Missing Pieces

I have an original birth certificate and a fabricated (aka “amended”) birth certificate. This happens a lot with adopted people. You might think it’s kinda cool and noteworthy to have two birth documents but it’s actually complicated. After 57 years, I’ve learned to deal with it, but It’s taken some soul-searching.

When I was very small and my (adoptive) parents explained that I was adopted they showed me my birth certificate. The only one they had was the changed one, but it was theirs, and it was mine. It bonded us as a family. It was the piece of identity on paper that I used for obtaining a social security number, a driver’s license, a passport, and a job. That paper was me. Only it wasn’t all me. It was legal, and it was real, but it also made part of me unreal.

My amended birth document contains my adoptive parents’ names as if they’d been the ones who conceived and birthed me. It lists my hospital of birth and my birth date. However, it does not list my time of birth nor my birth length/weight. Everyone I know has these tidbits of information. I often felt disturbed that my paperwork was lacking, (especially when people would talk about how big someone’s baby was and at what time they entered this world). You wouldn’t think those little-bitty details would matter that much, but they did to me. Honestly, until my mid-20s I hated, (yes literally), hated my birth certificate because it wasn’t real enough and it was not inclusive. Instead, I had a societally expected text to follow, and it was bullcrap because I did not have what other “normal” (in my young mind) people had.

My so-called script was to acknowledge that I was an adopted “child” and I was “chosen” by my adoptive parents, so that made me “ special” and “grateful”. (To be fair here, I must note that my culture in a general sense, gave me this expectation. My adoptive parents did not, except maybe for the word “special”, but they felt a lot of people and things were special.)

News flash: “Normal” people don’t use scripts; not for their birth story.

It took years for me to find the words to explain why this parlance was no good. For one thing, a child grows up. I’m not a child now, nor do I want to be. Adopted people do not want to be regarded as a perpetual child, but in many states, this is how adoption law works. We can smoke, drink, buy lottery tickets and serve in the military, but many of us cannot access our first birth certificate that has detailed information about our true start in life.

I’ve always associated the word, “chosen” with picking out a puppy from a litter or the old TV commercial slogan, “Choosy mothers choose Jif.” Being chosen implies that the adoptee has had no control. This verbiage potentially sets someone up to be hesitant and less inclined to seek leadership. Being chosen also implies hoping that other people out there deem you worthy enough to be selected. I refuse to believe that a child or baby in an orphanage who happened to never be adopted is in any way less worthy.

“Grateful”. Again this is a highly charged word. I’m grateful for a lot of things, but should I be more grateful than anyone else? How do you measure gratefulness anyway?

I found out from watching a TV talk show that adopted people in Ohio could actually acquire their original birth certificate, (referred to as an OBC in Adoption-land), so I sent Vital Statistics a twenty dollar check, and six weeks later the paper-pushers in Columbus sent me a big, fat envelope with copies of my real identity. My OBC even had listed the first, middle and last names of my birth parents, my pre-adoption name and a notation showing that I was not a first birth for my biological mother. I had a sibling out there!

The day I sat at my kitchen table and finally absorbed the realities reflected on these papers I changed from a functional but incomplete person to someone who felt whole and authentic. I no longer had to rely on a fabricated narrative about when, where and how I was born. My shame for not being grateful enough lifted from my soul, replaced by empowerment.

As I researched and uncovered more truths about my birth family for the rest of that year, I learned all I needed to know. I had to accept that due to my birth mother’s early-in-life death, I would never know all tidbits, but I had more than ever before. I had enough. I became the real me.

These days I happily share my birth story and I no longer hate it or find my natal facts lacking except in one way.
After all that time wishing and searching, my birth time and size were still omitted. Some things will always remain a mystery…


Book Review: An Adoptee Lexicon by Karen Pickell

Ohio adoptee and author, Karen Pickell’s new book is out. An Adoptee Lexicon reads fast, but don’t do it. The point is to savor these carefully chosen terms and phrases and think about their meanings. The book is styled as a series of vignettes and reflections about select words and Pickell’s personal associations when she encounters them. The focus is on how others comprehend these words and how she understands them from an adoptee perspective.

In everyday communication, all of us use a variety of vocabulary when projecting messages via speech, listening and writing skills. Using words like “mirror”, “first” or “normal” have connotations we all can generally relate to and are not wrong, but for an adopted person such terms take on more layers.

