Recently, our daughter turned 25. Adopted as an infant, she has been and evermore will be the joy of this here-to-fore childless couple’s life.
It was rather surreal to see her—the pictures of her as an infant, as a toddler, young child, teenager flooded my mind—and to look at her now, as a grown (young) woman, called my heart to yield more than a couple of silent tears, revering my title as parent.
Although she was going to perform songs she had written over five-plus years at an open mic night and hoped many of her friends would celebrate with her, she exercised an amazing muscle in her heart: she invited my husband and me to come! (And what’s more, she and her friends made her birthday dinner to which we were also invited.) When it was her turn on stage, the announcer told everyone that it was her birthday and with her first smile and guitar strum she took us all for an amazing ride of her passion to be a part of this world. She was, to very unbiased me, the star of the night. Even though she was to be surrounded by a number of her friends, and accompanied by a few, she, without blinking an eye made it a point of saying that her parents (as if it were a special thing she was proud of!) were “in the house.” And, I think I even heard her say, “Thank you, guys!” (Of course that could have been a universal shout out to everyone who came, but I think I’ll just keep it as directed toward us.)
Her oldest childhood friend was at that gathering to celebrate this landmark quarter-century birthday. Seeing the two of them together, I was reminded of something that happened on our daughter’s fifth birthday. When I recounted the story they both giggled and nodded that they, too, remembered…
When our daughter was five (her friend was six and a half), she announced to this friend she had known since she was two, “I am adopted.” Although I was in the room when she said it, I was surprised that she blurted it out, and then reveal her understanding about what she had thus far gleaned about being adopted--which, to her, was something special.
I watched her friend’s reaction out of the corner of my eye. This declaration immediately prompted her friend to waltz over to me, hands on hips and vehemently announce, “She’s lying! She told a lie.”
“Oh?” I answered. “What was a lie?”
“She said that she’s adopted. There’s no way. She said you didn’t give birth to her. So she has to be lying. You’ve always been her mother. She is your child,” and with confused eyes and knitted brow, “isn’t she?”
How does one tell a child about the wonders and the miracle of adoption? Can it make sense to such young children? From the time we started talking to our daughter, we always used the word “adoption” and would say it regularly, not as a defense, not as an excuse, but as a term that she could come to understand was something completely normal and natural. We wanted that word to be something she didn’t struggle over, but instead accept as part of life and the special way we became a family.
I told this young friend (I’m sure I am paraphrasing, but to the best of my recollection I said something like this): “Well, actually, she did not lie. She is adopted. It means that she didn’t come out of my tummy, but we were lucky enough to have her come into our lives. Adoption is a special way that some children join families. We are all lucky because we three became a family. She will always be our daughter. She will always be adopted. And she will always be loved.”
Our daughter, after placing her hands on her hips, sauntered in front of her friend and with just the slightest upturned face mustering all the righteousness a five year old can, “See. Told you so. I did not come from her tummy. I am adopted.”
Her friend, puzzled and thoughtful for a minute then proclaimed, “Oh, I think that’s something like my mom and dad are planning.”
Knowing her parents well and never having heard this since they had four birth children, I was truly curious, “Are you sure? Your mom or dad never mentioned that to me!”
“Oh, I think it costs $12 a month. I heard them talking about it. Our friends do that. They have a picture of the girl on their refrigerator. So my mom and dad are thinking about doing it, too. I think you order a kid through the TV. Do you pay $12 a month, too?” She was referring to a Save the Children Foundation campaign to sponsor children living in another country.
I couldn’t help but smile at this child’s rather sweet life-view. This quite innocent perception of how things work. I am not disparaging that it is a wonderful and noble gesture to sponsor a child in a foreign country who might just have a greater edge in life from financial support and the hands-on gift of letters or gifts.
But, of course, a far deeper passion to impact the life of a child can happen through adopting. Parenting a child in the day-to-day is incomparable. As with any parenting, one will experience indescribable joy. And one will experience heartache of how to guide, to teach, to love their children through crises. The overwhelming measure of life worth, though, can come in the smallest moments—seeing them performing songs they wrote about life, about being raised, about becoming a good person from the influences of their whole life.
Giving a child a unique part of that whole life is an honor and a privilege. Loving someone fiercely enough to share your life with them—from the moments of high drama to the tenderness of good-night prayers, whether nursing them through a strep throats and fevers, driving lessons and packing lunches for school, this role might even be considered a “calling.”