Sunday, August 30, 2015

New Functionality on AncestryDNA

I login to 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and FTDNA every few days to see if I have any new half-siblings (none so far).  This weekend I noticed that AncestryDNA has added an option to see "shared matches" among DNA relatives.  It only seems to show matches that they deem "4th - 6th cousins" or closer (which can include 3rd cousins several times removed and double 6th cousins and then some).  If you click on what they deem distant cousins or "5th - 8th cousins" it will show you nothing, regardless of whether or not you share that relative.  It also won't list the more distant cousins in your "shared matches" with other people.  I assume Ancestry leaves them out because accuracy plummets the more distant a relative is, and after you reach the vicinity of 6th cousin or so, you really can't use DNA to tell a distant cousin from another random "unrelated" human being. 

AncestryDNA also hasn't added any quantitative data, so you still can't see on which chromosomes you match like you can on FTDNA or GEDMatch (with everyone) and on 23andMe (with your match's approval).  Still, lack of ability to compare matches and quantitative data has been AncestryDNA's biggest shortcoming, and the fact that they are adding any functionality at all without requiring a paid subscription (like they do with their "DNA circles" currently in beta testing) is a pleasant surprise.

Bear in mind that just because you share a match with a relative doesn't mean that you are all related the same way on the same branch of your family tree.  Especially if you're like me and come from old American families that did a lot of intermarrying in the last few hundred years.  BUT if you've got a close relative on there such as a parent, you can now use that information to tell if someone isn't on their side of the family tree.  Not a match with Mom?  Must be a relative from your dad's side.  If you're looking for an anonymous parent and you get your other parent -- or failing that, a half-sibling or an aunt, uncle, or first cousin -- to test as well, this can help narrow things down enormously.

One of the best things about AncestryDNA is how easily they link to user family trees.  The trees on Ancestry are more reliably filled out and easier to view than on 23andMe or FTDNA or GEDMatch.  AncestryDNA also seems to appeal more as a company to the family genealogists and people who compile massive family trees.  I understand how I'm related to more of my matches on AncestryDNA than on any other DNA site, mostly because of the linked family tree function and an abundance of users who enjoy building their own family trees.  If AncestryDNA were to add quantitative data that allows users to view their matches' DNA and compare it with other matches like you can on the other sites, they would quickly become the best option in DNA testing.  For now though, if you're trying to deduce the identity of a parent, quantitative data is key, and I recommend starting with 23andMe.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

An Open Letter to My Dad

Dear Dad,

I know we aren't related.  Mom told me when I was about 13.  She also told me you would lose your mind if anyone ever mentioned that fact again, so I was sworn to secrecy.  You're the only person from whom I still keep this secret.  As much as Mom worked to keep us apart, our lack of relationship isn't her fault.  You have a history of throwing tantrums and misdirecting your rage, and I've always known it's better not to upset you, or even be in the room when someone else does.

Do you remember when I won that writing contest in elementary school with my essay about how my greatest wish was for you to be able to walk again?  You might already be aware that the original topic of my essay had been my wish to visit Walt Disney World and that Mom convinced me I'd do better to write a tear-jerker.  She bet me $20 I would win if I wrote about your paralysis, and I did.  It wasn't true though.  We were safer with you in a wheelchair.  We could outrun you and hide in places you couldn't reach in that ridiculous hoard.  Even in the chair you could throw things and hit hard, and the idea of what you could do if you could run and climb was terrifying.  Dante would be dead.

One of the best memories of my childhood was of you sitting in the doorway of my room, smiling at my gradeschool aged self while I showed you things and prattled on about I don't remember what.  I was so excited to have the attention.  You didn't cut me off or scream at me or tell me I talk too much like Mom and Dante did.  I stopped myself when I realized what I was doing and apologized for dominating the conversation, and you said it was okay.  You weren't swearing, and I wasn't crying.  It was great.

