Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Adoptee wins on long shot

        Catherine Botos knew it was a long shot. Born here, Catherine was adopted at the age of 8 months and grew up in northern Ohio. She decided to come to the University of Cincinnati, “so I could start looking.” She was born May 20, 1980, at Good Samaritan Hospital, where she began the search for her mother. Then after two years, she found her father instead. Or he found her.

        Her father, Catherine says carefully. “My adoptive parents are Mom and Dad, my birth parents are my mother and father.”

        Steve and Christine Botos told Catholic Social Services they wanted to adopt children. They are white. Catherine, who is African-American, grew up with Irish, Latino and biracial siblings.

        So, your parents told the agency they'd take any healthy baby, right? “I wasn't even healthy,” she says. “Ear problems. But I'm fine now.”

        She now has an exceptionally fine ear, as a matter of fact. She writes poetry, loves music. The music, she believes, comes from her father, bassist for the Chozen, a popular local R&B group. Albert “Woo” Wilkerson figured it out first. He was hired to play at Aroma, a coffeehouse Catherine manages on Seventh Street, downtown.

        “He told me he felt he'd always known me.”

        Then one evening, Albert Wilkerson saw her through the big front window, carrying two grocery bags, in a hurry, “kind of stomping.” And he knew. She looked just like her mother.

Shocking at first

        She shows me a photograph of her mother, taken more than two decades ago. The resemblance is dramatic. “We don't know where she is.”

        She knows perfectly well where her mom lives. Christine Botos, a high school English teacher, lives with Catherine's dad, Steve, a free-lance writer. That's where her poetry comes from, she thinks. Sister Jessica is still at home. Her older sibs, Steve, Rachel and Adrian, are scattered.

        Her new brothers, Nick, 13, and Welland, 18, live here with her — and their — father. You may find this confusing. Catherine does not.

        But it was shocking at first.

        “You look exactly like your mother,” Albert told her one evening in January at the coffeehouse. She remembers gripping the bar. “He knew her name, something even I wasn't supposed to know.”

        The name of Catherine's mother was blacked out on the birth certificate she'd been given. “But when I held it up to the light, I could make it out.”

        They cried. They hugged. They talked for hours. Catherine called her mom. More crying. “She was excited for me.”

        This is, it goes without saying, an exceptional family. But let's say it anyway. While the debate continues over transracial adoptions, Catherine Botos has been surrounded by love for as long as she can remember. Her mom taught her to cook. She thinks her dad is responsible for the way she writes, her father for the way she sings. She surely looks like her mother.

        Any parent would be lucky to be able to claim responsibility for any portion of this beautiful, accomplished, competent young woman. Nature. Nurture. Biology. Environment.

        It's not black and white.

        Not by a long shot.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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