An essay from a young person who was adopted – reflecting on her name, life and story.
My name is Elizabeth though for a long time I hated that name. It was always too long, too proper, too bold, too not me. I forbade anyone from calling me by that monstrosity, until about a year or two ago. I’m not sure what changed. I think I just sort of grew into myself – my name. I had always been afraid to show people who I really am, but now that’s changing. I am changing. So I guess I can finally say: My name is Elizabeth and this is who I am.
I’m 17 years old and I was adopted in Chicago. My descent is 3/4ths South Korean and a quarter Caucasian. My birth mother’s name is Samantha. I know that I love her and I know that somewhere in her heart, she loves me, but I have not seen her in 16 years. My birth father.. I don’t really know much about him. All I know is that he left Samantha sometime after he found out she was pregnant. What a sweet guy, right? A real keeper. Not that I really mind, I don’t think about it much except that I know I would be devastated if someone ever left me in that way. So I can show empathy for Samantha. That really.. well, it sucks what he did to her. Maybe if he had stayed, I’d be with them today. Maybe she would have stuck with me. But that’s irrelevant. She saw fit to give me up for adoption. And I’m where I need to be – where I’m supposed to be. I’m glad she made the choice that she did. I don’t know what life would have been like with her, but I’ve done a lot of things in my 17 years that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Of course, there are other things that I can honestly say I could live without… But that’s life. “You win some, you lose some” as they say. Right? And without the struggles and hardships that I have overcome, I would never be the Elizabeth I am today. I’d be hiding behind my nicknames of Lizzie, Liz, Beth, and pancake (don’t ask.)
My mother is a home-study worker with Adoption Center of Illinois. I think that is so cool of her. She spends her days helping couples and families adopt a child who needs a home. What could be better or kinder than that? I volunteered at the agency a couple times myself and last summer I spent a good portion of my time there. Being adopted myself and working at the agency gave me a lot to think about in regards to my own life and how I view the world through an adoptee’s eyes. I think that adoption is beautiful. I think that adoption allows us to find what is truly good about ourselves. It helps us to work harder and put more of an effort into creating relationships with the people that will be in our lives the longest. See – I don’t believe that family is the group of people we are born into. I believe that family is what we create for ourselves – who we CHOOSE to surround ourselves with. I don’t see myself as being given away. I was chosen. I was picked. I was wanted. Not discarded, not unloved. I believe that adoption is a light in this darkening world. Something that gives children and unready birth parents a second chance – a chance at really living the lives they’re supposed to live. I understand that many adoptees aren’t as fortunate as I am, so they may not have the optimism that I carry. I have been quite lucky and quite privileged. I’ve always been given the highest quality of education. I’ve been given opportunities left and right to better myself (and others). Where I live, racism isn’t constantly thrown at me. I am part of a handful or two of Asian Americans at my school, but we are treated as equals. No one questions our right to be there. I’ve never had trouble making friends. I’ve been hugely accepted growing up. Of course there are those people that joke about Asian stereotypes. “Hey Liz – can you be my calculator on the math final? You’re like.. Asian so you’re really good at math.” Or “You probably suck at driving because.. you’re Asian!”. Riveting, I know. The quality and intelligence that these kids put into their jokes is truly awe-inspiring. Of course, I’m completely kidding. All I do when these things are said is laugh and say things back: i.e. “You wish you were as smart as me!” or “Since when was getting a good grade a bad thing?”, etc. Also, the kids that say these things are usually my closest friends. Friends who know I won’t be hurt or offended by their “mild” racism. It’s a part of life, and honestly I don’t mind because it happens to all of us. I can say back to them, “Oh yeah? Well, white kids can’t dance!” I don’t because I don’t really see the need to make useless comments about one’s race, but I could say it and they wouldn’t care. Why should I waste my time caring about something as worthless as that?
I have grown a lot in my 17 years. And the things that I have been through will help me to wear the name Elizabeth – the name my birth mother gave to me, with pride instead of reluctance. I have seen the best parts of life – swimming in a small above ground pool and acting like it’s the grandest body of water I have ever seen, playing with and loving a dog who will never understand what I am saying to her but makes me smile thoroughly whenever I’m having a bad day, listening as my mother tell an adoption story about a Christmas miracle and a family coming together at last, performing on a stage and sharing important lessons and stories with an audience to help them understand – and I have also seen the worst parts of it – the things that are hard to talk about, poverty, friends who are enveloped in some of the darkest depression I have ever seen and how they succumb to the pressures of addiction, anger, my own and those around me, and fear. What I have learned from it all is that you can never let the darker parts drag you down because they will consume you if you allow them to. I have learned to focus on the days that I am bike riding with friends or eating mac n’ cheese like I did as a child and laughing with my sister who is my best friend. My life, my entire life thus far – as everyone’s life is as they are growing up, has been to teach me how to live as an adult. This fall, I will be attending Indiana University and I will take everything I have learned in this life, everything I have learned because I was adopted into a remarkable family, and I will be Elizabeth. I will be me.