Erin Kelly, an adoptee with cerebral palsy, on having male influences.
“When the man on that plane handed you to us, we were so happy to finally bring our little girl home.”
This is the part of my story that I know by heart—and perhaps the only part my adoptive parents will ever know as fact.
Ever since I was old enough to understand I had cerebral palsy, I’ve been told I was ten months old when a male escort held my limp, rag doll body in his arms. He didn’t know I had a crude birth. He didn’t know I’d been left at a police station with a note that read, “Please adopt her to a family that can care for her.” He didn’t even know I was on my second flight home—from Seoul, Korea to the US.
This face, this pair of cradling hands belonged to a compete stranger, yet I took to this man immediately. He handed me to the stewardess on the plane upon landing at JFK Airport in New York. For some reason, I started to cry—at which point, she handed me right back to him. I stopped crying as quickly as I’d started.
My parents say it was as if someone flipped a switch. I had an instant, unique bond with men from that point on —from my dad, to my grandfather, to my uncle, and all the way down to my two brothers who are also adopted.
In fact, my dad—who originally saw my picture in a pamphlet on adoption—was the first to reach out to me. He and my mom packed everything up and drove feverishly to New York upon getting that initial call, but something was missing when they arrived at the gate—me. They weren’t notified that I was bumped from my original flight.
They drove back to the small town of Altoona, Pennsylvania—exhausted and heartbroken that they didn’t have their baby girl in their arms. My older brother, whom they adopted a year prior, was screaming, “Where’s the baby?”
When they returned to JFK Airport two weeks later, however, it became evident that the incident on the plane was no coincidence.
My mom put her arms out to hold me, and the proverbial “switch” was flipped once again. She spent many sleepless nights lying on the floor of my childhood home—refusing to leave the room as the men in my family attempted to rock me to sleep. She slowly started to chisel through the wall I’d build, and eventually broke all the way through. My two grandmothers would soon follow.
However, much of my childhood proved to be a challenge, as this cycle not only continued, but also motivated my family to not let my disability dictate the way they treated me—or how I was raised. In fact, I think they quietly embraced it in such a way that let me know I could be and had to be strong—even though they knew my back was against the wall from day one.
That mindset carried over into my adolescent and adult years, as I grew to have friends who watched pro wrestling and weren’t afraid to say, “Hey, Erin, can I sit in your wheelchair for a minute? I want to see what it’s like.”
I liked that, and welcomed it. There was something about it that felt so genuine and gentlemanly—and I guess in a strange way, it made me feel safe. It provided me with some sort of safety net that even the women and female friends in my life at that time eventually gave me.
I got to a point where I finally felt like I had a sense of strong female influence besides my mom around me, but a lot of that was ripped away, as the grandmother I was closest to passed away last year. I think that absence has made me “think like a man” more often than not—to sometimes keep quiet, push through, and turn negative energy into positive energy. I think it’s also taught me what a man should be—strong, genuine, and responsible.
However, the biggest concern came when my grandfather—who was of strong German descent and very religious—first found out his daughter was adopting a Korean baby. I think there was extra weight on my parent’s shoulders because they didn’t know how he’d react to the fact that I had cerebral palsy, which gave her all the reason in the world to believe he would coddle me.
She showed him a picture of me. Dead silence. Then came the words that would set the tone for the bond I had with that man for 17 short years:
“Ah, she looks just like me!”
Looking back and listening to all these stories again, I understand and can appreciate why I am the quiet fighter that I am. It would be easy to say I felt safe in my dad and grandfather’s arms. I could say they were the first to truly give me something I didn’t have, but then I remember I don’t know what I was missing in the first place.
So today, as I gaze at the posters of Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson on my bedroom walls, I can truly say that men are God’s gift to women—or at least they are in my world.