“Mama said there’d be days like this, there’d be days like this mama said,” crooned the Shirelles with their 1960s big hair and perky voices. I can’t remember the rest of the song, but, for the life of me, those lyrics will not leave my mind. My parents playing the oldies station had no idea they’d be dooming my brain to that particular lifelong earworm. Yet, here we are. 

The fact of the matter is absolutely no one, not a soul, ever told me or hinted that the days I am currently living through would happen. I don’t even mean the massive world events that make it feel like everything is on fire and we’re pretending, “This is fine.” I’m talking about the stuff that happens in my own house that leaves me pulling my hair out.  

I don’t think many of us are ever actually ready for the absurdity that is parenthood until we are in the thick of it going “Oh, I guess I’m the adult in charge now. Ugh.”  But I think for us adoptive parents, there is an extra layer of “What the heck is happening?” slathered on. Not because we are super special, but because there is so very much unknown in most adoption situations. 

For example, Do you know how to de-escalate a sibling argument that could end up with someone or several someones in the hospital if it is not, in fact, de-escalated? I can boast this particular skill set not because I had a special parenting class (though I did, to an extent) but because I have hands-on experience with children who I love threatening violence to anyone who dares upset them. I’m not sure how I’d list that on a resume, but I think it would go something like “Able to negotiate peace talks between warring factions.”  That might be an exaggeration, but hot dang it feels like it most certainly is not some days. 

Do biological families experience this phenomenon? I’m sure they do. But adoption often brings a kind of trauma that makes any kind of emotional hurt feel like more. From the parent side, it’s hard not to feel bitter. I chose to say “yes” to these kids. I want to parent them well. And yet, here I am having to protect one from another until their Daddy gets home to help, and I still haven’t started dinner, and the little one’s reading homework isn’t done yet. I think I feel more guilty about these things because I chose them. Like, I brought them into what I hoped was a good living situation and it turns out that sometimes, despite best intentions and practices, mental illness is going to prevail and things get messy. 

The subtle reminder of this song triggered the aforementioned “if I had been warned of days like this I would have run away.” I thought about it with probably far too much mental bandwidth and concluded that despite having been warned repeatedly in fact, that this road would be hard for everyone, we chose it. So. Hey, Taylor, thanks for the more current “It’s me. Hi, I’m the problem it’s me” lyric that so often pops into my head for such occasions. 

The truth is for every difficult feeling I have trying to help them, they have exponentially many more difficult feelings. And I made a promise to be their mom. Which means I make it my job to help them despite physical and emotional discomfort. That means dodging objects flung at my head while trying to help a calm down and think. It means IEP meetings and emails to the teachers and apologies because I’m bad at being a human some days so I forget to respond to things when I need to. 

I chose them. They didn’t have the option to choose or not choose me, not really. Not legally, anyway. They make the daily decision to accept me or reject me, but at the end of the day I’m their legal guardian and they can’t do anything about it until they’re 18. That’s a terrifying thought. I put us in this position where I am their advocate while they want to frame me as the villain of their story. I asked repeatedly to be the person they hate because I made them take a walk instead of playing a video game that exact minute. They despise me because it’s bedtime or they have to fix a toy or relationship they broke in their anger. I am the face of all their disappointment, the inducer of most of their unhinged rage. I am the bottomless pit they throw their pain into again and again. 

It is agonizing. It is my deepest honor. I’m their mom. They may never realize how much they mean to me or how much I do for them. And that’s really fine. They should have never been put through the trauma that brought them to my door. They should never have been hurt by people who were supposed to care for them. 

So yeah, it’s unfair. Mama abso-freaking-lutely did not say there would be days like this, thank you very much. Not even a hint. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t warned that it would be hard. And it doesn’t mean that, despite my fevered daydreams while I’m once again hiding in the car for five minutes of quiet, I would run away. Just like they don’t mean it when they say they hate me after they’ve calmed down and crawled in my lap for a hug and a snuggle, I don’t mean I don’t want this. 

If I didn’t have days like this, I wouldn’t get the other ones: the ones where we bake cookies and ride bikes, where we go to dinner and shop for dresses, where we draw on the sidewalk with rainbow chalk and sit in the hammock talking about everything their brains call to their attention at that time. Sure, there are days that are mind-bogglingly hard. But through some sort of alchemy that makes the good days shine out all the more brightly.