Saturday, January 20, 2007

My secret bond with Jamie Leigh Curtis

I've been reading a wonderful book today, The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. The plot revolves around a doctor whose wife gives birth to twins, a healthy boy and a girl with Down's Syndrome. In a split-second decision, the doctor sends the baby girl away to an institution and tells his wife that their daughter died. The rest of the book is about the ramifications of that one act.

Part of the story is about how the girl grows up, happy and healthy, with a mother she believes is her own. And that's the part of the story that triggered a memory of my own.

I don't know how old I was when I first heard about adoption, but there was a period of time when I was nine years old that I gave the subject some serious consideration. For reasons I don't remember, I wasn't a particularly happy kid that year. I thought my family didn't understand or appreciate me, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I knew why: I was not theirs.

My mother had talked numerous times about the day I was born, as had my grandparents, but I began to think they'd made it all up. Yes, I looked quite a bit like my mother, and I could also see some of my facial features in photos of my father, but wouldn't it be natural that they'd try to pick out a child who resembled them? Of course, they would.

I began to fantasize about my real parents, the ones who'd been looking for me ever since I'd disappeared in my infancy. Not that I thought the people I lived with were baby-stealers, nosiree bob, they were decent folks. It's just that they lived such boring lives: cleaning house, going to work, cooking meals, working in the garden. I knew, deep down, I was different. I was meant for better things.

From time to time I pondered the situation, trying to figure out who I was, where I belonged, and what I could do to make things right once I knew the answers to those questions. I studied faces in magazines and movies (we didn't get TV until the following year), looking for people who might be my real parents.

Finally, I thought I found them: Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Janet Leigh and the woman in my house who claimed to be my mother had a lot of similar features, so it was conceivable Janet Leigh's baby could pass as my mother's. And Tony Curtis was so handsome; who wouldn't want him for a dad?

I loved this idea. I could see myself riding between them in a convertible, waving to fans as we drove down the streets of Hollywood. We would live in a big white mansion, and I'd probably have a pony. I'd have lots of dolls, more beautiful dresses than any other child I knew, and I'd never--not once--be asked to sweep off the sidewalk when I'd rather be reading comic books. These would be my people. They'd know I was born for greatness.

There was one little problem. I was in fourth grade, I was good at math, and the numbers just didn't add up. I had no idea how long it took to have a baby, but I knew a woman couldn't have one unless she was married. I'd read that Tony and Janet had gotten married only the year before, and as hard as I tried, I couldn't think of any way they could have a daughter who was now nine years old.

I thought about it a lot. I tried to make it so. I tried until the hard, cold arithmetic interfered too many times with my fantasies and wishes...or until whatever had been bothering me at home resolved itself. All I know is that my adopted-child phase fizzled out.

There were other times after that when I felt sad and other times when I wished certain things in my family were different, but I never again wished for a different family. In fact, the older I got, the more I learned to appreciate the people who loved me in spite of my fanciful ways, and the more I wanted to be like them.

I've grown up to clean house, go to work, cook meals...all those things that are necessary parts of raising a family and making a house a home. I've done all those things with a sense of honor and gratitude for the people who supported me physically, financially and emotionally until I was able to do those things on my own. I know who I am and where I belong, and I wouldn't change it if I could.

My adoption fantasy is so over. When I think about it these days, there's only one part of it that still makes me a little wistful: Jamie Leigh, if you read this, would you let me know if you ever had a pony?

21 comments:

  1. Oh Velvet, I had similar fantasies from 9 to 11. I had some concrete reasons for thinking that and it all stopped the day my dad died.

    So, do we need to tell your girls to rent you a pony for Mother's Day?? LOL

    Holly

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think this period of your life was not all that unnormal. I will dream of being Roxanna...instead of plain old Betty. Why could they have not named me at least, Elizabeth. One thing we really can not change is who we are.
    word is getting longer
    feggdhvy

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've read the book Velvet, really good too.
    As an only child I imagined I had a long lost sister somewhere that somehow my parents had given away. I dreamed she was searching for me and when she found me we'd be together forever. She never found me and I guess I finally gave it up but guess what, I did have a pony and I would have traded it in a heartbeat for that sister!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interesting how many people have that fantasy...I wonder if it's part of the separation from family process? I never did and with my family, you'd think I would have prayed for some kind family to show up and claim me. I did get the ponies though, lots of them, and that's the one thing I have never stopped being grateful to my father for. Carmon

    ReplyDelete
  5. Holly, I've always wondered if other girls had fantasies like this one. Glad to know I'm in good company. (And, no, no pony needed now.)

    Sister-Three, Betty would have seemed like a glamorous name to me: Betty Grable, Betty Hutton, Bette Davis...and, of course, Betty of Archie comics fame (although she wasn't as glamorous as Veronica, she was MUCH nicer.)

