The Shoebox Effect:

Marcie J. Keithley’s newest book, The Shoebox Effect, is both memoir and self-help. It’s about how so often we humans tend to suppress painful feelings and old memories by creating an emotional/virtual shoebox. (Sometimes too, we create an actual shoebox with actual mementos.) We store old thoughts and sensations as well as physical items away so as to avoid or escape the reality of their existence. It’s a coping mechanism. Sometimes it’s what we need to do in order to get through a difficult time. The problem is, it becomes a bad or wrong thing at some point when suppression or subconsciously forgetting hinders our or our loved ones’ quality of life. Triggers will always come back, and you never know when.

The Shoebox Effect tells of Marcie’s experiences as a young adult mother, struggling to come to terms with family disruptions and unplanned situations during a time when society and women’s roles had different assumptions than today. Her writing is effective in “taking the reader back” to a simpler but challenging time in history when women and mothers had more traditional and conservative expectations. Changes were slow in coming, and helpful resources for struggling, unmarried young mothers were limited.

In some ways, The Shoebox Effect also reads like a self-help or a workbook because reflection pages are provided where the reader can journal or make notes about their personal thoughts. This interactive approach which includes spaces for questions and answers can help readers feel as though they are a pair of a conversation instead of just reading someone’s life story.

Author, Marcie Keithley genuinely cares about helping any reader who has emotionally or physically stored away pieces of unfinished life business by sharing the experiences endured by herself and other significant family members. This book will be very helpful for adoptees seeking the point of view of a birth parent, fellow bio/ first parents who have followed a similar path, therapists, counselors and other professionals in social work who may not be aware of the past history of adoption involving the Baby-Scoop-Era’s adoption practices. Adoptive parents will appreciate this book so that they can gain better insight and sensitivity for what their adopted son or daughter might be feeling, especially if they consider a reunion with biological family.

Keithley’s account is descriptive, honest and rich in emotion. This is a story of resilience, strength and optimism while confronting many oppositions. She tells her side, as a biological mother with dignity, class, and compassion.

It’s #NAAM! What do YOU think about that?

Happy #NAAM, AKA National Adoption Awareness Month. It’s still early in “the season”, and I am seeing many viewpoints, which is good. Here are the messages or points that stand out to me the most (for now):

1- That #NAAM should be National ADOPTEE Awareness Month rather than ADOPTION.,

2- That it’s a month to be aware and observe. It’s not necessarily a month to celebrate, which is quite different. #ConversationsAboutAdoption

3- If you feel you must celebrate or commemorate this month, why not read literature created by actual adoptees? #LaureenPittman,

I am OK with representing the many sides of adoption, but it is imperative that as far as the adoptee perspective goes, as many facets of the adoptee experience as possible should be represented; the “happy” stories as well as our struggles. The most honest presentation we can make is to acknowledge that we share many viewpoints and have an impressive array of ideas based on our personal experiences.

If we have so many viewpoints, imagine what the biological and adoptive parents plus social workers must also have if they are honest with themselves. Their stories should also be shared, not just the ones with positive outcomes, but also the times of grief, and worry about making some very difficult, life-altering decisions.

Historically, our side, (the adoptee side), has been the least represented in a balanced way. This needs to change. While it is not wrong to recognize differing opinions from other groups of the adoption sector, adopted individuals need to have their voices (or keyboards ; )  heard and respected with the same enthusiasm and as their respective adoptive and foster parents, social workers, therapists, and biological family.

Not everyone feels that #NAAM is a time to celebrate. Not everyone in the adoption community has had the greatest experience. I’m not saying you should never celebrate the good parts if that is what you feel, but also be mindful that adoption means different things to different individuals.

