We took Isaac to meet a new before/after school, in-homedaycare provider. Isaac played with her son while I filled out paperwork. I let her know that we have an open adoption so she wouldn’t be caught unaware if Isaac brought up his sisters or his other mom. Since Isaac has shared with me that it makes him sad when people talk about adoption around him because it makes him think of his first mom, I made sure he was downstairs when I shared this information. Still, as we were heading out the door, he whipped back around and called out, “Just so you know, I’m adopted!” It was seemingly out of the blue, so I asked him where it came from. “Well, I don’t want her wondering how come that black kid is with these white people!” He said it with a crooked smile that said, “Don’t be CRAZY. I’m just setting things straight,” but it was a perfect example of how often adoption, particularly his transracial adoption, is on his brain. This wasn’t out of the blue for him. It is something he talks about periodically but thinks about frequently. Adoption can be a struggle for him.
A friend was visiting and playing a game with Isaac. She knows his back story and about his first family. They were in the middle of the game when Isaac said, “You know S. (his first mom) died.” She replied that, yes, she did know that. “It just makes me sad that God made S. die right in the middle of her fun,” he said. We shot eyes at each other. How do you reply to that? That didn’t just slip out- it was a comment that has been picked and pulled apart by my 5 year old and is a piece of how he is viewing God. Adoption can cause him pain.
I had asked Isaac to come back upstairs to shut off his bedroom lights and close the door, something he frequently forgets to do which is an irritation when you have as many animals as we do and I’d prefer my child to sleep on fur free sheets. “Aren’t you up there?” he called. I raised an eyebrow to our empty bedroom because I’m a mom and a teacher and when a child is disrespectful that eyebrow goes up no matter who’s around to see it. “You can help around the house, sir,” I called back. Complying, he stated as a matter of fact, “I don’t think I should have to,” and then went back downstairs. Ryan, having heard the exchange, asked Isaac if he’d just told me that he didn’t have to help around the house. “Well this isn’t really my house. I live in an apartment.” Ryan asked for clarification and in my upstairs eavesdropping I braced myself because I’m a mother, regardless of how that came to be true, and I could sense it before the words appeared. “Well, S. lived in an apartment before I got taken away and that’s where I was supposed to live and she’s my real mom.”
I cried. I let myself cry for about 30 seconds upstairs and then I sucked it up and went downstairs as Ryan was trying to find some appropriate way to respond. “Listen,” I said gently to our son whom I love, “I’m glad you feel comfortable talking about how adoption is sometimes hard for you and how you wish we all looked alike or how you miss your first family. You should talk about it and I’m happy to talk about it with you. But you have two moms who are real in different ways and don’t you think for a second that if S. was standing here that she would be okay with you saying that you don’t have to help out in this family. So you keep on talking about the hard stuff with us, but you will not use adoption as an excuse to not help in our family again, do you understand me?” He nodded, because he did, and he’d seen S. and I together and knew I was right, that she wouldn’t have stood for it. He needs to see me calm and willing to talk and that means crying for him as well as my own human woundedness later, when he isn’t around. Adoption is confusing to him; he needs to evaluate and push and question to see where he actually fits into his families. My personal baggage shouldn’t be his problem.
Frankly, adoption is confusing to me too. That entire dialogue took place in the span of a few minutes but my feeling unprepared can’t be used as an excuse for a lack of response. It is a precarious balance between acknowledging his need to feel comfortable talking while also corralling my own fragility. Being a parent (through any means) requires learning to be selfless even when it hurts and I know he wasn’t trying to hurt me. He was being honest in what he’s feeling. He trusts us to share his fears and woes and I feel immensely thankful that he does. Adoption is how I became a mom, but it isn’t how he became a son; I hold in my responses the ability to make his story more or less complicated.
This is why I don’t know how to respond to adoption questions: because I’ve become so passionate about the need for us to push aside the rainbows society has fed us about adoption and start admitting that rainbows must occur along side of storms, of rain. That being said, there is also so much sunshine and every child deserves a family in which to feel safe and well loved. It is the single most difficult, beautiful, confusing path I have ever taken, and that is something I have trouble articulating because I fear it sounds as though I am discouraging adoption. On the contrary, I have felt the weight of being an adoptive parent and I see the immense responsibility it offers up and if you are ready to take up that challenge… GO! Going into adoption with open eyes will better prepare you, can only help you both in the long run. The privilege of holding the hand of a child who could use a safe place to process, to feel, to question- it is enormous. It is miraculous. It is worthy of weighing out, it is worthy of looking past the hype. Be prepared, be honest, be sincere: it is worth wading through the storms.