Who I Was

Connection has always been something I’ve craved. Maybe it’s because the first 7.5 months of my life (I was a preemie) were spent sharing a womb with two others. Being separated and “air lifted” out (via c-section) was a harsh and somewhat unwelcome introduction to my life “on the outside”. My brothers and I were then each isolated in incubators for at least our first few months, quite literally separated from each other and anyone else. Our parents could only touch us with two fingers of a gloved hand while enclosed in that space, until we were deemed viable to survive on our own and finally able to be taken home.

That said, I guess it’s not such a unique phenomenon, this desire to feel connected to others. After all, every one of us starts out our existence as part of a whole—originating from two people, literally fusing as one—then growing our humanity while encapsulated within someone else’s being. At first, we cannot be without them. While most of us are (seemingly) isolated from the world while in the womb, we are in actuality tethered to another—at least until the cord is cut and we are officially ushered into the world. The price we pay for full-status citizenry of this world is that we can now no longer “be” with them—we must enter it alone. It’s no wonder then that so many of us spend our lives seeking to recreate that bond by seeking it with one another—in constant search for a reprisal of that first closeness.

my brothers and I in our groovy triple stroller
my brothers and I in our groovy triple stroller

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an interesting relationship with the concepts of connection as well as with independence as the result of being a multiple. A little context. For most of my childhood, I was known not as a unique individual of my own, but as part of a trio—my brothers and I were known and referred to collectively as “the triplets”. In some ways this bit of extra attention probably made us feel special, but it never really felt like it was as special as it was cracked up to be. It always felt a bit like a facade. It just felt…normal—it was the only lived sibling experience we had ever known.

Triplets dressed up as "three peas in a pod", a costume made by my grandmother
Triplets dressed up as “three peas in a pod”, a costume made by my grandmother

While it was nice from time to time to be known as part of a whole, and something “unique” and “different”, having others’ understanding of me start, and frequently end, with my relation to my siblings inevitably left ME as an individual feeling largely glazed over and unknown. Further, others always seemed to assume that my brothers and I must be exceptionally close—certainly much more so than “ordinary” siblings—but the truth that we were really just about as close as any other siblings honestly felt more isolating. I believe we mostly kept that fact to ourselves.

Food ShoppingAs much as I loved my brothers, I always had a nagging sense that I’d also wanted to have a sister. She didn’t need to be a twin or triplet even! My childhood-self would have been perfectly happy with an older sister to bond with and look up to. It didn’t always feel fair that my two brothers had each other to play around with and do all the “boy” things—I always felt like the third wheel just tagging along at their friends’ houses (although I did love most of the activities we would do, I just knew that my status in the group was viewed as somewhat less-then since these really weren’t things I was “supposed” to be doing). At the end of the day, as much as I wished it wasn’t so, the kids we hung out with were really viewed as “their” friends, while in my mind I always hoped that they would see me as an equal. I’m not sure that’s something little boys and girls are good at.

Chica Chica Boom BoomFortunately for me, we had a group of cousins who were close in age and lived not very far away. My Dad had always been very resolute about the value of knowing and remaining close with one’s extended family. He and his brothers were three peas in a pod, so we got to spend a lot of time with our one uncle’s kids in particular. They were three girls. One was slightly less than a year older than us, one was a few years younger, and the other a few years older. In my mind, these were my secondary sisters. Even so, all six of us would play together (except when the oldest cousin would sometimes venture out on her own), and when our weirdness joined forces, our fun times were unstoppable. Interestingly enough, the two youngest of the three sisters were exceptionally close. They were so similar in their freakish (and hilarious) abilities, almost being able to speak their own funny language! In seeing the two of them together, I would often marvel at the idea that that’s how WE were supposed to be. Weren’t we? I mean we’re the ones who shared a womb, after all!

The HouseEach summer, that side of the family would get together for a massive family reunion in upstate New York, on either the first or second weekend in August. The family house we would descend upon like locusts had originally been a bed and breakfast, owned by my great grandmother Dora. She had saved up and bought the twelve-bedroom house in 1944. She was a remarkable women. Eventually, the house was used less and less as a bed and breakfast and more and more as a convening place for the ever-growing family, which was spreading itself all across the country with the exception of that one weekend per year. By the time my brothers and I joined the mix, the house was almost exclusively for family use (with the occasional Russian Jew houseguest, one of whom urinated on one of the couch cushions, now forever known to “the cousins” as the “Basha couch”). I’m sure I could write a second blog just on stories like that. I distinctly remember that whenever we had a houseguest, my cousins and I had to be extra quiet as we went about our shenanigans.

