Monday, November 2, 2015

Shameless Self-Promotion .....

In October of 2014, an essay I wrote was published in the book Dear Wonderful You, Letters to Adopted and Fostered Youth.  It's a compilation of writings meant for adolescent/teen readers, especially those who might be struggling with adoption-related issues.  It's been very well-received by individuals who work with such youngsters, as well as by others who have simply been touched by the experiences shared by the writers.

November of 2015 brings the new book, Flip the Script, an adult adoptee anthology of essays and visual art.  With nearly 50 writers and artists, the book presents a wide variety of opinions on the institution of adoption.  Each contributor attempts to show how adoption has shaped and affected his/her life, with the understanding that although our lives share a common event, we are a diverse group and all deserve to be recognized and heard.

While I'm proud to be included in both these book, I'm most proud of the children's book that I wrote and published on my own.  It's not adoption-related -- at least not *people* adoption-related.  It tells the story of a kitten I adopted from a local shelter, and his experiences in his new home.  Illustrated with water colors painted by the talented Rebekah Wells, it's a sweet story of love between human and feline.  

I hope you find something of value in all three of these works!

Dear Wonderful You, Letters to Adopted and Fostered Youth

Flip the Script, Adult Adoptee Anthology

Wibber Dibber Doo, I Love You

Also available directly from the publisher:  Wibber Dibber Doo

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Continuing the conversation on the adoption contract .....

It never ceases me to amaze me that people who have no personal experience with, or connection to, an issue can be SO hostile towards people who do.

But, as they say, "it is what it is".

My essay, dated August 4, 2015, from The Guardian online:

Adult adoptees should be able to annul their relationship with their adoptive parents

As of today's date, my little essay has been shared more than 2,300 times and has garnered 561 comments.

Many of the comments are negative, but that's OK.
It may not be something that's important to a lot of people, but for some of us it definitely IS, and I'm pleased that I was able to provide an opportunity for those voices to be heard.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Life, interrupted .....

If you've spent any time around women, you've probably heard one of them say, "I can't believe it, I'm turning into my mother!"  Quite often, we do take on characteristics of our mothers, since that's what we've grown up with.

In my case, because I had three mother figures, I ended up taking on characteristics of all three.  Unfortunately, none of them were good characteristics.

Given the numerous dysfunctions in my life, I don't know why I ever thought I was capable of being a good mother.  Ego ... pride ... hubris?  Whatever, I was confident that I'd never make the mistakes the adults in my life had made.

And yet .....

On December 28, 2008, I received the following e-mail from my son:

 I got the box a few days ago. I threw it away. Anything else you send me will either be similiarly trashed, or returned. Any emails you send will be deleted unopened, any calls you make unanswered and unreturned. I will never communicate with you again after this email, nor accept anything from you again.
I hope you can find happiness in your life.

This was the last communication I had from him, as he committed suicide two days later.  He was 22.

As soon as I heard the news, it was like a blindfold had been pulled from my eyes.  It was a moment of great clarity and I was immediately aware of my inadequacy as a mother. I realized how much I'd repeatedly hurt and disappointed him in his too-short life.  I understood, with soul-crushing certainty, that his death was, without question, my fault.

I will carry the grief and guilt with me for the rest of my life.

Spring Break in Florida, 1996

Of all the many regrets in my life, this is the greatest. You are my heart, Taylor, and I still miss you so much.

I'm sorry.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The natural state of childhood .....

Sooooo -- on another blog, I was just told that "The natural state of childhood is lack of choice."

This was in reference to comments I posted about my desire to have my adoption annulled.  Of course, other respondents gave me the same, tired, suggestions that I've heard so many times before:  

  • Just change your name
  • Just find someone else to adopt you


I'm 58 years old, folks!  I don't WANT to be re-adopted.  Even if I DID, I'm too damned old.

And I've already changed my name through the courts, thank you very much.  That doesn't change the fact that the people listed on my birth certificates as my "parents" are not, and shouldn't be granted that title.  The knowledge that when I die, their names will also go on my death certificate?  Infuriating.

