Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I am posting two articles and then one that is in Michigan. It is a series of stories on birth mothers. First the two on adoptees

CHESAPEAKE — It was a little after 10 p.m. when Deborah Holmes’ telephone rang. The first thing that went through her mind was something must be wrong. No one calls her that late just to talk.

She stopped playing one of the computer games she uses to relax before going to bed. She picked up the phone and answered a question that would change her life.

The stranger on the other end was looking for the Deborah Holmes who had given birth to her in a Newark, N.J. , hospital in 1966. Holmes told the caller she had the wrong woman.
“But I love a mystery,” Holmes said recently as she sat at her kitchen table in Deep Creek. “I told her that God had her call me for a reason. I’m going to find your mama.”
Months later, Holmes, 45, a genealogist and Chesapeake police officer, still doesn’t know why she said that to Lisa Files, 40, of Jackson, Miss. She doesn’t know why she felt so compelled to help a stranger who called her out of the blue because they had a name in common.
She just knew she wanted to make good on her promise to help Files, a cosmetologist, find the woman she was taken from the day after she was born.

Instead of finding her birth mother, Files accidentally called someone who is fascinated with family histories, someone who, despite having next to no information, has the formal training and self-taught skills to find a missing person.

Web sites for genealogy help

The ALMA Society: www.almasociety.org
Deborah Holmes’ genealogy Web site: www.wemightbekin.net
The origins of Florence Crittenton homes: www.cwla.org/programs/pregprev/flocritt.htm

Tracking down family trees

Holmes’ idea of a vacation is visiting her septuagenarian aunts in North Carolina, digging up dusty records in old courthouses, finding family photos that have been lost for decades and hopping cemetery fences to take pictures of family gravestones.
“When I was a little kid, I would write down what my grandmother would tell me about the family tree, and I would put it all in a spiral notebook, trying to keep records of it,” she said.
About seven years ago, Lt. Kenny Kumm, a co-worker with a keen interest in genealogy, sparked her interest in it again. Holmes started a free Web site, www.wemightbekin.net. Now she has 27,497 members in her family tree.
Holmes does free searches for people and shares the documents she painstakingly fact-checks because she loves hunting down information. The documents and photos bring the people on her family tree to life.
“I feel like you can’t really understand where you are, or where you are going, if you don’t know where you came from,” she said.
She understands the forces driving Files to find her birth mother and fill in the branches of her family tree.
Files didn’t find out she was adopted until she was 13. She began looking for her birth mother when she was 19, hoping to find the love and acceptance missing from her relationship with her adopted mother. But hers was a closed adoption. She knew only where she was born and the year.
“I started doing Internet searches in the '90s and just calling a lot of different agencies in New Jersey,” said Files, speaking from her hair salon in Mississippi.
Being found, but not finding
She wasn’t the only one searching. In July, a New Jersey-based group called The ALMA Society did a routine search to cross-match dates of birth, adoption records, and birth parents and adoptees on its registry with those on other Web sites.
The organization found Files listed on www.adoption.com. Her information matched a woman named Deborah Lynn Holmes Patterson , who had contacted the group in 1985 when she was living in Virginia.
She never officially registered with ALMA, but her information was kept on file, said Marie Anderson, a national coordinator for the group who works in Richmond.
“We just happened to be working in the 1966 files,” Anderson said. “We pull a year and go through all the possible searches for members. We had her information, so we ran it.”
The group lost track of Files’ mother but were able to contact the adoptee immediately from the information she had posted on the Web site.
Files had a few more pieces of the puzzle: A new name and last known location for her birth mother. She now knew that her birth mother had stayed in a home for unwed mothers and wayward girls run by the Florence Crittenton Association of America.
When Files found time, she would look online for the telephone numbers of women living in New Jersey or Virginia named Deborah Holmes or Deborah Patterson.
“I eventually called the Deborah Holmes in Chesapeake,” Files said. “I told her what I was doing. I didn’t feel bad telling her the story, telling her my business. I guess it was the way she asked and listened.”
It can’t be that easy
Holmes started her search for Files’ mother by filling genealogy message boards with the information she had. When she told co-workers and friends what she was doing, they offered to help. They began running searches in New Jersey and Virginia.
Someone left a message on one of the boards about a Deborah Patterson and Deborah Robinson, a Roanoke Rapids, N.C., radio and TV personality. Holmes disregarded it because it seemed like a false lead. There was no reason to think Files’ mother was in North Carolina. Besides, both are common names.
But then someone found a phone number for a North Carolina woman named Rhonda Patterson who they had reason to believe might be related to Files. Rhonda Patterson’s mother was listed as a Deborah H. Robinson.
“And then we were: Uh-oh,” Holmes said.
She called the last known telephone number for Patterson, which was a Roanoke Rapids address.
“It turned out to be Deborah’s phone number, and Deborah answered when I called looking for Rhonda,” Holmes said. “I asked her if she would be willing to talk to Lisa.”
It took Holmes just five days to reunite mother and daughter.

