I received my first fan letter for a story in Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul on Monday and I'm still not sure what to write since a simple thank you doesn't seem like enough. It's like deciding what to write to someone who buys a book at one of the signings. Writing my name is easy enough but the sentiment still feels a little forced -- until I came up with, "You're not alone," for Cup of Comfort for Single Mothers, which is the theme of the book. Single mothers aren't alone if you count all the single mothers (50) who contributed to the anthology and all the women out there who are or have been single mothers. Beth Andrews, another Colorado writer doing the book signings with me, is a single mother though she's my age; she got a late start. Her daughter is thirteen and quite the drama queen.
As I read Beth's story about bed time and juggling work I was reminded of all the times the boys had to have one more drink of water, go to the bathroom one more time, needed their blankie or favorite stuffed toy or just wanted to delay going to bed like Beth's daughter. Those days are long gone, but I still remember them with a lot less frustration now.
For the Adopted Soul I wrote, "A child is a gift," but I don't know what to write to the mother of an adopted child who was moved by my story and who now begins to see what the mother of her adopted daughter went through before giving her up. It was so much easier with my friends when they told me how much the story touched them and that it made them cry. With family, well, they know the story (sort of) and many had forgotten about it. I can simply thank them and not have to worry. I'll figure it out; I always do, but it brings home to me how powerful words are and how they can touch another's life.
Here's the story:
My favorite story was one I didn’t completely understand and one that made me feel special. “We chose you out of all the babies in the world,” my mother told me from as far back as I could remember. It wasn’t until I was ten years old that I finally understood what she meant; I was adopted. I was nearly thirty years old when I understood how my biological mother felt because I faced the same choice.
I wasn’t supposed to see the baby after he was born, but somehow the nursery slipped up and brought him to me. The moment they put him in my arms I was lost. The attorney said he’d break the news to the prospective parents’ attorney. “No, it’s my choice. I’ll tell him,” I said. The prospective parents' attorney was angry. There’s no doubt the parents were hurt, but they sent me flowers; so did the attorney they hired for me. He thought I had done the right thing, so did my doctor.
I changed my mind when Jaime was born because I believed love was enough. The attorney the adoptive parents hired to protect my rights and the doctor who delivered my son and kept me alive in spite of the dangers talked me into keeping him. It wasn’t a hard sell; I wanted to keep him, but wasn’t sure how I could since I was barely making it without a child. Jaime and I went home.
Jaime Bohdan was a laughing child with strawberry blond curls, sapphire blue eyes, and an inquisitive nature. He refused to sleep in a crib past the age of ten months; he kept looking for ways to climb out and crying, beating the bars with anything within reach, until I relented and either put him in bed with me or put him on the hide-a-bed with chairs ringing him in. He didn’t mind the bars of the chair; he just didn’t like the bars on the crib, so I took it down.
He wasn’t really mischievous, just curious. As he got older he climbed bookcases and furniture and cabinets to look inside and drag out whatever he found.
One morning before six, he woke me up. Through sleep-blurred eyes, Jaime looked odd. Blinking and rubbing away the sand and grit, I looked again. He smiled a lopsided smile, his teeth white in a mask of smeared makeup. His chubby hands pulled at my arm. “Look, Mommy.” Little hand prints in mingled shades of green and blue and violet and pink covered my arms. I got out of bed and followed him into the bathroom, every surface a smeared Jackson Pollack in every shade of eye shadow, blush, and lipstick I owned. Variegated body parts decorated the inside of the claw foot porcelain tub and Jaime looked up at me, his eyes bright with excitement, and giggled. I couldn’t help myself. In spite of how much work it would take to set everything right, I laughed, swung him up into my arms, and kissed his painted cheek.
“Look funny, Mommy,” he said.
I kissed him again. “You look funny, too.”
Each day was a struggle, working two full time jobs and seeing my son before work and on alternate weekends when I had a day off. I felt like I was cheating him, and myself, but I was trapped. I couldn’t quit one of my jobs because I couldn’t afford the babysitter and a place to live. We had nowhere else to go and no one to help. So when Jaime was nearly two years old, just two weeks before Christmas, I made a decision.
Sitting in the judge’s chambers the morning I met with him and Jaime’s new parents, I swallowed back the tears around the lump in my throat as I answered the judge’s questions.
“Yes, I understand what I’m doing. Yes, I am giving up my son of my own free will. No, the parents have not paid me or given me any money. No one is coercing me. No one is threatening me. No one has made me any promises of financial gain or any kind. Yes, I want to give up my son.”
No, I didn’t want to give up my son. I still don’t want to give him up even though I haven’t seen him since he was nearly two years old two weeks before Christmas. No, I don’t want to surrender the memory of his laughter the morning he woke me covered in eye shadow, blush, and lipstick or the way he looked when he led me to the bathroom and showed me he was a rare and special artist.
No one forced me to give up my son. But the voice inside me said love was not enough and I had to choose between working eighteen hours a day for enough food and clothing (and makeup) and seeing the mischief and laughter in my son’s eyes every morning.
Jaime has a different name now and he is twenty-five years old. I don’t know where he is or what he does, if he went to college or got married and has children of his own. I have no idea how to find him or if he would welcome me if I did. He belongs to someone else now. All I kept are the memories of a little boy who didn’t want to sleep in a crib and woke up laughing every morning.
It has taken me a long time to understand the meaning behind the words I loved to hear as a child. “We chose you out of all the babies in the world.” My parents told me I was adopted when I was ten years old; I was their daughter two days after I was born. I met my biological mother when I was eleven years old. She was a nice woman who seemed a little sad. When she talked to me, she wouldn’t look me in the eyes. She talked about my biological father and showed me a small picture from a high school yearbook. He played basketball and he wasn’t very tall, neither was she. I wanted to know where I came from, why I’m so much taller than my parents. Why was my hair brown when she had strawberry blonde curls and my father’s hair was blond? Why wasn’t I thin? Where did my grey eyes come from?
“Why did you give me up?” I asked.
“I didn’t finish high school and I didn’t have a good job. I couldn’t give you what you needed or what you deserved.”
“Didn’t you love me?” Afraid of the answer, I still needed to know.
She finally looked me in the eyes. Her eyes were sapphire blue. “Yes, I love you. Your parents could give you everything I couldn’t.”
“No one loves you more than I do. Love isn't always enough.”
I can still hear the words, but I didn’t believe them then. How could someone love their child and give her up to strangers? Isn't love all anyone needs? I was a child. I didn’t understand. Love is not always enough, not if you have to see your child hungry or forced to live in a shelter or small apartment in a bad part of town because it’s all you can afford.
Working two jobs was not enough. Love was not enough. Love was all I had to hold onto the day I answered the judge’s questions and signed the papers that made another woman Jaime’s mommy. I signed the papers for my son. Now, love and memories of Jaime Bohdan are all I have.
I know now how my mother felt, but she was wrong. Love is enough.