Here's the thing.  Let's suppose that once you got married, the law said you couldn't get divorced unless you were going to immediately marry someone else.  Once you said "I do," single life is no longer an option for you.  Ever.

Does that sound right to you?  

That's what adoption is, except the initial choice (the contract) isn't something you agree to -- others made the decision for you.

Here's perhaps a better analogy.  Suppose, when you're born, your parents decide that you should marry someone they've picked out for you.  They sign a contract stating that you will marry John (or Jane) on a specific date, and John's (or Jane's) parents sign a similar contract saying their child will marry you.

Should you be bound by that contract?  I'm pretty sure you'll say no.  And why?  Because someone else is determining your future for you, without allowing you to have any say in the matter.

Ahem.  Just like adoption.

But adoption is OK because "The natural state of childhood is lack of choice," right?


Saturday, July 4, 2015

As Maine goes .....

..... so goes the nation?

This story has been circulating widely in the adoption community since it appeared yesterday:

and it's being celebrated as a long-overdue mandate.

Two years ago, Reuters published a series of articles on the underground practice of rehoming adopted children (The Child Exchange).  Most Americans were unaware that this was happening, and certainly unaware that it was going on without legal oversight of any kind.

The children most affected by this practice typically have been adopted from overseas, and out of infancy.  Chances are, they have spent some length of time in an orphanage or other institutional care and, as a result, have developed behaviors that make it nearly impossible for them to integrate into a traditional family.  Perhaps they have medical or health issues that will require extensive treatment in order for them to lead normal lives.  

Many times, would-be adopters are not informed of these behavior and health issues, or they naively assume that "love conquers all" and that once "their child" is home, all will be well.

"Love conquers all"

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day .....

Today -- June 21, 2015 -- is celebrated as Father's Day here in the U.S.  So I thought I'd talk about my birth father.

Very early in this blog, I shared the little I know about his life prior to and during his marriage to my mother.  They were married for a few years, and most of the time he was away at sea.  He was home enough to sire four children (twins in 1956, me in 1957, my younger brother in 1958), but walked out on our family sometime between my birth and my brother's.

A few years ago I came across a handful of photos that my mother had sent to my grandparents. Included among them were some pictures of my birth father doing various activities (in one he was hanging wet diapers on a clothesline and was captioned something like "And he swore he would never wash diapers").  I kept them for a while, then sent them all to my sister.

I did keep one photograph, though, just so that I'd have something to remind me where I come from.  Every now and then I pull it out and stare at it. Do I look like him?  Do I act like him?  What part(s) of me came from him?

Dear old dad, circa 1955

Just do it .....

Although I thought, and wrote, multiple times about suicide, I never actually attempted it.  However, I did attempt to attempt it once.

I'm not sure the exact date, but it was prior to the wedding of my uncle's daughter, because she was temporarily living at home.  She wed in June, 1971, so I was 13 years old -- 14 at most.  What precipitated the attempt is lost to me now, as is why this one night was so much worse than any that preceded it.

What I do know is that on that one night, I was lying in bed and crying so hard that I was unable to sleep.  I was tired of crying ... tired of being miserable ... tired of everything.  I got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Years later, my uncle's daughter would tell me that she always knew where her mother's pills were kept, in case she ever decided to make an attempt herself, but I wasn't that savvy.  All I knew was that in the bathroom, I'd find the key that would let me escape my unhappiness.

The key

Friday, June 19, 2015

Nancy and me .....

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wasn't able to take showers while living in my uncle's house.  There was a bathroom on the top floor, where the kids' bedrooms were located, but the shower head had been removed and therefore the tub was only usable for baths.  Even now, I don't mind an occasional long soak, but I'm simply not -- now or then -- the kind of person who enjoys a daily bath.

