#43 – The blue-haired girl

February 11, 2012 at 9:34 am | Posted in Adoption differences, Adoptive parenting do's, Identity issues, Raising the adopted child | Leave a comment
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I want to share with you the following story.  I’ve told this story many times to groups and want to share it with you now.  It’s a little long, but I think well worth the time to read.  It has a point we adoptive parents would do well to remember.


“Well, that’s Jennifer.”  How often I heard that statement.  It was usually said with  a smile and a shrug of the shoulders.  Bill and Sarah would say this whenever their daughter, Jennifer, did something strange ( in their opinion).  This happened often.

With children about the same age as Bill and Sarah’s, I could only admire them for living and surviving life with Jennifer.  As an outsider it was amusing to hear of Jennifer’s latest antics, but as a parent I imagined it would be difficult to live with her.  Indeed, it wasn’t easy for Bill and Sarah.

It’s often a strong and natural tendency of parents to mold their children, even though we are told to let our children explore their talents and be individuals.  This advice sounds good intellectually, but when a teen-ager strays too far outside the family’s traditional boundaries, this becomes more difficult to implement.  Of course, we need to keep our children safe, but some younger people’s life styles are very abrasive and contrary to our own.  When our children enter into these, our job as parents becomes more difficult.

Whenever I hear a discussion of this nature, I smile, and think of our good friends, Sarah and Bill Buckley.  They married in the early 60’s and eventually adopted two girls, Jennifer and Judy.  Jennifer was the biological daughter of a model and was fortunate enough to inherit her birth mother’s physical beauty.  From somewhere she also inherited the inclination and talent to become a singer and artist.

All of these life’s gifts were foreign to my friends, Sarah and Bill, who both had been raised in rigid, conforming, religious families.  Neither of them ever strayed from the exact middle of the path when they were growing up.  Both turned out to be ‘salt of the earth’ type people whom you could not help but love.  They knew what was right and lived their lives doing the right thing.  This, of course, was in conformity with their conservative social and religious mores.

When Jenny was a teen-ager, her artistic bent blossomed.  She was always painting, or drawing, or creating a figure out of scraps of anything she could find.  This was a noble endeavor, except that she did this only at night.  Sarah would say, “As we came downstairs for breakfast, Jenny would be going upstairs to bed.”  This caused a bit of difficulty in family scheduling as you can imagine.  Nonetheless, this was Jenny.

In visiting the Buckley’s, I was always impressed with how their family worked. They wanted to do activities together, but Jenny was in her own world.  That left both parents and Judy to function as a family of three most of the time.  Allowing Jenny to express her talents so completely, and in such contrast to others in the family, was not easy for Sarah and Bill.  They complained, particularly when Jenny started wearing only black clothes chosen from the Goodwill store rack and cut off most of her hair before dying it a bright color, a different color each week.  Their complaints always ended with a shrug, a smile and the statement, “That’s Jenny.”

Jenny wanted to go to art school after high school, and she flourished even more once in New York and the art world.  After art school, Jenny wanted to explore Europe and the art opportunities there.  Sarah and Bill were sorry to see her go so far away, but they supported her decision because “That’s Jenny.”

While in France, and later Germany, Jenny supported herself with any odd job she could find and upon occasion sang with a local music group and sold some of her art work.  She was living the only life she could.  Had her parents insisted she conform to their way of life, Jenny probably would have rebelled and left the family.   Instead, they had a loving, albeit long distance, relationship.  They saw each other, either here in the U.S. or in Europe at least once each year for several weeks at a time.

I asked Sarah if Jenny would ever come back to the U.S., and her answer was,  “I can’t see her here.  She still sleeps all day and creates all night.  Her wardrobe is wall to wall vintage black and her hair is anything from orange to blue to purple.”  And then the ending, “That’s Jenny.”

In the 90’s when Jenny was in her 30’s she went to work for a community outreach program in Germany teaching art, dramatics, and singing to inner city children who normally wouldn’t have such an opportunity.  She loved it, and she became close with many of the teenagers she dealt with.  Jenny was different and they loved that.

Tragically, one day Jenny was killed instantly in a car accident.  Sarah and Bill flew to Germany and, even in their grief, were heartened to hear friends and associates of Jenny’s extol her virtues.  They were surprised at the number of people who told them of the impact that Jenny had on their lives.  It was as if others saw through her differences into the beauty of Jenny’s soul.

About a month after their return to the U.S., the Buckley’s received a letter from a young German man who had known Jenny.  He explained in his letter about the first time he’d seen her.  It was a gray, raw, rainy day in the inner city.  He was waiting for a bus, and when he looked down the street, the only color that stood out from the gray buildings and street was something bright blue.  It was coming towards him.  He was fascinated as to what it could be.  As the figure got closer he could see it was a girl on a bike.  She was dressed in black and had bright blue hair.  He was fascinated with the bright blue and couldn’t take his eyes off of her. No one else was on the street.  As she passed on her bike, she turned toward him and smiled.

This young man, Walter, had been very depressed for several months and it was becoming a serious problem in his life.  He watched her ride away as she continued down the street.  The thought came to him, “If that girl with blue hair can smile, maybe I can, too.”  In his letter he continued on, saying this was a turning point for him, and he made more of an effort to shake his depression.  About a year later, he actually met Jenny and they became good friends.

Sarah and Bill cried upon reading Walter’s letter.  If they had succeeded in making Jenny conform to their life style, she would never have gone to Germany and influenced so many young people.  Jenny was a person who used the gifts life was kind enough to grant her.  She was a free spirit who touched other lives, undoubtedly many who perhaps weren’t as gifted as she was.

Her life was all too short, but her example lasts.  Our children aren’t always just whom we would like them to be, people just like us, people we would know how to deal with.  What a joy to be able to get ourselves out of the way in raising our children and relish their achievements and even their  idiosyncrasies that don’t fit in with our lives.

The Buckley’s were devastated when Jenny died.  Their solace lay in the fact that Jenny had been happy, lived out her short life as her natural inclinations and talents led her to do.  Jenny knew she was deeply loved by her family, in spite of the fact that they were often shocked by her life style.  Jenny was blessed to have such parents.  I learned a lesson from them. Because of their generous spirit, Jenny joyously touched many lives.


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