Tag Archives: adoption

Mother’s Day 2014

8 May

DSCF0116“I love you, Mom.” My ten year-old wraps her arms tightly around me. I feel her heart beating. “I’m glad I’m not an orphan.” My breath catches.

“I love you, too, Sweetheart.” I wait a moment. I kiss the top of her head. I imagine there will come a day when the top of her head is harder to kiss, but today, she is the perfect height for head-top kissing. “Why are you glad you’re not an orphan?”

“I mean I’m glad I don’t live in an orphanage. I’m glad you’re my mom. You hold my hand when things are hard, and take care of me.” She has stepped back a little, and is looking at me intently. She wants me to feel what she is saying. I do. I feel her. I love her. I smile. My whole heart melts.

“I’m glad I’m your mom, too.”

We talk about orphanages for a couple minutes – our conversation not hard this time, not deep or intense – we talk about people who care for kids in an orphanage, how they are and are not like parents, how many kids live in one space together and eventually, she tests an idea she’s tested on me before. “If you and Mama didn’t adopt me,” she suggests, “I wouldn’t have a family. I might live in an orphanage.”

She’s wrong, but how do I tell her? Before she was allowed to live with us, while we waited for the endless paperwork to clear, she lived with her foster mom. She never lived in an orphanage, and she never would have. It isn’t how the system in Guatemala was set-up. Not the system she was in. But how do I explain? I decide it’s only reassurance she needs today. Her probe for details and information feels different to me; this conversation is all heart. I go with my heart.

“Honey, your birth mom made a plan for you – she made a plan with an adoption agency, to make sure you found a forever family.” I go on to tell her how I feel we were matched intentionally. By spiritual guidance. By hands unseen. She likes this idea. I’ve never said this before, but it’s true. It’s how I see it. She decides – for now – that’s how she sees it, too. We are silent for a stretch, comfortably so.

“What does she look like? My birth mom?”

“We have a picture of her on the side of the fridge,” I remind her.

“Oh, right!” She runs into the kitchen and pulls down the magnetic frame. As I follow her, she is already removing the black and white photo from its hot pink frame. She hesitates. “Should I – I mean, do we –“ I assure her we have another copy of the picture, and I feel her hesitation give way to hope, relief, glee.

“Can I keep this one?”

“Of course!” I tell her.

She scampers off into her room to find a place for her birth mom’s photo right by her bed.

“I love you, Mom,” she says again, an hour later or more, before nestling into her blankets, ready for sleep.

“I love you, too, Precious.”

And there it is – my Mother’s Day complete, and it’s not even Sunday. Yet.

 

Letter to My Girl

27 Sep

Dear Daughter,

Did you wonder last night what I was trying to say? Between the beeps on your iPad and the plucks you made on the thick strings of your cello in that half hour we had together – the half hour when we weren’t eating dinner and you weren’t getting ready for bed – did you wonder what I meant by, “I know”?

Did you notice when I said it, or were you focused on the buttered popcorn we ate for dessert?

I am writing this letter to make my meaning plain.

No, I don’t expect you to read it, not now when you’re nine. I will tell you aloud when we have more attention and time.

What I meant. What I mean. What I know.

I know Ana is your friend, your good friend. I know you like to play dress-up and practice who-knows-what-that-I-won’t-like, and talk about her boy crushes and gossip together about girls and boys in your class. I know some of the kids like to say she’s bad. I know she’s also your friend.

I want to know her better because she is your friend.

I know you’re not fond of math.

I know you don’t want to be the shortest kid in your class.

I know you love Mama and me and you’re glad we’re your parents, but that doesn’t always stop you from getting a sinking feeling when someone recognizes you as the kid in fourth grade with two moms. I know you defend us against kids who say ill-informed things. I know there are times, too, when you stay quiet. I know you can’t stand the horrible guilt you feel when you don’t speak your mind.

I know you love art. I see you developing an artist’s eye.

I know your desire to belong is why you joined your friends’ conversation about the teenage boy we saw wearing short shorts and pink shoes. I know, but it doesn’t mean I won’t call you out for suggesting boys can’t wear pink.

I know you love where you were born.

