Ina Demers

The Life Story of Ina Demers 

Interviewed in November 2003


My Childhood

My birth certificate says I was born in Indonesia in a city called Semarang. My two parents’ names are: my father is Ko Be Oen Hoo and my mother is Sorie Than Swan Nio.  As far as I can remember my mother told me I was very sickly. I was born with asthma and…… I am just going to jump in and tell you… I found out I was adopted. So my birth certificate says I was born in one city, but actually I wasn’t born there; I was born in a smaller city in the village called Tomadat. I was the youngest. I have seven older siblings and my biological parents didn’t have the means to keep me. They kept the others–I guess I was like a surprise they weren’t expecting and they couldn’t afford it. Somehow through some friends of theirs-who was my aunt, they found out that my parents were looking for a child. So that’s how I got adopted by my parents. My biological parents were also Chinese and they were very good friends with my Aunt. That’s as far as I can remember.

During my younger years once I started remembering, probably when I was 3,4, or 5…I don’t remember when, but I guess my mother told them that since I’m going to be remembering, that it’s not good for me to have two sets of parents so they asked them not to come anymore. But I have a feeling that they’re watching somewhere because even now when I go to Indonesia to visit, my sister would say, “You know, your parents just came up but they just left two days before you came”. So it’s like it wasn’t meant for me to see them again, so I took that as a message and I’m not trying to find them.

For a very strange reason my younger sister was also adopted. I was adopted and two years later they adopted another baby. I was only three months when I was adopted. Then my younger sister was also adopted.   When she was like 20 something she started looking for her parents and she found her mother.   And you thought by that time that I would at least kind of know that maybe I was adopted too-but I never even paid attention to it. I thought well, she’s adopted, but I’m not adopted. She asked my mother and my mother didn’t want to lie so she said yes you were adopted, but I don’t know really what went on between them. I was just oblivious– I felt so bad. My third sister, my younger sister, is their own child, their biological child.

The last time I went to see them (my mother had passed away in 2001 and I couldn’t go because it was right after September 11th 2001–there were no connecting flights from here to New York so I went home during the Christmas break. That was also my mom’s birthday so we celebrated what would have been her 50th day) my sister said, “You know I’m glad you never looked for your biological parents because”– because my other younger sister did—“that hurt me that she didn’t think that we were good enough for her.” But I guess she was looking for her self too. And I guess, I don’t know, I still don’t know who I am! But does it matter? Sometimes it does, but anyway, I jumped too far…

I was the youngest of eight-there were seven older siblings. I remember seeing my parents in my head now– I can see them, but I can’t see their faces. I can see their tall bodies… I know my biological father is tall.   My mother is not short either… they are tall, skinny, and I don’t know, somehow maybe one of them was a smoker or is still a smoker because I never smoked before and my parents never smoked, so where did I get my asthma? Either that or it’s genetically passed, you know, bad heart, bad lungs, whatever. But my mother told me when I was 32 that I was adopted. It was my third visit to Indonesia. I moved to the United States in 1974, and I think in 1981 was when she told me. My Dad had passed away. She said, “If I go, you need to know that there are two other people that you could look for so you won’t be without a mother and father. You’ll find your Mom and Dad so that you won’t feel all alone.”  I said, “But what about my younger sister? She will not have anybody.” I was wondering why she did that. I was 32 and I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Who are they? And why?” So she told me but she never said that your mom didn’t want you and blah blah blah, no. She said, “They couldn’t afford you and you were sickly, remember? You were in and out of the hospital. How were they going to pay for it? They sacrificed their own feelings. Parents are sometimes very selfish. They don’t care how they are going to take care of their children as long as they have them with them. But yours were not selfish. They sacrificed themselves.” I believe her because they still visited me. Now I’m getting really soppy! I couldn’t believe it because my childhood was so great. We were never spanked, we were never hit or anything. I was a bad terrible kid–I was lazy, all I had to do was make my own bed sometimes and put my clothes away, they were all folded, all ironed nice and neat, and all I had to do was put them in the cupboard. My mom said, “Those are the only things you have to do, do it, now!” And I was a terrible miserable child– and they put up with it!   All those things came back when she told me and I thought, “I don’t believe this! Come on.”

I saw my cousin who came home with bad grades- you know like a 60 out of 100 which is not bad-I came home with a 55 and my mother said, “Well, you’re just not a math person–that’s okay just make sure you do something else. So you don’t like math, that’s fine, just make sure you pass. Keep passing. Fifty-five is fine. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. “ It took the pressure off of me but it made me lazier I think…it made me worse I think. But she said, “You’re good with languages– you need to go there.” My cousins got hit- with a rod iron stick when they came home with a 55 or a 60 even. The report card was so… it’s terrible… I saw her crying with her butt all red and bruised and I kept thinking about all these things.

I didn’t say anything about it for a few minutes after she told that {I was adopted} because everything just came reeling back. I could see my cousins being hit and all that and crying because they had a 60 or 65 even and here I come home with 55 and I’m happy.

