In our experience and observation, it is a common phenomenon for adoptees to wonder a lot about their birth siblings. This was Whitney’s experience to a T. Of course she had questions about her birth parents, but her thoughts were predominantly on her older brother, whom she had known about since her pre-teen years. She discusses below.
“What if your brother is a K-pop star? He could be Rain! Or one of the guys from Super Junior!”
My friends had the best of intentions when dreaming with me of who/what my brother could be when we finally met at Holt Post-Adoption Services. (More on the first meeting at Whitney’s individual blog here.) In hindsight, though, I realize that I had very unrealistic expectations that were also very unfair to 오빠 Oppa. I often wonder if my birth parents had such lofty ideas about me and who I would become, too. Wouldn’t it be frustrating to find out that they were disappointed that I was just a normal person? But wasn’t I doing the exact same thing to my birth brother?
The reality is Seong-bae is just an average person. And that is totally OK with me. My big brother plays the role of the typical Korean eldest son. He is a hard worker, exuding quiet strength, who carries out his oldest son duties as expected. He is shy to speak English because he knows he has not mastered the language, but he was everything I needed him to be the first weekend we met. I relied on him 100% for translation, which was again an unfair expectation for a guy who had just found out 24 hours prior that he had a sister. He checked in on me constantly. Was I hot? Was I cold? Was I hungry? Did I want to use his computer? Did I want him to rent an English movie for me?
The reality is Seong-bae is just an average person. And that is totally OK with me.
One of my favorite memories with Seong-bae was in those early get-to-know you days when I was visiting their house in 서울 Seoul for a weekend. He was ever-worried about my being comfortable and had visited 이태원 Itaewon to buy some English films with Korean subtitles that we could watch together. He ordered pizza for us and we settled in for movie night with one of our cousins. About halfway through the first movie, a thought struck him and he paused the film. “Can you understand?,” he asked in Korean. “What?,” I said. “Is this movie in English?,” he asked. Embarrassed, I shook my head, “No, I think it’s German.” We all cracked up laughing. “Why didn’t you say something?,” he asked. I just shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know how to tell him in Korean, “I didn’t care that I couldn’t understand. I haven’t even been paying attention. I was just enjoying this awesome time with my big brother who I have wondered about all these years.”
Another favorite memory with 오빠 Oppa was with the whole family late one night in 일산 Ilsan. We had just finished a big meal at my uncle’s house for 할머니 Grandma’s birthday and we were saying our goodbyes and heading for the car to drive home to 서울 Seoul. We were all exhausted, but Seong-bae was wanting to drive home for some reason. He and 아빠 Appa went back and forth about it a couple times, but 아빠 Appa finally gave in and threw the keys to Seong-bae. We were all waiting by the building while he backed out of the spot so we could climb in. I’m not sure what happened exactly in that driver’s seat, but the next moment is all in slow-motion in my memory. I remember seeing the reverse lights come on and the car starting to back out of the spot. Younger brother 남동생현배 Hyun-bae and I realized at the exact same moment that Seong-bae was coming out way too fast and we started jumping up and down and screaming for Seong-bae to brake. He didn’t hear us. He slammed right into the dumpster and there was a brief calm before the storm of 엄마 Omma’s piercing shriek and subsequent lambasting, asking Seong-bae what the heck he was doing. Us two younger siblings huddled together out of the way, simultaneously horrified by what happened and trying not to laugh hysterically at older brother getting a severe tongue-lashing. I remember thinking, “This feels like such a ‘normal’ family holiday.”
I love my brother exactly as he is. 오빠 Seong-bae Oppa, the average guy. I love seeing the ways we are similar and learning from him about how our family works. I will never forget the first words he said to me as we were leaving the Holt Office and heading to our family’s house, “Our mom is a really great cook and a really terrible driver.” (He was right!) My whole life I have been annoying people to death with my nervous habit of vigorous knee-shaking. I can be shaking the entire table and not even notice I am doing it. When scolded for it now, I secretly take great pleasure in knowing my brother is on the other side of the world doing the exact same thing and getting yelled at for it for the millionth time by our parents. I can’t wait to see him in December and watch him marry his beautiful bride and start their happy life together. I can’t wait to continue to get to know him better. I can’t wait to hug him and tell him again how much I missed him all those years we were separated.
Whitney will continue her series on birth siblings next week when she talks about her relationship with her younger “twin” Hyun-bae.
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