Hi, Mommy
December 31, 2005 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Did the blue dress ever exist? Regina Louise had a miserable childhood, shuttled from foster home to foster home, at best ignored at best and at worst abused. There was only one happy memory from her childhood: the time she spent with the sole foster mother to ever show her love. But that woman had vanished from Louise's life years ago, and it seemed unlikely they'd ever meet again... (Warning: this newspaper article may make you cry.)
posted by yankeefog (46 comments total)
(Warning: you'll have to register before you get to cry)
posted by j.p. Hung at 7:09 AM on December 31, 2005

Registration-required news sites make me cry.
posted by pjern at 7:10 AM on December 31, 2005

posted by thirteenkiller at 7:27 AM on December 31, 2005

I'm not going to register, either, but please tell me this doesn't end up as a piece about Monica Lewinsky.
posted by anastasiav at 7:36 AM on December 31, 2005

Hehe anastasiav, that's what I was thinking too.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:42 AM on December 31, 2005

Not in the mood to register, not in the mood for bugmenot, thirding the unfortunate association with Lewinsky.
posted by Gator at 7:46 AM on December 31, 2005

It's a 4 page story, I guess it's too long to fairly reproduce here.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:53 AM on December 31, 2005

So, umm, why comment at all?

Or is today the day the medals for Most Chronically Unimpressed get handed out?
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 7:55 AM on December 31, 2005

Shame on you people. This is how you reward a non-Newsfilter post?
I too thought of Monica Lewinsky, but then spent the effort to actually read the article rather than to post about my bugmenot anemia.
Nice post; I learned something about adoption I didn't know.
posted by Aknaton at 8:02 AM on December 31, 2005

Ok, I took the 60 seconds that required registration.
Yeah, it made me cry brought tears to my eye, for the parallels in my own life, for the tenderness present in the story, for the hollywood aware storyline, molding my sentiments to their shape.

Maybe I'll put my story up on my Mefi userpage. At least all mefites can read it without further ado. I got nothing better to do today.
posted by dash_slot- at 8:05 AM on December 31, 2005

posted by MegoSteve at 8:05 AM on December 31, 2005

I'd like to read that article, but none of BugMeNot's logins worked for me. Did the L.A. Times pick today to clear out their bogus registrations?
posted by Soliloquy at 8:31 AM on December 31, 2005

Memories Shrouded in Doubt
A former foster child wondered if the woman who tried to adopt her long ago had truly loved her. In her 30s, she set out on a quest of hope.
By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
Times Staff Writer

December 30, 2005

When you grow up the way Regina Louise grew up — abandoned by her parents, physically abused by caretakers, shuttled from foster home to foster home — you learn to doubt your memories. Even the good ones, especially the good ones, come with a disclaimer: Maybe they never happened.

Louise remembered that a woman once wanted to adopt her. The woman took Louise to the ballet and opera, taught her to believe in herself, and made her a beautiful blue dress with rainbows and hearts stitched on the front.

Then the woman disappeared from her life.

By the time Louise, the successful owner of two Bay Area hair salons, sat down to write her memoir in 1999, she was 37, and none of the adults from her childhood who could corroborate her stories could be found.

The scars on her body told her she had been beaten. But did the blue dress ever exist? Was the love that deep? Maybe myth had mixed with memory. Maybe it never happened.

This is the inheritance sometimes left to children who leave foster care with no lasting bonds with adults: There is no one around to tell the kinds of stories that seed memories, stories that start with "Remember when you … ?"

What she could recall, and what she felt, she wrote down. In the summer of 2003, Louise's memoir, "Somebody's Someone," arrived in bookstores. Though she did not know it then, writing about her dark past would alter her future in ways she had only dreamed about as a child.

Louise was a toddler when her biological mother left her in Austin, Texas, in the care of a woman who took in kids. Her father only vaguely knew she existed.

Louise was often mistreated. At the age of 11 she ran away to North Carolina to rejoin her mother, who did not want her. She was sent to Richmond, Calif., to be with her father, who also rejected her. She ended up in the foster care system.