    Robbin, I have to agree, sisters are way better than ponies, but I'm glad you didn't offer me or my sister that kind of trade when we were little. It would have been a hard deal for either of us to pass up.

    Carmon, it is interesting, and I'd like to know more about it. I'm glad you had your ponies when you needed them most.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Velvet, I loved reading this post this morning. You might be onto something here - I was adopted. AND I had a pony.

    When I had my issues with fitting in - brother and sister would tease me that I was the only one and my blond was proof, when in fact all three of us were adopted -I would go sit in the barn with my pony and work it all through my head until I got bored with it all. Funny, that.

    ReplyDelete
  7. DI-Alison, you're living proof that families aren't as much about blood as they're about love and shared history--and being teased by siblings, of course. At least you had a pony to help you work through your issues; I had to seek solace in my mom's stack of movie magazines.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well, I can see why you wanted to be the daughter of Tony Curtis. Nice looking guy.

    I was thinking about this post earlier today and what I wanted to tell you is that I'm happy to see your womanly identity is not threatened by housework and cooking. I didn't see some weak woman taking a slaves role and leaving the rest of the world behind as she took her barefooted place in the kitchen. I saw a woman who learned from her childhood what it meant to take care of her family and her home. Bravo for not fearing to the love of family and homemaking on the net.

    I personally take joy in making my house a home and sharing it with friends. I'm sure yours as a child was quite inviting even without a pony. I'm sure the lessons you learned from your family have made your home, to this very day, inviting and warm...even without a pony.

    Austin

    ReplyDelete
  9. Austin, thanks, but you give me too much credit. I recognize the importance of the cleaning and the cooking, and I admire people who make those things look easy, but they don't come naturally to me. I'd much rather read a book.

    You're right about the home I grew up in, and I personally did a better job of housekeeping when I still had a family in my home. I think there's a lot of warmth in my home these days, but sometimes it gets messier (and therefore more uninviting) than my mother or grandmother would have ever allowed. I'm working on it, though.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Velvet, a lovely post and some wonderful comments here. I, different from you, quickly passed over any fantasy about being adopted. Instead I just wished my brothers and sisters would get adopted out so I could have my parents all to myself. What a different spin I put on this whole childhood dream.

    And I did read the book you mentioned, and found it a very good read.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I guess it is a real secret since Jamie Leigh had no idea about it...

    ReplyDelete
  12. Annie, that's so funny! It's interesting that each of us who gave a lot of thought to the adoption issue devised a different imaginary scenario to suit our own wants and/or needs.

    4th Sister, good point. I guess I should have broken the news to Jamie Leigh before I told y'all, but I just don't have the time to get involved with a bunch of DNA testing right now.;-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. drat, my post didn't show up!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I think everyone fantasizes about having a different family. I wonder what the kids who had ponies wished for?

    How is Butch?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Janet, that's a really good question. Robbin, Carmon, Alison? Since you already had a pony, what did you wish for?

    Butch is fine, by the way. He has one more day to go on the meds, but he hasn't limped since Wednesday.

    ReplyDelete
  16. There is a blog post I have been mulling over in my head for quite some time regarding this subject. It is about my mother and her childhood fantasy that Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans would adopt her. It is a bittersweet story and whenever I see Roy Rogers in an old movie I think of my mother. I just can't figure out how to tell the story.

    My younger sister went through a phase when she thought for sure that she was a twin and that her twin sister had died. I don't know why she felt like this. We had a great childhood. I wish I could say the same for my mother though.

    I love your blog. You are a wonderful writer.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Alison, I should have guessed it would be a horse. Isn't that like a pony, only bigger, and without the training wheels?

    Cindi, I hope you'll write the story about your mother's Roy Rogers and Dale Evans fantasy. It surprised me to hear how many readers have had variations of this adoption fantasy, or, as in your sister's case, a "missing" family member.

    ReplyDelete
  18. When I was little i wanted to be an only child - after the arrival of my two younger brothers.

    I also wanted a pony and was very jealous of Caroline Kennedy who had one. I still remember my mom telling me while watching JFK's funeral "She has a pony, but she doesn't have her dad anymore. I'm sure she would rather have her dad back, even if she had to give up her pony."

    Ahhh - the things we remember. Thanks for the post, Velvet - "adopted" or not, you seem to be part of a very loving and supportive family.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hey Velvet, I wished for another pony, the one I had was mean as snot!!!
    I traded him for a go-cart, which is another whole story.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Sunflower, the love and support were there (I know now), but the generations of my family that came before me weren't big on expressing it. My sister and I learned the importance of saying, "I love you," and "I'm proud of you." And our children do an even better job of it with their kids.

    Robbin, you just made me glad I didn't have a pony. LOL!

    ReplyDelete

Your comments might be the very best thing about blogging. I love it when you care enough to share your thoughts here, so go ahead and say what's on your mind.