Friday, December 26, 2014

Don't bother asking .....

I tried to never ask for anything -- school supplies, personal hygiene items, ANYthing -- because my uncle's wife always made it clear that having to make those purchases was inconvenient and a burden for her.  I definitely learned never to ask for anything by brand name, because if I were to specify a certain shampoo or toothpaste, she'd make it a point to buy something entirely different.  To this date, I detest both Prell® and Crest® , having been forced to use them for years.

Similarly, I didn't ask for help with personal matters, because I knew she really had no interest in helping me, and I certainly didn't want to talk to her.  Still, I did ask for advice once, when I was invited to a boy/girl party by one of my high school classmates.  I was incredibly ambivalent.  On the one hand I wanted to go, to be with other kids, to -- at least for one night -- pretend that I "fit in."  On the other hand I was terrified -- that the kids wouldn't like me, that I'd make a fool of myself, that no one would talk to me.  

I decided to ask my uncle's wife, thinking perhaps she'd offer a compassionate ear and words of wisdom to help guide my decision.  The thought of asking for help was scary, almost as scary as the party, itself.

But I gathered my courage and went into the kitchen where she was in her usual spot at the table, playing her usual game of Solitaire.  I sat across from her at the table, red-faced and nervous, and stammered out my question:  "I've been invited to go to a party and I'm not sure I want to go.  What should I do?"

I had imagined her listening to me and then asking insightful questions to help me make a decision.  Instead, without even looking up from the cards, she gave me a terse response: 

She sat at the kitchen table, every day, playing Solitaire.

"Just tell them your mother says you can't go."

I waited, but when no other words were forthcoming, I stood up and quietly slunk back to my room, no more certain than before of what to do.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Mother's Hands .....


After my second adoption, I stopped referring to my uncle and his wife by those names and started calling them "dad" and "mom."  For the purposes of keeping this blog as uncomplicated as possible, I'll continue with the original terms.

A while back, I accompanied a friend and her mother as they browsed the stacks in a used book store.  At one point, my friend knelt down to look at the title on the bottom shelf and, as she did so, her mother reached out her hand to gently touch the top of my friend's head.  It was a sweet, loving, totally un-selfconscious gesture and, seeing it, I felt a deep pang of regret.

The stereotypical view of a mother's hands -- gentle, kind and caring.

In all the time I lived with my uncle and his wife, I can remember only two instances of obvious kindness:  the morning of my first day at my school, when she stood with me at the bus stop; and about three years later when I was home sick and she, without me asking, fixed me something special for lunch.

Two kindnesses in somewhat more than 2,200 days of living in that house.

On the other hand (no pun intended), the cruelties were numerous.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cancelling the Adoption Contract

Look at any website encouraging women to give up their babies for adoption and you’ll see that one of the promises is a “forever family” for the child. Sign on the dotted line and, and you’re guaranteed that s/he will have a better life and a permanent family. For someone who truly wants the best for her child, this can be an enticing lure.

The reality, though, is that adoptive parents don’t have to be bound by this contract. At any point in the child’s life, should the adopters decide that they no longer can, or want to, parent the child, they can place the child in foster care, petition to have their parental rights legally terminated, or simply “rehome” the child – oftentimes through a shadowy, unregulated network of online sources. This is known as an adoption “dissolution” (as opposed to a “disruption,” which occurs prior to finalization).

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, between 1% and 5% of finalized adoptions dissolve. It’s impossible to know the true number, due to sealed records, child name changes, and modification of other personal information, but if more than 130,000 adoptions are finalized each year (again, per the Gateway), then somewhere between 1,300 to 6,500 adoption contracts are cancelled by adoptive parents on an annual basis.

Unfortunately, the person who is arguably most affected by adoption – the adoptee – has no similar recourse under this contract. Once you’re adopted, you’re adopted forever. I know this, because I’ve been trying for the past year to find a way to cancel my own adoption “contract.”

My personal adoption experience is ..... complicated. The “Cliff Notes” version is that I was adopted twice – the second time at the age of 11, by relatives who took me in only out of a sense of “familial responsibility”. The age of consent in the state where I was living was 12, so even though I was vehemently opposed to the adoption, I had no input into the decision. I was never interviewed by a social worker, and I never appeared before a judge. The limited information I’m able to obtain from my adoption file includes this statement: “presently family feels [child] has adjusted quite well and is eager for adoption”. (Emphasis added.)

