Australia, days 6 and 7: Sydney city-slickin’

Oh, man. My calves are feeling these last two days.

Yesterday (my Monday, Sunday-ish for you statesiders) was my designated museum day. I ended up hitting up two museums (which was actually a lot, okay?!) and exploring the city for the rest of the day. I was actually amazed that any museums were open on a Monday here. For being in a workaholic country, U.S. museums have a whole lotta blackout dates (including Mondays for some of them, oddly enough) that are sure to enrage art-lovers the country over. But, I digress. Yesterday was fun.

I was very responsible with the big girl camera on day 6 and took some pictures of my favorite pieces from the two museums I visited: the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. While the latter was, well, contemporary and somewhat small, the Art Gallery of NSW had both contemporary and classic art and was yuuuuge. I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here on out; both of these places are a must visit, basically:

sydney museum of contemporary art

sydney museum of contemporary art
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Now, day 7 saw a less-responsible side of me. As we ventured towards the Laguna Beach-like Manly Beach, I instantly regretted not bringing my big camera. Thus, I have but a few iPhone pictures to show thee.IMG_1725 manly beach manly beach IMG_1730 IMG_1731 IMG_1733 IMG_1739

The water was cold and the sand was soft, just like home. I smelled the same coconutty suntan oils I smell back in California. The teeny little waves reminded me of the summer trips my family used to take to Maui, where the ocean is like a giant, mellow jacuzzi. Except instead of being surrounded by pure touristic infrastructure like we were in Maui, we were surrounded by some of the most stunning residential architecture in Sydney. Seriously, I didn’t get enough pictures of it – the apartment buildings (like the one above) and homes were out of this world. Again, for me, Sydney is a place that is so foreign yet so comforting. I’m 17 hours away from my job and my apartment and my snake and my boyfriend and my friends and all the normal things in between, but pieces of home are scattered everywhere.

Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a day-long tour to the Blue Mountainswhich is sure to be a much different view of Australia than anything I’ve seen so far. As my eyelids are currently falling down my face, it is best that I catch some Zs so that I actually wake up for this tour tomorrow. We leave at 7:00. I won’t be on my A game at first, but I have to pretend like I will be.

Till tomorrow, my cornsnakes.

-H

Travel tip: I cannot stress this enough. If you really want to do something that involves limited space (i.e., getting on a tour, seeing a certain show, or visiting a certain museum that has limits), book that stuff in advance. Like, now. Otherwise, you’re either going to miss it or pay way too much for it. Not that I have any experience with that on this trip…

Australia, days 4 and 5: Sleepless in Sydney

I couldn’t resist. I got up at 5:00 am today and 6:00 am yesterday. Corny as it is, can you tell me it’s not an apt title?

So, as promised, I’m getting reeeeeeeal picture-y up in here, especially since I am combining two days of Sydney-ing into one. While Day 4 was largely a travel-slash-Queensland withdrawal day, Day 5 was a day that we got to enjoy an impressive number of Sydney’s highlights. We opted for a 2 hour morning cruise around the harbor, followed by lunch at the Opera Kitchen at the Sydney Opera House. While the afternoon left room for some solo exploring, we all reconvened later for dinner at Doyle’s, a restaurant about five times as old as I am with terrific seafood. Seafood which, I promise, is not five times as old as I am. It’s actually quite fresh, I assure you.

Behold, photographic evidence of the days!

Right before sunrise.
Right before sunrise.
sydney sunrise
During sunrise.
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A little after sunrise. Captured the three stages, I did! I gotta be thorough with y’all.

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An interesting building in the city of Sydney. Anyone know what this is?
An interesting building in the city of Sydney. Anyone know what this is?
More pleasant city walking.
More pleasant city walking.

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Pretty fountain.
Pretty fountain. That’s all, really.
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A solid view of the Opera House. Because it wouldn’t be a post about Sydney without that, TBH.
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Brother’s friend, Ethan (23) and little brother (9). Little brother looks like he’s about to bungee jump off of the Opera House.
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Brother’s friend Grant, dad, brother’s friend Brandon, brother, brother’s friend Ethan, and tiny brother looking like an appendage of one of the older boys.
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Another view of Circular Quay from the Opera House.
Some boy band I met in front of the Opera House. Heard they're bigger than One Direction.
Some boy band I met in front of the Opera House. Heard they’re bigger than One Direction. 
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Detail of the Sydney Opera House. Per an older gentleman on our cruise, “they could have done a better job”. Someone’s a shady lady!
This restaurant at the Opera House looks like it came out of my wildest design dreams.
This restaurant at the Opera House looks like it came out of my wildest design dreams.
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Another picture of this restaurant (which is called Bennelong, btw) because it’s just that amazing.
A picture my brother took of my other brother.
A picture my brother took of my other brother.
Da crew.
Da crew.
Seagulls in Sydney are cleaner, but meaner.
Seagulls in Sydney are cleaner, but meaner. Trust me on this.
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Fort Denison in the harbor. Fun fact: supposedly this is THE place to be to watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Who’da thunk?
sydney skyline
More Sydney skyline.
manly beach
I…think this is Manly Beach? Don’t judge me guys – it was our first real day!
A view into the open ocean. AKA, the path the sharks use to get into the harbor.
A view into the open ocean. AKA, the path the sharks use to get into the harbor.
watsons bay
I WANT to say this is Watson’s Bay. Someone correct me if it’s not. All I know is that sharks are present here.
Quarantine Bay. Eery name, beautiful beach.
Near Quarantine Bay. Eery name, beautiful beach.
house in sydney harbor
We were utterly fascinated by this house. If you live here and are reading this, can we visit?
Gorgeous beach near the Taronga Zoo.
Gorgeous beach near the Taronga Zoo.

