Biology and the bonds of love Baby swap

Myriam Marquez

August 11, 1993|By Myriam Marquez

FOURTEEN. It's such a tough age. You want to be so grown up, but you're still so much a child.

Parents and other adults can be a pain, too. They'll treat you like a child when you want to be treated like a soon-to-be adult. They'll expect you to act like an adult when you just want to be a kid.

Watching ABC's Barbara Walters interview Kimberly Michelle Mays recently, one couldn't help but feel bad for this woman-child.

4 By age 9, she already had faced so much tragedy.

At age 2, Kimberly barely could have said "Mama" when Barbara Mays died. Then her father's new marriage ended in a bitter divorce. And then Kimberly learned that she somehow was switched at birth.

Who can blame Kimberly Mays for wanting her life back?

She wants no part in the family life of her biological parents, Regina and Ernest Twigg, and their six other children. She has gone to court in Sarasota, Fla. to fight for her right never to have to see them again.

Bad enough, Kimberly seemed to say in the TV interview, that she had to visit the Twiggs five times.

Horrible enough that Regina Twigg bad-mouthed Kimberly's father, Bob Mays; that Regina Twigg wanted to call her Arlena, the name given to the other child -- biologically, the Mays child -- who died at age 9 from a bad heart.

Kimberly Mays seems so mature, so sure of herself, so much wiser than most 14-year-olds.

And yet one can't help but wonder whether, in five or 10 or 15 more years, Kimberly Mays, the woman, will see things less in black and white and learn to forgive what now seems so unforgivable.

How many of us, as teen-agers, faced a parent or relative whom we would sooner have had disappear? In five, 10, 15 years, perhaps Regina Twigg will understand what Kimberly has already learned: Love is earned, not demanded. How many of us, in time, learned to understand their faults and love their strengths?

I remember when I was 14 and my mother would take me every Sunday to spend the day with my grandmother, who had just arrived from Cuba.

"I don't know why we have to go all the time," I would plead with my mother. "I barely remember her, and, besides, she makes me uncomfortable. She wants me to hug her and kiss her, and I shouldn't have to do that if I don't feel like it."

My mother replied, "She's your father's mother, and she's your blood, and you should get to know her."

And I did.

I got to put makeup on her old, lined face. I put up with her eccentricities and her all-too-personal questions. I heard her stories about the old country, and I wrote letters for her when her trembling hands couldn't hold the pen.

She died too soon. I was 15. But in that year and a half I got to know my Abuela. I grew to love her.

Certainly, Kimberly Mays' circumstances are drastically different. They are indeed tragic. The Twiggs have forced Kimberly to choose, and that's unfair.

It's clear that the bond of love that Bob and Kimberly Mays share is irrevocable. No court can change that.

Yet what mother would not empathize with Regina Twigg's pain of losing a daughter through mysterious circumstances, through fault of her own? It is every mother's nightmare to have her baby switched at the hospital.

Watching Regina Twigg talk about her bitterness over the switch makes it clear, however, that the woman's obsession with conspiracies has served only to alienate Kimberly.

Time is said to heal all wounds. In five, 10, 15 years, perhaps Regina Twigg will understand what Kimberly has already learned: Love is earned, not demanded.

Myriam Marquez is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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