Mother and son, together after 33 years

May 31, 2010

Nicole Baute

Tim Fraser for the Toronto Star

Jamie Low spends a lot of time laughing with his daughter Athena and biological mother Sandra Jones. Jones and Low have noticed many similarities since they met in February, 33 years after she gave...

When asked what they have in common, Sandra Jones and Jamie Low look at each other and explode into laughter. Their round faces flush with the rosy red of peaches; the laugh lines around their hazel eyes deepen.

“I think it’d be easier to tell you the ways we’re not alike,” says Low.

Such is the power of genetics.

Still, they rattle off the similarities. “We both have somewhat of a dry wit,” Low says.

“We both love to cook,” says Jones.

“We both curse like sailors,” says Low. “We both lack the filter that’s common in most people, between the brain and the mouth.”

“You’re not supposed to tell them that!” says Jones in a stage whisper.

“You know that filter?” asks Low.

“We both hate fresh cilantro and caraway seeds,” Jones says.

They shudder in unison.

Jones and Low met three and a half months ago, after 33 years apart. Low is 33. Jones, 51, is his mother.

She was 17 when he was born. She gave him up for adoption, and has spent the years since thinking about him.

The year Low turned 18, Jones registered with Ontario’s Adoption Disclosure Register, hoping he would, too. If they were a match, they would be put in touch.

But nothing happened.

As time went by, Jones, who lives in Ajax with her husband and 16-year-old son, considered every possible scenario: he didn’t know he was adopted. He was dead. He hated her guts.

But Low was living in Toronto, and looking for her. His adoptive mother, who now lives in Newfoundland, encouraged him along the way.

There was one small problem: according to paperwork given to his adoptive parents, Low’s birth name was Jason Michael Baron. He was looking for a woman with the last name (or maiden name) Baron. At age 21, he had signed up for the Adoption Disclosure Register with all the information he had, including that birth name.

But his actual birth name was Jason Michael Bryan. Someone must have copied it wrong at the time of his adoption.

So Low looked for a woman named Baron and tried to be patient. Jones tried to be patient. But by the time the province of Ontario opened its adoption records on June 1, 2009, she had almost given up, out of frustration.

She would let her son come to her.

Last fall, a few months after Ontario opened its long-shuttered adoption records, Low applied for his original birth certificate information. He got his real birth name, and his biological mother’s. With a little help from a sleuthing friend, he found his mother’s married name.

And on Jan. 29, a Friday night, Jones was watching TV with her “home-raised” son, Michael, when the phone rang. It was Low’s wife, Robyn Bellefleur, calling because Low was too terrified to. He was sitting cross-legged on the bed, rocking himself back and forth and listening.

Michael answered the phone and passed it to his mother.

“Sandra?” said the voice on the other end.

It’s a bill collector, Jones thought. Everybody who knows her calls her Sam. “Yes?”

“This is kind of a weird phone call,” said the woman on the other end. “I’m calling for my husband.”

I am not doing anything with your husband! Jones thought.

“He was born at Ross Memorial Hospital July 6, 1976.”

The room started to spin.

When Jones stopped saying “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God,” Bellefleur passed the phone to Low.

“What took you so long?’ his mother asked.

They have spent the four months since making up for lost time. There have been dinners, hockey games and a trip re-tracing the final months of Jones’ pregnancy in Fenelon Falls, Ont. There have also been plenty of family events, including one where Low received a whipped-cream initiation into the family, courtesy of Michael and a cousin.

“It settled into your head quite nicely,” Jones says.

They’ve discovered that their lives ran parallel, if separated by time and place: They both left home fairly early and had children young. They both have tattoos.

Low has two daughters and two stepdaughters, which means Jones is a grandmother a few times over.

While Low and Jones tell their story at the kitchen table in Low’s small home in west Toronto, 12-year-old Athena Low comes home with a story of finding a flightless bird in the park. She throws her arms around her new grandmother’s back, her bleached blond bangs fall into her face.

They look alike, too.

“I just want to announce something,” Jones says, eyeing Athena and Low’s step-daughter, 19-year-old Skye Lewis, who has been listening from the doorway. “I don’t even want to think about great-grandchildren until I’m 80.”

The laugher rarely lets up.

“I think we feel that it’s a lot of wasted time, a lot of lost time,” Low says. But he says he doesn’t have the attention span or patience to stew about it now.

“I’ll stew for both of us,” Jones says with a stone-cold stare directed, it seems, to the forces that led to her giving up her son in the first place and the red tape that kept them apart for 12 unnecessary years.

Low knows they have been lucky. “It’s not like I stumbled through my life miserable and wanton and mopey, but always something was missing…I just seems like everything is falling into place. I get that heart-warming sense of completion.”