There are many reputable books, films, podcasts, and social media groups that illustrate an array of adoption and foster care-related experiences. I urge you to both enjoy and also learn from what you take in. If you are a therapist/counselor, honor the month by seeking out professional development opportunities that address adoption concerns. Yesterday’s adoption was only about possibilities, love and better times ahead for all. Today’s adoption has added some modern yet valid opinions and research to this concept showing that it is not simple and easy to be an adoptee, bio-family member or adoptive parent all the time.

Even when it is not simple and easy, however, it is still always right to shed truth and humanism when acknowledging November as #NAAM. It’s not a time to tell adoptees what to think or how to feel, but it can be a time to ask us, “So what do you think about #NAAM?” This should be a time for those who struggle with their adoptee status to find meaningful connections with adoptee peers and colleagues. Connecting with like-minded folks does wonders. Seek out upcoming conferences such as #IAN (Indiana Adoptee Network, #ANC, (Adoption Network Cleveland), #NACAC in Toronto, and the #NAC (National Adoption Conference) in Maryland in 2020. This can also be a time to explore different schools of thought and gain understanding as to why members of our constellation feel the way we do. Also, if you do have expertise in an aspect of adoption, consider becoming a workshop presenter or volunteer for this worthy interest group.

Links to events:

There are many ways to educate and network about adoption. The above are just a few.

Parallel Universes has Universal Appeal.

The premise of David B. Bohl’s memoir, Parallel Universes is very relatable for adoptees or any reader who is missing significant information about their past due to actual separation from loved ones or due to physical or mental trauma. (or both)

After confessing about being adopted to some young school peers, David, as a child,  realizes that there is a division between himself and other people who are not adopted. Bohl sees that even under the best of adoption experiences, something is missing (genetic and social history), which separates himself from others who have biological privilege.

(P. 45, “Often it felt as if everybody else got an instruction manual that I clearly had not been given.

(P. 47, “I hadn’t been given the direction that would show me how to be in the world. How did everybody else know how to be?”)

A large part of David Bohl’s story documents his struggles with alcoholism, a condition that runs higher among the adoptee population. Bohl not only felt that he experienced a double identity and universe as an adopted person but also as a drinker.

This book is an amazing and authentic resource for any individual at any age who struggles with addiction. In fact, it’s more about Bohl’s alcoholism and recovery experiences than it is about his being adopted, but he does blend both aspects together before his story concludes. Parallel Universes reads fast and has the feel of sitting together with David at a kitchen table having a Realistic conversation.

(Read the book to understand why I capitalized and italicized “Realistic”!)

We’re Adopted, So What? : Book Review

Gayle and Casey Swift have composed a fun yet factual handbook about how adoption feels from a teenager’s perspective. This is probably at level for a “tween” reader as well. Additionally, the illustrations by Wesley Blauvelt are lively and colorful.

The Swifts jump right in with needed information addressing both positive aspects and also negative points and concerns that young people typically feel regarding their situation as an adoptee. The content is very evenly balanced between what many folks in the adoptee community think of as “good” and “bad”.

This book is easy and quick to take in and allows space for the reader to jot down notes and reflections, much like a school workbook page. Although geared toward ages 10-18 mostly, We’re Adopted, So What? is honestly appropriate for many age ranges and readers who prefer fewer words and something that feels more like a discussion.

I highly recommend We’re Adopted, So What? for prospective adoptive parents, (often called PAPs), educators, counselors, and therapists as well as for adopted people of any age and reading level.

Review of Shadow Baby, by Alison McGhee

Shadow Baby (2000) is a novel by Alison McGhee. Although the main character,  11-year-old Clara, is not an adoptee, she struggles with many issues actual adopted people might face. Clara views everything and everyone in the world uniquely because she has missing family members: a biological father, a maternal widower grandfather who lives reclusively up north, and a ghostly twin sister for whom she mourns. She searches for validation from her functional but traumatized mother, which isn’t happening, but instead, she finds acceptance and a beautiful friendship with an elderly community member after asking him for help with a school research report.

