How My Mother Broke My Heart at 8 years old When She Told Me She Wished She Never Adopted Me
I grew up in the cool mountains of Mandeville which is the capital and largest town in the parish of Manchester. It was referred to as the most English town in Jamaica and home to some of the most beautiful and largest 19th-century residences when I was a child. My home reflected that era, surrounded by tall trees, beautiful gardens and lush grass. The cream colored, two-story house, flanked by security personnel sat on about four acres of land. We lived there from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s before our house burnt down entirely to the ground from an electrical circuit overload.
At 4 years old people constantly asked my mother, Barbara Panton, if “that was her,” meaning, if I was the child they adopted. My mother’s friends and even close family members treated me like an exotic animal in a zoo. They turned me around, touched my face and hair and poked my body; and then proceeded to ask my mother how it was going as if I was invisible. I was skinnier, the shortest and darkest of my family. Surprisingly, I looked like my adopted father, Keith Panton. We were similar in complexion and had broad noses with full lips. But I was not surprised when they asked my mother if I was adopted. I had a firm understanding of what that word meant. Ever since I could remember, I always knew I was adopted. Every night, my mother would tell me the biblical story of Moses — a baby boy who was placed in a basket in the Nile river in Egypt who was found and raised by an Egyptian royal family. Eventually I asked her why she kept telling me this story. She then told me my story.
I was abandoned by my birth father who left me at the hospital while my birth mother, a live-in housekeeper, was at work.
In 1980 when I was 7 months old, I was left outside in a basket swaddled in a blanket on the doorstep of Hargreaves Memorial Hospital in Mandeville, on a chilly weekday evening. My mother was the Matron of that hospital overseeing the evening shift. The nurses working that shift heard crying outside and brought me into the hospital. After about an hour of non-stop crying and being passed from one nurse to another, my mother gently took me from a nurse’s arms into hers, and my quivering lips turned into a smile and my eyes no longer shed tears. She took me home to her family which included her three children, none of whom were adopted — Beth-Sarah, David and Marc, who were six, seven and nine years older than me, consecutively.
I was abandoned by my birth father who left me at the hospital while my birth mother, a live-in housekeeper, was at work. My birth mother wanted me back in her custody, but the courts deemed her unfit because she was below the poverty line and was already unable to take care of her several other children. My adopted mother had three options: 1) hand me over to a very wealthy couple who had no children and desperately wanted a child; 2) place me in an orphanage; or 3) adopt me themselves. By now, I had been with the Pantons for more than a year. They were the only family I knew. Simultaneously, my father received a promotion and the family was moving to Shaker Heights, Ohio. They were not allowed to leave the island with me since legally I was not their child.
At 2 years old, I was adopted on April 21, 1982 and we moved to Ohio. This occurred only after after my mother changed her mind after placing me in the back of the truck belonging to the orphanage, Hanbury Home for Children that was making its rounds to pick up orphaned and abandoned children.
My parents’ colleagues told them I would not amount to be anyone and that adopting me was a mistake. They said I would not fit in with their real children.
When I returned to Jamaica at 4 years old, children from my school, Belair Preparatory where the privileged attended, told me that I was not really a Panton. I found it ironic how mean they were given that my father was the Executive Chairman and CEO of Alcan Jamaica, where almost three-quarters of these students’ parents were employed. My parents’ colleagues told them I would not amount to be anyone and that adopting me was a mistake. They said I would not fit in with their real children. I constantly asked my mother why she couldn’t give birth to me versus adopting me even though I understood this was not possible. My family was highly respected and well known in Jamaica due to my father’s position, and I felt I stuck out like a sore thumb. I desperately wanted to be born a Panton. But my mother reassured me that she loved me equally as my three siblings and if she could have me naturally, she would.
You know that your mother is not your real mother and she does not love you the same as she loves her real children.
At 8 years old, my only real friend at that time, and whom my mother allowed to visit the house was one of our housekeeper’s daughter’s, Lisa, who was close to my age. My mother told me “best friends always let you down” but I figured Lisa to be my best friend anyway. Lisa would often come over to my house after school and this particular evening I was preparing for our family Christmas vacation the eve of Christmas Eve. We were going on a seven-day cruise to Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire and some other islands in the Lesser Antilles. I was telling Lisa, who had never visited anywhere outside of Jamaica, how excited I was about our family vacation when she turned to me and said in our Jamaican dialect, patois, “Yuh know seh yuh madda ah nuh yuh real madda and she nuh luv yuh like she luv har real pickney dem. She even luv yuh cousin more dan yuh.” In standard English: “You know that your mother is not your real mother and she does not love you the same as she loves her real children. She even loves your cousin more than you.”
