Nature vs. Nurture – Who Am I?

I was adopted as an infant and even some 60 years later, never knew who my biological parents were. I never knew if heart disease, cancer or dementia ran in my family; or whether I was 50% Irish, German, British or what. I had never seen someone who looked like me, or even a little like me.

Canva - Baby in White Onesie

I had been adopted by two wonderful parents, so throughout my life I never really cared too much about “who” I was from a genetic sense. I truly didn’t think about it very much except when new doctors asked me the inevitable questions relating to, “What health issues run in your family?” I always just drew big lines through the pages of questions relating to medical history while shrugging my shoulders. I just didn’t know anything relating to my biological roots.

Recently, however, my world has changed.

I, along with my husband and adult sons, did 23andMe DNA tests. I had thought it would be interesting, especially for my sons (who have already started getting those questions about medical history from their docs).  While they had some ancestry insights on my husband’s side, my family history had of course been a blank slate.  I had hoped that the 23andMe tests would offer at least some helpful info on my side of things, and I was excited for us to get our results.

The test results finally came back and I suddenly had new-found insights into my heritage.

Canva - free DNA52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Ah, perhaps an explanation for my pale complexion and why I get so easily sunburned!

My sons also received their own set of percentages that at least began to fill-in some info on their unique genetic blueprints.

But another revelation was also presented to me. I had DNA matches to several second and third cousins. Even more unexpectedly, I had DNA matches who had my birth mother’s maiden name listed in their profile as a family name in their ancestral tree. That meant something! I had found biological kin.

With the names of several newfound cousins in hand I began a free trial on Ancestry.com. Using the info I now had, along with the info from adoption paperwork, it wasn’t hard to identify my probable birth mom.  Remember I hadn’t had her first name initially.

While I hadn’t really ever thought much about my biological birth parents, having a possible identification of my birth mom seemed to open up an opportunity to learn more about “me.” So with growing excitement I decided I’d build my family tree on the site and see what I could uncover.

If you have never seen Ancestry.com the outcome you are looking for when building your family tree is a large number of linked boxes. Parents linked to their kids; grandparents and those before them, all linked to each other.  Linked means family. Generations of links mean a view into your ancestry in terms of people and potentially even relating to the health of your genes.

The first decision I had to make was what name to put in my box, “Diane Marie Doran” or “Theresa Gale Diedrich”; adopted name I’d had all my life, or my biological birth name I’d had for weeks.

The question seemed simple enough. “Who am I?”

Canva - free confused

I started with my biological birth name as I thought that made the most sense in finding all the linkages to my new found “biological family”.

Initially the box labeled with my birth name (a somewhat foreign name I had never used) sat there seemingly unconnected to anyone but the maiden name of a woman I didn’t even know. It was kind of a lonely feeling. But I kept trying to form other connections around me.

On Ancestry.com there is this concept of getting a leaf (a hint to moving forward on Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetbuilding your tree)…but no matter what I did or what I searched on, I just couldn’t get any clues. No leaf, no info.

My box just sat there with the one connection to my birth mom’s maiden name. At one point I even deleted my tiny two-box family tree completely, it just seemed so futile.

But the next day I started over with some snippets of info that I had found with some online searching (it is amazing what you can learn on the internet; almost scary, actually). I found an article on what I surmised was my biological grand-dad along with mention of his three children. With a little more sleuthing I was confidant that I had found my birth mom.

With the grand-dad’s name I found the correct Diedrich family tree (which thankfully was not set up as private so I could take more than a peek).

I got a leaf, and then another.

Soon it was raining leaves.grampa edwin and margaret

From there I quickly developed many generations of connected boxes (only on my biological mom’s side as I didn’t know my biological dad’s name as yet). I was amazed at the ability to pull up photos of biological relatives’ weddings, their high school yearbook photos, newspaper clippings, military paperwork, immigration documents and so much more. I felt like I was learning so much about my biological roots; when my family migrated from Germany and more. It was fascinating, especially the historical records one could pull up and see.

It was so fun that I wanted to add my “real” family to see all of their historical info as well. I was so excited to see the entire “me” unfolding in the myriad of interconnected boxes. I thought I’d add my husband, sons, adopted brother and my adoptive parents. I was eager to see some familiar names and start seeing those connections take shape as well.

But that is when I was told that I had to choose. I had to “set a preference” in my ancestral tree: Biological parents (and family) or adoptive; one or the other.

I tried to over-ride this default, adding my adopted brother as a sibling under my biological family tree; but then he showed up under my birth mother versus our adoptive mom! I tried to trick the app, but to no avail. I thought it wasn’t very kind of the app to make me have to choose.

