Mommie Dearest

Christina Crawford

Just the words, “Mommie Dearest” makes me want to cringe. I was aware that Crawford had adopted her children from Georgia Tann. Actually, I had come across the story of the younger siblings, twin girls, while doing my research about Georgia Tann. They have a more positive perception of Crawford. However, I know that one child may be a problem for the parents, while another child won’t be. There are defiant and compliant children and certainly, the complaint ones are easier to parent. Not that I am judging Christina as a problem child but it is clear that she had problems with her mother.

I don’t doubt that she suffered abuse. I’ve read the accounts of too many adoptees in my all things adoption group to doubt anyone’s claim. My first reminder of Christina’s memoir was an article in which the writer describes going to see the film version (about 40 years after its release) and it being found hilarious by many in the audience, that it had become a bit “camp”. Since I really didn’t know the definition, I googled it. Camp is an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value. Somehow a movie about child abuse just doesn’t seem like the same kind of cult classic as The Rocky Horror Picture Show from my own perspective.

Christina was 80 years old last year. Her memoir came out in 1978 but she had written a musical based on it around the time of her latest birthday. It had a run at Birdland, the renowned New York jazz venue. She was happy about it. “It sold out, it was fabulous,” she says, looking glamorous and spry, before issuing what has become a standard warning: “The musical had absolutely nothing to do with the movie. I want to put that in big capital letters.”

The movie she is referring to (and the one I mentioned above) is the 1981 adaptation of Christina’s memoir that starred Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, Christina’s adoptive mother, whose abuses, soberly detailed in the book, were turned by the movie into high camp. As chronicled in Mommie Dearest, Crawford slapped, kicked, punched and tried to strangle her daughter, while subjecting her to a severe schedule of cleaning and other household chores, driven by the movie star’s alcoholism and who knows what else.

The publication of Mommie Dearest, perhaps the first memoir ever to document child abuse from the child’s point of view, changed the landscape of victim representation and was an early precursor to today’s more robust protection of victims’ rights. Generally speaking, we don’t recognize the long-term psychological damage that is inflicted on people who are abused, neglected and trafficked. It is hard for people to understand that what happened 20 years ago is creating behavior patterns today.

Being sent to boarding school at the age of 10 was a turning point for her. She understood that the rules she grew up under weren’t normal. She tried to build a degree of self-esteem after years of being told by her mother that she was useless. Education was the path forward for her.

“Fear is the water that abused children swim in,” Christina says. “Because you don’t know what’s going to happen and your life is so chaotic. But on the other side of the equation, it’s fear from people who are afraid to speak up. Fear that they’re going to lose their job or that people are going to say something bad about them. If you were to ask me about one thing that embraces all of us, it’s the constant fear.” The fear doesn’t go away when the abuser dies. Christina says, “Because it’s internal.”

After a period of estrangement in the latter years of her mother’s life, she attempted a reconciliation. It turned out not to have been possible. Christina says of Crawford that at that point in their lives, “She was an alcoholic. She was ill. She was drug-addicted. And I think she just wasn’t playing with a full deck. I completely lost context – not contact, but context with her, because I wasn’t physically present. Then she died.”

Christina and her younger brother Christopher were cut out of Crawford’s will, for what was cited as “reasons which are well known to them.” Christina was so furious she went straight to her desk and started writing down everything that had happened in her childhood. Her two younger siblings disputed the book.  Different people in the family experience the parenting situation in different ways. Because the parenting situation is different towards them, they may have trouble believing how awful it was for a sibling.

Credit for much of this blog goes to Emma Brockes for her June 25 2019 article about Christina in The Guardian. Though I hesitate to add this movie trailer, I will for full diligence to this blog.

Identity

From an article in Severance magazine.

Growing up as an adoptee, I frequently fielded questions from friends and strangers alike. “Do you know who your real mother is?” “Do you think you look like your parents?” “What [ethnicity] are you?” The first two questions were easy to answer: My mother is my real mother.  No, I don’t look like either of them. But the third question hounded me my whole life. It speaks to a universal quest to identify with a group. And it speaks to the need of others to figure out who we are. For an adoptee, another question swirls around in the mix: Are we valid?