In 1975, on the eve of her 13th birthday, Louise arrived at a children's shelter in the Bay Area city of Martinez. Jeanne Taylor worked at the shelter, and where others saw bad behavior in Louise, Taylor saw potential.

She nourished it with trips to the opera and ballet and by demonstrating to Louise her potential for good. When Louise showed up with Converse sneakers that she had stolen, Taylor made her return them. But mostly she made the girl want to behave.

Taylor wanted to adopt the girl, and Louise wanted more than anything to be adopted by her. But some social workers — and the National Assn. of Black Social Workers — preferred to place black children with black families, believing those homes to be more suitable settings. Taylor was white, single and 31.

The court denied her petition to adopt.

Running Away

That denial meant Louise would spend the rest of her childhood moving: She lived in at least 30 homes and facilities in all. She became an expert at running away, figuring that if she kept leaving places she did not want to be, a social worker would put her in the one place she felt at home — with Taylor.

Instead she was sent to a restricted treatment facility for severely disturbed youth. It was bad enough to feel alone, but now her keepers treated her as if she were mentally ill, medicating her.

Taylor sometimes visited Louise, but with restrictions. The two could not leave the facility's grounds; the best they could do for privacy was to drive around the parking lot talking. Eventually, Louise stopped hearing from Taylor. She did not understand why. And the question would trouble her for years.

But the fact that Taylor had wanted her, had believed in her, sustained Louise; it made her want to make something of herself. She did well enough in school to be accepted to seven colleges.

With all her belongings stuffed in a garbage bag, she left her last group home for San Francisco State, as alone as when she had entered the foster care system. There would be no family to turn to, no home to visit during the holidays, no one to say, "I am so proud of you, sweetheart."

Louise studied social work and theater but did not graduate from college. At 23 she had a son. She married and divorced and for several dreary years she floundered. She worked for a temp agency, had a paper route, ended up for a time at a women's shelter.

A turning point came when Louise revisited a childhood dream of becoming a hairstylist. After cosmetology school she landed an apprenticeship at a Vidal Sassoon salon. She and a business partner then opened a salon of their own, and then another.

Even as life got better, the past continued to dog Louise. She decided that writing a book was the best way to let go.

Stunning Discovery

When her editors asked for people who could be contacted to corroborate her story, she requested her file from the social services department.

There she found something she never expected: letters Taylor had sent years ago. Nobody back then had bothered to give them to Louise.

"Some things we must face alone, but I am always with you in spirit," Taylor wrote in 1976. "You are always in my heart."

Instead of resolving questions of doubt, the old letters revived them:

If she loved me then, Louise asked herself, where is she now? Did she forget me?

Louise never forgot Taylor. Again and again she asked: Where is she? What happened?

Louise started trying to find her, searching the Internet, checking marriage records, even putting up posters in their old neighborhood.

As her book was nearing publication, a friend produced a list of potential addresses for Taylor. Louise, who was living in Berkeley at the time, went to all of the local addresses, hoping Taylor would answer the door with a Hi, pumpkin.

No luck.

She wrote letters to the addresses out of town. Then, as she remembered, she had an angry talk with God.

OK, I'm done, God…. I've spent my life looking for this woman, bettering myself for that moment when I knew we were going to meet [again]. I knew it. And you mean to tell me I was following my heart, and this is what it's about?

After her book was released, Louise gave an interview to a Bay Area paper and, in her frustration, used Taylor's real name. (Taylor had been given a pseudonym in the book.) A woman who had worked at the Martinez shelter 25 years ago read the article and tracked down Taylor, who was living in Alabama.

During the first week of her book tour, an e-mail landed in Louise's laptop with the message line, "I am so proud of you, sweetheart."

Louise opened it and thought, Somebody's playing a trick on me. The words were guarded, not effusive, but the message was clear: The woman Louise had been looking for wanted her to call. The e-mail was signed "Jeanne."

It was too much to fathom. Louise closed the computer.

