Lori was adopted after her biological mother lived with her adoptive parents, desperately trying to escape the tyranny of her abusive husband. The abuse her birth mother suffered would be a recurring theme in her own life when her mother’s drinking got worse. Lorie tells the story of growing up reminded of the privilege she lived with but wanting only to be herself, not keep up appearances for her mother. When she found her birth mother, she was able to share her own sons with their new grandmother, a woman who missed out Lori’s youth.
Lori: 00:00 He had actually moved her from the house and moved her into like an abandoned farm hill and she said there was no electricity, no running water. Um, it was her and my oldest brother, pretty much they had no food. She was severely malnourished when she was pregnant and to the point where he would take car parts out of the car, so she couldn’t go anywhere. She was pretty much abandoned in a foreign house and had nowhere to go. She couldn’t escape for the longest time.
Voices: 00:35 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
Damon: 00:47 This is Who Am I Really? A podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Lori. She called me from Georgia before her move to Washington state. She was adopted after her biological mother lived with her adoptive parents, but that boarding situation was forced because of abuse, which was a recurring theme in Lori’s home, thereafter. She tells the story of growing up reminded of the privilege she lived with, but wanting only to be herself, not keep up appearances for her mother. When she found her birth mother, she was able to share her sons with the woman who had missed out on her youth years ago. This is Lori’s journey.
Damon: 01:31 When I spoke to Lori from Georgia, she was planning to move their young family west to Washington following her husband’s career in the United States army. Lori’s five month old son was in the background so you might hear him from time to time. She told me that she was born and partially raised in central California where her parents and most of their family were from. She didn’t really know too many adopted kids in her area and adoption wasn’t spoken of in her home. She said she was one of four that her parents tried to adopt. Her oldest brother is five years older than herself. Lori was adopted at birth after her parents had fertility issues and even lost a child. Their parents tried to adopt another boy, but the adoption fell through and the boy went back to his biological family. Lori shared that she had good memories of her childhood with a tight knit family and grandparents who were great people. But when she was 10 her parents tried to adopt a brother and sister who would have been two middle children between Lori and her brother. But their adoptions didn’t work out either.
Lori: 02:31 About that time when I was about 10 years old, I don’t know what necessarily happened or anything, but it was just stuff just went down hill. I know my oldest brother was kind of like a trouble maker. He, he did a lot of things kids shouldn’t do and I know he kind of reck havoc on my parents, but I don’t think it was necessarily because he was just like rebellious or anything. I just think that’s the only way he knew how to get attention and I know that took a toll on them, but they, that’s like around the time I remember they started drinking too and it was just, I dunno, it was like a big snowball effect. It just kind of went negative from that point on.
Damon: 03:14 Lori admits that she may have been naive to the drinking when she was younger. She said that things seem to start out almost perfectly because she was really close to her dad, but the family dynamic did change when she was 10. Her parent’s drinking and the stress of her brother’s acting out took a toll and their home turned abusive. Lori’s brother was sent away to children’s homes, so he was inexplicably in and out of the house, which was really confusing for Lori. When she asked about her brother, her parents said he was at summer camp when Lori asked why she wasn’t in summer camp too, her mother changed the subject just like she always did. In their part of California, there were work camps where troubled youth were sent to pick crops as part of community service, so he went there for a while
Lori: 03:59 so it was like he was in and out, in and out, and then he was gone and I wasn’t allowed to talk about it, wasn’t allowed to ask about it. My mom at that point started getting pretty abusive towards the rest of us. So it was literally like a switch went off. I’m not really sure how to explain it.
Damon: 04:17 Lori remembers waiting for her brother to call home, but after awhile the calls stopped. When they went to visit her brother where he was boarded, her parents would drop off Lori at her grandparents house or when they did take Lori along, she was left in the boarding schools office, unable to see her brother.
Lori: 04:34 So I went from being like the youngest sibling and then we got the other two from foster care and they fell kind of in between us and they were with us at that time. And a year after my brother left for good, my sister was sent back into foster care and then not even a year later, the um, younger brother was sent into foster care. So they were split up and then it was just me at that point.
