto our art tables that were covered with brown paper. When our teacher saw it she freaked out, because, swastika. I had no clue what this symbol was and was confused and upset why I was in trouble for drawing it. My teacher quickly realizing that I didn’t know what this symbol stood for, decided to call my mom to tell her about it. That night, my mom had a discussion with me. She explained to me that this symbol became the emblem of one of the most hateful and evil groups of people in history – the Nazis. I had never heard of the Nazis before, but would soon understand they were bad guys from the Indiana Jones movies that became favorites of mine. I just could not understand why they could hate people so much because of their religion or their genetics. It broke my little six-year-old heart.

My first real education about the Nazis was during our World War II studies in eighth grade. Towards the end of the semester, we took a field trip to Washington D.C. and went to the National Holocaust Museum. As is the norm with any field trip, we were all psyched to be on buses and with our friends. Even on the elevator up to the top floor where the museum starts, we were still busily chatting with one another. As the metal doors opened, however, we were stunned to silence. I’m pretty sure no one really spoke until we all exited the museum.

In 2015, your father and I took a trip to Europe. While in Munich, Germany we made it a priority to go to Dachau and see the site of the first concentration camp during WWII. It was a very heavy day for us. I had a pit in my stomach that stayed with me hours after we left and headed back to Munich. I was so glad we took the time to go, and I suggest that anyone who is in the vicinity of one of the sites of any concentration camp should go. It needs to be seen and future generations need to be educated so we do not allow history to be repeated. The atrocities that occurred are unspeakable, and being there in the actual location of these crimes against humanity was extremely harrowing.

We spent a few hours there. I took my time, taking care to even tread lightly on the ground. Your father and I maybe spoke a handful of words to one another while we were there. Speaking seemed disrespectful. When I entered the gas chamber I was instantly overcome with the horror of that room. I had been alone when I entered, but was not once I stepped inside. The brick walls were no longer silent, and the things I heard and felt will never leave me.

I do not tell you these things to horrify or scare you. I tell them so that you are aware that these evils happened. Human beings did this to other human beings. Hatred and killing happens everyday, even here in the U.S. Racism is still prevalent in our country. Hate crimes are prevalent in our country. Hate is something that probably will never go away, and peace, may never be a concept our world will fully know again.

There is, however hope. That hope is you, my children. You, and your future children, and every generation to come. I want to teach you so many things while I can, but one of the most important things is to be decent human beings. To just be a nice human. To be the good in this world that is filled with increasing hate. There is more good in this world than evil, and if we educate ourselves and stand up to evil we have a fighting chance.

I want to make some things very clear. Pay attention.

  •    You must never stand by and watch. Doing nothing is as bad as doing the evil itself. Please, don’t be afraid. Some of the most beautiful and rewarding things happen on the other side of fear. Evil wins if fear resides.
  •   I will NEVER be proud of any child of mine if they are involved with, support, or condone any sort of hate. I even hate the word hate. Hate will never be allowed in our home for any person. I forbid discrimination or the mistreatment of any person because of the color of their skin, who they choose to love, who they choose to worship, (or not worship), where they live, their financial situation, what they look like, or what they are good or not good at. It’s absolutely unacceptable and this will never chage. Ever.
  • You are not defined by your mistakes. Despite what people and the world may tell you, you have SO much worth. More than you will ever know. Please, do not forget this. Mistakes will happen, it’s a part of life. The hard but most important step will be to overcome these mistakes and become stronger because of it. I believe in all of you with all my heart.

Perhaps the most important one of all: you will ALWAYS be loved. Always. Don’t be afraid to come to your father or I when things are overwhelming, scary, falling apart, confusing, or hurting. Don’t be upset if we get angry. Our initial reactions to situations may not be how we truly feel. We are not perfect either, so just try to remember that. Despite whatever happens, our love will always remain. That will never change.

Being your mother has been the most challenging and most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. I am grateful for you three every single day. Sometimes I sit and marvel watching you. I cannot believe that these three different, beautiful little children are all a part of me. I see the good in all of you, because you are good. Hate is not born, it’s taught. Hold onto the good, and never let go. I hope that I can teach you these things while I can so that you can spread a little good in this world. It needs it, and it needs you.

Be brave my darlings.

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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Whoa, Easy Girl

Is it weird to associate our inner selves with animals? Well I do. A spirit animal, if you will. Or a patronus for any other Harry Potter friends out there. Mine has always undeniably been a horse. When I was a girl I used to draw horses obsessively. I have always been compelled to them; drawn in by their muscled frames, long beautiful manes, and large intelligent eyes. I read books about them, and Black Beauty was one of my most favorite movies as a girl. Now, the really sad part is that I have only actually ridden a horse maybe twice in my life. So the fact that I have always felt this deep love for horses, and have barely any experience riding them is a bit odd. That’s something I would like to change- who wants to help a girl out??

Partly, I think I have always felt this pull towards horses was because they are such wild spirits. Sure, horses can be tamed but it would still run free if it had the choice. Many times in my life I have come to crossroads wanting to follow the unpaved path, and have to reign myself in. I am more of a free spirit and have such a laid back attitude with life that I know drives my husband crazy sometimes. He is very disciplined and always has a plan. I never have a plan and often just wing it, or just want to completely do away with any plan and run away. It’s a struggle sometimes for me to balance it all out.

