“Adoption” is a positive word in our home, and we use it often. We never want our children to get older and feel that we denied them information about their past, but the truth is that there are details they are not old enough to understand. It’s a delicate balance to give enough information while protecting them from knowing more than they can developmentally and emotionally handle. Our girls are very young yet, so at just three and two years old, introducing the language of adoption and the story outline is enough. It is a familiar melody to them. As they are ready for more detail, we add more, it becomes more complex–but the melody will always be the same.
Our twin boys will turn six this summer, and they are ready for more.
We have told them all along about their arrival here–about how their birth family wasn’t able to care for them, and a judge said they needed to live somewhere that would be safe, and that they came to us in a black Jeep on a Friday. They think it’s hilarious that the first thing they did was take all of the books off of all of the shelves, and they always clamor to recall when we sang the Barney song, because that was the song they knew.
They say that we still sing the Barney song, and we say “yes, we do.”
That night we rubbed their hair until they fell asleep, and then I went out and got all the things they needed–car seats and clothes and shoes. It seems so simple, but the thing they were the most thrilled about that next day were the shoes. They love remembering how they wore them even to nap in.
Recently our son Alex said, “I think I miss my other family, mom. Why can’t I remember them?”
I told him that missing them is okay, even if he can’t remember them. I explained that he was much younger when he stopped living with them, and that it’s hard to remember things from when you are so little.
I reminded him that he can ask us anything, and we will always tell the truth.
As soon as they started, the questions didn’t stop. The flood gates had opened, and he wanted to know it all. His twin, Art, listened for a little while, but even after his brother had moved on, Alex needed more. For every answer I gave, he had three more questions.
“Why couldn’t our birth family take care of us again?” he asked. “Why didn’t they make different choices? Did someone help them try and be healthy again? Are they alive? When can we see them? Do they still love us? Do you have pictures of them? Can we look at them?”
And then: “But, why didn’t you just grow us in your tummy? Do you wish you could?”
I had thought, years ago sitting in training classes to become a foster parent, that a child full of difficult-to-answer questions would terrify me. I imagined saying the wrong thing in a moment of panic and ruining my children forever. But snuggling my son, listening to his endless chorus of “whys” and feeling his wriggly little legs jump with excitement as more information fell into place and he thought of something new to ask, I wasn’t scared at all.
In that moment, instead of fearful, I felt thankful. So, so thankful to be the one answering these questions for him. So thrilled to have been given the opportunity and at the same time so heartbroken the opportunity ever arose. Heartbroken that my sweet boy has to wonder these things, that families sometimes can’t be repaired. That we have so little information about his birth family, who must long for the babies they knew.
I tried to explain those feeling the best I could. I told him I wish I could keep him from hurting, and that I used to be sad that I couldn’t grow babies but I’m not anymore.
And he hugged me. And I sang the Barney song, and he fell asleep.
We sing it because it was the song they knew. How bittersweet it is to repeat those words that their birth family must have sang:
“I love you, you love me; we’re a happy family…”
It’s a part of their familiar melody.
Their questions will get even bigger, and so will our answers. But the fact will remain – they are loved, by so many.
Do you have experience with difficult questions as a foster or adoptive parent? What has helped you most in knowing how to answer?