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sydney bridge
Another fun fact: these concrete pillars have NO structural value and were only built to assuage peoples’ worries about the integrity of the bridge. 
The Sydney Harbor Bridge. People spend ungodly amounts of money to climb this thing. I can only imagine.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge. People spend ungodly amounts of money to climb this thing. I can only imagine.
Gotta show you all the views of Sydney.
Gotta show you all the views of Sydney. I got you, fam.
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Near Circular Quay at dusk. We are still pronouncing it “Kway”. Somebody correct us, PLEASE.
The man who made this whole trip possible: my dad.
The man who made this whole trip possible: my dad.

Sydney obviously has an extremely maritime feel, but it also is uncanny for how similar to the U.S. it seems. Little green hills remind me of Washington or Oregon. The clean, tall, stone buildings set against slightly chilly weather downtown remind me of Minneapolis. The people’s casual attire and friendly, “no worries” demeanor reminds me of Southern California. I’m convinced that Australia, or at least Sydney, might be the closest thing to Southern California you can get outside of my home region. At least that’s what I have heard and have seen myself so far.

Today marks the one day this week that I get to do that which nobody else in my group wants to do: museums. Maybe a zoo visit. I know, how could anyone possible not love zoos or museums? But alas, I respect their desire to go to the beach. That is, after all, kind of what Sydney is known for.

You guys will forgive me for using a picture of the Opera House as my featured pic, right? Catch you on the flip.

-H

Travel tip: If you are looking for a little more variety in your trip wardrobe but also need to buy souvenirs, buy cute clothes that you know your friends will also wear. Wear the stuff on the trip while you’re on it, then wash and give the stuff to your friends as souvenirs. They’ll love it, and you’ll look cute on the trip, too.

Not that I’m doing that or anything.

Australia, day 3: The day Haley almost went to live with the animals

I’m going to keep this short, not because we leave for our flight back to Sydney in two hours or anything, but because we got to see animals yesterday at Port Douglas’s amazing Wildlife Habitat. Not only did we get to see animals – we got to cuddle with kangaroos. And as anyone who knows me knows, getting to cuddle with animals is my own personal version of heaven.

So, enjoy these pictures, everyone! Because that’s what 90% of this entry is. I’m still speechless from yesterday.

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Our first little greeter.

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My brother’s new headshot.
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This was Shrek, the adorable male eclectus parrot who followed us on our mini-tour.
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Cassie, the cassowary. Aptly named.
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My brothers and my dad’s girlfriend got to take a picture with this Koala. His name is Samson.
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Some cute tawny frogmouths relaxing.
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A beautiful female eclectus parrot.
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A sweet little rainbow lorikeet.
rainbow lorikeet eating
Yum, yum, yum!
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My little brother’s headshot. I was on fire with those yesterday.
Not sure what species this guy (or girl) is, but they were super cute.
Not sure what species this guy (or girl) is, but they were super cute.

For dinner, we ventured to Bel Cibo in the main stretch of Port Douglas for some fine, Italian-infused fare. I think we had a little too much fun playing Odds Are, but if anything, we provided some entertainment to the bystanders who aren’t as used to people like our rowdy, awesome American family.

If you’re unfamiliar with Odds Are, the game goes like this:

  1. Person A says to Person B, “Odds are you won’t (insert something daring and/or embarrassing).
  2. Person B says a number between 1 and 100 that symbolizes how unwilling they are to do that thing. 1 is the lowest, meaning they would do that regardless, and 100 means that they would rather jump out of a moving can than do that thing.
  3. At the count of 3, both Person A and B say a number between 1 and the number chosen by Person B. If they choose the same number, Person B is on the hook to do the thing they were dared to do. If not, then they’re in the clear.

Take this game on your next trip. You won’t regret it. Actually, you probably will. See you guys tomorrow to recount our first real day in Sydney!

-H

Travel tip: If you’re intent on reducing your packing load, try to find a place to stay with on-site laundry. Assuming you can sure that the laundry facilities work, you can save yourself from a massive amount of packing bulk.

 

Australia, day 2: Under the sea and into the flames

Oh, wow. That’s kind of an intense title, isn’t it? But I actually found it a bit poetic, so I’m keeping it.

As I mentioned yesterday, yesterday’s adventure included some exquisite Great Barrier Reef-ing. Sadly, most of the pictures I took were on one of our newly-purchased disposable underwater cameras, so I tried to capture a few moments on the boat. I DID manage to capture how stunning all of us looked in our snorkeling suits, however, so no regrets there:

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Father and GF Christi photo-ceptioning is us before departure.
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My brothers Bo (23) and Declan (9) getting pumped.
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A sneaky little ocean about to lose its temper.

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I’m conveniently missing from the last picture. 😉

While the water was misleadingly calm in the harbor and just outside it, we ended up traversing through the angriest, choppiest waves we’ve ever experienced to reach the outer reef. I experienced my first ever bout of feeling seasick and ended up in the back of the boat trying to meditate myself out of it for dear life. Rather than throwing up and succumbing to the utter chaos in my stomach, I closed my eyes, curled into a ball, and repeated the same mantra over and over again: “Snuba.” Weird? Yes. But did it distract me from barfing for 90 minutes? Somehow, miraculously, yes.