Decades after she nursed the baby she named Dawn Marie for the first and only time, and her mother put the baby up for adoption without her knowledge, Deborah Holmes Robinson spoke to her first born in August.

Four months have passed since Files took a leap of faith and told Holmes her story. The women have yet to meet in person, but they have become close friends and talk on the phone frequently.

The three women were supposed to meet in North Carolina over Thanksgiving, but a nor’easter kept Holmes from hearing them tell their story to a Roanoke Rapids church. Mother and daughter are both ministers in addition to their other jobs.
For years, family members have teased Holmes about her first name, which isn’t a family name in a family where that is the norm. She figures God had her father name her Deborah for a reason.

“Forty-five years later, I learned why,” she said. “My name ended up meaning everything to two people who I had never met.”

Reach Janette Rodrigues at (757) 222-5208 or janette.rodrigues@pilotonline.com.

In his first memory of the woman who gave birth to him, Jacob Somit is in his own backyard, dressed for a wedding. She is marrying his birth father and Jacob, age 4, is the ring bearer. His adoptive dad, a lawyer, is performing the ceremony.
If he thinks there is anything unusual in this story, Jacob, now an articulate and frank 21-year-old, doesn't reveal it. This is simply his family history, with its own complex tapestry of relationships, all beginning when he was born and placed into what was then considered a radical arrangement -- an open adoption.
Back then the reaction was mostly, "Oh those crazy Berkeley people," recalls Toni Maines, Jacob's adoptive mother. She and her husband, Jed Somit, received the same response when they adopted Jacob's older brother and sister. No one knew how to categorize what they were doing. Since the 1950s, most states had laws guaranteeing confidentiality, and that is how adoptions had been handled. Today, although the debate over secrecy is still active, open, or "cooperative," adoption has changed the landscape, especially among the crop of prospective parents looking for healthy newborns.
Public agencies, where confidential or closed adoptions dominate, handle the largest number of adoptions. But the number of private agencies, organizations and lawyers who handle open ones has grown steadily. It's hard to say how many open adoptions are completed each year because states aren't required to report this information. Even if they did, adoption experts say, there would be no way to quantify the level of openness, from sending letters and pictures to regular visits. A 1991 study of public and private agency adoptions found that 69 percent of birth parents had met the adoptive couple, although there is no way to tell how many maintained relationships.
In Jacob's case, his birth parents have been in -- and sometimes out -- of his life. They came to high school graduation and many holiday dinners and barbecues. Along the way, there have been disappointments and disillusionments, and anger over unmet expectations, but also shared memories and history. Jacob spoke about this one fall day, sitting on the couch in the living room of the Moraga house where he lives with his parents, brother and sister. He was still feeling the sting of anger at his birth parents from last year, when they failed to show up for a barbecue. Jacob felt let down, he said, and since then had stopped calling them mom and dad, as he had since high school. "These are sort of my economic sanctions against them," he said, leaning back on the couch, his hands clasped in his lap.
Still, he was looking forward to seeing them a few weeks later, on an afternoon when Maines had invited over various members of all three birth families. She did it partly to celebrate Jacob's and his sister's birthdays, partly to talk about what open adoption looks like 20 years later. Jacob and his siblings -- and others adopted in the years when it was being pioneered -- are the real legacy of open adoption. Now young adults, they are the ones who can talk about how it worked out or, more appropriately, how it is still working out. Everyone was wondering -- Jacob and his sister, Julia, as well as Maines and Somit -- who would make it to the gathering.
Throughout the afternoon, the door to the house remained open. It was not so much an anomaly in suburban, affluent Moraga as it seemed a metaphor for how Maines and Somit have built their family. Over the years, Maines continued to extend invitations to the birth families, with varied success. Along the way, there was little help for families -- adoptive or birth parents or kids -- like hers.
"I don't think we anticipated this very well," said Sharon Kaplan Roszia, a program manager at the Kinship Center in Santa Ana and one of the first social workers to facilitate an open adoption in California. "We should have been providing community resources where people could come together and solve problems. ... You have to give families skills. You can't just turn them loose out there. So often the relationships fall apart and no one works with birth families to make them realize their value to the child."
Too often, said Roszia, co-author of "The Open Adoption Experience," once the baby is placed, neither side is prepared or committed to continue the relationship. That can take a lot of work and discomfort, particularly when birth parents move away or marry someone not related to the child. Then there are the rocky times for all.
