Last week, she was keeping me company in the master bathroom while I was putting on my makeup and doing my hair when her face suddenly got all serious and she announced, solemnly, that she missed her foster family.
“I miss my foster family, sooo much! I really want to visit them but you won’t let me and that makes me sad. I feel like I have two hearts thumping in me.” Then she patted her chest to show me where those two hearts were thumping.
It was sweet and touching and I stroked her silky cheek with the back of my hand and told her that I love her two hearts with all of my one heart. Then I gently reminded her that she doesn’t have a foster family.
Yep, she made it all up.
She was never in foster care in China so she clearly didn’t really miss her foster family. And she knows what a foster family is so there’s no confusion about that either. She was merely pretending. She has a beautiful imagination and frequently tells stories with fuzzy edges between reality and fantasy and this was just another story to her. She probably hasn’t even thought about it again but I sure have.
She doesn’t have a foster family but if she’d gotten that one critical little detail right, I almost certainly wouldn’t have questioned her sincerity about the rest of what she said. But maybe I should be skeptical because there’s a pretty hefty price to pay if I get it wrong.
As I write this, she’s playing in the other room and she isn’t sad or mournfully missing anyone or bearing the weighty burden of any aspect of her unfortunate beginnings. And that’s a relief because, even though my intentions are always completely honorable, I have tremendous power to influence how she internalizes some pretty hefty issues. I can make her believe that she’s suffered tragic and unfair losses, that people on the other side of the world cry for her and miss her and think about her every day, that it’s perfectly understandable that she’d miss them too. And even though all that might very well be true, there’s a pretty good chance that she wouldn’t be spending any time thinking about it if I didn’t make a ritual out of putting it under her nose and helping her scrutinize her feelings about it. In other words, I’m careful not to treat my kids like injured baby birds because they might start believing that’s what they are.
I feel like I should end this with some really enlightening tie-up-the-loose-ends way but I can’t do it. I know it’s a hard subject for many adoptive parents to discuss because most of us want to err on the side of caution and that means we’ll risk delving into these issues prematurely because we think doing it early will make the path easier to navigate later. Personally, I don’t recommend that because I’ve seen many instances of kids crying for lost loved ones that they clearly don’t remember. But there must come a time when we need to wade out into these waters with our kids just so they don’t think we’re uncomfortable discussing these topics. I’m not sure what that age is but I know it’s not 5 and a half. Maybe ten? If anyone with older adopted kids has started discussions about “loss”, I’m curious to know how it went.
As always, you can see the everyday happenings of my cheerful little brood on our family blog, here: http://2happy.typepad.com/