With each entry, Karen Pickell shares with the reader insights into her adoptee story and what being adopted has meant to her during different life stages. She shares researched facts about many sayings and words as they pertain to the “institution” of adoption.

My favorite segment of this book is the one entitled, “Mirror” in which Karen so eloquently and honestly describes how she once perceived herself and how she now sees herself after having her own children. Often, the only chance an adopted person has to connect with blood-related kin is if they have the opportunity to have and raise their own biological child(ren).

I hope every adoptee gets the chance to read and ponder over An Adoptee Lexicon. It’s unique in style, easy to follow and gets right to the point: What we say matters. How we think matters. Adopted people’s needs as adoptees matter.

An Adoptee Lexicon is available at Amazon.com in print and Kindle form.

For Halloween and the Eve of National Adoption Awareness Month: Ghosted


Billie is a ghost.

She saw me once, but I can’t remember seeing her.

Doctors sent me to the nursery, and then I went to foster care.

Billie went to the OR for surgery and then home to recover.

She appears in many photos, so I know she was real.

People talk about her, but I’ve never heard her voice.

She worked in restaurants and bakeries most of her life.

She never fed me.

She enjoyed country tunes, the old style.

I never heard her sing.

She danced and swayed to the music.

She never rocked me.

She argued fiercely with her boyfriend.

She and I never had a mother-daughter fight.

She wanted to find me and had carbon copies of papers.

I had a new name and a changed birth certificate.

She moved away to California, to start a new life.

I moved to Florida to start college.

Her heart valves gave out, and she died feeling broken.

I fell in love and returned to Ohio. My heart grew when my babies were born.

I’ve never felt Billie’s touch, but I have felt her presence in the room and in my daughters’ eyes.

Billie is a ghost.

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig: Book Review

Ginny Moon is a premiere novel by author and adoptive parent Benjamin Ludwig.  It is the fictional story of an adolescent girl who happens to be both adopted and autistic. I was drawn to this book immediately because I teach autistic students, and I am an adoptee. I enjoyed and appreciated the diary-like styling of this complex family story, as told from the point of view of Ginny, the young, endearing, learning-challenged adoptee who wants desperately to find her baby sister and know that the younger sister is alive and cared for.

Ginny is also an adoptee-lite in the sense that she knows who her biological mother, father, sister, and aunt are, but lacks the capacity to comprehend the precarious and destructive life her first mother has historically lead. Ginny’s prospective adoptive parents are portrayed as very caring regarding Ginny’s needs but also controlling and protective of their other biological infant daughter, (with good reason to a point). At one point in the story, I found myself disliking the adoptive mother mostly because she does not present as a happy person. She lacks trust and seems unwilling to try with Ginny once the new baby comes into their lives.

Ginny struggles with her need to feel worthy and needed by someone as well as her need to understand fully what truly lead to her relinquishment or separation from her mother of birth in spite of the mental challenges which her disability presents. Her “fog” is unique in that due to her mental challenges, she is not cognizant of the lapse in time (5 plus years) between when she was removed from her first home of squalor, neglect, and danger and placed in what she describes as “the Blue House with her Forever Mom and Dad”.

Autistic people seek to understand their environment in ways beyond what typical people strive for. They need to work through sensory/ information overload, multiple messages at one time, and the uniqueness and quirkiness of spoken language in addition to all the whys and why nots every adopted/relinquished person experiences regardless.

The novel, Ginny Moon, in no way promotes or supports one side of the adoption constellation or community over another. Author, Benjamin Ludwig writes from personal experience about parenting a special needs adoptee and all the joys and struggles that brings. Ludwig also conveys well the importance of having effective social workers/therapists who seek communication breakthroughs and understanding with their young clients.

Readers who enjoyed the book/movie WONDER might like this story because it conveys family unity and resilience amidst the challenges of raising a child with social and mental challenges. The characters are real, imperfect yet well-intentioned individuals. Ludwig captures the time of tween to early teen years when all kids, regardless of intellectual ability go through a phase when they increase their understanding and awareness of the greater world and begin to question how “the systems of society” work.

Another well-regarded novel I would liken Ginny Moon to is Mark Hadden’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in which another young autistic teen feels compelled to unravel a mystery this time about a murdered neighborhood canine. The main character is accused of something he did not do and he must somehow break through an intense communication barrier in order to find out the truth about his life.