As a girl, I always wondered, and often fantasized about who my biological family was. Sometimes I would dream of setting off on an adventure to find them. I loved (and love) my adopted family but sometimes it was obvious that my sister and I were adopted. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but there are definitely traits that we inherited from our biological families that we had even without knowing those people. Now that I know my biological mother’s family, there have been so many “aha!” moments when we realize the similarities. I now know that so much of the free spirit in me is from my birth mom Sherri. She too, loves horses and even had one of her own when she was a young girl.

It’s crazy to think about how woven together we all have been- even though it took us almost 30 years to meet. Life is so funny.

Running Wild

I found my birth mom Sherri in 2007. My twin sister Aly and I had joined a reunion website (Adoption.com) on a whim once we had decided to start looking for her in 2005. After a while, we stopped checking it because we were pretty sure we would never be able to find her. We had no information – none. All we knew was the city and hospital we were born in. It was definitely frustrating. At one point we even thought about hiring a private investigator but even if we had paid one they would have had an extremely hard time as well with the limited information we had in a closed adoption.

By chance in April of 2007 Aly called me in a panic. She could barely speak over the phone and all the words were spilling out at such a fast pace I had to get her to calm down. She was finally able to inform me that we had a response to our profile on Adoption.com! I told her to not get excited yet- it may not be her. I didn’t want to get my hopes up even though my insides were all screaming and wanting to jump through my skin.

Miraculously, when we asked her to send some photos, she emailed pictures of us at birth that we had copies of too as well as some of us with her the day we were born. It was a very unreal experience. My brain was having a hard time handling the fact that we had indeed achieved the impossible and found her. When I got home from work that evening in Ellicott City, Maryland, my entire body was buzzing with this energy I could not make stop, so I put on my running clothes and I ran. I ran until my lungs hurt and  I threw up. Running seemed to be the only thing to keep my heart up to speed with my brain which was going a mile a minute. I flung myself in a grassy field near my apartment complex drenched in sweat until my head stopped spinning.

We had done the impossible. We had found her.

Putting on the Blinders

When I called Mom to tell her the incredible news, she tried her best to pretend that she was excited. She could not, however, hide the fact that she was very upset. She actually started to sob over the phone and it made me so confused and sad. When I asked her what was wrong she told me

“I am happy you two have found her, but I am afraid you will leave me and Dad behind.”

My excitement was quelled by this. Of course I would never do that to my family, the thought had never occurred to me at all. No one was being replaced or being left behind; this was such an incredible moment that I thought would bring people together not apart.  Looking back and understanding more than I did at 22, especially now that I too am a mom, I can see where my Mother’s fears were coming from. It’s very normal for any adoptive parent, (I know my Dad had similar fears), to feel this way about their child searching for their birth family. But in that moment I just felt pain. I was confused why she wasn’t more excited for me and Aly. I knew we had a right to do this and it didn’t feel wrong. But seeing how upset she was and because I loved my mom so much, I decided to stop telling her information about our birth mom. It was not an easy decision to make, but I have never been one who enjoys or tries to harm people, especially those I love, so I felt it was the right thing to do. I would continue my journey to discover my birth family alone.

In 2013, I finally met Sherri in person along with her husband Rick. It was such an extraordinary evening that is impossible to describe with words. Seeing her and actually putting my arms around her fulfilled this sense of purpose I had been searching for. I felt a missing piece of my heart that I never knew to be missing was now replaced. It all felt so right and was such a monumental, emotional event that I felt I could not share with my family. It broke my heart to not tell them, but because I loved them so deeply, I didn’t want to cause anyone harm. Over the next three years as my mother’s health declined, it only further solidified my choice to not tell. The last thing I wanted was for her to feel like she was being replaced as her life on Earth was quickly coming to an end. There were many times that I wanted to tell her, and even started to, but would quickly decide not to. My fears of hurting my already sick mother who had been through so much always stopped my lips from moving.

Two Worlds Coming Together

My in-laws lived in Dayton, Nevada for about five years. In November of 2007, Jess and I drove out there from Utah to celebrate Thanksgiving. The day after the holiday, we packed lunches, bundled up, and drove on four wheelers into the mountains to find some petroglyphs and enjoy the beautiful scenery. On the trip back down from exploring we saw a herd of wild mustangs from the top of a ridge we were on. I was able to snap a few photos of them, and was so excited to see some in the wild because it’s pretty rare to do so nowadays.

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I was feeling on top of the world after that! The little girl inside me was screaming because I had actually seen wild mustangs in person! A few more miles out we stopped for a few minutes for a break, and to our surprise, a different group of mustangs appeared out of nowhere not 10 feet from where we stood! I audibly gasped when a dark brown one came within 5 feet of us, ears up and forward, curiously looking us over, and then wandering back to the herd. He apparently had determined that we weren’t a threat, because they stayed right where they were, completely unbothered by our presence. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I quickly snapped a photo before we moved on, but even the photo does not do the beautiful moment justice. Wild mustangs are usually quite shy, so the fact that this family of mustangs came close to our family group was exciting. It was a beautiful moment where our two worlds came together.

