It all started-- for me-- when my father won a family trip to Senegal when I was around 10. I’d been out the country before, of course. But I was little so I didn’t need a passport. This time, I would.
So one day my mother picks me up from school and we go to the passport office. We stand in line, and I’m bored out of my mind as we wait. At the window, my mother slides an envelope of papers, my birth certificate and social security card and whatever else is necessary to prove I am who she claims I am, through the opening underneath the partition. Then, she slides a folder full of different documents for herself.
The person is sorting through them, punching the information into his computer as slow as humanly possible. I zone out thinking about whatever tweens think about. I hear him (or her?) ask a question, but I don’t remember what it was. My mother’s response is all that really matters anyway.
“I’m adopted,” she responds.
I know what that means, that Grandma and Grandpa who I’ve spent every summer with in the Midwest as long as I can remember are not my Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma taught me how to iron and to make cinnamon rolls. I follow my Grandpa around like a puppy does its owner because I adore him as much as he adores me. They aren’t my grandparents?! Huh?
I jerk my head up to look at my Mom, who is steadily looking at the person behind the glass and ignoring me. I pull at her sleeve. “Mom. Mom! Mom!!!” She continues to ignore me until I give up.
I’m worried that I’ll never see my grandparents again. Because, you know, they’re not actually my grandparents. Ohmigod! Ohmigod! Ohmigod!
The adults have my rapt attention now. But no one’s talking. The person behind the window is typing and my Mom is just standing there looking, waiting, not answering questions. Finally, the teller slides two blue passports under the counter. My mom says “thank you” and walks off. I follow, not like I'm a puppy, but because I don't want to get left.
When we get in the car, Mum explains half the story. The short (and heavily edited) version: my Mom’s mom got pregnant as a teenager in the 50s. My grandparents adopted my mother when she was 3. She’s never technically met her biological mother, although when she was a kid a woman she thinks was her mother showed up at her parents' house once. All she knows is her bio-Mom’s name. Anita*. She knows who her bio-Dad is. And there’s way more to the story than that, but that’s where I’ll stop.
Yes, I’ll see my grandparents again, Mum promises. Nothing will change. Grandma and Grandpa are still my grandparents. They always will be. That’s all I care about. End of story… or so I think.