There are two reasons for that.
First, I didn’t want to offend those of a more squeamish nature.
Second, I didn’t want to embarrass Cheeky.
After a couple of months of thinking it over, though, I realized that what happened that day isn’t about embarrassment. It is about bonding, and bonding is always worthy of discussion.
So, Cheeky, if you happen to scan the Internet and find this story (ten or fifteen years from now), I hope you can laugh about your part in your day as much as I am now able to laugh at my part in my day thirty-some years ago. And I hope you remember how we came full circle the day your grandparents were here. How, suddenly, all the stuff about birth mom and adoption and genetics were thrown out the window as we acknowledged that we are, indeed, very much alike.
And, now that I’ve covered that base, I want to talk about puddles of the grossest kind.
See, I was a bed wetter. My poor parents, having never suffered from such problems when they were kids, didn’t understand that a child could actually dream about getting up and using the bathroom and then wake up and discover….
But, that’s how it happened. Night after night after night. I think I was maybe six when I finally stopped wetting the bed, but that’s another story.
The story of that day begins with me waking up in a puddle…again. I can remember it vividly. I was five, and my sister was fifteen months older. We were standing in the room we shared, and I was crying because I was afraid I was going to get in trouble.
“Don’t worry,” my sister said. “We’ll just take off the sheets and hide them. Mom will never know.” (Not the first or last bit of trouble she’s led me into).
Idolizing my sister like I did and, of course, not wanting to get in trouble, I quickly agreed to the plan.
I can still remember stripping off those smelly sheets. We hid them in our closet. With our toys and good clothes. Not the best plan for keeping my puddle a secret, but, hey, we were five and six.
Don’t ask me what happened after that.
I don’t remember getting caught, but I’m sure we were.
What I remember is that day, that moment. Me and my sister hiding the evidence of my of unintentional crime.
I always figured that eventually I’d get payback for it. But kid number one came along and had no problem with bed wetting. Kid number two, three and four didn’t either. Kid number five came to me at seven, so I don’t know if it was ever an issue for her, but there’s been no issue since she’s been with us.
Nope. Five kids and never a puddle. Not even once.
Until the day we went to Green Bluff with my parents. They were in town from Maryland. You’ve probably seen the photos. Cheeky loved my parents and they loved her, and all was right with the world.
Only, I forgot to ask Cheeky if she wanted to use the bathroom before we returned home, and she hadn’t been to the bathroom since we’d eaten breakfast and it was almost three in the afternoon. Cheeky is eight. I shouldn’t have to ask, right? But I’ve realized in the year and four months I’ve known her, that she tends to get excited and she forgets to go, and then she’ll come to me doing the dance and we find a bathroom posthaste. Only it isn’t really possible to do the dance when you’re strapped in a booster in a minivan, right? And it’s not easy to find a bathroom, either. So, I should have asked before we left Green Bluff, but I didn’t.
Three kids piled in the van with me. Two went with Grammy and Pop-pop. Cheeky was alone in the far back seat of the van, humming and singing like she always does.
AND, the twenty-minute drive turned into a forty-minute one when my father decided to take a detour.
Cheeky pipes up, “Mommy, I really need to go to the bathroom.”
“Don’t worry,” I reply. “We’ll be home in just a minute.”
And we are. Three kids pile out of the van while my parents pull into the driveway in their rental car.
Cheeky doesn’t seem in any kind of hurry. Nope. She is meandering as she likes to do, so I almost don’t notice the spot on her pants. When I do, I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
“Cheeky, ” I say. “Did you wet your pants?”
And she looks at me like she doesn’t know what I’m talking about (her fail-safe response when she is afraid she’s going to get in trouble).
So, I turn her around and her pants are soaked. SOAKED.
“You did.” I say. “Did it happen when you got out of the van?”
And she looks at me mutely, so I march over to the van, and I climb in and I lift her booster and…..I find the puddle. The first in my fifteen year career as a mother. Right there in my van, dripping everywhere.
And my parents and my other kids are standing there as I lift the dripping booster out of the car, and no one seems to know what to do or say, and there is little Cheeky looking at me as if she has no idea how the puddle got there.
So, I unlock the house and let everyone in, and then I pull Cheeky aside and tell her to go in the house, change her clothes and come back to help me clean up the puddle. I tell my parents I’ll be a few minutes, forbid my other kids from coming outside, and I gather the cleaning supplies. Cheeky comes out a few minutes later. Wearing a clean outfit and her “I don’t know how that happened” expression, she approaches me.
