Opening Note by Fran Cronin
"Some day you will be able to assemble your rich and varied heritage: Flemish birth parents, American and Greek adoptive fathers, and Turkish-American and Greek grandmothers. It is my hope these letters will assist you in understanding your heritage. You have inspired me to write my life story for you."
So Zeren Earls, Turkish by birth, now a U.S. citizen, wrote when first watching her baby granddaughter sleep. In July 2004, Iris was born in Brussels and soon adopted by Earls’s son Selim and his partner Kimon. Selim and Kimon have been joined in civic union for 18 years; ever since they met, they hoped to adopt and have a family.
In Letters to Iris and Leo, Earls recalls her intrepid journey from girlhood to grandmotherhood. Transcending personal history, this richly detailed memoir, told over the course of 98 letters from 2004 to 2009, hovers like a protective canopy over her grandchildren. It’s not a cautionary tale but the equivalent of an elder affectionately welcoming the next generation into the wonders of life. Earls juxtaposes her memories with observations of Iris, and then her brother Leo, as they grow through their first years.
"The book finished itself when I got to the present time in my life," she told me in a recent interview. As a special feature in Adopt-a-tude, the first three entries from Letters to Iris and Leo appear below.
Earls, an attractive, elegant, and energetic 74-year-old, was born in Ankara, Turkey in 1937. Her father was a government-trained scientist and her well-bred mother trained in the customary domestic arts of sewing and knitting. Earls likens her parents to a bridge between the fading Ottoman Empire and the burgeoning Turkish Republic. Her mother, sensitive to her own lack of educational opportunities, pushed Zeren and her younger sister, Fulya, to excel academically.
The carefully parented life the sisters shared came crashing down when Earls was 16. While at boarding school, she received word her father had abruptly died from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 57.
Earls speaks of herself with reserve and modesty, but it is clear she’s made the most of her industrious nature. She finished her English-language high school studies on a scholarship and was then awarded a full scholarship in 1957 to attend Duke University. According to Earls, she was the first international student to attend Duke. She graduated in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
In 1976, Earls was among the original group of civic-minded artists that created First Night, an evening of arts and cultural activities around Boston on New Year’s Eve. In 1992, she became the founding president of Boston's First Night International, the umbrella organization for all the First Night communities (currently there are 180).
Earls is also a prolific, globetrotting travel writer for Berkshire Fine Arts.
Intertwining her past with her son’s real-time adoption of two children, Earls has crafted an unusual and tender book. She’s also asserted her independence and chosen to self-publish it. Working with Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., she used the store’s on-site Paige M. Gutenborg digital printer. Books take 15 minutes to produce and can be created on demand. They sell for $20.
For more information about Letters to Iris and Leo, click here. You can also visit Harvard Bookstore’s website (www.harvard.com) and then click on the Paige M. Gutenborg tab for the bookstore’s catalog of self-published books.
July 21, 2004
Little Compton, Rhode Island
Your birth is two days away. Early this morning my son Selim called to tell me that the adoption agency had given him the good news: Your birth mother, a twenty-nine-year-old Flemish single parent, has agreed to your adoption by him and his partner Kimon.
My excitement is boundless, yet tinged with fear. What if your birth mother changes her mind at the last minute? The agency says that this has happened in another case. Life can be full of barriers for same-sex couples. Selim and Kimon have been on a waiting list for two years, a longer period than is the case for couples of opposite sex. Not everyone realizes that non-traditional families are perfectly capable of raising healthy and happy children. I find comfort in knowing that your birth mother considered your adoption by a gay couple before reaching a decision. I applaud her fortitude.
Since they met in Greece in 1992, Selim and Kimon have wished for a family with children. It is fortunate that they relocated to Belgium, where same-sex adoption was possible. They went to an agency in Antwerp called Gewenst Kind (Wanted Child), which had been founded by a gay man and which had placed several children with same-sex couples in the past. The process required traveling monthly to classes in parenting and adoption issues for a year and a half, along with home visits and interviews with a psychologist, social workers, experienced adoptive parents, and police officers. Selim and Kimon had to hire an interpreter, since the classes were conducted in Dutch.
My mind wanders around the house thinking of your future visits. I should not get carried away like this. I must wait until you are entrusted to your adoptive parents. Having waited for two years, I can certainly wait two more days. At least I will head back to my winter home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so that I can leave quickly upon hearing from Selim. But first I’ll go for a quick swim. I can’t wait to introduce you to these shores. Soon we will swim here together.
July 23, 2004
Today is Friday. The call I had been waiting for came late in the day. Before they were able to see you, your parents had to wait until your birth mother had spent some private time with you and was ready to leave the hospital after giving you your first bottle.
“Congratulations, you are a grandmother!” said Selim, sounding happy but exhausted at the other end of the line. Having had only forty-eight hours notice, your new parents have been busy rescheduling prior commitments and preparing to receive you at home.
You were born at 2:30 pm at the Klina Hospital in Brasschaat outside of Antwerp, Belgium. The doctors had to induce your birth mother’s labor, because you had already dropped down in her belly. Thus you arrived two weeks earlier than due. The doctors say this is quite normal since you are your birth mother’s fifth child. You are a healthy baby weighing 2.7 kilos and measuring 50 centimeters in length.
Your birth mother named you Sarah (Sarah Brouwers). Your adoptive parents have given you the name Iris, a name which each had short-listed independently. The name is indicative of your partial Greek heritage, as Iris is the Rainbow Goddess in Greek mythology. This is also the origin of the name of the beautiful flower, which comes in all the colors of the rainbow.
As soon as I received the happy news today, I e-mailed an announcement to all my friends and relatives. I also purchased my plane ticket online. I will see you next Tuesday, a week after you arrive home from the hospital. I am off to shop for presents now.
August 3, 2004
You were asleep when I arrived. Your eyes are closed most of the time. Since you were born two weeks early, you are catching up for time lost in your birth mother’s womb. I have many presents for you from my friends in the States.
You begin sucking your fingers when you wake up, signaling that you are hungry. You are a beautiful and quiet baby. Your new parents tell me that you look like your birth mother, whom they briefly saw in the hospital lobby. You have her fair skin and deep blue eyes.
We bonded instantly. I enjoy holding and feeding you, speaking and singing to you in both English and Turkish, whichever comes to my tongue first. It is amazing that, after living in the States for forty-seven years, I still remember Turkish nursery rhymes. Selim speaks to you in English, Kimon in Greek. You are a Belgian citizen, so you must also learn the languages of your native country, French and Dutch, especially if you want to communicate with your biological brothers, as your mother hoped you would.
Some day you will be able to assemble your rich and varied heritage: Flemish birth parents, American and Greek adoptive fathers, and Turkish-American and Greek grandmothers. It is my hope that these letters will assist you in understanding your heritage. You have inspired me to write my life story for you.