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I recently learned in an e-mail that I might be related to my son. I understand this bit of news is not usually such a revelation, but I adopted my son from Lithuania when he was seven months old. Although I loved him from the moment he was tenderly placed in my arms wearing a tiny green hat in the orphanage in Vilnius, it never occurred to me that his ancestors could have walked the same cobbled streets as mine.
Twenty-two years after that extraordinary trip, I decided to join the millions of people who spit into little vials and send them through the mail to have their DNA analyzed. I waited patiently for an e-mail to pop up with my destiny, or at least a bit of my family’s history.
I always knew my great-grandparents were from Eastern Europe, because I had interviewed my grandparents before they died. And I know that those borders moved like mercury on a piece of glass, but nobody ever mentioned relatives in a tiny Baltic country in the early 1800s.
The truth is, when I got the e-mail with the color-coded map including the country I’d associated only with my son, I felt a startled joy. This was where my husband and I spent a remarkable month, almost losing our baby to pneumonia and then seeing him saved by the care of wonderful pediatricians — and by my resourceful husband, who disappeared into twisty streets and an unknown language and returned with the antibiotics we needed.
And this was the place where the judge asked my husband if he could love a child he had just met and my husband said, “Well, I fell in love with my wife the moment I met her.”
After our son was healthy enough, we brought him back to the United States, where, at age 2, he became a citizen in a ceremony with children from all over the world. Although he refused to wear the little red-white-and-blue bow tie we’d gotten him, he did accept a signed letter from President Clinton welcoming him, and a sticker that said GO FOR IT, which he later placed on his bedroom wall.
But then, when our fair-haired boy was 3 years old and racing jubilantly into his American life, my husband got brain cancer. Friends visited and sang songs around his bedside as he lay drifting away, while our son carefully plastered Band-Aids all over the bed’s wooden frame.
For years, it was just the two of us, a mother and son who looked nothing alike, who with the help of friends and grandparents did the best we could. When adolescence arrived in full force, my son and I began to struggle to connect across what seemed like different continents although we lived in the same house.
Because I did not become a mother “the regular way” (as my husband, a native Dutch speaker, would say), and because we had to have background checks, home visits, fingerprints, and letters of recommendation to become parents, I told myself that maybe nothing ever would be regular. As we rode our bikes to baseball, soccer, and basketball practice, I tried to keep the conversation going, telling stories about the father he knew for only a few years, but there would always be big gaps in the narrative.
Now my son is a robust 6 feet tall. I texted him the morning I clicked on the map that surfaced on my computer screen. I didn’t know if he would be awake because he lives out west, three hours earlier. “Got my DNA results. Turns out my ancestors are from Lithuania,” I wrote. I can’t say he always responds immediately, but this time he did. “Awesome!” he texted back. “I like that.”
So do I.Patty Dann writes fiction and nonfiction. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter@BostonGlobeMag. Tell your story. E-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.