'I was Adopted...By A 70-Year-Old Single Woman"
In 1986,Woman's Dayran an article about Marjorie Hotchkiss, a 70-year-old single woman in upstate New York, who adopted a baby girl (Juanita [left] was 5 when our article appeared). Click here to read it. Here is the rest of her story. Photo bySusan Pittard/Studio D; hair and makeup by Jen Navaro
No child should go through what I did-which is why I turned my own tough times into a career helping others.
When I was little, I knew my life wasn't like other kids'. My mom was as old as their grandmas, for one thing, and didn't drive, so friends would take me to doctor's appointments and dance class. But she was warm and wonderful, always singing show tunes and reading me poetry. It was her lifelong dream to have a child, and I felt very loved.
Then, in 1990, when I was 8 and she was 78, she was diagnosed with cancer. I was terrified that she'd die-sometimes I cried myself to sleep with worry. The more time she spent weak and in bed and the less she could pay attention to me, the more scared I became, and I began to act out-badly. By the time my mom's cancer was in remission a year later, I had failed fourth grade and I was an angry, sullen child.
Things got even worse when she broke her hip, and I started to tangle with her home health aide, who had a lot of control over her and didn't want me around. It was tense, so I avoided the house, running wild with my friends. By age 13, I stayed out smoking and drinking until 3 A.M. I missed so much school that I had no idea what was going on. I kept hoping someone would notice, but no one seemed to.
Then, on a day that I happened to be at school, some scary people came and told me I wasn't going home. My mom couldn't handle me and she asked that I be placed in foster care. It was a nightmare.
Outwardly, I acted like I didn't care. Inwardly, though, I was in tremendous pain and shock. I loved my mom and I knew deep down she loved me. I thought, I am such a bad daughter! I didn't think I was worthy of her-or anyone's-love.
I bounced around among several families and group homes, and ran away each time, usually with another girl. Mostly we lived on the streets, and ended up in four different states at various times, surviving by begging for money or a place to stay. We'd tell people that we'd been separated from our family. They'd look at me, with my cute freckles and smile, and they'd help, believing my parents were on their way. But they weren't.
I was lucky I wasn't raped, like my friend was. When the police finally picked me up as a runaway, I was in New York City. I was sentenced to juvenile detention. I didn't show it, but frankly, I was relieved.
At the center, I played along with the counseling program. I didn't have much faith in it, but I decided that as long as I was locked up, I might as well get something from it-plus, the quickest way out was to be on my best behavior. A counselor helped me realize that I wasn't a bad kid, I was just hurt and let down. I'd been going on adrenaline for so long that I was numb, but with his help, I saw how scared I was of being abandoned. After a few months, I started to believe that I really could change, that I had a choice: I could stop blaming myself for being so hard to manage and others for not taking care of me, and I could have a future. I began to excel at my schoolwork, and did so well that after a year, at 16, I was released to distant family friends.