Ginny Moon is attention-grabbing because Ginny’s “voice” (as the narrator) is fascinating, sincere and down to earth. The chapters are short yet this book is rich in detail in all the right places. Educators at many levels will also find this book appealing and insightful. Author, Benjamin Ludwig effectively shows the fine balance between the needs and interests of adoptees, their biological mothers and fathers, adoptive parents and even social workers.

This book is traditionally published and available in most standard retail bookstores and online.


Reviews of Jean Strauss’s Two Documentary Films:

Review of the documentary films, Adopted: for the life of me & A Simple Piece of Paper

These are films written, produced, directed and narrated by adoptee advocate, author, and filmmaker, Jean Strauss. The focus is primarily on adult adoptees from what is often called “The Baby-Scoop Era”. (think Baby-Boomer generation) These films bring to light the impact and potential for damage and loss that secrets about the adoption process cause, especially if it is a closed adoption, which was the norm in the 1940s-70s.

Adopted: for the life of me opens with an image of a dark traffic tunnel, which artfully symbolizes the emergence of life outside the womb and also the emotional “journey” many adopted people will face if they choose to explore their adoption back story and all the results of their findings. Adopted: for the life of me, offers a glimpse into the lives of adoptees Dave, Pam, Robert and Joe and how the unfairness and mysteriousness of not knowing about their origins have affected their careers, parenting, and other relationships.

Some thought-provoking points in this documentary:

*When Robert explains how seeing his children’s baby footprints done by the hospital at birth made him feel regarding is own unanswered questions.

*The quote:  “If it seems cruel to tell someone they have no right to know about their past, it’s downright criminal to tell them they have no right to their own medical background.”

*The fact is made that a purebred dog has more family history than most adopted human beings.

*The dichotomy between the states of Kansas’s and Missouri’s adoption records laws and how State Line Road splits citizens.

*Another quote: “The secrecy of closed adoption can lead to more secrets and unexposed desires and needs.”

*A final quote: “Living things need light to survive.”

This video closes as the vehicle exits the tunnel and drives forward into the light of day but also toward the light of knowledge.


Strauss has also written, filmed and produced a documentary called A Simple Piece of Paper. It is specifically about how the state of Illinois opened their adoptee birth records in 2011 and how that has changed the lives of many adopted people and their biological parents and siblings. It’s styled as a collection of personal accounts of adoptees’ experiences in applying for their paperwork and what it feels like to have direct knowledge of one’s heritage, health history and whereabouts of biological relatives for the very first time.

A Simple Piece of Paper demonstrates that an adopted adult obtaining their original birth information will not cause them to “dump” their adoptive family members. In fact, it could be a chance to build relationships and actually grow a family.

It is also compelling to listen to adoptee Jennifer’s testament as a law enforcement employee, to state how much the truth matters to human lives in her line of work, so why shouldn’t the truth of one’s origins be equally as vital for an adoptee? Having the right to your information removes feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness.

Adoptee Gay Ellen’s struggle to obtain accurate medical background information so that insurance will not deny her coverage for expensive but necessary tests is another valid reason why adopted adults wish to search. Her search could have a potential impact on her own daughter and granddaughter. The point is, adopted adults who have the chance to acquire health history are not being self-indulgent but instead realize it is critical for their future family members, including spouses who wish to be supportive.

Both documentaries, Adopted: for the life of me and A Simple Piece of Paper are highly engaging to watch, professional and humanistic. This is reality at its finest, making many worthy and well-researched points about the longest lasting ramifications and outcomes from closed adoption: How it impacts one’s mental and physical wellness and the ability to progress throughout life as a whole and validated human being.

Both documentaries can be found on Vimeo.com

Review of the film, ADOPTED

Film producer and director, Barb Lee, in 2008, created a documentary film about the life paths of two transracial adoption families simply called, ADOPTED. This film is thought-provoking and realistic as it tracks the touch points of two adoptive family situations: one, a Korean-born adult adoptee who is dealing with the terminal illness of her adoptive mother and the other is a PAC, (prospective Adoptive Couple), who anxiously await the arrival of their soon-to-be daughter who was born in China. Although the adoptees in this film are from countries outside the US, many of the emotions and thoughts expressed by the family members are universal in all adoption cases, past and present, domestic or abroad.

