This really does make me think of my mom’s life with her adoptive mother . . . and then there is that painting of me . . . the story below is not my own, though at the bottom is a snippet about me as well.
It took a near death experience (21 days intubated for covid pneumonia while pregnant) and the loss of my 3 year old the very day I came home from the hospital for me to admit I even needed therapy. Though the therapist accepted me based on my grief trauma, most of our time has been spent discussing my childhood.
So many pieces finally fell into place this week. It’s like I wasn’t even aware I HAD all the pieces I needed, much less did I know where to put them. I did some sleuthing to try to get a clearer picture of my very early childhood, because my story was withheld from me and only presented in a very fragmented way.
The messages and calls to the courthouse, the man listed as father on my birth certificate, my sister, her stepmother, and finally the man who raised me yielded little in the way of real answers. The woman who physically abused me caught wind that I was digging and contacted me. She sent FOUR PAGES on bullshit which started off as a sideways apology and ended with her basically saying it was my fault she tortured me. I was 2.
“Dad” (guy who raised me, my sister’s uncle) came the closest to answering my questions of them all. We hadn’t talked for 3 years prior to this. Even when I nearly died, he wouldn’t reach out to check on me. He included in his message a sappy story about how much he sacrificed for me. He insinuated I didn’t care about my sister’s pain, and he closed with a reprimand about how I should feel sorry for HIM because he lost a grandchild. He only met my son once, by his own choice.
My first few years with them were a fantasy. “Mom” hand made my clothes. I looked like I belonged in a magazine. My hair was brushed and arranged until it was glossy ringlets. There were ribbons, bows, ruffles, tights, pinafores, and patent leather shoes. My bedroom was fit for a princess. There was a 4 post bed with a canopy. It was white with burnished gold accents, as was the matching vanity and stool. The bed covering was white and pink ruffles, and the canopy was tailor made to match. Christmas, Easter, and birthdays looked like the toy store exploded into our living room. I had it all.
Once I reached that awkward, gangly phase, it was over. By then they had their own daughter and son, and I was a nuisance. No longer a doll they could dress and pose. I could sense their disappointment. Their delight in me was gone. So I tried harder. I won more awards, I practiced music longer, I earned higher scores in school. The more I tried, the more disgusted they seemed.
I looked back over all the big milestones that mark the transition from childhood to maturity. In my high school graduation photos, he looked angry. In my wedding photos, he looked sick. When my children were born, he didn’t want to see them. When I chose a path for how I would spend my life, it wasn’t good enough. When I chose to move to a new state with better opportunities, I was being foolish. When he finally came to visit my first house, he literally became ill and vomited all over my bathroom.
I failed them. By growing up, I failed them. They treated their children like people, and they celebrated them appropriately in both youth and adulthood. I finally put it all together this week and realized I’ve intentionally kept myself small in my mind, because somewhere deep down I knew that only as their little princess could I feel their love.
I dug through my old pictures and found so many of me paraded in beauty pageants. But this is the one I settled on. It was taken the month after they got custody of me, in their home. I told her – little Sandi – that her work is done. It was never her job to make me palatable to the parents who stole me. I understand why she did. Her life was an exercise in terror, and these white knights were her ticket to salvation. But it was never her job to earn their love, and that isn’t her job now. So she has my permission to rest peacefully. I grew within the soil where they planted this little seed. It’s my turn to do the work of deciding who is worthy of my best efforts.
From the blog author – As a young child, my mom’s adoptive mother dressed and arranged me for a large oil painting portrait she wanted to do of me but now having read today’s story, it speaks volumes. And my mom did have a princess bedroom with a four poster bed. I know that my mom had a very “challenging” relationship with her adoptive mother. She really didn’t share many details of her childhood with me. That probably means something significant as well.