Clara’s quest for truth, no matter how difficult it is, becomes another theme many adopted people can relate with if they have ever wondered about or searched for the family members they’ve never met or but feel a calling to seek out. (This story takes place before using a home DNA kit would have been an option.)

This story is told from the point of view of the quirky, curious and intelligent young girl who struggles at school to fit in, dodges bullies who hover by junior high lockers, loves historical tales and strives to find consistency and sense in her world of information gaps. Young Clara fantasizes about what her long-lost grandfather, father, and sibling must behave like and look like. In her head, she blends her well-researched knowledge of actual history with her active imagination to create vivid and impressive characters and presumed events. As truths are divulged, she must come to terms with make-believe and reality.

Book Review: Who Am I, Really? by Damon L. Davis

Damon L. Davis is a well-known podcaster in the adoptee community. His episodes of “Who Am I, Really?” are enjoyed by many adopted people, and Davis has recently released his memoir by the same title: Who Am I Really?   An Adoptee Memoir.

Davis’ writing is engaging and personable. It feels “real” as if you are having a conversation over the telephone or in a coffee shop with him. Davis makes sure to honor his four parents: Ann, Bill, Veronica, and Willie, in a way that allows the reader to get to know his whole family history. He details his “coming out of the fog” experience and how he carefully considered his moves toward searching for and contacting his biological family members so that everyone could be treated with kindness and respect.

Damon Davis and his wife are also kinship adoptive parents, which allows Davis to have a unique perspective on the subject. In his book, Davis also shares his joys and struggles with caring for pre-teen adoptees (rather than infants). He has had the advantage of offering his own understanding of being a fellow adoptee while in the process of rearing older adopted children.

Davis describes his successful reunions and the challenges he faced in locating his biological/natural parents. His desire to search grew after the birth of his biological son, which is a common reaction for adopted adults.

This book is an excellent resource for adopted people seeking understanding and affirmation for their feelings about being adopted. It is yet more proof that even people with “good” upbringings and adoption experiences often still are curious and desire as much information as they can acquire about their first story of how they came to be and why they were adopted in the first place.

Who Am I, Really? An Adoptee Memoir is a positive, fun and friendly reading experience as are Damon Davis’ podcasts. Be sure to add this one to your adoption reading list!

Review of The Other Mother, by Carol Schaefer: You can learn a lot from this book!

The Other Mother: A Woman’s Love For The Child She Gave Up For Adoption is a memoir by Carol Schaefer. The story tells about her experiences as a naive college girl from a very conservative and socially conscious southern background who becomes pregnant by her boyfriend in the 1960s. Her deeply religious family, (her mother in particular), forces Carol to carry out her pregnancy at a Catholic home for unwed mothers. She is then forced to surrender her newborn son for adoption.

Schaefer’s writing is picturesque and heartfelt. She clearly describes her life at Seton House where she misses her family and boyfriend, bonds with fellow residents, questions her faith and prays for a way to keep her baby. She shares how her thinking and freedom was manipulated by trusted authority figures: medical professionals, parents, the Church

This was an interesting insight into the thought processes of a birth/bio/natural mother who in many ways was a victim of her era and the cultural expectations of the day. Schaefer details her emotions at every turn in a way that immerses the reader in deeper. The reader, (at least I), feels/ felt similar pangs of worry, loss, fear and anxiety over the separation of the young mother and her infant son.

This book, although older (1994), is an excellent partial study of the history of US adoption practices and why the “industry” needs to be seriously changed, especially when organized religion is involved.

In 1995, The Other Mother: A Moment of Truth was brought to film as a Lifetime movie. The film version follows Carol Schaefer’s book relatively accurately, but as with many films adapted from written work,  it is only so good due to editing. The film tells the story by using flashback scenes, which are effective but less engaging than the linear-told book. Granted, most book or play versions translate better than a film due to so much cutting and rearranging, but films provide a time-saving way to appreciate the same story. In this case, too, the motion picture feels dated to the late 1980s-1990s.

