I have pondered this post the past couple of days, wondering how I could put into words emotions and experiences that I haven't quite grasped myself yet. Adoption is natural, and yet it isn't...and every person processes it differently...the birth parents, the adoptive parents, the child...all come to the table with their own baggage and perspective. What affects one person deeply, is but a blip on the radar of life for another.
We have yet to develop enough of a relationship or language to begin to understand where Kenny is in the mix of all of this, but with Matthew and Joshua we have two complete opposites in their personalization of their own adoption experiences. This was never more evident than this week, when by happenstance and chance both boys brought it up in very different contexts.
First, let us take Matthew. He and I were sitting on the couch one evening, working on his Cub Scout Bear Handbook, and the conversation took a turn somehow and we began to talk all about how Kenny has so much to learn, so many things he missed from not having a family when he was little like Matthew and Joshie. Then, in all seriousness, Matthew casually throws out there "Yea, and that doesn't even include all that I got from you when I was in your tummy...". I just let that hang there for a moment to see if he was joking as would be expected, and when it was obvious he wasn't, I was taken aback. I mean, we have had adoption discussions off and on forever, it has always been a natural part of our conversation and not something to be avoided or dwelled upon, just matter of fact. Could it be possible that he really didn't "get it" and I had missed that somewhere along the line?
I then said quietly "Matthew, do you realize what you just said? Don't you remember that you weren't in my tummy either?". He looked up with a blank look, and then slowly a huge grin spread across his face and he laughed so hard saying "Oh Mommy, that is so funny! I actually forgot! But it feels like I have always been with you and we are so much alike.". In all honesty, I probably am most like Matthew versus Kenny or Josh. But it was very interesting to me that Matthew fels so close to me, and sees me so firmly as his Mommy, that he has assimilated into our family so deeply that he even CAN forget briefly that he is adopted, that he is not of our flesh. To him, it is all pretty simple and matter of fact, he is Matthew LaJoy, he was born overseas, adopted by us, and that is that. No yearnings, no loss, just happy and feeling pretty much whole...for the time being anyway. He has always acknowledged his adoption in a positive manner, and this was not his way of wishing for something that never was, it was just a slip because it is all so easy. Kind of like when his first grade teacher was talking about Matthew's height and said "Well, he'll probably be tall...look at you and Dominick, you are both fairly tall." without thinking twice about it, and then it hit her and we both started laughing.
Then there is Joshua, my dear sweet little sprite. Adoption has NEVER been easy for Josh, it has challenged his emotions from day one, it has haunted him at times even when I know now that he feels fairly secure with us as his family. Before Joshua became a part of my life, I would have quickly "poo poo'ed" any notion of children that young feeling grief from abandonment, or at the very least being unable to quickly move past such things. In some ways, having Josh has put the "Fear of God" in me over every little thing I say and do with my children, as I now recognize that events and emotions can run much deeper and have more of a lasting impact than I ever would have thought possible.
Fall has always seemed to be a "trigger" for Josh. I don't know if it is because the cooler weather reminds him of the time of year when we went to get him, or if there is some other memory attached to it, but inevitably Josh tends to become more emotional during this time of year, and this year it is more obvious as many of the behaviors we thought were now left far behind have resurfaced, albeit in gentler forms, but still they are there. We have had a wet bed 3 times the past month, and a few days where his personality is completely different, where his cries are different and frequent, where you can almost feel the grief oozing from his pores. He also sits straight up in bed in the middle of the night and starts crying, still in a sleep induced haze and unable to share what he as dreaming about. Thankfully, as he matures, it is less frequent and less intense, and I think having language to express his thoughts helps that. But still, I have a little boy who will suddenly cling to me in tears saying "I just want my mommy" as he holds on tight. This may sound normal to the parent of any 4 1/2 year old out there, but it is the subtle things that make it different, the tone of voice, the desperation in his clinging to me, the inconsolable "I just don't feel right" sense of urgency in him at moments. It is at times like these when I realize that for this child, adoption and abandonment may always be an issue in his life, something that he feels "happened to him" rather than as for Matthew it was just a part of his story in the same way as childbirth is for a biological child.
