Adoption Stories

Published on March 24th, 2015 | by Egypt Titchenal

6

SHE LOOKS NOTHING LIKE YOU by Egypt Titchenal

Her ambiguously brown skin and blue-black hair caused stares as she shopped with two blonde, fair-haired children. My brother, the two-year old towhead, was pushed in the stroller while I whined and sulked along beside them. Maybe her deceptively girlish hips, not spread yet by pregnancy, led clerks to believe she was the nanny. At the makeup counter, my mother would ask for something in “olive-skin tone,” or “winter colors,” in striking contrast to my “summer.” I can still see their eyes wide in surprise when, “mommy, can we go home now?” came out of my mouth, as I twirled dangerously close to knocking perfume off its delicate display.

By third grade I looked her in the eye, and the taller I grew, the further apart we became, until my mother felt tiny in the distance of uncharted territory. Pills and puffers for asthmatic lungs reacted to sunlight, causing her freckles to become darkened dappled spots, then larger patches, connecting slowly across her face like rewinding Pangea or reverse Michael Jackson. While I basked in the golden glow, trying homemade Sun-in to intensify my blonde, she wore tacky foam visors bought from camping visitor shops to shield her from the sun’s compounding effect. In school I carried a picture of her as a teenager. I’d pull it out in quiet moments, and think, “if I had known her then, would we have been friends?”

1933825_550441708633_5128106_n

At home I rarely noticed; she was just mom. As interesting as the flower patterned couch or hanging curtains, but as beautiful as Snow White, with her black hair kept short and curly. In public she was questions, scrutiny; a visible reminder of my secret inward confusion. They’d say, “Oh, she looks nothing like you. She’s so tall. Where did she get her height from? And her hair?” Because when you’re serving unlimited baskets of fries, the Punnet square of genes is important for quality customer service. Repulsed at justifying my mere existence, I would fight back the urge to snap, “yes, mom, where do I come from?” In drowning teenage awkwardness, I gulped for answers her body couldn’t provide. To biologically be from her would mean that someday it would all feel okay. Instead, I looked in the mirror and only saw myself.

10610947_10100445776742023_4344639959042774719_n

While I was away at college, my mother started teaching fourth grade in a school nestled south of the ‘city.’ A non-tribal school on reservation land. Between empty fields overgrown with tumbleweed, she rekindled the dream that had been on pause for twenty-seven years, while staying home to raise children. These children, her students, warily occupied the seats in her classroom. Communities forced by United States Government Treaties to the fate of Poverty. Fighting over the same scrap of severe land critical for housing, work, and the pursuit of an American Education Dream.  Those labeled “illegal immigrant” tentatively played hopscotch on the playground with tribal members. They played on one small patch of oily blacktop. If they were especially good that day, or maybe only on Thursdays, they were lucky enough to have a tether ball hooked up to a pole for the brevity of recess time.  Baking in 105 degree weather, many students resorted to standing as close to the portable as they could, finding oasis in beige aluminum shade.

I arrived at the school one day, and the girls were hanging on the wooden railing, waiting patiently for my mom, their teacher, to rescue them from the scorching recess torture. One girl was upside down, brown legs thrown askew over the railing, and her long black hair touching the ground. As I strolled by, she flipped right side up and whispered loudly to her friends, “is that Mrs. Priest’s daughter? She looks nothing like her. She’s WHITE!”

After the school bell rang, dismissing them for the day, I turned to my mom and said with a laugh, “did you hear what they said on my way in? Do they know I’m adopted?”  She chuckled and said, “at the beginning of the year many spoke to me in Spanish, and daily I had to say no habla espanol, which they didn’t believe at first. Now they tell me, ‘we’ve never had a teacher that looks like us.’” I see that she’s teaching them the same lessons she taught me, and yet, her ambiguously brown skin seems to make them feel safe, understood.

If she had died a thousand years ago we would dig up her bones and come to the skeletal conclusion that she was 5’4, European descent, and childless.  But the bones wouldn’t tell the whole story. That she raised three children to adulthood and taught countless more along the way.

936669_10100421792087463_8255173371392161229_n

Last summer, on break from teaching my very own class, I settle my widened postpartum hips onto my driftwood seat. In the distance I see my mother sitting on a rocky Washington beach with her grandson. Dressed like Batman, he launches stones and kelp-wrapped sticks into the measly Puget Sound waves. Her face is shaded by old habits and a red parasol. I see the contrast between them, like examining a picture of her and me, long ago. She turns to me, and says, “Egypt, he looks just like you.” His Seattle grey sky eyes. His straw blonde hair with the little duck-tail flip in the back. My cheek bones. These days when I look in the mirror, I see my son’s face staring back, and I think that’s how genetics work. I get up from my seat, strolling toward them both, and call out to her in agreement, saying, “I know, isn’t it amazing? I thought for sure he’d look like his dad.”

10306228_10100421256176433_720453434564250772_n

Tags: , , , , , ,


About the Author

Egypt Titchenal

Egypt Titchenal is a reunited adult adoptee activist who often writes about how adoption has shaped her identity as a mother to her biological son. She is employed as community college instructor and adviser, working with at-risk youth who have left high school before completing their high school diploma. As a licensed mental health counselor she writes under her birth name to maintain a semblance of anonymity. In her free time she spends hours Instagramming pictures of her toddler, sweating in hot yoga classes, and drinking lots of Seattle coffee. Check out her website.



6 Responses to SHE LOOKS NOTHING LIKE YOU by Egypt Titchenal

  1. Kate says:

    What an evocative piece, Egypt. I had the opposite experience, growing up in a family that I had been “matched” to, all blue eyed and most blonde haired. I heard often that I looked like my adoptive mother but I knew that was a superficial falsehood – I simply had the same colour eyes and hair. I don’t know if it was her unwillingness to let me talk about being adopted but I railed against peoples’ insistence that I looked like her. When I met my biological mother at the age of 27, I had what you described, the “that’s how genetics work” moment. It still strikes me when I see her, 15 years on. My boy and I are as similar as you and yours which is a profoundly satisfying experience. Thank you for writing this piece, it has given me much to ponder.

    • Egypt Egypt says:

      Thanks Kate!

      While I was told that I didn’t look like my mom growing up, I can relate to that superficial looks, because I was ‘matched’ to look like my blonde adoptive dad. When I met my biological dad it was similar to your meeting of your mom…where I was like, “oh yeah, that’s what looking like someone REALLY feels like!”

      Thanks for your feedback, glad you could relate. 🙂

  2. Faith says:

    I am not adopted, and until recently I didn’t really think about the experience of an adoptee- to me, adoption was always just the life-friendly argument against abortion. One of my close friends is adopted and I’m now beginning to see it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. I feel more respectful of those who did not grow up with all the answers. Thank you, Egypt, for educating me with your lovely story.

    • Thanks for reading, Faith! I like hearing your reflection on how adoption was always thought of as answer to the abortion discussion, but that you’re exploring what it’s like to have that lived reality. I’m sure your adopted friend appreciates that you’re open to hearing the adoptee story!

  3. Karen says:

    I am adopted also. My skin was the same color as adopted parents but my features and shape was so different. A great story to describe how it feels to be adopted

    • I have heard people say, ‘well people in biological families don’t always look alike,” which is totally true, and I wonder if I had been their biological daughter would I have had as many conflicting feelings over how I looked growing up and didn’t look like them?! All of the many feelings!

      Appreciate you reading. Glad you could relate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We love comments, feedback and critique but mean or snarky comments will not be published. MUTHA staff (of one) is away through June 27th - please leave your comments but moderation/posting may delayed. We'll be back soon!
 

Back to Top ↑