The teaching I got in Indonesia was not practical. It was like, make a hole in the head, open, pour it in and close it up. That is how I learned. I look at the children now; they can ask questions, they can learn things. Over there, if you ask questions it is the teachers fault he didn’t explain it quite clearly. But that is not why kids ask questions. And that is not what was developed. We had separate lives outside the home and inside the home. Outside the home you couldn’t say anything. If you said anything against the government you may not live to see the next day. So in the house you could be free to express yourself but outside we had to watch it, watch every single word that came out of our mouth. It was like fear, so it was not a good experience. We couldn’t write freely; the only thing we could write was the answer to the questions — and the questions should have answers that are in the book.

So that is what I mean when I speak in class sometimes that a child should be allowed to grow into who he or she wants to be and that there is no child that wants to be a criminal– in my mind nobody wants to do that. I think that hitting a child gets them angry—and why? It is supposed to be love from childhood. I had all that and I think about that now and think, boy, wasn’t I miserable… I never wanted to get up in the morning. “Go to school!” My mother would say, “I’ll throw water in your face!” and I looked at her and said, “Yeah, right.” I was really bad. But they were very patient and very giving and I don’t know what else–so it was like a blow when they said, “You are not my child.” I said, “Oh my God-then what are my parents like? Are my parents like me, miserable?” (Referring to genetics).  She said if I ever wanted to look for them that she would give me the name and the address– their old address or whatever, but apparently my biological mom still visits sometimes, but it seems like we always cross. So if fate would want me to meet them, somehow the paths would cross. That is the way I look at it.

Beginning to Hear My Own Voice

In March of 1974 I was trying to finish my master’s degree in Indonesia teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). I got my bachelor’s degree, I went to the first year of the graduate program and I was in the second year of the graduate program when one of the second year students asked me if I wanted to go to a St. Patrick’s Day party. I had no idea what it was. I said, “Oh really?” “Yeah.” She said. “This American asked me to go to a St. Patrick’s Day party but my English is not so good so maybe you would come with me?” “I said you have to give me the name, the address of everything, and when and where we are going because I know my parents want to know that.” She said, “okay” and she did. My mom asked me all those questions I asked my friend because in Indonesia.. I was 24 at that time…believe me or not… I never had gone on a one-on-one with a male. It’s always with relatives or something or with a bunch of girls or a bunch of boys but never just one-on-one.

So my friend came over and that man picked us up at my house. When we got to the party my friend said, “Well, are you going to stay here?” I said yes, and she took off, I didn’t know where she went. That was so devastating to me. She invited me to go with her, and she said she would be right back and I sat for hours. Then she came with some Filipino or Hawaiian guys and she said, “Do you want to come with us? We are going to just go ride around.” I said, “No, way, my mother would have my head off on a chopping board!” I said, “I can’t.” She said “Ok, I’ll be back later.” I had no idea. I went to this guy who picked us up and he said, “I have three children waiting for me at home. I can’t hang around a party for too long.” I said, “Maybe I should wait here.” He said, “No, I’m responsible for you so you come with me and meet my children.” I thought, does he really have children? I didn’t know what to do. So I said, “Where are your children?” So he went and got them; a two-year-old, a nine year old, and a 10-year-old. I thought, okay, so he is telling the truth. So I went.

We watched cartoons… midnight finally… knock on the door, there was my friend. I said, “Where were you?!” She said, “I was just out riding around.” I said, “Now I wished you never had asked me. This is not right.” She said, “These guys are going to take us home.” I said, “Oh, no, they won’t. He picked me up; he’s going to bring me home. I am not going with you.” I promised myself that this was the very last time I was going to go party with anybody I didn’t really know… I knew her just from school.

He took me home and my mom was still up. I explained to my mom and she said, “We’ll talk about this later.” He asked my mom if he could take me for an ice cream, the next day. My mom said, “Well, maybe this weekend but not tomorrow.” I thought Wow; I didn’t think she would even let me go anywhere, let alone with this man. But I didn’t know that he was talking with her already and told her that he had three children. Later on I found out that that’s what he told my mom when I was getting dressed inside.

The next day we got ice cream, the kids came, and then we came home. He asked my mother if he could visit me again? I felt funny– he was asking my mother if he could visit again…and I thought to myself, why would he ask her, he’s not taking her, he’s taking me. I found it odd. This must be tradition, this is the way it’s supposed to go but it is funny and it didn’t feel right to me. I never said anything to anyone about my thoughts. After that he asked me, not my mom, and I don’t know why because I never said anything. I tried to say yes but then I said, “Maybe I should check with my mom first. “ See that is what I did, strangely enough.

