May 13, 2010


Some adoptive parents incorporate pictures and stories of birth families right from the beginning, almost daily, to the extent that their 2 and 3 year olds can tell their complete stories (based on their verbal capabilities of course) to other family and friends. We didn't go this route. Not because we don't think it's the right route or has anything questionable about it, in fact I think it's a truly lovely approach, just not the one we decided to run with. For our specific scenario and for some specific reasons we opted to start slow and then build up to the details later.

Well, it's later. Now. And I'm finding it more and more difficult to come up with the right language, despite the plethora of resources out there on the Internet and in libraries and at book stores, that doesn't make me cringe each time the words spill out of my mouth.

For example:

Ashton knows he has two mommies, me and his Ethiopia Mommy. Sometimes he asks what her name is, sometimes he asks where she is, and almost always the questions have ended with something like, "can she be my purple mommy and you be my blue mommy and I be Lightning McQueen and..." Needless to say it was clear that he hadn't entirely grasped the concept of who or where his ETH mommy is. Then earlier this week after an unexpected visit to the hospital's labor and delivery wing (all is fine and healthy, just a temporary bug) Ash seemed to really get the fact that his baby sister really is in my tummy and one day we're going to go back to the building with the free strawberry ice cream (labor and delivery wings are stocked!) and his baby sister is going to come out of my tummy and plop herself right into his strawberry ice cream. Or something like that. Anyhow, this led to a realization which led to a statement...

"Mommy, baby Helena is going to come out of your tummy just like me when I was a baby?"

Um. Hmm. "Well honey, yes, baby Helena is going to come out of my tummy just like you came out of your Ethiopia mommy's tummy when you were a baby. "

"But I want to come out of your tummy."

"Honey, you came out of a very special tummy and then mommy and daddy came to get you."

Ugh. It's that word. Get. There are variations of it's use but most of the time it comes out "when we came to get you" and just hearing the words come out of my mouth gives me a round #2 tasting of whatever we had for dinner the night before. Don't get me wrong, there is a reality behind the process that made us a family that is beautiful, but there's also an absolute presence of an ugliness surrounding the circumstances, one where I'm positive Ash's ETH mommy is not currently saying "when that family came and got my son" with a smile on her face. OK maybe she manages to squeak out a tiny grin from time to time, but then again maybe not. Probably not.


It's not that I'm not comfortable sharing his story. We have a truly happy story that just happens to contain some inexplicably painful history. When I talk to him about his story it is always with pride for his beginnings and an expectation that those beginnings will have a presence in his ongoings forever. It's just that talking to a girlfriend and saying "when we went to Ethiopia to get him two years ago..." conjures up VERY different feelings than when I'm holding him in my lap and looking into his bright big beautiful eyes and say "after you came out of your ETH mommy's tummy and we came to get you..." It just does.

Perhaps it's because I inherently connect the word get to the situation of removal. Actually, that's exactly it. When you go to get something you're removing it from something else and in this case that act of removing, to me at least, deserves a better word than just get. Unfortunately launching into a multi-lined poetic dedication to the moments when we were physically joined as family probably isn't an option. That indeed would cause more confusion than not. So for now we're stuck with simple sentences, small groups of words, and that damned word got.

And let me just make sure I've made one thing very, very very very clear. I am forever grateful to the process we chose to begin building our family and the people, countries, and agencies that made it possible. I could not possibly be more proud of my son's beginnings. And I am absolutely 100% dedicated to doing my best to raise my son as a happy, healthy, self-aware, proud, confident, Ethiopian/American/African American/New Yorker/McGregor. That's the point. I feel like, somehow, the word got just minimizes the history that occurred before we got him.

So, later tonight when we talk a some more about his story and show him pictures and relive our first moments together, I'd really like to have discovered the magical phrase that replaces "when we picked you up" or "when we came to get you" with something that does the moment a bit more justice, yet still makes sense and applies to the logic of a 3 year old.


"Your Ethiopia mommy loved you so much and wanted you to grow up to be a strong healthy boy, but she couldn't do that by herself so she asked us to be your mommy and daddy too. So we went to Ethiopia and all became a family."

Not one mention of the word got. OK, there are about a million follow up questions to that there moment that will surely leave me rolling the sounds g-g-o-o-o...t off my tongue, rendered completely incapable of finding a substitute word or phrase, but it's a start. And I'm open to suggestions. Lots and lots of suggestions.


Jill said...

My sympathies - I too have found it to be difficult to find the right words at this age because they take everything so literal. She also is enamored with the picture of the nurse from HOH (who really doted on her) and often mixes her up with her birthmom. Our story is basically this: "your first mommy couldn't buy food for you and had nowhere to live, so she took you to Nurse A (we skip a few steps but those will come later) and Nurse A took care of you until Mommy found you." I explain that I was looking for her and waiting to be told where she was and then, as Mari tells it, "when I was a little baby in Ethiopia, you and Granddad came to find me and take me home and the Nurse gave me food cause my first mommy didn't have any food for me."

As she gets older, we'll add in more parts to the story but this gets satisfaction. And so far (knock on wood), she hasn't asked me if she was lost - she seems to understand "found" to mean Mommy just didn't know where to look. She also thinks Ephrim is her brother - so I have to explain that he just drove us around because me and Granddad did not know where anyone lived in Ethiopia.

Kelly said...

I love this post! This is something that has been on my mind - how do I find the right words to communicate to my (future) child our adoption story? I can see why you don't like the word "got" (but I also see how it comes up pretty naturally in this situation). I like the alternate you came up with - more along the lines of becoming a family together in Ethiopia. I'd love to hear what others who have BTDT suggest!

Missy said...

"So we went to Ethiopia and all became a family"....Perfect. Beautiful. I'm totally using it!

Ru is too young to have these questions yet, but our 4 year old bio son INSISTS that we flew somewhere to "get" him. He will not accept that he grew in Mommy's tummy. No way...he asks us ALL the time where we flew to bring him home! I'm really not ready to get into the "birds and bees" discussion with!

stephanie said...

Your thoughts = mine. Exactly. Only so much better written by you. And just like Missy, I'm totally stealing it, too. It's perfect.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a loving way to explain it. I love the part where it says your mommy and daddy too. Sounds like you are all part of something very special, which is absolutely true.

Bridget said...

I think it sounds wonderful. And easier said then done, but....try not to worry about your words. Your love is so very real and THAT is what matters most. You are amazing parents and you are honest and open and Ash will appreciate his three year old ways...

Kerri said...

I LOVE this post. I do use the term "got" and it always sounds wrong. I also hate the term "bringing home", as if my children weren't already home. However, I still use that term too. Why...because I haven't found anything better. I love "where we became a family". Thank you!!!

Stacie said...

I'm with you on the "get." It does the same thing to me. I usually try to say "meet" and "brought you home." But "got" squeaks out every now and then when I'm not thinking. Great post!

kristine said...

Your phrase is so lovely. Descriptive and understandable for his age.

My bio son just said a couple of weeks ago that soon he is going to have 6 grandparents, meaning that our Ethiopian child's grandparents will be his too. Of course it's so much more complicated, but it's perfectly 'right' in the soul sense. We are all family.

Karen said...

Love your thoughts. Thank you for sharing. I try to avoid the word "got" as well, but as Kerri said, the term "came home" isn't all that much better. So we generally settle on how we went to Ethiopia and met her, and then the three of us traveled home so she could meet her sisters. And they played happily ever after. Or something like that.