When we started investigating adoption, one of our greatest concerns was the impact it might have on Abby and Adam – our “bio kids.” We loved our family of four. Through the completely objective lens of all young parents, our kids seemed smarter, nicer, and better looking than all of the other kids at the park or preschool. Everything was working, and it scared us to death that adoption might screw that up… or even worse, that adoption might screw THEM up.
As a side note, I feel obliged to express my dislike for the term “bio kids.” I feel like it somehow implies that my adopted children are not biological… that they are some kind of synthetic creature or cyborg. Since none of my adopted children resemble any character from a Terminator film, we have tried to find more appropriate language to describe our oldest two kids – “The Bigs”, “The Caucasians”, “The Clones”, “The Conceived”, “The Brown Hairs”, etc. In looking for a term that made sense to younger kids, we ultimately settled on the phrases “Tummy Babies” and “Airplane Babies.” We like these descriptions because they are clear without needing to evoke childhood-ruining images of conception or some form of racial profiling.
Having ultimately decided that the calling to adoption was worth the potential costs, we began the hard work of walking our Tummy Babies through the process. We introduced the idea of orphans. We tried to paint a picture of the world outside of suburban America. We talked about God’s love for the fatherless. We prayed for all the kids in China who needed a mommy and a daddy. And when we finally got a picture, we prayed for that one scared little girl on the blow-up chair who would become Mia.
Abby started to show interest. She asked to see pictures of orphanages. And those pictures caused her to ask beautiful (and dangerous) questions about why there were so many beds and babies in the picture. And why we were only going to help one of them.
Adam was less concerned with the fate of the global orphan. He just wanted assurance that his favorite toys could be on a high enough shelf that Mia would not be able to reach them.
Four Adoptions Later…
That was nine years ago. Today, we have four Airplane Babies: Mia, Will, Ellie, and Sam… and there aren’t any shelves high enough in the house for Adam to hide his toys.
To quickly address a common question and one of our original concerns, I am happy to report that our kids love each other like crazy with no genetic bias one way or the other. Sometimes one kid will seem to love another kid more, but that is driven far more by who is holding the iPad or the remote control at the time than who did or did not come out of Anne’s womb.
In the early days, I considered it a success that the Tummy Babies rarely complained about their adopted siblings. When one had to share a bedroom or found some candy missing from their Halloween stash courtesy of a younger sibling, they were shockingly cool about it. (I am not saying that there were NO complaints… that might suggest that they weren’t really brothers and sisters. My sister wasn’t from China, and I am still mad at her for throwing away my Han Solo action figure that fateful Christmas in 1980… As I think about the reality of a grudge lasting more than three decades, it may be time for me to move on…)
But as I reflect on it today, I would go much farther. It is not simply that my kids are OK with having adopted siblings… I genuinely believe they are better people because of it.
Without the impact of adoption, I think our children were destined to become something less than they are today… they were probably going to grow up to be like me.
I also grew up in a suburban bubble, growing up without any real appreciation of how “unreal” my world was. I did not realize that my nice home and full refrigerator and world-class education were an extreme exception on the global scale.
I grew up idolizing Alex P Keaton and Ronald Reagan… thinking my nice home was good but could be better. I grew up in the classic American mold of wanting to do better than my parents before me… “better” as measured in worldly terms like job title, car brand, and size of my 401K.
Even after becoming a Christian in High School, it took Jesus more than a decade to soften my heart and begin to develop genuine mercy in me for the poor and marginalized in the world. To this day, I still find myself frequently pursuing a definition of success that I know is flawed.
Without some kind of intervention, our Tummy Babies were likely to follow the same path. They’re smart. They’re likable. They were on the path to succeed in the world’s eyes… the path that leads to bigger houses in nicer neighborhoods. Maybe they would have had a boat… I always want a friend or family member with a boat…
And then we started adopting.
And in the seven years since, I have seen my children realize one of my greatest dreams for them… the shared dream of all parents that our children would become better than us.
At their age, I wanted to grow up to be more like Donald Trump. They are growing up to want to be more like Jesus.
Their Airplane Baby siblings have helped them to see and experience God’s grace. They have seen people literally discarded on the roadside become beloved children of God… and they have learned that the gap between that roadside and our suburb is very, very small in eternal terms.
Abby and Adam understand God’s heart for the world infinitely better than I did at their age… maybe better than I do even today.
My Children as a Gift to Each Other
I have focused thus far on the gift that my Airplane Babies have been to my Tummy Babies, but make no mistake… the blessing flows both ways.
If the Airplane Babies have made Abby and Adam into better people, the reverse is just as true. Mia is a better reader. Will is a better athlete. Ellie is kinder. Sam is funnier. Coming from a generation of Chinese kids without siblings, they have been blessed with the best older brother and sister in the world.
I think if I polled all four Airplane Babies, they would each describe Abby and Adam as their heroes – the people they most admire, the people with whom they most want to spend time, the people that they most want to grow up to be.
If our prayers are answered and they someday choose to be baptized as an expression of their faith in Jesus, I will not be surprised or hurt if they ask Abby or Adam to go into the tank with them. I think our Airplane Babies see Jesus in their older brother and sister as much as we do.
One of Jesus’s final commands on earth was to “Go and make disciples of all nations.“
Abby and Adam get this. And I think they understand that still applies even if those other nations are sleeping on the bunk underneath them.
In great part because of adoption, our Tummy Babies want to grow up to be more like Jesus. And our Airplane Babies want to grow up to be like them. Sounds exactly like disciple-making to me.
And so I close with a great and beautiful irony. At the start of this adoption journey, the potential impact on Abby and Adam was one of our chief arguments against adoption. And in the end, the change we have seen in Abby and Adam may be one of the most compelling arguments for it.
Yes, adoption messed with their lives… and we are eternally thankful for it.