There’s that line in a Jewel song about being sensitive and wanting to stay that way. I remind myself of that chorus if ever I feel like someone has intentionally poked and twisted sharp and hurtful words into me, my heart, my soul. As difficult as it can be when this happens — for me, it’s especially so in the moment when my response is lost, mired somewhere in disbelief — I remind myself of that song. My skin is most definitely not thick. But really, I’d not want it any other way. I’d rather be sensitive — the opposite just isn’t an attractive option.
Where am I going with this? Well, having just returned from a fabulous extended-family vacation in the warm and sunny Outer Banks, I’d like to get one less-than-fabulous thing off my chest before returning to my regularly scheduled programming — which, by the way, includes some recollections of a terrific time in Nags Head with Maevey Gravy and family.
But first, bear with me a bit about a funny comment directed to me during the vacation. Definitely not of the ha-ha variety, this comment was said to me by a child. An innocent-enough comment from a child’s mouth.
So this isn’t about anger or how I should have or could have responded. It’s more about how, as an adoptive mom, sometimes everyday situations are not so everyday. How this little one’s comment really got me thinking. Me. You know, as an adoptive mother.
One evening Maeve had a meltdown. During dinner she didn’t want to sit correctly in her chair. After kneeling a while, she began to try to stand and eat. Thomas and I repeatedly corrected her and she broke into tears. Hysterical tears. We brought her to our room so as not to disrupt the others finishing their meal and tried to calm her. It was a most unusual breakdown on her part — clearly something specific was bothering her. (Turns out the reason behind her suffering actually was directly related to her not being able to sit. Oh, just read on.)
A few of the children (there were seven of Maeve’s cousins at the vacation house) followed us into our room as we cared for a very upset Maeve. During the crying, I had her lay on the bed so I could check her diaper. She wanted none of it, pushing me away from the waistband of her shorts, bawling until her face was inflamed and nose was running uncontrollably. As Tom and I each tried to calm her, one of the cousins who had followed to see what was wrong with Maeve, touched my arm to get my attention and, after asking why Maeve was upset, flatly stated — and I can still hear the voice in my mind — “You never should have adopted her.”
In the middle of all that screaming I’m sure I actually heard silence.
I was stunned. Where was that coming from? Why would they say that? My thoughts ran the gamut from it being a personal attack on my parenting ability to one on my daughter herself:
Was it meant to say that because I couldn’t tame this two-year-old’s tantrum I wasn’t fit as a mom? I ran it through my head again.
You never should have adopted her.
Was it because Maeve was so upset and acting out so loudly with tears, sobs and anger that somehow she wasn’t fit to be here, to be part of the family? Again, it ran through my head.
You never should have adopted her.
No matter where I placed the emphasis, the sentence didn’t — still doesn’t — get any better. Despite it not improving with varied intonation and pronounciation, I reminded my wounded self the comment has come from a child.
No I wasn’t angry. Hurt, sure. But the more I thought about that exchange — my response, by the way, was “Why would you say that?” — I realized my feelings weren’t ultimately about the child commentor and their stinging words. Most of that sting is frustration that sometimes, for an adoptive parent, the very act of parenting can be different than others’.
What biological parent on that same vacation would ever be told, while their child cries, “You never should have had her.”
It just wouldn’t happen. Ever.
I hope that as time passes, as the kids in both of our extended families grow alongside Maeve, they learn that she’s just like any of them. Nothing more, nothing less. She’s just another cousin. Her adoption isn’t something that should surround her, envelop her, making her a present-tense case of “She is adopted.”
Of course, this two-year-old’s meltdown had nothing to do with her being adopted or with us adopting her. It’s just something a two-year-old girl (who happens to have been adopted) did. Period.
As much as I hope in my travels, writings, relationships and conversations, to help others — including our families — better understand adoption, open adoption especially, and the importance of embracing Maeve’s story and history, I hope they simultaneously realize that while she has a special story that must be respected, she is also, quite simply, just one of them. Another child in the family acting like any other child in the family has acted. In this case, her adoption backstory isn’t necessary.
This isn’t to say that during the vacation I didn’t welcome adoption topics, adoption questions, should they come my way. (Anyone visiting me here for anytime at all knows that talking about adoption is of the utmost importance to me.) Several other cousins of Maeve’s asked adoption-related questions. One asked if her “real mom had named her.” (Ouch on the use of “real,” but still, a question I gladly answered.) Another not present for this last question asked, on an entirely different day, why we didn’t name her. I wasn’t sure what they meant until I realized they thought Maeve was the name given her by her birth mother. In both cases, I used the random questions while splashing about in the pool or digging in the sand to explain. I explained that her birth mother hadn’t given her a name because she told us she specifically wanted us to choose it. I also explained that her birth mother also liked the first and middle names we ultimately chose and their meanings, all very intentional on our part.
Through the conversations I tried to share, to enlighten, to explain while not using the exchanges as a pulpit. I simply answered nonchalantly and honestly. Matter-of-factly. After all these are just the facts surrounding Maeve’s adoption and in sharing them that way with the children, I hope they come to see her adoption as just that. Just another fact about Maeve.
But it’s not a context for which all things Maeve must be defined or a filter through which all things Maeve must be viewed. After all, she’s just one of the kids. She’s … simply … family.
When we finally did calm her and wrestle that diaper off of Maeve, we found a particularly nasty rash — one brought on, we figure, by the frequent use of swim diapers, the sand, the ocean saltwater and the pool chlorine. When I saw her skin broken open and oozing, my heart felt a twinge of guilt as I recalled the moments before when Thomas and I told her she must sit at the table.
Seems sitting was simply too painful. When we immediately put her in a bath in the hopes of soothing her skin — she would only bathe on all fours. That’s how raw her tush was.
Hmpf. Raw. Much like the comment that bruised my heart.
Sure, both will heal. But neither were necessary.