Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
My Cell Phone Rang: I Ignored It
By Gina Sampaio
My cell phone rang.
It was a number I didn’t recognize so I didn’t answer it. That’s my usual modus operandi: ignore unknown numbers that call and see if they leave a message. I didn’t get a new voicemail notification so I figured it must have been spam.
It rang again a minute later, this time from a different unknown number. Once again I ignored it, not just because that was my standard, but also because I was on a walk with my young adult daughter. She’d been home from college unexpectedly because of COVID for over six months but in a busy household of seven people, it’s hard to find one-on-one time. I was relishing the moment.
Again, there was no voicemail notification but soon a text came through, “Mom? It’s Z. I’m on Mrs. Anderson’s phone. Is anyone coming to get me?”
It was like our own little series of unfortunate events. Our regular carpool being unavailable + a communication mishap with Dad + Z first trying to call me from a parent’s number that I didn’t have saved and then from Mrs. Anderson’s work phone (which I also didn’t have saved) + my refusal to answer calls from unknown numbers = my was kid abandoned at the park after practice. You can nominate me for that Mother of the Year Award now, thanks.
In all honesty, I didn’t feel too badly about it. My best friend had just told me her own similar story happening the week before . . . and I’ve got three more kids than she does. These are the sorts of parenting snafus we’ve always known could potentially happen but could never foresee them coming to fruition. Who could have ever imagined, as new parents, a time that would come when our tiny babies would be independent enough to be dropped off at practice at the park alone?
Maybe other people did. I certainly didn’t. To be fair, I never even said I wanted preteens and young adults, did I? I said wanted babies.
And babies I got: one and then two before our family grew through foster care adoption to include numbers three, four and five. The littlest one came home to us just over a decade ago.
Our lives look a lot different now than they did in the several years that followed her arrival: no more diapers or tantrums but exponentially more activities and electronics. We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing five sets of first steps and witnessing the emergence of five unique personalities. For our adopted children, this has included watching the evolution of them coming to terms with what that designation means.
Sometimes it’s provided a laugh–like when our oldest adopted son realized he could make jokes about our transracial family, saying things like, “When Dad gets too embarrassing by shouting from the sidelines, I just pretend I don’t know him.”
At other times, it’s been not at all fun, like when our daughter has tried to hurt me with the most hateful words she can conjure, angry at a biological parent but having easier access to an adoptive one.
Our relationships with biological family members, too, have continued to metamorphose over the years. I can draw parallels to how I feel about them as one might feel about in-laws: they are an extended family group that enters one’s life in adulthood. They have complexities and histories and relationships with one another that only reveal themselves after years of familiarity. There are some of them that I feel I’d be friends with if we’d met randomly and others that have needed boundaries set. Either way, all of us share an adoration of and pride in the children. That’s family, right?
For the kids, it sometimes feels like something they don’t want to openly share, just another indicator that marks them as different from the majority of their friends. I let them be the decision-makers in how to handle the 4th-grade family tree project. I encouraged them to include both families but let them have the final say. I have to admit, it made my heart hurt a little when the older two decided to exclude their birth family.
Time passed and somehow our last baby entered her last year of grade school. The third marking period rolled around, bringing with it the family tree project. Once again, I deferred to my child:
“Do you want to do just us on the family tree, just your birth family or both?”
In the past when she’s hurled, “you’re not my real Mom” at me, it hurt. It didn’t hurt my sensibilities–I’m a Mom, I’ve got a high threshold for absorbing emotional abuse from children. I also have enough of a working knowledge of child psychology to understand that her anger was actually a manifestation of her pain and why she’d lash out against the person she feels the safest with.
Her words hurt me because she said them when she was at her lowest, struggling with her complicated feelings about being adopted. If you love a child, no matter how they entered your life, when they’re in pain, you are, too.
When she said she wanted to include both families on her family tree, she was expressing a calmer, more mature acknowledgment that I’m not her only mother. I’ve never had a problem with that—it’s true, I’m not. I was happy to help her with this project but we weren’t sure how to begin. I emailed her teacher, who was supportive but never had a student do a joint adoptive and biological family tree before. I asked friends and searched online, sure that someone had done this before and had great ideas to share.
We did find some examples, but none that were just right for us. So we got our art supplies out and brainstormed, cut, colored and hot glued. We texted family members for help with filling in gaps in extended family information. Together we watched her idea for a double family tree bloom into an entire family forest.
I realized that this project was, in a way, a microcosm of how I’ve approached parenthood. I’ve looked to experts for tips, asked friends for advice, gleaned insight from articles online, reached out to family. Ultimately I’ve taken these ideas, factored in my own family’s circumstances and then added in a healthy dose of parenting intuition.
I might not ever have one singular guide for navigating the parent-child relationship and I certainly have times where I feel like I’ve gotten blown off-course. But experiences like working on her family forest together make me feel like just maybe I’m doing something right . . . even if I don’t get that Mother of the Year Award this time.
Gina Sampaio began acting publicly at age four and keeping a journal at age fourteen. By forty she figured out how to combine those two passions with blogging and storytelling. In spite of never having a really good idea about what to be when she grew up, she’s somehow exactly what she always wanted to be.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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