Damon: 05:00 Wow. So how was it then for just you, your mother and father have begun to drink? There’s a huge rift in the family. There’s all of this tumult. Children are coming in and out of the house and now it sounds like it’s just you and you three have moved overseas. How was it for you?
Lori: 05:23 It was hard at that point cause before, quite honestly, um, I felt like my brother was like the center of attention and not, not necessarily good attention. Cause like I said, he got into trouble, only thing I did, I always sat back and watched, um, you know, kind of like, Ooh, I better not do that. Cause you know, I always had that fear that I’d get sent away too. But um, it started out like good for me. Like I was, I don’t know, I guess he always was getting mad at me because I was treated better. I was the good kid that could do no wrong and everything. And then once they all left, it was like, there was no one else for them to focus their attention to. And they, but I want to say mostly my mom, my dad started kind of separating himself like so he would either stay busy with work or kind of keep out in the garage at his workshop or stay busy building things or doing stuff. And it was just mainly at like at that point it was like my mom just, she had to, I don’t know, get out her anger, her stress or whatever out on me. Like I was being put under a microscope. All of a sudden
Damon: 06:25 Lori was 14 as a young woman. Her self esteem was oscillating and her mother was overly critical of her appearance, tried to dissuade her from her interests, pushed her to be like other girls and generally torpedoed Lori’s self-esteem.
Lori: 06:39 I felt like I had to try to prove myself to her and even more so for the fact that, well I might get sent away too and I don’t have anywhere to be sent to. So it was just kind of like the huge thing, like what do I need to do to stay here and what do I need to do to please her? Or, you know, make her proud, to make her happy. So I spent my teen years just trying to battle with that on a daily basis.
Damon: 07:07 And May I ask, you know, she sounds like she put a lot of emphasis on your looks. Tell me a little bit about your look at the time. Do One, do you resemble her and your father at all? And two, were you, you know, sort of a tomboy in, uh, you know, sort of very, you know, more girly world. Tell me why she was, why you feel like she was so focused on your looks?
Lori: 07:31 Well, to be completely honest, I didn’t look like anybody in the family. Um, and the only thing that we had in common was we had blonde hair and she had green eyes, I had blue. But other than that, like my dad was dark complected. Um, he had straight black hair, you know, and here I was just, and I was chubby too. So I’ve always been kind of a solid, study girl from the get go. And she’s a small, petite woman, so I towered over her. Um, and my dad wasn’t that tall either, so we looked completely like opposites, to be honest. And growing up, I was older and I’d reflect back on our pictures. I went like at one point my hair was curly and that’s the same time when my mom would go and perm her hair and then my hair went through this phase where it started turning brown and she would dye her hair brown and I don’t know if that she did that subconsciously or if she was always trying to make it look like I was hers.
Damon: 08:29 Lori’s mother loved dresses and really girly stuff, but Lori found herself in jeans and a tee shirt out in the garage with her father and the boys. She was a big tomboy and loved sports, but that didn’t fit the family’s general over emphasis on image. Lori said that was a key difference in her personality from theirs. She’s not interested in striving to look perfect and she describes herself as the kind of person who appreciates people for who they are, not the image they project.
Lori: 08:56 We’re completely polar opposites in every aspect and it has always been that way. At first I thought, well, maybe I’m trying to be a rebellious kid by trying not to be like her, but it’s like as I learned more about who I was, I’m like, no, that’s just totally been me.
Damon: 09:10 Yeah. It’s funny when you reach that moment when you realize you need to stop battling against your true self. Right,
Lori: 09:16 exactly.
Damon: 09:17 Going back a bit, Lori found out by accident around four or five years old that she was adopted. She said she’s always been observant and inquisitive. So before she knew she was adopted, she detected how her family didn’t look alike, didn’t have the same interests or the same traits like what she witnessed in other families.