Schaefer’s skillful writing makes the book feel timeless even though the era in history is about 30-50 years ago. Both the book and movie are well thought out perspectives of a biological mother regarding relinquishment, search and reunion. It is also rich in adoption history. In spite of this not being a recently released book, The Other Mother is an excellent resource for learning about adoption practices at the time and the emotional and psychological impact the industry during the Baby-Scoop Era has had on society.

Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge: a review

Sherrie Eldridge’s wide-selling book, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew,  became available around 1999 originally, but it is timeless and addresses all concerns expressed by adopted people today. It transcends time and the different forms of adoption: closed and secretive, open, transracial, transnational, etc. Adoptive parents can and should use this book as a reference source for understanding the complexities of being adopted, which the agencies probably did not address at the time of placement. This book also rings true as a source of affirmation for adopted people because not only is author, Eldridge a qualified advocate and writer, she’s an actual adoptee!

I’ve spent over 30 years honestly processing my adoption experience, (and 26-ish years before that running from it.)

Chapters 1 and 2 of Twenty Things resonated with me right away because Eldridge hits the ground running with a discussion about why adoptees have not typically talked much about their adoption. They frequently have a “terror of rejection”.  Relinquishment translates to the adoptee as rejection, even if we logically know better. Adoptee silence is a way to avoid further “rejection” (aka “serious disagreement”) by society in general, adoptive family members, peers or anyone who fails to understand the adoptee perspective, (which is not always the comfortable “script” adoptive parents and children were introduced to years ago).

Chapter 2 offers several ways for adopted people to face and work through their fears. In this way, Twenty Things is not just a list of twenty complaints and worries. It also presents practical advice for attaining a better life as an adoptee. In fact, in nearly every chapter there are parts devoted to what parents and other significant adults can do to help if the adoptee is struggling with a concern.

Eldridge, a life coach, speaker, blogger and founder of Jewels among Jewels Adoption Network, Inc, graciously shares her wisdom, going on the belief that people in the adoption community are generally well-intentioned, but possibly not always well-informed, (until they read!) The author cites research from PhDs in psychology plus weaves in her personal experiences with situations and important people from her past as examples.

The tone of this book is pleasant and kind, but also direct and informative. For the reader who prefers to explore this book in a non-linear fashion, the chapters are sectioned in a reading-friendly way so that you can seek out the sections that call to you first. This book is a quick read, but a lot of useful information is packed within. 20 Things is a classic and should be a part of the resource banks for all members of the adoption constellation.

Review: The Lies That Bind by Laureen Pittman

Recently, I read Laureen Pittman’s memoir, THE LIES THAT BIND: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery. It is the story of her search and reunion experiences with her biological parents. Her writing is clear, educational yet warm, descriptive and humanistic.

Pittman’s desire to search is sparked after an opportunity to travel to and study in the United Kingdom as a college student. Her adoptive mother is excited because she has ancestral ties to Great Britan and expresses this. Unfortunately, as an adoptee, Laureen has no idea of her actual heritage at this point and feels an emptiness, (although she does appreciate and enjoy her trip abroad). She is struck by a sense of “hiraeth”, a Welsh term associated with longing and homesickness for a person or place that does not seem to exist. I found this item and many other “nuggets” of information in this book very relatable and worthy.

This is a great book for a non-adopted reader to self educate about the adoption experience from a well-versed, honest expert: an actual adoptee. Pittman cleverly weaves in teachable moments regarding typical adoptee thought processes and perceptions while artfully unfurling her personal tale. Specifically, Chapters Five and Fourteen stand out as great learning sections regarding Baby-Scoop Era adoption/ adoptee background and psychology.

You can read this book for fun (because it is a fast-moving page-turner), read this book to learn about the adoptee experience, or you can just read this book to feel connected. It does not disappoint.

The Lies That Bind is available at Amazon.

