How Adoption Feels (A sibling’s perspective)

I was 7 years old when we adopted my youngest brother, Michael. He was chubby and brown, like a strong cup of coffee with a heaping dash of cream. His lips were plump and drippy with baby drool. His bald head just barely sprouting its tight, dark curls. He was officially my baby from this moment on:

Michael, 12 weeks, with me, age 7, on the day we adopted him.

I remember going to the adoption agency the day we took him home. Mostly, I remember my outfit. I chose it with such care since it was a monumental day. I wanted this baby to know his older sister was anointed with a terrific flare for fashion.

Nailed it.

Those two pictures are the only ones I have from this significant moment in my story; the day I became one of four, the only sister to three brothers. I am not an adoption expert. I’m not here to blog about advice for those pursuing adoption. I don’t know what it is like to parent an adopted child or be adopted myself. But I do know what it feels like to be raised alongside brothers who are brothers because of blood and because of law and as sure as I’m writing these words, to me, they are one in the same. Adoption feels the same as blood. It does.

My role as sister feels like a guttural, rabid instinct to protect against anyone imparting any of my brothers harm be it the playground bully or the ignorant passerby. It feels like bursting pride when I get to watch one of them do something they love well or impart wisdom beyond their years. It feels like the pure joy of deep belly laughs and inside jokes and memories made over many, many years. It feels like the relentless compulsion to give unsolicited sisterly advice, which, please note, is rarely taken. And it feels like it does in any family where each member has their role, playing it in harmony, for better or worse, to the song we’ve sung year after year. Adoption feels the same as blood. That’s what I wanted to say today.

A few weeks ago, Joe and I helped my brother, Mike, move into his new apartment. In roughly 4 months, my baby brother and his new bride will call it their first home. I fully plan on balling my ever-living guts out at their wedding. There will be tears, for sure, in celebration of the beautiful things ahead for them. But also, for me, there will be one or two hundred tears shed that day in celebration for all the beautiful things the past has held for my brothers and me. Adoption feels the same as blood. It just simply does.

Here is the four of us (and my grandmother) at our kitchen table, circa 1993:

Clearly, I’m an unkept child of the wilderness. Brushes cower in fear. Mikey is adorable:

Here is my mother holding Mikey and wearing her solidarity sweater (can we all just hold hands) and enormous glasses:

My dad, lying to the world. There is no way Michael caught all those fish:

Michael with our Grandpa. It was well known and documented that Mikey was totally Grandpa’s favorite:

My brothers, Dad, and grandparents at my first communion. Sean has a mullet. That is all:

Mikey & Mom at our family cottage. Playing cards and drinking Orange soda all day long:

Stealing kisses. Me, Mom, Patrick, & Mikey: