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 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?