Adoptees: Dream Wisely And Be Careful What You Wish For

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dad always said be careful what you wish for

My dad always said,

Be careful what you wish for.

I wished for a photograph of my mother as a young woman. I had plenty of pictures of my adoptive mother, the mother who raised me; and a few of my darling step-mother.

But I had no photos at all of the teenager who gave me life and then gave me up.

At the time I was a researcher for an executive recruiting practice. Honey, I could find anybody. A decade before I nailed down my mother’s identity, and then her address and phone number.

I called her but was shocked into hanging up by the unanticipated strength of her Midwestern accent.



I don’t speak French or Iowan, so I sent her a letter.

She wrote back on a small piece of folded paper the size of two baseball cards. She said that when she’d found herself in her dilemma she viewed giving me up as her best option. She said that what she did needed to stay done. She asked to be left alone.

So that was that, until my adoptive father died,rekindling my old desire to see my birth mother’s face. Loss is like that sometimes.

It can cause weird emotional vacuums.

Feeling inventive, I called the library in the small town where my birth mother had grown up. Did they keep high school yearbooks? “How far back?” the librarian asked. “Way, way back.” And what did I need if she found it? “Just a Xerox of the photographs of the senior class,” I said.

It was just my luck that this librarian was extremely professional. (Aren’t they always? I love librarians.) She asked numerous questions to make sure she could provide precisely what I needed. Twenty answers later, my story had been reluctantly spilled. She promised to track down the yearbook.

Three weeks later (which felt like three years), a manila envelope arrived in my home mail box. I summoned my husband (that means screamed for) and mixed each of us a stiff vodka cranberry. We went out on the side porch sheltered by towering redwoods.

A few gulps later, I tore open the envelope and pulled out three sheets.

There were the pictures of the class of ’55, boys and girls. All told, less than a 20 kids. Each student had a number. When I turned over the pages I realized to my horror that the librarian had not written down names to correspond to the numbers.

“Oh my god!” I exploded, frantically searching the empty envelope. “She forgot to include the friggin’ names!”

“Calm down, Rayne,” my (dang, he’s logical!) husband said, picking up the pages. “Is someone circled, underscored or checked?”

When it became clear there was no way to identify anyone in the pictures from our porch that night, we began studying each girl’s face, searching for my nose, my eyes, my expressions.

No. 8 seemed a strong possibility. No. 9 was wearing a sweater set I liked. No. 12, with a cute poodle cut and flashy earrings, somehow echoed by style — she was the vivacious type, we could tell.

“Look up,” my husband directed, squinting as he compared me to each girl.

I’d mimic the pose from the picture, then he would say, Hmm…. Maybe,” or “No, that’s not her.”

The summer night was balmy and as the sky changed from blue to gray to black above our heads; we rocked our rocking chairs, speculating into a second round of cocktails.

When flying bugs reminded us that we owned a house, the mister said, “Let’s decide. It’s this one, isn’t it?” He pointed to one of the girls I resembled over so slightly.

“It has to be,” I agreed.

Later on, as I tried to sleep, I recalled for the first time in years a fantasy that I used to have as a teenager; I imagined my mother as an attractive young woman in scuffed saddle shoes and pink pedal pushers. In my mind, I saw her dropping the swaddled newborn me on a doorstep and walking away, hugging her car coat tight as she disappeared into a wall of San Francisco fog.

Three days later, a small white envelope arrived with a list of names and an apology from the librarian for having forgotten to include them. My mother was No. 14 – not the one we’d chosen.

Not even among those we liked.

“Then maybe she’s that vivacious one,” I thought as I trotted into the house and grabbed the photos off the kitchen counter. Good ‘ole No. 14! She was the one dismissed at first glance.

She was a bucktoothed girl in a wrinkled black dress wearing cat’s-eye glasses. She also wore a triple strand of plastic pearls. Her eyebrows were like caterpillars kissing and her hair looked like Elmer Fudd’s hunting cap with the earflaps pulled down.

I studied my mother’s young face.

The only resemblance I could detect was that we both wore cat-eye glasses. I started giggling, and soon was laughing out loud.

Once again, my dad was right. How could I expect a photo of my biological mother to match my dreams, or to create a feeling of connection? The whole experience helped me give up that fairytale. And I learned that when I ponder my origins all I need to do is look in the mirror.

I can study my own reflection and be grateful only I get to decide who I am.

Everyone should be so lucky.

Rayne Wolfe’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2011. She completed her dream journey May of 2011 on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.

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    • Rayne

      Grazie per le confessioni di visita di una figlia Undutiful. Vedilo la domenica prossima!

