Shine Bright

comments: 63


I had such a wonderful Mothers' Day weekend. It was filled with sweetness and food and family and fun. Amelia's birthparents and -grandparents and -siblings were all here on Saturday and it was such a perfect day. On Sunday we went to brunch with my mom and sisters and brother-in-law and nephew and had a great time. It was alternately busy and relaxing, and included lots of pampering and lots of playing and, best of all, lots of snuggling with my baby girl, who's no longer a baby but still loves to cuddle and have her back rubbed and hold my hand and give me Eskimo kisses and look into my eyes to see what color they are. I return every gesture in kind, a thousandfold, and thank the heavens above for giving me the gift of her life and love. She is the sweetest, most darlingest, most lovable, lunatic of a creature and oh I love her so much!

Life with a five-and-a-half-year-old is filled with the usual prosaic sort of chaos. There is constant climbing on everything, falling off of everything, interrupting you talking to them with some random completely bizarre talk of their own [indicating they're actually not listening to you whatsoever], playing "kitty" with totally realistic and seriously terrifying meows, refusing to sit on those automatic-flushing toilets in restaurants or stores [I hate those things!!!], climbing trees that are too small, climbing trees that are too big. Always running or otherwise crashing through every place. The other morning I was about to get in the shower and I asked Mimi if she wanted to get in. She likes to shower at the pool but she's only ever taken one shower at home, preferring the bathtub here. But this time she said yes. We have one of those corner, capsule-like showers upstairs; it's a standing shower but also has a little cedar bench for me to sit on. So I'm sitting on my bench and holding the doors open for Amelia to come in. She's standing outside the shower trying to decide if she wants to, sticking her hand into the water and yanking it back while I am saying with, admittedly, some urgency in my voice, "Come in if you want to. Water's getting all over the floor." Shower doors still open. Her standing there, reaching vaguely toward the water with her toe. Then her hand. Then her toe. Hand. Me: "Do you not want to?" Her: "No, I want to!" Me: "Okay, well, decide, so I can shut the doors either way," and as I'm saying this she apparently decides she doesn't want to and instead turns quickly on her heel and starts to tear out of the bathroom, only to wipe out on the wet floor and face-plant into the wastepaper basket and the dog's water dish. Wailing. Tangle of arms and legs. Bathmat bunched. I come lumbering quickly (oxymoron) out of (still running) shower, dripping more water everywhere, to help her up. She stops crying abruptly, apparently having remembered something else she wants to do. Exits. I climb back into shower and sit down and crank the water up, almost as hot as it will go, face in hands, steaming water streaming blissfully and finally over my head. Thinking: "God. It's only 6:32." This, and things like this, all. day. long.

Other moments, reading together, snuggling together, her sweet drawings and her forty-five stuffed animals (I protest), her singing to herself and talking to herself in the sweetest voice, her good nature and her easy smile, her smushing my face so hard to her own face that I can't breathe, her spontaneous hugs, her head against my chest, her "shop" in the window of my studio where she sells 6" pieces of yarn, her trying to write words, her love of Dairy Queens [sic], her portraits with big earrings and big smiles, her outfits (for Blue Day, White Day, Pink Day, Pick-Out Day), and her spiderwebs of yarn/embroidery floss/tape measures wound between table legs and drawer pulls. All of this sweetness. It's everything, everything to me.

I didn't bake any pies for Birthmother's Day. I wanted to, and had wanted to get up early and go to New Seasons (grocery store) all by myself and get ingredients and bake them that morning. But instead the pies you see above were baked by New Seasons bakery. I was too tired to make them because I wound up staying up late the night before, having finally, after about a year of searching, found my dad's birthparents — or at least the two people who I am pretty much 100% sure were his birthparents — on It was a total coincidence that I found them in the very early morning hours of Birthmother's Day (which is, if you weren't sure, the day before Mother's Day), but I had gotten a few very important DNA matches with close relatives on Ancestry within just the past couple of weeks and I knew I was close to figuring it out. When I did, when that last puzzle piece in the form of a marriage certificate between the two families whose names just kept showing up in my ghostly family tree, I actually got lightheaded. It was late at night and I was in bed in the dark, looking at my iPad, and I swear I literally heard something in the universe go click.

Sophie. Veronica. Manda. Anna. These are the names of my father's birthmother and -grandmothers and -great-grandmother that neither I nor he (he passed away in 2000) ever knew existed. Well, surely I knew they had existed — somewhere in my rational mind I knew that someone must have existed. But really, more frequently, I felt like maybe I had (mostly) fallen straight out of the sky. Until last year, I only knew one-quarter part of even just my biological ethnicity. My dad's was entirely unknown, and my mom's mother's was unknown. Or rather, we thought we knew, based on names (Lucile DuMont sounds French, doesn't it?) and legends (Italian, Italian, Italian). But we were wrong. I'm Croatian and Polish on both my mom's side and my dad's biological sides, with 1/8 English from my mom's half-English (not French) mother.

It's hard for me to explain why any of it even matters. I mean, I honestly don't exactly know why it matters now. Most of the time I'm not thinking about it. I'm living my life in the present moment, chasing my little butterfly as she zooms around on her scooter and brings me dandelion bouquets eight times a day and nose-dives into the dog bowl. But I always wanted to know how I got here. How we got here. I was always interested in history. I was always interested in geography. I was always interested in peoples' stories, and I always felt like I didn't truly know any of my own.