It took me a long time to realize I'd really only gotten your attention when talking about things that interest you.  It started when I had the baby and couldn't focus on you so much anymore.  I don't know if that's why you stopped paying attention to me -- because I wanted to talk about my daughter and the things going on in my life rather than TV shows I'd never seen -- but that's when I noticed it.  I thought she would interest you because she was your granddaughter, but her novelty wore off quickly.

I had a newborn baby when my husband became permanently physically disabled, and you only asked me for favors.  I didn't ask you for money or help, but a little empathy, even just the recognition that I was going through something hard, would have meant something.  All you could talk about was your own poor health and your own imagined money problems.  My husband was suddenly on disability from work, he could barely help me with our new baby, and our all-too-necessary medical insurance was contingent upon him adapting and keeping his job.  You didn't seem to care at all.  You didn't ask about him.  You didn't ask about me.  You didn't ask about your only grandchild.  You asked me to order you guitars off eBay. 

I don't know why you refused to tell your mother about the baby.  I know she wasn't Grandma's first great-grandchild, but I thought she'd at least be pleased with the news.  You said you didn't know how to contact her.  She's been in a nursing home for years, where your brother has kept her.  You're in contact with him.  Surely she wouldn't be that hard to locate.  Does Grandma know we aren't related?  Is it about that?  Why couldn't you just lie to me and say, "She says 'congrats.'"

I don't understand why you don't care about me or my daughter.  I know you and I aren't flesh and blood, but surely 30 years of pretending we are counts for something.  Would you love me more if you could see yourself in me?  Would it matter at all?  I don't know what's wrong with you.  Mom is a lunatic, and I can understand and relate to her in ways I can't even imagine with you.  Having three parents who don't give a shit about me really messes with a person's head.  I'm the common denominator in all three of those relationships, so it's hard not to assume I'm the problem.

But then I remember I have friends.  Close friends, long-term friends, who I trust and who trust me.  I don't have a history of tumultuous relationships except with you guys.  You're the ones who don't have friends.  I don't think I'm the problem here, but I don't know what the problem is.  Other people love me.  People who have no legal ties or obligations to me love me and stay in touch with me.  Why don't you?  I've never seen you have a close relationship with anyone else either.  What is wrong with you?

This is why I don't write to you or call you anymore.  It cost me energy, and I got nothing in return.  I just feel exhausted when we talk.  I don't feel like that with other people, just you and Mom.

Sometimes I wish an opening would arise for me to tell you I know we're not related.  Like you asking for bone marrow or one of my organs, though that would require your health to worsen and I do not want that.  But I wish there were an opening so I could say it and it could be out in the open and it wouldn't just be me being vindictive.  I have no good reason to bring it up right now.  And I imagine you'd be upset.  I've been on the receiving end of your misdirected anger enough times.  Something as little as crying alone in my room as a small child could bring out your rage.  And I know when a woman tells her dad he's not her biological father, she's supposed to tell him she loves him and he is all the father she'll ever want, and it's simply not true.  You weren't the world's worst father, but you weren't very nice.  You still aren't.  I love you and Mom and wish you all the best, but I want nothing more to do with you.  I love you the way I love strangers.  I love you the way I love my enemies.  I don't love you like family or friends.  I can't.  I can't trust you or be honest with you, and I've been afraid of you both for as long as I can remember.

But I want you to know it's not because we're not related.  I've known that for a long time, long before I helped you divorce Mom, long before I salvaged your finances, long before I invited you to live in my home.  It's not because we're not related.  It's because of how you are.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Finding a Purpose

When I was younger, I remember telling my mother I felt I must have some kind of purpose in life.  I didn't know what it was yet, but I believed I had one.  My mother said, "You have delusions of grandeur."

