This past weekend, my nine-year-old daughter had a babysitting gig for some friends of ours. Actually, it was more of a mother’s helper gig. It’s sort of funny, because this friend used to babysit her older sister. My, how time flies.
When she came home, she had a lot to say about the experience, since it was her first time actually being in charge of kids. And then she said, “They said that the adoption becomes final on Friday. What does that mean?”
So I took a moment to explain to her what adoption was, even though I was pretty sure she should be familiar with the concept since one of her friends from school is adopted from China, and everyone knows that.
After I explained, she said, “So he didn’t grow inside of her?”
“Well, no,” I said, “he didn’t.”
“So he’s not really theirs then?”
I froze. I knew what she meant, but I knew that this question, this statement, and the potential answer, is a big issue to adoptees and adoptive parents across the United States. It may even be an issue around the world, but I’m not familiar with their cultures. How was I going to handle this one?
I said, “Well he’s not theirs yet, but he will be on Friday, after the ceremony.
“But he still won’t really be theirs,” she said.
I tried again, “After Friday, he’ll be as much theirs as you are ours, except that he will have come from other parents.”
At that point, her brain exploded…followed quickly by her face, as she ran off in tears, saying, “Stop confusing me!”
I saw this coming the minute I had to answer the question, and that’s why I froze when she asked it. To the mind of a kid who knows where babies come from, and is trying to make sense of the world around her, saying that our friends’ baby was really theirs when he actually wasn’t theirs biologically was tantamount to dividing by zero, and in trying to deal with the emotional issues held by so many adults in the adoption community, I fried all of her little kid circuits. I was telling her something was that clearly wasn’t. I knew what she meant, but she wasn’t able or ready to understand what I meant. Nor did she understand the emotional weight of the simple question she asked.
And maybe that’s OK.
You see, for kids it’s OK to “not really be theirs” and still be part of the family. They don’t have a problem with that at all. Their terminology is not about exclusion, but of making sense of what to them is a very simple, and often binary, world. To them the baby is yours if it came out of one of you. If it didn’t, then it’s not. No value judgment there, just simple, biological, fact. To them there’s no problem with being “someone else’s baby” and a member of this family. To them, being someone else’s baby doesn’t mean being loved any less. It simply means that this one came from somewhere else. And when they ask about the baby’s “real parents,” they’re not making any kind of statement about the adoptive parents, they’re simply being curious kids, working in that simple binary world. So responding to a logical kid question with an emotional adult answer doesn’t do anyone any good. It sends them screaming from the room, circuits fried.
And it makes a bigger deal out of it than it should’ve been in the first place.
So is he “really” theirs? Well, no, not biologically. But on Friday he’ll be officially theirs.
And that will make a lot of people happy.
Even the kid whose brain exploded.