The PAC, (John and Jacqui), has all the best intentions as they prepare for the future arrival of their baby daughter in China. They are hopeful and thoughtful. The PAM (Prospective Adoptive Mother, Jacqui), shares her compassion for the unknown birth mother of the baby she is soon to adopt and discusses the grief that birth mother might be feeling as the birthdate and adoption date of the baby approaches. Their family and friends throw a shower for the PAC and they reflect on how their future adopted baby might feel bewilderment and grief due to all the life changes imposed at such a young age and how they feel an urgency to validate those issues in order to move forward in a healthy parent-child relationship.

Jennifer, the Korean adult adoptee, struggles to explain to her now disabled adoptive mother why she feels an understanding of and a sense of connectedness to the biological mother she has never met. Jennifer thinks her adoptive parents might be in denial of her actual heritage as she compensates to make up for her physical and cultural differences in order to fit in and meet her adoptive parents’ expectations.

Her very loving and well-intentioned adoptive mother honestly admits, “…I want you all to myself.” Jennifer attempts to explain the “invisible privilege” that birth families have, which is acknowledging how family members resemble one another. This is sometimes called “mirroring” and is when an adopted person gets the chance to finally see themselves via the actions and appearances of fellow biological relatives. Jennifer shares a powerful suggestion with her adoptive mother, “You’ll actually get more of me if you imagine that I was connected to someone else at one time…” Jennifer wants her adoptive mother to share in the curiosity about her first past. She sees this as a way to feel validated and accepted as an independent, free-thinking adult adoptee who holds no ill-will or anger toward anyone.

This is a great documentary for demonstrating contemporary viewpoints of trans-racial/national adoption but it also shares many feelings and issues experienced by all adopted people, regardless of heritage. Jennifer, the adult adoptee who is caring for her adoptive mother, is not bitter about her situation but struggles to seek truth and respect for her beliefs. The PAC, John and Jacqui, does not present as greedy, controlling nor judgmental of the birth mother in this film although they are shown as motivated and eager to become parents. The agency from which John and Jacqui’s new daughter came appears organized, appropriate and having the child’s best interests at heart. (Admittedly, not all placement agencies have operated (and do operate) this way, but in this case, the film presents this place and its caregivers as being on the up and up.

Adopted is engaging and presents with empathy, respect, and compassion for all the participants involved. It does not favor one side of the adoption constellation over another. It’s a rare find to come across any film or piece of writing that can evoke emotions yet display an unbiased perspective.

This film is available on Amazon Prime and YouTube.

Review of Nancy Newton Verrier’s The Primal Wound

The Primal Wound knocks it out of the so-called park with directness, superb research, and validation for what an adopted person might feel regarding being adopted. This book is full of personal accounts from actual adopted people and well-respected theorists and therapists who have expertise in human development. Many readers have considered The Primal Wound to be an adoptee “Bible” because there are so many poignant observations and quotes regarding the adopted person’s experience.

It was originally published in 1993, with the cover design done in 1991, according to my 2016 edition. Verrier dedicated her book to her daughter, (an adoptee), who came into their lives “on a path of sacrifice and pain yet whose love and courage have brought us understanding and joy.” Verrier was motivated to write this book due to her experience as an adoptive mother and as part of her master’s thesis in clinical psychology.

Verrier defines what The Primal Wound is for adopted people and how it plays a part in the lives of adoptive parents and adoptees alike. It cannot be covered up. It cannot be reversed once separation from the biological mother and adoption have happened. It can only be recognized as a real thing which carries with it issues such as guilt, (mis)trust, shame, identity, loyalty, rejection and control/power. The Primal Wound book never places blame or judgment on any party involved in the adoption system. This book simply points out many pieces of factual information and how even routine life events which all individuals may experience, have unique and lasting effects for adopted individuals.

Although Verrier bases her observations and writings on interviews with adoptees, personal experiences as a therapist and an adoptive parent, this book is not memoir nor creative non-fiction. It is for information seekers and especially for adopted people who seek validation and credibility. It is an excellent source for knowing that what you believe or perceive about being an adopted person is not silly, false or unrealistic.

Verrier has realistic advice for prospective adoptive parents as well, regarding their motives for adopting, coping with their own losses and limitations and long-term goals and expectations when considering the adoptive child’s developmental and emotional needs.