"It isn't rosy all the time but the net result is a big plus," said Jed Somit, one of the early lawyers to handle open adoptions -- including his first son's -- and who now has a general practice that includes contested adoptions. "It's a process that lasts the whole life."
What little longitudinal research there is on open adoption shows it has been beneficial in most aspects for members of the "triad" -- the child, birth and adoptive parents -- and neutral in a few. The largest study to date, by researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of Texas, included interviews with 720 individuals in closed, mediated (where contact is arranged through an agency or third party) and open adoptions. The researchers say they found positive aspects to confidential adoptions as well, and the study shouldn't be construed to mean open adoption is best in every situation. The study showed a range of sadness among birth mothers -- whether in open or closed adoptions -- but that those in fully open adoptions felt less unresolved adoption-related grief over time.
Adoptive parents in fully open adoptions had higher levels of empathy toward birth parents and less fear of losing their child, according to the study. Yet there were "issues having to do with expectations" in some of these adoptions, said Ruth McRoy, a research professor at University of Texas and one of the principal researchers.
"There might be agreement that we will be in touch on a regular basis, but then something happens," she said. "One party can't fulfill that. Maybe it's a situation in which a birth mother makes a commitment to have contact and a few years later she moves or gets involved in other aspects of their life. The form may very. Maybe she can't visit. She might just want to write."
The study, the Minnesota-Texas Adoption Research Project, is now in its third phase. Researchers are interviewing the young adult adoptees whose lives they've been following. So far, in the first two phases, children's self-esteem did not vary by level of openness in adoption. And in what was a key finding, kids in open adoptions did not seem confused by their expanded family trees.
"There was a lot of speculation that kids wouldn't know who their parents were, but we didn't find that," said McRoy. "They could recognize the role of birth parents and would refer to them by first name often. They didn't think they had two mommies."
Roszia, who facilitated the open adoption of an 8-year-old girl more than 30 years ago when she worked at Children's Home Society in Santa Ana, said the research is "very nice to see for those of us who stepped out in front of this." She recalls how she brought the girl's birth parents and grandparents together on a Sunday to try and settle the child's future. After the three-hour meeting, the lawyers, who had not been invited, were livid. "I might very well have lost my job," she said. "But today, family decision-making meetings are fairly common." They create more realistic relationships, she said, which are more natural than trying to freeze experiences and pretend nothing has changed.
"Open adoptions are like marriages," she said. "Like any other relationship there are challenges to face."
The Family Maze
The first to arrive at the Moraga gathering was Jan Abundis, the birth grandmother of Maines and Somit's oldest child. He is 23, a very private person according to Maines, and did not want to be interviewed for this story. But Abundis, an antique dealer, could not imagine missing a family gathering. All three children call her grandma.
"I can't remember a Thanksgiving or Christmas or Memorial Day weekend when I was not invited here and I was here," she said. "I am family. Not only that, Toni and I have many similar interests."
The two, less than 10 years apart, seem more like friends than anything else. Abundis helped herself to tea while Maines roasted red peppers for dinner. Over the years, their conversations have reached beyond grandchildren. Although that, of course, is what brought them together. Abundis accompanied her daughter on that first difficult meeting with Maines and Somit. Her daughter was 15.
"I had explained she'd made an adult decision and needed to make more adult decisions," Abundis said. "We went to Planned Parenthood and they gave us a stack of people who wanted open and traditional adoptions."
The concept of open adoption was new to her. Her ex-husband and her mother were opposed to it at first. Maines remembers how the daughter, six months pregnant, kept her arms crossed across her chest, trying to cover herself up. She only talked if spoken to, except to ask one question.
"How come you're not getting pregnant with your own child?" she asked.
"I told her I'd spent nine years trying," said Maines. "She said, 'Oh.' Very 15."
Abundis and her daughter were struck with Maines' warmth and the fact that Somit not only loved playing baseball, but also was, like her daughter, a shortstop. The house seemed "itching for children," Abundis said. A few weeks later, she invited them for dinner to get better acquainted.
Maines and Somit had been pondering adoption for the past year. Maines, an emergency room nurse until a few years ago, when she left because of back trouble, had gone into therapy and joined a support group to deal with grief over infertility. She remained uncomfortable with adoption and it took her a full year to figure out why. "Behind it was that there was this woman who produced a child and I wouldn't know her," said Maines. "This child would clearly have another set of parents. It didn't seem plausible that I could raise a healthy kid without knowing where he came from."