Perhaps this requirement for me to choose, to set a preference, was just a design decision that some engineer thought made complete sense. Clearly that individual didn’t have to involve two sets of families to answer the question, “Who am I?”

Canva - Handpainted Watercolor Family Giving Gifts on ChristmasAll of this irritated me, confused me…and frankly, made me just a bit emotional. I had to decide. Which “representation” of me was more important? Which set of roots (DNA or a lifetime of living) was more important?

That’s when it really hit me.

I had thought the genetics of my ancestry was so important, but staring at the interconnected boxes of strangers made me feel like an outsider. Worse, staring at my adoptive family now made me feel just a bit like a traitor. Weren’t they my real family? But I started wondering…I wondered how my adopted relatives depicted me on their own family trees. Was I there in a connected box? Or perhaps I was a box floating out in the cosmos, with a dotted line saying, “adopted.” Now my brain really began to spin.

Should my family tree be the parents who chose me, loved me and cared for me? Should it be the cousins I have known over the course of my life?  By this time I had found many scans of documents and bits and pieces of my adoptive ancestors’ lives. Here were all the people I had actually known and cared about, many of who were no longer living, like grandparents, aunts and uncles. None of these people shared my DNA; they had just shared my life.  I looked at these boxes (with my preference set to adoptive family) with great fondness. I remembered these people. They were biologically linked to my parents, just not to me.

Then I clicked over to my biological tree. These boxes and linkages contained no real emotional ties; the people were foreign to me. The linkages might have appeared connected to me on the screen, but I felt no connection. I was fascinated by the linkage, but emotionally ill-at-ease. To some extent I felt like I was eavesdropping on another family, clicking on their photos and moments; trying desperately to feel some connection and sense of inclusiveness.

I know that the whole point of the site is biological kin. But at that moment I couldn’t think why I cared beyond the statistics of 52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Except maybe to know more about health history…so is the benefit of my entire ancestral search really about how my biological family tree members have died?

I think about what is more important, the “who” I could have been versus the “who” that I am.

The adopted me is who I am, why I am not a fashionista, why I love gardening, my sense of ethics,  why kindness is paramount to me, and maybe even why I became a writer. My adoptive dad’s love for developing an amazing vocabulary, my adoptive mom’s insistent voice to be kind, open-minded and caring. That is all what made me, me.

I finally decided, after making a few notes on my biological roots for my children, that I will set my preference for the adopted me. That is really the “me” and the family I know. I feel it somehow honors my adoptive parents, who were the best parents in the world. And it leaves me in a comfortable familiar space, with comfortable familiar names, in comfortable familiar boxes.

The linkages may not be based on DNA, but the linkages are real. The linkages are based on a lifetime of shared moments and connections (still ongoing today).

And as for finding my birth mom?

Yes I found her. That’s another story for another time.

Let’s just say I couldn’t have had better parents than the ones who raised me.

Mom and Dad…missing you even more today and wish you could see your wonderful grandsons as the bright and loving young men they are.

That’s what true family is all about after all…who you have loved…who you have lost… who remains in your heart…and who you will always remember.

Too Many Flags on Memorial Day

I hate to admit it, but I hear voices. Not everyday, just on one weekend a year, Memorial Day weekend. On that weekend, I go to the cemetery, visiting the graves of dead soldiers. I go with the local Boy Scout troop. At the cemetery, the scouts plant American flags at each soldiers’ grave. One weekend of tribute to those who have given so much.

memorialday

The scene is haunting. Row after row of flags…so many flags…dead soldiers from Vietnam, from WWII, even from the Civil War…and now, from Afghanistan and Iraq. Hundreds and hundreds of flags. It would almost be beautiful – all of those flags, gently waving in the breeze – stretching out as far as one can see – except for what the flags represent. And in that breeze, in the cemetery, that’s when I hear the voices.

The voices tell of lives that ended too abruptly. Parents taken away from their children, families shattered. You can hear the pain above the quiet flapping of the flags. And you can hear the pain in the quiet movements of visiting family members, their faces still twisted in sadness regardless of how long ago their soldier died.

The younger scouts run excitedly to hammer in yet another flag. They understand the flags are all about honor, but they are too young to hear the voices, to really understand the pain, the sacrifice involved resulting in all of those graves. When we finish, and look out at the sea of flags before us…that’s when it really hits you, the enormous cost of war…or of peace, depending on your point of view.

Once, when we were finishing up placing the flags, an older woman walked up to me with tears in her eyes. She put her hand on mine and thanked us for honoring the dead soldiers. I assumed her husband, brother or son was among the graves; I thought about that young man, how he must have felt so many miles away from the family he loved. How he must have felt, in a terrible place, doing terrible things. I thought, too, about the woman. She might have been much younger then…full of expectations and dreams. I wondered what she might have been doing, that day she found out that her soldier had been killed.

