There are no secrets. They know about their adoptions. They know as much about their birth story as I feel they can handle per their maturity level. (My rule of thumb for determining that? If they can articulate the question, they can handle the answer.)
But even still, by bringing it up directly this week, some new conversations were hard. Good conversations.
One with Kaley (14, adopted at 2 months) came around because she has a new reborn collectible doll. She saved up her money for this very expensive doll and bought it. It’s 2 ½ pounds and one of our friends is a NICU nurse. She said it was just like holding one of her NICU babies. Kaley asked me, “I know I was little when I was born. Was I in NICU?” I told her the part of the story that I knew.
“I don’t know. I’ll tell you everything I know. Remember how I told you that you were born at home and your birthmother called the Ambulance? And she said she wanted you placed with the Safe Haven program for adoption. They took you to St. Joseph hospital and you were there until you were 8 days old when you went to a foster home… etc. But I don’t know if you were in NICU or not. It’s not in the birth records that I have. You can get those when you’re 18. I’ll help you if you want.” She asked why we couldn’t get them now and why I couldn’t get them. And we finished that conversation.
A few minutes later, she asked, “Do you have your birth and adoption records?” And I said, “Remember? I wasn’t adopted. I grew in Mimi’s tummy and stayed with her.” “Oh, that’s right.” And I proceeded to remind her that most babies stay with their “tummy mommy”. That adoption was a very special way for kids join a family. How only when the birthmother can’t parent the child, THEN they place for adoption, etc.
And she got very sad. Visibly upset. So I continued. She was holding that precious baby doll. I asked her, “If this baby had come out of your tummy, would you want to be it’s mama?” Of course. And I tried to leave it with how much she was wanted. How she will be a great mother one day. The whole time I’m praying I’m saying the right things and not breaking her heart further.
But it’s there. It’s always RIGHT THERE.
The conversation with Zoe (age 8, adopted at 2) was her asking for her adoption story again. She’s always eager to hear any and every detail. Thankfully I have quite a bit, especially considering she’s adopted from China where most people have very few details. She could hear her story 5 times every day without tiring of it. So we did.
Manny (age 4, adopted at 9 months) isn’t really interested in adoption related stuff yet. He’s met his birthfamily (it didn’t go well). And I don’t think mentally he “gets” it. I’m always ready and willing to start the conversation with him … but for now … he’d rather play with his ipod.
Then there’s the conversation with Sam (12, placed with us at 19 days). He said the only real conversation he ever had at school about adoption was this. He and a friend were discussing family dynamics. The friend said it was really rough because his parents were divorced and he felt he had to choose between parents. He asked about Sam’s situation. Sam mentioned he was adopted and lived with both of his parents. And the friend said, “Oh man! You have it way rougher than I do!” This kid actually felt sorry for Sam. And Sam had to straighten him out about how he has a great life.
Next was the conversation with Luke (10, placed with us at 2 days old). He said he NEVER thinks about being adopted. He forgets he is. The only thing that he finds challenging is that he lives with siblings who are another race. I carefully put my toe in that water. He articulated that if the kids were all White, then no one would ever know they are adopted. But because we have several races in our family, it comes up ALL THE TIME. He’s a little more private and would rather it stay that way.
He also added that he thinks that race is the reason he and one of his siblings fight sometimes. Again, carefully pulling that string, he said that maybe it’s because that kid is a different race that they have struggles in our family. I didn’t validate nor negate that feeling. I found it interesting. I personally believe it’s all about the early losses and traumas this child experienced that cause them to act wacko, not race. But by having this conversation, I realized how a 10 year old is perceiving his upbringing. Fascinating!
And then there’s the very, very long conversations I’ve had with Jacob (15, adopted at 18 months). Some highlights: He said he never had considered meeting his birthmother. Had no interest. But as the thought dwelt with him, he said maybe his cousins or other distant relatives. I found that interesting. I didn’t ask why. Just let him dwell.
As time passed, he realized … He likely won’t have much in common with this extended family. Jacob is VERY interested in all things history and government and politics. He is VERY convicted of his beliefs (way more strong leaning than I am in fact). He is even starting a political blog for teens. He was 14 at the last presidential election and was horrified at the low information voters. He realized he will be old enough to vote at the next presidential election (just by a few months) and would love to reach out to others in his age group and start the political dialogue. (Oh Heaven help me! LOL)
He actually made the statement, “I think of myself as White.” And I about choked on the hot tea I was sipping. I had him clarify and realized that he knew he was Black but that he has rarely found an African American that is politically “right” leaning and so he just assumed it’s a “White” thing. I had NO clue he felt this way and was able to get him hooked up with a few people who are people of Color AND politically more conservative.
I felt like I have failed him as his mother. I try very hard to expose him to Black culture and his heritage (the best a white, almost see-through, Mama can do). Like for his 4th birthday, we had numerous families over who were White and had adopted African American kids. In fact, my nephew was the only white kid there!
But like a few weeks ago, my husband and Jacob went to visit a (Black) family Dan knew in college. Jacob was trying to find things in common with their teenaged kids. He liked the music and the spirited dances they all did together. He shared how he liked history and the teenaged son said, “I only study BLACK history.” Jacob shared how he thought all history was interesting and that by studying it all, he could gain a better understanding of all humanity. The other kid basically called Jacob a sell out for not studying ONLY Black history.
There have been many times that I mourn that I have no clue how to teach my son “How to be black” but … it hit me one day. I don’t teach him how to be male. Or tall. Or bearded. It just IS. Maybe I can just teach him to be a Godly man. How to be kind and a hard worker. How to be generous and loving. How to be the right kind of man so that some day he can be a great husband and father. THAT I kinda know how to do.
I thought maybe we were doing alright in raising him “Ebony in an Ivory world” (to steal a line from a new friend, Laura).
And then THIS conversation happened. And I’m right back at square one, wondering what the heck I’m doing. Praying I’m not screwing him up too badly.
There were more conversations this week. These are just a few of the moments on my journey on this road of adoption.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart.