My mother was the only person who understood what it felt for me to be adopted.
I never struggled with hate or disdain or dislike for my adoptive parents. They were my parents. Period.
But I felt that it was my right to find my birth parents. Period.
Because there were things I did struggle with: when I was a child I would spend endless hours thinking: ”
“My parents are my parents. My grandmothers are my grandmothers, and so their husbands were my grandfathers. Their parents were my great grandparents because my parents and/or grandparents knew them. But I can’t go further back than that because we’re not blood relatives—though I know my parents would cut open their veins and my veins to exchange blood if that would make us blood relatives.”
Yes, I was nine and wondered about this. The child psychologist thought this a symptom of deep psychosis. In the very early 1960’s children weren’t supposed to wonder out loud about their origins or most other “not ordinary” subjects.
My father hadn’t gotten the memo. He thought I should feel free to discuss everything. This is where it became difficult for my mother. She felt as he did but she could see how my ponderings could be mistaken for something much darker.
Fortunately, at nine I was a “popular” child. My best childhood friends have assured me that I thought up the best games; my favorite being “Kennedy family” where I was always Jackie.
But except for swimming and bike riding, I was unathletic and uncoordinated. My parents were told these were problems of the adopted child.
I would never throw a tantrum in public, but I was going through puberty early. There was much I wanted to understand about both me and the world. The adoption agency had recommended a sleep away camp that turned out to be wonderful. They also recommended therapy.
In retrospect, therapy was where my problems really began. Tell a child she’s abnormal, and she will believe it.
Being adopted had always seemed like a wonderful gift. Now I was being told that hating my parents was normal and for me to deny that was wrong. I was, I repeat, nine. My problems turned out to be caused by an invisible neurological disorder, nonverbal learning disorder. My parents
My parents had a feeling my problems were caused by something physical and took me to NYU Medical Center for testing. The results were inconclusive. Maybe a minor case of Cerebral Palsy.
I knew that I didn’t hate my parents. I even loved spending time with them. Though I loved it when they would visit relatives and friends, and let me stay in the garden apartments, that had been built for returning vets after World War Two, alone.
I wasn’t really alone; we lived in a court with 40 families on a street with hundreds of families, and every parent, from the court, looked out for every kid.
My parents were active in the community. My father started the first cooperative bank for a coop in the country; my mother was active in every non-religious organization women could be active in. So people knew and respected us.
I would ride my bike through the garden apartment back yards that were filled with garages, concrete and playgrounds. The front streets had many courts like mine with much greenery for hanging, playing games and having barbecues.
As I rode my bike I would daydream. When I was angry at my mother I would daydream about my birth mother. She was a beatnik who lived in Greenwich Village, and would let me grow my hair to my waist, never wear shoes or go to school. We would have discussions about famous authors, and live a wonderful life without my birth father who I never thought about.
In truth, it was my mother who encouraged my love of reading. She had insisted that the bookmobile give me an adult library card when I was seven. Later, when we moved to real Long Island, I would pick out the books her book club read, and we would discuss the books. She insisted that I was smarter and more insightful than the women in her club.
It was my mother who praised my writing, and my mother who let me know that she thought I would be able to fly if that was humanly possible.
My father had dark moods at times. He yelled at me often because I was far from the perfect girl he thought I could be. My mother would tell me how much he loved me; that he couldn’t help himself and didn’t mean a lot of the things he said.
I never questioned my parents love for me, and much of that had to do with my mother’s calm and steady influence.
When I was four and we had just moved to the garden apartments she got lost as all the streets looked alike. I found our street and our court. I remember how proud she was of that.
The next year there was an unexpected Easter blizzard. We were coming home from my grandmothers and were dressed in Easter clothes and spring coats. The only food we had was a box of hard candy my grandmother had insisted on giving us. My mother made a big deal over us being able to eat all the candy we wanted. Probably to distract us from the reality–we were stuck in the car, forever it seemed, (overnight in reality), and my parents had no idea where we were.
