In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fourth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
By Jeremy Hornik
Our baby boy is adopted. His birth mother placed him with us on his second day alive. He has grown into a bright, beautiful, beaming one-year-old, bursting with joy. Just tonight he was crawling around at top speed, shrieking with laughter, chasing after his five-year-old brother.
He is fearless and speedy, climbing tables and couches and stairs when we look the other way for even a moment. When I put him in his bed tonight, he cozied up, belly to the mattress without a tear… although I could hear him giggling and bouncing around when I walked by two minutes later. There is no restraining the life and vigor within him.
Our friends tell us that he has the smile of his older sister. That’s true. It’s also bittersweet. Our oldest, Donna, died five years ago of a brain tumor at age four. She left us and her brother, who was less than a year old. Time passed, and last year, we grew our family again, adopting another son at birth. We now have two boys, five and one, and a girl who is… four? Nine? Two living children and one dead one and they are all clamoring for our attention, two loudly and one in commanding silence.
Even after death, Donna remains very much a part of our lives. If you ask how many children we have, we’ll tell you three. From the pictures all around the house, to the fundraisers in her honor, to the many memories we have of our gentle, bright, empathic girl, she is not to be ignored.
She can’t take our full attention like the baby brother she’ll never know. He is hungry! He needs naps! He wants to get picked up! He wants to look around, from up high in my arms, one little arm resting across my shoulder, like he’s a movie star telling me I’m his pal. When he laughs, it is hilarious, and you can’t help but laugh along with him. The one thing that makes him cry is seeing a bottle of milk that’s not in his mouth. He needs that milk, pronto.
When Donna was sick, she got our full attention. She needed meds administered, hospital trips, non-dairy mac and cheese, temperature taken, and all the play we could manage so that her life wasn’t just about medical procedures. And after she died, the grief took our attention too. Our five-year-old was just a baby himself then, and some days, caring for him was the only thing that got us out of bed.
I believe that having Donna in our family makes us better adoptive parents.
First, we have no shyness in having difficult talks with our kids. When Donna was sick, we talked about going to the hospital, and when she was dying, and knew she was dying, we talked about her upcoming death. We talked with our older boy about his sister and what happened to her, and he knows, and he’s found a place for her.
And with our baby, we talk with him about his sister, sure, but more importantly we have already started to talk with him about where he is from, and his birth mother and his other big brother, who both love him so. And when he’s old enough to have questions, he can ask them too.
Second, we have known grief and loss pretty intimately. Adoption is a wonderful thing; it’s true, bringing parents and children together. But it’s also a hard thing, a sad thing; it means a birth mother and her son are separated. I can’t go through his grief for him, and I can’t go through his birth mother’s grief either. But I have lost a child, and I know it’s a deep hurt. I am hopeful that in the years to come, our experience will help us get past the pain together.
Third, when you live with the fear of losing a child, you learn very quickly to savor every moment. Tonight, tired as I was from a day of work, I got right down on the floor with him and let him climb all over me, so happy to see him as he was happy to see me. When he babbles up at me I babble right back at him, or sing to him, or read him books.
Just as I delight in his big brother’s brainy, physical imagination and love of jokes and puns, I take delight in our baby’s sturdy questing, giant Sallah to his plump Indiana Jones, seeking out artefacts from the cordless phone on a very climbable living room table to the tupperware lids slyly concealed in a low kitchen cabinet.
We know this time is short, and so much richer for it. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired, sad, or sore. We give him every ounce of love and energy we can today, for who knows what comes tomorrow.
We make time for all our children, Donna included. In fact, by living as fully and joyously as he does, our baby boy can’t help but bring our daughter to our minds. His first cautious steps let us remember hers. When big brother lays there and lets baby brother crawl over him, both giggling, it echoes the giggles from when big brother was a baby himself, and was crawling all over his big sister. Any noodle one of our children eats is every noodle our children have ever eaten: macaroni rotini penne spaghetti rice noodle lo mein all calling to mind the happy little lips they have been slurped through.
It’s a paradox. The more we run towards life, towards joy, the more our girl is present. The more we live, the more we feel, the more we throw the doors wide and welcome the world into our home, the more we are brought back around to all five of us… somehow, improbably, all gathered into one noisy, loving, family.
Jeremy Hornik is a father of three and game designer who lives in Chicago. He has the good fortune to be married to the estimable blogger and Portrait of an Adoption pal Mary Tyler Mom.
This year's Adoption Portraits series is filled. You may send a submission for next year's series to Carrie Goldman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Portrait of an Adoption on Twitter and Facebook
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