Fasten Your Seatbelts

Jamilet Scobey-Polacheck displays the “Family Tree” portrait she created, signifying her birth and adoptive families. (Submitted photo)

When our four children were very young, we went to a children’s museum in another city that had a four-foot open eggshell that kids could climb into. One by one, we took pictures of each of our children peeking out from between the broken pieces of shell, looking like they hatched. The picture of 2-year-old Jamilet was especially charming because she was so little and recently adopted, and it was easy to imagine that she actually did just hatch.

Jamilet came to us as a foster child at age 1, and we adopted her when she was just under 2. A few weeks before we adopted her, we met Jamilet’s grandparents and her six siblings at the local Chuck E. Cheese. Her grandparents explained that Jamilet’s birth mother was unable to care for her children right now and Jamilet’s siblings were in the care of relatives. The grandparents expressed their relief that baby Jamilet would have a stable home, and Bill and I assured them of our deep love for their granddaughter. We promised to do our best to be good parents.

Early in Jamilet’s childhood, we had limited contact with her birth family. Jamilet’s mother lived out of state, and our contact was limited to an occasional trip to the park with her older sisters. When Jamilet was about 10, her birth mother, along with two additional younger siblings, moved back to Milwaukee, and we began to establish a connection with the family.

As the years went on, Bill and I were amazed with the grace with which Jamilet navigated the two families. She showed profound respect for both her family of origin and our family, and the two families, in turn, grew in love and respect for each other, as well.

Jamilet, now a senior in high school, chose to make her two families the subject of a recent art project. She drew a tree—a view from roots to leafy treetop. On two of the roots, which she painted a bright yellow, she wrote Bill and Annemarie, and on the other root, painted a deep magenta, she wrote her birth mother’s name.  The roots led to the trunk of the tree, with the yellow and magenta parts of the trunk wrapping around each other tightly. The yellow portion of the trunk then branched to our other children — Jacob, Liam and Teenasia. The magenta trunk branched to Jamilet’s birth mom’s other eight children, with most of those branching further to their respective children. In between the yellow and magenta branches, from the middle of the trunk, grew a 12th branch, a mix of yellow and magenta that resulted in a glowing orange—the Jamilet branch, somehow part of both sides of the tree, nourished by all three roots, and still growing.

Jamilet reflected on her artwork:

This tree of life represents my roots and my connections to family. My biological mom offers my Puerto Rican roots and my connection to my culture and ethnicity. My adoptive parents have loved me, taken care of me and guided me to who I am today. Together, all three parents create this spiraled trunk that divides into two larger branches of the children they have each had. In my bio family, there is a huge tangle of siblings, nieces and nephews. On the other side are my three adoptive siblings. Both families are nourishing me through their different traditions and beliefs they share. Neither family is the same, but that is the reason I am who I am. Being in two very different households can be a stressful and complicated situation. Through these last eight years of going on visits to my biological family, I have learned more about who I am and how I can add to each family. Being adopted can be both a blessing and burden. Adoption is a special connection that happens between parents and children. I was fortunate to have been adopted at such a young age because all I remember is growing up in a home that was welcoming and diverse. Adoption can also be a burden because I know that my biological mother missed much of my childhood because of difficult decisions she had made in her past. I am learning to balance the life of being an aunt while being a teenager who is finishing high school and needing to spread my love beyond my home of six people. I have the opportunity to share my love with more people, which is the most amazing feeling. I receive more support in my life than I could have ever asked for because God gave me not only my parents, but also such an amazing connection to my biological family.

I still love the picture of the smiling toddler popping out of broken egg. But our family journey of adoption has been reminder that none of us hatch. We all have a history and a story, and both of our adoptive children have taught us how nature and nurture intersect to form who we are and who we become. Thank you, Jamilet, for the strong branch you are becoming.