I know you take pride in your birth country and more pride in the country you live in now. I know you feel a divided loyalty sometimes – tiny maybe, barely a flicker – deep inside. I fear it will grow as you mature, and I want it not to. I want to protect you from this, from feeling the need to decide. You don’t need to decide. You can love and claim both places.

No, I don’t know how. Not yet. I hope we can learn together, as we’ve learned so many things.

I know Karyn is your true home still. I know you will share with her what you will share with no one else – not even Ana – even if you don’t know that yet yourself. I know that when it comes time to decide, if it ever comes time to decide, you will make the right choice – even if you have to try and try and try again.

I know you want to make us proud. I know you want to make yourself proud, too.

I know you wish I didn’t know some of these things.

I know you love me. I know I love you.

I know you care for your friends and family. I know you care for yourself. I want you to keep caring, keep loving.

This love and care will take us from here to there. From nine to grown. Happy. Full with life.

I love you very much, my little Peanut, every minute of every day, every step of the way.

With all my heart,

Mom

Quietly Dismissed

6 Sep

BlossomI was dismissed from morning drop-off this week. I mean, not entirely – I still have to drive the car – but as we approached the school on Tuesday morning, my daughter said to me:

“Last time, Mama just dropped me off.”

“Do you want me to just drop you off, or wait with you ’til the bell rings?”

“Just drop me off.”

She had never, ever, ever said this before, but when I stopped the car, my big girl leaned into the front seat to give me a hug and a kiss, pulled on her backpack like an old pro, and hopped out – without a single look back. Admittedly, I was one of only ten parents to linger by the class lines last year – but still! I have to wonder: Were the other nine dismissed, as well?

Happily, I was re-instated on Wednesday – for thirty seconds anyway.

“Come with me,” she said as we rolled to a stop. “It was so cold yesterday!”

“You were cold?”

“Yeah. Weren’t you?” It was over 70 degrees Fahrenheit so no, I was not cold. I was not even remotely cold. “Besides, it was weird. I thought I was early. No one was in line. I couldn’t find my friends for the longest time.” I knew what she meant. A line of backpacks always waited by the fourth grade door, but the children were far away on the playground – half a world from where she stood – I mean, if I take a minute to view it through her eyes. So she invited me to take a bite out of cold – a bite out of her fleeting loneliness – by waiting with her once again. Until the first bell. Or – as it happened – the first friend, at which point she ran off again without a backwards glance – this time, without a hug, without a kiss, without even a brief wave – and I was free to go.

It’s a strangely painful joy, isn’t it? my friend Julie asks on Facebook. Yes. Yes, it is.

Another friend says stories like this make her cry. Her son just started Kindergarten; I understand.

But here is what I know:

My girl is confident. She has friends. A lot of friends, even if she chooses to play with only one or two each day.

She loves her moms. She loves her sister. She loves her cousins, her aunties, her uncles and grandparents, near and far. Family is important to her. We are her base, her launching pad, her support. She wouldn’t trade us for all the world.

Her heritage is important, too.

She walks taller this year – now that she’s been to Guatemala, now that she’s begun fourth grade, now that she sees friends every day, now that we’ve spent two consecutive weeks together as a family, all four of us, now that it’s September, now that it’s Fall – or just: Now. She walks taller than she did before.

So I celebrate. I celebrate arriving at school and having her leap out of my car, run onto the playground and cross the new turf towards the fourth grade door. I celebrate that she is where she needs to be, exactly where she is, today.

And if I cry a little sometimes because the intimacy of early childhood is shifting? The cheering in my head is still louder than my tears and I know, in the long run, it’s this confidence, this new-found independence that will guide who she becomes. I am bursting with pride to witness this – to witness her – blossom.

So I may cry, and commiserate quietly with the people who love her, and with moms who know how it is. I may. I do. And that’s okay.

But the Mayan Guatemalan children in the lakeside village where we recently stayed are free to roam the avenues between school and chores. And our girl, in so many ways, has chosen upon our return home to stretch her own legs and push her own limits, so she can roam the avenue, too.

She’s writing a bio now. It’s required as part of the fourth grade. Right on schedule, right on time, she’s deciding how to describe herself to the world. She asked me for the name of the hospital where she was born. She asked me how much she weighed. We’re lucky. We have all this written down.

