Raised By 5 Different Families, 7 Siblings Are Reunited In 'Bastards'
Mary Anna King grew up in a housing project in southern New Jersey, with her older brother Jacob and struggling parents.
"When you're struggling financially and you're living in poverty ... it takes twice as much effort to do anything," she tells NPR's Eric Westervelt.
Her parents went on to have five more kids, all girls, and despite her mother's best efforts to keep the family together, all five girls were ultimately given up for adoption.
King's new memoir Bastards tells the story of her fractured upbringing and her search for family. She talks with Westervelt about what it was like to grow up with a mother and father who were, as she describes it, "great at making babies but not so great at holding on to them."
I think she always hoped when she was younger and when we were younger that by wanting things to work out, and by working for things to work out, that they magically would. That somehow love would be enough.
On how hard her mother tried to make things work for their family
I think she always hoped when she was younger and when we were younger that by wanting things to work out, and by working for things to work out, that they magically would. That somehow love would be enough. And she tried — she tried very hard. ...
And I think at a certain point she just felt that it was so hard and maybe it would be better for us if she could get us away from those destructive forces even if it meant giving us up that that was the best thing for us.
On talking with her mother about being adopted by her grandparents
It was right after my grandfather had brought up the idea of adopting my sister and myself. And I was speaking to my mother on the phone and she said: It's up to you; you can choose whatever you want, but I think this is the best option. Because it will be easier for health insurance, it will be easier for schooling, it will just be easier.
And in a lot of ways it was easier. But in some ways it felt traitorous and that was not easy — to leave my mother behind. Because she was poor — was really how it felt as a child. I understand now, of course, it's much more complicated than that, but as a 10-year-old that's what it felt like.
On her relationship with Mimi, her grandfather's wife
I know so many things because she taught them to me. ... I was in a friend's wedding, and right before we started walking down the aisle someone's zipper broke. And so I spent the last few minutes before we walked down the aisle slip-stitching the zipper shut, which is something Mimi taught me.
She taught me how to take care of myself. And to a certain extent it felt like she taught me those things because she knew I would have to take care of myself. And I think that was her way of showing love was arming me and my sister with the tools she knew we would need.
On meeting — and immediately bonding with — the sisters she had never met before
I was shocked by that, actually. I always felt certain that my sisters would come looking for me and that they would find me one day. And I imagined we would say hello, we would share stories, we would be friends. But I never really thought long and hard about what it would feel like to have another face that looks just like my face looking back at me.
And we pretty much across the board instantaneously — they walked in the door and we hugged and ... we held hands and we stroked each other's hair and we gave each other a hard time about things pretty much immediately.
On the way her understanding of family has evolved
Writing the book definitely changed the way I define family. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to pass, trying to make my family appear normal, and trying to pass thereby as a normal person. And I always thought of a family as this one thing: It is a nuclear family, it is mother father sister brother who all match. And who all go together unquestionably.
But then, through writing the book and through meeting my sisters, honestly, they're all my family. My sisters are my family, my grandparents are my family, my birth parents are my family. It's complicated, but it's true. And sometimes the truth is complicated.
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