Parallel Lives

For adoptees, it’s hard to resist family comparisons. I can’t help but compare my sheltered childhood on the southwest side of Chicago to what I know of my biological family’s life in the suburbs north of the city.

My family’s bungalow on South Sacramento Avenue and my birth mother Lillian’s home on Alice Drive are only 35 miles apart, but the two families might as well have lived on separate planets. That’s how different they were.

My mother, Claire, and father, Bob, didn’t work outside the home. Dad was a retired linotype operator and Mom was a homemaker. They were in their 50s when they adopted me days after I was born. A year later, they adopted my newborn sister, Melissa. This was in the 1960s. Mom and Dad were unlikely parents to two little school girls who never knew they were adopted. Were they our grandparents? Claire and Bob bristled every time they heard that question.

They had plenty of time to supervise Melissa and me. They were helicopter parents before anyone used that expression to describe annoying moms and dads who hover constantly over their kids. Claire and Bob were ahead of their time.

good photo of Claire + her sisters

My adoptive mother, Claire, center, with her sisters, El, left, and Marie

We didn’t get away with anything because our parents watched us like hawks. Dad drove us to and from school every day. We were not allowed to play with the kids across the street because Claire thought they were too “street-y.” Melissa and I were goody-goodies not because we wanted to be but because we didn’t have a choice. I read a lot of books because there was nothing better to do. In the summers, I rode my bike around Marquette Park over and over again. I went to the library for more books. I counted the days until school started. Time passed very slowly on South Sacramento. I dreamed about moving out of that boring prison and getting a taste of the real world.

On Alice Drive, my sister and her three brothers had fun and freedom. They went on family outings and played with little supervision. Their parents, Lillian and Dick, both worked and were not around enough to watch the kids closely. Sometimes my siblings got into mischief.

 

Lillian when she graduated bigger

My birth mother, Lillian, in 1953

Lillian’s pregnancy with me may have been the last straw for the marriage. I was not Dick’s child. She and Dick divorced not long after I was born. Their breakup hurt the family. My sister’s grades dropped. There was more pain for the children when Lillian got angry and lashed out at them. As teenagers, my brothers and sister got into drugs and sex and no doubt rock and roll. One of my brothers, a brainy boy who got good grades, took his life. Lillian was never the same after her boy died.

That’s one thing Lillian and Claire had in common. My adoptive parents had a biological son, Bobby, who also died young – of a kidney ailment. Claire and Bob were devastated. They withdrew from their family and the world. They never left the house, not even to buy food. They had somebody deliver the groceries. Adopting me and Melissa brought my parents back to diapers, baby food and the real world. It helped them heal.

I resented having parents who smothered me but maybe having a child die is what made Mom and Dad so protective of their daughters.

I didn’t have any boyfriends in high school and didn’t have a drink until my senior year. Melissa and I graduated and went to college. We never got to go away to school – Mom and Dad wouldn’t allow that – but we graduated from college, something neither of our parents had done. Claire and Bob were proud.

My life never intersected with Lillian’s. She was only 48 when she died in 1983. Not long after her death, another one of her sons died after a long struggle with injuries he suffered in an auto accident.

I wonder how different my life would have been if I had grown up with Lillian and her family. Would I be the person I am today with different parents and siblings?

All I know for sure is I am grateful to Lillian for giving me life and extremely grateful to Claire and Bob for adopting me. Maybe their overly protective but loving style of parenting was just what I needed.

 

11 thoughts on “Parallel Lives

  1. Very interesting story, Lynne. I’m learning so much about you that I never knew. Still trying to wrap my head around what I just read. Despite the sheltered childhood I have to think that you were better off with your adoptive parents. Yes, you probably would have been a different person had you grown up in the other home – but then there would have been no “Lynne and Tom” and no Jake. Obviously, I cannot fully grasp what you are feeling, but you should be proud and happy for the wonderful woman, wife and mother that you have become.

    1. Thanks for your support, Mary. Life is full of surprises isn’t it? Can you imagine being a 50-something woman raising two baby girls? I couldn’t do what my parents did. It’s also bizarre to know I had blood relatives I never knew living an hour away from the home where I grew up. Thanks for reading.

  2. I love this! My two families are very different too. My birth mother is a wonderful woman and mother to my half brother but I believe if she had kept me things would not have been as good as they were for my half brother. She and I would’ve struggled and she nor I would be as happy as we are today! Doesn’t keep us from wondering though… What if? :)

    1. When you’re adopted, you can’t help but wonder can you? In my situation, I think things worked out for the best. Maybe the same is true for you, too, Liz.

  3. Lynne, I can really relate to the part about your parents being way over-protective. My A-dad said it was because they’d sworn before a judge to take care of me. I still wished for more freedom and less monitoring as a kid. My birth sibs are all great people. My birth mom also passed away young as well, but I know that in spite of the hard life she lead, she must have had enough good in her too because my sisters are such fine people. My birth father and his kids are all good folks too…very different from my upbringing, but people I am very happy and proud to be with. P.

    1. You’re lucky you found such great blood relatives, Paige. I feel fortunate to have a good life especially when I think about the difficulties my mother and her children faced. Thanks for reading my blog. :-)

  4. Funny thing, when I looked at that first picture I picked out your mom right away because I could see some resemblance. I was really surprised to find out I’d picked out your adoptive mother. I guess I can see one reason, in Claire’s face, that you didn’t know you were adopted.

    1. You’re not the first person to tell me I look like my adoptive mom, Lynn. Then again, I’ve been told by various people that I look just like so-and-so’s daughter, sister, cousin, neighbor, etc. It’s kind of funny. What does that say about my face? Thanks for commenting on my blog!

  5. I am so glad to read your blog. I have adopted two children from Russia. It is good that you had a good childhood. It is good to be smoothered to some extent. At least you did not have reactive attachment issues. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    Laurie

    1. Thanks, Laurie. My blog makes me happy. Learning about my birth mother has been amazing. How are your children doing? I wish you and your family all the best. Thanks for reading.

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