Essay on My Family
Written by Susie Belle Seggar
"Every human being has a story in him--how he has come to be what he is, how he manages, after all, to live, just to live." (from THE BULLY PULPIT, Doris Kearns Goodwin.)
So, as I read that I thought "What is my story of my life with our children?" Complicated, joyful, sad, delightful--a multitude of adjectives go into describing a family. What I want them most to know now is the amount of my appreciation and admiration for each of them as an adult, and how amazed I am when I look back at the path we traveled together.
There were many times of fun and laughter, anger and punishment, grief and sorrow, and to say that it all ended well would be an untrue statement, one reason being it hasn't ended yet, and never will.
One very positive outcome to this point is each sibling steps up to be there for any of the others. They each show concern when another is hurting or suffering in one of the thousand earthly ways possible. In some other ways, they bear no resemblance.
Having three adopted and three natural born children in one family was complicated, puzzling, exhausting and confusing, both to them and me.
Surprisingly negative parts of my self emerged in my interactions with all of them--I'd like to shout "disclaimer!" to those parts because it brings back some almost unbearable memories better forgotten--but that's impossible. Mostly I forgive myself, but not always.
One friend tells me he never claims credit for his children's successes, nor takes too much responsibility for their imperfections--I seem unable to always pay attention to that advice.
Recently I described our creation of a family as a "big mess" to John. He doesn't like being reminded and tries hard to look forward rather than dwell on the difficulties we encountered together and with the children. At this point, I'm sure that's the better choice--it reminds me of the old card I saw long ago that said "No matter where you go, there you are." Choices are just irreversible in their consequences and it feels as if too many fall into the "worse" of "for better or worse." Or maybe it's just the consequences seem more deeply borne. I've found it difficult to say "Oh, I certainly learned a lot from that experience" without lamenting that fact, too.
In the present, however, there is a lot to admire in each child and in the endurance and strength each one has developed in their adulthood. It seems surreal to me to say their ages: Leslie 49, Beth 47, Brad 45, Shane 43, Kate 39, and Stacy 36. You know what those ages mean--I'm a lot older!
Leslie is now a successful bakery owner who has persevered as a single mother. I think I might have given up after five years of very early morning risings to take a four-year old out in the cold, dark mornings so I could keep providing for both him and myself--but she endured. She also endured the long hours of preparation and study to complete a Ph.D. She also learned to accept being single and being without a trusted partner who could help her face difficult decisions. She is my idol for being organized, being a parent who loves her child beyond belief, being meticulous in planning, being persistent in moving toward her set goals, and being one of the most hard-working persons I have ever known. In my "pleasant memory bank" I see a sweet, sweet baby who I could not have loved more; a little girl following me through the leaves in the back yard of our Kentucky house; a three-year old mastering riding a bike; her birthday party when she was three and the sailboat cake I managed to make; a happy sister when we adopted Brad; a happy first grade reader; an adoring sister when Kate was a baby and one who would spend her paper route money for gifts for her baby sister. My mother, Fannie, absolutely adored her, her first grandchild, and the feeling was quite mutual on Leslie's part. To this day she tells Jack about Fannie in glowing terms. I now see my adored, first child having grown into a sensitive, capable, tender-hearted and kind human being.
We decided to adopt a sister for Leslie, Brad, and Shane when Leslie was seven and we then got Beth from Seoul, Korea, as an abandoned child of five years of age. Her beginning was more than difficult, having had a mother who took her and two siblings to a Holt Orphanage when she was four. That crushing life event has left an indelible imprint on her and our family forever after. Her self-proclaimed struggles through life include feeling worthless and unloveable--two of the worst possible human feelings. Her entry into our family resulted in a lot of heartache for her and the rest of us, actually, but she is now the mother of five children who exhibit some remarkable talents and characteristics--some have more difficulty than others in her family, but that's true of every family I've ever read about or observed. Beth is a beautiful woman who has "taken the breath away" of many people who have seen and known her. Her avocation now is being a yoga teacher/trainer with her own studio.
When Leslie was three, we decided to adopt a child because we didn't want to have her be an only child as we both were. So, one hot summer day in 1967, when we were in Kentucky for John to try to complete his dissertation and Ph.D., we received a call from a Canadian government adoption agency asking us if we wanted to come and pick up a three-month old baby boy. We answered yes, and ended up driving a 7000 mile round trip from Utah to Kentucky to Canada to Utah in an Opel Kadette station wagon--one of the worst cars ever designed!! This was at a time when there were still many unpaved roads in Canada, and we ended up repeating the mantra of "It's better than a wagon" many times. The foster parent who had kept this little boy for three months had called him Douglas, but we decided to name him Brad Lucioni. He was absolutely adorable as a baby, easy to make laugh, and is still one of the most handsome men on the planet. We always have thought his East Indian mother, particularly, must have been beautiful, and his Ukraine father handsome, to produce such a gorgeous child. Like Beth, one of his struggles through life has been dealing with the feeling of being unloveable--that seems one of the hardest self-images to ever dispel and move into the realm of lies one can believe about oneself. We have marveled repeatedly at the kind of father and husband he has become and the strength of character of both him and his three children. Jeanette, his wife of 20 years, is a beautiful, devoted woman who loves him dearly and we consider the best thing that ever happened for him. Brad is a very tender-hearted man who can seem a bit gruff, but whose love for others shows through when his soul is touched and a few tears emerge. He has never shirked from difficulties and is an extremely hard-working individual who has provided admirably for his family, even building the home they have.
