“I don’t want to go,” K said.
I had purchased tickets for the whole family to see a musical adaptation of the story Lyle Finds His Mother. Performed by Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre, the show had received good reviews, and several friends had recommended it to us.
“Lyle is a crocodile who was adopted by a human family. In this play, he decides to go find his crocodile mother,” I had explained to my three girls.
“Why don’t you want to go?” I asked her. She shrugged and said, “I don’t know; it just doesn’t interest me.”
“Is it because it’s about adoption?” She didn’t respond.
“Is it because you think it will be too young for you?” She seized on that.
“Yes, it’s for little kids.”
“Let’s give it a try. Besides, we are meeting friends there, so at least you can have fun seeing some buddies,” I replied.
When we arrived at the play, I gave her the choice to sit next to a friend in a row behind us, and she jumped at the offer. About ten minutes into the play, I turned to look at her face. She was engrossed and did not notice me checking on her.
Before Lyle was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Primm, he used to perform onstage alongside Mr. Hector P. Valenti, Star of Stage and Screen. Hector has now fallen on hard times without Lyle to draw big crowds. Hector cooks up an evil scheme to draw Lyle away from the Primms by writing Lyle a letter that says he can take Lyle to his crocodile mother.
Mrs. Primm’s reaction reflects the normal insecurities of many adoptive mothers. She tries to distract Lyle from the letter, repeatedly telling him that Hector is up to his old tricks and that the letter is nonsense.
But the letter gets under Lyle’s skin, and he grows increasingly unhappy as he wonders about his crocodile mother. He feels different from the Primms, and he dreams about what his crocodile mother might be like. He loses interest in his usual activites and grows depressed. The audience watches as Mrs. Primm moves toward acceptance of Lyle’s feelings. Although sad at the thought of Lyle leaving, she eventually gives him her support and encourages him to go find Hector, who she genuinely hopes will lead him to his crocodile mother.
But Hector has no intention of taking Lyle on a search. He instead convinces Lyle that embarking on a journey to find his mother will be very expensive, so the best plan if for them to save up money by performing together again. Lyle consents, and Hector is soon raking in the dough.
As they travel around the world performing to sold-out crowds, Lyle’s enthusiasm for show business wanes. He repeatedly shows Hector the letter that Hector had written promising to take Lyle to his crocodile mother, but Hector delays and delays. Finally, Lyle refuses to go onstage one night, and only then does Hector agree to set off for the land of the crocodile.
When Lyle at last sees his crocodile mother, the moment is breathtaking. They dance and leap together, and he sings for joy at how much she is exactly like him. Like Lyle, she displays an unusual talent for acrobatics, and his face displays joy. I felt teary-eyed watching, and I turned to look at K, who was smiling with her whole face.
Lyle brings his crocodile mother back to meet the Primms, and the play ends with Mr. and Mrs. Primm embracing her and marveling at how she is exactly like Lyle. There is a moment where Mrs. Primm and the crocodile mother look at each other with warmth and gratitude and shared love for Lyle.
“That was so much better than I thought it would be!” K enthused. We bought a copy of the book Lyle Finds His Mother, and K asked each cast member to sign the inside cover. She was in high spirits after the play, and we all raced out to our car in the icy Chicago rain.
The next day, as I was driving K to an appointment after school, I thought about how the play ended with Lyle having both his mothers together. What came next? I wondered.
“K,” I asked, “What do you think happened after Lyle’s mom came to meet the Primms?”
“I think she stayed,” K replied instantly. “She wanted to be with Lyle, so she stayed.”
“Do you think she lived with the Primms?”
“Yes, I guess so,” K answered.
Hmm. But by default, does she believe that a birthmother who doesn’t stay doesn’t want to be with her child? After all, K’s birthmother doesn’t live with us.
“But what if Lyle had brother and sister crocodiles back in the land of the crocodile?” I asked. “Wouldn’t his mother have to go back to take care of them? Isn’t it possible that she loves Lyle and visits him but is unable to move in?”
K nodded, thinking about it. “But it would be nice if they could all live together,” she observed.
“It sure would,” I agreed.
Talking to K about adoption is not always easy. She prefers to say little and reveal even less. I was happy that our trip to see the play allowed us to have even this small conversation about adoption. It’s not often that a children’s play tackles the subject of open adoption.
Carrie Goldman is the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. Bullied addresses issues of sexualization, gender bias, and bullying.