Finally the blizzard abated a bit. I saw the towers of lights left over from World War Two (I had and have no idea what they did) and realized where our development was in relation to the lights.
I forget how we were “saved.” It was nothing compared to being cold, stuck, eating candy all night, and my parents proud reaction to me knowing where we were.
I cried hysterically when my mother told me that school was closed and I couldn’t tell my Kindergarten class about our adventure that night.
I cried when we were lying on the couch a few weeks later and she told me that she thought I had the mumps, and couldn’t go to school. Two things: I had an unnatural love of Kindergarten, and never forgot the feeling of being so unconditionally loved as I was that day on the couch when it was just me and mother.
I loved her madly but, until I was an adult, I thought she was boring. Compared to my father who had a story for every occasion, and a different mood every hour she was.
Every year for Mother’s Day we would buy her the one thing she asked for–White Shoulder’s Perfume. Until she had so many bottles she begged me not to buy it.
One year, she told us to ignore Mother’s Day because it was a stupid holiday. Not that she would use the word “stupid.” My father encouraged us not to get her anything and to treat Mother’s Day as any other Sunday. That’s when I learned that always listening to my father could get me into big trouble. (My father adored my mother; he just liked giving gifts on days other than the expected ones).
On my father’s poker night we would eat lobster tails and other foods my father thought verboten. She would take us to a hamburger restaurant where the hamburgers were served on a choo choo train that rode round and round until it stopped in front of you. I found that incredibly cool. Hamburgers were on my father’s list of should be forbidden foods. They’re still one of my favorite foods.
My mother took me to see movies that were considered to be too old for me. I always thought she was the one who took me to see Three Faces of Eve when I was seven. For years I thought Eve was three people in one body. Crawl spaces played an important part in the movie, and I still shudder when I see a house with one.
One day when I was an adult, and visiting my parents, I asked my mother why she took me to see such an incredibly wrong movie for a child. My father said: “We both took you, so that we could have an excuse for sending you to therapy.” He thought that was hysterically funny, and told me that I lacked a sense of humor because I didn’t.
It wasn’t until I was 35 and we took a road trip from Salzburg to Rome that he realized I had a good sense of humor.
“It’s not fair,” he said to my mother, “I work so hard at my stories, and these great lines just fall out of her mouth. She can make you laugh with a look” My mother congratulated him for finally noticing. By that time I considered my mother to be one of my best friends. That wasn’t popular back in the 1980’s, and I didn’t advertise my friendship with my mother.
When I had a problem I would call her, and usually, she refused to give me advice. “You know better than I do.” When she did give me advice it was always worth taking.
My father was an advice machine. He gave so much advice I stopped listening.
My parents were all the parents I needed. Yet I wanted to meet my birth mother to see if she had any of the problems I had, to know my medical and familial history and just because.
I met her almost accidentally (have to scan the story of the meeting in– it was a newspaper article that I wrote years ago). I didn’t think she liked me. Our meeting left me both confused, and doubting basically everything about me. She would only meet me at her house, and that was wrong. We should have met, as I begged to, in neutral territory.
When I came home I got my mail. There was a card from my mother. My only real mother. All it said was: “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
I had never needed a mother’s love more. She died over fifteen years ago. I carry her love in my heart always. Sometimes I miss her madly. Other times–well I’m glad she’s not here to see who is the president.
I have the DNA kids for both Ancestry and 24 and me. Every day I look at them. Every day I make up another excuse for not sending them in. I want my parents family to be mine but are they?
I have learned my birth father’s family’s last name and even spoken to my birth father’s oldest son who won’t let me speak to his siblings as I was born from an affair. They all knew about my birth mother and him but thought it had ended.
I know what it’s liked to be very loved, and I also know what it’s like to be rejected over and over again. I have closed my heart to future rejections so sometimes it seems that I don’t want to know certain people.
And my birth father’s last name was Murphy. Don’t know why but that always makes me laugh.