Adoptee Thoughts on National Siblings Day

I’ve seen a lot of posts recently on Facebook about it being National Siblings Day. I checked, and it is indeed today (April 10th). I have one brother by adoption, five birth sisters and one birth brother. (Biologically we are halves, but we never use the word “half”.)

I love all of my siblings. My A Bro and I share many childhood memories of holidays, birthdays, weddings, playing with kids in the neighborhood, the time the dog puked in the back of the car, the afternoon our family station wagon overheated on I-75 in Lexington, KY on the way to a family vacation in Florida, graduations, when our grandparents died…

I have been in reunion with two of my sisters on my birth mother’s side for almost 31 years. (It is already 31 years if you count the phone calls and letters. In July it will be 31 years in person.) I have been connected with them for more of my life than not, and I feel wonderful about that. We have used our time, (in spite of living thousands of miles apart), to build our own memories plus embrace the fact that we have separate memories from one another, because that’s just how things worked out. I have relived as much of their pasts through stories and photos as I possibly can. We have a lot in common now, and I am forever grateful for that. They and their respective families are fine people.

I have been connected with my birth father’s family since 2002. We are getting up there in time together. They live locally, so we have a lot more chances to be together. Since 2002, we have had the privilege of blending Thanksgivings and Christmases and even a few Easters. It’s great to take part, and I feel very welcomed and accepted. Our biggest challenge in spite of living locally is time due to work, and other obligations with our kids, in-laws, etc. Again, we lack a childhood together. We barely have had a young-adulthood together, but we focus on now mostly, and when one of them tells a story about their past, which is not a part of my past, I listen and absorb. I learn whatever I can learn.

Privately I have grieved about time lost, but there isn’t much we can do to reverse that. It sucks, but it is what it is. We move forward. We laugh and sometimes imagine what if I had also been a part of an x-remembered scenario, what would I have been doing?  Ignoring everyone and staying in my own little world? Sassing back? Cracking a joke, taking sides, sneaking dinner food I hated (like stuffed peppers) to the dog?  (Let’s be honest, if dogs or cats were involved I would be their sympathizer every time!)

Would I have been a pesky brat sibling? a leader-type sibling? Would I have taken one for the team as a sibling? Or, would I have split and let everyone fend for themselves? Who would have been my school friends, and would I have been more or less popular?  I do think about these things, but I cannot change any of that. For me, there is no use in being mad about the lost past I never experienced any more than it is for my siblings to grieve or feel guilty because I was not there at the time with them. We all know we would have had a lot of fun together no matter what, (because we are all by nature fun-loving people), and we probably would have all had our fighting times too, because what siblings don’t fight?

We are like the definition of “hive mind”. My bio-siblings and I come together and have many similar thoughts and memories (although usually involving other people) prior to actually meeting, and now we work toward a more collective memory bank which we can fall back on and incorporate as we advance toward the future.

I totally understand how adopted people might feel sad or left out on a day like National Siblings Day. I also know that I am one of the luckier ones because  I could locate everyone successfully and my bio families were open and welcoming. At the same time, I hesitate to post pictures of us together because I do not want to hurt anyone else’s feelings, trigger someone or look like I am bragging.

So I humbly and quietly celebrate this day. I have a Brady Bunch load of sisters and brothers. That’s amazing to me. It’s something I always wanted. I am happy for those who can celebrate and revel in this SIblings Day. I respect and send best thoughts to those who are unable: (only sibs, those with missing or deceased sibs, those rejected by their sibs).

The only advice I can offer is perhaps you can also embrace best friends, close cousins and anyone else you think the world of as if they were a sister or a brother. Think of family is a global sense. In that way, oh man, I have many, many online and real-life amazing friends and family, (some whom I have met, some I have not yet met).

May you find a sense of peace and understanding in this day and in many other “special” days throughout the year.

#adoption, adoptees, adoptism, flipthescript, family, nationalsiblingsday, birthfamily, biofamily, siblings