However, watching a giant sea cucumber being picked up, patting a giant fish named Angus on the head as our guide fed him, and swimming within inches of an adorable sea turtle made the long journey worth it. While the reef waters were a little murky and we weren’t able to visit some of the planned reefs due to weather conditions, we were all still awestruck just to know that we were in the reef at all.

That said, we are aiming to get our disposable pics developed within the next few days. I’ll be sure to update everyone when these are added to this entry. Please forgive me! I’ll make it up to you by showing pictures of our dinner shindig.

For our second adventure of the day, we paid a visit to the dinner extravaganza, Flames of the Forest, situated in an old rainforest clearing just a few minutes from our hotel. It was basically a large, multi-course, family-style meal with interludes of Aboriginal music playing and story-telling. Now, THIS is where the big girl camera finally came out to play. We listened to the calming, foresty sound of the didgeridoo, learned the Aboriginal origin story of the playpus, and…may or may not have tried kangaroo. All in all, it was an experience that definitely seemed to encompass the history and indigenous culture of Northern Queensland. I highly recommend it, though other vegetarians may find themselves eating mostly bread as I did. Hey, for someone like me who loves bread regardless, I’m cool with that.

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My attempt at trying kangaroo…’twas a little steaky. Not that I really eat meat or know anything about meat.
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Dad, Christi, and my little brother’s waning life force.
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Mandatory group pic.

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Our next adventure that we’ll be taking today (remember, it’s currently a Friday morning here in Oz) will be to the wild animal park near our hotel. Since we have only today left in Queensland, we are going to make it count, dang it. Fair warning: the next entry might break the internet with animal cuteness. I am not responsible for any damage done as a result.

-H

Travel tip: Go to the GB reef between June to November for the best visibility and conditions.

 

Australia, day 1: A triathlon of a trek (+ an announcement!)

It’s 5:00 am on a Thursday here in Australia. My body thinks it’s noon on a Wednesday in California and that I should either be at work or devouring buckwheat pancakes at brunch (if only). Alas, here I am, hunched over my brightly lit laptop and likely the only non-beach jogger awake right now at this hotel.

Oh, right. It might be good if I mention what’s going on with the trip in the title. Yes, I will be in Australia for the next nine days! The last time I wrote about traveling was some fourteen months ago and, since then, I’ve been inundating you with hypothetical letters to teenage girls and job search pep talks. What can I say? We’re not known for having a niche market over here at IC. I write what my frantic little mind deems appropriate to write at the time and I cross my fingers that you guys get something out of it each time. Knowing that I have 2 or 3 of you who do just warms my heart, let me tell you.

Now, I’ve experimented with different types of travel blogging in the past – some more review-focused, some more story-focused – but I think the approach I’m going to take this time is going to be much more visual. After all, I have a big-girl camera now. One does not complain about camera crappiness for so long and not buy a new one to take nice pictures with. Especially in freaking Australia. Australia!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a logophile if you’ve ever met one. Words were my first love and I want to write hundreds of them on pages all the time. But I’m learning that so much can be said with so little. I will likely put a funny/interesting story or two in each entry, along with a few travel tips, but I’m really hoping that you get a new desktop background out of one of my entries. I’ll try to blog every single day, though it’ll always be 14-17 hours ahead of you stateside homies. Yes, I’ll be writing to you…from the future!!!!

Anyways, since today was our first day in Port Douglas, Queensland, and the five of us (my dad, my dad’s girlfriend, my two brothers, and I who are on this trip together) are the real-life embodiment of the walking dead, we didn’t go crazy today. Sadly, the big-girl camera was too tired to come out, so these are pretty Snapchat-esque. As in, directly from Snapchat (with some ethical saturation editing to match what my little eyes actually saw, of course). Voila:

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We found a tiny blue jellyfish on the beach in Port Douglas. He was too cute, even if he wasn’t with us anymore. Is that disrespectful?
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Sorry in advance for keeping the geotag intact.
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The beach near our hotel, the Pullman Resort, in Port Douglas.

I didn’t eat dinner last night, because I figured I had begun my day with Ruffles and ended it with french fries and that I’d be good. A mistake was made there. I’m about to eat my lampshade.

Up ahead in just a few hours: snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef (yeah, I never thought I’d say that in my life. Ever). Hopefully, tomorrow’s entry will NOT put you to sleep like this one might have.

Speaking of sleep, before I go catch, like, 30 more minutes of it, I have a special announcement. I am starting a new blog! It will be called Building Your Bold and will be focused on helping women (or anyone, really) find confidence in their twenties and beyond. I know that confidence has been my biggest issue for the majority of my life and the world we live in doesn’t make it any easier on me (or, rather, us). We tend to think these issues will subside after teenagedom, but we are more often than not sorrrrrely mistaken about that. Since I know many of you feel the same way, I think it’s time that we have a safe space specifically to deal with and talk about this issue. I hope to launch the site by the end of the month, so I’ll keep you posted! Yay for building confidence!

That said, IC will, of course, continue in full swing, but I might be narrowing my niche back down to experience/lifestyle/travel blogging. My goal is to try to return to my roots by focusing on local (as in, LA area) adventures as well as outside travel, but we will see how that works out (don’t you love how sure I sound??). In addition, I will try and post at least once a week consistently on here from now on. Yay for goals!