Before moving there, I'd showered every night -- long and hard -- often using up all the hot water.  Then suddenly that pleasure was taken away from me, and I was extremely unhappy.  So I stopped bathing.  I'd run water in the tub, then sit on the toilet reading a book for 30 minutes or so; I'd then put on my nightgown, go downstairs and proclaim that, yes, I HAD taken a bath.

My uncle's wife was no fool and she rarely believed me.  The first time I tried to pull this off, she stuck her hand up inside my nightgown to see if my skin was damp.  I was shocked and, I believe, said something snarkily inappropriate.  Other times, she would simply walk into the bathroom, unannounced, to see if I was actually in the tub.  The times that I WAS in the tub, I'd make a similarly snarky comment.

While I understood that she wanted me to bathe, I didn't believe her methods were appropriate.  I also didn't believe that it was fair that I was being forced to do something that no one else was required to do.  (And if they'd simply allowed me to shower, it wouldn't have been an issue. Really.)

My uncle regularly threatened to cut my hair if I didn't keep it clean.  My hair, strawberry blonde and hanging to the middle of my back, was my one good feature, and I angrily warned him that he'd better not touch it.  Fortunately, he never did.

Baths, and my lack of cleanliness would be ongoing issues for quite a while.

Sometime prior to moving in with him, my uncle had given an idea to artist, Ernie Bushmiller, who drew the "Nancy" comic strips.  Bushmiller used the idea and sent the original artwork, autographed,  to my uncle. He had it framed and displayed it proudly.

For my 11th birthday, the first in my uncle's house, I received a gift that was long, narrow, and fragile.  When I opened it, I found a framed, autographed, Nancy comic strip of my own.  In the first frame, Nancy is sitting in the bathtub, and says "I hate taking baths."  The second frame adds "Every day is too much!" In the third frame, she confronts Aunt Fritzi with "From now on, no more baths!"

And the final frame:

Ha ha ha that's SO funny.
As my uncle laughed heartily, I curled my lip in a sneer.  It wasn't funny to me then, and it's not funny to me now. Even at 11, I recognized that they were mocking me and having a good laugh at my expense.  I didn't appreciate the "humor" and HATED the gift.

Of course, that didn't matter; they just continued to believe that I was ungrateful and spoiled. My uncle hung the comic strip on the wall in my bedroom, where I was forced to look at it on a daily basis until they shipped me away a few years later.

I still have that comic strip, though I took it out of its frame years ago.  I thought perhaps I could sell it as comic art, but apparently no one else thinks it's funny, either, and I've never received an offer.  It's currently hidden away in a drawer, and I think the next time I stumble across it I'll take it out and burn it.

Did I mention that I HATE it?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ding dong .....

My uncle's wife, what more can I say?

When my brother and I got in trouble for something, she took away our music lessons -- the one thing that meant more to me than anything else. My brother was later allowed to resume his lessons, but I never was.

When I disobeyed her, she didn't just send me to my room -- she locked me in there. Had there been an emergency, I would have been trapped on the third floor with no way out.
When the local schools changed their dress codes to allow girls to wear pants, she refused to buy me any. I was forced to wear (ill-fitting) skirts, accompanied by long-out-of-style bobby socks, while my classmates all wore slacks whenever they wanted.  She also (falsely) informed me that jeans were not available in my size.
When I was violently ill one night, she didn't bother to get out of bed to check on me. "Just get in the other bed" she said. When I accidentally threw up in that bed, too, I knew better than to wake her again. I spent the night curled up in a dry corner of the bed, periodically vomiting into a trash can.
When I needed to stay after school one day, she gave me permission, but said I'd have to walk home  -- a distance of approximately three miles. I did so, in my stacked heel shoes, because those were the only shoes I had.  It took approximately an hour and she was furious with me when I finally arrived, because it turns out I had an appointment with the ear doctor that day and we were late.  [For the record:  a) I didn't know about the appointment and b) if she wanted us to be on time, she should have picked me up.]
Detailed in an earlier entry, she did agree to pick me up one day after school, then left me sitting for two hours with no explanation or apology.
In high school, during one of her typical "you never do anything for anyone else" tirades, I said I'd like to volunteer to work with the elderly.  She drove me to an assisted living place where I did, indeed, volunteer.  I'd ride the bus from school, help out for a couple hours, and then walk home (again, it was at least a three mile walk) because she wouldn't give me a ride.  I lasted approximately a month, and then quit -- which I'm sure pleased her greatly, since I have no doubt her goal was to demonstrate how worthless I really was.