On one hand, our identity is who we believe we are, and on the other it’s who others believe us to be. In essence, the identity question is two-part: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who do you think I am?’ Adopted or not, we work to reconcile our personal vision of who we are versus who others believe we are. Yet when you’re adopted, there’s an added layer. For me, and I imagine for many adoptees, there’s a struggle to answer the question ‘Who are you?’ When others challenge our identity because of our adoption status, it’s difficult enough; but it’s further complicated by the fact that we have incomplete information about our genetic roots and, therefore, we can’t answer. And even when we get that information, we’re still left wondering how others view us.

Now my story –

I’ve been going through 30-40 years of saved clutter, old letters to and from family members, etc. Yesterday I found my OMNI Berkeley Personality Test results. One does this for their own self and asks some people close to them to do it regarding that person’s perspectives on one’s personality. I had my husband, my daughter, my two sisters, my parents and my in-laws all do this for me back in the early 1990s. Then one compares how one sees one’s self with how other see them. It does give great insights.

I knew that both of my parents were adopted. Since finally learning who all 4 of my grandparents were so late in life (after the age of 60), I’ve also been reading and learning as much as I can about the effects of adoption on adoptees as well as on their descendants. Much of that learning I’ve been sharing in this blog.

No doubt, adoptees have all sorts of reasons for discovering their birth or genetic backgrounds. My mom felt compelled to try to connect with her birth mother but by the time she made the effort, it was too late. Her mother had already been dead for several years leaving my mom devastated. The state of Tennessee wouldn’t release her adoption file to her at that time because they could not determine the status of her birth father who had actually been dead for 30 years (they really didn’t try very hard). It’s a pity because in her adoption file that I now possess was a picture of her mother holding her for the last time before she was taken to be adopted.

In the Severance article, she writes – “I projected her need to know about the baby she’d given up, basing that assumption only on my own feelings toward my children—trying to imagine how a woman could part with her child. I thought perhaps she might want to know that I’d had a good life.” This is so much like my mom’s own explanation of her need to know. My own reason to do the search was to learn the truth about my own ethnic identity. Simply being “American” as my mom once told me because due to adoption they didn’t know, didn’t cut it for me. It is surprising how important in our melting pot of a country, there is still so much emphasis on our ethnic heritage. It was my public school girl days friends making a big deal about theirs that made me feel like something important was missing in my own life. Even the Census forces you to record some ethnicity other than American.

I am so glad to know today about my Danish paternal grandfather, my Scottish maternal grandmother and all of the English and Irish parts of me. I’m less fond of the strong streak of Confederates in my maternal line but grateful my Yankee paternal grandmother and that Danish paternal grandfather balance my karma out in that respect. I’ve certainly had fun exploring the traditions and places where my DNA originated. It is amazing how often Denmark turns up in my life before I even knew I had that culture in my background.

2nd Chance Adoption

Dax is a 16-year-old who has experienced the heartbreak faced by far too many youth in the foster care system. Seven years after being adopted, this teen was told it wasn’t going to work out when Dax came out as LGBTQ. He says, the adoptive parents stopped loving him anymore because of who he is.

He thinks that maybe he needs a same-sex couple or at least someone who is understanding about his sexual identification.

He has been featured on a News segment in Oklahoma.

In a Patheos piece, I read –

A family adopts a 9 yr old child, cares for them 7 years and then kicks them out because they are LGBTQ. They ask “Who does that ? What is wrong with people ?

And I get it. My sons live a rather isolated life at the moment due to where we live in sparsely populated rural forested land and because they have received all of their education at home. One of my sons may eventually “come out”. There is more than one person in my husband’s family who has such a sexual identification.

The news segment doesn’t tell us anything about Dax’s former family or whether religion came into their decision.

However, a couple of nights after the segment aired, a woman wrote the station via Facebook.

“We are a LGBTQ+ supportive DHS approved foster/adoptive home. We are open for teen placement. WE HAVE CHICKENS !! (Dax has raised and loves chickens).

The News channel has put her in contact with the child’s case worker, so there may be a happy ending to this story.