And what about today? Parents of soldiers stationed overseas wonder if their child will be the “one soldier” killed in the latest news report. Today’s troops are the living soldiers. Today, they are the ones in terrible places doing terrible things. They are risking their lives, missing the births of their babies, and putting their futures on hold…indefinitely. I wondered how they all felt on Memorial Day. I wondered what voices the living soldiers hear on a day when the dead speak so loud.

If you’ve ever gone to the cemetery on Memorial Day weekend, and heard the pain, you would want today’s soldiers to instead hear the voices of your support. You’d want to raise up your voice…not to chant against or for the war…but to show our troops that you care about them. Those are the voices I want to hear this year, a unified American voice of support for our troops.

Send a letter of support to a soldier or a soldier’s family (Operation Gratitude is one site that I know of that publishes info on how to contact soldiers). Hang a yellow ribbon or the US flag. Remember the emotional response we all had after 911…let’s see some of that flowing to our military. Give blood. Pray. Attend a Memorial Day tribute. Thank a soldier or their family. And yes, it is ok to want peace…or question a politician’s decision…just don’t forget that our military are over in terrible places, having to do terrible things, because it is their duty…and perhaps not even their choice.

As Memorial Day weekend comes to a close each year, the scouts return to the cemetery and quietly pull up the flags, folding them away carefully for the following year.

More flags will have to be bought. They always need more each year. More graves….more voices in pain…

As we leave, and look out at the stretch of green – now absent of the patriotic tribute – the cemetery seems quite empty. Only the pain lingers on. I guess I will hear the voices again next year.

 

Editor’s note: This was written many years ago and featured in a few local newspapers, when my sons were still in scouting… but I recently decided I wanted to post it here on my personal blog

You might be interested in reading this older piece as well. https://obsoletedsoccermom.com/2013/11/13/a-voice-from-vietnam-remembering-veterans/

 

My Life as a Zombie – Why I Fear Trump

This past Halloween was my second season performing as a professional zombie at a major theme park.

It is something I originally did in order to write a story…but I enjoyed it enough to continue on for another season.

I would get professionally made up and costumed and spend hours in the dark fog scaring guests. My character was “Zombie Mom” and I lovingly carried my tiny (yet incredibly creepy) zombie baby, Norman.

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While a zombie you spend a lot of time interacting with kids, teens and families. Suffice it to say, some teens in particular come to the park just to cause trouble with the “talent”. You would get disrespected, soda thrown at you, a lot of swear words coming your way. You’d often get ridiculed over not being scary enough; occasionally even physically pushed. Surprisingly, some of my worst experiences were older males, around college-age to 30 or so. My fellow zombies and I put that down to either alcohol consumption or the fact they were trying to act macho in front of their date.

It was actually a very interesting social “test tube” in a way. I always thought that if those same people saw I was a middle-aged mom out there just performing, that they in no way would treat me like that. Would they? Could they? I hoped not.

I was thinking about this behavior recently. I told someone I felt that Donald Trump acted like some of those young adults during my zombie days. Bratty, bullying behavior; they were acting like there was absolutely no possible consequence for their doing whatever they chose to do in the moment.

As Inauguration Day for Donald Trump is now here, it occurred to me that I actually fear what he may do to the everyday lives of those of us who live in the United States. I thought about this fear and where it is rooted. It isn’t because he is Republican. It isn’t because he beat out the Democrat’s candidate for presidency. No…

I fear what Donald Trump may do because of what I learned as a zombie.

1.     You see, zombies don’t get much respect.  

And frankly, I have never had to worry about that in my own life. And I don’t want that to be the new norm in the US.

I think about the diversity that surrounds me. So many different people have touched my life; different ethnic backgrounds, different genders (and gender identities). I’ve always felt mutual respect was the norm. Sure, you have the outliers that are always going to be there, exploiting weaker people, etc. But in general, there is a sense of respect for our fellow citizens (and might I add, for our world and environment). That is what makes me proud to be an American, and I worry that Mr. Trump doesn’t respect a lot of people.

He “treats and tweets” with hatred, disgust, and disrespect for people who he seemingly views as inferior. His attitude towards women has disturbed me, but his attitude towards “others” seems totally inconsistent with being the leader of the free world.

2.     The unknown is always scarier than the known

But as much as what I know about Donald Trump scares me, it is the unknown that really makes me lose sleep at night.

When dressed as a zombie and performing in the dark fog I learned very quickly the best scare tactics. Allowing people to see you creeping around up ahead in the fog can be very effective as their dread increases as they approach. But the best scare is still always the shock of surprise.