Until tomorrow (er, 15ish hours from now), my cornsnakes! If you’re stateside, have a fantastic rest of your day. You’re in for a treat tomorrow.

-H

Travel tip: For long flights, pack a small, easy-to-access bag in your carry-on with a toothbrush, a razor, deodorant, face wipes, moisturizer, a hairbrush/comb, and a change of at least some of your clothes (I like to do a new shirt, new underwear, and new socks). You won’t just look way more fabulous, you’ll feel a lot better. Go on, girl (or boy, or however you identify)!

Why do we hide our struggle?

You got to work this morning and, for some reason, could do nothing but stare at your screen for the first five minutes of your workday. You then went up to grab some coffee from the other room, but when you got back to your desk, you felt only marginally better. Slowly, but surely, you’re reaching a point of indifferent numbness. Every problem in your life – your father’s sickness, your mounting credit card debt, your failing relationship, and whatever else there may be – came crashing down on you last night as you tried to sleep. But now, searing mental anguish has melted into a calm indifference.

Why? Because you’re forcing it to.

“You okay?” a coworker asks as she peeps into your cube. She may or may not be legitimately concerned about your well-being, but you’re not going to dignify her question with a proper answer anyway. To do so, you believe, would be inappropriate.

“Oh yeah, I’m good,” you answer. It’s always some variant of that. “Fine” is another common one. It’s never the opposite.

And so, it’s back to work you go.

We are expected to not only hide our emotions, but prevent them from slowing us down or affecting our daily obligations in any way. Displaying emotion is a sign of over-vulnerability and acting on them is a sign of brashness, they say. We are to never cry in public. We have to “act normal” around people we meet for the first time, even if we are having the worst day (nay, year) of our lives. We are never, under any circumstances, allowed to admit that we are taking a day off of work due to anxiety or depression. Such acts exemplify weakness, or at least that is the position our society has taken.

Is this real weakness, though?

The best connections I have are with those whom I’ve seen at the bottom of the abyss. Those who have laid their hot, tear-stained cheeks against mine. Those who have just been embarrassed in front of a huge crowd during a presentation. Those who I’ve seen reading a text message and promptly throwing their phone against a wall after witnessing a partner’s textual indiscretions. Those who have had to swallow and stutter in between every word to tell me a story about their past. Their struggle wasn’t concealed – it was on display for me to see, absorb, and practically experience second-hand.

To me, completing or witnessing these acts means that you’ve reached the pinnacle of human connection with someone: exposure of the raw self. If someone is willing to show you their innermost thoughts in action, it is very likely that you are one of the most important people in their life. It takes more bravery to convey this self to someone than to do almost anything else on an emotional level.

Of course, I fully understand that there is a time and place to express certain emotions, and that there are definitely times where the intensity of the expression can afford to be dialed down a bit. But I’m one of the crazy ones who prefers a world where authenticity trumps all. Am I alone in this? I would love to hear what my readers think about this subject. Let’s come up with a good discussion in the comments below!

Can’t wait to hear from you,

-H

So, this is what meeting your birth mom for the first time feels like.

For those of you who AREN’T adopted, do me a favor.

If you live with your parents, or if you’re in the vicinity of one or both of them, take a look at them as soon as you can. A good, hard look. Take note of their features: your dad’s prominent, aquiline nose, your mother’s frail wrists, or the fiery red tendrils sprouting from one of their heads (if applicable, of course). Maybe you notice that you inherited your height from your dad’s side, as can be visibly seen in your exceptionally tall father and uncles. Or, perhaps you notice that the curve of your mom’s upper lip matches yours perfectly. You’ve probably never noticed these things before, and even if you did, you’ve probably never had an inner dialogue about them. You came from your parents, you carry their DNA, and your phenotype is the physical expression of that DNA. Ergo, you resemble them.

*reader looks at me puzzled, wondering why I’m asking them to create such a mundane scenario in their head*

Okay, I suppose that this exercise is just one example that represents the curiosity – and strange preoccupations – exclusive to adoptees.

Y’see, I’ve known that I was adopted since I had the most remote level of cognition. Since I was also adopted right at birth, it was never really a question in my mind that my “adopted” parents were, quite simply, my parents. Yet as I grew up, I began to wonder, as most adoptees probably do, about my genetic origins. And so, after 26-and-some-change years of being a practicing human, I ventured to Minneapolis with my mother to meet my birthmother in person for the first time. Well, since my birth, of course.

Before I go on, though, I should probably back up a bit and explain (to the best of my knowledge) how we got here exactly. Shall we?

Adventures in Adoption

The year was 1989, though shortly before Taylor Swift was born, I imagine. My parents were hard-working Southern California yuppies in their early/mid-thirties looking to adopt a daughter. So, they hired an uber-experienced adoption lawyer, David Keane Leavitt, to assist them.

(Insert would-be picture of parents posing with classic ’80s hair. Oh, if only I could find the one picture I’m thinking of. Pure gold.)

Now, bear in mind that the adoption process can take months or years from start to finish. Between submitting an application, getting in touch with a lawyer/agency, finding a birthmother/birthparents, conducting interviews, and eventually finding a perfect match, it’s a rough trade for the impatient. However, my birth mom and birth parents were miraculously connected within a matter of weeks. Even better, all parties involved knew immediately: this was gonna be it.