I got some of this information from The Friendly Atheist at Patheos, Hemant Mehta author.

Blue Bayou

At the Cannes Film Festival in July, a journalist from the Netherlands thanked the director and star Justin Chon for his movie, which centers on a Korean American adoptee. Chon isn’t actually adopted like his subject, Louisiana bayou-bred Anthony LeBlanc, whom he plays in the movie. The film premieres Sept 17th.

LeBlanc is a tattoo artist with a criminal record. Like many adoptees in the real world, LeBlanc was never naturalized and risks being sent to a country he barely knows, prompting questions around citizenship, belonging, family — and who gets to be considered American. 

Chon said his Korean heritage and the experiences of friends in his immediate community in part compelled him to examine the issues surrounding international adoption. The practice began during wartime “babylifts” after World War II and subsequent conflicts when the U.S. asserted its power in part by “rescuing” orphans from communism to demonstrate its goodwill.

In 1955, the practice was further formalized when an evangelical couple, Henry and Bertha Holt, successfully advocated for the right to adopt Korean “war orphans” through an act of Congress. The couple later launched Holt International Children’s Services, the first large-scale international adoption organization. Foreign born babies those adopted by US parents before 2000 weren’t automatically granted citizenship. 

Chon said that to bring the sort of tenderness and care the subject deserved, he first pored over research and news articles about similar cases. One of the most publicized was the deportation of Adam Crapser, who was adopted from South Korea. He endured abuse and later abandonment by two sets of adoptive parents, none of whom filed for his citizenship. Crapser, who had several arrests on his record, was deported in 2016. 

Variety wrote in a review that “Justin Chon’s Blunt-Force Melodrama Takes on the Injustices of America’s Immigration System.” The system is the system, and its rules and loopholes exist to punish more than they protect. The movie holds little back as it rails against the cruelties and hypocrisies of American immigration law to stirring effect. 

At the film’s outset, it’s clear LeBlanc has turned his life around from rough beginnings. Having spent his childhood passed from one adoptive and foster family to another, and having endured a stint in prison for motorcycle theft, he has finally found emotional stability in the home he shares with Kathy and Jessie, her daughter from a previous relationship, who regards him adoringly as her true dad. 

“Where are you really from?” It’s an invasive question that’s awfully familiar to people of color, one that intrudes its way into our everyday lives. Though it can have innocent intentions, it’s often hostile and only works to invalidate your livelihood. You don’t really belong here, is the true meaning that lurks under that query. As the closing titles inform us, tens of thousands of adoptees have been deported from the United States, thanks to an exploited loophole in a law that only protects children born after 1983. 

What Blue Bayou does wonderfully in quiet moments is illustrate that being Asian is not a one-size-fits-all identity but a vast tapestry of different cultures. I’ve not seen this movie yet, of course, but I think I would like to. New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. My maternal grandmother went there to try to convince Georgia Tann to give her baby girl back to her but it failed and my mom was taken to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother.

Feel Good Stories

Every Monday morning, I watch Sunday’s Agape service as recorded and shared on their website. The messages from the Rev Michael Bernard Beckwith are empowering and positive. Today’s message left me wanting to share something more positive about adoption than I usually do. Don’t misunderstand. I’m am still more than less against most adoptions. A woman who regularly reads this blog, sometimes shares my essays on her blog. Our perspectives are not identical but I noticed that she had one today with the title – Why adoption can be a blessing. So I went there and found among several offerings this video and watched it.

As this video makes clear, sometimes adoption is the best answer and sometimes the coincidences (which spiritually I believe in strongly as signs) make an adoption simply feel “right” and in harmony. So in keeping with my desire today, I share this video with you, to spread a little joy about a topic that I normally do not feel all warm and fuzzy regarding.

Umm, It Wasn’t God

God told me I didn’t want one of those effed up older kids that are available for adoption that will age out of foster care with nothing. He told me I want a $50,000 healthy, white newborn.

