As both the wife of an adopted person and an adoptive parent I think about identity a lot. When we adopted Mae there were many families at the embassy that day taking an oath that their child would be protected and safe. It is a hugely emotional moment, one that most families in the room had waited many years for. As I looked around the room I saw young Chinese children in the arms of Amish families, Asians, Italians, single parent, families of all shapes and sizes. Each one of these children would go to a home to its own culture and lessons. Those lessons would in part shape how that child identified themselves. I am Amish, or Christian, oldest or youngest, but ultimately it is all just who brought you home.
The same is true for those of us who weren’t adopted. It is just less obvious. Over time, we identify as a mother or daughter, lawyer, liberal; we assign labels and qualities to ourselves. I am flexible, I am a runner, I am terrible at languages, or I am a musician. Each one of these declaratives serves us somehow. By declaring ourselves something we relieve ourselves of the burden of the unknown.
Quite frequently someone will say to me “I can’t meditate.” They are completely convinced that they are incapable of being still, and of course I don’t think that’s true. But as long as they believe it, it is true. Writing a twitter bio or the bio for this blog felt silly to me because it is a series of declarative statements about who I am and what I believe. But given the constantly changing nature of who we are, the bio feels misleading as soon as it is out of my mouth. It is true that I am a mother, and a daughter, and a friend, and a buddhist, but to the teller at the bank this morning not a single one of those details mattered. I was just the first person in her line on a Thursday. We smiled at each other, exchanged pleasantries and went about our business.
I once happened to be on the beach when a prominent surgeon drowned in Lake Michigan. At the moment of his death it didn’t matter that he was a father, a husband, a gifted doctor. He was dead, and in that moment that became the defining feature of the man.
Our identity is constantly shifting and changing. My parents tease me that every year they would go to my parent conference at school and every year the teacher would address me by the differing version of my name, selected by me for the year: Katie, Kate or Katherine. One year I even tried on “Kitty.” I admire the bravery of children who try out different versions of themselves. Every year they grow, change and look different so why not shift their identity as well?
I am working these days on loosening my grip on my definite ideas of what I am and what I am not. I was chatting with a friend recently about how she felt that being a mother was preventing her from taking her career to the next level. That may be true, or it may be fear of the unknown or fear of failure and motherhood is a convenient excuse that no one can argue with. I am hoping that by letting go of my very fixed ideas about who and what I am and returning more to that childish notion that my identity can shift and change that I will remove obstacles that I have placed in my own way. I will try to imagine that I am not limited by anything, and see how that feels for a while. I will let you know.