At Long Last

Days later, she called the number, expecting to hear a recorded message. Instead she heard Taylor's sing-song voice.


Louise tried to catch her breath. Then she stammered, "May I speak to … is Jeanne…."

Then it was Taylor's turn to need air.

"Is that you?" she said. "Is that my baby girl? You were my first child. I never stopped loving you. I wanted you…. I tried…. "

Louise had to pull the phone away from her ear to mask the sound of her tears.

Learning the Truth

In the conversations that followed, the women filled in the lost decades.

After her adoption petition was denied, Taylor had tried to stay in touch, but her letters went unanswered. She thought the girl had outgrown their relationship, and Taylor couldn't shake the view of social workers and the court — that she was not suitable to be Louise's mother.

Taylor, whom Louise had known as Jeanne Kerr, had married a man in the military, taken his last name and left the Bay Area. They had a son, and lived in various towns.

Finding each other was like finishing a sentence interrupted a lifetime ago. Taylor wanted to give Louise a birthright that should have been claimed a long time ago. First Taylor called her husband, who was stationed in Iraq, and discussed her plan. Then, during the second phone call, she made Louise an offer.

"Would you like to be adopted?"

Louise told her she would call back. She hung up, headed to a mirror and practiced folding her lips into a word she had preserved for just such a moment. Then she called with her answer.

"Hi, Mommy," she said.

Face to Face

Louise was still on her book tour, so they finally met a few weeks later at New York's LaGuardia Airport. The plane was delayed for hours, and as Louise waited, she thought of the days when they had to drive around the parking lot because she could not leave the care facility.

Now there was no social worker or anyone else to say they were wrong for choosing to be family. Instead Louise had a town car and a driver and she had brought gifts: Godiva chocolates and a cashmere shawl.

When the plane landed, it was easy for Louise to spot Taylor. She was the slender woman with long salt and pepper hair, running toward her. The women embraced, cried, laughed, admired the changes and the sameness the years had brought.

Taylor handed Louise a small photo album. There she was with Taylor at a performance of "The Nutcracker," then at an amusement park. Then there was the blue dress, the one with rainbows and hearts that Taylor had hand-stitched across the front.

Louise now knew that the hope she had built her life on was not a fable invented by a needy child. The dress was real. Taylor had come back into her life, bearing her past like a gift.

On Nov. 20, 2003, in the same Contra Costa County courthouse where a judge had denied Taylor's request to adopt Louise decades ago, Taylor, 59, adopted Louise, 41.

Adult adoptions are not rare. Often it happens to bequeath money or an estate. But this was for something more.

The women stood before Judge Lois Haight, who said that their mother-daughter relationship would be irrevocable, that they would be responsible for each other. The judge explained to Taylor's husband and son, Christopher, then 23, and to Louise's son, Michael, then 17, that they were all family. The women raised their right hands and swore to abide.

Then the judge took a gavel and declared them kin.

Making a Difference

Louise, whose last name is now Kerr-Taylor, is committed to sparing children in foster care the experiences she endured and is writing a book about reuniting with Taylor. She travels the country speaking out on adoption, hoping to remove the kinds of impediments that kept her and Taylor apart. Today, some social workers and agencies remain opposed to transracial adoption, while others embrace it as a way to provide families for children.

Others have endorsed Louise's message

Nationwide there is a movement afoot to ensure that foster children have some lasting connection with an adult before they leave the system.

Louise and others know that such children need a constant presence in their lives, someone to share good times and bad. As mother and daughter, Louise and Taylor share not just memories, but regrets.

"If only I had done something different, maybe she could not have gone through all that pain," Taylor said, her eyes welling with tears.

"I was ripped from the only person willing to love me," Louise said.

Now Louise is the beneficiary of the everyday gifts that mothers give their daughters. One day, while her mother was visiting, Louise returned home to find that dirty clothes she had left were washed and folded neatly. It baffled her for a moment, then she realized her mother had done it for her. That pile of folded laundry took Louise's breath away.