My parents helped my birth mom out throughout her pregnancy. A Minnesota native, she had just moved to the Los Angeles area for a teaching job, so it was convenient enough for my parents to periodically commute from San Diego to check in. When I was born, I was immediately placed in the care of my parents. They have a 22-minute long video of my mom holding a newborn me (yes, that’s all that’s happening in the video, lol @ new parent things), perhaps just to prove to themselves that, holy crap, they really, truly had me!

After a six-month “probationary” period (yep, that’s actually what it’s called), my parents were able to officially call me theirs and raise me as an O’Bryan.

The Most Normal Thing About Me

I hear stories about kids not being told that they’re adopted until they’re 13, 16, or even fully grown, which typically prompts a “LOL WUT?!?!” response from me. As I stated earlier, I’ve known that I was adopted since the beginning of my memory log. I suppose that’s why it was never really a big deal for me. (Note: if this is how you choose to do it with your adopted kids, I have nothing against that – it’s just so different from the way that I grew up!)

My birth mom would dutifully send me a letter every year on my birthday, as she still does today. However, my parents and I had a firm understanding that I was not to read her letters or look into my “adoption paraphernalia chest” (a Barney-colored chest containing effects from my adoption ranging from my birth certificate to adoption questionnaires to my parents’ rather bare legal pad containing name options for me. Spoiler alert: there were only two legitimate ones – Betsy and Haley) until I was 18. This was a perfectly fine arrangement for me.

And yet, although being adopted had never bothered me, per se, it eventually became difficult to let go of my growing curiosity – especially as I got closer to adult age, when I could moderate my contact with my birth mom independently. And because Young Haley wasn’t exactly known for following the rules, I may have pulled a look-my-birth-mom’s-info-up-on-the-internet-and-email-her-out-of-the-blue at age 17, several months shy before the big 1-8. Whoops.

Pandora’s (or rather, Haley’s) Box is Opened

Though my birth mom and I were only able to communicate a little before my parents pumped the breaks and told me to follow the original protocol, it felt like no time passed before my 18th birthday arrived and I was free to communicate with my birth mom as I pleased. We exchanged letters and e-mails a few times a year. We eventually added each other on Facebook. We learned quite a bit about each others’ lives. Although it was different than the situation I grew up with, it eventually became the “new normal”.

But eventually, it became clear to me that my relationship with my birth mom wouldn’t be complete without the ultimate milestone: a meeting. I tiptoed around the idea in college, but even with my incredibly supportive parents insisting that they would accompany me on a trip to meet her, it never felt like the right time. Or, more accurately, I felt very caught up in my own college world – friends, boyfriends, school clubs, and, most niggling of all, picking a major that wouldn’t send me into the pits of financial despair (aka, convincing myself that my lifelong dream of being an artist and writer was unfeasible due to my need for survival). After college, my focus then became finding a way back onto the very path I worked so hard to convince myself I didn’t want to be on. It was only after I found my most recent job that I felt stable enough to go, “Let’s do this.”

And so, in October of 2015, I came to my mother, eager to see what her response would be:

“Do you want to come with me to meet my birth mom?”

“I always told you I would do this for you. Let’s make it happen.”

A Tale of Twin Cities

The trip got booked the very same day I brought it up; such is the outcome when dealing with people who are as fastidious about planning as my mom and I. But strangely enough, it barely felt like a real thing that was actually happening. That is, until about a week before I left. It was then that things went from zero-to-sixty fast – real fast.

I wavered between wanting to stay in my room for days at a time and reaching out to everyone with even remote hearing capabilities for advice. I stress-ate one day, then barely ate the next. I showed my newish relationship partner a whole new level of drama beyond the one he was well aware of (I don’t hold much back). I cried on the phone with my mom, then would go to dinner with my dad and be fine. It was happening. Holy crap, it was really happening.

The nerves in my body undulated with anticipation and downright fear as I stepped on the plane the morning of Thursday, March 31st. I was contained in a lucid dream bubble, halfway detached from reality. Every action I completed, from taking my shoes off in the airport security line to ordering a drink on the airplane, felt mechanical and artificial. It had been a while since I truly felt that way, so I knew that I was experiencing quite an emotional response if I was in this type of fugue.

My mom and I arrived on Thursday evening and spent the next 24 hours enjoying Minneapolis. Even while eating at incredible restaurants and visiting the highly-anticipated Walker Museum, I couldn’t get my mind right. My mind was abuzz.

What if things are totally different in person? What if someone says something and it becomes awkward? What if she hates me? I probably didn’t turn out anything like she expected. What if I do something stupid? What if someone cries? Do I have to cry? HOW DO I DO THIS?!?

These tidbits scratch the surface, but you get the idea.

We were meeting at 6:00 pm on Friday. But this was no April Fool’s joke: this was happening.

My Mom and I arrived at the Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant – an elegant dining space with a lovely view of the Mississippi River – a touch early, as we do. We sat down, with me facing the river and away from the doorway. I placed my napkin on my lap. I ordered a water, my voice quavering a bit. I had to be ready.

My mom and I made naturally-flowing small talk about the day to keep ourselves in a casual mindset. It wasn’t ten minutes before my mom’s face lit up. It was my birth mom. She had walked in.

My birth mom was beautiful, vibrant, and incredibly fashionable when she presented herself to me – much like my own mom. I gave her a warm hug and she sat down, holding my mom’s hand and letting her know how nice it was to see her after 26 years.