My mind is racing with a million different ways to handle this thing that has happened, but I focus on the one truth I can’t ignore. The child planned to go in the house, put on clean clothes and never ever tell me what she’d done.
“Cheeky,” I say. “When did you plan to tell me that you’d peed in the car?”
She stares at me blankly, and I know she is frantically trying to come up with an answer that won’t get her into trouble. I hand her a pile of paper towel, and we both climb into the car to start mopping up, and I wait and wait and wait for her to speak, but she doesn’t.
So, finally, I say, “Accidents happy, Cheeky. I don’t get upset about accidents. People spill things and drop things and bump into things and break things and sometimes people even forget they need to go to the bathroom until it’s too late. I’ll never get upset with you for those things. You know what upsets me, though? It upsets me that you didn’t feel like you could tell me about peeing in the car. It upsets me that you weren’t truthful about what happened.”
And, she is silent, but her face gets red and big tears start sliding down her cheeks.
At this point, my parenting skills are in question. At least in my mind.
This is an issue of trust, right? She didn’t trust me enough to tell me.
Or is it actually just a childish lie of omission, her fear overtaking her good sense?
Before I can think better of it, I say the one thing that keeps rolling through my head, “What did you plan to do the next time we got in the van? Were you going to sit in your stinky wet seat? And what about your clothes? Were you going to put them in the dirty clothes basket? Did you think I wouldn’t see them there?”
And, she looks at me, this kid with her big tears and soft blue eyes, and she says, “I was going to leave them in the bathroom, and then maybe me and Sassy could wash them.”
It’s at that moment, I am reminded of my puddle. I think of my big sister with her strawberry blond curls and her skinny little body, standing there in the bedroom, patting me on the back, saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll just take the sheets off and hide them, and Mom will never know.”
And I imagine my older and much more savvy red-headed daughter gathering her sister’s clothes and shoving them into the washing machine, and I think about how history repeats itself. I think about how my life has come full circle, and it’s finally payback time.
And, finally, I think something else. Just a little whisper, but it gets louder as I show Cheeky how to spray carpet cleaner onto the seat, as we work together to clean up the mess.
Just like me.
That’s what I’m thinking.
She is just like me.
And, I put a hand on Cheeky’s arm, and I look into her charming little face, and I say, “You know what, Cheeky? I have five kids, and two of them are an awful lot like me. Guess which two.”
And she mentions The Professor (yep!) and then her other siblings one by one until the only possibility left is…her.
She frowns a little, and she points at her chest and she says, “Me?”
“Yep.” I say. “As a matter of fact, of all of my kids, you are probably the most like me. You know how I know that?”
And she shakes her head, and I tell her the story of my puddle and my lie and my deep fear of getting in trouble. I tell her about bed wetting and sheet hiding and even about my sister who came up with a plan.
When I am done, Cheeky does something I am not expecting. She throws herself into my arms, and she cries and cries and cries. I think she is crying for all the things she doesn’t have….those biological connections that we adoptive parents sometimes want to pretend are not important, those moments of recognition, of looking at another person and thinking, “We look alike”. That soul deep knowledge of belonging to someone to whom you were born.
Those things, those undefinable, inexpressible longings, they live in our children, I think. No matter how well adjusted, accepting, loving and easy our children are, they have lost what we all take for granted.
We can’t replace that loss. Of course, we can’t.
But I think there are opportunities to build the sense of connection, the feeling of belonging. Every day, in little and small things, we can pile connection onto the relationships we build.
“Remember when…” we might say to our new child, and then recall the moment of meeting, the days following the adoption ceremony, those first tender months of getting to know one another. Building, building, constantly building the idea that they are deeply, irrevocably ours.
“Do you know…?” we might ask, and then tell our children how we loved to draw when we were kids….just like them. How we enjoyed playing with blocks, just like they do. How we loved music….just like them.
Because it matters to them, this idea that we have things in common.
It really does.
I saw that the day of Cheeky’s puddle. Saw how much she longed to be mine. Really and truly and wholly.
And it broke my heart.
But that is the thing about this journey, it is never over. The building and bonding and breaking of hearts, they are part of it all. The opportunities to cement our bonds with our children are present in little and big things every day.
Even in the puddles.
And, Cheeky, if you have found this, and are still reading it, I hope you have always, always felt how deeply and truly mine you are. We really are alike, me and you. Just exactly alike.