Since the adoption, they have shared a series of firsts: Thanksgiving, Christmas, holiday get-togethers. This holiday season there was one more.

Louise, her mother and Christopher began living together as a family. They spent their first Christmas in the home they recently purchased in Pleasant Hill. But first mother and daughter returned to the Martinez shelter where they met nearly 30 years ago.

Louise told the children about her childhood, that she survived it and succeeded in life and that they could do the same. She spoke with the certainty of someone who knows that her past — its pleasure and its pain — happened just the way she remembered.

posted by the giant pill at 8:36 AM on December 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

Despite needing registration this was well worth reading. It highlights the cruelty that can result when people put sociological dogma about adoption above the reality of an already-established loving relationship.
posted by Flitcraft at 8:38 AM on December 31, 2005

Sorry about that. As I posted in the MeTa thread, I didn't realize that the site was registration-only--I must have registered there some time ago and forgotten about it, since it didn't ask me for a password.

To atone, I have created a fake login name for MeFi users to use there:
USERNAME: fakelogin@yankeefog.com
PASSWORD: fakelogin
posted by yankeefog at 8:40 AM on December 31, 2005

Wow, that was beautiful.
posted by empath at 8:55 AM on December 31, 2005

I use daily kos' registration for just about every news site:

kos AT dailykos.com (change that, for those of you who are new)

Just sayin'.
posted by nevercalm at 8:58 AM on December 31, 2005

yankeefog, that was beautiful and deeply moving, probably moreso as it mirrors some personal history. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Frisbee Girl at 9:15 AM on December 31, 2005

Choked me up too. Thanks for the post, yankeefog.
posted by languagehat at 9:29 AM on December 31, 2005

Lovely story.

Dashie, I hope you finish yours... I'm on pins and needles!
posted by taz at 9:51 AM on December 31, 2005

How did this made-for-TV movie ever get missed?
posted by mischief at 9:54 AM on December 31, 2005

That was beautiful. Thank you.
posted by blendor at 9:57 AM on December 31, 2005

Nice. Thanks.
posted by marxchivist at 10:44 AM on December 31, 2005

I was able to get to this site without logging in. *shrug*
posted by kindall at 10:51 AM on December 31, 2005

I was able to access the story on the site by starting here (in the event that Matt deletes the giant pill's comment). Clicking "single page" brought me to the registration page, but just clicking through the four pages individually I was able to read the whole thing without having to sign up or go through any other rigmarole.

Anyway, yes, I'm glad the woman is making some noise about the interracial adoption issue. I think it's ludicrous to insist that a child must be brought up by someone with the same skin color, especially when such a person isn't forthcoming.
posted by Gator at 11:00 AM on December 31, 2005

Taz, I won't be posting it here. But it ain't too hard to find (",)
posted by dash_slot- at 11:06 AM on December 31, 2005

What a beautiful story. I'm teary over here. Thanks for sharing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:08 AM on December 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

thanks for posting this, yankeefog.
posted by scody at 11:13 AM on December 31, 2005

solopsist: "Registration-required news sites make me cry."

And I don't usually bother, but this one was well worth my time.

And while this was partly sociological dogma, I'm inclined to think that even more of it was caused by people who work in the so-called 'caring professions' who actually regard the people that they are paid to care for as the scum of the earth, and as such, unworthy of any real effort or attention.

The complete inability of a single worker to take and fight this child's corner was completely unforgivable and as such, everyone who had contact with her during her career in the care system failed her, but much more telling, in my view, was their failure to even bother to forward the mail from the sole adult that she had any kind of meaningful relationship with.

These days, it's common practice for people to get all aerated about sexual abuse and exploitation in the child care system, but it's my belief that this sort of abuse is much more common, possibly just as damaging and certainly extremely corrosive.