All of a sudden, it was as if the nervousness and painful anticipation were absent. It was no longer a waiting game. This wasn’t something to fear. The meeting had happened and it had felt as natural as seeing an old friend. There were no hysterics, no tears, and there was no awkwardness. Just people connecting.

Our dinner lasted more than four hours. At the end of it, we (of course) took a picture, which I will happily provide here:

girl with mom and birth mom
My birth mom is on the left (my right) and my mom is the blonde lady. I see resemblance with both. Pretty crazy.

It had finally happened, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

The next day, my mom and I went to lunch with my birth mom, her husband and kids, and my birth mom’s sister and her husband and daughter. After that, my mom took some “me time” and I continued on with the group for a day of museum-touring, delicious food-eating, and, of course, Snapchat face-swapping. We eventually made our way over to my birth mom’s parents’ house. As insane as it seems to meet your “birth family” for the first time, it really felt so normal.

I know that readers, both adoptees and non-adoptees, are probably a bit shocked by my virtual nonchalance here. Don’t get me wrong, it was a trip (pun intended). Like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, even being in the same room as people who shared my genetic material was an out-of-this-world experience for me, as I had never, ever experienced that before. But I truly felt comfortable, and this leads me to believe that I made an excellent choice in meeting everyone even more.

The Aftermath and Future with my Birth Mom

I returned home early on Sunday, April 3rd. While I did not come back an entirely new woman, I definitely came back knowing so much more. Not simply about my family – though they were a joy to learn about – but about myself as well. I learned how to handle something big like that (there’s room for improvement). I learned that I do best when I am simply myself. I learned that I can feel incredibly close to people who are genuinely interested in the things I do and who I am. I cannot repeat this enough: I am so happy I went on this trip.

As for what the future holds, I imagine my birth mom and I will keep a similar level of contact that we’ve been having these past few years – several e-mails and letters a year – and maybe add in a phone call here and there. Moreover, I absolutely plan to see her again. Having individuals who add to my life – and to whose lives I can add – is the greatest experience of this lifetime.

Are you an adoptee? Have you met your birthparent(s)? If not, are you thinking about it? Whether you’re an adoptee or just a curious reader, feel free to leave me a comment below with your thoughts or questions!

 

Author’s note: I realized after I had written this that I had neglected to mention anything about my birth dad in the post. No, I was not asexually reproduced from my birth mom (lol), it’s just that my birth dad decided from the get-go that he did not want to be involved in my life post-adoption. This is TOTALLY fine, because I feel so thankful and overjoyed to have the family I have, including the new relationship I have with my birth mom. I do not have any intention to communicate with my birth dad or meet him unless he reaches out to me first, and I am honestly completely okay with that.

What I want my little brother to know about life

As of fifteen days ago, I am twenty-six years old. I act like I’m approximately three much of the time. Thus, as I walk hand-in-hand with my little brother across a street, swinging my arms and singing any number of the weird songs we have written together, any thought by passersby that I might be mature enough to be his mother is immediately squelched when they see how I’m actually acting.

Despite our vast age difference, this little ball of energy (and occasionally, terror) and I have a lot in common. We both love video games, we’re both noticeably taller than most people in our respective age groups, and we both have a fastidiously-maintained collection of shoes. Well, okay – he takes way better care of his shoes than I do. And he probably has more than I do at this point, too.

Being the older sister to him along with five additional younger siblings has conditioned me to be a special kind of worry wart. You want your younger siblings to have fun, but not too much fun. You want them to do well in school. You want them to never, ever text and drive. You want to serve as an example to them, but you don’t want them to get any ideas from the stuff that you got away with doing (and believe me, I got away with a LOT). Even if you yourself would totally do it all over again if you knew you wouldn’t get in trouble. Yes, it’s complicated and it’s freaking difficult beyond belief at times. And that’s just the beginning.

Most of my siblings are grown adults now. At this point, I feel confident that my siblings are aware of the world around them. They’re aware of modern socioeconomic phenomena like the financial crisis, technological trends, and how social media has changed the world. They know that this is not the world our parents grew up in. My littlest brother, however, is just breaking into this world and is hardly aware of anything beyond his own bubble at this point. He has a lot to learn, and not all of it’s going to be comforting.

Mankind has made amazing feats in the fields of science and technology, but human beings are less connected than ever. Competition in job markets is fierce and wages have only marginally increased to keep pace with the rising cost of living. As my little brother reaches adulthood, I worry. The ubiquity of the Internet has allowed access to an amazing breadth of knowledge but also bombards us with images of mindless, sensational news chatter, Donald Trump, and the Kardashians. As a result, I feel an obligation to give my brother a heads up on what’s to come – and to be the best sister I can be.

kid on snapchat
Snapchat: an app my dad will forever regret downloading onto his phone.

I’m probably not the perfect example for my brother to follow. I was a pretty dramatic child. I was a rebellious teen. I had, like, twelve different majors in college (which was not cheap) and out of pressure, I chose the most ill-suited one for me because – surprise! – that’s where the jobs were. I worked my butt off to get a great job out of college that I ended up loathing. To add insult to injury, I want to be a writer now, for crying out loud. I’m virtually a parent’s worst nightmare.

But after going through many years of school, finding my old job, going through my old job, quitting my old job, finding my new one, and now having the time to pursue what I love, I know a thing or two that I can share. Moreover, I’m finally starting to get a sense of myself back. I finally feel happy. I finally feel like I’m living.

