I’m sneaky. Even though my kids don’t approve–one son gives me the stink eye–it doesn’t stop me. Why should it? They are my everything, and I’m planning. I may find myself alone some day while they are living their lives, as they should. I will want to look at photos if I cannot see them in person. This is my bank, and I am making deposits.

I have another reason: I want to document their growth, their changes, expressions of the moment. All three are grown, but they are changing still. I want to capture those changes, store them in my bank for some day.

My favorites are in the moment. I often get great shots at home where they aren’t afraid to be themselves. I sneak candid shots every chance I get, as they are revealing and true. They are authentic.

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Take the slideshow above. At first she’s oblivious, doing her thing. I pretend I’m taking shots of others. While she’s not looking, I turn the camera towards her and take several shots. I’m watching her, shooting as she busies herself. Darn. She made me, but I got them. Score!

“She” is my daughter. She’s 25 and her name is Kelsey (but sometimes I call her Baby Cakes). She was born in Korea. Although she’s lived with us most of her life, I know a part of her feels different, separate from us. That is understandable; it just is. It is also something only adopted children, especially trans-racial adoptees, can feel and know.

This separation she sometimes feels is something we cannot change. But it is ever present. I fear she may feel she isn’t truly a part of us, and that hurts my heart.

Lately, I’ve been trying to be mindful of genetics as relates to “family history.”

Dad and daughters

Father and daughters, 1906

Might Kelsey feel left out as I piece together our “family” history?

Take the photo at right. This is Elmer Butterfield, my great grandfather. I am fascinated by this shot of him and his three daughters. He probably made the swing. The little girl at left is my grandma Lalla (pronounced Layla). In the middle is Hazel, and at right is Lillian, the oldest.

And this, a letter written by Elmer on March 20, 1915. I was so fascinated by this letter that I published it 100 years to the day after it was written (see Why Grandma Cried in blog posts). It was, in fact, the impetus for this blog.

2014-03-20 08.25.35

Elmer’s letter, 1915

But these have nothing to do with Kelsey’s past, nothing to do with her genetics. The lack of interest is partly her age; I wasn’t interested in history when I was in my 20s.

The purpose of this blog is to rewrite our history. That is, I want to capture our history in story form, create something the kids will want to read later. There are piles of photos, letters, and cards. We have documents detailing marriages, deaths, and births, as well as my father’s memoir. Dad made 18 movies while in the navy. We have those and four years of letters he wrote home while at sea. From 1940-1952 my great grandma wrote to her daughter, detailing much of my father’s childhood. She often wrote more than once a day; there must be a couple hundred letters in the collection. I cannot bear to throw it all away; it’s a priceless gem.

When I am long gone, if the kids decide to toss the collection, my goal is that at the very least they will have our history in story form, those I’ve reproduced, right here. I also hope to publish the stories in book form–make a collection of stories–since we don’t yet know about future technologies and how these works may or may not transfer. Yeah, it’s a very time consuming job (and, you bet, I love it).

That is all well and good, this plan, but this is not Kelsey’s past, and I am back to square one.

How do I make sure my daughter understands her place in our family? How do I convince her she is every bit a part of us as the other kids?


mother and daughter, a few years ago

People are often focused on family traits, as in, she has grandma’s long fingers, or he has grandpa’s nose. That never mattered to me because it doesn’t; but that does not consider Kelsey’s feelings. It must be very difficult to hear those conversations, knowing you look nothing like your family, and never will.

I cannot change that we do or don’t look alike. I will highlight something she taught me, though.

Dear Kelsey,

You, perhaps, have been my best teacher. Let me explain.

A few years ago when you were in college, your dad had a medical emergency. You know the weekend; you were coming home that Friday to pick up camping equipment and were heading to the beach with friends. The emergency occurred before you arrived, and rather than wait for you, I was in overdrive to get dad to the hospital. We did not tell you what was happening. No call, no nothing. We raced out of here and told you later.

Oh, you were some angry with me, with us. That we had not told you was inexcusable. We bypassed you and that, in your mind, was a horrendous, inconsiderate error. We heard the following:

  • “What were you thinking?
  • How could you not tell me?
  • I would have stayed home, met you at the hospital.”

As you now know, when in the midst of an emergency, people don’t always think clearly, or thoroughly. They react.

I refer to you here, not me. I am talking about how you reacted in that emergency. Your dad’s life was threatened, and you were very angry we did not take the time to explain. Not telling you was unthinkable, and believe me, I do understand your feelings. Let’s focus on your reaction, because it is the crux of this message.

You reacted the way you did because in your heart, your dad is your dad. In your heart, he is your father. He has been there for you and as long as he’s living, he will be. You were threatened with losing him and it left you hurt and scared. If the father-daughter bond had not been strong, you would have reacted differently.

The depth of your anger on that day is something I won’t forget. You were not afraid to let us know that our actions made you feel slighted. I am OK with that. I know we should have told you sooner. This is what I find interesting: when told, the boys reacted more calmly (i.e. they hid it very well. Once assured dad would be OK, they asked lots and lots of questions). You, on the other hand, went slightly ballistic.

You went ballistic because we are family. That, Baby Cakes, reveals quite a bit, and yeah, it makes me smile.

I realize you and I don’t share the same genetics, that we are not blood related. You don’t look like any of the people in these photos. No, you are not part of the past, but, oh, dear girl, you are part of my present, and therefore, part of my future, our future. That will not change. Everyone joins the family sometime; this time is yours. 

Meantime, I’ll keep reading grandpa’s memoir and I’ll try to identify more people in the old photos. I’ll keep reading your great great grandma’s letters, hoping to discover interesting bits of their lives. I’ll search for more wisdom in grandpa’s navy letters. I’ll glean what I can, and continue to create, for you.

And, I’ll continue to document, for my bank. You and your brothers will have to deal with it. Some day will arrive, some day.

In the corny but true words of R. Munsch, words that ring true for every mother on earth,

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”



P.S. Our slumber party in Brazil is one of my most treasured memories.

And speaking of Brazil, what does it mean to have family in another country, people not blood-related? I claim such a clan in Brazil and a son in Costa Rica.

Soon, we’ll explore my extended familia.

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