Monday, August 24, 2009

Being a Real Mom

Today my 6 year old was asked if my partner was her "real mom". Maddie responded with, "My real mom is sick and when she gets better, I'll go live with her."

Wow. Nobody teaches you how to answer these questions. There aren't any easy answers, especially when you adopt through CPS. We have fostered children over the years and explained to Maddie the parents of these children are sick and we're going to take care of them for a while until the parents feel better. I thought it was such a good answer and then it bites me in the ass today.

Obviously we will have a talk tonight about the issue of being a real mom and the idea Maddie will someday go to live with her real mom again. It breaks my heart to think about how much Maddie must miss that connection. It makes me want to cry to know I can't replace the connection. I can love my daughter to the moon and back every single day of her life; I can take care of her when she is sick; show up for every basketball game, dance recital and first day of school; I can wait up with a light on to hear about every date; I can drive her to college; and somehow give her away in marriage, but I can never replace the connection she shared for 7 months with a woman named Vanessa who wasn't prepared to be a mother.

My sweet baby is having adoption fantasies, wondering "what if" in her little head. I would have never known this unless we overheard a conversation like the one today. Maddie is so strong willed. She only tells you what she wants you to know. We used to naively think she was unaffected by her adoption because she came to live with us when she was 9 days old. Dr. Steve has now drilled it into our heads that no matter what age a child is adopted or placed with a family, they have already been traumatized by the separation experience. I could see it in our other kids, but not in Maddie.

So what do I want Maddie to know when we talk about this tonight?

1) I love you no matter what
2) It is ok to wonder what if and dream about your birth mom
3) It is ok to feel sad
4) It will not hurt me to answer your questions about Vanessa and it is ok to talk about her
5) I love you no matter what. Nothing you can do or say could make me stop loving you or change the fact that I am your mother too.

Today is just another day in the world of adoption. It definitely isn't for the faint of heart and I wouldn't have my life any other way. Maddie has always been the Guinea pig by the mere fact she is the oldest. I am sure my parents "experimented" with me in similar ways. I know I will be better prepared for McKenzie and Morgan's questions when it comes time for them to wonder what if ...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bringing Down the Braids

Well, the time has come to say good bye to the braids. I had Madison's long, curly locks braided before vacation on July 10. I even put the beads in myself! We have experienced 4 weeks of stress free mornings without the headache of combing hair, but this is the weekend when the braids must come down. Maddie loves her hair in braids, but has absolutely no desire to sit through the process again - ugh! She did really well for the first 2 hours of the process, but fell apart in hour 3 with plenty of tears, whines, and generally foul attitude. McKenzie sits through the process much better. Of course, McKenzie has 1/4 of the hair that Maddie does at this point in life.

So long braids! So long easy morning! So long purple and white beads! I hope to see you again very soon!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Birth Parents

I was sitting on the sofa in our game room loving on my kiddos before bed. I told Madison how thankful I am she is my daughter, how thankful I am her birthmom brought her into the world.

"Did my birth mom and dad die?" she asks.

"No they didn't."

"Are they still at the hospital?" she wants to know.

"No, they aren't."

"Do you know where they are?"

"No I don't know where they are. I know they were very young and they weren't ready to be parents. I know they wanted you to have the best possible life so they prayed to God for a family who could give you what they couldn't. I know they wanted you to have a nice home with plenty of clothes and food and diapers. And you have that in our home."

"Couldn't you just give them some of your money?" she wondered.

"No, that isn't how it happened and it takes more than money to raise a baby." My heart is racing thinking what the next question might be. Fortunately for me, that was the end.

"Can I wear this head band to day camp tomorrow?" she asks.

"You sure can, baby."

As many times as I have "practiced" answering the adoption questions, I am still scared to death the entire conversation because we didn't adopt through a nice, pretty, private agency where young girls turn in their time of need. We chose to adopt through CPS which means our children were taken and not given. How do you explain poverty and neglect to a 6 year old? How do I understand the complexities of it myself at 36? How do I explain the end result of multiple generations of poverty, drugs, little to no education, and neglect when I don't even understand?