To make a long story short, four months later, he asked me to marry him. I said. “I don’t know.” He said, “You have to ask your mom?” I said yes. He said “Oh, okay. Do you want me to go with you?” I said, “No, I have to ask this by myself because if you are there she won’t tell me the truth. If she’s alone with me she will tell me the truth because it is not nice to say not nice things in front of the person.” So I asked her and she said, “Well, what do you think?” That was the first time I had to think and I could decide. I said gee, I don’t know. My dad asked what was going on and we told him and he said, “Well, what do you want to do?” I said oh my God! All these times, all these years I had to go here, I had to go there and I couldn’t decide… now suddenly, I had to think, I had to decide. And he said, “Well, we do have to give you permission.” And I said, “really?!” And he said, “Yes, because you can’t even sign your own marriage certificate. According to the law, a girl is not allowed to get married on her own until she is 30. When you turn 30 you can marry whomever you want to marry.” “So after I get married what happens? Do I go with him or do I stay here?” And my mom said, “Well, you certainly can’t stay here. You have to go with him.” And I said, “Where does that leave us?” She said, “We brought you up, we knew you were going to get married, but we didn’t know you were going to leave us.”  “Who is going to take care of you guys?” I asked. She said, “We’ll manage.” I said, “All these years you told me I was supposed to take care of you when you got old.” “That’s right,” she said “but we didn’t count on this happening. We thought you were going to marry a Chinese man.”

They already bought a piece of land in the back of their house. That is where they were going to build me a house. “So we can have a connecting door that would be locked from both sides”, my mother would say. “When I want you in, I’ll unlock the door and when I don’t want you in I’ll lock it and you can stay in your own house.” I was responsible for them because I was their oldest child. So I said, “What are you guys going to do?” She said, “We’re going to live, don’t worry.” But you see all those years the burden was on me. When something went wrong with my younger siblings they would say, “Why didn’t you tell them?” I would get blamed. The oldest child is supposed to give the youngest children a good example. And I guess I wasn’t a very good example.

We got married and we moved, but my mother told me. “Those children are his children and there is nothing that can separate them from each other. If you are going to try and separate them, you are going to pay dearly– it is impossible. If that is what you are going to do and that is what you think you’re going to do, let me give you one good advice– don’t get married. It is not going to succeed. Those children are his and if he has to choose between you and them, I guarantee he will choose them over you, think about it. They have his blood in them, running; you have nothing in your blood that is his, so think about it. Don’t even try it. Whenever you buy something for yourself, make sure you ask the girl if she wants something. If she doesn’t, then buy her something anyway. The two boys, it’s OK. But the girl, you be careful. She will be so jealous it’s not funny.”

It was true. I talked with her twenty years later after she left America to marry a Saudi man. When she told me she was going to marry this man (her father died), I said “Susan, Do you realize what you’re going to do? I got out of a culture that would tie me down. You were born with a free nature, free nurturing, and you’re going to tie yourself down.” She said, “Well, he studied in Canada, he studied in the United States, he is westernized, and he loves me.” She was only 16. I told her, “He’s allowed to have four wives, and nothing you can say or do will deter him from that. He is going to do it.” She said, “Oh, no, he loves me too much.” “I hope I’m wrong,” I said. She did marry him. And he did take up another wife. They all live together in a duplex. Do you see how ironic this is?

My first husband–we got married in 1974 and he died in November 1979. We lived in Saudi for a year. In the beginning of 1975 we were here in the United States and lived with his mother.   My husband was born in Ohio and his parents separated. His grandparents live in Woolwich Maine, which is why his mother moved to Bath.   He was an only child and his mother was a very wonderful person.

He was working for Raytheon and he went from place to place. I don’t know exactly what he did; he never told me anything about his job. He had his own little office room. He could have been selling weapons for all I know. He was an electrical engineer and he told me he works with turbines, but I never actually saw his office, I never went to see where he worked. I know he worked for Raytheon because we had signed paperwork and he went to an orientation at the company, but he was like the civil-service so he was working for a branch of the federal government, but not necessarily the military.


On My Own: Learning to be Independent

In 1979 he died of a heart attack. He was diagnosed with diabetes after we came back from Saudi and he was on doctor’s care when he died. It was such a mess when he died. I had no driver’s license; I didn’t even know how to write a check. I had continued my life of living depending on my parents so when I got married there was no interdependency. I still depended on him and when he died I had to learn how to be independent. I didn’t even know how much money we had. I didn’t know anything else, but luckily I had this Panamanian friend. One of the three couples that stayed with me. The other couples just kind of disappeared like I never existed. One is also an immigrant from Canada, the other one was born here but she was from a Scottish background and the other woman, she was born in Panamanian and married an American. They told me about welfare, about Social Security, and went right into my bank account and they figured out everything. And I had the three kids.

The oldest one was 21—at the time I was 30, and the oldest was working but he said, “So what do you want me to do now?” I answered using my tradition, I said, “You all are you’re Dad’s son. This is your Dad’s home. He bought a big house. You can stay as long as you want to.”

And of course there was the nine-year-old, too. My mother called and said, “If you want to come home, you can bring the children with you.” That’s when I actually realized…Oh my God, this woman… the capacity, the humongous love she has. And that is why when she told me I was adopted I couldn’t believe it. When my husband passed away I still didn’t know I was adopted. But I told her, “I have a home here and my friends are trying to figure out how much money I have.” She said, “Just bring the children home. You know you still have a piece of land; you can still have it.” I said, “That sounds really tempting, but I’m going to try and if I feel that I’m going to sink or drown, I will take that up. If I fail, I will go back.” She said, “Good. Make sure you know that the children are welcome here.” We had a big house in so it was okay.