Shane is our "hero hulk" who loves the Hawaiian life style which is now his. When Brad was two, we adopted Shane through LDS Social Services in Murray, Utah. We expected this one-week old baby boy to have curly dark hair already, and a darker skin when we found he was half-Samoan, but he was red skinned at the time, with spiky straight hair. He is now a very handsome hunk of a man, 6'2", and about 250 pounds. We got Beth when he was about a year old, and he then became the youngest of the four siblings, and bore an inordinate amount of teasing until he was taller than everyone else. It's really impossible to sort out how much of childhood and adolescent struggles of these three adopted children resulted from their adoption status, but to me it seems that all three had more than normal difficulty in reaching a level of maturity allowing them to feel accepted and loved. Shane probably was misled a bit too much by his brother and sometimes Beth who seemed to be able to make him a "follower" even when she could speak only Korean for the first few months in our home. Now, however, he definitely exhibits qualities of leadership, coupled with a huge heart and characteristics of gentleness, kindness, acceptance, and tolerance of "stupidity" in others--particularly in his parents. He has established a career for himself in the world of television production, being on the set of "Hawaii 5-0" for several years, and previously in a position with Pacific Islanders in Communications, which is what prompted his initial move to Honolulu. In difficult family "discussions," he can be the one to offer sensitive suggestions and facilitate a feeling of calm and understanding, even after explosive outbreaks. I have marveled at that quality in him. Even though he met his birth mother in his 30's, he reassured me ever after I am his mother. I love that about him.
Then there is Kate. She came two years after I had a stillborn child (after eight years of infertility) which was a heart-rending experience. I well remember the night labor started with Kate--it was very windy and when I recall that night I imagine how she was being swept into our lives to forever be an endearing child. No one is more tender-hearted than Kate, and now she has endured the kind of heartaches and difficulties that either make one bitter or produce an even more sensitive person capable of great empathy and compassion. We all delighted in our new baby, and Leslie particularly became an adored older sister. When I think of any of these children, I have one major regret--that I didn't spend more time with each of them individually. The times I do recall being with them separately are some of my very best memories of motherhood. One very snowy day when Kate was probably seven or eight she and I went out delivering telephone books all over Orem, even though most streets were snowpacked. With kids, it doesn't have to be a big event to be memorable, and just thinking of that day brings tears to my eyes. She says she loved being my "side kick." Another time I was driving her around the block to deliver some newspapers when she was only five or six, and we "found" an English bulldog wandering on the street (we thought). He was more than willing to be "rescued" and climbed eagerly into the van with us. Later we found we picked him up right outside his house. A few months later we bought him and he became Chub, Lord Duke of Balrog. When I was in graduate school, Kate was about 9 1/2 and would help me study with index cards I'd made up to help me remember different topics. I can say I am now the very proud mother of a woman who cares so very much about her family and has done a stupendous job of providing for Xiaoxia in very difficult situations that require rigorous amounts of research and planning for her health and well-being. She has not shirked from those responsibilities, nor any others, and to be that kind of parent requires a lot of personal sacrifice which she has willingly given. Looking back I can picture her in her "froggy" swimming suit; falling asleep at Disneyland in a stroller and wearing a little blue gingham checked bonnet; thrilling at sailing with a high wind on Utah Lake ("Let's do it again!"); escaping from the nursery for two-year olds at Aspen Grove and finding her way back to our cabin alone across a log over a creek even--so, yes, she has been a bit of a risk taker through life, and loves new experiences. We have sometimes called her our wandering traveler. Now I love sharing thoughts about our existence in this universe, and love new ideas she offers to me. And I love that she loves me.
Stacy, the youngest, is maybe our most impetuous child. Some of her siblings accuse her of feeling "entitled." It's probably hard to escape that label as the youngest of six children. The image that pops into my mind is of her standing on the driveway in some purple get-up wearing Leslie's huge yellow moonboots. Then also when she was able to roller skate and bounce a basketball at the same time when she was not even eight years old. So, she's been a bit of a character from the beginning. Loveable, but a character. Like the others, she has endured a lot of difficulties and traumatic experiences in her short life. I would consider she had a rough start in the world of work, but has been at the same job now for almost 10 years--that's required a lot of patience, and being able to cope with both the customers and co-workers in an accepting, non-judgmental style. The two children she has with Julio are adorable beyond belief and bring joy to their lives. Moving to Spanish Fork turned into an ordeal for Stacy by the time she was 15 and we were accused many times of ruining her life. Leaving the friends she had in Orem as a child was harder than I would have imagined for her. One problem I had was not realizing just how hard changing schools and friends could be for our children--I didn't really realize and understand because I had been moved around as a child and been in five different elementary schools in six years before entering Benton High School in the 8th grade. So, my second major regret is lacking the empathy to understand fully how devastating a move can be--to me it was just "Here's a new school--it'll be fine." I love Stacy's creativity and imagination--if one wants a good party, she's the one to plan it. That kind of talent is certainly envied by me, and a definite plus in her life. We once took a trip to see Leslie in California during which I must have heard the same song on a cassette tape a "million" times! We also made quite a few shopping trips together to the Orem Mall which were either lots of fun or very difficult. Today we remain on positive speaking terms and I enjoy her company very much.
When I reread the statement "Every human being has a story in him...." I think also of John, my spouse of 52 years. It's been quite a ride, as some people say--lots of good times to remember, but a rather bumpy road along the way with totally surprising and completely disconcerting detours--that will be another story to tell.
Sometimes I wish "do-overs" were possible so we could at least eliminate some of the errors in our youthful parenting skills and add to the positive memory bank. Perhaps, though, we wouldn't have the deepening of character as much without all those terribly trying experiences. "C'est la vie."
Written as a Christmas gift to her children and grandchildren. December 2013