I think the scariest questions my parents feared were about sex. And I am sure my heart will race through that conversation as well. My family has so many issues to discuss and questions to answer that innocent inquiries about sex seem sorta easy in comparison. I remember where I was and what we were doing when my mom and I had the sex conversation. For years I thought it was only done to make a baby. I don't think we ever talked about it again. When Madison was born, I decided I wanted there to be on going conversations in our home about race, adoption, and sex. Of course, I made that decision before Madison could talk, having no idea how terrifying those conversations would be! I don't want her to remember where she was and what we were doing when she found out A) she is black and I am not B) she is adopted C) she's gonna want to have sex.

So why do I want to cry after having this open and honest exchange with Maddie about her birth parents? I am the luckiest woman in the world to have this child as my daughter. Why am I sad? I am sad because someone had to lose for me to win. I am sad because my daughter is verbalizing questions that will haunt her entire life. I am sad because deep down inside I know my daughter lost a piece of herself when she lost the connection to her birth mother and I would rather swallow glass than see my baby hurt. But this is life and this is how her life has played out. I can't change it. I can only help her through it. Lord, give me and every other adoptive mother in the world the strength and the compassion to help our babies make peace with their beginnings. Wondering "what if" does not lesson the enormity of my role in her life....Right?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hard Questions

It was a typical Friday afternoon and I was picking up my 6 year old from summer day camp. I was reading a notice about the outing for the following week when I heard my daughter talking to her friend. I didn't know the friend and it became obvious very quickly the friend didn't know our family either.

"She can't be your mom! Your skin don't match!" the new friend shrieked.

I turned around to see another brown 6 year old standing next to my own, whose face was now a mile long. My heart broke. I could see the embarrassment written all over my daughter. We have talked about these moments and even practiced with her what to say when someone questions the make up of our family. She knows that families come in all shapes and shades. She knows we all match on the inside even when our outsides don't. None of this mattered on a Friday afternoon in August at the YMCA summer day camp.

I quickly introduced myself to the new friend. Her father walked in the door seconds after her comment and I introduced myself to him as well. I asked the usual get-to-know-you-questions like where do you go to school, what grade are you in, do you live near by, maybe we can have a play date sometime soon. I was in saleswoman mode, selling the concept of my family to this one.

It didn't help much. Madison just stared at the ground. I wanted to throw up. I know you know what this feels like. I know you know how much it hurts a mother to watch her child in pain. We loaded into the mini van and headed home. I tried to talk about how she felt when the new friend questioned how I could be Madison's mother, but my baby wasn't talking. She would only nod her head in response to my questions.

Yes, she was embarrased.
Yes, the conversation made her feel bad.
Yes, she wished I was brown instead of pink.

I know this isn't the first time and certainly won't be the last time someone in my house is going to wish I was brown. Life would be so much easier if we all matched. Unfortunatly, that is never going to happen no matter what I do or say. Kindergartners are very accepting of differences, but I am not so naive to think life as a transracial family will stay so simple. When we first considered adoption, I thought love was enough. Period. Love could conquer all and fix everything. Six years later I know otherwise. While love is essential to any family, it takes more to make it through the hard times.

I love my children more than I could even explain. I love my children so much it scares me sometimes. I make lots of mistakes with the very best of intentions. I wish I could take away her pain when someone makes her feel less than ideal. I can't take it away. So instead I try to show her how to handle these situations. In hindsight (and with a little help from my pink parent brigade), I wish I had turned that experience into a teaching moment for the new friend. I wish I had addressed the confusion about my being Madison's mom head on. I wish I could have showed Madison how to address the question directly rather than just try to win a friend. I wasn't ready this time, but I will be ready the next time. And there will be a next time. This I know for sure.