So, in the midst of the often-scary stuff that this world will throw at him, here’s what I want my brother to take away from all of this:

There are going to be a lot of pressures to be someone else, or do something else, especially after middle and high school start. I want you to know that, sadly, that pressure doesn’t end, and if you let it get out of hand, even you start to turn against yourself. But you can’t let that part of you win. You have to keep going. You have to be who you were meant to be.

little boy in drag
If you want to be a lipstick zombie, be the best dang lipstick zombie you can be.

Now, on that note, it’s not always easy to “find yourself.” It’s not always easy to know right away what you’re interested in, whether that’s for hobby or job purposes. Take your time and remember that understanding these seemingly simple things about yourself takes years. Whatever you do, pick your future job because you want to do it – not because Dad, Mom, your friends, or I want you to do it.

One of the ways that you figure out who you are (or what you want to do) is by putting yourself out of your comfort zone. This means traveling, getting an education, and, yes, talking to scary old successful people. Or even just other people in general. Occasionally this means doing karaoke at a company party and crowdsurfing halfway through it. Just make sure the song isn’t “Freak-a-Leek” by Petey Pablo and we’re all good. (Oh, wait, I shouldn’t have introduced you to that song yet. Forget I said that!)

kid in ninja outfit
Putting yourself in this outfit counts, too.

Friends will come and go and that is okay. The friends that enrich your life and encourage you to be the best you can be will always be there, even if you occasionally lose contact. It’s not always easy to tell who your “true” friends are, but the truth is eventually revealed. I want you to nurture your true friendships, especially since the number of people you can call a “friend” dwindles as you get older. That’s okay, though. You don’t need 100 million friends. Having a lot of friends is like having a second job – it’s exhausting. What you need is an all-star team who loves and supports you and for whom you do the same.

Material things are really not as cool as you think they are right now (yes, shoes included). Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with owning material things and occasionally buying new ones. But they don’t represent you. Material things break, become obsolete, or fall out of fashion. The experiences that you will have in life will stay with you forever and will shape you as a person.

boy with baseball
The ball won’t last forever, but the fact that you caught it will.

Your health and physical ability are some of your most precious assets and taking care of your body will let you live a more fun and comfortable life as you get older. No matter what, nobody is invincible, including you. Take care of your body and your health.

Mom and Dad are going to be super, duper annoying at times. You’re probably going to want to run away, and you may even make it onto the next bus outta there once. But everything they do for you is out of love and a desire for you to be happy and successful. Ask me or any of your other siblings. I wanted to become a ward of the state when Dad told me I couldn’t wear makeup or have my computer for a week one time. He’s now one of my best friends. As siblings, we will be less annoying, but we still love you more than anything and, as such, will occasionally be pretty annoying, too. Be prepared for that.

A partial crew for father’s day last year: my 21-year-old brother, my 15-year-old sister, me, my dad, and my little brother’s gigantic mouth.
A partial crew for father’s day last year: my 21-year-old brother, my 15-year-old sister, me, my dad, and my little brother’s gigantic mouth.

I’ll talk to you about “like-liking people” when you’re ready. Thinking of you going through the trials and tribulations of the romantic world is giving me forehead wrinkles – and I DO NOT need to add anymore of those yet, please. Let’s table that for later.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything I want to tell my brother. I will be that sister who gives earfuls of unwarranted advice to my brother while his eyes roll so hard they disappear into the back of his head. I will have nightmares when he decides he wants to go on a trek through the Gobi desert (even though I’ll probably end up joining him because holy crap I want to do this). If he finds himself in a serious bind, I will drop everything I’m doing and help as much as I can, just as I would for any of my other siblings.

These days, I often tell him that I want him to “go through life actually living”, to which he shrugs his shoulders a bit and asks me if I want to go play soccer or watch a movie with him. I almost always say yes, because his asking me if I want to play with him is the only answer I need in return. I have no idea what life has in store for my brother, but he’s got a family that will be there for him every step of the way and is already a strong, determined young person in his own rite. Someday he’ll realize that those facts about him are even cooler than the new Nikes he’s rocking today. But I’ll be patient – that might be a while.

On confidence and over-worrying

“I’m dropping out of school,” I told Adrienne.

“Uh…no you’re not.” A firm response from one of my dearest friends came back to me.

I was sitting on a wooden bench in ASU’s business building. Despite the deluge of students pouring out of their respective classrooms to head to their next obligation, I was crying, as I customarily do whenever any more-than-minor blow comes up (people who know me: sorry). But this was a long, continuous cry – a sure-fire sign that I was having a more grave difficulty with my life at that moment than usual.

I was sitting at a solid 3.6 GPA for my Master’s degree. I had passed 3 of the 4 sections of the CPA exam. I was the president of my business fraternity and ostensibly doing a fantastic job – we had earned a community service award, drastically increased our membership and attendance, and had finally elevated ourselves to the level of Nationally Distinguished Chapter. I had put hundreds of hours into volunteering for my community and had changed lives in the process. I had had a job lined up at a top accounting firm for months. I had built friendships with my college friends that would prove to be rewarding and life-affirming.