I can't fathom anyone or anything having a purpose now, especially myself.  This isn't my mother's fault.  Intellectually, I know she was wrong about most things in life.  I know agreeing with her in this is unhelpful at best.  When I struggled to find the bright side of my own bad situations as a kid -- I referred to it as 'finding my consolation prize' -- she yelled in frustration, "Not everything happens for a reason!  Bad things just happen!"  I know that, even if she was right, even if there is no bright side to anything ever and being alive is just the worst, allowing myself to believe that is the unhappiest thing I can do.  If there is no point to anything in life, the only reason to live is because you enjoy it.  And it's almost impossible to enjoy it when you're sure everything sucks.  Still, I have trouble enjoying it.  I guess I'm like her that way, in spite of myself.

When I decided to get married, I made a bigger decision than just the marriage.  I was unwilling to affix myself to someone only to bring us both down, as I feel my mother -- or, more accurately, my parents -- did.  Saying yes to getting married meant I would never allow myself to give up.  I would keep trying to get better and be better.  I had to go all in, particularly in terms of mental health.  My mother had been afraid of admitting there might be something mentally wrong with her.  I was more afraid of ending up like my mother.

When I decided to have a child, I doubled down.  I didn't want to be a negative impact on her life.  I didn't want her to have to turn out poorly because of me or turn out okay in spite of me.  I read a bunch of books.  I went through more therapy.  I picked up some skills.  I'm better than I was when I started out, but I am afraid I'm still not who I want to be.  I don't know if I ever will be.  I'm honestly not sure if it's possible to become that close to perfect.  I'm not sure if other people are closer to perfect than me, care less about it, or have the same feelings and fears that I do.

My daughter can't be my purpose in life.  She will always be who I work for the most and who is most important in my life, but I can't set my goals around her.  I want to raise her to be self-sufficient and happy, and I don't want to feel like a failure if I can't make her read as early as I want or become as popular as I'd like.  I need to set specific goals that I can control and that won't infringe upon her space and growth. 

I don't want to run a marathon because it sounds unpleasant.  (Yes, now I'm just listing what I don't want.)  I don't want to register for any kind of race, actually.  I'd like to have something that quantitative as a goal though.  That kind of training seems pretty straight-forward and logical, and I like those qualities.

I don't want to have housekeeping-based goals anymore.  I've tried them, but my house is in a contact state of entropy, and while beating back the chaos and disarray is important, it's not fulfilling or gratifying.  It's easier to make it a routine and try to forget I'm doing it while distracting myself with podcasts.

My therapist suggested finding biological family as a goal, but it seems infinite.  I found my father, but I can't find any more half-siblings unless they take DNA tests.  I also can't make people want to talk to me.  It also sort of makes me feel worse.  Every time I make a connection or learn something new, it gives me a little high, but the highs aren't sustainable.  Then I'm left with the lingering feeling that I will never feel like I belong, even in my own family, and when I see people who are embraced by their families, my own exclusion feels more sharply painful and I can't help but feel like this situation is my fault.  Maybe if I'd been cleverer, they'd like me better.  Maybe if I'd gotten a PhD, he'd talk to me.  I don't like feeling this way.  Looking for family is like a bad drug.

I would like help.  I'm not particularly depressed at this point in my life.  I feel this fact is important to point out.  I just don't have a purpose or any goals really, and I would like help making some.  They don't need to be important, but I need to learn to believe they are.  I hesitate to post this here because I try to make this blog about true stories and family secrets, but I guess this might count as a secret:  I've never felt like I belonged here.  I'm afraid I never should have been here.  I also hesitate to post this because I know some people actually see this blog, unlike the journal where I started this post, which is only read by me and possibly the NSA, and I'm afraid someone will tell me I'm a horrible, ungrateful person for having these feelings.  I don't like being called horrible and ungrateful.  I have some issues with it.  Anyway, I recognize that I'm very privileged and very fortunate.  It's not my life I have a problem with, just my perception. 

