Since my daughter’s birthday, I have been thinking long and hard about what she lost to be part of our family. After blogging about it, I received a number of emails asking if I feel guilty for taking my daughter from a loving foster home. The answer to that is complicated. In a perfect world, Cheeky would never have been separated from her biological parents. She would not have been in foster care in a country where family size is mandated by law. She would not have been on the shared list, and she would not have become my daughter.
But this is not a perfect world, and Cheeky’s story, like all of ours, is filled with imperfections and little and big sorrows. That is part of who she is, and to effectively parent my daughter, I must acknowledge it.
There is a picture of my daughter sitting in her first grade classroom in China. It was taken the day my husband and I arrived in Chongqing, just hours before we met Cheeky. She is at the front of the classroom, looking at the camera. My eyes scan the photo each time I look at it. I see the other children – little boys with round cheeks and glossy dark hair cut short, little girls with pigtails or ponytails. And there is my daughter, right at the front of the class, her hair clipped boy-short. She wears a half smile, but I know that she is not happy in the photo, and I think that while I paced a hotel room, sick with dread and fear, she sat in her classroom, filled with the same emotions.
Since Cheeky’s birthday last week, I keep going back to that place and those days when we barely knew each other. Cheeky came to me as a seven-year-old. She walked into my arms on June 22, 2009. There has been no turning back for either of us since then. Cheeky accepted us as easily and quickly as we accepted her, and our story has been one filled with joy and discovery and very little drama. Often, I feel guilty for the ease at which we all transitioned into a family. And then something happens, like the March 31rst phone call between Cheeky and her China Mom, and I am reminded that there has been drama and grief. The fact that there has also been joy does not negate what was lost and does not take away the sorrow of that.
I blogged a few days ago about how it hurt to parent Cheeky. Not because she is a difficult child or because I mourn the time we didn’t have together, but because I cannot give her back what she has lost. As much as I love her, that love can never replace the love of her China family. It should never replace that love.
To feel the truth of that is to understand the paradox of adopting a child from a loving foster home. We know that these children must have a family name to call their own. We know that they need the stability that only a forever family can give. And so we bring them home. We give them the best of ourselves. We pour it into them…all that love and care and acceptance. If we are fortunate, as I have been, our children lap it up, drink it down and thrive. Trust builds, love grows, we move into an easy rhythm of togetherness that is called family.
But, as much as we give and love and accept, there are always pieces of our children’s hearts that belong to other homes and other families.
To sit with Cheeky and talk about how she misses China Mom breaks my heart, the reality of her loss sweeping over me. To not talk about it would break Cheeky’s heart, and so we must look back even as we move forward.
Cheeky’s world has expanded since her years in China. Now, it includes two mothers, two fathers and a host of siblings. On days like today, when Cheeky mentions China family frequently, I boot up my laptop and pull up the photos that China Dad uploaded while we were in China. I sit with my daughter, pointing to the photos, naming the people who were once her entire world, and listening as she tells me stories about a past that we did not share.
“There you are, Cheeky,” I say, “Getting a piggyback ride to the taxi that will bring you to meet us. There you are, waving goodbye. There you are, in the taxi with the ladies from the orphanage.”
There you are….
coming to me, while I am coming to you.
And sometimes, I have to hide my tears.
But Cheeky is never sad when she talks about her China family. She simply wants to look and share and remember, and I must remember with her. No matter the hurt it brings. I cannot give my daughter what she has lost, but I can give her this.
There you are, Cheeky, coming to me while I am coming to you.
That is the triumph of this story. Because there is not simply sorrow at my daughter’s losses, but joy in what we both have found. Two people with separate pasts, separate loves, separate families, looking into each others eyes and realizing they are home.