This is blatantly untrue. I was being abused – emotionally and physically – and was desperately unhappy. I hated living with these relatives, and they made no secret of the fact that they didn’t even like me – much less love me. Within a year of going to live with them, I had started writing diary entries in which I contemplated suicide – at the age of 11.

Regardless, the adoption was finalized and my birth certificate amended for a second time. These people are now my “as if born to” parents and, unless I can persuade my executrix to “forget” my adoptive status, they’ll also be listed as such on my death certificate.

A couple years ago, I decided I’d had enough of being adopted, and started working towards ending that status. All three sets of parents (one birth, two adoptive) are deceased, so there are no concerns with wills or inheritances. It’s just about me wanting to legally sever ties with the adoptive family and reclaim my place in my real family, with whom I’ve been in reunion for more than 30 years. The first step was going to court and legally reclaiming the name given to me by my birth parents. Then I started researching the possibility of actually annulling my adoption – and that’s where I hit a brick wall.

I dug through state law until I found a form one can complete and file with a court to re-open and review decisions made in family matters. I sent it, accompanied by a $175 fee, to the court and waited for a letter giving me my court date. Instead, I received a call from the Clerk saying the form didn’t apply to adoptions, that they had no jurisdiction over adoptions, and that I’d have to contact a different court. I did so, and was told that “there is no process to annul adoptions” in the state and that I needed to contact an attorney for more information.

I’d found another possible route, which was to file an official “appeal”. However, the attorney informed me (and this was confirmed by the court) that there is no standard form for appealing a family decision. It has to be made in the form of a letter, which can only be crafted by an attorney since it must include relevant citations and such. However, he added that adoption annulment is not supported by state law and, therefore, highly unlikely to be granted. He also informed me that the filing fee was $350 and that if the appeal was rejected outright (and he was sure it would be), the fee was non-refundable. He said my only real option was to be adopted by some other adult, who would then become my legal parent. I pointed out that a) at 57, I’m far too old to be re-adopted and b) I don’t want to be RE-adopted, just UN-adopted.

I then contacted three different legislators who represent the state, asking for their help in this matter. Two never responded; the third’s answer was that the Constitution’s separation of powers clause prevents him from getting involved. And that I should consult an attorney for more information. My next thought was that I could try to annul my *first* adoption, which took place in a different state, because if the first adoption didn’t exist, then the second one wouldn’t either. After some research, I found that the state does have a provision by which a form can be filed to annul an adoption, but I couldn’t find the actual form, itself. I didn’t wait to be told to consult an attorney – I was proactive in making contact.

Unfortunately, the attorney said that no adoption can be appealed for any reason, if more than two years have passed since finalization. I was 40+ years too late. He did helpfully suggest that I could try finding someone else to adopt me.

So I’m back to square one. I’m still investigating other options, but the painful reality is that there is simply no way for *an adoptee* to easily annul an adoption. And I have to ask, “Why?”

In my opinion, adoption is a legal contract between the state and the adoptive parents, with the child being the “property” that is conveyed. However, as one person said to me, “An adoptee can’t unadopt him/herself any more than a house can unsell itself.”

Whether adopted as an infant, or as a child, this decision -- made by others -- is irrevocable and binding on the adoptee. That’s neither appropriate nor fair.

Yes, I’ve heard the counter-argument that biological children can’t “divorce” their parents, either. Apples and oranges. The biological child wasn’t taken from his/her first family and given to others to raise. There was no contract written establishing the legal relationship. The child’s birth certificate was never altered. If a biological child really wants to sever familial ties, well, just find someone else to adopt him/her. After all, if it’s good enough for some of us .....

Most adoptees won’t want to cancel the adoption contract and, obviously, no one should ever be forced to do so, but the option MUST be available for those of us who DO want it. At the age of majority, the adoptee should have the absolute right to decide whether s/he wants to remain a member of the adoptive family. If not, then the state has the moral obligation to honor that decision. 

Anything less is unacceptable.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

"Fat" is a four-letter word (part III) .....

As I've already mentioned, my weight was a constant source of irritation to my uncle's wife, and it was something she regularly criticized me for.
The school day started early, so I was always out of the house by 7:30AM or so.  Lunch was at  approximately 12:00PM, and dinner was usually around 7:00PM, since we had to wait for my uncle to arrive home from work, and his commute was at least an hour.
Once my aunt declared that my weight was unacceptable, food was off-limits to me between meals.  As a growing adolescent, seven hours was a looooooooooong time to have to wait between lunch and dinner.  I've also mentioned that food was a source of comfort, so I had a constant and ongoing combination of physical and emotional hunger. 
That pretty much sums it up.
But a hungry child is a clever child.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dreams .....