When a friend of mine got a job waitressing at Friendly's, I asked if I could do likewise. I even said I'd walk home. Although she'd long told me if I wanted to buy anything I'd have to use my own money (of which I had none), she refused to let me take the job.

When I said I wanted to go live with my birthmother, she told me my birthmother didn't want me.
When I ate without her permission, she punished me.
When I gained weight, she did her best to humiliate me.
When I defied her, she beat me.
When I finally stood up to her, she sent me away.
There's no sugar-coating it.  My very presence was abhorrent to her.
It was no secret to me that I was neither wanted nor loved.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Recruited .....

In the summer of 1980, I was (temporarily) a student at New York University.  Between classes, I often sat on a bench in Washington Square Park, alternately studying and people watching.  One day, I was approached by a clean-cut fellow who appeared to be in his mid-20's.  Hovering a few feet behind him was a young woman of about the same age.  She watched, smiling rather nervously, as the man started to talk.
He greeted me and said that they were members of an eclectic group of people who enjoyed music and art, were interested in social activism, and hoping to make new friends. He invited me to a potluck dinner the next weekend and gave me the address in Brooklyn.  I thanked him and said I'd consider it; he and his companion then headed towards a bench where another student was sitting by herself. They started talking and, I assume, she was extended the same invitation.
I admit, I was curious. I was also a little concerned for my safety, but assumed everything would be fine, since serial killers don't travel in pairs, right?
Good food, good music, good friends -- what could possibly go wrong?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cancelling the Adoption Contract -- an update .....

Back in December, I detailed my quest to become unadopted.  Based on advice I received online and in correspondence with other adoptees, I decided to make direct contact with the Court where my adoption was finalized, and ask the current Judge to set aside the ruling.

I gathered my evidence, which included the letter and e-mails I received from the State's Adoption Records agency, copies of death certificates/notices for both adoptive and birth parents, a newspaper article detailing an adoption in Florida which was set aside a few years ago, and scanned diary entries from the time of my adoption, in which I laid out my unhappiness and despair.

In all, there were a dozen pages, including a carefully-crafted two-page letter presenting the facts and arguing my case.  Approximately two weeks later, a large envelope arrived from the Court.  Inside was all the documentation I'd carefully put together, along with this letter:

Short, but not so sweet.

The adoptees I've shared this with almost universally say that the Judge's tone is condescending, dismissive and unhelpful, and I agree.

I refuse to stop trying for an annulment, because I believe it's my absolute right, as an adult, to decide whether or not I want to continue being a party to a contract signed on my behalf but to which I did not agree.

I'm not sure what my next steps will be, but I'm not giving up.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Imaginary family .....

As I mentioned in my previous entry, a lack of childhood relationships led me to create several imaginary friends.  These friends, as relatively fully-formed entities, disappeared by the time I was dumped on my uncle and his wife.  However, I didn't abandon them entirely and, in fact, they would -- in another form -- be a part of my life for many years to come.

I'm not sure exactly how or when it started, but by the time I was nine or ten, I was acting out variations on scenes from favorite TV shows in my bed before dropping off to sleep.  As during waking hours, I was always the central character in the scene and during childhood, my character was always a hero of some kind.

I fought countless battles and saved innumerable people's lives -- ever stoically brave, never showing fear.

Always a hero.

In my imaginary life, I was rewarded for my heroism on an almost nightly basis.

Imaginary friends .....