One of the reasons I started this blog was to get some stories out of my system.  I don't want to hang onto them anymore, not the ones that make me angry or sad, and writing them down helps me feel okay with forgetting them, and it helps me not to want to talk about them all the time.  Another reason was because ten or twenty years ago I set myself the goal of writing down all the things that my mother forbid me to talk about and publishing it into a book called We Told You Not to Tell, after the Anne Lamott quote on writing about family ("If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, 'We told you not to tell!' But that was then.").  I was angry, and I was tired of the secrets and lies.  The writing helps with that.  It makes me feel sane and heard.  It also feels like an amusing vengeance project that would make my mother's head explode if she knew about it, in spite of its anonymity.

I don't know how to end this post.  I just needed to get this out.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Happy Birthday To You

My parents stopped giving me birthday and Christmas gifts when I was in my 20s, and I'm not entirely sure why.  With my mother, it was a blessing, partly because I couldn't say "thank you" enough times or in enough ways to prevent her getting angry and yelling at me for being ungrateful.  It was also a blessing because the things she'd sent me were crazy -- mostly heavy boxes full of random crap she had bought on sale or in the Target dollar aisle.  Sometimes there were small toys intended for small children, which seemed to be how she still saw me.  My mother stopped acknowledging my birthday (or any holidays) about a year before I ceased contact with her, and about six months before I stopped acknowledging hers.  This may have been an intended slight on her part, but it was just as likely a side effect of being depressed and so mentally inept that she didn't acknowledge much of anything.

The last time my dad (social, non-bio father) gave me a gift was later, just before my daughter was born.  I don't know if he has some kind of belief that people with kids are too old to receive gifts (though I was sending *him* gifts until a year after that) or if I'd unwittingly upset him somehow, or if he felt slighted by my daughter's existence, or why he stopped sending me anything -- I have an Amazon wish list after all, and it requires very little thought to select something off of it like he previously had -- but that was the last time I received anything from either of my parents. 

I realized a couple years ago that the only way to maintain a relationship with my dad without resenting him was if I stopped putting more energy in than I was getting back out.  I quickly learned that that meant putting no thought or energy whatsoever into our relationship.  He wanted me to do him favors, handle his finances, be his emergency contact on all his paperwork, but he wouldn't call me.  He wouldn't email me unless I emailed him first, and our emails centered around whatever personal complaints he had and whatever he'd been watching on TV.  If I said something about my daughter, his only grandchild, he usually ignored it.  If I said something about my life or my interests, he usually ignored it.  I told him I was happy to help him out but that I wanted him to start prefacing his requests with, "How are you?" or "How is the baby?" and that it hurt my feelings that he didn't acknowledge her, or me really.  He said he understood and would do better, but nothing changed. 

That was when I made him take over his own finances.  There was no reason he couldn't manage them himself anyway, beyond the fact that he never had.  I stopped giving him personal information since he didn't acknowledge it, and I stopped asking him questions in my emails because I didn't see the need to keep drawing out the conversations about TV shows I'd never seen and foods he currently hates.  I just responded to the things he said and the (very rare) questions.  I tried not to take his lack of interest in me personally and instead looked at our exchanges like an anthropological study.  Our communication tapered off. 

Now I acknowledge his birthday and Father's Day and Thanksgiving and Christmas with a "Happy [Holiday], Dad!" email in which that line is both the subject and the entirety of the body.  I can do that without thinking about it, so I'm willing to put in that much effort, at least for now. 

For my birthday this year, he sent me the following email:

"Happy Birthday!  At least you're still young enough to enjoy it."

I replied, "Thanks!"

This is the relationship I used to wish I could have with my mother, when I still bothered wishing for anything in regard to her.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

We Look Like Sisters

I changed my profile picture on Facebook, and my half-sister who I've still never met commented that a friend saw her looking at it and thought it was a picture of her.  These are the little things that make me happy.  We look similar because we're sisters. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Time My Uncle Committed Suicide

When I was a toddler and he was in his thirties, my Uncle Charles committed suicide.  He was my mother's brother.  I knew him, but I was too young to remember him.  I don't know how he did it.  No one ever told me, and I never thought to ask.  He was out of state at the time, and his wife (ex-wife?), Janie, was at home with their three young children.

