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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

On Being Adopted

It has been on my heart to write about my youngest and only adopted daughter, Soleil. We adopted her from Guatemala when she was 7 months old. She turned 10 in May. For those of you who don't "know" me, we have 3 older biological kids as well. Soleil went through a tender patch when she was seven when it suddenly dawned on her exactly how devastating it is to have been given up for adoption. It had actually started when she was just five. Evie, my then 8 year old, was asking me if she had ever been to New York City. I said, "Well, technically, no. But you were in my belly when we were there last if that counts for anything." As soon as I said it I saw the wheels start turning in Soli's head. "Was I in your belly, Mama?" We have always referred to Soli's birth/adoption story with as much candor as was appropriate for her age. So I said, "Remember you didn't grow in Mama's belly. You grew in your birthmother, Claudia's, belly. When you were born Foster Mary picked you up from the hospital and took care of you until you were 7 months old. Then Mama and Daddy went to Guatemala to pick you up and you have been with us ever since." She chewed on that for a minute, and then her little chin started to quiver and her eyes filled with tears as she leaned into me on the couch and whispered, "That's sad. They must miss me. I miss them, too." I expected that at some point the sadness of being adopted (or more accurately the sadness of having been given up for adoption) would hit her. But in my ignorance, I expected it to be...later. I expected the anguish to come during her tweenage years. I expected anger to come after that. At 5 years old I didn't think she would be able to wrap her baby brain around it. But she did. At least part of it. She felt the loss of both her birth mother and her foster mother profoundly. And it astonished me.

Fast forward a couple of years. Soleil was 7+ years old. She experienced a couple of months of heavy grieving. She was SO sad as she began to piece her life's puzzle together. The idea that she was born to a woman that didn't keep her was devastating to her. We had many heart to heart conversations during those months where she would crawl into bed with me and cry. She would say, "But why didn't she want me? Why didn't they keep me? Don't they miss me?" It was a helpless, heartbreaking realization to come to -- that I couldn't rescue my daughter from her pain. All I could do was hold her hand as she walked her path of grief. And I suppose that's the truth in parenting. We can't rescue our children from their paths. If we are lucky they will allow us to hold their hands as they navigate their own bumpy paths of life.

I was as gentle as possible saying, "I'm sure they miss you and think of you every day. In fact, Claudia might be thinking of you this minute and missing you as much as you're missing her. She was very brave to let you live with a family that could take care of you. She knew that she wouldn't be able to give you enough food and clothes and shoes."

"I wouldn't mind having no shoes if I could be in Guatemala with my birth family that matches me."

She was able to describe to me that she imagined her birth family in Guatemala complete with a brown mom and dad and a brown baby brother. All that was missing was her.

We have always spoken to Soleil with the utmost reverence for her birth country and respect for her birthmother, honoring her as a brave and selfless person. In doing so, I realized that we had inadvertently painted a perfect picture of life in Guatemala. And to a 7 year old adoptee that didn't make sense. If life in Guatemala is so rosy and my birthmother is so perfect then why couldn't I stay there? I understood that the time had come to introduce some of the harsh realities of life in Guatemala. I was delicate but clear as I described children eating from trash cans, sleeping alone and shivering in drainage ditches, begging and abandoned on the streets of Guatemala City. Things I had seen with my own eyes that had inspired me to adopt a child from Guatemala in the first place. I explained that Claudia did not want her to be alone and scared or eating from trash cans. So she made a brave and very hard but good decision to let her be adopted so that she would never be hungry, or cold, or scared, or alone. I could see that it hit home and the tears began to flow again.

Sometime later she wrote me a note. It said, "Dear Mom. I love you and our family. I don't ever want to leave." Initially, I thought she was worried that she had hurt my feelings by saying that she wanted to live in Guatemala with her birth family. So later I asked her, "Honey, what did you mean when you said you don't ever want to leave?" Her big brown eyes turned to liquid and she said, "What if they want to come take me away? I don't ever want to leave you." She crumbled into my arms. It dawned on me that although she will always mourn the loss of a birth family that she will likely never know, some of the torment that she felt during that time was the result of thinking that someone could show up at our house in the middle of the night and take her away from us. How terrifying to a little girl.

"Honey, no one can take you away from us. Even if you wanted to go, we wouldn't let you. You're our daughter and you belong with us."

"But what if they changed their minds and came to our house to take me away?"

"Even if they came to our house they can't take you away. No one can ever take you away just like they can't take Evie or Emerson or Cole. You are legally our daughter." (That word legally is so abstract to a 7 year old.) "We have the paperwork that says so."

Her eyes lit up. "You have paperwork?" (Aside - Soli LOVES paperwork. She can often be found sifting through the recycling bin by Dave's desk, rescuing bills and payment stubs and envelopes to add to the clipboard that she carries around to take "notes".)

"Yes. We have the paperwork. From Guatemala. That says no one can ever take you away."

"Can I see it?"

"Yes. And I can even make you a copy that you can have for your clipboard."

"Thanks, Mom."

We met Soleil's birth family in Guatemala for the first time in October of 2015. Soli was 9 years old. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful reunion of the likes I am certain I will never experience again. I was stunned and amazed by her grace and poise and her ability to give and receive love unconditionally. And I was equally amazed that her vision of having a brown family, all matching her, was absolutely accurate. Her birth father and birth mother are still together. And she has not one baby brother, but two (100% biological siblings), as well as two older half brothers. One is also adopted to the States and the other is still living with the family in Guatemala. After meeting them, I watched a very visceral peace come over Soleil. It's as if she now has all of the pieces to the puzzle of her life and can put them together and see the beautiful image of Self take shape in her mind's eye.

Recently, while cleaning out her room, we came upon the clipboard. We looked at each other and smiled. And she said, "I don't need that anymore, Mom. Will you save it for me in my baby book?"

For sure.

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