So…why exactly was I crying? Because I failed a test. One. Freaking. Test. It had been for a class I hated that I felt was thoroughly inconsequential to my long-term career goals. But it didn’t matter, because in my mind…

If I failed the test, I would probably fail the class (which was probable, had I not taken steps to ameliorate my grade). If I failed the class, I would fail my degree (which is true). If I failed my degree, I would lose my job offer. If I lost my job offer, I would go back to being a nobody with no job. And if that happened, well…I might as well be the most useless human being in the world, right? And all of the great things I had done would be overshadowed by this one measly indiscretion, right?

It seems completely irrational and stupid that I went down this mental path. And, to be frank with my 22/23-year-old self, it was, honey. It was. But it’s a perfect example I can use to illustrate just how crippling and debilitating my lack of confidence can be.

Of course, things have improved since then. At nearly 26, I no longer think that my world will detonate if I “fail” a work assignment/task (since school doesn’t apply here anymore). I can analyze things a little more rationally and I cry a little less often. But I still have my moments.

Sometimes my confidence is like an overheated engine running way too many RPMs too fast and I’m bordering on arrogance with how good I feel about myself. Other times, I struggle to pick out one positive attribute about myself and I let myself downward-spiral into a pit of harrowing despair. For instance, when I start to care about someone from a romantic perspective, my confidence levels go especially berserk. My mind is nothing but an endless feed of “doubt snippets”, or questions and comments that continuously flow through my stream of consciousness and prevent me from acting like a normal human being. So if I like someone, my brain is tapping away at my mind-door going How do I keep this person? At the same time, how do I be myself? What does “being myself” mean anyway? I’m kind of crazy, but in a good way, like it’s funny…I think? Am I actually funny? Am I enjoyable to be around at all? I feel like I’m ugly. But this person says I’m pretty. Am I pretty, though? They could totally be lying! Are they lying? What else are they lying about when they say nice things? Oh God, I’m starting to feel like I want this person to be my..you know…BOYFRIEND soon. Should I feel this way already? Should I feel that other way instead? How should I act? Do I act interested? Do I have the right to care about x or y? And so on and so forth.

All the while, I accidentally end up being myself – open, wacky, and emotionally vulnerable, that is. And traditionally, the people who choose to boo me up tend to be the people who are okay with open, wacky, and emotionally vulnerable. And when things ended, it generally wasn’t because of who I am a person, but because of things totally unrelated. Which, you know, is pretty common among people, the super-awesome and confident included.

Still, it’s not fun to deal with those negative thoughts while I’m trying to do something positive. I want to start going into situations and minimizing those thoughts as much as possible. Whether it’s for a new job in the future, a pole competition, or a love interest, I want to be confident in who I am and know that things will play out for the best. I might get that job – if I don’t, there’s a better one around the corner. I might win that competition – if I don’t, I walk away learning what not to do in the future. I might snag the guy I stan for, and if I don’t, he wasn’t the one for me anyway.

Things, generally speaking, happen the way they are supposed to happen.

I want to be confident. I want to worry less. I have already spent countless hour hypothesizing why I don’t feel confident and why I worry at times, but I’m at the point where I’m just trying to improve with regards to these matters.

And as lazy as it sounds, I think the best thing I can do is just let life happen.

-H

On choosing art over STEM

When I use Twitter for the powers of good over evil–“evil” meaning Beyonce gif retweets and personal rants about sexism when I should be working– I stumble upon some extremely useful and scarily-pertinent-to-my-own-life articles. The most recent one that caught me off guard something fierce was this one from Femsplain, which discusses a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time: am I contributing enough if I choose a creative career over a more science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM)-focused one?

You readers are scoffing at me right now. “Haley, are you serious? Mozart, Picasso, and Meryl Streep are all artists and have made some of the greatest contributions to the world ever through their art. Whatchu smokin’?”–and I get it. Of course artists have always been, and will continue to be, vital to society and the human experience. Of course these people (and many others) have changed the world through their art.

But here’s the thing.

Creativity, as a person who I currently admire put it, is not something that can be forced and is not something that is ever-flowing. Creativity isn’t there 8 hours a day turning a profit. And even when it strikes, it is not always striking gold. One can create continuously and may still never have their creations seen. Or, they may be seen by a few people, but not many. Even even if they are seen, they may not help the creator live by making them money. Oftentimes, art’s impact is determined by the random placement of the right eyes on it. Art that is just as meaningful or impactful can be overlooked simply because it wasn’t provided with this privilege.

Conversely, in a world that is pushing for STEM jobs to be taken, one can find oneself building products or infrastructure that dramatically change their community or the world. That same person might be managing millions of dollars in people and stakes. They may be making millions of dollars a year because of this. They will be seen as an innovator because their “creations”–however uncreative–have a lasting, functional impact. They will be seen as useful because there are figures tied to their name.

This begs the question: is life about making an impact on as many people as possible? Or is it about doing something–anything–that impacts at least ONE person in a positive way?

Though my path is a series of awkwardly-placed stepping stones towards a creative life, I like to think that I have chosen the life of an artist nonetheless. My accolades, my income, and my recognition will not be guaranteed once I officially strike out on my own. But when that time comes, I’m willing to give it a shot anyway. I take care of myself well enough to afford a roof over my head, groceries, and–okay–new pole gear from time to time. But I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m willing to risk some of that, even if I impact just one of you.

How do we feel about this? For those of us who STEM doesn’t sing to, do you sometimes get scared or intimidated? Is it worth it to risk everything to live the life you love, regardless of what it is that you love?

-H.