I remember being young, maybe six or seven, and asking my mother why Uncle Charles had killed himself.  "Because he knew he was worth more dead than alive," she said.  She explained to me about life insurance policies and how he'd had one.  She also explained that debt collectors had started calling my grandmother as soon as he died, but she had been smart and refused to give them anything.  The non-transference of debt was one of the most important life lessons I learned as a child. 

A Thought

I get that it's petty and pathetic, but it's a thought that haunts me at inopportune times.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Bad Things I Did as a Baby

My mother had a series of stories she would recount as evidence of how much trouble I had been as a baby.  She might still tell these stories, but I no longer talk to her, so for me they stopped a few years ago. 

The first one was my birth and the time surrounding it.  My mother had scheduled a c-section to happen a couple of weeks before I was due to be born because I was positioned transverse, with my spine perpendicular to hers.  The first thing I did was to "turn on her," into the standard head-down birthing position so that the doctor told her to skip the c-section and wait for my due date.  "You turned on me before you were even born," she used to half-joke.  She'd wanted the c-section.

The next thing I did was to be born.  I "ripped her from end to end," she liked to say.  This was her hyperbolic way of saying there was some amount of vaginal tearing.  Episiotomies -- or cutting so that the baby doesn't cause a vaginal tear while coming out -- were standard back then, but she said I was born too fast for her doctor to make a cut.  Small tears are considered pretty standard now, especially since episiotomies are no longer considered a great idea, but I didn't know this until I had a child of my own.  I also caused her pain when I was born.  I was also born a week and a half late and larger than the average baby.  I was also born facing upward, "spine to spine," which was wrong.  I thought this was very abnormal until I had a child of my own and the first thing I saw was her face.  It happens, I guess.

The next thing I did was biting down when nursing.  She said it was very painful, so she took to spanking me every time I did it.  I was too young to remember any of this, but she liked to talk about it.  After a few times being spanked while feeding, she said I refused to nurse anymore, and she considered me weaned.  She discovered the next day that I had caught chicken pox from my older brother.  I was two months old. 

When I was a few months old, my mother said she found me sucking on a vaporizer insert from the humidifier she kept on the floor of the living room.  She said she had to miss a favorite TV show to take me to the emergency room.  She always referenced that "Who Shot JR?" episode, but I've looked it up and that aired before I was born, so I'm not sure what show I actually made her miss.  She has never mentioned me needing actual medical treatment once we got to the hospital, so I presume I was fine.

When I was a little older and started pulling myself to stand, I fell and cut my head open on the corner of the coffee table.  She had to take me to the emergency room again.  She didn't talk about this event as much, so I assume there wasn't anything memorable on TV at the time.  She said I didn't need stitches but got a butterfly bandage.  I still have the shiny little scar on my forehead, but no one else notices it.  It's very small.

I also cried.  I also wanted to be held.  I wanted to be carried, despite the fact that I was heavy and "too big to carry."  I used to wake up during the night and call out for her, asking for water.  I don't know why she didn't just let me sleep in a real bed so that I could get my own water, but I remember sleeping in a crib.  I must've been at least three, and I was toilet trained, but I couldn't get out of bed to use the toilet during the night.  Still, I didn't wet the bed a single time since I can remember.  I remember crouching behind the bars of my crib, pretending to live in a cage at the zoo.  My mother said she had to take me to the doctor because I would go days without using the bathroom at all.  She said the doctor laughed at her overly careful parenting and said that I simply had a very large bladder, nothing to worry about.  I think now that I was probably dehydrated, something I was first hospitalized for the month before I started kindergarten.

I feel stupid and slightly ridiculous admitting I didn't know how much of this was normal baby stuff until I had a child of my own.  I thought I'd been terrible.  I thought I had caused everyone undue amounts of trouble.  I tried so hard to be perfect.