assumptions

Someone once asked if there were any benefits to being an adoptee — not, “do you like your family” kind of benefits, if I remember the context correctly, but more life benefits that stem from this context of losing one family and gaining a different one. The only one I can come up with is that adoption takes away a lot of assumptions.

I had a classmate in graduate school. I met his girlfriend for the first time at a party where she got really drunk and revealed that she was very angry at her boyfriend for her birthday gifts. He’d bought her something utterly practical related to a hobby that they both (seemed to) enjoy. She wanted something almost stereotypically feminine and girly — I forget if it was perfume or jewelry, but the kind of thing that a guy could watch a few commercials at any given holiday and do well to remember. So he thought he was getting her gifts that she’d like because they related to something they shared and enjoyed together, and she wanted something completely different that she assumed he would understand because everyone knew. So she was upset, but she never said anything. To him. She told a whole party of people she didn’t know but not him. They had been together as a couple for many years at this time.

This is, I think, the first time I recall consciously thinking about assumptions within relationships. Granted, I was maybe the one sober person at that party, so I had a lot of thinking time, and a I had a huge crush on the host. But I’ve noticed the same thing in conversations with other people. I think that it’s pretty common for people to assume that their family, the way they were raised, and their experiences are “the norm.” I mean, whatever else it was or is, it is YOUR norm, even if you know it isn’t quite normal. The culture of your “family-of-origin” is your culture.

But when you’re adopted, you can easily assume that most other people’s families are not just like yours. Most people don’t have another family out there that they’ve never met. Most people have their original birth certificates. Most people know about their family histories, have their medical histories, and know who they look like. Most people do not have two families of origin, including one they don’t know. This, for me, translated into fewer assumptions that the way that my family did things is the way every other family does things.

I’ve confused a few people with “the birthday discussion,” “the holiday discussion,” and a few others. Before a birthday comes up, I want to know how a significant other or good friend expects to celebrate it. That way they don’t end up disappointed because I didn’t read their minds, I’m not surprised by expectations, and I’m never forced into a birthday party for myself that I will cringe at. I want to know what traditions are important to other people. It’s part of the conversation I’ve been having with my first mother, learning about the traditions of my first family, traditions I don’t have because I didn’t grow up with them.

I have traditions. I grew up in a family full of traditions, and I’ve watched them change as the family grew up, aged, died, and moved away. At this moment, I don’t really have a lot of winter holiday traditions because I don’t retain a religious belief in any of the winter holidays and I don’t have family nearby. What I don’t have is a sense of participating in a community (or family) with its own traditions anymore. When I’m honest with myself, yes, I miss that. I just don’t miss it enough to form a new tradition around balancing my families. Not yet.

Never assuming that anyone else can read my mind, nor I theirs, about what is “expected” or “appropriate” for a holiday, occasion, or celebration has made for a few awkward conversations, but it has also made for less awkward celebrations. So, yeah, I’d say that not assuming, beyond being good practice, is a “benefit” of life as an adoptee.

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