It’s been a little bit of a long day of you not being sure what to do with yourself and me not being quite sure what to do with you. Having all your brothers and sisters at school has kind of swept the rug out from under you and our communication is more limited without Ava to help. We have a good day, not a great day. But that’s life. It’s a journey, the destination is not the main thing, despite what we so often believe.
In the morning, we watch the Moon Festival assembly at your new school. Your sister performs, and you are amazed by the Chinese singing and you sing along too. “Hey, I know these songs”, you say. And I smile, awed by this gift. So grateful that one day into your American life, grace provides you with China, right here in our little home town.
We spend the morning afterwards, quietly, and eat lunch at In and Out where you scoff at the milkshake I buy you and whine for a soda. We pick up your sister from her minimum day and we visit the bookstore and we play. But you don’t seem yourself, you seem a little sad, a little distant, a little tired, a little overwhelmed. I imagine how jet lag must feel for you who has never changed time zones before. And I think how lonely it must be to have only your one sister who really understands your full words. I imagine that you must grieve.
It’s late in the day when I am reading homework to Qiao Qiao that you jump in my lap full-force, the full-on-boy I recognize, back. We read and I tickle you. You pretend to nurse as you so often do. You are the most complex mix of teenager and baby and my job is to somehow nurture you through all this complexity even though I can’t possibly know how.
As I do so often, I tell you that you are my baby but you only respond, “I am not your baby” and Qiao Qiao, beside us, translates every word as if I did not already understand it, as if I wanted to hear it a second time. You tell me then that I have three babies, older sister, older brother and Qiao Qiao, but you are not my baby, you say. When I respond, I am calm and firm, a mother always. I I tell you that I have four babies, as I have told you many times before and we count them off on my fingers by name. And that is when you tell me the truth, but not the whole truth. “Real baby comes out of your belly,” you say. “I am not your baby.” I look in your eyes and I see the seriousness there, see that this is no silly joke, no play to induce me to tell you once more how much I love you. So I ask you ” where is your mama then?” and that’s when you tell me “I have no mama, my mama is dead” and I feel my whole heart break open beneath the weight of your words and all that they mean for both of us.
Hot tears burn my throat, tears for myself, rejected, tears for you, lost, tears for your first mother, forced into the hardest of choices, wbut I only tell you, lightly but tenderly. “You have two mothers. One Chinese mother and we don’t know where she is. And one American mother and she is right here.” But when you look at me you merely say again ” you are not my mom and I am not your real baby.”
I wonder, then, why it hurts so much for you to reject me. When what else should I expect? Why would I think you could so quickly embrace this white stranger with the big nose and the big belly and the wild silliness that is unlike any Chinese mother ever was?
So I simply grab you tight and I blink back the burning tears and I hug you and I say in English for your sisters benefit and for my own, ” I am your real mom forever, just like I am Ava’s real mom. There are so many kinds of real moms.” And Ava says, ” yea.” And we leave it at that.
And I share this because this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that adoption is messy and complicated, broken and beautiful. That adoption hurts hard and that love wins anyway but that winning doesn’t always look as glorious as we want it to.
I tell you this because my heart hurts and because his does too and because we are walking a broken road together and only Love can make us whole.
So love us well, friends. Love us well.