If Trump’s words and actions have caused us worry to date, imagine the best scares are still to come.

3.     Even zombies understand each other’s motivation

As a zombie, I always knew what my fellow zombies’ priorities were. For zombies, our undead lives were all about the next scare. Period.

But as an American, the priorities of the country are confusing and changing pretty much daily. Even Trump’s advisers seem confused by it all, and we are letting them get away with deferring all explanations of Trump’s daily ranting tweets. “The tweet speaks for itself?” What does that even mean? It means Trump’s team is as confused as we are about what his priorities and motivations may be. Or worse, maybe he doesn’t have any priorities beyond his next tweet.

And imagine if US citizens are confused what International citizens are thinking.

I received an email just yesterday from a previous teacher of one my kids. He lives in Japan and spoke passionately about his strong concerns over Trump. We have never talked about politics and I have known this person for many years. But he took the time, and the risk frankly (since politics are known to end friendships these days!), to send me a lengthy email articulating his concerns.

Bottom line? He didn’t understand Trump’s motivation and priorities. And that meant he didn’t understand the United State’s motivation and priorities. It is scary to me that for all of the people standing around enjoying the “Trump” show (many people I know are waiting for a giant meltdown); the International audience – besides perhaps Russia – isn’t enjoying the show. We are losing credibility, partnerships, allies and respect all around the world.

4.    As a mother (aka Zombie Mom) I care about the future.

Even a zombie mom cares about her child. All moms and dads want a better future for their kids.

But the impact of Trump on the world scares me. A bully with the backing of the strength and power of the US. I shudder.

I look at his cabinet choices. The theme that underscores them is that you must despise and want to deconstruct the very purpose that position entails. And note to Trump, Global Warming is real and even a zombie can tell you that it is up to today’s generation to prioritize International leadership on this issue.

We owe it to our children. The world needs our help.

So what should we do?

I believe, in order to honor the democratic system we have embraced for so long, that we need to support Donald Trump as our President, at least until he proves we shouldn’t.

Some may say he has proven that already. For me, the jury is still out. Why? Because so many of my fellow Americans voted for Mr. Trump. I can’t just ignore that or I am being as disrespectful as Trump routinely is. The democratic process must play out. And oh by the way, there is a process to impeach him if that is what citizens and our leadership decides down the road.

But I for one, hope that he will build a strong enough team of “handlers” around him to keep him on task and provide the layer of checks and balances needed. While I do not feel he has drained the swamp (well perhaps he has just introduced a new version of alligator?), again…as a mom, an American and someone who wants America to be respected throughout the world, I am truly hoping this new swamp will rise to the occasion and prove many of us wrong. I am so ok with being proven wrong on this, guys.

Show me. Show America.

But we do need to keep you all accountable.

So everybody, we need to voice our concerns and priorities. We need to engage like never before.

If you didn’t vote, shame on you. If you have issues with decisions that are being made by our new leadership, write your congressman or congresswoman. Write other leadership, even not those representing your particular state.

Support defunded organizations that you previously have supported; perhaps with a bigger check or some of your own time.

And as a fellow zombie once said to a young heckler, “Put your big boy pants on and make better decisions about what you say.”  I share that with you, Mr. Trump. And I hope you will listen.

 

In a Divorce, Who Gets Custody of the Friends?

As I hit my late 40’s two things started to occur with great regularity. First, my busiest social activity became attending the funerals of friends’ parents. While sad events, for sure, they were also a wonderful opportunity to connect with those, “long-time friends that you just never seem to see much anymore”, you know…the college gang that still gets together once a year…maybe (in a good year)…but hey, a funeral makes such a gathering possible. Even out-of-towners come to town for a good funeral.

The second thing that started to happen was divorce.

unfriendBut unlike funerals, divorces are NOT a good bonding opportunity for long-time friends, just let me tell you. As the now unhappy couple splits…everything in their life is unhappily split, including friendships. And much like the question, “who gets the dog?” in a divorce,  another big question is which friends “go” with which spouse…who gets custody of the divorcing couple’s friends?

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Pot or Not?

                                                                             Legalize Pot or Not?

marijuana

At the risk of being classified by my kids as totally uncool and not with the times…yet again

I decided to come out of the closet and admit…that I did not vote to legalize pot in California in the last election. Surprised? Me TOO, actually! I’m pretty liberal and I also am a firm believer that people should take responsibility for their own actions and health. 

But with my kids still under 21, my little “momism warning antennae” went up, I guess…the idea of sending the message that “pot is ok” to young teens just seemed wrong…what do you think?

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