My Superpower

It was a hot summer day and we played hide and seek at the playground. When it came time to be “it”, I climbed up and over the wooden playground castle and tagged a neighborhood friend, Lisa.

“You’re it!” I said.

“No, I’m not, ” she said. “You didn’t tag me!” as she inched further into a shadowy corner just out of my reach.

“Yes, you are! I got you!” I yelled and my friends who saw the tag also chimed in.

“You’re it!” “You’re it” they screamed as they all began to point at her.

Her cheeks grew red in embarrassment.

“Well, you’re adopted!” she screamed as she pointed her finger at me.

The neighborhood kids turned their gaze on me as if Lisa had thrown a dagger.

“Yeah, so what?” I replied, unshaken by this familiar insult.

Her mouth lay agape speechless. She had nothing else to say as if she thought her words would hurt me so bad that I’d flee from the scene.

Instead, my confident response diffused her insult, and, as she continued to stare incredulously, another kid chimed in:

“Fine, I’ll be it”.

And the game continued.

You see, to me being adopted has never been an insult. Instead, it’s been my superpower.

I was adopted as an infant. I still somehow remember the soft feel of the white, blue, and pink blanket as my new mother held me in her arms.

About as soon as I started to wear underwear, my mother told me that I was adopted. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do remember a sense of  “Yeah, I knew that” when she told me. It was old news by then, news bred into my DNA reminiscent of a conversation I had with my birth mother in the womb.

As I grew up, I soon learned that the rest of the world did not share my comfortability. They viewed my adoption as a strange phenomenon, like an alien baby discovered in a meteorite that crashed to the earth.

Even to this day, when someone finds out that I’m adopted, they have a litany of questions and stare at me, almost as if they want to poke my skin to see if I’m human.

“You didn’t tell me that,” they’ll say with an excited inquiry. as if telling someone you’re an adopted child should follow your name: “Hi, I’m Mark. I’m adopted.”

“Well, you’re welcome to ask me anything about it if you’d like,” I often add knowing now that people are incredibly curious about adoption and I’m more than happy to give them a sense of understanding.

Their favorite inquiry, of course, is the one made popular by adoption scenes in Hollywood productions: the birth-parent reunion.

“Do you know your birth parents?” they ask.

And when I say “Yes,” (I met my birth-mother in my early 20s) they expect to hear this Oprah story about me meeting them awash in emotion as if all of sudden my life makes sense to me, like I was wondering about the world my whole life looking for my birth parents in search of meaning.

Instead, they’re often disappointed when I respond that yes, it was great to meet my birth mother and she is an amazing woman, but our initial meeting was fewer fireworks, hugs, and tears, and more scientific curiosity to see what characteristics we share via blood (we’re both habitually late, for instance, and have a smile like “The Joker”).

Instead of an episode of Oprah, we stared at each other like that scene in Hook when the little boy rubs adult-Peter pan’s face: “There you are, Peter! It is you!”. Our meeting was fun and laughs wrapped in old child photos for comparison and wonderment.

As I grew older, I learned that many adopted children do not have a story like mine.

I know that looking like my mother made it easier. My Asian friends with white parents, for instance, did not have that luxury. And I know that being adopted at an early age made it easier.

Three months in foster care doesn’t really count.

My sister, who is also adopted from a different set of birth parents, has always struggled with being adopted:

“Why didn’t they want me?” she would say as tears flushed down her cheeks.

And even though she knew logically that her birth-mother could not take care of her properly, the emotional wound of being abandoned at birth -- known as The Primal Wound in the adoption world -- overwhelms her at times and makes it truly difficult for her to trust others.

“I can take care of myself!” is her thinking, a heroic plea most adopted children can relate to, even though we know it’s shrouded in incredible difficulty to securely trust another to help us.

I too certainly struggle to truly trust others to help me. And this is just one of the traits I’ve learned about myself.

My adoption kickstarted an incredible journey of self-inquiry.