She decided to learn the cello this year, too – my small girl, whose heart is so deep. She worried for days about this choice, fearing the cello would be too big. But they come, it seems, in a quarter size. She is elated. And I can’t wait.

I can’t wait to hear her play. With strength. Forte. With feeling. I can’t wait to hear how her next verse sounds.

Fourth grade. Big girl. I can’t wait to hear her play.

Guatemala: With Words

30 Aug

Family Photo San Pedro Aug 2013I expected our trip to Guatemala, our first trip back since we adopted Miss E, to be challenging. I anticipated daily explosions – emotional outbursts – born of too-tight quarters, a lack of Spanish language skills in two of us, our dependence on translation by the other two, and most obviously, I imagined this odyssey to my daughter’s birth country would set off fireworks inside us all.

I was wrong.

This was quite possibly the smoothest, warmest, most beautiful family vacation I’ve ever had.

Ever.

This isn’t to say we avoided every possible conflict. This isn’t to say we spent nine days holding hands and squeezing one another with overwhelming love-hugs, our lips turned up in smiles without pause – but WE WERE AMAZING. Yes. I will brag on us all. Miss E was the very best nine-year-old traveler I’ve ever had the pleasure of traveling with – yes, even (especially) when her fever crept past 103 one frightening night. (She is completely fine now, finished her antibiotics with not a trace of illness left.) Grace’s ideas — like a 7 a.m. swim in the middle of three volacanoes in a place of peace in an off-beat area one simple boat-ride away from where we slept — her ease with us all and with herself, her Spanish fluency, her flexibility, her curiosity about unfamiliar things – impressed me and touched me, endeared her to me. Deeply. It’s been years since we spent so much time all together. And KellySue, who handled our money, our lodging, our transportation, who was an endless font of ideas for where we might explore? She rocks my world. Daily.

In a good way. 🙂

Now I don’t have a coherent story of our being there – for me, these things take time (that is, if they come together coherently at all, they do not come together right away), but here are some glimpses, according to my pen on the page in those rare moments when I stopped JUST BEING long enough to write:

August 14

Our trip so far:

  • Rooster alarm – a ring tone, not the real thing – awake for the day by 3:00 a.m.
  • Piled into a cab by quarter to 4:00. In the morning.
  • Cuban breakfast in Miami and a new camera from the airport shop because – no – I do not want to whip out my camera-phone in the middle of a Guatemalan market.
  • Miss E sleeping in the breakfast booth beside me.
  • Facebook
  • Changing dollars for quetzales, trying to get a handle on the exchange rate and mistaking a giant pile of bills for the quetzales we were getting back (#SillyAmericans) – making the bank agent laugh.
  • KellySue and her Angry Birds
  • Grace’s muted eye roll
  • The colors, the beauty of takeoff – both times – rising above the clouds over Chicago, the skyline, the towers, the red-pink-gold of dawn as the sun crested swiftly – too soon for my phone to turn on (and the new camera still in its’ box, stowed away) – breathtaking.
  • Then lifting off from Miami over the water, the generous shades of blue green turquoise aquamarine, boats leaving white wakes in the water miles and miles below, rocks and algae, green shores… and then up in the sky beside me, my girls on either side with their iPad and iPad mini screens – Percy Jackson, Breaking Bad – and me with a book called “Bloom,” subtitled “finding beauty in the unexpected,” an honest memoir by the mom of a child with Down Syndrome. All of this makes me (breaks me) open.
  • Remembering our last trip to Guatemala nine years ago – to bring home our baby, our love, our joy. Remembering dinner in Antigua before endless days in a Guatemala City hotel with occasional day trips to a giant market, to the Embassy, to dinner. The glimpses we had of the country then, I recall in something like snapshots through the haze of becoming a mom – the abundance and amazement. Watching my girl for hours, mesmerized, looking up sometimes to share the love, to notice where we were. In a hotel. Sitting on the floor.
  • Flying through the air today back to our baby’s birth country.

August 15

She’s nine now, lying on my bed – after giggles and a chat, after dizzy spells in the restaurant, two hours or more of rain, a new hand-sewn perrito dancing along the blankets, my new shoulder bag, a lovely beautiful day and an adventuresome boat ride.