As a child, I had very few friends.  There were a number of reasons for this:  when with my grandparents, we lived in an area that had very children of my own age nearby.  I wasn't able to develop many school-based friendships, since I attended the school(s) where my grandmother taught, and they weren't in my neighborhood.  By the time we arrived home from school, there was only limited time during which to nurture friendships with the few children who did live in the area.  

No doubt, though, the main reason I had so few friends was that I wasn't an especially likeable child.  Angry and self-centered -- more so even than typical for a normal pre-adolescent -- few classmates wanted to be friends with me.  In one Sunday School Christmas gift exchange I eagerly opened my gift and found two "Little Golden" books, written for children in first or second grade.  Since I was in 5th grade at the time I was surprised and when I looked over at the girl who gave me the gift, she smirked and stuck her tongue out at me.  She'd obviously intended the gift to be an insult -- and it was.

It's the thought that counts and, unfortunately, the thought was very un-Christian like.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Summer Camp Stories (part II) .....

The first time we put the canoes in water, I was terrified.  Seated in the middle, I tightly gripped both sides of the canoe.  "Don't worry," said one of the other girls in the boat, "it's really stable."  To prove her point, she grabbed the sides and rapidly leaned back and forth, rocking the canoe from side to side.  I shrieked, and she finally stopped.  Our inaugural voyage continued and we soon came upon a rocky area with rapids.  Having received only minimal instruction on how to handle a canoe in rapids, the other girls made a valiant attempt to go straight, but succeeded only in getting caught in an eddy, resulting in the canoe hitting the rocks and dumping us all out into the water.  Since it was a shallow area, I managed to again keep my head out of the water, but as I stood up I was crying and shaking in fear.

Our primary chaperone wasn't unsympathetic, but he didn't coddle me, either.  "You're fine," he said, "it's just water."  He was right, of course, and I had no choice but to get back in the canoe and continue.  It wasn't too long before I actually began to enjoy canoeing, and by the time camp ended, I was one of the most enthusiastic paddlers in the group.  (And I have never since fallen out of a canoe.  They really ARE very stable.)

I learned to love canoeing, but I was never crazy about having to portage.

Summer Camp Stories (part I) .....

I was sent to sleep-away camp every year that I lived with my uncle and his wife.  When I was younger, it would be for two weeks at a time; as I got older, it was for four weeks.  Although, as a rule, I usually enjoyed being out of the house for a while, my uncle's wife did at one point -- in one of her usual fits of frustration -- tell me that the primary reason for sending me was so that she wouldn't have to deal with me.  I wasn't surprised to hear that, but it still stung.

Regardless, off to camp I went.

In 1969, my uncle and his wife decided to take a month-long trip to Wales while my younger brother (who was, temporarily, living at home) and I were away at camp.  I don't know where he was sent, but I went to a local Girl Scout camp.  Unfortunately, in her narrow-focused desire to be free of me, my uncle's wife neglected to notice that the camp didn't offer four-week sessions.  Instead, the sessions were two weeks in length, and the counselors told me I was required to go home the weekend between. 


I actually didn't mind heading off to summer camp, as it let me escape the abuse from my uncle's wife.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sent away -- again (part III) .....

I have few pleasant memories of my time at the school.  As I recall, it started snowing early (October?) and the snow continued into spring (March).  There were numerous black flies which, I was sorry to learn, bite.  HARD.  Since there were so few students, it was difficult to find anyone that I felt an affinity with, and I never did fit in.  Fulfilling a lifetime (or school lifetime, at least) fantasy, I joined the cheerleading squad, which was open to anyone who wanted to participate.  At nearly 200 pounds I was, no doubt, the most improbable cheerleader ever, but I was enthusiastic -- for a while.  The other girls on the squad didn't care for me -- and let me know -- and we were a fairly rag-tag group.  We did have one girl who could do both a cartwheel and a split; the rest of us mostly jumped around waving our arms in semi-unison.  I quit the squad about half-way through the season.

