In last week’s column we acquainted ourselves with a young woman who let us in on her life from when, as a little girl of eight, she was separated from her mother (for reasons yet unclear) and sent to live in America with a family that had chosen to adopt her.
Happy-go-lucky and good-natured “Debbie” took it all in stride, even to the point of looking forward to her new adventure. She, however, quickly discovered that there were new rules to live by and that her adoptive parents were rigid and uncompromising – the polar opposites of her own easygoing and lighthearted persona.
She learned that if she didn’t follow the house rules there would be “consequences” to pay, and, as a result, little Debbie took to adopting a defiant stance. The fact that she couldn’t possibly measure up to her perfect older “sister,” who in the eyes of her parents could do no wrong, didn’t help matters.
As the “black sheep” in the family, Debbie’s existence became a formidable one. To her sister’s credit, she would take to defending Debbie when her younger sis found herself in trouble at home.
Rachel: How did you manage to fend off your feelings of discontent and work
around all your negative emotions?
Debbie: My bitterness manifested itself in defying and ridiculing my adoptive parents principles and beliefs. That said, I had great friends and became close to other families that basically took me in and mothered me the way my adoptive parents didn¹t. In 7th grade I went to live with another family for a while, and in 11th grade I moved in with my best friend¹s family. When I was in 12th grade I went to live with a very warm and kind family who raised 15 children of their own.
I got my own cell phone, which my adoptive parents did not know of and had no control over, and I developed two close friendships they vehemently opposed. Ironically, these two friends helped me to remain a frum believing person overall; their families raised them with a love for yiddishkeit and they knew that their parents loved them and were always there for them.
Thinking back, do you feel that you were trying to run away from it all, to escape…? And during all your tumultuous adventures, what part, if any, did your birth mother play? In other words, if and when she came to mind, how did you perceive her in your mind’s eye and in your heart?
Yes, I was definitely running away and escaping life. It was way more fun to bounce around town and hang out with friends at Starbucks or the movie theater than to deal with the rigid guidelines set by my adoptive parents. To be honest, and it’s a bit embarrassing to admit, I really didn’t think about my birth mother much; I was so preoccupied with the “here and now” that I did not dwell on the past. I guess you could say that this was a part of my “running away and escaping reality.” I don’t think I could have contemplated the past while dealing with the present and stay normal. I needed the constant escape to keep happy.
However, I always have and will perceive her as a mother who loved me too much to let me grow up with her. I never doubted her love for me and somehow knew that she was unable to take care of me properly. I fully and truly believe that she knew that and wanted what was best for me. Even though the best for mewas not the best for her, she was willing to do it – to give me away not because she wanted to, but because that was the best for me.
I can clearly recall having my mom close by, holding me as I slept. Somehow I never remember being hungry (guess my mom always made sure I wouldn’t be). I have never nor will I ever doubt her love for me. Her love and her ability to take care of me are two distinctly separate things.
You describe spending much of your high-school years with other families. How did your adoptive parents take to your nomadic lifestyle? Did they try to convince you to return “home”?Did you keep in contact with them throughout your stay with these other families?
Actually, they were the ones to arrange for me to live with a different family in 7th and 12th grade, and they very much wanted me to board rather than dorm in seminary. They even paid for my stay with these people.
In 12th grade the suggestion for me to live somewhere else came from a rabbi I was close with at the time. My adoptive parents agreed that it was for the best. Our relationship actually improved to a degree when I wasn’t living there, but in no way was it ideal.
What is your present goal in life and how does it compare to your goal from about half a dozen years ago?
In today’s society my goal is so simple yet so complex. I want to raise a home of baalei emunah and yirei shamayim. I came to realize that everyone has their own way of serving Hashem, but as long as the reason behind what and how they are serving Him is l’shaim shamayim – for the sake of Heaven – the different ways are more than okay. Ultimately, there is only one truth. I am a strong believer in Rabeinu Nachman of Breslov’s three very famous principles, by which I try to live my life:
Emunah: If a person does not have true, pure faith he will never get anywhere in life. People who think that they are running the show just get depressed and disappointed in life, and very often in themselves, when things don’t go their way.
Always stay happy: A person can’t possibly serve Hashem in a state of depression.
Ein shum yeush baolam klal: There is no giving up hope, ever! No matter how low a person sinks, there is no room for despair. Hashem is our loving Father who is willing to accept us back when we return to Him.
More next week
* * * * *
We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.