August 17

A day of tiny mishaps and high emotion, snippiness, hunger, picky eating, a sprained wrist, and high-arch shoe inserts soaked through in the rainstorm. My first zip line.

Zipping across the canyon blew my mind.

Today, Miss E wishes desperately for the familiar. She is shocked by the freedom and responsibility of her Mayan Guatemalan peers.

P1000236“Everyone here looks like me,” she says.

She surprises, them, too, as much as they surprise her. They watch her with the camera, observing her attire, her hippie-tourist, tie-dyed t-shirt, her deeply dark hair which is not pulled back from her face, her eyes, her round bronze cheeks.

“That is the name of my sister,” one artisan tells our family, making friends with us to sell her bracelets and bags.

All I can think to do with this hour we have before our next excursion is: Eat, sleep, or shop.

August 18

How do I catalog my adventures in real-time?

What to say about the tuk tuks, the motorbikes, the relaxed safety standards, two children dressed alike in Mayan dress, one three years old and the other more like ten, and an eight year old nearby, clearly connected to them, laughing with them, maybe their sister, dressed in a turquoise tank top, sequined, with black skinny pants and black flats? By her attire and her likeness to my daughter, she could have been a student back home.

I want to tell the women we meet – when they ask about Miss E – is she mine? is she Kelly’s? – that she’s theirs, too, but how do you say this in Spanish and have your meaning clear? Layers of meaning. Layers of belonging. Because she is ours. And she is theirs, too. Both.

I don’t know that I can explain this in English either.

How do I write about the young children peddling their bracelets, that feeling of overwhelm when they’re all flocking around, and our new traveling friend who pays each of them something small just because? Or my reaction – a brief smile, a quick glance, no real engagement – my reaction, which I’m not proud of?

[By then, we’d met Tania. We talked and played, and it rained, and Miss E got sick, and we loved our time, all of it, but I didn’t write.] 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Days Later – Back Home

We loved where we were – with its’ tin roofs and luscious green, with public boats and people mixing – locals, tourists, jeans and Mayan dress – effortlessly, simply – all ages, all of us taking it in.

How do I describe our return to the States, to so much STUFF, knowing that in a few more days, this will all feel normal again – this here, this life, this… microwave?

My girl raises her head and grins ear to ear each time her Aunties ask, “How was your trip?” It was right for us to go.

And our new friends! Totally brought our trip to life. Jenna, our hostess, and Tania, our traveling companion for a day… Jenna’s dogs, Tania’s tales, and Casimiro, our guide the day Tania invited us to come along. The day we decided to go back and swim. Early. By the hot springs.

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Thank you, Kim and Anna and Jen and Sadie and Cindy and Loretta and Tania and Jenna for all your ideas about where to go and what to do.

Panajachel. Iximche. Santa Catarina.

And thank you to our friends and family who responded to Facebook photos and called and emailed when we got back, who brought us donuts and fruit, who invited us to dinner, and who’ve loved us each step of the way.

We are deeply grateful.

xo

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Image

Wordless Wednesday: Guatemala Trip

28 Aug

1 Guate P10004421b Guate IMG_20130815_094815_4412 Guate P10004483 Guate P1000444

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Primary Photographer: Kelly Fondow ❤

And we’re off

9 Aug

“Mami, do you think I’m from another planet?”

“No, Honey. I think you’re from this planet.”

“I’m really strong.”

“Yes, you are. You’re very strong.” In our last house, she had to open and close the huge, heavy sliding glass door for all her friends when they came over. No one but her could make it budge. She’s carried my computer bag, our suitcases, giant chairs across the living room. I am not just pumping up her self-esteem. She is strong.

“Stronger than my friends.”

These days, she gives everything that comparative PUNCH. I don’t know how to break her of the habit, and I wrack my brain, trying to remember if I passed through a similar stage. Am I passing through it even now?

“And I’m short.”

“Just wait ’til we go to Guatemala, Sweetheart. We’ll see a lot of people your size.” She is suddenly quiet, pondering this. My nine year-old. She knows this; she’s heard it, but she may not believe it.

Because this is how she looked the last time we were in Guatemala — when we met each other for the first time — this is how she looked when we left:

Miss E 2004

And this is how she looks now:

Miss E 2013

What she knows about her birth country is what she’s read in books. Or heard from the people around her, the people who love her, the people who live here. In the United States.

