Here’s to You, Mom

Life is weird.

Not in the sense that you spend four years falling in love with an entire community of people & bars & a big white M made of rocks & pizza Gumby’s at midnight & a set of six columns, and then are expected to uproot and start over somewhere else without all of that in an arm’s reach (can you tell I’m struggling with some post-grad angst?)…but in the sense that your life can be irrevocably changed in a matter of seconds. On a random July evening. Without even a hint that your life is about to be turned upside down and inside out.

So, let me give you a brief history of the Riveras –

Dad: born in Guatemala, has two brothers, grew up in Colombia.
Mom: born in Czechoslovakia, has one brother, moved anywhere you can think of while growing up. She’s lived in Africa and stuff – casual.
Me: born in Guatemala. *Fun fact I was considered a ‘legal alien’ until my freshman year at Mizzou. K. Thanks, America.
Sister: born in Texas (someone got the short end of the exotic stick).

Typical somewhat foreign family living in the land of the free, right? Right. So what’s the deal, why is any of this important? Well, you see, this is where that super-weird-life-changing moment comes into play for us. Allow me to elaborate on the history of my momma – and by elaborate, I mean paraphrase, because a full background could take hours and many cups of coffee or even an autobiography (ESPECIALLY after this plot twist). The quick and dirty: mom was born in Czechoslovakia, emigrated to Austria when the Russians invaded Prague, hopped around the world a bit, married my dad in Guatemala, bore yours truly, moved to Houston, bore the baby sister, moved to Kansas City, USA where she currently resides. (I KNOW, RIGHT?)

Again, why do you care?

Bear with me…the good stuff is coming (like Paramount Pictures/Jodi Picoult good). So last July mom and I were bonding sitting looking at our Facebooks on our respective computers like mothers and daughters sometimes do – I noticed she had an unnecessary amount of notifications and offered to clean that up for her (type A, OCD, fastidious, guilty as charged). As I’m accepting and deleting a plethora of friend requests, I come across a woman from the Czech Republic. “Mom, do you still keep in contact with anyone in Prague?” I ask. “No one other than Suzana, my cousin,” she replies. Intrigued, I scan the woman’s profile and immediately chills were sent from the nape of my neck down to the tips of my toes. This woman was related to my mom, no doubt. From the thin lips that fought to stay pursed through a smile to the eyes my sister surely got through the maternal side of a punnett square, everything about her seemed familiar – maybe even too familiar for my mom. While I got the chills, I think she felt something along the lines of sheer panic. After noting the ever-so-familiar face had the same birth place and birthday as my mom, she was then convinced someone was essentially ‘catfishing’ her or trying to steal her identity. She was literally searching for her own jewelry through the pictures, sure that photoshop had something to do with the similarities – yes, even down to the rings on her fingers. Mind you all, they were not the usual silver and gaudy Silpada rings Katrina is known to sport.

Fast-forward through a night of trying to decipher what the hell is going on and not much sleep. This is what we (I am now just as active on my mom’s Facebook as she is) wake up to the next morning.

Hello Seeking a twin-sister Catherine Strumhausová born: April 29, 1957 in Příbram, Czech Republic. Whether it’s you could you contact me. thank you the only person you show me yours, whether it is a mistake I apologize in advance, please reply, but who looks at us, saying that we are twins. Have a nice day Dana

You can re-read that over 20 times again and not feel crazy because you’d still have read it 55 times less than I did. Okay. Hold on while I compose myself and try not to vomit or cry or curl into the fetal position – for those of you that don’t know me personally, I’m a ‘feelings’ type of gal. In this moment, my mom has stopped believing someone is trying to steal her identity, but the panic has yet to subside – rightfully so. Remember how I gave you a family history when you started reading? My mom does not have a sister, therefore, she is not said twin, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

Told ya there was some good stuff coming. After a few emails to her cousin and some time to process, my mom confirmed that, unbeknownst to her, not only was she adopted, but she was separated from her twin sister at around eight months old. Her adoptive father had taken her from the children’s home in Kolín while another family’s adoptive process for both of the twins was in the works. At this point I was probably hyperventilating due to overstimulation of all the emotions. I was experiencing a blackout of emotions, while my mother had come to a crossroads of too many to count. A crossroads of fear and hope. Confusion and clarity. There were so many questions, but no resources for answers; she had lost contact with her brother (Surprise!  Adopted as well.) and her adoptive parents had passed away even long before that.