To Maines, it was an intuitive feeling. But it grew into such a conviction that she and Somit began meeting with a leader from an infertility support organization to discuss "a pie-in-the-sky adoption and what it would look like." They envisioned "a place where the triad could meet and birth families could get counseling, forever if they needed it." The result of those meetings was the Independent Adoption Center -- now an agency in Pleasant Hill that has completed more than 200 adoptions -- the vast majority open, to some degree -- last year. But 23 years ago, Maines answered phones by herself from her Berkeley living room. Her oldest son's adoption was the first handled by the fledgling center.
From the beginning, it was new territory. His birth mother agreed to stay in touch. She visited at first, but when he was about 2, stopped contact. She married and moved overseas for four years, then had another child, whom she raised. The son she gave up was disappointed by her withdrawal. "Toni, Jed and I had to explain that open adoption meant choices for everyone, including his birth mother," said Abundis.
Her daughter said visiting reminded her of a time in her life when she wasn't proud of herself. "But I think she did handle herself very well," said Abundis. "It was hard to go back to school. She handled herself with a lot of dignity. It was a disappointment to all of us that she decided not to be involved. ... It's caused a rift between us."
Maines led a triad support group for a while after adopting her first son, but then parted ways with the Independent Adoption Center. She was busy with her growing family, but also saw how hard -- and rare -- it was to maintain open relationships with birth families. She didn't see anyone offering help. So she tried to work it out on her own.
"I called (the birth mother) several times in the first year," said Maines. "I've always been the pursuer. I felt like I had to do the work to keep the birth parents involved if there was ever going to be a future. ... Her reason is it's always been too hard to see him. I say tough. It's about him and the commitment we made together."
When their son was 2, Maines and Somit made arrangements to adopt another child. The baby girl was in their home 10 days when the birth mother decided she could not give her up. Maines said she was devastated, but understood the birth mother's ambivalence. By then, people had heard about Maines and her adoption experience. She'd spoken at meetings of Resolve and adoption resource groups. Still, she wasn't sure she was ready to adopt again.
That changed when she met Jacob's birth parents -- who were convinced they wanted her and Somit to raise their child -- and shortly afterward, Julia's birth mother. Maines and Somit never intended to adopt two children so close in age. But circumstances converged and they adopted Julia, then Jacob, who is 29 days younger, a detail his sister never lets him forget.
In the early years, Julia's birth mother visited regularly, but had another child when Julia was 4. Julia remembers that her birth mother changed. "She just disappeared," said Julia, one day, lying on the living room couch. She is petite, with short dark hair and large brown eyes highlighted by dark eyeliner. Her gestures and tone are dramatic, a clue to her passions: theater, film and anything related to "Star Wars." There is something that always grabs her, she said, about hearing an audience breathe in astonishment during a movie. That is what she wants, followed by her name scrolling across the credits, whether it's for bringing coffee to the crew or directing. Now a courier in a legal office and a student at Diablo Valley College, she wants to attend film school.
"Around 14 I was angry, I think from not understanding why she disappeared," she said. "I do want to get to know my birth mother again."
Her birth mother now has a third child and struggles with emotional problems, Julia said. But she still feels a connection, even though there were eight or nine years when she didn't see her. How could she not when the two are so much alike? "We both dress very boyishly," said Julia. "At 15, she looked exactly like me. I saw a picture of her then and we looked so much alike it was scary.''
They both love old books, anything nautical and especially Horatio Hornblower. "I loved Horatio Hornblower books," Julia said. "I wish I could be Horatio Hornblower. I love adventures on the sea."
Julia also suspects she inherited her attention deficit problems from her birth mother. Perhaps some of her mother's struggles stem from them, she said, turning on her side and stretching out her legs. In the past few years, she's been in contact again, although it's been sporadic. Her birth mother is more likely to contact Maines, to whom she turns for advice.
It was her birth father who surprised her by coming to her high school graduation two years ago. That was the first time she'd seen him or his three sons. "My mom didn't tell me he was coming," she said. "I just saw him in the audience, next to my uncle, who looked at me and mouthed, 'your father.' I tripped and fell into the person next to me."
