There’s no doubt about it – that “murky waters” conversation stayed with me for quite a while. It lurked in the back of my mind, poking me periodically to make sure I didn’t forget about it. I wanted to scream Of course I haven’t forgotten! Those big adoption moments (aka BAMs) tend to simmer while I work out where I landed on the spectrum of I handled that one okay to Wow, I blew that big time.
My English-major-nerdiness really screwed me over that night when the different connotations for ‘mom’ and ‘mother’ messed with my head. T-man’s relationship with Miss C can ebb and flow with the tides, and I’d started thinking of her more along the lines of “birthmother.” This may seem like a small distinction, but it affects how I see her. And that interferes with remembering how T-man sees her.
At any rate, after about a week of mulling over our what’s a mom? conversation I realized I needed to find a time to talk with T-man again. This time I’d need to listen a lot more carefully to the thoughts and feelings behind his words.
Since bedtime seems to be prime talk time for T-man I made it a point to tuck him in the next night. We had several things to discuss, and the quiet space of his room is ideal. He’s been struggling with feeling driven to do what’s popular, so we were talking about the importance of being true to yourself. How lots of kids his age try hard to fit in, but it’s more important to remember what you love. What you love is what will make you happy.
Finally there was a lull in the conversation that gave me a chance to broach the topic I really needed to address.
me: I’ve been thinking a lot about our talk last week, and I’m not sure I handled it very well. I told you a lot about how I was feeling but I didn’t do a very good job listening to how you’re feeling, so I’d like to talk about it some more. I know it’s confusing having two moms. It seems like you’re trying to figure things out, like….?
T-man: Like who’s my serious mom.
me: Okay. What makes a mom “serious”?
T-man: She gives birth to you and takes care of you…
T-man: …and Miss C gave birth to me but I don’t live with her, you take care of me.
me: I can see how that would be confusing. You have two moms who are splitting that – Miss C gave birth to you and I’m taking care of you now, so it kind of sounds like we’re both “serious.” How does it make you feel to have two moms?
me: How? (T-man shrugs.) In your body?
me: In your head? Heart? Belly?
me: I see. And when you feel weird in your heart is it because you can’t figure out which mom goes there or because it’s weird to have two moms in your heart?
T-man: Because I’m trying to figure out who goes there. It’s supposed to be a mom and a dad. Not two moms.
And there’s my a-ha! moment. T-man was starting to look sleepy, though, so I knew I didn’t have much time left before he faded out.
me: I want to tell you something – it’s going to seem like it’s unrelated, but I promise it will make sense in the end. You know how Heidi was our first dog and how much dad and I loved her? Then along came Ginny, and she was different from Heidi but we loved her too. My heart broke when Ginny died. When you lose a dog you feel like it’s the end, that you’ll never be able to love another dog again, but then there comes a day when you’re ready and another dog joins your family and you realize there’s room for her in your heart, too. That’s how it’s been for all our dogs. We’re so sad when we lose one, but there’s always been room in our hearts for the next one.
It was the same way for me with our family. I fell in love with your dad and we got married, and it was just the two of us for a long time. But then when you came along I loved you, too – not less, not more, but along with daddy. The same thing happened with Bear. I have more than enough love for all of you. Does this make sense so far?
me: Well, some people think your heart is like a pie. One kid gets all the love or twelve kids get twelve pieces, but hearts don’t work like that. They’re big enough to hold all the people you love. You’re too young to understand this but you’ll love lots of people in your life, and there will be room in your heart for all of them. Just like right now there’s room for Miss C and me and BrightSide…you don’t have to worry about choosing who goes in your heart because there’s enough love for everyone.
I reassured T-man that a lot of adopted kids feel confused like this and it’s completely normal. He has two worlds inside him – the one where he was born and the one he lives in – and it can be hard to fit those pieces together.
T-man: But I don’t remember where I was born.
me: No, honey, you were too young to remember it there. Your memories start at our old house. But you did have a life before you came to us, a life when you lived with Miss C. Those are the memories you keep in your heart.
T-man was practically falling asleep at this point, and who could blame him? It was a lot of difficult stuff to process, so I left it there for now. As for me? Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last week or so:
- Listen. Patiently. With my whole heart open to hearing his truth.
- Know that his confusion is real – not because he doesn’t love me but because he loves both Miss C and me.
- Be gentle while T-man tries to make sense of these things. He’s eleven, and it’s hard to be different at that age.
- Remember that he’s walking his path. I can’t walk it for him; all I can really do is be there for him while he does.