This is an excellent resource book for adoptees, adoptive parents and anyone studying human development issues. Verrier’s writing is organized and to the point while maintaining one of the fairest and most objective tones. There are professionals who disagree with Verrier’s opinions, (Jean Mercer, PhD. who has expertise in attachment theory), however, in reviewing several internet links, I found no evidence that Professor Mercer has personal experience with adoption and Verrier indeed does. Verrier relied on input from her adoptee daughter and openly shares this with consent from her daughter in The Primal Wound.

Here is a link to Nancy Verrier’s website if you would like more information about this author: http://nancyverrier.com/about-the-author-nancy-verrier/

#30yearreuniversary wrap-up:

I just got home from all my worldly travels this month. It will be a while before I get to go anywhere outside of driving trips again just because of real life. July has been a blast. What a privilege to see all the sights and be with the people I have been with this month.

The trip to So. Cal. w my two sisters (on my birth mother’s side) was beautiful and jam-packed with activity. I’m still processing, but it’s all good. This was our #30yearreuniversary of me finding them and connecting w them in July of 1988. Each time we get together we learn a little more about one another and realize that together we do possess a “Power of Three”. (“Charmed” reference)

On this trip, we saw older houses where my sisters once lived. How the homes look now are not the way they used to look in that the neighborhoods have turned over, some owners have done re-dos and makeovers. In one case, my sister’s father’s former workplace was torn down. As a threesome, we went to Forest Lawn and visited the grave of our birth mother. It was good and right and the 1st time all four of us if you include our birth mother, were in the same place at the same time. It did not feel sad or awkward, but we didn’t need to stay very long, but I am glad we took the time to be there. It was like a healing and closure thing to be there together. We laid three red roses, (her favorite flower), on the grave and spoke to her in our heads.

The next morning my older sister found a mysterious gif picture in her phone photos and does not know how it got there. It was a pic of a sparkling red rose. (insert Twilight Zone theme music)

We went to a dinner theater pirate comedy show. I’d never seen anything like it. The meal was OK-ish but the show was a lot of fun with hot pirate guys, trapeze artists, dancers, light and sound effects. The next day we got up, ate the blah but included-in-the-rates motel breakfast and made our way to Seal Beach not before stopping in a WalMart and Target for drink bottles and other assorted supplies for our day at the shore. WalMart tried to charge my sister $60 for two Pure Leaf tea drink bottles! Our Power of Three stopped this from happening prior to her card being charged.

What I learned: In the morning, I am the fast one. I get up, in and out of the bathroom and dressed before everyone else. I am ready to get going. My sisters poke and dwaddle more. TMA is a good driver in very annoying traffic and keeps calm. She is a brave but not aggressive behind the wheel. She’s good at making you feel safe; We are all pretty good when it comes to meandering in gift shops (or not); KDN doesn’t like Brussels sprouts at all, but she’s skilled at speaking up and asking questions and getting service (plus sometimes free stuff!). She’s also very gregarious and will chat it up with other people in lines, restaurant workers, and anyone else nearby; Riding a big-ass roller coaster and primally screaming while descending 108 feet/ 33 M @ 55 MPH is bonding; We do beach time well and love the sun and all the people-watching; We could eat tacos for every meal if given the opportunity, and we take pictures of EVERYTHING! We all need to pee a lot but we travel well together.

In Disney Land, we shared memories, rode rides, ate an amazing dinner at the River Belle Terrace and foraged through when they told us that both Space Mountain and the Matterhorn were closed on the one day we had to be there. At least the Haunted Mansion was open and did not disappoint. The laser light show and Magic Mountain were beautiful too.

In California Adventures we rode: Soarin’ Around the World, (imagine an iMax type movie playing, and you sit in swing-like seats so you feel like you’re hand-gliding all over), Guardians of the Galaxy (formerly the Tower of Terror made over), Grizzly River Run, (a White Water Canyon/ round raft type attraction where you do get wet on this ride), and the Incredicoaster, (formerly known as California Screamin’). The light parade was cool and the churros were the best I’ve ever had.

I couldn’t have asked for a better trip and precious time with my sisters while we are still young enough to run around and do activities together. We could have let ourselves get bogged down about the facts that the rental car place was run by dim-wits, the lauded Fast Pass system is a crock to get more money from amusement park attendees, (especially when your preferred rides are shut down) or that the cost of a hoodie or t-shirt with a Disney, TM logo is ridiculous, but we focused on the positive like our chance to be together and play games while standing in long ride lines (like the iPhone game Heads Up!), joke around and feel whole. Feeling whole is a big one, and we felt that the minute we stepped off our respective planes at LAX and ran to one another at baggage claim.