But this Wednesday, we get on a plane – Kelly, Grace, Miss E, and Me – for a family trip to Guatemala. We are staying by Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful places in the world. She will finally have context, sense memory, her own impressions of this place: Where she was born, where blood relatives live, this place with people who look (who feel? who think? who act?) like her.

We will not meet her birth family. Not this time. Not until later, and only then if it’s something she wants.

Instead – together – we will learn the place a little, and feel the lake breeze, and mix with people who’ve lived there all their lives, and some who (like us) are visiting. We will drink coffee and walk and play games with each other at night sometimes. We will see people my daughter’s size, and we will talk – long conversations in small bits – while we are there.

We will share. Privately. Publicly. Slowly, I expect, when we come back home.

Or maybe the words will come all in a rush.

Each of us in our own time.

Filling in detail. Adding color.

Finding our footing, our phrasing, and our place as we go.

Miss E 2013 tree

The simple truth is: We don’t yet know.

while time waits

24 Apr

Time waits at night sometimes

with our books open side-by-side,

my reading glasses perched

partway down my nose,

my daughter absorbed

in the adventures of Greek gods

and goddesses and humor.

*

Time waits at night with

bookmarks firmly placed

between our pages.

*

Time waits tonight

while I sink into pillows.

She lays her head

next to mine. It’s been

months now since she chose

to lay this way with me.

Usually, I sit briefly

in her pink chair

while she settles in.

I’m lucky if she allows me a kiss

before I go.

*

Tonight, she reaches for my hand

and holds it between hers.

“Am I perfect? Am I

The kid you wanted?”

she asked me earlier.

“You ARE the kid I want.

I can’t even remember

what I wanted way back when

because I have you, and

YOU are the kid I want every day,”

I told her. We are both quiet now.

*

Time waits tonight

while she holds my hand

to her cheek

long enough

for both of us

to settle in

and then

she allows me a kiss,

blows me one in return

even, as I stand.

*

And so the night,

this deep sleeping night,

begins. While time waits.

*   *   *   *   *

National Poetry Writing Month:

30 poems in 30 days.

a brick, a boat, and something to calm me down

10 Aug

“Can’t you put a brick on her head?” my dad asked this week. To keep her from growing. My daughter.

My parents said this about me daily for years.  “Can’t we put a brick on her head?”  It wasn’t meant to be harsh.  It was a statement of desire. Of longing. Of loss. Time moves so quickly that I suppose by now I’ve grown tall.  I don’t know.  Would 5’6″ be considered tall?

Friday night, my daughter attended her first sleepover party.  No cousins, no parents, no muss, no fuss.  We arrived at the house, she handed her gift to the parental host, scampered downstairs to a room decorated in balloons, and was immediately invited to dance with her giggly friends.  “Bye, Mom!” she said to us both – my partner and I – dismissing us with hardly a glance.  We were clearly free to head back upstairs.  And out the front door.

Saturday night, she opened a book on African-American heritage and asked me about the Amistad.  We discussed slave ships for the first time.  And what it means to revolt.  I didn’t offer any full color descriptions, but she understood enough.  Kidnapping. Water. Darkness. No chance of escape. Swords. Attack. Death. None of it okay, but all of it true.  She’s beginning to see how life sometimes goes far beyond unfair.

“What am I, Mami?” she asked as we read.

“Do you mean, are you Black?” I asked.

She shook her head as if I should know better by now and said, “No, Mami, I mean what AM I?  What do you call it?”

“Latina. Native American. Guatemalan. Mayan.”  Trying to break it down, going through the words we’ve been using for years.

“You mean mixed?”  I could see she was having these conversations now with people other than me.

“No, not really.  Native American – more specifically Mayan.  Latina – more specifically Guatemalan.”

“Oh.”  I knew I was fumbling, and she didn’t fully understand. She is so many things. Someday, she’ll have enough information to define herself.  Until then, we’ll search together for the right words.

Sunday night, she opened “The Polar Express” and declared that Santa wasn’t real. Are you serious, Child? We chatted a long time about that.  Finally she said, “I want you to tell me the TRUTH, Mami.”  She agreed not to announce it over the loudspeaker in Target or spill the beans with all her friends, some of whom certainly hold a different opinion on the matter.