A couple of mornings ago I was working with Joshie on some pre-school work, letters, numbers, writing, etc. He decided he wanted to draw a picture and write his name on it. While I puttered in the kitchen and he was at the table he drew, and then proudly showed me the picture. I asked him to tell me about the picture and he proudly said "That is me when I was in your tummy!". Again, just as with Matthew, I found myself at a loss for words for a moment (which if you knew me personally is not something that happens often! Hahaha!) and then I said "That's a great picture Josh! But do you remember that you were never in my tummy, but you were in your birth mommy's tummy?" and he said "I know, but I really want to pretend that.". I stopped my puttering and sat down in the chair next to him and drew him into my arms. We then began a long conversation about his "first mommy" as he often calls her, and losing her, and not being born to me. He really understands all of this quite well for a 4 year old, the problem is that he doesn't like it and wishes he could rewrite his own history. I told him that there are moments when I too wish I had given birth to all of my sons, but that God had a totally different plan for all of us and that I am very grateful we found each other at all. He also drew a picture of himself to send to his Grandpa Rock and his Uncle Ronnie and asked me if I could mail it to heaven to them. He asked me to write on it "I'm sorry you died". Sadly, neither my dad nor my brother ever met our sons, but this is not the first time Josh has brought them up. Perhaps it feels like a loss similar to his birth mom in the sense that they are people he knows would have been in his life and would have loved him, yet he never met them.
There are times like this when I just don't know what to do. I can see that there is this gaping hole in his heart, and I know there is nothing I can do to fill it. I can not snap my fingers and make his birth mom appear, I can't even trace her as she left him behind an apartment building with no note or anything. I can not change his history and find myself pregnant with him, as he so desperately seems to want. I can only stand beside him as he slowly processes this at each age, which is exactly what is happening, and hope that a time will come when he can find a way to be at peace with it. My biggest fear for Josh is that this will hinder him in relationships as he searches to fill the void that can never be filled.
As I sat there at our dining room table with the mid-morning sun gently warming us, Josh cradled on my lap, I looked into his eyes and saw so much loss revealed. So much that a 4 year old brain can't begin to understand...can't really take in that a mommy may not have even wanted to be pregnant or to have baby, or maybe a mommy was destitute and did what she could to save her baby's life. All he feels is that once she was there, and then suddenly he felt alone, as he says "I was all alone in Kazakhstan until you came and got me.". I knew when I became a mom that there would be things I couldn't fix for my kids, broken hearts from high school romances, bad grades from tests not studied for, disappointments and failures on sports fields. I never could have imagined facing such deep life questions out of a 2,3 or 4 year old...and ones for which I have no answer. Talk about feeling inadequate...
It is at times like these when I readily acknowledge that our family is not ordinary. We are no better nor no worse than a biologically created family, but we are certainly not ordinary. I have extraordinary children with extraordinary needs who have overcome extraordinary odds. And yet, we are very ordinary in most ways. So ordinary that I, and obviously even Matthew, sometimes forget that we came together as part of a Divine plan. Recognizing that to be true, I have to trust that God will hold Josh in His hands as He so often already has. He has provided Josh with loving men and women, boys and girls, who envelope him in warmth and love. Men who have replaced the Uncles and the Grandpas that are not present. A couple of men, aside from Dominick, who hold him and it is quite obvious the deep love they feel for this little boy, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am also so very grateful that out of all the women in the world, I was the one selected to raise him, to guide him and nurture him. But the one thing I must acknowledge I think, if he is ever to fully heal himself, is that I am NOT his birth mother. For if I hide from that single truth, I can not help him stand strong and face his own truth. Much as I would love to sweep it all under the table and make it disappear, to look at the world through those much heralded rose colored glasses, that is not what he needs. It is not my job to paint it all as a pretty picutre, but to stand beside him and hold his hand as he bravely faces the demons that continue to haunt his nights, and the doubts that plague his waking hours.
And I guess that is what makes me his mommy.