Now I am back home, 2,000-plus-miles away, and I will miss my sisters, but the feeling whole part remains. We will do a reuniversary again, someplace somewhere. It might only be at one of our homes while eating pizza and watching Netflix in someone’s family room for 5 days, but we will do it again, and it won’t take 30 years.


#adoptee #adoption #30yearreuniversary #birthfamily #sisters

A blog is supposed to be focused on a particular topic; something related to the author’s cause or the body of work they produce. For me that is adoption, but to tell you the truth, we adoptees don’t just think of one subject and one subject only over the course of our day or weeks, so for today, all you readers out there get to see another side of this adoptee’s life: What it’s like to be a fitness instructor!

6:00 PM,  Driving to Zumba, ™ class:

“Got my speaker. Yes. Got phone. Yes. Which playlist am I doing tonight? Um, I did Zumba ™ playlist five last time so I guess it’s six this week. They’re gonna think that one song on there is dumb, but oh well, I’m the instructor….It’s a good tune because it’s different and kinda like hearing two songs…I like that kind of music…It’s like a bargain…two songs in one…Keeps things interesting…Can’t forget to buy gas on the way home…I know I have a bunch of Kroger points so gas should be cheaper and I will have a whole tank to fill…Wonder if Sara is going to be at Zumba ™ …I think Sara is my favorite student…I am proud of her for overcoming obstacles and getting hired to gather carts and bag groceries, but her time in Zumba ™ class depends on how she is scheduled with the access bus…She loves my manicure and wants to see my nails every time…She also loves it if I play that Bruno Mars song…OK, if Sara is there I will play the playlist that has Uptown Funk on it. That settles that…

6:30 PM, Setting up for class:

Plug speaker into wall outlet, push the button…check…queue up my iTunes…check…play a snippet of a song to test the sound…Good…It’s annoying how the technology is different in every club I work at. I feel stupid when I have to ask the front desk workers for help. It’s so much nicer toting around my own system. Some ladies complain the music isn’t loud enough…Some think it’s plenty loud and could I turn it down just a touch…Hard to please everyone but I do my best…That one lady who knows a friend of mine and told my friend I need to “rev up my class more”? Sorry, but if she would quit taking breaks to look at her phone during the workout, then maybe she would feel more challenged and notice the results…Can’t tell adults what to do like you can with young kids at school…

…There’s Bruno all set to go…

One time Sara was the only person who came to class, and she was crying the whole time about a guy she liked who didn’t like her back, so we spent the exercise session sitting on the gym floor talking about how it’s hard to find a nice boy to date but I told her she should be particular and hold out for the best because the good ones do call you back and tell you the truth…Sara is intellectually-challenged and innocent. I sure hope a dude never takes advantage of her. Her mom can get Sara pampered in salons and spas and have her looking like a movie star with manis, makeup, and highlights, but at age 30, she is still a naive, sweet girl, like how my own daughters were around the age of ten…Sara thinks pretty nail polish is all it takes to get a guy…

The door to the exercise room squeaks a little and I hear keys jingling and look up from setting my phone. OK…we have people…It’s showtime…Some are familiar faces…a couple of new ladies…They take their places on the floor…The regulars have their spots…I’ve never seen anyone get nasty over someone standing in someone else’s place, but I hear that can happen…I have my preferred “perch” too when I go to my own workout place. (Yep, just like how many therapists see a therapist, I’m a fitness instructor who gets instructed by others. I can learn from taking other’s classes.) My special place in the exercise room is by the window where I can look out and use a tree as my focal point when we have to hold the eagle position or do power leg stances at the barre. Next time I go to my own exercise class,  maybe I should try a new spot so as to not be too set in my ways…

“Hi, my name is Paige. Has everyone here been to Zumba ™ before?” They all nod yes, even the two new ladies. Never ask ‘has anyone NOT done Zumba ™ before’ because members might lie anyway, and it could shame someone new who doesn’t know a soul here. “Welcome if I’ve not seen you before; let’s get started”. I see Sara is all ready to go in the front row, marching before I even start the music. I hit the play button.

I always choose a warm-up song that’s easy, especially for me. It means I start with an assured feeling. I can’t mess up. In these high-end swanky clubs the pressure to be excellent is really on. I don’t have a dance background like many of my instructor colleagues. (I’d quit ballet at the end of 2nd grade when a mean girl punched my ballet box and broke it.)