So I’m going to most likely wait years for one. Unless I spend a shit ton of money and sign on with numerous agencies and a consultant. Because there really isn’t a “need” parents to adopt newborns. They are highly in demand and sought after. I really *dgaf* about the 100,000 kids legally free for adoption in foster care because I want a baby. No wonder the older kids are free to adopt, they are messed up. I want a womb wet baby I can play pretend with. It sucks there are over 40 Hopeful Adoptive Parents for every ONE expectant mama.

The mama? Oh, I *dgaf* about her. Who cares if she wants to parent but needs some help? Not my problem because I want her baby. People tell me the mom who doesn’t want her newborn is rare. It’s a decision made out of desperation but I don’t care. Because I want a baby and it’s about me and what I want.

So yeah, God spoke to me. He called me to adopt a white $50,000 baby and I’m just following “his plan.”

If we don’t “match” in a year I’ll open my “preferences” to include biracial but not full black.

Glad I Was

I’m not adopted but both my mom and dad were.

Many times, adoptees will say, “I am glad I was adopted.”

My mom wrote about her adoption that to me in an email – “Glad I was.” I don’t believe she meant it. She had been denied her adoption file by the state of Tennessee. She believed she had been stolen from her parents and while it turns out that wasn’t exactly true, Georgia Tann did exploit my grandmother – that is clear from my mom’s adoption file that I now possess. My mom was heartbroken when all Tennessee offered her was the news her mother had died several years before. She wanted that reunion. Their excuse was that they could not determine the status of her father. They didn’t try very hard. He had been dead for 30 years when they checked to see if he had a current Arkansas driver’s license.

No 2 adoptees feel the same way about their adoptions. My dad did not have that burning desire that my mom did but I think he was afraid of opening up a potential can of worms (he used those words with my mom when she wanted to search). It’s a pity. He could have met his half-sister living only 90 miles away from him when he died. She could have told him a lot about his mother.

The feelings that an adoptee has are complicated. At times they may be angry. Other times they may feel sad. They may feel blessed. My mom’s adoptive parents were wealthy. Their financial resources afforded her, us as her children and even her grandchildren opportunities we probably would not have had if they had not adopted my mom. I know a bit about my mom’s original parents now (and not as much as I wish I knew). Even so, poverty and humble circumstances would have been my mom’s life had her parents remained together.

My dad’s mom was unwed and she also had a hard life. Really from the age of 3 months when her mother died. She was resilient and self-sufficient. She simply took care of her pregnancy. My dad wasn’t adopted until he was 8 months old. He remained with her all that time but she had him in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers and then later, lacking resources to keep a roof over their heads or food in their bellies, applied for employment with the Salvation Army and traveled from California to El Paso Texas with my dad in tow. I’m fairly certain they pressured her to give him up. She worked there for 5 years.

Only an adoptee can tell you what being adopted was like. My parents never talked about it. I only remember my mom mentioning it to me once when I was a child and wanted to know what nationality we were and she couldn’t answer me. However, when I was in my mid-30s, she wanted to search for her original mother and my dad was not supportive. So, I became her confidant.

No adoptee escapes separation trauma from not being raised by their original mother. Often they are haunted by feelings of abandonment and rejection, desperately seeking love – sometimes in the wrong places. Fortunately for me, my parents found each other and stayed together for over 50 years – from teenage years until death did them part. I can not deny that but for their adoptions, I would simply not exist. I love life and so I am grateful for that much. My adoptive grandparents were all influential in my growing up years.

An Adoptee Centric Movie

Siblings – Glorious 39

The blond on the left is the adoptee. In Glorious 39, an adoptee is the lead character and much about the emotions and behavior of the family in this movie ring true with all I have come to know about adoptees and their relationships with their family. Anne Keyes played by Romola Garai is the central character. Adopted at the time her parents didn’t believe they could have children, they subsequently had two – the brother and sister in the photo above.

Like many adoptees, Anne does not fit in with the family raising her. She has been adopted into a powerful political family. Like many adoptees, she is very close to her adoptive father. Dangerously so.

