How much of our adopted children’s struggles do we keep to ourselves because they are personal, and how much do we share in the hope that their experiences, our experiences together, will help others be prepared for the time when their turn comes?
I don’t have a good answer for that question, so maybe I am about to over share.
Tank Boy has been aware for years now that he came to this world through a different woman and came to our family a different way. He has asked questions. Mostly he has asked, “Did my foster/birth mother (he still confuses the two a bit) love me?” or “Does my birth mother miss me?”
But today? Today, the big question came. The question that I have long known has been brewing in the back of his mind, in the front of his mind even, finally bubbled over and found voice: “Why did my birth mother give me away?”
The tears dripped silently off his cheeks and onto his science paper as he asked the question and my heart broke.
It probably wasn’t a coincidence that he asked when he did. All of the other kids were out of the room, doing things in other parts of the house, and we were able to sit on the love seat, just the two of us, with him on my lap letting me cradle him like a baby.
I acknowledged his hurt, I apologized (without blaming myself) over and over and over for the hurt, and I explained, as best one can to a barely six-year-old, the circumstances of his birth and the attitudes and culture in his birth country that would have made life so very difficult for him had she decided to keep him and parent him. As we both cried, I told him that his birth mother probably chose adoption for him because she wanted him to have a happy life with a promising future, and she feared he couldn’t have that if he stayed with her.
His tears subsided as we talked back and forth for a few minutes, and then he seemed content to just listen to me tell him how much we love him, how much we wanted him, how much our Heavenly Father loves him, how He knows and loves him, how much He knows and loves Tank Boy’s birth mother, and how He knew his birth mother was going to choose adoption for him, so He prepared us and told us what to do so that Tank Boy could be part of our family, and what a blessing that has been to us.
We talked of the possibility of some day trying to find his birth mother and going to Korea to meet her if he wants. He said he’d like to do that. Some day.
Then my very sensitive son wiped the remainder of his tears from his eyes and said, “Mom, can we go to McDonalds for supper tonight?”
Oh yes, my boy does try to seize what he thinks may be a golden opportunity.
Later, as I was fixing lunch, he made the McDonalds inquiry again. When I asked him if he thought McDonalds would take the hurt away, he turned the tears back on, stuck out his pouty lip, and said yes. I explained that a Happy Meal can’t change what has already happened, it can only give him junk food and a toy, neither one of which can take away the hurt. Then I reassured him that we love him just as much as we love our (biological) girls, and it really doesn’t matter at all to me how he got here, it just matters that he is here and, once again, I told him how sorry I am that he has that hurt of being “given away.”
And now he is eating lunch with his siblings, telling me his little brother is probably going to have sparkly poop because he put his apple slice on the table rather than his plate, and the table is covered in teeny tiny sparkles from our Halloween table cloth.
We will not go to McDonalds tonight because it can’t take away the hurt. I don’t want him to be confused about that. I don’t want him to grow up thinking that every time he feels some kind of emotional pain he should get, or give himself, some kind of material comfort or junk food. I think he’s been distracted enough now by siblings and lunch that he really doesn’t care about McDonalds any more.
It’s no fun to watch your son cry because he is grappling with the idea that he was given away. It is pretty important, I think, to cry with him, to acknowledge his pain and feel some of it yourself. And then? Let him move on if he is ready, realizing, of course, that siblings and lunch and potentially sparkly brother poop aren’t the end of the hurt forever, just for now.
As I think about all that Tank Boy and I have talked about and cried over today, I look to the future when Quinn starts having similar thoughts and feelings. I wish I could say experiences like this one will help me be better prepared to answer my second son’s questions, but I can’t. Each child is different, and each situation is different, and I don’t know how anyone who has adopted from Vietnam, even through a reputable, ethical agency, can possibly feel comfortable telling their child that their birth mother probably chose adoption for them for all those warm fuzzy reasons. Maybe. But probably? I don’t think so. I don’t think any agency, at this point, can definitively guarantee the behavior and actions of everyone involved on the Vietnamese end of things.
But Quinn is a very different person than his brother, with a very different personality. It is something for which I am so, so grateful because I think it will be the biggest, if not the only, saving grace when again the question comes, “Why did my birth mother give me away?”