Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Evelyn Joan Kamps Jansen

Guest Post: I've reached out to some friends who have been really supportive of me and Calista Jones over the years to submit their own posts to the blog. I told them they could write about anyone they wanted and to make it as personal as they want. My friend, Liz Jansen, is the first in what I hope will become a regular series of guest posts about the many varied ways in which women have inspired us. I'm lucky to know Liz as she is a woman of exceptional character and devotion to others. If you'd like to submit a post, just contact me at! 

When thinking about this piece, my initial and obvious goal was to make it about the influencer, my subject.  As soon as I decided to write about my mom, I knew it’d be hard to avoid some self-reflection. I'm adopted, which has the capacity to complicate things like family, race, and ethnicity (if those weren’t already complicated enough).  Adoption is simultaneously a defining part of who I am, yet almost completely irrelevant to my day-to-day life.  In one sense, I am adopted.  My life would have been vastly different had I not been or had I been adopted into a different family.  In another sense, adoption—as a past event—is completely banal.  It’s something that happened in 1985 and is done.  It is simultaneously a past, concrete event and a present, fluid experience.

As a state of being, adoption gave me somewhat of a blank slate to work with as far as identity is concerned.   To sort of elaborate, I know I look Asian and often deal with inaccurate expectations based on my physical appearance, but I do not identify with and am therefore free to act outside of the norms of traditional Korean culture. Additionally, because I am adopted and don’t look White, I am also free to act outside of the norms of traditional, middle-American, suburban, White culture.  While not fitting in can be daunting, in my experience, it’s also been liberating.  As an adopted person, I may not quite fit into a specific category, but I’m also not beholden to a specific category.

I don’t quite have the words to describe my adoptive experience, and that attempt is for another time and place, but the point of this digression is to give a small sense of the many ways my story could have gone and to emphasize that who I am—the best parts of me—is almost entirely dependent on my family and the strong influence of the woman you’re about to meet.

Bill, Sue, and
their eldest daughter Donna.
Evelyn Joan Kamps (now Jansen) was born on January 29th in Allegan, Michigan.  Her father, William (Bill) Kamps, was a dairy farmer his entire life and also worked at a sawmill during the winter months. Her mother, Suzanna (Sue), worked in a factory until she had their first daughter, Donna.  After the birth of Donna, Sue dedicated her life to her family, which eventually grew to include five daughters.  Sue was able to stay at home until my mom was about three or four years old, at which point she went back to work full time. In remembering her parents, my mother writes, “They were hard working people who didn't take things for granted…walking close with God and trusting in him was evident in their lives.”

By the age of ten, my mom was in the barn working with her dad.  Although, instead of working I think she actually meant playing, because the only story she shared was about how she used to dress up “a big old tomcat” in a bonnet and push him around in a stroller. After the dressing up tomcats phase, my mom transitioned to horses and enjoyed riding with the neighbor kids.  On growing up and the prospects of growing up, my mom writes, “I always wanted to be a mom.  I didn't really want a career and never really thought I was smart enough for that. Little did I know you had to be super smart to be a parent, which doesn’t come with a handbook.”

In July of 1976, my mother took the first step towards her dream of a family when she met my dad, Christopher David Jansen.  In proper Christian Reformed fashion this romance revolves around the church, where they initially met. One day during service, my mom spotted her future husband across the sanctuary sitting with a family she knew.  On her way out, a mutual family friend introduced them and set them up on a date, a movie a neighboring church was hosting for “young people.”  So began a courtship of Wednesday night church softball leagues and dates to the Dairy Queen in Dorr (extra points to anyone who has been to Dorr, MI).  Dairy Queen eventually led to horseback riding and dinners with the family.  During this time, Sue was sick with Leukemia, obviously a tough time for my mom.  Thankfully my dad was able to experience her legendary humor and hospitality before she passed.  Eventually Chris and Evie were married and had a reception featuring ham on buns in their church’s basement.  (I’m sure potato salad was also included.) 

After marriage, my parents moved in with my Bill (my grandpa) and eventually came a baby in a baby carriage (or rather an airplane).  Born in Seoul, South Korea, I arrived in the summer of ’85.  My parents adopted me because they were initially unable to conceive, a problem more than overcome once my mom had three biological children in a row (1992, 1993, 1995), officially ending my 7-year reign as queen of the Jansen household.

On achieving her dream of motherhood, Evie writes, “When you kids were small I enjoyed being home with you and taking care of you.  In fact, it was probably one of the happiest times in my life, but I am also now ready to move forward to a little more mom and dad time…” (I don’t want to know what “mom and dad time” means.)  As she continued to reflect on her experiences as a mother, she writes, “Wanting to do the best for each kid’s personality is sometimes a big job, but I remember being pleasantly surprised when suggesting something, giving [you] time to think about it, and letting [you] come to [your] own conclusion.” My mother continued to reflect on how hard this was for her as her natural impulse was to protect through managing decisions.  She overcame this fear and need for protection through a strong faith she defined using Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and death?  That I am not my own, but belong body and soul and in life and death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Like her mother before her, Evie’s life has been grounded in faith and family.  Those have always been and still remain her top priorities. 

My family has made me who I am, and this is but a small piece of our ever-evolving narrative. The good parts of me are because of their influence and support. A huge (but by no means complete) portion of that influence and support comes from my mom, Evelyn Joan Jansen.  My mother is a warrior and she is a survivor.  She is strong and tender, courageous and gentle.  My mother, like all women, is complex and paradoxical.  It is because of her ability to let me come to my own conclusions that faith and family remain cornerstones in my life.  Though I may live out these traditions in different ways, my mother succeeded in making sure the foundations her parents laid remain a steadfast part of who I am.

I drafted much of this on my iPhone on public transportation surrounded by people, all strangers and all with a unique story of how they got to be on the Purple line express on a rainy spring-ish type day in Chicago. As I sat there, thinking about my story, how I got to be on the Purple line express and where I could have ended up, I was reminded of how infinitely grateful I am for my mom.  It is a testament to her love and support that two people who were born worlds apart, who should be strangers, and who remain vastly different are eternally bound by the words mother and daughter, words that transcend and defy both blood and biology.