My friend found out the how much money I had. We had a new house, we had just built it. I was working at the JCPenney store as a sales clerk.   After my husband died the store manager said to me, “You can’t live on this. “ I said, “No, I’m applying for food stamps and social security, but it will take six months.” He said, “You know the receptionist is leaving, and the bookkeeper will leave in about three or four months, she could teach you what to do.” I said, “I’m not good at math!” (That was haunting me).  He said, “Well, give it a try.” I said, “I will.” I took that job and after six months I got Social Security which would cover everything so I dropped the welfare because it’s not fair for everybody else. I was able to take care of myself. They asked me if I wanted to go downstairs because they needed somebody in the Children’s Department as an assistant merchandiser. I said, “Gosh, I don’t know about that–can I just be a sales clerk for a while? I don’t know anything about what I should do.” And they said, okay- start from the bottom.” So I did, and after 6 or 7 months they said, “Now are you ready?” I said yes.

I met a lot of nice people. And I didn’t speak like this at that time even though I was teaching English as a second language in Indonesia. It took me a year to get my ears used to the speed you’re going. They were very patient, and I was on the phone too! I don’t understand why he gave me that job but I was lucky and I stayed with them for a long time– until I got pregnant. By the time I left I was able to do every Department. I was doing the books, I was doing the cash, I was doing the registers. My math wasn’t that bad after all! The only place I didn’t work was the restaurant. I was into everything. That is where I met my current husband.

Making my Own Choices

I went out with him for four years. I believe in spirituality. Maybe I get too carried away but when my first husband died I thought, “There goes my dream of having a child.” When I married him I told him that I don’t want any children until the youngest one at is at least 14 to 16. When he turned 16, I will have a child. But I didn’t know he was going to die five years later. So then I met this man at work, he’s really nice, he’s the manager of the shoe department. He taught me a lot of things about shoes– what to look for when I want to buy my own. He’s divorced-I seem to be getting hooked on these divorced men. Eight months into the relationship, we were friends; we would go out and have a good time. One day he told me (I don’t know if he just wanted to make love,) “I had my vasectomy 26 years ago.” It was eight months! I was getting attached to this man.

He told me this and I said, “I kind of have dreams that I would eventually have a child.” I was only 34. Here goes my dream again. I thought, oh well, it’s okay. But at night I would think to myself, what do I do? Help me God. I want a child and I know I can’t get it from him. So what should I do? I didn’t ask my mother this time. My mother already said,”Oh, you have a boyfriend now, that’s good. I hope you have children because I want to see this mix.” I said, “But Mom, I’m not even married yet.” She said, “You don’t need to be married to have children. You know what it takes to have children.” I said “Oh, Mom, why don’t you come here and marry a man yourself and have children?” She said, “I can’t, I’m too old.”

I thought maybe I could find another man who could still give me children. But I said to myself, this man is a very good man. He may not be handsome, or a hunk, but I prayed. I’m not fanatically religious but I do believe in God. I don’t do this all in Church, I do it wherever I am; in the car or wherever. I’m thinking, God what do I do–help me make the right decision. So I thought, maybe I should just live with him. He’s a good man, he seems to be caring, he’s not going to beat me up.   If I find a man who can give me children, how do I know what this man is going to do to me? I decided to stick with him.

Four years later there was something growing and I thought I had cancer. I went home for my sister’s wedding and I thought, this is the last time I’m going to see everything. I was soaking everything up. Every time I moved, every time I lifted my foot to go up the steps or something it hurt– something in there was hard and round. I returned home and my friend, the Panamanian friend, said “Ina, you have to go to the doctor. Even if it’s cancer, at least it will be taken care of in early stage.” She made the appointment and told me she would pick me up.

The doctor examined me and said, “Have you ever gone to a gynecologist?” I said, “No, I had no need for it.” He said, “Well, you’re going to have a baby.” I looked at my hand and it was blue. All the blood had drained out of it. I thought, Oh my God, and I thought it was cancer! The doctor was looking at me and said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “My husband died, I don’t have a husband.” He said, “How long ago did he die?” I said, “Five years ago.” I felt so dumb. He said, “This couldn’t be his…” and I said, “No. But I’ve been going out with this man.”

He asked me, “What is he going to do?” I said, “If I know him right, and I think I know him, he’s going to be thrilled.” The doctor replied, “What are you going to do?” I said, “There are no butts about it. I’ve always wanted a child and this is like a Godsend. But this boyfriend of mine, he had his vasectomy– what is he going to say?” The doctor said, “He needs to get his sperm counted.”  It was like a counseling session because I’m thinking out loud and he was just listening. I found out later on he’s also a psychologist. So he is probably used to it. I told him, “Even if he doesn’t want it, I still want to keep it. I don’t really care what he wants. This is mine.” He said, “Okay, well, I was just concerned about what you’re going to do.” I was wondering why he said that, but after going to a counseling class like this one I understand why because he didn’t know may so he was worried about what I was going to do.