It goes deeper than that, though. In researching my family's history, in discovering just how many people in how many different families on how many different sides and for how many generations were keeping secrets, I can see that the legacy of . . . confusion . . . sadness . . . loss . . . insecurity . . . and even anxiety . . . around these mysteries runs deep, and also lasts for generations. It has certainly affected my family, and my sisters and me, in ways I'm only beginning to attribute. Eight years ago when Andy and I began the process of becoming parents by adoption, we always knew that in the best-possible-case scenario we wanted a local, open adoption, and we are lucky enough to have that. I don't talk about it that much because it involves so many other people, and their stories just are not mine to tell. But every single part of it, even the hardest parts and the hardest days, has been a total blessing (even in the days before Amelia when, oh trust me!, it didn't seem that way at all). I think, in life, you can try to mitigate the losses and maximize the gains. And what we have all — Andy and I, and our families, and Amelia's birthfamilies — gained from loving Amelia and loving each other is so profound it still regularly brings me to tears of gratitude and joy. How lucky we all are to be in this together! I think it's pure magic.

I obviously cannot and would never presume to speak for any other adoption experience or decision. People have very strong feelings about these things and I have the absolute, utmost respect and deep reverence for that. But I'm just telling you how I feel, and how it's been for me (and Andy), and how Amelia's birthfamily tell us it is for them. We'll always encourage Amelia to express how it is for her, especially as she gets older and is better able to articulate her thoughts for herself. All of us want so badly to be the best moms (and dads, and grandparents, etc.) we possibly can be. And for me, that effort is starting to include truly examining my own feelings about my own growing-up in a cloud of secrecy. Finding real names of real people who lived and breathed and gave life to the people who gave me life is an effort to peel back some of those layers, and let in the light. So that I can shine bright for my beautiful baby girl.


Karen Wirth says: May 26, 2018 at 04:19 PM

My research partner has just discovered her birth father was Croatian. She is hoping and praying that she will learn more about her family from her DNA tests.

Nicki Machin says: May 28, 2018 at 12:29 AM

I'm so happy for you you have pieced together your family history! I think the idea of Birthmothers's Day is lovely and yes I think what you have is truly magical!

Ruth THORNE says: May 29, 2018 at 08:58 AM

This is such a beautiful post. Knowing about one's past.. why does it matter? I guess it's just a natural human need. Amelia is a lucky girl to grow up in such an open, loving family situation. And to have you as a mother.
Happy mother's day!

genevieve montoya says: June 01, 2018 at 07:50 AM

I cried when i read this. I was trying to explain my feelings to a friend over the weekend around learning somethings about my fathers mother's family and I said,"I have felt most of my life as if i just dropped out of the sky, untethered" I too have begun to learn of my family, i grew up with the sketchiest picture of who they were, only knowing a grandfather and not all that well. I think also, when there is poverty family's tend to splinter and no one is carrying the story.
Thank you for sharing, i don't know why it is so helpful to hear the stories of others as somehow it makes our personal stories more valid, but it does. It is so emotional for me to learn new things about her, my grandmother and her family.
I wish you well in your search.

For a delightful summer read try The City Bakers Guide to Country Living, by Louise Miller.🍥✨🌸🥧🍰😘

MaurLo Parker says: June 02, 2018 at 09:02 AM


You share so much beauty with the world, and it is truly a delight each time you take time to write here. I am in new baby phase with extra time as I nurse, and I look in all the time because I know that the beauty of your photos and words will make my day better.

I love this post so much for oh so many reasons. You have a gift of saying things just right. I have also recently been so fascinated with family stories. It started after reading an article by Bruce Feiler in the New York Times that was just so interesting. (I hope you are okay if I share the link)

He also spoke at RootsTECH recently:

I think your longing is a universal thing! Thanks again for sharing. M

I just finished listening to Fannie Flagg read her book, "The All-Girls Filling Station's Last Reunion: A Novel." Typical Fannie Flagg humor, but it was also a story of family secrets and discoveries made late in life. Reminds me of your search. There is just a need to know, isn't there?

And your description of life with a 5 year old is dead on. Now I'm the grandmother so I don't do that every day. But goodness, I do remember!

not sure you know, but some parts of what is currently Croatia have been Italian (and before that, part of the Venetian republic) for quite some time, you might find that many surnames have similar sounds but different spelling depending on which generation you're looking at (a Martinovic might have been a Martini or Martinovich etc etc) and in many cemeteries in Croatia you might find people clearly from the same family but buried next to each other...under slightly different spelling! It makes genealogical research even more fun!

Your ability to share your thoughts so elequently never fails to move me. Since becoming a mother myself 20 months ago my heart aches and swells for you all at once when I think of the path you travelled to become Amelia’s mother. And don’t get me started on your shower ‘episode’, it brings such smiles and also trepidation when I think of the daily dramas that unfold at our house now with a fast growing toddler.
Thank you for sharing your journey and allowing us all to slow time and appreciate the little things.

Oh you're entries are always so wonderful,so cosy and great for people who are old fashioned and nesting.Really nothing better than those hidden family ties coming to light,I have loved family history since I was 12 or so,I read a great quote "suddenly all my ancestors are behind me,be still they say,you are the result of the love of thousands"

Melody Hazzard says: June 06, 2018 at 08:44 AM

How absolutely beautiful, Alicia. Thank you for sharing. More people in a child's life that love and support them is never a bad thing, and it's wonderful that you have opened up your heart and home for all of them, all for the good of Amelia. I have followed your story sporadically for the past 6-7 years and it's a joy, even from afar, to see your family grow and change. And Amelia just seems like the sweetest, most loved little girl. Blessings to your family!

This is beautifully written. Thank you for posting it. I'm glad you've been able to piece together so much of your family's history.

alicia, i have read your blogs for so many years and this post is what has me keep coming back. your voice captures something i have yet to articulate and it adds to the absolutely beautiful fabric of my life. thank you over and over. stories such as this are what i think heal the world. thank you

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.