It was New Year’s Day, and I was at my parents’ house with my kids, visiting for their traditional party to celebrate a new beginning. Justin and Olivia had been there for a few days, and I timed the visit so I could make it to the party and bring them back home the next day.
The party ended, and I resumed my parental role of getting the kids to wind down and go to sleep. Olivia went fairly quickly, but Justin was talkative that night. Lately, he had been asking about my adoption, what I knew about my biological parents, and what it was about living with my two adoptive brothers that made childhood difficult for me.
Mind you, the boy is only ten, but we have been having what I might describe as fairly deep conversations for quite some time now. He was especially inquisitive that evening, perhaps because he knows we were in the house I grew up in and wondered what it was like. Or maybe just being around his grandparents for a few days piqued his curiosity again.
“Why didn’t your parents keep you?” he asked. “Well, they were young and weren’t married, and they didn’t think they would be able to take care of me,” I replied. “Well, then why did they have you?” he asked. “Sometimes people have babies when they don’t plan to,” I said, “and then they have to make decisions about what to do.”
He looked at me with inquisitive eyes, as if he was trying to process what that all meant. Then he opened up with a different line of questioning. “What did Frank do to you that was so bad?” referring to my adoptive brother who had sexually abused me when I was about his age, and is now estranged from the family. “He hurt me in a serious way,” I replied. “Why didn’t you tell grandma and grandpa?” he asked. “I was scared,” I told him, following it up with, “I hope you always feel like you can tell me or mommy anything, no matter what.” Then he said, “I do,” thankfully.
As if the conversation couldn’t get any deeper, he said, “if your parents never had you, Olivia and I never would have been born.” I agreed, and he followed up with, “And if grandma and grandpa never adopted you, you never would have met mommy and we then wouldn’t have been born either.” I couldn’t disagree with that one either. “I’m glad things turned out the way they did,” he said. “Me too,” I said.
“Why don’t all parents just have to keep their kids?” Justin said, “because then kids couldn’t be in bad foster homes and get hurt by adults,” referring to the fact that my two adoptive brothers had spent some years in a foster home before being adopted by my parents at the ages of four and six. “Just because a kid is in a foster home doesn’t mean they will be hurt,” I said, “and there are many parents in this world who actually hurt their own kids.” He asked why, as if he couldn’t comprehend such a situation. “Not all adults are nice people,” I said.
He took a lighter, but equally philosophical turn for the next phase of the conversation. “Imagine if Messi’s parents were mean and never let him play soccer,” he said, referring to Lionel Messi, the Argentine player who is commonly referred to as the best soccer player in the world. “We wouldn’t even know about him,” he followed. “That’s the way the world works,” I replied, “each person’s set of circumstances helps to determine the path they end up on, some for better and some for worse.” He nodded, his eyes finally getting heavy, and we both soon fell asleep pondering the meaning of life and the journey it takes each of us on.