At the time my youngest stepson from my first husband was 16. I told my first husband when he (my stepson) was 16 that I was going to have a child. And he was 16 at this time. And I kept thinking and thinking this is really weird. So I do believe in God or whatever it is that we call God.

When I told my boyfriend he said, “It couldn’t be mine, remember? I had a vasectomy.” I said, “Look, if this baby is not yours, it’s an immaculate conception because I haven’t even kissed another man– not even kissed, never mind the other. If this is not yours, it’s his up there. So maybe if it’s not yours it’s better off his. What are you going to do?” He said, “At my age, I’m 55, and my youngest son is 26, I’m going to start all over again? You have never been through midnight feedings and everything else I have.” I said, “Well, it’s up to you, but I’m going to keep this baby, whatever you say.” He told me he would have to think about it, but it sounds exciting.

He decided within the next few hours. He said, “It’s going to be different, but we are going to manage. So should we get married now?” I said no and my head started going. I said, “I have worked for the company for a long time. I want my two weeks before the baby is born, paid. I want my maternity leave, paid. I want insurance to cover everything. I earned that, it should come to me.” He said, “You don’t want to marry me because you want to wait for those things?” I said, “Yes, it’s a matter of principle…..” By then I was independent I think.

So he waited. I collected all the accumulated vacation time and everything else– I collected every single bit. I did not go back to work after my baby was born. I should have told them, but one of the girls at work told me, if you are not going to come back don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell them until the time comes, until you get everything, because I told them so they could find somebody else after the baby was born, and I got cut off. She didn’t get any maternity leave, she didn’t get anything, and that was bad. It’s not even coming out of their own pocket- it is an insurance thing, not the company paying. As a personnel manager I wouldn’t do that. She said, “I didn’t get a penny-don’t you do the same thing.”

I told them I was coming back, but I talked to my Boss after I had my baby (the week before I was scheduled) and told him I was not coming back. He told me I was getting him in hot water. I told him that some people didn’t get what they were supposed to get because they told them ahead of time.

People at work did not know that I was going out with him, or even sleeping with him so they said, “Oh, wow.” And my boss was quite chummy with me. He brought me food, he took me out to eat, but that’s as far as it went. He was married and one time he asked me to go with him for a weekend to Boston. I said, “Right. How am I going to look Karen in her eyes when I see her next? No. It’s not right. If you want to do things like that you go find somebody else, not me. Thank you for the compliment, but no way.” I thought he would squeeze me out of the department or something but he took it like a man, he took it nicely– he just let go. And we stayed friends. Even now when I see him he’s my friend.

When I told my boss I was pregnant, he laughed at me. “Of all the people, you would have to be the one who gets caught.” I said, “What do you mean? I’m glad I’m having a baby. Remember I’m 35, I’m not a chicken anymore.” Every time I saw him he was smirking and laughing. They were laughing and taking bets and saying, “If it comes out with curly black hair, you know whose it is.” I would say,   “You guys are gross!” These are friends who I’ve worked with for seven years. They are like a second family to me.

They gave me a big shower with everything-they kept telling me to stop buying things because we need to get you something. I would say, “I have this I have that,” and they would say, “Stop! Don’t buy any more!” My mother was all ecstatic when I told her—I said, “I think your wish is coming true”…and she asked, “When is she going to be born?” I said, “January.” She said, “Oh good, that is your sister’s birthday.”

I told my boyfriend that the spare room was going to have to be painted pink. We had different days off, and I came home and it had been painted green. I asked why he used green paint. He said, “No son of mine is going to sleep in a pink bedroom.” I said, “He wouldn’t even know the difference! And besides, it’s a girl.” He said, “How do you know?” I explained to him that before I was even pregnant I had dreams that I was holding a little baby girl. I thought I was going to babysit for my friends who have little baby girls, and I did babysit them. I thought the dream was about their kids, not mine. But when I found out I was pregnant, I knew I was going to have a girl. And he said, “Well, we’ll see.”

He was there at the birth when the doctor said, “It’s a girl.” I said, “I told you!” And it’s funny; I didn’t feel any pain during the birth. I was laughing, I was telling jokes, and I was having tea and honey.   The doctor said, “Do you want to take a shower?” I said, “No, I don’t want this baby to fall out on her head!” He said, “A shower might relax you.” I told him, “No way.” He told me that maybe since I wasn’t relaxed I was holding in the pain and that’s why I didn’t feel it. He asked me if I was feeling anything, and I would say no, down there I don’t feel pain- I’m numb. After the baby was born he said, “Now I have to sew you up and it’s going to hurt.” I was waiting and I was waiting and I asked, “Aren’t you going to sew me up?” He said, “I’m done, you didn’t feel a thing? I told him no. He told me that if I had taken a shower I might have felt the pain. “I think that you were so tense that you didn’t feel it. “ I told him, “You know me better than I do!”