As a substitute instructor with experience, I have learned you can make a few errors and just keep moving. If the attendees in class don’t know your routines, they will probably not know you goofed if you just keep going. Still, I want the opening song to be just right. It sets the tone for the next 50 or so minutes.

…Oh my gosh! I love that lady’s shoes. I wonder where she bought them? From here they look like Asics…Nice! Turquoise and purple! Now I want new shoes. When I get home, I’ll look on Amazon or Zappos…

I wonder if any of these people here are adopted like me. I know of two local Zumba ™ instructors who are adoptees: Marie and Lydia and my online instructor friend from New York, Anne. (OK adoptee readers, you got your adoption tie-in! : )

Hey, Look at Ruth out there! Ruth is 90 and lives for Zumba ™ night. She wouldn’t miss this class for the world. She just stands on the side out of people’s way and shuffles along, but she’s happy, waving her hands in the air and swaying. She’s like a real-life video meme of those peppy, sassy, little old grannies who break out into salsa and mambo moves on their front porch. Last week she told me she was going home after class to move furniture so she could repaint her dining room!

I want to be Ruth some day.

The manager at the club will be happy since six people have come to my class, and attendance is usually low at this time slot. For this small club, six is a good number. It’s not like the video clips of Zumba classes you see on YouTube with 50 people packed in the room and everyone glistening and glowing with perspiration, precision-toned, ripped arms and abs, while wearing brand-name, neon-colored fitness attire. Most of us are just a bunch of moms and grandmas from Ohio trying to get a little work out in before we have to go home and figure out dinner….

Anyone who says, “I can’t do Zumba ™ ” has never tried MY Zumba ™ class. I’m a good instructor. I’m not a showboat getting my own work out on in front of people. I’ve seen instructors make this mistake. Zumba ™ class is not my show. It’s their show; the attendees’ show. Yes, I get my cardio in too. How can you not if you teach a good class? Still, my job is to create a “safe space”, literally and figuratively, for class members to try new moves and feel at ease. I want people to come back again because they feel like, “Hey! I can do this!”

Before I taught fitness I was one of them, and due to time constraints would end up going to the McDonald’s drive-thru on my way back home to get my kids fed at a decent hour. Seems kinda counter-productive to being fit to have to live that way in the outside world, but for the 50 or so minutes we are together I give my class members a break from children, their jobs, house chores, friends, elder-care, and spouses. They just want to move freely and not feel stressed or obligated. Zumba ™ is their fun and maybe the only self-care or social connecting these folks get.

I don’t think of myself as teaching Zumba ™ . I see myself as leading it. Sometimes pulling away in my car from my cozy house especially on a bad weather evening, feels like a bummer, but once I arrive at a gym or a studio, I never regret being there or choosing to maintain my Zumba ™  credentials. I’ll stay a fitness instructor for as long as I possibly can. I want and like being there for the Ruths and Saras and hope there are places and instructors out there for me for many years to come. No matter who you are, never stop moving. Never stop trying. Find a happy spot on the floor in the front, by a window or along the side, wave your hands in the air, and just keep going!

My Adoptee Take on Fathers’ Day

Fathers’ Day is a funny day…Not funny ha-ha, (but I can’t say I’ve not shared laughs on this day.) It’s funny different, and it’s very difficult to describe why.

I miss all the men I regarded as “father” in my life:  My dad who raised me, my father-in-law and my birth father. They all taught me lessons, spent time with me and shaped who I am today.

First, my dad who raised me…my adoptive dad. His name was Teddy. He loved the beach and sun, music, (not my style of music but he loved HIS music), nice cars, respected his elders and worked hard to provide for us as a family. He taught me to appreciate family history, how to build a house with Legos, and how to cook pancakes and French toast. He believed that organized sports and religion were filled with hypocrites and money-grubbers. He preferred musicians and theatrical events. (Not that show folk don’t have their own issues, but…)

No one grilled a better hot dog. No one. Teddy had a super-secret fudge recipe that came originally from a can of Hershey’s powdered cocoa, and he added something to it. I will call it “Dad-Magic”. The stuff sold in tourist shops is crap by comparison. If you buy boxes of Kilwin’s or Murdick’s fudge on vacation, well, OK, it’s your money. I know better. That is all.

