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The Nuclear Family, Exploded

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Back in Noho, van Schie and her husband found that they are viewed, if anything, as rock stars in the neighborhood. She enjoys tweaking the clichés about Manhattan adoptive parents: “I have a coat, a fantastic coat made out of leopard. And I’d say, ‘Doesn’t Tana look great with this coat?’;” There have been a few grating moments, however, like the playground mom who kept forgetting her son’s name. “‘Oh, I keep thinking his name is David,’” van Schie says, imitating a tone of fake sweetness as she says the name of Madonna’s son. “ ‘You know, because of David Banda.’ ”

Van Schie had begun the adoptive process with the private fear many parents have: Would she love this child as much as her biological one? Would she (to use the oft-repeated catechism) die for him? “My mother was not a nurturing person,” says van Schie. “I was concerned I wasn’t going to be a natural. But you see the picture, and think, That baby? Has to get out of there. My job! You see it as a job. You walk into the room, it’s a nice little room, eight cribs, nannies, beautiful women, every one could be on the cover of Vogue. And the nannies are going, ‘Look at Mommy, look at Mommy.’ I felt lucky. I felt like I got the cutest one.”

In a country that has gone mildly bonkers for sociobiological explanations, adoptive parents may be the last holdouts. It’s not that they don’t believe that anything is genetic; they do. But they take seriously the idea that that stuff is not the be-all and end-all, because they need to in order to love children from such different sources. After I gave birth, one of the first things I noticed was the unnerving attention paid to any reflection of my husband and myself in our newborn. Gabriel’s alertness was inherited, we were told; his babbling showed he was verbal, like us; the analysis of his nose was so intense my husband described it as “art criticism.” Yet each of us knew how different children can be from their parents and siblings; how much of growing up is about choosing a story, one that explains what made us who we are. This is a culture that increasingly fetishizes one shard of that story, the blood connection: childbirth itself as the pinnacle of female achievement, a kind of sociobiological blue ribbon. But blended families are by necessity believers not in faith but in works: the daily work of parenting, not the primacy of our origins.

Van Schie’s main insight from her experience was not that she should love her adopted child like her biological one, but the precise opposite. “My husband is six foot seven, highly educated, intelligent, athletic. I’m whatever you see me being. With Huck, for three years, I was expecting him to be those things. And then I brought home Tana, and I have no expectations. And I realize the injustice I’m doing to my biological child. It’s just very freeing—to find that I’m so excited to see who these two little people are going to be. Because it made me realize, I have no idea. And before, I thought I kind of knew who Huck was going to be! I don’t have that feeling anymore. Because Tana taught me that.”


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