She was glad to meet him, but also angry, she said. "He agreed to open adoption and now he feels I have this life and he shouldn't see me. One of my main questions is that, 'shouldn't this be my decision, too?' We're very different, I guess. ... Sometimes I feel like, 'What did I do to offend you?' "
On the day we met, Julia was trying to reach her birth mother to invite her for a visit on her 21st birthday, about a week away. "I've been trying to call her to see if she'll come down and have a manicure and pedicure with me," said Julia. "I haven't heard from her."
Julia celebrated her birthday with family and friends, but not, it turned out, with her birth mother. She didn't make it. Still, Julia had a great time, she said, going to the Top of the Mark for a symbolic 21st birthday drink. Her parents know she doesn't even like the taste of alcohol.
On the day of the family gathering, Julia came in intermittently to work on a Sudoku puzzle, eat a bagel or ask Maines for advice on how to attach an oversize hood onto the Jedi sweatshirt she was sewing. She hugged Abundis, sat at the kitchen table, then disappeared downstairs to wait for her birth mother.
Jacob, who is tall, his dark hair cut short after high school years of experimental colors and styles, also wandered in and embraced Abundis before leaving to pick up his girlfriend. He was still gone when his birth parents arrived.
John and Claudia Rausch appeared uncomfortable when they first walked into the kitchen. It had been more than a year since Claudia had seen Jacob, although John had visited him last Christmas. Claudia blames herself for the absence, saying she was grappling with her emotional problems and drug addiction. She missed coming for holidays last year, she said, because she was getting cleaned up.
"It's hard to explain to Jacob why I'm not there," said Claudia. "It's not because of him. It's because of what I'm going through. I haven't always been able to be here in a happy mood. And I feel bad when I'm on the phone with him and I'm not exactly a happy camper.''
That they gave up Jacob is still painful for her, Claudia said, particularly since he was the second child she and John relinquished. They're not in contact with the first, who was placed in a closed adoption. Claudia said she's glad for the chance to watch Jacob grow up, but that hasn't erased her pain. She said she needs to talk about her experiences. "If I don't, I'll have a drug addiction," she said. So she has told her story at the preschool where she works in Sacramento and even tried to help women facing the same decision -- whether in closed or open adoptions.
"It means a great deal, knowing that he's in good hands," said John, a maintenance worker. "It eases the whole experience."
Claudia was sitting at the kitchen table when Jacob returned. Her face lit up. Jacob held out a cellophane wrapped bundle of three roses and said, in a quiet voice, "Happy birthday."
"Thank you," said Claudia, grasping the modest bouquet, clearly surprised. Her birthday had just passed and it was Jacob's 21st that was coming up in a few weeks.
"It's OK," he said.
"Do I get a hug?" she asked. He leaned over and tentatively gave her one, then left the room with his girlfriend.
"He's in love. Isn't that great?" said Claudia. She recalled previous girlfriends and Jacob sometimes asking her for advice. He'd also asked her the painful question that had no answer: which child she would have kept if she could have raised one of them. And he wanted to know how she felt when she'd gotten pregnant. "I told him the truth, that I couldn't handle the emotions and finances of bringing him up," she said. The truth may be difficult, said Maines, but is always better than making up stories, such as telling kids they were specially "chosen" to be part of a family. "Kids will see right through that," she said.
A few weeks earlier, Jacob had talked about his up-and-down relationship with his birth parents. He remembers visits to their house, where he sat on the floor and played with toys. As he got older, they had their own private relationship. One day in high school, on a phone call with his birth father, he inadvertently called him dad. "He said, 'Why did you call me that?' '' said Jacob. "I said, 'Because you're my dad.' No one ever questioned it after that." That includes his adoptive parents, whom he calls, "probably some of the most open people I've ever met." It's to them he turns for discipline and emotional support.
"I'm so lucky to have grown up in a house like this," he said.
He said he understands the challenges his birth parents face -- their economic and psychological struggles. But he struggles with his own problems, he said. Last year, he was diagnosed as bipolar. Since then, he said, he's worked hard on his life. He had a rocky time in high school, but now attends Diablo Valley College and works at a discount store. He wonders if he inherited what he calls his "mentality" from his birth parents, the same way he ended up with his birth father's freckles and his birth mother's brown hair and bone structure.
The physical resemblance was clear as they stood in the kitchen, but the talk still bordered on awkward. Jacob ate a bowl of cole slaw and told John about working out with dumbbells in his weight-training class. John asked him whether he was taking a foreign language, then suggested Latin, which he'd studied in high school. The three walked out to the balcony, standing shoulder to shoulder, talking and looking out over the woodsy backyard. Inside, Julia sat in a chair, twisting a string around her finger and still waiting for her birth mother. Jacob and his birth parents came back in, then went into Jacob's room and shut the door. The only sound was loud laughter. Far from feeling diminished, Maines said the sound of Jacob enjoying himself with his birth parents made her happy for him. Their relationship adds something to Jacob's life that's hard to articulate.