Teddy was troubled, often impatient, complicated and conveyed a lot of mixed messages so in many ways, was unpredictable, but he was the dad who taught me about hard work, loyalty and “stick-to-it-iveness” (his word), compassion and empathy for people who walk unique paths in life. Like me as an adopted kid, he knew all about having a non-conventional life path and how hard it was to fit in.

Then there was my father-in-law, Steve. I found it awkward to call him “Dad” because I already had a dad, and, well that loyalty thing, but man! He was a great guy! My father-in-law was gentlemanly, scholarly and had more integrity in his pinkie finger than most people have in their entire body. He had wit, loved boating, also revered his elders and heritage. He was patient organized and methodical, (at least on the outside), and also worked hard to provide for not only his immediate family but his mother and sister as well. Steve always had a plan.

Steve always had solutions and compromises which were realistic and well-thought out. I admired his stability and desire for tradition. If you compared Steve to a TV dad, he would be Ward Cleaver hands down, (burr haircut and all). He was one of the most steadfast people on this planet. Making you feel secure was his way of performing “Dad-Magic”. I miss the essence of soundness and “okayness” he evoked.

Then there was Gove, my birth father. I wish I knew him better, but time did not allow for that. We didn’t meet soon enough. He was fiercely patriotic and an avid news watcher on multiple channels, and it would have been interesting to learn what he thought about the current political situation in the US. I know he would have a solid opinion. There was no in between or namby-pamby area for him for many topics. When he took a side, he had his reasons and he held his ground. One meaningful lesson I learned from him was that even if you disagreed with a President’s decision, (especially about sending soldiers to a foreign land), you should ALWAYS support our troops. No exceptions. As a quintessential proud ‘Murican, he was once a part of the troops by choice, (US Navy) so he knew what he was talking about.

Gove also loved basketball, football, and baseball. He cheered for local pro and college teams. Another thing I learned from the guy I hardly knew was an appreciation for games as a whole, (even though I am not very athletic or knowledgeable on the ins and outs of most sporting events and rules). In Gove’s mind, sports games are intended to provide entertainment, unification of community and be a way for young people to use their talents and enrich their lives.  He saw sports as a way to provide opportunities for kids with few options. If someone overcame odds and had success at a game, for Gove this was “magic”.

He was all about having a well-deserved good time after hard-working day too. Watching and attending games was his reward. He believed that socializing and finding ways to share fun and happiness with other people were important parts of life. When it was time to get the job done, you worked your butt off, but when it was time to celebrate and partake, you should go all out for that as well.

Now, all of my fathers are in “Heaven”, and if these three fellows have any say about what happens in the Great beyond, the Afterlife has melodies ranging from the jazz of the Harlem Renaissance to modern country plus show tunes and Frank Sinatra singing “My Way”. There must be athleticism, sports cars, patriotism and everyone carrying on in a civil, organized way. If you get hungry in Heaven, you eat grilled hot dogs and chocolate fudge. You glide along waterways in sailboats or travel in classic cars, (because all three of these guys would say that Heaven is full of glistening, restored, immaculate automobiles.) My three “dads” would say that in Heaven everyone finds ways to agree even when they disagree and that you should celebrate happy events every chance you get and not put it off or exclude anyone. They would agree that time goes by fast and living life now is important.

Fathers’ Day is different now as an adult without earthly, older father figures. It’s a neutral day, neither joyous nor sad. My husband is a father, and we can always celebrate that fact. What I have instead are memories of past Fathers’ Days filled with hot dog and hamburger cookouts, kids throwing balls in the backyard, gift boxes containing short-sleeved shirts, tools or ties, hand-drawn cards with stick figures and the letter “p” in “Happy” written backwards, perhaps a day at the local swim club and a drive to the Dairy Whip stand, or Teddy’s favorite dessert: Boston Cream Pie or Steve’s preferred, Key Lime pie. (I never found out what Gove’s favorite dessert was.  : (  )

I miss my three dads every day, not just on one particular Sunday in June. I wish they could have seen my children graduate, marry and could have lived to become great-grandfathers, but all I can do is pass on their stories, wisdom, and lessons and let their spirits live on through our children and future grandchildren, (and anyone else with whom I share this article on the Internet.) I am proud to have known all three of my dads. Together their diverse messages remind me to work hard, play fair but have fun, eat well, appreciate the fringe benefits of life such as good music, shows, and games, drive safely, share stories, create more memories and always believe in Dad-Magic.


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