Tree FortIt wasn’t long before that house and town became the center of my universe and my favorite place to be. We built tree forts, went on “secret spot” excursions in the woods (probably only about 500 feet away from the yard, in retrospect), all while singing along to our tape recorder’s soundtrack of the Lion King. It was a place of family, a place that came to symbolize belonging to me (something else I could write a book about given a number of powerfully tragic experiences in my childhood).

Dora & Grandkids
My Grandma Dora and grandchildren at the family house

My paternal grandmother, with whom I was very close, and her mother before her, would constantly remind us of the importance of valuing family, of knowing each other, and paying respect to our history. Ours had been a family of Jews, many of whom perished overseas in the holocaust. Times
when we could all be together were sacrosanct to me, and I felt so proud that I knew and had strong relationships with my 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th cousins—quite the extended family! As I got older, I also became very interested in our family’s genealogy, migration to America, and the stories of our ancestors. It helped me feel even more firmly rooted in something, and knowledgeable about who I, in turn, was—through knowing who they were. I was the offspring of survivors. As my grandmother would say as we embarked upon a big meal (one of our family’s favorite pass time activities), “The tried to kill us. They didn’t. Let’s eat!”

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to learn that I eventually created an ancestry.com account to better track the lineage of both sides of my family and try to find out as much as I could about my family tree members’ individual stories (pulling up various historical documents related to various family members, such as immigration paperwork, draft cards, marriage certificates, census data, and the like). I had gotten pretty far along in this endeavor when, while taking a facebook break, I noticed a friend’s status about having recently taken an AncestryDNA genetic test that provided him with the regional breakdown of his ancestry. Turns out he was about 2% Asian (mind you, this was a very, very average looking white dude), on top of the regional breakdowns he expected. I had heard of other people having similar results—finding out that they were a slight smidgen of something they never expected. I thought to myself—“How cool is that?? What if I’m part something really cool, too?!”, and decided that I just had to find out for myself.

I knew I wasn’t likely in for any surprises, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up too high. Growing up, I had always been proud of what a mutt I was. Whenever the question of my ancestry came up, I would always quickly dive in and rattle off the same old list “English, Irish, Scottish, French, French Canadian, Russian, Polish, Austrian, German”—enumerated with gusto. (When I was younger and didn’t understand how genetics worked, I used to include Israeli in that list, since I knew we had cousins in Israel. My Dad shot that one down pretty quick. “Sorry buddy but…that’s not how that works”.) My Mom’s side of the family’s history was somewhat known, but not anywhere near as well fleshed out. Her side was comprised of the western European countries, whereas my Dad’s was the eastern European contingency.

Most of what is known on my Dad’s side was researched by his cousin, Richie, in addition to some lighter research conducted by one of my brothers and I. Merely the idea that I could further progress my knowledge of my Mom’s side of the family and possibly find out that I could add another cool country or two to my mutt-list were enough to get me on board. Plus, since most of these genetic testing sites have a feature where you can see which other users are genetic matches to you, I figured that I might even be able to make connections and establish new relationships on my Mom’s side as well—long-lost cousins who might even live close by!

So, I did a little homework and decided to order a test through Ancestry.com. I knew that if I went that route, I’d be able to transfer my genetic data to another database, FamilyTreeDNA, for another $20 or so, which would allow me to double check my regional ancestry results AND increase my chances of finding a new family match.

The test arrived in the mail a few days later, and I wasted no time in completing it. I mean, it was pretty darn simple—impressive even—the level of ease and efficiency involved in the process. Even someone with NO genetic test experience and little tech savvy could follow the procedure and ship the sample right back. You essentially just spit into a little tube until you reach an indicated line, pop the top back on, put it back into the box it came in, close it up, then drop it in a mail box—all of which I did the same day it arrived. Now, it was just a matter of the waiting game—the one major inconvenience of the process is that it takes about 6-8 weeks or so for results to come back. So, after shipping it off, I just as unceremoniously forgot about it and carried on with my life.

To be continued…

PS-I’ll catch you up on what happened next, but this weekend happens to be our annual family reunion (it got bumped up a couple months, and last-minute I was able to get a flight to attend).  I’ll fill you in either over the trip or when I get back. 🙂

Some of my cousins and I at our family reunion house
Some of my cousins and I at our family reunion house
Porch of our family house
Porch of our family house
A group of our cousins taking a traditional late night walk around the reunion neighborhood
A group of our cousins taking a traditional late night walk around the reunion neighborhood

Are you there?