At the same time my mom was going through sheer shock and awe, Dana was experiencing something completely opposite – relief and comfort. On a spectrum of all the feels, I imagine the appeasement to feel like the most grand exhale of one’s life. In 1974, at the age of 17, Dana’s adoptive parents gave her the greatest gift and biggest burden by revealing the most precious part of her past: she was not alone in this world. This woman spent the next 40 years searching for (literally) her other half.

Hi Catherine, yes we are sisters, twins!!! Here crying with joy. After so many least you know about me. I hope to meet, a long time looking for you. Your sister, Dana

Today, the journey to bridge 5,000 miles and recount 57 years has begun and I could not be more excited for my mother. While some unexpected plans and rising plane ticket costs ground me in Kansas City for the initial meet, my joyful heart and eager eyes will be there in spirit. Tears streamed down my face as I said goodbye at the airport, but the tears were not those of sadness or jealousy, rather ones of joy and euphoria. My mind continuously stumbles across all the stories that might be brought back for me enjoy: how their mannerisms mimicked each other’s within the first five minutes of meeting, the strange coincidences that could not have happened solely by fluke, and the beauty my sister would witness in a cafe full of people when my mom and her twin meet for the first time.

So, here’s to you, Mom.

Here’s to spending the next 10 days in complete and utter bliss with your sister, daughter, and cousin right by your side. Here’s to redefining your youth and replacing memories of toy-like tanks and stern soldiers with those of walks across dusty cobblestones and miles of red-roofed views. Here’s to letting go of unanswered questions and finding peace in the bonds of sisterhood. But most of all, here’s to embracing those couple of seconds last July and turning them into the greatest blessing of your life.

I love you like the whole wide world and will be eagerly awaiting your return – complete with enough photos to make me feel like I was there and enough stories to last me through my time left living at home.




If you’re interested in reading an update on this story, check out ‘Here’s to You Mom: Part 2‘!

25 responses to “Here’s to You, Mom

  1. Wow Paola …….. I’m speechless …… and almost crying …… I met your mom in Guatemala about 24 years ago more or less ….. I met your dad too and your grandparents. Katrina and I worked together and I never imagined it would come to read something like this about her. This is wonderful ….. I’m sure that so many blessings are coming over all of you. I feel so happy…. and you …. wow … you’re incredible. God bless you.

    • Angela,
      Thank you so much for the kind words – it’s lovely to hear about your stories with my mom and such a joy to know you’ve enjoyed learning about this adventure. I’m sure my mom will be just as excited to update you on her time in the Czech Republic.

  2. Dear Marcelita, I always called you for your second name. Let me tell you what a beautiful story, yes, is a real story and you have done a beautiful job describing it. Thank you for sharing, I know a lot about your mother’s life, and now all this? I just can’t imagine her happyness when you found all this. Please give her a big kiss from me when she returns . Love elly

    • Elly,
      I love knowing that others are enjoying this story about someone we all love so deeply! I will be sure to give her a big hug and kiss and let her know you’re thinking of her. Thank you so much for the sweet words.

  3. Ohmygosh Paola! I love, love, love this story… so eloquently told! I can’t BELIEVE you didn’t go with your mom! I couldn’t have helped with unexpected plans, however, I would have happily paid for a plane ticket! (You should let me know about these things! 😉 I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story! I’m so glad Dana had the perseverance to keep up her search. Big hugs from Tennessee!

    Much Love,

    • Chelly,
      You are far too kind!! Thanks so much for the kind words and looks like you, Cass, and Carmen will just have to take a vacation and come with me next year when I make the trek there. :] Hope to see you and the rest of the Tennessee fam soon!

    • Angie,
      Although that wasn’t my intention at all, you’re not the first person to tell me tears have come after reading this. Hope you got a good Tuesday cry of some joyful tears though. :] Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Paolita this is so beautiful and I know you mom is loving this from the bottom of her heart what a wonderful way to tell her story, This is an amazing!!! I’m so happy for her and yes my eyes are full of tears of joy thank you so much for sharing this with us love you Annie

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  6. Pingback: Woman Discovers Twin More than a Half-Century Later: Part 2 | Project Light to Life·

  7. Holy smokes! this story is incredible, and I’m equally feeling crazy emotions over this.

    Wonderful! I hope your mom is able to enjoy some beautiful years ahead of her with her sister ❤

  8. Pingback: Here’s To You, Mom: Part 2 | LIVE. TRAVEL. BLESS.·

  9. Pingback: Woman Discovers Identical Twin More Than a Half-Century Later: Part 3 | Project Light to Life·

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