So, this is really a story about an adopted daughter’s relationship with her family. The fact that she is adopted is mentioned frequently throughout the movie. She also leads a different life, working as an actress, while the rest of the family except the father who is part of the pre-war government appears to live a life mostly of leisure (though her brother is actually part of the Secret Service). The pro-appeasement movement (which father and son are part of) hoped to avoid a conflict many believed they would lose. The elite also hoped to preserve the status quo of their comfortable lives. The appeasement theme is key to the relationships within the family dynamic.

The movie does not get a lot of good reviews. As a history buff to begin with, who enjoys seeing English culture and countryside, I did like the movie and it did make me think politically. But I was really drawn to the adoptee story (not too many reviewers mention it other than in passing). I believe that part was true to life, even if the lives are not those that most of us commonly experience as regards wealth and privilege. It is the relationships of the adoptee contrasted with the parents and siblings that really had my attention. There is a reveal of who the adoptees parents were and how she came to be in this family.

Trigger warning for animal lovers – there is a strong focus on the fate of family pets at the outbreak of the war that could be disturbing.

Placating Adoptive Mother Emotions

It is just a difficult path to trod. Today’s story –

My son’s birthday is coming up soon. The last time I posted publicly about my kids was the anniversary of the final visit, and their adoptive mother got upset that I said anything. She enlisted my younger child for her defense. They asked me to not post anything ever again, because the adoptive mother doesn’t want to see it. Yet she continues to stalk me to see what I’m posting. I suspect that if I let a birthday slide by without saying anything, she’d use it as evidence that I’d completely forgotten about my kids. I’m not sure what the adoptive mother wants me to feel – am I supposed to regret having kids at all? Am I supposed to blame myself for surviving abuse? I know that, of course, I wish I’d taken the kids and gotten away from him before Child Protective Services got involved. Acknowledging that at this point is not going to make the adoptive mother any happier. I suspect that she wants from me is to admit that I’m just a horrible person and be grateful to her for saving my kids from me. I want to do what’s right for my kids long-term, and if the adoptive mother needs to control what I feel and say about the adoption, how much freedom is she giving them? Is there anything I could post that might get the adoptive mother to react like a reasonable human and not like some an obsessed control freak? PS it’s the older child’s 19th birthday. The younger one who is 16 has basically taken responsibility for handling the adoptive mother’s emotional state, because the adoptive mother throws temper tantrums to get her way and must be appeased.

The first responder said – I would acknowledge his birthday. He’s 18 – so old enough to tell you himself if he doesn’t want you to post anything. He’s also old enough to no longer be her property. Just as a side note have you tried reaching out to him to see if he would like contact directly with you now that he’s old enough?

I can relate to the difficulties. My daughter went to live with her dad when she was 3 years old. He remarried, so there was a step-mother, a step-sister and a half-sister in her family. I gave her a calling card, so that when it was safe (meaning it wouldn’t cause an upset) for her to call me, she could choose when. Sometimes, I had to wait a long time for those calls but at least she knew I wanted to hear from her. In an adoption situation, I don’t know if something like that would be possible but there is always reversing charges. What I cared about the most, was my daughter’s comfort and quality of life – not my own.

Social media didn’t exist when my daughter was young. I can easily understand the next responder’s comment – This is one reason why I keep my profile completely locked down with no public posts. Nobody gets to tell me how to feel about MY kids.

Someone else noted this obvious truth – you did give birth to your children and have every right to acknowledge their birthday. A birthday not only celebrates the day a child became an independent person but also the mother who gestated that child to birth. Many times, when I am celebrating one of my children’s birthdays on my Facebook page, friends will also acknowledge it is my celebration of an event as well.

Sadly, this perspective contains a frequent truth – some adoptive parents are control freaks. They would like to erase the fact that the adopted children are not biologically related to them, the children are possessed like property that the adoptive parents bought to furnish their life. The natural mother should post whatever she wants… one day her children may see it and realize they were loved all along! It will mean so much to them to know that. I know that understanding would have meant a lot to my own adoptee parents (both were).

And when all else fails – There are features that allow you to block specific people from posts. It’s strategic avoidance of the real problem, but sometimes that’s the best you can do. Anyway, as long is the posts aren’t abusive or causing damage to anyone, then she really should have zero say about what you post to your wall. Her discomfort is her own. You don’t need to carry that for her.

