Talking Adoption With a Four-Year-Old Boy

Talking Adoption With a Four-Year-Old Boy

Next month, I will be holding my annual series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, in honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month.  To whet your appetite, here is a new guest post from one of last year's participants, who is celebrating the third anniversary of her son's adoption today!  The upcoming series is full, but I still feature guest posts at other times of the year.  Enjoy!

By Merrin Donahue

It started slowly, a couple of months ago. An offhand question about mommies and daddies. Another a few days later about China. Yet another about his China mommy. What started as a trickle has turned into a flood, and there’s no stemming the tide.

I knew this day was coming, and I really, really believed I was prepared for it.  Like everything else about adoption, however, no matter how much you think you know, there is always something waiting in the wings to bitch slap you back into reality. I *did* know we were living in The Bubble.

In fact, the minute I first held Jack in my arms, the one perfectly clear realization I had was that we had started the countdown. I had a finite amount of days before adoption conversations would begin creeping in. The halcyon days when I could pretend he was only ever mine.

Before you call in the adoption police, please know that yes, we’ve always told him his story. He’s always known he lived in an orphanage, and he’s always known he had a China Mommy and Daddy.  He’s seen pictures of his old nannies and the room where he used to sleep.  We haven’t kept anything from him, it’s just that he’s old enough now to begin to process things.  And it’s hard.  Harder for me, I think, than for him.

It’s no surprise that it’s coming up now.  A mommy of one of his friends just had a baby, as did one of his teachers. There’s been a LOT of talk about babies growing in tummies.  I’ve always fallen back on the sweet (albeit a bit trite) “You grew in Mommy’s heart”, and so far, that’s been good enough.  As the questions get more complicated, I know that it won’t be quite so easy (not that it’s easy now).

There is a phrasebook with which all adoptive parents come equipped.  We learn the language of adoption through classes, books, message boards, other adoptive parents. We arm ourselves with platitudes like “All families are different”, “We chose you”, “You needed a family, and we needed a baby” (for the record, I’m not a fan of that one).  For the most part, these are good thoughts.  Positive thoughts (and we always, always keep adoption communication positive).  The problem is, they’re not enough.  At least they won’t always be.

I’m not in any hurry to open up lengthy conversations about Jack’s family of origin.  Right now, it pops up unexpectedly, even as his questions increase in frequency.  We were sitting at the dinner table the other night and this is what followed:

Jack: I want to adopt a baby when I get bigger. I want to go to China.

Mommy and Daddy: Um, okay. If you want to do that when you grow up, I think that’s great!

Jack: Mommy, you can teach me how.

Okay. Fairly benign.  Much easier to handle than the whispered “First Mommy” questions that invariably arise at bedtime.  

But then yesterday there was this:

(We lay our fair scene in my bathroom, where I am going potty at 6:40 AM, having just arisen and not yet having access to caffeine)

Jack (bum rushing my closed bathroom door, because really, closed doors mean NOTHING to small children): What color is tiger poop? Because hello? He’s a four-year-old boy child, and his world revolves around poop. Just ask Aunt Jen.

Me: Um, probably brown.

Jack: Mommy, why won’t you ever run out of cuddles for me? I tell him 100 times a day that I’ll never run out of hugs, kisses, and cuddles.

Me: Because my arms were made to cuddle you. Best I could do on 5 hours of sleep and no caffeine.

Jack: Why didn’t my other mommy cuddle me? POW. Straight to the gut.

Me: She did, baby, right after you were born. She was the very first one to cuddle you.

Jack: Okay. Do you think whale poop is rainbow colored?

 See? Out of nowhere, slashing at my insides, then gone as quickly as it starts. Bloodless but still acutely painful. There’s no time to prepare thoughtful, well-constructed answers, either; no, these things need to be faced head-on right in the moment. I don’t have the luxury of saying “Well, let me talk to your father and figure out the best thing to say to you. Let’s stick a pin in it and come back, m’kay?”. I also have to constantly remind myself to keep it simple. He’s four. One day, our discussion will evolve to include gender inequality and one-child policies and even abandonment, but for now, short answers suffice.

I’m not gonna lie. There is SO MUCH I’m screwing up. Instead of a 401(k) I’ve set up an account to cover his future therapy bills (not really, but now that I’m thinking about it….) Like every parent, I’m trying my best to do the right thing at the right time. For me, that means never, EVER dodging the question, no matter how hard it is for me. And it IS hard. Not because I feel inferior as his second mommy, although there is an element of proving myself worthy of this amazing child, but because it will be hard for HIM.

He will inevitably face the asshole kid at school who says shit like “You’re ADOPTED??? Why didn’t your real mom want you?” or who posts stupid, stupid crap on Facebook like the “You’re adopted” picture of the wailing little girl. I also want him to always, always feel comfortable and safe asking his questions. I want our conversations to happen organically, initiated by him, guided by me.

For now, I hold to our small truths. I *did* choose him. My love for him grew in my heart. I didn’t carry him inside of me, but he carries my heart. But in the words of the great Billy Joel, he can make decisions, too. And he can have this heart to break.

 Merrin Donahue lives in Amelia Island Florida with her husband, her son, and her insane beagle. October 18th, 2013 marks their three-year anniversary as a Forever Family.

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