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Who is Home?



The Story

What is home? For many people it is a place a building a space where people who are related by blood gather to celebrate their history and culture. But what if your home is different from what I described? What if your home is deliberately created by someone or some people who are not related by blood, I was adopted as an infant. I was two months old. I was selected by my adoptive parents to become a part of the family they were building. my adoptive parents had a biological son already, and they were finding it hard to get pregnant again. Both of my parents wanted a lot of kids a lot.


I remember them mentioning 12 kids at one point, I mean, these people watch Cheaper by the Dozen and Yours, Mine and Ours for inspiration. But as my mom would say, God had other plans. A few weeks after my parents brought me home, my mom found out she was pregnant again. So 1963 was the year of the Irish twins in our family. My parents didn't care that they did not give birth to me. My sister and I were complete physical opposites, but we were dressed alike for years. My parents thought they were done. Two years later, my parents found out about a baby girl and brought her home baby number four. The following you they adopted a boy. Two years after that, the adoption agency called my parents and asked them to adopt another boy, three boys and three girls. We were the original Brady Bunch. Since I was the oldest girl I got to be Marsha. We were a big fan of the show and watched it faithfully. In hindsight.


I'm sure it appealed to me on a deeper level since our family was created. Not born just like the Brady's. Growing up occasionally our family would be asked questions by strangers, about our thoughts about being adopted. When I was little, I didn't know that you could feel different about being adopted, then not being adopted. I got closer to adolescence and started reading Dear Abby in the newspaper. And there were occasional letters from adoptees who were traumatized, learning that they were adopted later in life.


Usually the story was about meeting their biological family. It always seemed to end tragically, and the person was bitter and broken. When I read those letters, I remember thinking, why would you not tell someone they were adopted? What is wrong with that? I also realize it that I needed to prepare myself for the time when my biological family would find me.


Notice I did not say I would find them. I often thought what if I don't like my mother? What if she was hateful or a drug addict or a deadbeat? How can I welcome that kind of person into my wholesome life. I did wonder if she had other children. But there was no way to know in the 1970s. Eventually I became a self absorbed teenager and the thoughts left my mind for several years. The most important thing I bring away from my upbringing is that my parents always made me feel like a real sibling and child. We were never singled out for being adopted or treated differently. We fought with our other siblings, we shared secrets with each other. We had years and years of holiday memories like other siblings to these are my brothers and sisters. My life has been greatly enriched by being a part of this family.


When I first moved to Scranton in 2000, or nine, I didn't know anybody. So I decided to start delving into my adoptive family's genealogy. Thank God for the internet. I spent hours researching, reading, making timelines and looking at other family trees. I was pretty excited to show my parents what I found. I was able to find the relatives who had fought in the Revolutionary War and on both sides of the Civil War. As part of my research, I thought that I would have my DNA done to see exactly what my ethnic background was. My name is Gaelic, and I was hoping I was really Irish. When the result results first came in, I was thrilled to find out that I was 25%. Irish. Woof. I was Irish. I was feeling pretty good about that. As I started looking around the DNA section of ancestry, I noticed that it paired my DNA with other people, most of them were considered third or fourth cousins, or rather distant biological relationships. So I didn't really investigate those connections. A year or so after my DNA was posted. I got a message from a man Darrell Oh, who said that we shared enough DNA to be siblings. Whoa, whoa, whoa. He sent a very detailed message. He learned later in life that he was adopted and only knew his biological mother's name. He talked about his terrible upbringing and the resulting addictions, just like and Dear Abby all those years ago.


However, now he was clean and sober. Our birthdays are six months apart. So the chances that we had the same mother are zero. We apparently had a Tomcat for a father. That really stung me. My biological father was cheating on my mother. How many other children are out there that I don't know about? I was angry, as if this was a recent discovery worthy of a soap opera. I replied and told him that I had no information on my biological parents since I was a closed adoption. A while later, a DNA match of a first cousin popped up, named Carmen CM. I messaged her, but she never replied, I didn't pursue it because I thought she was freaked out and having a fight with her father about my existence. One tends to imagine conversations between people who we do not know to make ourselves feel better. More than anything. My son decided to get his DNA tested on 23andme because he liked the hereditary details that they offered about your DNA. He convinced me to get my DNA done through 23andme so I could get some more information, even if I wouldn't connect to anyone. Last summer, I sent a sample to 23andme, I was really surprised that Darryl showed up, and the genetic relationship between us was still intact. There was nobody else in 23, and me who was more closely related to me, but I wasn't expecting anything anyway. At Christmas time, I got a notice from 23andme that there was a new DNA match for me. By this time, I had received a dozen messages in indicating new family connections that were so far removed, it was impossible to figure out who we were related to. A young woman popped up, who was my first cousin once removed, I messaged her and I said, Hey, I see we're closely related by DNA.


