|Happier times, Jane and Lorraine|
Summer. I go to Wisconsin to pick up Britt [my daughter's daughter] for her summer visit, which will be for two months. Jane [my daughter] and Bill [her husband] are living in his small cabin in the woods, and Britt stays with the Rhymers [Jane's adoptive parents] during the week, and attends the same elementary school as she did before Jane married. Though Britt had flown by herself from Madison to New York before, after fanatics in airplanes brought down the World Trade Center, the Rhymers insist I come to Wisconsin to pick her up. I’ll fly in on Saturday, we’ll leave on Monday, and maybe I’ll be able to talk to Jane and patch up whatever needed patching. They will try to broker this, Gary [Jane's adoptive father] says.
No dice. Jane tells them she does not want to see me—not for dinner, not for anything. They say they are in the dark about as much as I am. Gary shrugs—Jane. I do not respond.
Saturday evening the three of us—Gary, Ann [her other mother] and I—have drinks outside on their deck, marvel over a Scarlet tanager sighted across the narrow slice of the lake where their house sits, make pleasant chitchat. Britt is still with Jane and Bill, we’ll pick her up tomorrow at mass, where we will see them. Despite the coolness I've felt from Ann from a distance, and the intemperate letters, all goes well. After dinner, we watch television. Hey, life is complicated. These are the people who adopted my daughter, and “our” daughter is rejecting me. I feel like an odd duck—we’re friendly but not really friends—but there I am, enjoying their hospitality, about to fly back home with Britt. The weekend is remarkable simply because it occurs.
|Granddaughter Britt and Lorraine|
In many ways our relationship is a marvel, considering open adoptions are still rare. When Ann shares a story about Jane, she calls her “our” daughter. She says the neighbors know who I am, and that when asked, she tells anyone that adoption is better this way, that adopted people ought to know their other mothers early on, rather than later. How can I not feel a special empathy toward this woman? Jane is difficult. Besides her epilepsy, she specializes in uproar. And Ann sure hadn’t counted on her epilepsy, and then me—coming back is one thing, but I clearly am there to stay.
As we file into church on Sunday morning, Ann sees to it that I am at the end of the pew, where there will be room for Jane. When she and Bill come in, Jane stops and greets ten people before she slides in, putting off the moment before she has to acknowledge me. The time seems longer than it must have been. I am quite sure that most of the people she was stopping to greet know exactly who I am, and that they are watching this performance with avid interest—Ah look, she doesn’t give a fig about her birth mother. Just as she is about to slip in, she quite obviously turns around to say hello to one last person. If Jane could have held up a sign that said: This woman means nothing to me! she would have. I am humiliated, Ann is shaking her head. When Jane can put it off no longer, she steps into the pew and nods with a forced smile, as if I were a teacher she remembered none too fondly. I nod back, and say the first thing that comes to mind: Your hair is great.
She’d cut her long hair into a boyish bob. She’s looks pretty, and healthy too, as if this marriage to Bill
has dissipated all the gloom of the past. She nods and is momentarily nonplussed. Mass is interminable, as I sit next to my daughter who is acting as if I am a post. Except for these few words, we have not spoken for over a year.
|Adoption Secrecy & its consequences|
Gary, always the calm patriarch, hoping to broker some kind of detente, gets Jane and Bill to agree to brunch with us afterward. In the car on the way, Ann confirms what I thought, that Jane usually doesn't greet a zillion people on her way into church.
At Granny’s, which is as it sounds—hot coffee, hearty omelets and hash browns—this blended family takes over a big round table. Jane quite purposefully does not sit next to me and acts as if it is a trial to be there. She will show them what she thinks of me. Not much! Ann is on one side, Britt on the other, both providing cover. Jane’s bored and petulant demeanor tamps down everyone’s mood. She does not look at me, or say anything to me, and sulks when Gary asks her not to smoke. God when is this meal going to be over, when can I get out of Dodge?
Improbably enough, I am being protected from my daughter’s impenetrable wrath by her other mother and her daughter. As we leave, Jane and Bill light up outside of Granny’s, and I force myself to stay behind and talk to them for ten minutes, about what I do not know. She is on neutral; not painfully aloof, or snide, now that it is just the three of us, simply coolly civil. I walk away thinking, at least she talked to me. The Rhymers and I do not discuss this again, for there is nothing to say.
Britt and I leave in the morning for New York. Britt—always an uncomplaining traveler who takes most things in stride—is amiable as ever when we get stuck in Milwaukee for several hours because of a storm. We have ice cream and I buy her a Harry Potter novel. Over the entire summer, I do not speak to Jane—other than to answer the phone when she calls to speak to Britt. Jane’s hostile tone announces she wants no conversation. I am merely the go-between for her and Britt, and an annoying one at that.--lorraine
NEXT: The year grinds on and my granddaughter wants answers: My (reunited) daughter doesn't speak to me: What did I do now? Cont., Part 4
Earlier parts of this chapter:
First Mother to (reunited) daughter: What did I do wrong now?
What did this first mother do wrong now? Cont.
Growing in the Dark: Adoption Secrecy and Its Consequences by Janine M. Baer (above)
It's chock full of information and very readable.--Jane Edwards on Amazon. A short history of sealed records. "Janine Baer is an adoptee and a long-time proponent of honest, compassionate adoption policies, including the right of all adult adoptees to be able to access their original birth certificate. From 1989 to 1997 she published the newsletter, which provided a forum where progressive feminists--including adoptees, parents and professionals--discussed adoption policies, shared personal adoption experiences, and articulated a vision of humanistic adoption."--Amazon
Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by David Brodzinsky Ph.D., adoptive father and psychologist; Marshall D. Schechter, M.D., married to an adoptee; and the writer Robin Marantz Henig. Even after years of knowing my daughter, I found this simple, readable guide illuminating. I lent to it an adopted teenager I knew, who read it immediately, and lent it to her best friend, also adopted. They thought it was spot on. For an introduction to the lifelong psychological effects of being adopted, I can't think of a better book. --lorraine
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