Opening Lines.

These are the things she told me from a very early age. They are, in no particular order, the foundations of how, when and why I arrived. (You’ll note I was never born in any of these well-meaning bon mots.) Whether true at the time they were shared matters not; it’s what was told to me so it is what I believed. The majority of what is written below was said by my adoptive mother. It is a lifetime of rules, a How-To be Adopted. I do believe she meant most of these to be loving and comforting. Toward the bottom of the list, I am in high school, then adulthood. The tone changes.

  • We chose you.
  • I took one look at you – you screamed, I screamed – I decided you were mine.
  • You had red hair like my side of the family so you fit right in.
  • People used to ask my cousin’s daughter if you were hers.
  • The doctor told us we couldn’t make a baby/have a child.
  • Everyone loved you right from the start.
  • You were such a good baby, we could pass you from one person to another.
  • You were very compliant and quiet.
  • Your mother couldn’t keep you.
  • We had a nice party the day we brought you home. You wore a beautiful outfit from Bonwit’s.
  • We got you and then we had your sister. I thought I had the flu but I was pregnant – imagine my surprise!
  • To a woman in the grocery store asking about me and my sister in the cart: “Why yes, they are both mine: This one we adopted and the blonde is my real daughter.” [This happened too many times to count.]
  • Your mother thought she made the best choice. She was probably young.
  • Your mother loved you very much. She was a ballerina, your father was going to be a doctor.
  • Let’s not talk about your mother. She didn’t want you, but we did and you’re here now.
  • No, she is not coming for you. Why would she? She didn’t want you in the first place.
  • We do have baby pictures of you – you’re about 15 months old. That’s pretty close to a baby, see…?
  • You were such a good baby. We took you everywhere.
  • Not all family has to look the same.
  • I have no idea where she went.
  • Where did you learn how to do that? That certainly didn’t come from me.
  • I have no idea where she is; she might be dead at this point.
  • She left you at the hospital and never came back. Aren’t you glad we found you?
  • I have no idea what her name was. She was very young.
  • Why can’t you be quiet? Why can’t you be satisfied with this?
  • I have no idea where you were; we adopted you at 13 months. You’re lucky you didn’t sit around too much longer.
  • I have no idea if you have other family. It would be impossible to find people, now.
  • We don’t know anything about those people.
  • You’re always so disheveled and unkempt looking. Don’t you care about your appearance? You stick out like a sore thumb…such an embarrassment. [My curly hair was often unruly. Several times in my childhood, she had it smoothed or simply cut off to make it easier for her.]
  • You’re not allowed to get sick.
  • Why can’t you be more like your sister?
  • She was a bitch and probably a whore – why can’t you let that go?
  • I have no idea where your talent comes from – maybe Dad, certainly not me or my side of the family.
  • Why do you have to color outside the lines? Why do you have to always get yourself into trouble?
  • You need too much attention. Can’t you be like other children?
  • You are one of the most creative people – why can’t you do something with that? It’s too bad you can’t get your act together, you might be successful at something.
  • Aren’t I good enough for you? Am I that awful a mother that you feel the need to go find something better? I have been an awful mother. [This last comment was made on my 30th birthday. She had invited me over to their house and, believing she was giving me some sort of birthday gift, I drove the 10-minute drive in my PJs. She literally threw papers relating to my adoption in my face and told me to leave and never come back, she was done with me and I was never going to happy with her, that I was a terrible person for thinking there was a better mother out there.]

Revisiting these moments, I am in the kitchen in our childhood home, in the den, in the foyer, upper bedroom hall, market or dry cleaners…she was relentless in reminding me that I was chosen but that I had to work very hard to fit in and not bring any shame to being there.

As a young woman in the 1960’s, I cannot imagine anything more humiliating than not being able to fulfill society’s expectation that young women would marry a good man and make a family. She married a fine fellow but then could not conceive. So, adopting was second best. Most of my life I have remained a constant reminder of my adoptive mother’s failure to be perfect. Her inability to conceive was a damaging blow to her ego and to her self-concept that never healed. She turned 90 this week and I remain the disappointment, the booby prize.

The irony is that she conceived and delivered my sister, two years and ten months later. After that, she had no idea what to do with me, now that she finally had her own real baby.

3 thoughts on “Opening Lines.

  1. Biology or lack thereof is never the real issue. My mother had a short but frequently list of phrases

    You have such a sweet face, it’s too bad you’re fat

    You ruined my life by being born

    There were others, but these are my personal favorites

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just when I felt the need to clarify that my response to your previous blog was made as an observation, not a criticism . . . . Wow. Just wow. These are bold truths to share!

    It makes me deeply sad for young, developing Jennifer to know that these were the messages she was burdened with. She, of course, is you. When we are kids, and not seen, heard, and appreciated for who we are by the important elders in our lives, not only do we fail to thrive, we get stuck. Whether it’s trying to prove ourselves over and over in all the wrong ways, or internalizing the false messages about ourselves, we self-sabotage into adulthood. No matter how self-aware I become, how consciously I manage to function, and how well I understand that the negative messages I got from my mother about who I was/am projected her own insecurities and shame and aren’t a reflection on me, I’ve found it difficult to completely eradicate these self-defeating behaviors or unlearn the mechanisms i developed for coping with that childhood pain, especially when I’m stressed. Is that true for you?

    May the writing process be cathartic and healing rather than a source of additional divisiveness in your life.


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