My daughter was born in December, early.   But that could be a mis-calculation because they did a sonogram and they measured the head– maybe Asian babies have smaller heads too- I’m not sure but they predicted that she would be born in January and she was born in December; full term everything was fine. I had my two tubes tied I was 36—I didn’t want to have any more children. It is too expensive here, and I don’t have the maids my mom had.

I had my own maid. She followed me wherever I went. I used to eat candy and look at her, she was right behind me watching and wishing I wouldn’t drop the wrapper on the floor, and I would walk and drop it and watch her pick it up. My sister had her own maid. My mother had three maids; a cook, a cleaner and a washer. They all lived in the back part of the house, and we had a driver too, but he went home at night. My father was an importer/exporter of cars and tires and different things from Indonesia.


When I had my daughter it was like everything came reeling in. During my pregnancy I was wondering, what should I do? What do I do with this child- she’s going to depend on me, and I’m it. Yes my husband will be there, but I have no maids, nobody who will clean her—I’m it. I have to give up my job, which was the first step. I asked myself, how do I bring her up? I was spoiled rotten.

I was a nasty child and look at what has become of me. I said to myself, I feel pretty good about myself, so I want her to have the same childhood I had. So I spoiled her rotten. When she was a baby she used to lay down in her crib she was already half asleep and I’m there on the floor putting all her toys in the right boxes straightening it out, putting it under the table or wherever it goes, and she was there watching me. When my sister-in-law came over she saw me doing that and she said, “What the hell are you doing?” I said,” What do you mean?” She said, “Make her (my daughter) clean up before she goes to bed.” I said “No, I never had to cleanup; I never had to pick up anything, and look at me now. When you come, I cook for you, I do things for you.” She said, “You are going to be so sorry you have done this. She is going to be hanging on your skirt. Just wait until you have to leave her at school. She will never let you go… she is going to cry and scream and hold on to you!” I brushed her off that night, but I thought to myself, am I doing the right thing? Should I make her clean her room and put her own things away? But she can only crawl. I thought, she can’t even do anything. What do you do? I decided, no, if she has my genes, and she is like me, I will have no problems. I stuck to my guns and said no, I want to bring her up the way I was brought up.

We used to take a bath together, everybody– my mom, myself, my sister and my dad. I never even looked at them; I was too busy playing with my water. I let my husband take a bath with her because the tub didn’t fit three, so we had to take turns. So, I take a bath with her and then he takes a bath with her, we take turns.

One day my Panamanian friend came in and said, “Where is Art?” I said, “He is upstairs with Elizabeth taking a bath.” And she said, “Ina! Don’t do that! What is he going to do with her?” I said, “What do you mean?” At that time it didn’t dawn on me.   She said, “He may do things to her.” And then it dawned on me that she meant raping her. I said, “Oh, Sherri, do you really have such a low opinion of him?” She answered, “Well you never know.” I said, “Well if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t let him.” I was appalled. I thought, Holy cow! What is she doing? She said, “That is not the way we take a bath here. I said, “The way I grew up that’s the way we took a bath!” She said, “You don’t live there any more.” I told her, “It’s just a matter of geographic location. I brought that with me.” She said, “Oh, wow.”

Then one day when she (Elizabeth) said, “Oh dad, what is that floating?” That’s when he got out of the bath tub and said, “Ina, I can’t take a bath with her anymore because she notices the difference.” I said, “Oh OK.” It’s funny I can’t remember seeing my dad’s, I can’t even remember. You see, he could have just told her, this is my penis, and you’re a girl and you don’t have one. I never paid any attention to the way my dad looked when he was naked. I have no idea now, in my memory. But I said, “If you’re uncomfortable, it’s OK you don’t have to.”

After she was born I applied for an overnight stocking job at Zayre in Brunswick and I did overnight stocking. I was with her during the day, my husband during the night. When she was three, I had a job switch and they wanted me to work during the day. I thought I may have to quit again. But again something happened. It’s unreal. You’re going to realize that when I tell you.

I was putting up something in the store, it was during the day and this Asian woman came in. She was holding the hands of two children. She passed me and so I got off the step stool and I said, “Hi, can I help you? You have nice children.” She said, “oh-they’re not mine. I am babysitting.” I said, “Oh, really. “ She said, “Yeah, why?” I told her I had a three-year-old at home and they were going to switch me to daytime and that I needed a babysitter. My husband is home with her now, because he just had open-heart surgery and he has to be home for six months. “Would you take another one?” I asked. She said, “Well, before I say yes or no, I want to meet her.

I brought her there and we went in and we talked and Elizabeth just looked around and checked out the house. She said, “Well, you know she’s comfortable here. So yes, I will take her.” I was looking for somebody to baby-sit and this woman would nurture her in the custom and in a tradition that I’m used to.