The school had a stable and boarded horses for the local community.  I loved horseback riding when I'd gone to girl scout camp years before, so when the opportunity presented itself to earn riding time, I eagerly signed up.  In order to be able to ride a set amount of time, I had to first work by feeding the horses for a (much longer) set amount of time.  I didn't mind the trek down to the stables until, as I mentioned, it started snowing.  After that, not having proper outdoor attire, it became too much of a chore and I quit that as well.  I don't think I got to ride more than once or twice the entire time.

The one true bright spot was that I was able to participate in the drama program without worrying about my aunt being unwilling to transport me to rehearsals.  Because of the school's small size, anyone who auditioned for a part was pretty much guaranteed to get one.  I landed the lead in the school's fall production, during which the script called for me to smash a plate onstage and fall to my knees, screaming in emotional agony.  It was wonderfully cathartic.

A "suggested donation" of 25 cents gives you a good idea of the quality of the performances.

Sent away -- again (part II) .....

The driving distance from our house to the school was approximately six hours.  It took about half that time to fly, and by midday we'd landed in Waterville, Maine (population ~18,000).  From there, we drove a rental car to the school, which was located in North Vassalboro.  Though just 10 minutes outside the "city," it was an extremely rural area, home to numerous dairy farms and had a population of just over 2,600.

Having grown up first in a small city, then in a suburban community, I was upset to find myself in what I perceived to be the middle of nowhere.  The school, itself, was a disappointment.  Unlike the nice Canadian school I'd toured, this facility had an enormous main building, but it was shabby and in need of maintenance.  My assigned dorm room was large, but run-down, and from the moment I set foot on campus, I felt like I didn't belong.  I didn't want to be there, but it was what I'd chosen (based only on a directory description) and this was to be my prison "home" for the next nine months.

Oak Grove-Coburn School -- closed in 1989; now the site of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Sent away -- again (part I).....

Sometime during my sophomore year of high school, I made a suggestion to my uncle.  Having met with my guidance counselor and counted my credits, I realized that I would have enough credits -- though just barely -- to graduate one year early.  My uncle's response was a quick and firm "no."  Since I had skipped first grade, I was already one of the youngest students in my grade, and graduating early meant that I'd be just two months past my 15th birthday.  He thought that I was simply too young and too immature.

Later during the school year, I made another suggestion -- that I be allowed to finish my last two years at boarding school.  I'd met a girl at "fat camp" the summer before who attended boarding school and said she enjoyed not living at home.  Again, my suggestion was rejected.  During the brief time that my younger brother lived at home (between discharge from the juvenile psychiatric facility and being remanded to the adult psychiatric hospital [at the age of 14]), my uncle and his wife had placed him in a nearby boarding school.  He'd lasted only a couple months before being expelled.  Since boarding school tuition is non-refundable, my thrifty uncle had lost quite a bit of money with that venture.

That didn't stop me from asking again, several more times that year.  However, each time I was told that boarding school was not a possibility.

No graduating early, no boarding school, no getting out of the house anytime soon.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What the "experts" decided .....

In preparation for my (as yet unsuccessful) quest to have my adoption annulled, I decided to request a copy of the records from my second adoption, so I filled out the form, had it notarized, and mailed it off to the Department of Families and Children.  Soon afterwards, I received an e-mail from one of the employees of the "Adoption Search Unit" with the following information:

The application for adoption states the following:

[Grandfather], sole surviving legal guardian of [me], a minor child, desires to place said [me] for adoption with [uncle] and [uncle's wife].  And whereas [uncle] is the natural uncle of said child and thereby a blood relative descendent from a common ancestor not more than three generations removed from said child.  That the court approve a certain adoption agreement between [grandfather] the surviving legal guardian, [uncle] and [uncle's wife], the proposed adoptive parents of said child, to adopt said [me], which agreement is dated 12/28/67 at [city, state].

The record indicates that you were placed with maternal aunt and uncle on 11/9/67.  Your grandmother's burial per her death certificate was 11/6/67 in [cemetery] in [city, state].

The follow-up letter, which didn't provide much information beyond what I'd already learned.