It's hard to see how this system wasn't negligent in its duty of care towards this woman. I hope she sues.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:13 AM on December 31, 2005

I hope this story is inspiration for more.
posted by furtive at 11:21 AM on December 31, 2005

I highly recommend that anyone who was moved by this story check out dash_slot's user page. He's got quite a story himself.
posted by languagehat at 11:23 AM on December 31, 2005

Thanks, the giant pill; well worth reading.
posted by Soliloquy at 1:05 PM on December 31, 2005

Even if you're not moved by this story, check out dash_slot's user page.
posted by marxchivist at 1:12 PM on December 31, 2005

Wow, dash_slot, that's really incredible. Good luck in your search.
posted by crythecry at 3:10 PM on December 31, 2005

Just read dash_slot's story and read the article earlier today. So touched, so impressed. Thanks for sharing it. I am left wondering about the letters (did they not get to her because she was running away a lot and hard to track down, a break down in the bureaucracy, etc.) and whether if she had received them, would she have still searched for Jeanne?

It's also weird to think of how around the same time that the first petition to adopt was denied there were biological families with a similar makeup (single white mother or father with black child). Not weird that such families existed, but that the court and the social workers' assn seemed to be making a disapproving statement about interracial families in general even if their recommendations were confined to foster kids and these two women in particular.
posted by PY at 5:52 PM on December 31, 2005

Um, thanks for your interest guys. I was belly shocked at first when I saw LH's referral to my userpage. I telegraphed it, I wrote it, I indirectly asked for comments like you gave. But I was and am still belly shocked.

I had the weirdest childhood, and thank [no particular deity] that I am alive, sane-ish and safe-ish. We all [I mean, all of us reading this] suffered as kids, context is all - the fittest, most stylish and the coolest all have stuff they hate their parents for. Mine ain't around no more, but I'm supposedly a grown-up now, so I have to get on with it.

I have some very close friends in RL who I've told my story to (only a small part of it is on my userpage here). I always preface it with "I know this sounds Dickensian, but...".

A year later, when I get the gumption to refer to it again, they ask me to say some relevant part again. They've forgotten that I told 'em - I lost 5 siblings, 2 parents and an escape route. It's weird: it's like "we're all middle class now, this can't have happened." I go to sleep at night, knowing it did.

No pity do I seek. Occasionally, yeah, I want rescue. Maybe, even now. Life goes on, until it doesn't. Survivor? It ain't a reality show for me.

Sorry about the drama - all of this is real. It's melodrama. But it's not.

HNY, 1 and all. (",)
posted by dash_slot- at 6:08 PM on December 31, 2005

When you gonna publish it? I'm keen to read it.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:03 PM on December 31, 2005

Other folks have found it here. I woulda emailed you, but you're profile suggests you you don't check your email often.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:06 PM on December 31, 2005

dash_slot, your memoir is really moving, and I'm actually pretty awed that you could share it here. Thanks.
posted by maryh at 8:04 PM on December 31, 2005

And thanks for the link, yankeedog. My sister-in-law was a social worker in San Diego, and had a similar experience with a girl she was mentoring. I was pretty flabbergasted at the time about the rules regarding interracial adoption & contact between social workers and kids. I suppose some of the thinking behind them might have been valid, but, damn, I have to wonder how many of those kids would have been better served by being allowed to keep some sort of relationship with the adults who came to mean a lot to them.
posted by maryh at 8:11 PM on December 31, 2005

Thanks, just thanks, to yankee fog and dash_slot. May we all enjoy a peaceful and joyful New Year.
posted by Lynsey at 8:39 PM on December 31, 2005

I was kinda hoping for the full-length novel of your life, dash-slot. The MeFi Memoir is good, but it sounds like you could go the whole hog. A Frank McCourt, if that's not an insult.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 PM on December 31, 2005

Thanks yankeefog and dash_slot. Very inspiring/moving stuff.
posted by geekyguy at 2:21 AM on January 1, 2006

thanks dash_slot. I don't feel quite so alone today.
posted by Stars Kitten at 8:28 AM on January 1, 2006

More thanks to yankeefog and dash_slot-.
posted by deborah at 11:35 PM on January 1, 2006

super story. thanks.
posted by madstop1 at 2:49 PM on January 2, 2006

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