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How Joni Mitchell's daughter found mom and became whole Print-ready version

by Nicolaas van Rijn
Toronto Sun
April 8, 1997

Kilauren Gibb knew her five-year search for her birth mother was at an end when she looked, really looked, at the face in her computer.

Joni Mitchell.

As she clicked her way through Mitchell's home page on the Internet's World Wide Web last February, Gibb found 14 points of comparison - blue eyes, blonde hair, long legs, high cheekbones - that suggested there was more than a casual link between the two. "It just kept getting stronger," Gibb told The Star yesterday in a wide-ranging interview, the first she has granted since the discovery. "The more I read, the more I realized how alike we were. She was a singer, I was into music. She was an artist. I painted. We both enjoyed the same things."

And then, of course, a final clincher: Mitchell was looking for the daughter she'd given up for adoption 32 years ago. Gibb was looking for the mother who'd given her up 32 years ago. It would take another six weeks before the two spoke together, but in Gibb's mind, there was no doubt. "I knew then that I found my mother," she said, the joy still evident in her voice. `It was wonderful. It was a great relief to me in every way. It made me feel whole. It made me feel complete."

Just back from a 19-day "get acquainted" session at Mitchell's Los Angeles home, where she introduced the folk singer to her only grandson, 3-year-old Marlin, Gibb plans on keeping her feet firmly planted on the ground and continuing to make her home in Toronto.

Still, Gibb - who is living on student loans while studying desktop publishing at George Brown College - is candid about the potential of having a celebrity for a mother.

She has modeled, acted in commercials and as a movie extra, studied piano for eight years at the Royal Conservatory of Music, loves photography, and is a talented amateur painter. The links are obvious, and if Joni Mitchell can open doors, Kilauren Gibb is not averse to stepping through. "If that works for me, I'd be quite happy," she said. "But," she's quick to add, "I don't have any expectations. I didn't come into this thing with expectations. I just wanted to find my mom. "I wasn't expecting her to be a celebrity - in fact, I was probably hoping she wasn't, and would turn out to be someone living in a basement somewhere, keeping herself occupied with her knitting."

Gibb's search for a birth mother began, however tentatively, when she was a 14-year-old Toronto student, wondering about her baby pictures - or, more precisely, the lack of them. "I would look at our family's album, and realize that there were no pictures of me before the age of 8 months," she said. "My mother tried to explain it away - I was a second child, and you don't take as many pictures of them. Or the camera wasn't handy at the time. "But I always wondered."

That same year, in 1979, Gibb and her brother David were wandering along a Jamaican beach during a March break vacation when a talent scout from New York's Elite model agency spotted her long lithe lines and convinced her to try out. "I was a model for 10 years," she recalled. "It took me to Paris, New York, Australia. It was a good way for me to travel, and I enjoyed the money, while it lasted."

But back in Toronto, Mitchell found herself wondering again about her birth parents and, like many adopted children, at the same time afraid of alienating her adoptive parents. "I was 27 when I found out I was adopted," she recalled. David and Ida Gibb, two Toronto teachers who have now retired, "really loved me a lot," Gibb said. "They were nurturing, loving parents who wanted to protect me. They didn't tell me because they didn't want me to feel like an outsider. And, they were afraid they might lose me."

In the end, Gibb said, her quest for her birth mother took on overtones "of a soap opera. They knew I was looking, but, like in a soap opera, you don't talk about some things because they're too painful." But the Gibbs gave their daughter a starting point. "They told me to call the Children's Aid Society if I wanted to get some information on where I came from," Gibb recalled. "They told me where to begin." It would take five years before the package of "unidentifying information" found its way to her mailbox. "I couldn't believe the length of time it took," she said, a trace of bitterness creeping into her voice. "They made it so hard. I had to wait almost five years to get a piece of paper that didn't have a name."

But it was a beginning.

