Do you remember being thirteen years old? Maybe you do, or maybe you don’t want to. It’s the age of flushed pimpled faces, school bullies and desperately trying to keep a wardrobe in synch with a body that’s blooming into adulthood. It’s the age of overflowing extracurriculars, Snapchat messages, and attitude. At thirteen the world is swirling at breathtaking speed. Now, imagine that thirteen year old, the same one that always forgets their homework at home, that’s preoccupied with their Math homework, the family rules, their sibling, qualifying to be on the sports team, getting the role in the school play, making straight As. Imagine that same thirteen year old trying to wrestle with, define and navigate the complexity of adoption. Imagine the difficulty of finding the right words to express the intricate, confusing unknowns of adoption in the middle of existing as a thirteen-year-old.
I walked into the children’s receiving home with my husband that crisp fall morning six-and-a-half years ago, my heart galloping in my chest. This was the day we were going to meet our children for the first time. Our social worker told us about them only the day before, and we hadn’t seen pictures or received much information. All I knew was a two-year-old boy and his six-month-old half-sister waited for my husband and me somewhere in that sterile government building. Waited for us to scoop them up and take them to safety and be their forever Mommy and Daddy. That was what my galloping heart pounded out, loud and clear and urgent.
It’s the most common hard pass excuse we hear as foster parents or social workers.
It’s been overused as an excuse and as a blog topic. As a foster parent, you can now Google for well-crafted snarky responses to this lame excuse for not wanting to foster. We ALL know now that it is an excuse. That people who “get too attached” are exactly what we are looking for in foster parents. We all know that they just don’t want to step out of their comfort zones and into positively participating in changing the trajectory of children and bio parent’s lives.
When my phone rings, no matter the time or how busy (or not) that I am, I rarely answer. I let it turn to voicemail, filtering the message to determine if it’s something I want to deal with, save for later or—let’s be honest—blatantly ignore. So why, on an early August morning when I heard God calling me toward adoption, did I decide to tune in, on what would otherwise be the first ring?
It was the first week of August 2018 and I went out for a walk with our dog, tuned into a random podcast and heard the hosts speaking on adoption. Adoption had always sounded like a nice idea but was not yet on our radar. Nevertheless, I came home from that walk and told my husband all about it, ending with something like, “We have to do this.” I think he was probably a little shocked, that my usually detail-minded and indecisive self would be so spontaneous and certain. Months later we’d learn that our son was born on nearly the exact morning I felt that nudge. Even later, we’d be amazed to find that our son legally became our child on the anniversary of the night my husband and I started dating. To put it clearly, we have no question as to the divine intervention that orchestrated the growth of our family.
Scars are signatures of painful events in the life of our bodies. They are a reminder that informs us that we are not always in control of our lives. I have many scars. Scars on my hands from bee stings received while playing hide and seek; a scar on the lower right side of my abdomen created by a surgeon’s scalpel to remove an angry appendix; and a scar on my left arm as a result of being “cleated” while playing football.
Of all my scars, I have a favorite, the scar on my left knee. When I was almost three years old, I was running through the house and tripped and fell on my sister’s toy sewing machine. It was made from metal and had a sharp edge on the base. The gash was severe, and the blood began to flow. My father took a sheet, began ripping it, and wrapped my knee to stop the bleeding. What I remember most was sitting in his lap with my mummified leg, being comforted by his big hands. I will never forget his hands. Those hands are forever etched into my memory as a visual reminder of my father’s love.
More than anything, I want to be able to speak and understand and sing in my mother tongue. I want to be able to write poetry and love letters in Chinese. I asked my mom why I was never able to take lessons growing up and she said that it was because the Chinese classes that were offered were far away, maybe an hour’s drive, and it was inconvenient.
It hurts me that I wasn’t able to learn my birth language out of convenience.
I once read an article with research suggesting that there is something that activates in adoptee’s brain when they hear their native language that doesn’t activate for other people who didn’t grow up hearing that language as an infant. This means that my mother tongue lives not just in my bones, but also in my brain.
Yet, there has been so much holding me back. Fears like: What if I’m not able to learn Chinese? What if I sound like the white people who try to learn Chinese who don’t understand what tones are? Or what if it’s something that I can’t relearn? Maybe English has taken over so much of my brain I have no more space for that part of myself.
I stared at the form in front of me, tapping my pen. My legs shook. I cleared my throat and looked around the room. Swirly patterns of blues, greens, and browns surrounded me. Have you ever noticed how all hospitals and waiting rooms use the same neutral palette? As though, earth tones are going to help someone find their zen during a medical crisis. At that moment, the colors weren’t working.
The sterile scent of rubbing alcohol, the HGTV special on mute, the steady stream of indistinguishable chatter at the front desk…none of it helped my nerves. All 12 boxes on the form were still empty. I took a deep breath, and as always, marked every box N/A, then turned the page.
We sat in front of him, listening to the statistics of why we had a very low chance of conceiving on our own. All we could do was smile. That was it. It was the permission slip we were waiting for. The green light from a fertility doctor, giving us permission to pursue adoption. He gave us the facts about our treatment options and instead, we drove down the street and sat in on an adoption meeting for new adoptive families. Adoption had been on our hearts all along, yet we felt like we had to try everything else first. Like society expected that from us. Like we couldn’t announce our plans to adopt until we had exhausted every other measure. Like adoption was our Plan B.
My heart sank as I watched her walk out of the room. She had birthed this beautiful child and was leaving empty handed. I was completely unprepared for the wave of grief that hit me as I realized this may be the only time we would ever meet. This is adoption.
By the time we met our daughter, we had experienced 3 years of infertility and 1 year of a tumultuous adoption process. Our tender hearts had been shredded with the pain of waiting and felt the dull ache start to erode our hope. It’s common for eroded hope to turn into fear, which is part of our story.
Black, White, Just Right was the first book that I purchased when pregnant with our first baby. I wanted her to know from before she breathed her first breath that who we are as a family and who she is as a biracial child, was more than just right. I’m a Brooklyn girl born of Caribbean immigrant parents and my husband is meat and potatoes Midwestern boy born of farmers. It’s amazing how our love for children, especially those who have a more difficult beginning, brought us together.