Last night, we went to hear a piece played by the orchestra that I’ve wanted to hear live for about 20 years: Goecki’s Third Symphony. Three texts are woven into an orchestral tapestry that doesn’t sound major or minor, but feels like passionate hope despite despair. The texts themselves are simple, but the music expresses the volumes unwritten in the words. The soloist sounded like her voice was created for this piece, and I say this as a singer who desperately would love to sing it! At one point, I thought,
You’re not old enough to sing this! How can you have seen enough tragedy to feel this context?
But one of the texts was a prayer written by an 18-year-old girl on a Gestapo prison wall. How was she old enough to experience that?
Clearly the subject matter is different, but in my shock of recognizing that trauma knows no age, I thought of our birthmothers and the hardest choice they had to make as young women. Many articles have been written on how to communicate a mother’s love to a child who experiences life without her because she placed that child with another family. How selfless of her to choose a safe and stable home, parents who love each other, family support from every direction, and opportunities that she can’t provide at that time! How do you communicate that depth of love, when a woman gives up what she wants most in the world so that the little person who feels like an extension of her very soul can grow up in an environment beyond what she can offer?
We talk about adoption all the time. All of our kids know that word, and they know about the beautiful women that bore them. We haven’t reached the age when they will ask “why?”. I hope we can find the words to express the depth of love that led them to us, without making them fear that love means loss. It’s a tippy knife’s edge to walk.
I made a request on my Facebook page this week for that reason.
I know not all families are built through adoption. I recently had a conversation with a kid I love, in which she told me over and over again that I wasn’t my kids’ “real” mom. I can take that, but don’t want my kids to have to. Please take the time to address adoption when reading Paddington or the Velveteen Rabbit, or watching Superman or Batman. We can’t expect kids to understand what it is; we need to walk through the logic with them. A parent’s word carries a lot of weight in normalizing something they don’t understand yet. It means a lot to any adopted kids they’ll encounter in school, and to their parents. Kids will say hurtful things to each other, but hearing your family isn’t “real” sounds pretty devastating. Thanks guys! This after school special brought to you by the United Colors of Oplinger!
It was inspired by this article, written by an adoptee who wanted to communicate what it felt like to hear about adoption outside of the context of her parents.
Adoption doesn’t touch every family. On our adoption applications, we had to talk about any adoption we had previously experienced in a different context. We hadn’t. But our family now impacts people at school, in our families, and everywhere we go. As one science teacher told me,
Your family is genetically impossible. It’s hard not to notice!
I worry sometimes that we celebrate adoption too much. But we are visibly an adoptive family, and our greatest joy was brought to us through this process that starts in pain and lives on in love and gratitude. We live that celebration every day, and every time we answer a question that is respectfully asked. People have said stupid things, and probably will for the rest of our lives. But 99% of what we hear in the world as a family is beautiful, and the people we care about celebrate adoption with us as we fiercely love these children together.
November is Adoption Awareness month. That had no meaning to me before we met our children. I understood the mechanics of adoption, but didn’t understand its heart. As you read these words, please take a moment to think about what it’s like for our kids when they get asked difficult questions and we are not there to give the smooth answers honed by years of practice. Celebrate adoption with us this month, and take a moment to speak about adoption with your kids or grandkids if you have them. Feel free to use us to illustrate your point!
When I posted this on Facebook, someone sent me a message that he considered Dave and I more ‘real’ than biological parents, because of everything we had to do for our kids to even meet them. Someone who hasn’t adopted kids gave me a beautiful way to address the “real” question, at least for a kid old enough to understand what that means. It takes a village, and the people in my hut humbly request help from your hut in telling this story.