Her mother, she learned, was born in Saskatchewan, the only child of parents of Norwegian-Scottish descent. She had polio as a child, met Kilauren's father while both were in art school in Calgary. "The CAS information described her as being a successful Canadian folk singer." She was reading Mitchell's biography, but Gibb, who wasn't a fan, didn't make the connection.

Others did. "My friends kept telling me that I looked like Joni," she laughed. "They kept on telling me that I should do something about it. And, eventually, when Joni let it be known that she was looking for a daughter she'd given up for adoption, I though, `Yeah, I should check it out.' "

Gibb's fateful Internet session, last Feb. 1, led her to call Sam Feldman, Mitchell's agent in Vancouver. "I asked to speak to someone who represents Joni Mitchell, who is emotionally attached to her," she recalled. "I wanted someone connected, because I was going to drop the bomb."

But, perhaps not surprisingly, Gibb - who unknowingly was one of dozens of girls calling to identify themselves as Mitchell's long-lost daughter ran into an initial wall of mistrust. "There were a lot of girls calling them," she chuckled. "They didn't trust me, and I was nervous. "But I slowly gave them some information. I finally faxed my birth information to them, and got a phone call several days after that."

In a way, Gibb said, she'd hoped the connections would be made sooner. "February 19 is my birthday and I wanted to have it all done so I could meet her in time for that day. But it wasn't going to happen." Gibb came home one day to find a message from Mitchell, in New Mexico, on her telephone answering machine. "She said `Hi, it's Joni. Please call me. I'm here. I'm overwhelmed.' "

But not quite.

Mitchell asked Gibb to fax her some photographs of herself as an infant. "She wanted to see some baby pictures of me. She had some herself of me as a very small baby - pictures that were taken before I was adopted. "They matched." Mitchell called again. "She wanted to get it off her chest, how sorry she was that she gave me up. How broke she was at the time - she couldn't even get the money together to be in the musician's union. She couldn't tell her parents about the whole thing, having a baby - she was brought up in a Victorian household."

Gibb told her not to worry. "She asked me how my childhood was, and I was honestly able to tell her that it was fabulous," she said. "It was a great childhood, probably the best. I think now, that I could have been raised in California, and been a Bel Air brat. I'm really happy that I got my family to raise me, in down-to-earth style. "I'll always be grateful for that."

On March 13, Gibb flew to California with Marlin. A limousine whisked her to Mitchell's home, where Gibb and Marlin promptly walked through the evening darkness up to the wrong door. "I heard a voice coming from above, looked up, and there she was, like Juliet on her balcony."

The trio promptly repaired to Mitchell's kitchen, where 32 years of separation vanished within the space of an hour. "It was very comfortable. Very natural. I immediately got the feeling that I was home, that we belonged together," Gibb recalled. "And Marlin - he loved meeting his grandmother, even though I don't think she was the typical grandmother stereotype for him. "He called her Joni, and Grammy - which is kind of funny - and Big Momma, since I'm the momma and she's the Big Momma. "We were all quite cozy together."

Yesterday Mitchell made another connection herself, calling the Gibbs in their Don Mills home to introduce herself and say "thanks" for raising her daughter. "Joni wanted to talk to my mom. She said she wanted to thank them, and tell them how happy she was that they did such a great job raising me."

There is one remaining connection to be made. "I've never met my dad," Gibb said, referring to Toronto photographer Brad McMath. "Or is it MacMath? Being a Scot, it probably is." That could, she hopes, happen this summer, "when Joni comes to Toronto to see where we live, and meet my parents. "Then we could all meet, everyone together, and deal with the missing bits."

But for now, Gibb is concentrating on what she's found. "I don't think I would have been prepared at any other age to deal with this," she confessed. "I wouldn't have been mature enough. I had to learn my life lessons, and she did too."

And, lessons learned, the meeting was truly magical. "It's kind of crazy," Gibb said. "We met, and it clicked. It was like we never separated."

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Added to Library on January 9, 2000. (170425)


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