I think you can have all the plans in the world about how you are going to talk to your child about their adoption and the truth is, when they are ready to talk, you have to just go where they go. And fast. I’ve come to think about it like a child who has just learned to swim and as they head straight for the deep end and dive down low – you join them to make sure that they’re all right. That they’re ready. Their muscles aren’t quite ready to stay in the deep too long and they have no intention of swimming laps, but they just want to make sure that they can do it. That they could tread there for brief minutes or snag a diving toy if they wanted to. Because they need to know that they can. That we trust them. That we believe that their legs will work and they can navigate in the deep end.
In our house, a jump to the deep end often starts with a “Mom! I’m SO mad that I wasn’t in your tummy.” “I’m SO ANGRY.” She dives in and dives down deep and even though I know she can swim because lately we are doing this weekly, if not daily, I jump in after her. Not like a worried lifeguard who fears her ability, but as one who will swim with her, beside her, and even go for the rings sitting at the very bottom of the pool as she reaches further and further down.
“Yes, I very much wish I could have carried you in my tummy. I would have loved that.”
“Why did you get to carry Carter, Will and Claire?” “Why did they go in your tummy?”
“That is how I became their mommy. I carried them. I became your mommy by choosing you and going to China to get you. Mommy’s get babies all sorts of different ways but we love you all the same. Kinda cool that we picked you out of ALL of the MILLIONS of babies” (my hands stretched wide).
(She knows this is the fun part – where we can play in the deep a bit) “Yes, you picked me and went on the airplane and climbed the stairs. Daddy hurt his foot and I threw the baby doll.”
(Grace loves these details and smiles when we get to this part of the story. She knows about the airplane, and that we climbed six flights of stairs to first meet her. Because we were pitifully out of breath on all of the Gotcha video and its sounds like something is seriously wrong with us. Her daddy ran a race the weekend before to fundraise and hurt his foot. The two of them like to exaggerate the injury for dramatic affect when they tell it together. She knows the real story but loves to stretch it with her daddy. His foot was sore in China but to hear them tell it – he had crutches and a cast. It gets sillier every time and I scold them for creative license. As we continue to remember, minutes after we met her, she began tossing the baby doll we brought her with a silly grin and we all laughed at her antics. We did this over and over again in that government office until we were all giddy.)
“But why couldn’t I be in your tummy?”
“Well, the nannies took good care of you in the orphanage before we came and you wouldn’t look like beautiful you if I carried you in my tummy.”
“Because your China mommy carried you in her tummy.”
And for now, this is the point that she has grabbed the diving toy and has begun the swim to the surface. Often she laughs hysterically – a defense mechanism – because she can’t quite go past there yet. Occasionally, on days when she wants to linger longer, we talk about how we believe her China mommy loved her very much but couldn’t take care of her well with the complicated cleft lip. She knows her cleft story too – her stories are very important to her. We tell her that the most loving thing her China mommy could do was place her in the orphanage so her forever family could find her and love her. And just like that, she’s done in the deep end. Off to play comfortably in the shallow. If you were watching from the outside, it would seem abrupt and unfinished. It’s not though. She’s stretching her muscles, making sure each time that she can stay a little longer in the deep. And I’ll stay with her each time too.