Over the approximately seven years that I lived with my uncle and his wife, I often had what I called "escape dreams" in which I was trying to run away from various captors.  Quite often, I was being held prisoner by Germans, which I attribute to the numerous WWII-themed TV shows of that era, but even then I recognized that the people I was trying to escape from were actually my uncle and (more significantly) his wife.  Occasionally I recorded dreams in my diary, but often I forgot the details before I was able to write them down.
One exception is the escape dream I had in late July, 1970.  It was strikingly vivid in its details and realism (I physically *felt* some dreamed objects), and I was able to get it all on paper while it was still fresh in my mind.
I present it here exactly as I penned it in 1970:
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"I had another dream the other night.  It is the worst dream and one of the most realistic dreams I have ever had."
If I'd run as much in my waking life as I did while dreaming,
I wouldn't have had a weight problem.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

No voice .....

My first adoption was finalized in 1960, approximately 18 months after going to live with my grandparents.  Since I was only three at the time, no one consulted me on the decision and, honestly, I don't think there's anything inappropriate about that.
My second adoption?  Well, the circumstances of that event were much different.
It was at dinner, sometime in 1968.  As we sat at the table, my uncle said "How about we adopt you?"

Horrified, I responded, "No!"

He asked for my reasons.

My inner child was shouting:

  • I feel guilty about "replacing" my grandparents, whom I consider my "real parents".
  • I feel an intense desire to return to the Midwest, which I consider my "real home."
  • I'm being bullied by my peers at school.
  • I'm being emotionally abused by your wife.
  • I'm being physically abused by your wife.
  • I'm occasionally being physically abused by you (and your leather belt).
  • I just don't feel like I belong this family, this school, this town.

But all I said was:
"Because I don't want to."

"Fat" is a four-letter word (part II) .....

As I matured, I wanted to wear pantyhose, which had become increasingly popular in the late 1960's and early 1970's.  Of course, this was another item that my uncle's wife refused to buy for me.  She told me I could buy my own pantyhose with my own money.  Unfortunately, since I had no money of my own, and no realistic way of earning any, this was impossible.
Instead, she got me white bobby socks -- a style that had gone out of fashion at least a decade prior.

OK, sure -- I wear these now, but I'm old and don't care anymore.
It's very different when you're a young teenager desperately trying to fit in with your peers.

My oh-so-sophisticated classmates -- who'd earlier mocked my Girl Scout uniform and Go-Go lunch box -- again let me know that I was in violation of societal norms.  One memory is indelibly imprinted in my memory:  Popular girl Taryn sneering at me before Gym class and saying, with oh-so-false sincerity, "I like your so-oooocks."  My response?  "Thanks."  What else could I say?

"Fat" is a four-letter word (part I) .....

My weight was a constant source of irritation to my uncle's wife, who was tall and naturally slim.  Although I was "chubby" when I arrived, it wasn't long before I started gaining weight fairly steadily.  The exercise I'd gotten in the city -- walking to school, walking to the park, walking to friends' houses, roller skating on the sidewalk -- was replaced by riding a school bus and driving to town.  I was able to ride my bike until my brother destroyed it.  The bike was never replaced and I didn't ride again until I went to college a decade later.
The dreaded scale, verifying what was already obvious.
My uncle's wife frequently commented, negatively, about my eating habits.  She never commented on my younger brother, who ate voraciously.  However, since he was always on the go, his weight stayed well within a "normal" range.   Obviously, it wasn't what I ate, but what I looked like, that was so unacceptable.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

It's the thought that counts .....

One of the many differences in my new "home" was the weather.  I'd been living in the Midwest, and had seen a fair amount of cold and snow -- but not nearly the amount that I'd experience in New England, and my wardrobe wasn't adequate.
At the first snow, realizing that my lightweight coat wouldn't be warm enough, my uncle's wife reached into the hall closet and pulled out the blue ski jacket that had previously been worn by her daughter.  She gave it to me and told me to wear it.

I'd never even seen a ski jacket before.  The one I was given
looked very much like this and had belonged to my adoptive sister.

I wasn't happy about wearing someone else's coat, but knew better than to complain (too much).  In the end, it didn't matter because it was already on the small size and would only fit me that one season.