Can we just cut out paper dolls for a minute, please?

Now she wants to go back and inventory every Santa gift she’s ever received.  “Who gave me that?” she wants to know.  “Was it you?  Was it Mama?  This was really from Grandma, wasn’t it?”

Monday morning, she asked me, “Who made up Santa?” followed quickly by “When were the first babies born?”  I hadn’t been awake ten minutes.  I was still in the shower.  Without coffee.  In other words, I was not at my best.

By 8:15 a.m., I am walking with purpose through the main part of my office, in search of a colleague with kids older than mine.  I do, after all, work for a non-profit that’s all about moms and babies, families and communities, parenting, modeling, finding power and offering support. Every single colleague with kids older than mine is gone.  Busy.  Out of the office.  Vacationing or holding meetings off-site.  The nerve.

So Monday night, I eat three ice cream bars.  They help me think.  They calm me down.

And now my daughter wants me to explain what I mean by the word, “Mature.”

Eating three ice cream bars at one time? That’s not it.

I don’t know, honey, but you’re figuring it out. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Growing. Just keep being who you are.

What’s Best

27 Jul

“Remember the boy? And the bird?” my daughter asked.

“The boy in your foster family?” I replied.  I don’t know how I caught her train of thought, but I’m glad I did.

“Yeah,” she answered.  “And the bird.”

“You loved that bird,” I remembered what her foster mother told us in Guatemala City, about her staring and staring at that bird every day, a story we repeated for her over and over again until slowly, she began to feel this story as her own, this one precious detail of her life before coming to live with us.

“Why did I love that bird so much?”

“Your foster mom told us watching that bird was one of your favorite things. Maybe because it was colorful. I don’t know.”  It’s not much of an answer, but it’s all I have.

*     *     *     *     *

Adoption has come up a lot in our family lately.  I’m not sure why – if something set my daughter to digging again, if she’s simply getting older and cycling through another layer of thought and questions about who she is and where she comes from, if it stems from conversations with her adopted friends, or if I’m just attuned to the topic of adoption more than I’m attuned to, say, the topic of duck tape creations or vampires.

*     *     *     *     *

“When are we going to Guatemala?” she asked.

“We want to go, very much,” I assured her.  “We did plan to go this summer.”

“I know.”  The accusation in her voice has dwindled in the weeks since we first told her we couldn’t go.

“We have enough money for the trip,” my partner chimed in. “We’ve been saving.”

“But there’s too much violence right now,” I explained.

“You mean guns?” my daughter asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

*     *     *     *     *

In December 2011, the New York Times reported, “The increasing drug and organized-crime violence in Central America has led the Peace Corps to pull out of Honduras and stop sending new volunteers to Guatemala and El Salvador,” although the Peace Corps website still lists Guatemala as “open” to volunteers.

My partner and I know four people who’ve traveled from the U.S. to Guatemala in the past year, each of them returning with passion for the place, tales of awesome beauty, kindness and generosity, recommendations of where we should go, and yet each story has been sprinkled reluctantly with violence – gunshots, death.  How do I reconcile myself to the risk?

I don’t know when things will change, and our little girl needs so deeply to be there and see what there is to see.

*     *     *     *     *

“Why couldn’t she keep me?” she asked me.  It’s like she’s been reading my books for adoptive parents, she’s following the scripts so closely.

“She didn’t have enough money to feed a baby,” I answered. It’s one variation of a response I’ve used for years.

Enough money.  But this time, as the words leave my mouth, I realize there’s a strong chance this story line will shape her relationship to money forever.

Money and Guatemala.  Guatemala and money.  I do not yet have words to untangle these threads of thought, but I’d better find them soon if I’m going to be prepared for my daughter’s excavation of truth – whichever direction it turns – about poverty and adoption, foreign policy, where we all stand, the life she’s living now and the life she might have lived if her birth mother had money enough to feed a baby.

There are days when I do not feel equipped to hold such responsibility.

“She wanted a good life for you.”

That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it?  For all of us.  For all the moms and dads in the adoption equation.  Wanting what’s best for our kid.