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My mother did not live to see my birth mom like I had dreamed. She passed away in February of 2015 – finally succumbing to 18 years of hell that cancer wreaked on her body. A few months after she was gone, I decided to tell Dad about Sherri. I was nervous, but Aly and I decided he needed to know since we never got to tell Mom.  Understandably, he took a while to digest the information, but he handled it very well. I was so excited and so relieved. In January of 2017 a dinner was set up in which my dad and his new wife, my stepmom Christy would be meeting Sherri and Rick as well as my biological grandparents DeVon and Dianne. The night was wonderful; it was another beautiful moment of two families coming together. It made my heart so happy, despite the dull pain that my mother was not able to be there too.

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Left to Right: Devon, Dianne, Me, Rick, Sherri, Aly, Christy, and Dad (Doug)

 The Movie that Broke Me

When I finally watched the film “Lion” about two months ago, it wrecked me to such a spectacular degree that I felt physically sick. In fact, I had to quickly turn off the movie when the credits started to roll, and rush upstairs to my bedroom where I continued to cry. I did not want to disturb my basement renters whose bedroom is directly below our tv room. I had previously read the book the film is based on “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierly, which was emotional in itself to read, but something about seeing it playing out really hit home for me.

Although Saroo and I have very different stories, his much more tragic than my own, the root of what he was needing to do was the same as mine: a need to find where he came from. He needed to find his family in India whom he had gotten lost from by getting on a train that took him across the country. Saroo was never educated enough to know the different dialects so he could not tell anyone where he was from, and eventually got put into the system after living on the streets in Calcutta for months. A kind couple from Tasmania adopted him, and he was flown across the world to live and grow up. Once he was grown, he had all but forgotten where he came from, until in his late twenties, he was suddenly bombarded by memories, and was then determined to find his family.

When he starts to search, he decides to not tell his parents what he’s up to. He doesn’t want them to think he is ungrateful for his life and the love that they have given him. While we were watching the movie, Jess turned to me and said:

“This is how you felt, isn’t it?” and all I could do was nod my head. The lump in my throat was preventing me from speaking. That was EXACTLY how I felt. Exactly. Saroo’s feelings resonated so strongly in me, and I am sure with many adoptees who are searching for their biological families.

I hope not to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but he does eventually track down his family with the help of Google Earth. He then finally tells his mom and dad what he has been up to. His mom is overjoyed for him, and supports him as he leaves for India. Once there, he tracks down his old family home, and with the help of strangers is able to find his mother. Their meeting again was so emotional for me, because my meeting with Sherri was no different. There was lots of hugging and crying and catching up.

Saroo calls his mother that night back in Tasmania and leaves her a message that says he found his mother and that she understands that they are his parents now, and she is so thankful to them for raising him and giving him a good life. He also tells his mom and dad in the message that this changed nothing for him about them as his parents and that he loves them. Nicole Kidman, who plays Sue Brierly in the film, has two adopted children in real life, and has said that she made this movie for them. In an interview she said this:

‘The movie is a love letter to my children who are adopted and it’s not about anything other than, “I wanted you whatever your journey is, I’m here to love and support you.” That’s what I connected to. I wanted to make the film for them,’ she explains.

‘When you are an adoptive mother, of course you think about the birth mother  and the birth parents and what it all means and how our lives are intertwined in some way, whether the child choose to find the birth parents or not.’  – Source : Daily Mail

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At the very end of the film, they show real footage of Saroo bringing Sue to India and meeting his mother, Kamala. This was the part that really ripped me apart. Seeing these two mothers who were a part of each others lives even though they had never met, embracing and shedding tears of such happiness was a moment I suddenly wished that Mom and Sherri could have had. They should have had it. I felt responsible that this never happened for them. Choosing to not tell my parents about this journey I was on, inevitably lead to this point, where they were both denied the chance to meet and embrace and cry because Mom passed away before I could better navigate my new relationship with Sherri and introduce them to each other. I just felt sick after the movie was done, and that feeling lasted a few days. My inner horse was already spooked and  running far away, and I felt past the point of being able to reign myself in.
This feeling of guilt and sadness is something I will carry heavily in my heart probably for the rest of my life. After a few weeks, I finally brought the subject up to Sherri via email. When she responded, she said this to me and as per usual, she set my soul at ease:
“What was lost to me in not meeting your mother is restored to me every time you tell me a story about your mother. Those few hours in my car on your mother’s birthday when you told me stories of her and your childhood were so precious and beautiful. A gift to me on your mother’s birthday. It also reflects in the way you walk in this world. In the same way that we are often amazed at those genetic similarities, I am amazed at the differences that I attribute to your mother. And I remain grateful for the ways in which we are different just as much as the ways we are alike. You are gifted with a wholeness that comes from being part of two women.”
I will forever be grateful for the two women who I can call mother in this life.
XoXo,
Heather
The Raw Brunette