Here's a brief story about me. Her reply was simply I gotta tell my mom. Turns out her mom was Carmen cm, whom I had been connected to in ancestry. She messaged me and gave me her phone number and begged me to call her. I froze. This wasn't what was supposed to happen, even though I secretly wanted it to. What should I do? How should I approach this conversation? What if I hate her or she hates me? What if she's all clingy? I texted her instead of instead, because I wasn't sure what to make of this. We ended up texting and then talking by phone for an hour. We exchanged pictures of ourselves and our families. And when she got my high school photo, she said, Oh my God, you look just like my cousin Stephanie. So the backstory, there were three brothers in born in Portland, Oregon in the 1940s. Larry Kenton Richard. Turns out Carmen is the daughter of Kent, the oldest son and the only current survivor. She remembers her father telling her that his brother Larry was a real ladies man in high school, and no one would be surprised if he had a child out of wedlock. Carmen talked to Stephanie and she agreed to get her DNA tested. It came back a couple of weeks ago. 23andme says she is my half sister. In addition, Kent, Carmen's dad had agreed to have his DNA done, and his results show that He is my uncle. The family concluded that I was indeed Larry's daughter. None of them knew who my biological mother was.


Well, because Larry didn't keep a little black book. Apparently, Daryl had contacted the family and spoke with them separately. I'm not privy to the details, but the response from the family was not surprised. Carmen asked me to come visit as soon as possible since Kent is 82 years old and not doing well. I was planning a trip to California to see my son so I also went to Portland for a day and met three of my four half siblings, all fathered within marriage to their mother. They greeted me with a birthday cake, and a mylar balloon that said it's a girl on it. I burst out crying. I had expected a reserved quiet conversation like a business function. Nope. They all jumped right into tell me everything about themselves and more importantly, everything about Larry. The whole time I kept thinking about my dad and what a tremendous contrast he was to Larry. While Larry sounded like he would be great to meet at a party. My dad was more about the one on one time he tried to make for me and my siblings. My fondest memories of my dad is sitting on his lap belt he read, he would read whatever he had to say out loud to me. It was rather hard to focus on what Carmen and Stephanie were saying, when I was last in my memories.


What makes a home, it's not a building. It's not food. It's not my biological family. It is the relationships that you build with other people who you live and grow up with. In my case, it's my adoptive family. They know me. They know what I did as a kid. They know my favorite color my holiday coloring books, rock stars, movies, my deepest secrets, my laugh my tears. They hold me in good times and bad times. They gave me advice, instruction, role modeling, discipline, celebrations, special opportunities when they can and say no when they can't. Right now I'm still processing all of that has happened and figuring out what I wanted Do My home has been redefined. I do not regret my accidental journey to find my biological family. After all, if it wasn't for Larry, I wouldn't be here. Someday I would like to be able to tell my biological mother that she made the right decision to give me up for adoption. And I have had a great life. My biological family didn't raise me, but they raised me up.


The Interview

Tonyehn  

Well, first marine, I'd like to thank you for sharing your story. I could not help but reflect on the fact that you started by saying, home is created not by blood. And then you wrapped up this story? Well, it's not a story. It's your life, saying that home is built of relationships and shared experience. It made me wonder a few things. Well, let me go back to the beginning. We'll get to that other stuff later. So you talk a little bit about the fact that there's the real children, and then I kind of wrote down unreal children, but they're not unreal, they're adopted. And I was just wondering how you felt that the adopted children in your family if they all feel the same as you versus the children who weren't adopted? Do you think that they ever maybe tried to make sure you felt more connected? And I know, you can't speak for people's internal dialogues? Yes.


Maureen  

I don't ever remember an instance in childhood where my, my parents biological siblings would, you know, say something like, Well, you're not our real kids, you know, you're not a real part of our family. If anything, we would torment them sort of the opposite. We used to call our adopted kids, the store bought kids and my parents, biological kids, the homemade kids. Yeah, well, yeah, in the 70s. Right, it was it was if you bought something at the store, it was really special and very precious. So that would usually send my sister into tears. So


Tonyehn  

I also thought about the fact that you said, you assumed that your parents would look for you. And it made me wonder why was it never the opposite way around?


