Coffee with Mimi: Strength comes from all different faces

Published 1:00 pm Monday, February 27, 2017

By Mimi Becker

Contributing writer

My children have many traits in common.  They are intelligent, hard-working, independent thinkers. They speak their minds and then get over it eventually.  They all pretty much like to cook, enjoy experiencing new ideas and exploring different interests. They get along relatively well with each other and, as often as possible given careers and such, spend time together with the old folks. 

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I’d like to think my husband and I had something to do with how they turned out to this point in adulthood.  People often tell us they can see common family traits among them and us.  Though mostly, it seems, they favor my husband’s features and look remarkably like his side of the family.  My husband was adopted and, until just a few years ago, we didn’t know what his birth parents looked like.

Through a series of events, we became acquainted with his biological family.  With the sharing of family photos and papers, a group picture of my husband’s immediate family came to us.  It was the only known photo of his natural mother, father and siblings all together.  The family had what could accurately be called a difficult life.  The background in the picture was noticeably dingy.

The picture wasn’t a “Life” magazine photo op.  No one was focused in the same direction.  Some looked as though they had been forced into the scene, including the father.  But, there was his mom in the middle attempting to hold onto the most rambunctious of the children. 

At this point in her life she had six children all between the ages of one and seven, I think.  There was a set of twins.  If I have done the math correctly, she was 23 at the time of this family gathering.  It could possibly be the last, or only, time they were all pictured together.  It has never been completely clear what occasion resulted in that single photograph.

Not long after this picture was taken, the children all were put in the care of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Louisville.  The parents split up and, at varying times, the children were parceled out to foster parents, distant relatives and residential group homes.

That picture of his young mom is startling.  As often as I have looked at the full photo, I most often focus on his mom.  Despite the circumstances of her young life, she was lovely.  My middle child, our oldest daughter, looks exactly like her.  I can’t escape that old picture in my mind.

Thankfully, my husband was fostered out at the age of three to the wonderful family who eventually adopted him when he was 12.  That foster family became my family and the grandparents of our children.  My husband’s parents offered him and our children opportunities and experiences which would have been unthinkable to the family in that old photo. The wheels were grinding in a fruitless direction so early in their lives.

As I look at that picture and see my child’s face in that beautiful young woman’s face, I think how life turns on a dime.

Over my life I have been so privileged to follow in footsteps which have been inspirational and safe.  The path was pretty clear.  There will always be difficult times, but we are still on that path and there are trail guides in front.

What was in the mind of that 23 year old woman with six children and a terrible marriage?  There is evidence that the family lived in a structure with a dirt floor.  How did she see a path?

There are those among us who would consider her to be a failure as a mother and her children destined to be just the next generation of poor, pitiful, helpless beings.  Many would not forgive her for the decisions she made, before, during and after the day of that picture.  Many would be judgmental without ever meeting her.  She would be just another stereotype, a statistic which proves their point.

I look at my young adult daughters.  There are obvious examples of strong women in their family; the familiar grandmothers, amazing aunts and in-laws.  But I also want them to consider that strength comes with different faces, sometimes each of which is worthy of being seen.