My O.C.: Lost Relative Makes for a Surprising Mother’s Day

Discovering a family connection adds sudden joy to pair’s life.
Illustration by Efi Chalikopoulou.

I’ve dreaded Mother’s Day since my mother died 25 years ago. My husband and I never had any interest in children, so it was a holiday we were content to skip. Then a week before Mother’s Day 2022, after 19 years of marriage, I discovered a reason to celebrate: I learned I’m a stepmother.

Of course, I was shocked to receive this news. Multiply that by 10 for my husband, who, just a few hours ahead of me, learned that he has a grown daughter.

It’s funny how you can be happily ignorant of something for your entire life and have that blissful state transformed in an instant simply because you received an email reading (paraphrasing), “Guess what? You sired a child you didn’t know about!” This world-rocking message came courtesy of 23andMe. I hold the ancestry-
researching company responsible for everything that follows.

My husband admitted to being “quite active” in his early 20s, yet he was able to correctly identify the mystery birth mother. Though the woman hadn’t been in touch, the baby she gave up for adoption was now 32 and was reaching out to him.

This was a lot to absorb and accept, and I refused to do either—at first. But a quick Facebook search yielded an image showing an unmistakable resemblance of daughter to flabbergasted father. The comfort we’d sought in denial was short-lived.

Meredith (not her real name) is a traveling musician and songwriter—a talent she did not inherit from her father. She successfully makes her living playing cello, bass guitar, and keyboard, touring with groups around the country and throughout her home state of Minnesota—a world away from our quiet abode in Laguna Woods.

For her upcoming birthday, Meredith wanted to meet us in person. After a few months of chats on Zoom to get acquainted, we flew her out.

Because our barky rat-terrier-mutt-mix, Abby, does not take well to strangers in her home, we decided to bring her with us to the airport so the “sisters” could meet on common ground. The pickup went smoothly, though it was a bit surreal, and we proceeded home.

I doubt any of us could tell you what we discussed on the ride, but the conversation was animated and happy. Despite being technically family yet basically strangers, that vibe somehow lasted throughout her stay.

A few weeks prior, my husband was cleaning out drawers and came across an old, tie-dyed tuxedo shirt. I’d seen the shirt a few times over the years but recalled no provenance accompanying it. He choked up as he finally revealed its history. He told me that in his hippie days, he’d lived in a “collective” rental house with another man and two women—one of whom would end up being Meredith’s birth mother. Besides the guys and gals sleeping together, they were all business partners, selling crafts and crystals and, to that end, had experimented with tie-dying clothes. The shirt had come out the best and, somehow, my husband had managed to retain custody and to have it still.

Back to the present, this new father was able to gift to his grown daughter the shirt that was jointly made by her birth parents. It was a priceless moment, impossible to describe without seriously sappy sentimentality. Suffice to say Meredith loved it, and she wore it as an overshirt around her slim, tattooed torso every day of her visit.

After hours of snacking around our dinner table that first night, we were all hungry for real food, so we took our vegetarian visitor to Diamond Jamboree for dim sum and then a quick stop at 85 Degrees for some to-go sweets. After finishing the cakes and coffee, Meredith’s Midwestern time zone caught up with her. We lazily watched Japanese YouTube videos together before retiring for the evening.

The next morning, I went to work while “Bio-dad” served as neighborhood tour guide. The nearby Irvine Spectrum features a giant Ferris wheel, and, like a good father, my husband took his new daughter for a spin, showing her a spectacular view of town from above. They were the only passengers on the ride and oohed and aahed at the cityscape when they stopped at the top.

Later, they picked me up from work and we headed north for a meet-and-greet with my brother, his daughter (also adopted, also a musician), and her fiancé. On our arrival, my brother presented Meredith with a beautiful bouquet of roses as though she’d won a pageant or the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

In his lush backyard, we devoured takeout until it got too dark to see one another. My brother and I were busy eavesdropping on multiple conversations, smiling a lot, and eating ice cream. Meredith and her father, observing their first shared characteristic—lactose intolerance—refrained.

The startling thing about the whole gathering was how easy it was, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing on a hot August night. We took Meredith to Laguna Beach the next day and watched her do something she couldn’t do in the Midwest: take a carefree stroll on the sand.

That night, my husband proudly made a beautiful meatless dinner—curried vegetables and rice. The flavors were so rich and delicious that you could taste the love he’d put into their preparation. I cleaned up while new parent and grown child took Abby for a walk.

The rest of the visit was a happy blur. I do remember one thing that happened before our houseguest departed. My husband presented his new offspring with a ticket stub from their family Ferris wheel whirl. Baby’s first ride!

It was then I noticed my first twang of maternal feeling. When Meredith left, she took her youthful energy with her, and our senior community seemed a little less bright. We truly miss her. To my surprise, this year I’m looking forward to celebrating every seriously sappy moment of Mother’s Day with the whole family we now are—strangers no more.