I’ve studied ancient religions, philosophy, psychology… you name it and I’ve likely explored it.

I’ve spent my whole life looking at life as this magical opportunity and have stayed curious throughout the years.

I’ve learned to intimately understand my shadows, such as an overwhelming sense to please others in primal fear of being abandoned. And I’ve learned to love myself and calm the primal urge to do more in hopes that “more” will mean I’ve done enough to be loved.

By being adopted, I developed what Carol Dweck calls “The Growth Mindset”. Because I was not tied biologically to my parents, I did not know any limits.

I felt that since I could learn anything, I could be anything.

With this mindset, I’ve gone on to be the first in my family to graduate not only high school, but obtain a master’s degree, as well.

The self-actualization movement made popular by Abraham Maslow in the later 20th century made perfect sense to me.“Of course,” I’d think. “Why would anyone believe they couldn’t grow throughout their life to reach extraordinary heights?” To this day, I continue to thirst for new knowledge, a new experience, or a conversation that helps break apart even the most seemingly agreed-upon fundamentals of human existence.

At an early age, I learned that my birth mother was very young when she had me, so she put me up for adoption so older parents could take care of me. Even as a child, this made perfect sense. As a teenager, I remember sitting in 9th-grade math class knowing that this was the age my birth-mother had me. I looked around at my friends who were still children like me and thought, “Oh my goodness… imagine if one of these girls tried to raise a child!”

At 18, I received a letter. My adoption was a closed adoption, which means that no one had records of the birth parents. But a letter had been put in a safety-deposit box, to be opened when I was 18.

The letter was light blue like a robin’s egg and had big bubbly handwriting. It didn’t say much other than that she loved me and that she was 15 and that she knew this was for the best. Included was a poem (which I later found out to be the lyrics to the opening song of an 80’s soap opera!).

In sophomore year of college, the internet had finally grown to a more user-friendly platform, and so I wrote a quick blurb about my story on an adoption website in case my birth-mother would read it. I was happy to meet her if she wanted to, but wanted more-so to let her know that I was safe and life was good. I also wanted to thank her because she gave me life when she could have chosen to abort me.

A few hours later I walked with my friend Mike to the gym and my cell phone rang.

“Hello,” I answered.

A woman replied that she had read my post and that she thinks she found my birth-mother. My birth-mother had written a similar story on another website and this woman’s job in a non-profit was to help match adopted children up with birth-parents.

I stopped walking.

“Would you like for me to give her a call or would you like for me to call and check to make sure it’s your birth-mother?” she said.

I froze.

“Um, yes, can you please call her?” I asked.

She called back five minutes later.

“It looks like it's a match,” she said.

“She’d love to speak with you. Can she call you? If so, what time would be good?” she asked.

My birth-mother and I spoke on the phone later that night. Her name is Susan. She was 35 at the time of that call, about the same age as I am now writing this story. We spoke on the phone for about two hours and agreed to meet later that summer. She had moved down to Charlotte from Buffalo, NY and lived there with her husband.

Later that summer, I drove down to meet her. After the initial awkwardness, we had a great meeting. I met her husband, Michael. He’s not my birth-father, but I was so happy to see Susan with such a loving husband.

We’ve been close ever since. Medical issues made it impossible for Susan to birth another child of her own, but fate would have it that our adoption story came full circle. She adopted a daughter, Lindsay, and I’m happy to say that I now have two sisters.

I do know my birth father's name, but don’t plan to reach out to him. It’s not that I wouldn’t meet him. It’s more of an intuitive feeling that it doesn’t really matter. He didn’t carry me for nine months, so I never really developed a relationship with the guy. With Susan, my first nine months were spent with her, so when we met again as adults, it was like meeting up with an old friend twenty years later.

As I grow older and my wife and I start to grow our family, I feel even more blessed to have been adopted. It’s been a gift in my life that’s allowed me to begin a self-development journey that would never have happened without it.

Being adopted helped me step into my superpower.

My hope is that in sharing my story, I can help other adoptees step into their own.