So she started and I said, “She doesn’t like too many things– just put a sandwich in front of her.” I picked her up that evening and Elizabeth said, “Hey mom, I had macaroni and cheese today and she even put hotdogs in it. I asked her if she liked it and she said yes, she is so nice. A few days later she told me she had strawberries dipped in sugar and I thought, my God she doesn’t even eat  candies at home! I thought well, if that’s the only thing she gets that’s bad, it’s OK. Every day it was something new for her and she started eating a lot of different things. I had only been serving the meals that we have here– chopped suey and spaghetti but now she was learning to eat Korean foods and she was using chopsticks– this woman really took time to teach her. I lucked out, and I met her by pure coincidence.

My Grown daughter

Even now, she doesn’t pick up her plate after we eat, she just leaves it there. But she’ll go to the neighbors, and they would tell me, “You can send her any time. You should see what she did, I told her to sort out the clothes and to do this and do that and she did it, she washes the dishes, my own children won’t even listen to me!” I said, “That’s all fine and dandy, but how come she can’t even pick up her own plate here?” She said, “I guess she is saving her energy for other people.”

In Indonesia we didn’t grow up with praises, I never had any praises. It’s like, when we do something wrong, we have to carry the consequences. It is fed into our heads. Praise is not one of their things. I am proud of my daughter, but I have a hard time praising her. I brag behind her, but in front of her I feel like I can’t say it-good things about her.

It was like a wakeup call when she was 17, yeah just last year. I always make her bed; I always clean up her room, the same thing. But she’ll go to other people’s houses and clean up their place. One day I was picking up something and I saw this literature on the floor on depression. Boy that hit like a bomb. I thought, I have been oblivious! What have I done? When she came home I asked her,” Elizabeth, are you OK?” She said “Yes Mom, I’m OK, why?” I told her I found the literature on the floor and asked her if she was depressed. “Oh”, she said, “Yes, I am depressed.” I said, “Well, do you mind telling me what it feels like? What is it that makes you depressed?” She told me she couldn’t talk about it. I said, “With me? I am your mother.” She said no, I can’t talk about it Mom. I asked her, “Would you talk to somebody else? Go see Linda talk to her.” “No, I don’t want to go see her,” she said. I said OK, and I called the doctor (who brought her into the world) and said, “I have a child that is depressed.” He said, “Let me see her,” so we got her in, and he referred her to a counselor.

The first session she came out crying. I thought, I have to pay $90 to get her crying? She told me that something, she is not going to go into detail with me, but that she needs to see the counselor again. I said OK you want to see her again. I asked her, “What did you talk about?” She said, “I can’t tell you.” I said, “Are you telling her?” She said, “Well, kind of.   I said, “You need to tell her because she can sort it out for you and she can tell you what it is and how to deal with it– I can’t do it.” She said “Well, I’ll think about it.” I said, “Well, give it a good thought because if she can’t help you, you need to find somebody else. “ But she went to eight or nine sessions and on the last session she said, “Mom, do you want to come in?” I said, “Are you sure?” After the third session she told me what she was talking about.

Before September 11, that year in March, my husband had to go through bypass surgery for the second time. He was sent to Boston so I had to go with him. I was wondering, should I go with him or should I stay with her? She was 17. One of her friend’s mothers told us she can stay with us, so that was fine. But it wasn’t fine. And I’m not sure what I should have done, but it’s done.

September 11th happened and she was able to absorb what was happening even though she wasn’t there at ground zero. She heard it all the time on TV and from people talking at school. Then I had problems with my thyroid. I had to go through some tests. In November, my mom died. I thought, because they were so far away (we would go home every two or three years) that they were going to be like strangers. But they were very close. She slept with her; she was all over my mother. I even said to my daughter, “Gee, thanks, I used to sleep with her and now that you’re here you get to sleep with her and I get pushed away.” She said, “You had your time Mom– I only see her now and then.” Every time they saw each other they got closer and closer. So when she died it really hit her hard and she couldn’t express herself. I don’t know why. Sometimes I wonder, did I give her a chance to tell me an opportunity to tell me? Somehow it was like a dysfunctional family. We existed but we did not communicate, maybe? I don’t know what happened but the depression bout was a wakeup call.

My mom died on November 7, 2001. I was frantically looking for a flight and I couldn’t get out. My sister said, “Just wait until Christmas and we’ll celebrate her birthday.”

My youngest sister, her own child, had taken care of her. My daughter saw my mom the last two times and she wasn’t feeling too good. But the last time was the worst. She had a stroke and she couldn’t talk too well. She used to teach my daughter Dutch and Indonesian– two languages.

Then I was going through my tests, my five or six tests to find out what was wrong with me. They felt the lump and they didn’t know what it was, whether it was cancer or not. I went through three or four tests and after the fifth one they said that I needed to take my thyroid out to find out whether it was cancer or not. But my doctor already told me there was cancer in it. In the meantime I was arranging to get out for December 15 to be able to go to my mom’s whatever it is. I went to see the surgeon and he said, “We need to make a date when you get back,” and I said, “I’ll be back on the 30th.” He said, “You need to come in on the 31st to get your blood tests for pre-op, and on January 2, 2002, I’m going to operate on you and take it out.”