Wanting. What’s best. For our kid.

What’s best?

Sometimes it isn’t clear. But still, we move forward the best we know how.

Where’s Lilac?

20 Jul

“Do you have a creative mind tonight, Mami?”

It’s gotten to be a regular request, this nighttime storytelling.  I kneel by my daughter’s bed, we talk briefly, quietly, sometimes intimate, sometimes silly, sometimes simple conversations about whether to wear short-shorts or long-shorts the next day, and sometimes more complicated conversations like why she’ll need braces when she’s older, why she never had a Nuk, or how we react when one of our friends is mean to another.  Sometimes we don’t talk at all.

And lately, she asks for a made-up story.

* * * * *

 “Am I older, Mami?” she asked last night.

“Yes, sweetheart.  You are.” I gave her a kiss. I brushed her cheek lightly with the backs of my fingers. I knew what she meant. She’d gotten dressed, brushed her teeth and hair, washed her face, taken her vitamins, rubbed sunscreen all over her body, and fed the dogs without a single reminder from either of us. She gave my partner a majestic foot rub, said please and thank you in all the right places, mostly, and apologized for each slip-up in manners without prompting.  All morning and all night.

My girl.

My girl, who at six months old in a hotel lobby in Guatemala City, could hold my enraptured gaze for hours just by wiggling a finger, raising one corner of her mouth, meeting my eyes, cooing, because she was my baby lying on a blanket and when I looked at her, everything around us fell away.  Suddenly, I was a mom.  I was her mom, and she was mine.

“I’m not your kid,” she said to me last week for the first time.  “You’re not my mom.”  She may have even tried to kick me. I don’t remember.  She was, I think, the angriest she’s ever been.  She had eaten all the quesadillas on the table, after I’d warned her to stop and save some for the other kids.  As a consequence, she was not allowed to join the rest of our friends and family in a quick swim in the lake after dinner.  Doling out consequences on vacation is a drag.

“You’re my kid, honey, and no matter who gave birth to you, I’m your mom.”  She wouldn’t hold my gaze.  She wouldn’t hear me. Definitely then, she tried to kick me and I stepped back.

“I don’t even care if she’s strict,” she screeched once everyone else was outside – except her Mama, my partner, her other mom, who was washing dishes nearby in the kitchen.  “I want to live with her. She’s my mom, not you.”  Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad.

“We’re both your moms, in different ways,” I finally said.  (Clearly, I wouldn’t be swimming either.)

“People can only have one mom!  I mean –“ I knew what she meant.  Mostly, she was mad.  Not just about the swimming.  But being raised by two moms – that wasn’t the trouble.  That wasn’t her point, and even though she might have thrown me to a pride of hungry lions right then if she’d seen any, she wanted me to at least know… that.

I started reading a book after we got home – not about adoption, although I have shelves of adoptive parenting books at this point – but about talking and listening.  Simple communication between parents and kids.  It’s called, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.”  I love this book.  It starts off by demonstrating how our kids feel when we deny their feelings, and how many ways we deny them in the course of everyday life.  It’s eye-opening.

I’m still in the first chapter, but I’ve begun rolling out this book in daily dialogue and now my partner is getting foot rubs while I read aloud from a fairy journal – and while it may be just the way the stars lined up this week, and while it may have been my daughter’s choice, too, after her outburst, and while it may be just one of those awesome unpredictable flukes that brings our family into synchronicity for a time, I do wonder if this book – or even just its title – has something to do with my daughter’s new attitude, her new behavior, this sudden maturity, our ability to sit together as a family and simply enjoy being who we are together.

* * * * *

“Am I older, Mami?”

“Yes, sweetheart.  You are.”

“Do you have a creative mind tonight, Mami?”

“Yes,” I told her.

“Thank you!  It’ll be good. I know it will.  It’s okay if it’s short. Or stupid.  I’ll like it.”

I told her a story about a baby calf named Lilac who loved to prance and sing, and Lilac’s good friend George, a tiny dog who could fit into a human palm.

“What about a kid’s palm?”

“He fit into two kid hands, like this.  Well, maybe one and a half of yours.  Your hands are getting big now.”

“No. Two of my hands, too. See?”

Okay.  Two hands, then.  But not for long.

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