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Gratitude

I found the papers when I was 12 -- in a metal box tucked under my parents' bed. I wasn't supposed to be snooping all through their personal belongings; my mother had put a lock on her door, presumably to keep my brother and I from dipping into her stash of moon pies and discovering her and my dad's copy of "The Joy of Sex." But kids are experts at finding the hidden, and that little flimsy lock was no match for the wits of a curious preteen and her big brother. If we wanted to see it, it was going to get seen.

But this? This I wasn't ready for.

BABY GIRL...
DENENE MILLNER...
HEREYBY FORMALLY ADOPTED ON THIS DAY...

My fingers trembled as I brought the paper closer to my face -- as if the words would magically morph into something wholly different if I just stared at them a little harder, a little longer, a little bit more closely to my 20/20s. But the words just... wouldn't... change.

And then, suddenly, it felt like someone had fired buckshot into my chest. The shock was almost unbearable: My mom and dad weren't my mom and dad. My brother? Not my brother, either. None of them by blood, anyway.

To this day, I can't tell you how I got those papers back into the metal box, how I pushed that metal back under their bed, how I convinced my legs to carry me out of their room and shut the door and lock it back and act like I'd never seen those papers.

How I managed to keep their secret -- my secret -- for all those years.

For years -- more than 20 years -- I refused to acknowledge my adoption or tell my parents I knew they'd adopted me. At first it was because I was scared they'd be mad at me for snooping, but as I grew older, that morphed into my need to protect their privacy. Maybe they didn't want to explain to everyone coming and going why they didn't have biological babies together, or where they found me, or why my birth parents gave me up. Maybe, I reasoned, my mom and dad feared I would search for the people who abandoned me on the stoop of that New York City orphanage -- that I would find them and, in turn, reject the two people who didn't give me blood, but who truly gave me life.

I couldn't do that to them. To me. To us. Though my birth parents deserve praise for having the courage to love me enough to give me away, my parents get the glory for raising me, educating me, supporting me, disciplining me, and loving me beyond measure -- and doing it with an enormous amount of grace and wisdom. Despite the odds. With little money. And no help.

Just them.

And a lot of love.

No amount of parenting books/magazines/blogs/advice can even remotely begin to match the childrearing skills I gained from my mom and dad, who each lost their mothers at ungodly ages -- he at age 10, she at age 3 -- but somehow managed to prepare me to be the mother I've become to my own daughters and son. They weren't perfect. But they were a shining example of how good, solid, hands-on parenting is worthy of praise. For its power. It's substance. And its trickle-down effects. I am the mom I am because of them.

And so this Thanksgiving, I show gratitude to Bettye and Jimmy.

For loving unconditionally...

And leading by example...

For teaching me compassion and empathy and forgiveness...

And the value of tenacity and perseverance, sans excuses...

And for working hard...

And toiling long hours...

In hot factories...

On sore feet...

With tired hands...

But peaceful hearts...

For not enough pay...

And a whole lot of sacrificing...

So that Troy and I could have what we needed...

And even a little of what we wanted...

I thank you -- and love you madly.

(Rest easy, Mommy)

Love,

Dede

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