Maureen  

I think just because that was the exposure, I had to lose letters. And Dear Abby, it was always my biological mother found me. It never occurred to me as a child that the reverse would happen. And even in my adult years, when, you know, the internet and DNA all came around, I was I was hesitant. I really was because I still had those childhood fears about what if they're terrible people, right? What if they don't like me. And so it as a kid, it was just never i You don't have resources as a kid to be able to research so. And I


Tonyehn  

also found it interesting that when you did finally ended up researching your own DNA, it started by building a family tree and doing genealogical research for your adoptive family. And I couldn't help but wonder if that was some sort of way of backing into a search that maybe you were considering without realizing


Maureen  

it was certainly a substitute for having my own family tree. Yes. And I really loved doing my parents genealogy. And it was really interesting. The way I backed into my own biology is Darrel, his daughter started a tree for him and ancestry. So I poked around that you can look at other people's trees. And I, I saw some names that came up, and I thought, Well, I'm just going to research these people and see who they are and how they if they connect in any way, since I know he's my biological relation. And so that's how I backed into my own family. But the DNA results from Ancestry kind of tied it together. That's how I found


Tonyehn  

their names. And then how long was it between ancestry and 23andme? Two years. Okay. And during that time, were you staying in touch with Darryl or was it kind of like a conversation? And then it was kind of


Maureen  

a conversation and then yeah, because he wanted information from me that I didn't have. At the time, he had more information than I did. So yeah, I haven't really connected, reconnected with him since then. So


Tonyehn  

now I'd like to talk a little bit about meeting your biological family. So you always felt a part of your adoptive family and I'm just curious to know when you spent time with your biological family, did you feel like an outsider or did you feel at all like, I can see me here?


Maureen  

Very much. I could see a Um, one thing when you grow up adopted and you don't look like anybody in your family, you just see the world that way I like I notice that other people look like they're so beautiful siblings, I always have. But I never had that connection. When I got to this table at this restaurant. I'm looking at myself at in various forms in all of these other people, including the young woman who I initially connected with DNA, she looks exactly like me. It was I just looked at her. And she looked at me, and I said, Oh, my God, we look the same. And, and her mother, Carmen was like, Look, you look just like Stephanie. And, and I didn't quite see that first. But the more with they talked, we had similar mannerisms and sense of humor. And so it was a very easy adjustment into the group,


Tonyehn  

That must also feel slightly mind boggling. Theory stepped into some sort of weird science fiction. Yes.


Maureen  

Very much. So. Yes, yes. Because I would say the same thing about my adoptive families when nature versus nurture, right, and we were all raised by the same people. So we all have very similar mannerisms to my parents, and to each other. But it was that I guess you expect that of your siblings. But when you walk into a group of strangers, and you see those same characteristics, it is mind block mind boggling. That's a very good word for it. Yeah.


Tonyehn  

And I have just a quick question about your dad, you describe feeling so much anger towards him for being this kind of ladies, man. And I'm just wondering if you felt like that may have reflected on you somehow? Or was it more that because of his wandering ways you had ended up with another family?


Maureen  

I guess I was, it was just like, my initial reaction of being protective of my biological mother and finding out that he's cheating on her because one document I do have is her intake from the adoption agency. And she talks about how they were, they were gonna get married, and they were gonna live happily ever after, and his family ripped her away from them. And so I guess I was feeling defensive of her with that knowledge. They didn't have that knowledge. I did. I shared it with shared with them later. But, but that was, uh, yeah, I got defensive of her, just over the fact that, you know, nobody wants to be cheated on, you know, so?


Tonyehn  

Well, I can't not talk about the fact that you're the founder and director of an EPA us shelter. Can you talk a little bit about how your own experience may have informed your decision to start this organization and why it's so important for you to create a home for DC.


Maureen  

Yes, and honestly, I can't say it was a conscious connection. But when I, I worked for a statewide LGBT organization back in 2014, and 2015, and I had to travel all throughout an EPA and I met lots of LGBT kids. And they would say to me, that they'd never tell their parents, they're gay, because they'd be kicked out, and there's no place to go. And that just broke my heart. on multiple levels. I'm a mother. And, you know, I don't care how bad my son is, I would never kick them out. Although he's 30 Now, but the thought of any family deliberately kicking out a child for some reason.


When my own birth, I was forced away from my mother. It because it was 1960s. And I just couldn't reconcile that those two things. And knowing that kids are on the street or in the hobo camps, without nurturing, without care, without love, without food, without clothes. Without just being valued as a human being. It shouldn't, that should hurt everybody, that should make everybody feel angry. And so when I found that they truly were homeless kids, I just couldn't, I couldn't stand by and not do anything about that. So addressing the homeless teen situation really was my first priority. The teen center was sort of the means to that end, because we had to find a place where the teens would come and share and get to know us and trust us and all of those things. And that's exactly what happened.


We opened our teen center in 2017. And by December 2019, it was our first homeless team came into my office and said, I got nothing. I've exhausted all my resources. I have nothing can you help me? And so since then, we have been providing homes and I'm for these kids in various circumstances. I've our one of our missions of our organization is to provide financial support for kids. But that's expensive. But I also just consult with kids over the phone about this is what you need to get an apartment. This is how much money you need, you need a photo ID, you need a job, you need to have a good credit score. And so in that, in that sense, I'm also helping them find a home of their own.


Tonyehn  

I love that. This is such a beautiful circle that you've created because you're now the adoptive parents to all the see. Right, right. Thank you for that. Thank you

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