"It's been a lot of work," said Maines. "But I wouldn't change anything."
Not an Easy Road
The experiments that later became known as open adoption began in Oregon, Michigan and California in the 1970s and 1980s. California was out front as a pioneer because agencies in the state began to embrace it, said David Brodzinksy, co-editor of "The Psychology of Adoption" and an emeritus professor at Rutgers University who now lives in the Bay Area.
"It was being experimented on because the closed system was not serving people well," he said. "Over time, as research was done, we began seeing that secrecy was associated with problems."
Adoptees began searching for birth parents and talking about the consequences of confidentiality. So did birth mothers who said it had not been easy to move on after giving up children. But that doesn't mean all saw open adoption as the ideal solution. Some, including those who refer to themselves as "exiled mothers," are anti-adoption, saying not enough is done to keep families together. There are those who believe any adoption results in a "primal wound" that can't be healed. Others think open adoption is the best choice, that it allows them more respect and rights.
One thing adoption researchers, social workers, adoptees, parents and advocates agree on is that there is no one story that illustrates open adoption. Teens and young adults told me, variously, that they didn't think much about their birth parents, were hurt or disappointed when relationships waned or that they were close enough to visit regularly, even to move in.
"If it's all you've known, there is no mystery, no angst, because when you grow up visiting all your relatives it seems normal," said Ellen Roseman, an adoption facilitator in San Anselmo. She has three children, one biological and two adopted in what began as closed adoptions. She worked to open them up, she said, after hearing Roszia speak about the importance of the connection between adoptees and birth parents.
Now, in support sessions she's held at her home for the past 16 years, she talks about the work of open adoption, which entails what she calls "emotional stretching." It is, she said, "a difficult, difficult journey." To people who don't want to do it, she bluntly says to work with someone else. But a crowd shows up every time, some with newborns or toddlers. Roszia and Somit both said such support is rare. They worry that open adoption is too often used as a marketing tool, with little of substance offered to educate birth or adoptive parents about what is involved.
"We've moved toward a more entitled population," said Somit. "They hire a lawyer and plop down money and they feel they deserve a baby."
The Independent Adoption Center now has ongoing support groups for families. Birth and adoptive parents must get counseling before an adoption can be completed, said Kathleen Silber, associate executive director. "A lot of clients call us nine years later," she said. "They want help with issues."
The most common problems, she said, are adoptive families who need help finding birth parents with whom they've lost contact. Relationships between birth parents and adoptees normally change over time, she said, with one or both sides wanting more or less contact. Somit said in most of the cases he works on it's the adoptive parents who want to cut back on visits from the birth parents. California now allows birth and adoptive parents to file a post adoption agreement in court, although birth parents can't use it to contest a placement.
Tempered Expectations
After about a half hour, Jacob and his birth parents emerged from his room. Claudia said they'd been laughing about an incident that happened at their apartment the night before. A stranger squeezed through an open window in the middle of the night, falling-down drunk, and passed out by their bed. They only discovered him when they woke up.
Claudia and John hugged Jacob, then left to visit John's mother, who has been a constant in Jacob's life. Over lunch a week later, she talked about how close she felt to the Somit family. Jacob also has a step birth grandfather, his paternal grandmother's husband, in addition to his birth grandfather and adoptive grandparents. "I have grandparents coming out of my ass," was how Jacob put it. And he was happy about that. Like in many families, the personalities fit together like a mosaic that is large and messy, but somehow works.
As the afternoon wore on, it became clear that Julia's birth mother was not coming. "That's just her," said Somit. Julia went to take a nap on a hammock in the backyard, but reached up to hug Jacob's birth parents goodbye. A few weeks later, Maines said she still hadn't heard from Julia's birth mother but had not stopped trying. "I'm still there and she knows it," said Maines.
Julia was disappointed, but had learned not to expect much. She was fine. "I don't really comprehend her," she said. "I know my brothers, like my oldest brother, he loves football and eats sunflower seeds all the time. But my birth mother? Her I don't understand."
E-mail Katherine Seligman at kseligman@sfchronicle.com.
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