In a fit of rage, I went directly to my cousin’s drawer and destroyed all of her underwear. My cousin who was living with us at the time was going on the cruise with us. I figured that maybe one of my other siblings may get blamed for this unfortunate mishap, though the chances were slim. I thought this clever act would prevent my cousin from going on the cruise with us. My mother asked me about the incident and I lied and told her it wasn’t me. In the end, I was found guilty. I explained the reasons for my action. “Lisa forced me to do it,” I told my mother. “I was tricked. You don’t love me as much as my cousin.” I was not allowed to go on the cruise and instead stayed with my paternal Grandmother. My eldest brother, Marc, who was the only one with a driver’s license, embarrassingly drove my cousin around Mandeville until he found a pharmacy where she bought underwear.
She turned to me and said “I wish I never adopted you.”
When my family returned from their vacation, my Grandmother told my mother “that child isn’t staying here again.” I refused to go to bed at 7:00 p.m. which I considered too early. I could only watch the news — boring. I told her she was unfair because Lisa and I had too little playtime. Lisa and I were friends again because I concluded that her statement was right, since my mother did not refute what Lisa told me about my mother loving my cousin more than me. We had a couple sips of overproof rum infused with marijuana, commonly referred to as ganja in Jamaica, that we found under the bathroom sink. Often this is used in Jamaica to rub on the chest of the sick to remedy a congested chest or cold.
At 8 years old, I concluded that my mother was not fully equipped to love me the way I needed to be loved.
Upon my mother hearing this, when we got home, she turned to me and said, “I wish I never adopted you.” She proceeded to say, “You have given me more trouble than all my three children put together.” Even when she said “my three children” an alarm went off in my head that she may not truly consider me her own child. I was constantly being told that I should get down on my hands and knees and be grateful for being adopted. Yes, I stole a calculator from school. And yes it may have been inappropriate to tell my principal he looked handsome one day, but was I bringing shame upon the family, like my mother said? I felt rejected, extradited, unloved, unwanted, depressed and defeated. It was like I was being kicked in the stomach with a side of punch to the face. When she said those words, I decided from that day on my mother would never love me as much as she loved her “real” children. I knew that I would never really be a Panton and I would never truly fit in with this family. I wondered, shouldn’t my mother be protecting me, especially from the negative comments people were saying about me? At 8 years old, I concluded that my mother was not fully equipped to love me the way I needed to be loved.
I asked her why she changed her mind and took me out of the orphanage truck and adopted me. Her response did not include the word love.
Her statements made me dig deeper, so I asked her why she changed her mind and took me out of the orphanage truck and adopted me. Her response did not include the word love. Rather, she said she could not bear to see me dressed up in my pretty white dress and shoes amongst the other children in the truck. That my siblings voted that they wanted a little sister. She admitted that she had reservations whether she wanted to start all over again at 38 years old raising a baby. It made me question if her “I wish I never adopted you” statement may have unknowingly been based on her struggles of not knowing how to deal with the difference of raising a child who had been rejected by their own flesh and blood, versus raising children who were welcomed in the world by their own flesh and blood. Rejected by my birth father, rejected by my friends, rejected by my mother’s friends, I understood the feeling of rejection better than the feeling of love.
When I misbehaved, my mother reacted by throwing hangers, an iron, the telephone and shoes at me as well as locking me out of the house. I was spanked by the hand and belt, which was a common punishment in Jamaica. Eventually she resorted to lecturing me for hours but I would clam up and sit in silence. One day, my mother asked me if I wished she would shut up. I answered yes. She slapped me.
I no longer completely trusted my mother.
She delivered her messages without regard to how I would feel. Her words were emotionally and mentally abusive. Her reaction, to my behavior, though I understood how I tested her patience, I felt was extreme. It was almost as though she had forgotten I was a child. She called me vindictive and told me that I was doing these things on purpose. I didn’t even know what the word vindictive meant. It was not the only time my mother told me wished she never adopted me. She expressed this sentiment up until I was 30 years old, reflecting on the tumultuous years she says we experienced together, though at times, I felt very much alone. I no longer completed trusted my mother. Though my father traveled extensively from when I was 2 years old until about 15 years old, I felt that he had more compassion for what I experienced. Perhaps it was based on some resentment that his own mother had for him.
At first, those words brought out the worst in me. I stopped caring for anyone, including myself. If I made a mess, someone would clean up the chaos I left behind. I ceased to take responsibility for my own actions and chose to blame others. Even though I would ask for financial support it was really a demand and I expected that demand to be met. It was. I wasn’t fully committed to anything and so when I came short, they filled the gap.
I do not think my mother fully grasped how I felt growing up, and so she reacted and said things I hope she regrets.
As I grew older, I realized this is not the woman I want to be. I used those negative words I heard many times over the years and developed a thick skin I was innately born with to shield me from the harsh words I continue to encounter. I am resilient, confident and continue to prove everyone wrong as I accomplish my personal and professional goals. My empathy increased significantly as well as my patience, because I realized that you never know what is occurring in someone’s life for them to react and say the things they do. Similar in my belief that I do not think my mother fully grasped how I felt growing up, and so she reacted and said things I hope she regrets. She refuses to speak about the past.
That statement may have made me the strong person I am today, but not before it broke my heart. What I do hope is that no matter what difficulties a family may face with a child they choose to adopt, they never, ever dare utter the words: “I wish I never adopted you.”