And the perspective from an adoptive parent – I’m so sorry that not only did she express unhappiness with you saying something, but that she enlisted the children into her unhappiness with you. That’s just, WRONG. It sounds like she is very insecure in her position as parent, and wanting you to remove yourself from yours to give her more room. You don’t have to do that. I believe that what is right for your children long term, is for them to KNOW that they were always on your mind and in your heart. I personally think that it is fine for you to make a post in regards to your children’s birthdays. Growing and birthing a human being is a MAJOR thing that happens to us as the person doing it, not just to the baby. I’m guessing that there are other people who follow you on Facebook who know about your children, maybe were even a part of their lives… Just because someone else is legally their parent now, does not change the fact that there were people in the children’s lives BEFORE. People who’s hearts and memories and emotions did not just disappear because of a court order. If possible, tighten up your security. If you’re friends with her on Facebook, exclude her from your posts if you feel the need. But please feel free to acknowledge your children, your love, and your loss however you feel you need to.

Adoption Vows

In there never ending quest to make adopting a child a celebration, here is what one couple is doing –

With adoption day on the horizon, my husband and I plan to recite a modified version of (see image above) to our daughter at her court hearing. Changing “I” to “We” and making a few personalized adjustments for her. Adoption vows . . . loving it. What else did you do to make it a special day ?

The person in my all things adoption group who shared this writes – I want to compose a response that she will hear! Because this is complete bs! What about the kids who end up not fitting in and get ” rehomed” or sent away to group homes… they where made all the same ” promises” and now look where they are. How should I word it where she will hear me or do I even waste the time? She is clearly caught up in the unicorn and rainbow effects.

The first response is – The whole point of vows is that they’re made between consenting adults, who also have a right to break that consent. Adoptees can’t consent. Decisions are made for them. And they can’t easily dissolve the relationship, even as adults.

Another comment – The whole thing is yuck…but especially the “Til death do us part” which could be super triggering for any kiddo but especially those with loss. Not only that but often if an adopted parent dies, the adopted children are no longer seen or treated as family by the remaining family members.

This was confirmed by one adoptee’s experience – The only member of my adoptive family who still treats me like family is my dad. The rest of them turned their backs on me after my mom died.

Another also shares – all I have of my adoptive family is one cousin in California. She was my mom’s very best and favorite cousin. I love her guts but the rest literally told me I was not family and good as killed my mom with my “drama,” whatever that means.

So here was one suggestion –

If you want her to (maybe) hear you it’s important to try to prevent her becoming defensive, so I would keep it semi-validating. Like

Wow !! I can see how much you love her through your excitement! As an adopted person, I want to open up to you a little and be clear I do it to support – not upset. But I’m sure you’ll understand, you seem really open minded. Adoption represents a huge loss. Even if our biological parents are terribly troubled, dead, uninterested, in prison…this is the death of something every human wants – to be be loved by, raised by, and important to their own parents. At the same time, no child wants to hurt the feelings of the adults they now must count on, who they are often silently trying to prove their worth to. I say this to encourage you to remember that in your approach. These marriage vow style things make sense to you, since you are only gaining, not losing, and you get choices. I would suggest having a private, special day where you say to your daughter that you love her, are so happy to have her, but also to validate that it’s ok for her to feel a lot of conflicting emotions. That you accept and love her whole story. Take pictures but don’t share them anywhere and only with her when she’s old enough. Let her be the one to do it, if that is her choice. Adoption is more like a divorce than a marriage. I hope this makes sense. Best of luck.

It was also suggested that the couple modify these vows. Then go and make these vows with each other and their preacher. To make a commitment between themselves that these things are true. Lots of adopted kids hear these kinds of promises and yet, their adoptive relationship is later disrupted. This makes good sense to me.

Finally, this is celebrating the girl’s worst day. One adoptee felt this was unbelievably cruel. She also noted how common it is that marriage vows are broken. Adoption disruptions and dissolutions are estimated to occur at approximately 25% for all adoptions in the US.

Just noting, regarding those vows – Autism is not an illness or a tragedy.