In her hometown of Lansing, Michigan, “50-plus something” Estina Banks is known simply as “The Map Lady.” Friends, family, and even mere acquaintances make a point to collect any vintage maps they may come across to give to Banks, which she gladly accepts. But just why is Banks seemingly obsessed with old, dusty maps?
Because she turns them into something new and meaningful for families touched by adoption.
The story began when Banks and her husband grew their family through adoption and became the parents of one son, now a senior in high school, and one daughter, now a junior, both born in South Korea.
When her children were little, Banks tells Babble that she recalls instances of going out in public and having to explain, over and over, that she was her children’s mom. She even remembers one particular incident when her daughter fell on the playground and a complete stranger picked her up and handed her to a baffled Asian woman standing nearby.
After experiences like that, Banks says she felt a pull to find a piece of jewelry that represented her children’s country of origin and would stand as a physical sign of her connection to her children.
“I think I wanted something for myself that said, ‘Yeah, I’m a mom,’” Banks explains. “My children didn’t come to me in the traditional sense … they came to in a little different way. Yet I’m still a mom.”
After going online and not finding what she was looking for, Banks decided to create her own piece of jewelry by crafting a necklace with a pendant that contained a map of Korea, along with the country’s flag. It wasn’t long before other adoptive mothers began asking her to make necklaces for them, too. Banks started gifting the necklaces to other families who been through the adoption processes and eventually, her business took off.
She gushes that she has been able to meet amazing families and create meaningful pieces, such as a mother-daughter pair of necklaces, and a 6-pendant set for a group of mothers who traveled together to meet their children in China.
Although she works with families from all over the world, she notes that she prefers to sell her pieces in person because it gives her an opportunity to connect with the mothers and families she is working with.
“I like to talk,” she laughs. “I like to hear their stories. Everyone has an adoption story.”
To create her pendants, which can be used on keychains, necklaces, or bracelets, Banks frequents thrift shops, estate sales, antique stores, and garage sales to locate any vintage paper, such as music sheets, old hymnals, or postage stamps.
“It takes a lot of time!” Banks admits. So far, she has been nearly 100% successful in finding vintage paper for all of her customers. She has only had one or two instances when she couldn’t locate paper from the requested location, including a remote air force base in Germany.
In addition to her work for adoptive families, Banks creates other types of custom pendants as well. She has done everything from memorial pieces to a special project with a semi-colon referencing suicide awareness.
While creating her custom pieces takes a lot of dedication, Banks knows how important it is to give families the gift of connection and talk openly about adoption. In their own family, Banks notes that adoption has “never not been part of the conversation” and that she and her husband have always been extremely open about it.
“We were all very open about adoption, about what a gift it was, and how lucky we were to be given this blessing and opportunity to raise and meet wonderful kids,” she explains. “Our kids aren’t ‘so lucky’ to have us. Nope, we’re very, very lucky and blessed to have an opportunity to raise and meet wonderful kids.”
Banks believes that her jewelry pieces are meaningful to families who have been through the adoption process because it gives them a physical connection to where they came from.
“I think it’s the heritage,” she explains. “It’s part of who they are; it’s how you connect. I know I do. [It’s like when you say] ‘this is Grandma’s recipe’ or ‘here’s that thing that Grandma made.’ These kids don’t have that.”
In the end, Banks is passionate about what she does because she sees it as a way to provide meaningful connection to adoptive families and as a way to be an example for other mothers who have grown their families through adoption.
“We are not less-than and we’re not adoptive moms,” she says. “We’re just moms.”