Growing up in a small New England town has given me a huge appreciation for every season but for me, Summertime is magic. Long, delicious days meld into breezy, beautiful nights. Lots of family fun, endless time to play and best of all... NO SCHOOL!
My immediate family consists of my mother and father, my three older siblings (two brothers and one sister all born to my parents) and me. I am closest in age to my sister with my brothers who are 11 months apart, a few years ahead of her. I was adopted at a little less than a year old. I am brown and they are white.
We were raised minutes away from the beach but also had our own little rural center of the universe situated on Woody Hill. At the end of a winding road sat our house and small gentleman's farm. We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits and a few other furry friends. During the early growing up years, the closest neighbors were acres away. We were not totally secluded but far enough away so it felt like we had our sanctuary, a mini summer camp created just for me and my siblings. Oh and we had one of the few in-ground pools at the time, which was key to helping us balance "farm life."
As a kid, while I moaned and groaned about chores and feeling kind of like an oddball for living on a farm as none of my close friends lived on a farm so it was another way to feel different or "not like the others," I loved it on Woody Hill. We played with reckless abandon so there were injuries, but I felt safe and insulated there, like nothing, minus a few skinned knees and the occasional emergency room visit for more serious stuff like stitches and dislocations, could hurt me or my family. On the farm, no one ever questioned my existence, it just "was" and this was how our family was. Our little corner of the world held so much for each of us as individuals and as a family. And in the summer, while the chores remained, there was an easy breezy vibe that got into our bones and everything felt lighter, happier, sunnier.
We all counted down the days to summer vacation but I think I relished those non-school days in a very different way than my sister and brothers. While many people might never guess it and I would never let on, school was a challenge for me. Generally, academics were not the issue. It was about feeling like I belonged and balancing a very secret struggle to process and understand my adoption experience.
Why are there so few people that look like me at school?
Why am I one of the only kids that is adopted?
Why does my family have to be different than other families?
Are my other parents ever going to try to come back and get me?
I hope they do not make us do the family tree project again this year...ugh!
Yes, I had friends and two of them were brown like me, but I had no friends that were adopted like me. I was active in Girl Scouts, took gymnastics and for all intent and purposes, people saw me as a well-adjusted kid. Perhaps even a bit of a novelty in our small town. For all intent and purposes, I was a well-adjusted kid but I still had tons of questions that, as far as I was concerned, no one could answer. Often, many of the other kids at school had questions too that I couldn't and did not want to answer.
Woody Hill Summers meant I could relax a bit, take a breath and not have to be on as high an alert, trying so painfully hard to belong and fit in. It meant I did not have to overcompensate for what I felt like were inherent flaws and challenges in being me. I did not have to explain myself or defend my reality, I could just be.
Our summers were filled with a mix of hunkering down on Woody Hill where we would ride bikes, swim, pick blueberries and play Ghost in the Graveyard (in a real graveyard) and adventures off of "the Hill" both near and far. Beach days were always awesome, riding waves, eating snacks incessantly and building sand castles. And there were few better ways to spend a local Summer night than at our local drive-in. To this day, a family night at the drive-in goes down as one of my all-time favorite memories.
We only left "The Hill" for far-off adventures a couple of times but when we did, it was BIG. Our family road trips included a jaunt to Disney in Florida and the "trip of the century" when our family and another family we were very close with drove our Winnebago's cross-country. This trip was nothing short of a miracle. The anticipation of such an undertaking was nearly as exciting as the trip itself. We spent several weeks preparing and several weeks on the road experiencing our national landmarks. We were exposed to all kinds of different places and people. I could never have anticipated how being outside of my little town would conjure up new thoughts and questions, especially when I saw people that looked like me...
Is my other family out here somewhere?
What if I pass them on the street or walk by them in a shop?
Will I recognize them?
Will they recognize me?
As we made our way through many of this country's historical landmarks we were all getting a different kind of education and history lesson, one we could never learn in school. We visited and were in awe of places like Mesa Verde National Park and the "Painted Desert." I was also learning new dynamics of a much bigger world outside of my small New England town. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. We made lifelong memories that summer as we crisscrossed the country and I'll be eternally grateful to my parents for pulling that trip off and expanding our world!
Once back in our corner of the world, I could not help but think about how unique our family really was and how good it felt to have seen new places and new people. We had a few more weeks of summer , which I relished, but soon, it would be back to school. Time to buck up and get the game face ready. I always held out hope that each new school year would miraculously bring a new kids like me. It never really happened.
Even after college and my last official "back to school," late August/early September still give me a twinge of anxiety as I think back to all the pressures school brings and all the extras that came with being me. It is different now, I have so much more of an understanding of my adoption experience because I have built a community and network of people who get me and organically understand. Years and life have brought confidence and I decide how much I reveal to who and when. "Back to school" in my adult life is not as much about a particular time of year but the times when I find myself entering new places, spaces, jobs and situations and I have a choice on how much I will share and how deep I will go.
I still have questions, still find myself in places and spaces where I do not exactly fit but because of the solid foundation built by my family and the added layers I have built for myself, I keep getting stronger. I keep finding new ways to put my passion and energy to work so more of us can be stronger and so that ultimately, families can be stronger.
This summer, like most summers over the last 20 years, I have found myself between the concrete jungle of NYC, the "Ocean State" and other spots dotted across the country and around the world. Now, like back then, I still feel safest when I do not have to explain myself or my family -- at home on Woody Hill.