In the beginning

At the tender age of of 11 days old, I was placed in foster care. It took 11 days because,  I am told, my bio-mom left me in the hospital thinking the foster home would come for me on Day 3. Or maybe Day 5. Thankfully, she checked back and found out that I was still in the hospital, having fallen through the cracks of administrata.

I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t happen today. Not because of improved hospital or foster home processes, or care over children. Unfortunately, not. Rather, health plans would not pay for the extra days or taking care of a newborn, so that prompts more activity to ensure a the bed is vacated for the next, preferably profitable, neonatal occupant.

My name was Paige back then.

Marianne Naytris (not her real name), was a single woman in her early 20’s who’s father insisted that her embarrassment (i.e., me) could not be allowed to cast shade upon the family reputation. In those days, it was a big deal. So, her pregnancy was hidden as much as was possible. Unless and until my biological father would “make an honest woman out of her,” keeping me in the Naytris family was simply not an option. To her credit, she did try. To the ultimate benefit of all concerned, my biological father did not.

Glorieta Lombardi (not her real name), was an ex-nun – now married with 3 sons of her own.  She was a nun back when nuns rarely ever stepped foot out of the convent (or adjacent school and church), except for things like medical appointments and globally scheduled family visits. When they  did leave, they went in pairs and were not allowed to speak with the general public outside of conversation which was functionally necessary. After several years, Glorieta realized this was not her calling. She loved teaching the children, and felt strongly called to have children of her own. After birthing her sons, she went on to foster seven infants (consecutively, not concurrently).

I was the seventh one. She kept me. 

Some of the children in her care were reunited with their parents after a period of time, where whatever situation caused the need for the child to be fostered was resolved. Others, like me, were put up for adoption when circumstances did not resolve. In either case, bio-family visits can and do happen before the decision to reunite or separate is reached. That took about a year from what I heard. My bio-mom and her sister visited me, even took me on outings. On one of these, I was to have been introduced to my bio-dad, but he never appeared. Or so I’ve been told – obviously I was far too young to remember.

While I was in her foster care, Glorieta and her husband, Anthony (not his real name), asked my bio-mom if she is going to put me up for adoption, and if so could she please wait until I am three years old. At the time, New York had a law stating that foster parents could only be eligible to adopt their foster child after said child has been at least three years in their care. Bio-mom agrees, and the visits stop. I am two years old.

Timing is everything

Part of this process of applying for legal adoption is a visit by a social worker representing the foster home. Although Glorieta is the true force behind the family-centered activity in the home (as was the way of things at that time), Anthony was very supportive and fully invested in providing for and manifesting her dreams. And today, adopting me was her dream. He wanted to make a good impression in the social worker, so he dressed real nice, and groomed real well, and – this is key – shaved off his mustache.

I had never seen that man without a mustache.

When the “stranger” enters the living room where Glorieta is welcoming the social worker with me in tow, I screamed in fear. I wouldn’t go near him. I think I can still picture the look of disbelief on Glorieta’s face. Not because I remember it… No.

Gloretta’s look of disappointed disbelief would repeat itself frequently and often throughout her lifetime, at a variety of targets. Each of us received the look eventually.  Some of us more than others. (cough)

It’s a look that’s easy enough to superimpose on the construct of the memory I have.

I actually DO remember snippets of this event. Specifically, I recall looking at the stranger cajoling me into sitting on his lap, and me wanting nothing to do with him. Until he drew a mustache on a piece of paper and held it over his upper lip.

“OH!  It’s YOU! Well why didn’t you SAY so?”

And after that everything was fine. I imagine the social worker was relieved she didn’t have to call the cops. Glorieta was relieved she didn’t have to kill her husband. Anthony was relieved that the his best intentions didn’t end up being the cornerstone to a story he could never live down. And I was relieved because it turns out that guy was the same guy I’d known all along.

This was probably my first introduction to the idea that “Things are not always what the seem.”

To be continued…

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