A woman I know told me she and her husband had been planning for weeks how they would tell their daughter she was adopted after they’d felt she’d reached the appropriate age of five. They planned on both being there, taking her somewhere special, telling the beautiful story, etc. Then a few days later while the woman was alone with the girl the girl innocently and completely out of the blue asked her mother, “Am I adopted?”
In a second the woman had to decide. Do I tell the truth? Do I wait so that it can unfold as we planned?
She decided to wait would be suspicious and cause anxiety so she quickly said, “Yes. You were adopted.” She waited for the inevitable flood of questions, the outpouring of emotion so she hugged her daughter tightly and said, “Do you have any questions, honey?” And her daughter minutes later after seemingly careful reflection said, “Yes. Can I have a candy?”
Probably I will forget everything leading up to the story. But I’m quite certain I will not forget the story. At least for a while.
I’ll probably forget the stomach virus that set in on Good Friday. And how I thought I might have been chosen by Jesus for stigmata because it felt like I was dying. And how I cancelled all of our guests for Easter Sunday because I didn’t want to pass on any germs and anyway I thought I might possibly be in the ER. And how I debated on cancelling because that meant we would have no ham for our Easter Sunday dinner and where could I possibly find a ham as delicious as a Honey Baked ham on Good Friday? And how I spent all day Friday in bed or near the toilet. And how most of Saturday is a blur. And how I kicked myself for being such a procrastinator and not having anything for the kids’ Easter baskets. And how even though I still felt puny I rushed out at the last minute Saturday evening to buy a ham and supplies for the kids’ Easter baskets while you got the eggs ready for The Hunt. And how the kids hate it when I call it The Hunt because it sounds like Hunger Games. And that I’m not sure what I’m supposed to call it if not The Hunt. And how I missed Easter Sunday mass in as many years as I can remember and I’m not sure if it was because I was sick or because I’m not sure I am a believer anymore – of which I am not sure.
All of that will probably be erased from my memory in a matter of months.
But I hope I do not forget how perfectly the morning unfolded despite being sick in bed for two days beforehand. I don’t think I’ll forget when you looked across the table at me during dinner and gave me an odd look that I couldn’t quite read..
I think I will remember this.
We had said it was time to tell them the truth. The Whole Story. We did not say when or how. It was left as “sometime soon.”
You started the story by saying it was an Easter Sunday about and then you hesitated because I don’t think you could remember how many years ago. Maybe because it’s been that long? Maybe because we’ve lived another lifetime since then? Anyway. I mumbled that It was about 15 years ago. And what followed was a story. More correctly our story. But, hearing it this time was different. So much time has passed. Some of the details have now grown fuzzy. My memory has probably chosen to block the most painful events. So much so that it almost sounded like someone else’s story. Regardless, of the facts that must be told to make the story whole, I am sure.
We could not have children of our own, we adopted a baby boy who came to live with us three days after birth, we’d met his birthmother briefly at the adoption agency, we loved this baby as our own and with all our hearts, this baby of ours lived with us for two years, he became a member of our family and he met all of our friends, we celebrated a second Easter with this sweet baby and then his second birthday. We planned a wonderful future with this beautiful baby boy and we even planned on adopting another baby. And it was right after that, right after his second birthday, that we were told it was an illegal adoption.
I remember asking very early on in our adoption process about Baby Jessica. Remember her? I said to the social worker, “What about Baby Jessica? Do things like that ever happen?”
She waved my question away, adjusted her glasses and cleared her throat in a chuckling kind of way.
“Oh heavens no! That’s why we’re here! To assure those kinds of things don’t happen.”
You continued the story but I looked up to see that you’d begun to cry. But you persisted, determined to tell it all – at least as much of it that makes it a comprehensible story. Because how could we ever express it all, right?
By this time the kids had stopped eating. I knew then that it would hit the boy the hardest. He’d already teared up and mumbled that this was too sad. But, there was really no way to stop and once you start to tell the story you have to finish or nothing will make sense. So, you continued.
Remember the story in the bible about King Soloman and the women who both claim the baby is theirs? The real mother cannot bear to see her baby cut in half so she agrees to give the baby to the other woman. King Soloman then declares that the woman who agrees to give up her baby is the real mother. Sometimes real life is more complicated than a bible story.
You told about how after much agonizing reflection and thought we decided the baby had to go back to his birthmom because she loved him very much and had, in fact, changed her mind about giving him up seconds after having him and had been fighting all this time to try and get him back.
I remember how I used to wear a cross around my neck at that time. Sometimes the grief would overpower me so suddenly and overwhelmingly my eyes would flood with tears and I would be unable to function. I would grip the cross and begin to say the rosary in my head so that I couldn’t think of anything else. After a few seconds a blanket of calm would surround me. My vision would come back. I could open my eyes and continue with what I was doing. Was this faith?
You told our children about how sometimes you have to do the right thing even though it threatens to rip your heart out. You explained that sometimes things do not go the way we’ve planned. You explained that we went through a painful arduous process of giving this sweet baby, our sweet baby that we loved so much back to his birthmom who also loved him dearly. And that she raised the boy after that. You told them that we got to see the boy on weekends and he was still a huge part of our life. You explained how their family became like close relatives or childhood friends. You explained that we still see this “baby” boy that was ours.
I remember just months ago seeing this 15 year old “baby” boy and thinking Where has the time gone? Who is this young man in front of me? Somewhere in that face I could still see the face of the baby that I knew from the time he was days old.
Then you told them who this boy was. And then the story became whole. They realized that this baby boy is their good friend who they love very much. I could see from the looks on their faces that finally it all made sense. Why we have so many photos of him. Why he comes to visit us. Why we have a baby book that belongs to him. Why they have thought that he’s related to them. Why they’ve even asked if he’s their brother. It all made sense to them. Finally.
I think I will also remember how even though everyone was crying then, minutes later everyone was laughing again and eating Easter cake and talking about how great it was that we were a family of six now. And how this story kind of made the circle complete. I think I’ll remember that the boy said, “So I almost had a brother?” with his face full of tears. I think I’ll remember how the girl said, “That’s really sad, but it’s happy too and that’s the best kind of story.” I think I’ll remember how they all hunted Easter eggs after that.
Going forward the stories will be told in full. There is no need to rephrase, to couch, to explain carefully. The sometime story is the now story. And it is being written as we go along.