I don’t usually watch Hallmark movies. I think it’s because, regardless of the quality of the acting or production, I have a tendency to completely immerse myself into the circumstances and psyches of the characters.
Yeah, I know. I think too much and am too egocentric. It’s a problem.
“Finding a Family” is based on the true story of Alex Chivescue and his mom, Ileana Nistor. The part of the story that makes it Hallmark worthy is the fact he initiated his own search for a foster family in order to maintain academic stability and achieve his dream of attending Harvard.
The supporting facts that make it such a memorable story are that his mom is a Romanian immigrant who wound up a divorced single mom who, earned her PhD, and learned six languages.
Their tragedy is that a car accident triggered bi-polar depression and they were alone without family or community supports and she became unstable, neglectful and abusive at times. They wound up on the big roller coaster of inadequate mental health supports and services at odds with the child protective services system.
Watching this was very, very painful in so many ways.
Obviously, I identified with Ileana. Kim Delaney’s portrayal of verbal anger, hair trigger rage, overwhelming depression, and medicated fugue and frustration, complete with devastated remorse over her actions toward her child, hit me at the deepest levels.
Watching her shame-faced approach and meeting with him and his new family stripped me raw as I contemplated my son’s wedding with his adopted dad officiating.
I know I have done those very things, to varying degrees, with all of my children. Yes, even dear little Luna has been subjected to mommy not being able to force herself out of bed and snarls of overwhelmed and exhausted frustration.
Thankfully, I’ve learned better how to prepare and cope. I try to make sure there are nutritious and vitamin rich things on hand, like Odwalla bars, cheese sticks, Ovaltine to make chocolate milk, and her favorite clementine oranges.
On days I can’t drag myself out of bed, I put edutainment television on and she brings her toys onto the bed, or uses the bed as her personal gym, and the sits pressed up against me. I make sure to hug her, tickle her, and hold her even when being touched or interacting is the last thing I feel like doing.
When the snarling rage turns into a loud and mean tone of voice and she has hurt feelings, she gets to give herself space by running to her room and closing the door. I call her out a few minutes later and we talk about her feelings and what happened while I hold her on my lap and listen to her tell me how mean I was and that she didn’t like what I did. If it was triggered by behavior that she needs to learn differently, I try to focus on the behavior. If my behavior was out of line, I do apologize.
I wasn’t capable of making these kinds of choices with my oldest two during my worst times. I tell myself they didn’t have it as bad as Alex had it because I was never quite as bad off as Ileana.
It’s a lie.
I may never have had the diagnosis she did, but I am realizing that everything they showed her doing was a reflection of what my children got from the combination of me and Keith.
It was shattering to see those effects from an observer’s viewpoint. At least it was for me because I identified with Alex’s character as much as Ileana’s. I saw myself and my son, certainly. However, I also saw myself and my mom. Not only that, I also saw myself with my uncle and my maternal grandmother.
My mom aspired to be an author. She wound up a teen mom. Married three times in six years. We moved around a lot. After finding out, when I was 10, that her third husband molested me, she went completely under. That’s when I remember my grandmother’s influence the most, just strong impressions and a few specifics. We moved around so much that I attended two or three schools in fifth grade and two or three in sixth grade.
By the Summer I turned 12, things were horrible between us. We were both so damaged and overwhelmed. Constant arguments or total silence. Everywhere we ever lived on our own was always a chaotic hodgepodge of clutter. One day we got into it so bad because I didn’t want to be inside, but there was nowhere to go outside, so, I stood just inside the door, with my head in between the door and the jamb, with my body blocking the exposed area behind me. She kept telling me, the yelling and screaming at me to close the door. I argued and refused; I stood my ground.
Suddenly, she yanked me backward by my hair, pulling me over the arm of the sofa, while slamming the door, and sat on my legs. I was yelling and trying to get her off of me, but couldn’t. I finally sat up, bent forward, leaned my head down and bit her as hard as I could on her right thigh.
She jumped up off of me. The next thing I know, my uncle was coming through the door and getting in between us. I told her I hated her and didn’t want to live with her anymore.
Soon after that she wrote a letter, “To Whom It May Concern,” stating my uncle was my guardian, took it to the bank for notarization, and moved back down to Houston. That was sometime in July or August. By the end of October she was dead.
I spent the next couple of years figuring out I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. I started trying to run away when I was 14. My little cousin was born, my uncle’s marriage disintegrated, and I became the grown up. I fielded collector’s calls, became responsible for figuring out how to take care of adult’s business, and looked after baby girl so much people thought she was mine.
More moving around and I was living with my grandmother while my uncle retained his so-called legal custody. So she couldn’t sign school registration paperwork to re-enroll me into a prior district. I could have registered myself if I was still living with my mom, but not under someone else’s guardianship.
I was 16, I hated my life and my family and knew education was the only way out – just like Alex Chivescue. Only, we hadn’t ever been involved with Child Protective Services, and we were a “Don’t talk, don’t tell” kind of family. Besides, I wasn’t being abused or anything bad.
This was what all led to me becoming a mom at 17. Now he’s married at 26 and I’m parenting a 4 year old, full-time, and a 19 year old, part-time.
Yeah, this movie triggered a lot of tears and grief. It’s a tremendous amount to process.
It helped me realize something else. It helped me rethink the storyline in my mind about Marco’s adopted parents. His wife, Bridgette, told me at one point, that his other mother has a lot of the same conflicted feelings about her role as mom that I do. The other mother in the movie speaks compassionately and empathetically of Alex’s biological mom. It helped me to let go of my anxiety about facing her at the wedding.
It even prompted me to send them a message thanking them for being there for him.
Stupid Hallmark movie! I’m all teary again.