We found out that morning (the seventh of December 7, my daughter’s birthday) that it was cancer. She knew why I went to the doctor that morning. We decided not to tell her because it was her birthday-what a mistake, mistake number two. So when my husband picked her up from school and she asked my husband, “What did the doctors say?” I told my husband, “If she asks, don’t lie. But if she doesn’t ask, don’t tell her.” So he told her, “Yes your mom has cancer in the thyroid and it needs to come out”. So we took her out to eat that night on her birthday and she didn’t eat, needless to say. When we got home at 9:30 that night we got a call from my brother-in-law in Florida saying, “Art call me!”

We thought that his sister in Florida had passed away. He called and his brother said to him, “Your sister wants to talk to you.” My husband thought, oh good, so she’s alive. She got on the phone and she was crying and screaming saying, “So, did you see her? What was she like?” She was referring to his other sister, who was living here in Maine, who had died. His niece had been trying to get a hold of us since we left the house. So we told Elizabeth, you’re Aunt Rita just died– her favorite aunt, the only aunt here in Maine.

She went to the funeral and I couldn’t be there because I had to leave that morning to go to Indonesia. My stepson had to take me to Boston. My daughter had already been hit by so many things and then I was going to Indonesia without her.

My sister-in-law passed away on my daughter’s birthday, and then I came home from Indonesian on the 31st and they took me to the hospital and on the 2nd I had my surgery.   The next day they did find that yes, there were also other cancerous cells in the thyroid, but the big lump is gone. The next day the doctor said, “Yes, we found cancerous cells in there, but the big one, the size of a golf ball, is benign. We did find small particles so we need to take care of the thyroid, it needs to be gone.” They couldn’t take it all out because they were afraid it might alter my voice or that I might even lose my voice, so they did it with radiation. January 20, 2002 or so, I was supposed to get my radiation.

Then on January 26th my husband’s got a call that his brother was in the hospital and was very sick and probably wouldn’t make it. We were getting ready to go to a late Christmas party, and Elizabeth told us she wanted to go to the hospital. She saw her uncle and after that she said, “I don’t want to visit him anymore and if he goes I don’t want to go to his funeral. That is too depressing.” Everything was piling up on a 17-year-old. In March or April was when I found the literature on depression. Her last session was in November and she was taking Paxil or something-I wasn’t too crazy about it—but she’d been reducing from a whole pill to a half, and now she isn’t taking any. She told me she was fine now. That is the turning point from a dysfunctional family to a kind of trying to be functional family. It was a wakeup call– if you don’t do something about it, something might happen.

Maybe that’s what interested me into going into the counseling program. This is my second semester in my second course. It is so interesting, what I am learning. Elizabeth is going to college and she is fine, but see that is what is part of the bumpy road. When everything is rosy and nice I always feel like something else is going wrong. There is nothing that is perfect; my mother always told me that. But she also said, “You know, when God closes the door he opens a window someplace.” So I always think of that.

My daughter will start college in the fall. I can’t even imagine what it will be like…at night even when she’s already said goodnight and all that stuff, before I go to bed myself I stop in her room and give her a kiss again and sometimes I get slapped or something because she moves but September I won’t be doing that anymore. I will go in there and it’s going to be an empty bedroom. I don’t know how I will deal with it; I guess I will deal with it when it gets there.

My Current Vocation

Currently, I am supposed to be a teacher but I find that I am learning so much by whatever or whoever is around me. I hope that I will get a full-time teaching job instead of just tutoring or being an ed tech. Here, I see all these kids with their own mothers, who are so mean and bad to them, it makes me wonder what is going on in this world, what went wrong– what is wrong now? I may never find the answer but it makes me a better teacher knowing what I don’t know. Give everybody a chance. I’m teaching summer camp literacy and they keep throwing kids into my room. I say, where did he come from? They say he peed on his friend; he is a behavior problem and keep bringing kids into my room. Now instead of 20 I have 25 kids, five recently moved in from different classes. I feel like I am a resource room teacher now. The best part of it is that they are all staying, and they’re excited to come back to my room. It made me wonder, what are these other teachers doing? Maybe it’s the wrong chemicals. I don’t know. I give everybody a chance especially kids I have a weakness for kids.

My Dream

I would like to advocate for the immigrants– parents who feel frustrated who don’t seem to be able to find a way out, and the children who are suffering too, because they are getting so much pressure at an early age. They have to take care of their parents as far as speech is concerned because the parents don’t speak in any English. They have to study, they have to be responsible, they have to take the consequences at school when they don’t show up because they have to take their parents here and there as a translator. I probably sound corny but because of my experience– you know Maine wasn’t so diverse when I moved here. When I moved here I was the only one looking like this. Every time I went to a school function or whatever, an open house, I was the only one looking like this– the only one. I know how it was. I just want to help them get adjusted and also try to convince them that learning English is not going to make them lose their tradition, your heritage is in you. I don’t know how many times I have said that, but none of them believe me. They say, she is just one of them. They consider me to be a trader and I want to show them that I am not a trader. I need to know more so that I can help them. That is why I am taking counseling classes too.