Four years. That’s how long it had been since I’d been back to visit my family in Canada. After two long flights and layover, my daughter and I finally landed in Calgary.
My sister picked us up, and as we drove away from the airport, we sailed past fields of bright yellow canola flowers and weather beaten silos, the city disappearing behind us. As we breezed along the open highway, I felt something inside me loosen.
At one point, I leaned back in the passenger seat and felt the sweet nostalgia for a country I left fifteen years ago. There were things that I missed while I was gone.
I missed the clear, sharp air that filled my lungs. I missed digging my toes into the soft, velvety grass. And, I missed the way the sun dipped behind the dark pine trees at the end of the day.
During my visit, on many mornings, I woke up, laced up my shoes, and walked around my sister’s quiet neighborhood. The mornings were cold enough that I would wrap my arms around my body, walking at a brisk pace until I warmed up. The cool maple lined streets were a welcome change from the palm trees and balmy hot mornings I was used to in South Florida.
On many of my long walks, I thought about how dramatically my life had changed since my last visit to Canada. A little over year ago, I was reunited with my Haitian family. And now here I was, in town for my brother’s wedding, in a reunion of sorts with my large adoptive family in Canada. Life has a way of coming full circle.
Recently, my daughter has been asking a lot of questions about my family. But often her questions come at inopportune moments. In the car ride on the way to school when I am trying to enjoy a few minutes of quiet before a busy day. Or, when we’re in line at the grocery store, surrounded by other frazzled moms and their kids. She likes to ask questions whenever they come to her, regardless of the circumstances.
When I returned from Haiti, she had asked so many questions about my mother and siblings in Haiti. I knew she was trying to figure things out, trying to sort out the details so my story made sense. And as she has gotten older, her questions have gotten deeper—more insistent for an answer. Like most six year olds, she wants to know why things happen.
So when she asked to join me on one of my walks, I thought it was a good idea. I figured I could use the quiet walk for us to talk about my family.
We were silent as we walked down the street, no particular destination in mind. A car passed us, and we listened to it turn the corner until we couldn’t hear it anymore. “Do you have any questions you want to ask?” I turned to my daughter and laced my fingers in hers. “Like about my family?” We came to the end of the block and crossed the street.
She took a deep breath. “Okay, mom, so you have two moms right?”
“Mmm hmm,” I told her, waiting for the follow up question. “I was born in Haiti, and then my mom in Canada came and got me.”
“But why?” she asked. “Why did your mom in Haiti not want to keep you?”
There were many answers that I could have told her. I could have told her the answer that I had been told when I was growing up. That my mother had given me up for a better life. But I had learned that that wasn’t necessarily true. When I had reunited with my mother in Haiti, I found out that I was not supposed to be adopted. I was, in a sense, taken from my family.
But how do you explain that to a six year old?
“I think…It’s more…” I was, maybe for the first time ever, unable to find the right words. I had been able to find simple explanations, easy cliches, for my adoption up until this point. I couldn’t lie to her. I wanted her to grow up knowing the truth about both sides of my family.
“My mom in Haiti,” I started. “She did want me. And…and I’ll tell you more about it later.”
We walked a little more and she piped up again. “Mom, can we get some ice cream tonight?”
“Maybe,” I told her as I squeezed her hand. We walked back to my sister’s house in silence, still hand in hand.
The rest of the week was a blur as we visited with the rest of my large family and attended my brother’s wedding. This summer I witnessed my brother getting married, our family tree expanding on one side to include his new wife and her family. I was surrounded by the Canadian side of the family, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. A year ago, when I was reunited with my family in Haiti, I stood in my mother’s yard and put my arms around my brothers and sisters as we took pictures that I would later show my daughter.
I want my daughter to know the things that I didn’t when I was growing up. I want her to know that sometimes life does not fall into neat categories. It’s more complicated. I also want my daughter to know sometimes what is given to us may not compensate for what was taken away.
In both of my families, there is love, and there is pain. And that’s part of what I will tell my daughter the next time she asks. Adoption is love and pain. Some days there is one more than the other, but they are both there beneath the surface of every family picture, every family tree that has been broken and the branches grafted to another tree.
Mariette Williams @mariettewrites is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. In July of 2015, she reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family. She lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she writes essays, short stories, and poems that usually focus on adoption.