  • I can totally relate to your feelings. I have been looking for my birth mother for 20 years–I have so much information about her, but have decided that some of it must have been false. I have longed to see a picture of her, to know if I have any siblings, to know my extended family. I guess God’s timing is just different than mine. I may never have my longings satisfied, but I can be content in knowing that I have created a rich legacy for my own children–we are maniacal picture-takers and we are passionate about family.
    I can only imagine what “Suzy Dodd” must have been like, and I can dream of the day when we will finally meet, for better or worse. At least you have closure, and a photograph. I will never quit searching and praying for a miracle.

    • Rayne


      Have you tried I spent decades on my own search and I did searches for other adult adoptees. In the old days, it was all shoe leather, finding sympathetic clerks, getting a break. The other day I looked up my birth name on and there was the record of my REAL birth with my first birth name. Keep working on it; it seems to be getting easier.
      On the flip side, I don’t have to talk myself into being perfectly content with my own self-created self.
      Thanks for posting and sharing your story.
      See you next Sunday!

  • Toni Schram

    Tears of laughter need Kleenix as well.

  • Laurie Allen

    I love it when you realize you don’t have to live your story! So cool to create your own. That’s what’s so rad about dreaming! This is a great time in life to reinvent. My nutritionist recently gave me an action item….writing a kitchen declaration to my family. I am no longer a short order cook! Makes me think of my Mom always on the hussell, whipin’ out something different for each family member. I prefer to use the recent drug campaign of JUST SAY NO! Loved your post

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  • Catherine, Site Admin

    I can understand your curiosity. I felt the same about trying to somehow touch my father even though he isn’t here. 18 is still young to lose a parent.

    When I first signed on to Facebook, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there. I have no desire to connect with people from high school, and I surmised that Facebook was one big “I remember when . . . and I wish I had married that” fest – which isn’t a club I’d want to belong to.

    I scrambled my name and locked down my identification and still high school tried to find me. When it did, I ignored it, then ultimately refused to sign on for months.

    Then I began working on the social media for Forward Motion Studios and through six degrees of separation ran into some relatives I don’t get to see enough, who were chatting it up on Facebook. I decided to try Facebook again, but only use it to locate relatives.

    I drug out my family tree and began searching last names, ultimately finding my great, great grandfather’s entire name on Facebook. Imagine staring at your dead father’s grandfather’s name – on Facebook!

    His details were locked down, so I messaged him and told him he had my great grandfather’s full name. In writing me back, we realized that we are cousins and the last time he saw me I was turning 24 and we were in Colorado for a family reunion.

    One day in his Facebook stream he posted recent photos of him and his family. I clicked on each one thinking how handsome his children are, how lovely his girlfriend and his life looked, and then I stopped dead on a large picture of him.

    There before me was the image of my father.

    For the first time in years I remembered my father’s eyes – I remembered how blue they were and how they danced – just like this cousin Woody. He stood the way I forgot that my dad used to stand, and there was that big forehead that I loved to kiss growing up.

    Then there were his hands, they were my dads hands and something inside me made peace with the fact that I was robbed of my dad.

    So I know what you were searching for in those pictures.

    Great stories Rayne.


    • Rayne

      Oh jeez, photographs. How powerful are photographs?!
      I’ve been going through boxes of mine (the better to illustrate these blogs) and how many times have I been stopped in my tracks with new realizations. I wasn’t ugly. We weren’t poor. We did actually all smile at the same time.
      I’ve been gobsmacked on, too. How quickly are my grandparents photos gobbled up by other users? Hey, that’s my granny, you granny napper! I want to say. But I check and sure enough – common lineage.
      I’m not sure most folks have seperate search projects at once, like I do, but I soldier on.
      I recently discovered my dad and uncle were “inmates” in an orphanage during the Depression and that got me all twisted with impotent concern. Then I realized how amazing it was that after being abandoned my father adopted my brother and I.
      Images, records, signatures – – so powerful when they become portals to improved insight about what really went down a confusing family.
      I read somewhere once that insurance companies reported the number one reason for people delaying leaving a home during a fire was grabbing vintage photos!
      – Rayne

      • Rachel

        I remember some of the same. I never thought my family was poor, but I was blown away to look at childhood photo after photo and find out I wasn’t ugly and my mother didn’t dress me funny. I wouldn’t have believed that if you’d told me :o

  • Toni Schram

    I can’t imagine not having my Mommy raise and nurture me like she. She was everything your mother wouldn’t/couldn’t be. Shame on her.

    But you are a survivor and have lived to tell the tale. Your bestselling book will allow some of your readers to see themselves, too, has recipients of a toxic mother. And hopefully, they will find validation and acceptance of having a mother who failed at every turn to love and nurture their children.

    I’m looking forward to reading your book (a full box of Kleenix at the ready) and giving a big shout out to my mother in heaven for being the best mom she knew how to be.

    • Rayne

      Toni, if you need a box of Kleenex to read my stuff I do hope you laugh while you cry. My life has been something out of Oliver Twist, but FUNNY. Maybe a box of Kleenex and a bottle of wine!
      See you next Sunday!