Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Yes, You Can Tell Your Daughter She's Adopted!

A while before Ava came into our lives, I remember sitting in one of our adoption training classes and thinking something lovingly along the lines of “You Dumb Ass,” when a man behind me answered “at birth” in response to the question: “When is it appropriate to tell your child about being adopted?” He was first-grader, hand-shooting-and-waving-high-in-the-air emphatic about his answer. It was hard to believe he hadn’t just solved a quadratic equation. 

Regardless of his enthusiasm, it wasn’t particularly fair or kind of me to have this thought. First, I didn’t have a clue how to answer the question, and in most ways, I was scared shitless at the prospect of becoming anybody’s parent. Second, like my husband and I, this man was doing his best to jump through the necessary hoops and attempt to wrap his skull around what might be in store for he and his wife should they follow through with adopting a child. 

I’m still not sure there’s a correct answer to this question, other than I don’t believe in hiding the truth regarding adoption from your child at any age. I’m personally thankful that in the majority of cases, we’ve closed the door to closed adoptions. I think it’s a basic human need to know where you came from, even if that story doesn't come close to fitting into Leave It to Beaver or Diff'rent Strokes. 

(Too bad you can’t tell your sons or daughters they came from unicorns and rainbows, eh?)

Ava loves unicorns and rainbows. With that said, I decided year number four would be the year we’d start the dialogue with her, and as difficult or strange as it might be, the dialogue would include nothing about mystical horses with horns or magical arches of colors in the sky. Again, I’ve never hidden the fact she’s adopted from Ava. We’ve read children’s books about it, and we’ve discussed her adoption with family and friends with her right beside us and/or in earshot. We hadn’t, however, really sat down and had “the talk.” 

So on November 2nd, the day Ava’s adoption was official (over a year after she’d already been ours, but that’s another post), we decided to recognize the occasion by going out to dinner and telling her a little something of her adoption. My thought was that we didn’t need to delve into a ton of detail at first, we’d let her guide the discussion, but there is no guaranteed winning playbook for this conversation. Welcome to parenting, right? Still, for most of the parents we know, this isn’t a talk they’ll have to face having with their kids.  

To the best of my now 43-year-old memory, here’s the gist of how it went: 

Me: Do you know what today is?

Ava: A school day?

Me: Yes, it’s a school day, but it’s also something else. 

Ava: Your birthday?

Me: No, my birthday is October 30th, but I guess today is close to that date, isn’t it? Do you know what else though? 

Ava: Pizza day? 

(Aside: We were out for pizza.)

Me: Well, yes. 

Ava: Cheesy breadstick day?

(Aside: Ava doesn’t like pizza that much, which [besides being crazy] borders on unpatriotic and might be grounds for Donald Trump boycotting her. She prefers cheesy breadsticks with parmesan and dill dip at a well-known pizza establishment in Kalamazoo. They used to have a location in East Lansing [Go Green!], but alas, it has been closed there for quite some time. It may or may not have had something to do with the waitstaff lacking the general appetite for waiting on customers.)

Me: Yes, we ordered your breadsticks, so you’re right. But today is also a very special day because it’s the day your adoption was final. 

Ava: Blank stare.

Me: You know you’re adopted, right?

Ava: Sigh. Slight look of annoyance mixed with sadness. 

Me: Racing thoughts of panic mixed with thoughts like where is the damn waitress with my beer mixed with thoughts like stay the course, you are her mother and you must appear calm, nurturing and resilient. Your cheeks should be cheerfully flushed. (Think: After School Special.)  

Me: You remember us reading this book? (Holding up Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, a children’s book about adoption by Jamie Lee Curtis.) How the little girl in the story was adopted? Her mother couldn’t grow a baby in her tummy, but another woman grew her who was too young to take care of her? This other woman loved the little girl so much she found another mommy and daddy to raise her and be her parents. 

Al: That’s kind of like you, me and Mommy. 

Me: Mommy couldn’t grow a baby in her tummy, so we adopted you. We are so lucky and we love you so much. 

Me: Pulling Ava closer in the booth to squeeze and possibly embarrass her. (Can a 4-year-old be embarrassed by her parents already?)

Al: We love you so much. 

Ava: Love you, too. Can I look at your phone? 

Me: Not right now, Ava. We’re talking about something pretty important. 

Ava: Stop talking, Mommy. I want to look at your phone. Please. Please. Plllleeeeassse.  

Me: Not right now, Ava.

Ava: Ahhh. Can you just grow me another baby then?

Me: No, remember, Mommy can’t grow babies. 

Ava: Can Daddy?

Me: No, boys can’t grow babies. Only girls can grow babies. (Huh, the more you say “grow babies,” the stranger it sounds. Like something out of Soylent Green. Plus, grown women should be the only ones growing babies. Unless you're a petri dish or a seahorse or an extraterrestrial. Then by all means, please grow away.) 

Al: You mean you’d like a baby sister or brother? 

Ava: Baby sister. 

Al: No, honey, we’re not going to have a baby sister or brother. We have you and that’s all we ever want or need. 

Ava: Slight look of annoyance mixed with sadness.

Me: Thoughts like awww that’s so sweet mixed with I think babies are so much more adorable since I’ve had a child mixed with there is a -15.94 chance I’m having another baby at 43. 

Me: How about a cat instead?

Al: Look of laser-beam death in my general direction. 

Ava: Breadsticks! 

Me: (Hallelujah, the breadsticks arrived!) 

Stay tuned ... 

We're still working out the kinks on that quadratic equation, but I’ve always sucked at algebra. Wait. Is that even algebra? Thank God Al is decent at math because I hear Kindergartners are practically doing calculus these days. And as it turns out, doing calc, which I think is the mathematical study of change, isn’t all that different from telling your 4-year-old she's adopted. 

Only with less breadsticks. 

I call this one "Ava's Blue Period" and/or "Our 4-year-old already solving a quadratic equation."