Closing the door to his closet, I turn slowly as he nonchalantly says, “Mom, I don’t know why I call you mom. You are not my mother.” My pulse quickens as I face him, his lean body secured beneath the covers, like a well-wrapped burrito. He is not angry or mad. He is matter of fact. And nothing is out of the ordinary on this evening. This is our nightly routine.
Luca’s thoughts about his adoption seem to come out of thin air; random ruminations that don’t logically connect to the conversation we were having just a second prior. I imagine what he allows to escape his lips is the tip of an iceberg, the bulk of which drifts far beneath the surface, sometimes lost in a silent sea, but other times colliding with something artificial, exposing its rough edges and pushing it to the surface.
He has known his story since he was able to understand English. Paul and I have been intentional about explaining his providential path. I sang it to him, in fact, every night. A homemade lullaby about the power of God’s plan, and two crazy kids who boarded an airplane for a far away, mystical land. As he aged, we discussed the fact that he did not come from my stomach, but another’s. A woman who loved him enough to give him a chance at life. Surface, but truth. Every time we celebrated this fact, I watched for his reaction. Mostly silence. Not dumb silence, either. Thoughtful, pensive, inward. No questions. No anxiety. Just a resolute contentment. He was mostly quiet, in fact, until last year. Last year, he became un-quiet. And out of nowhere, like stray bullets, his thoughts penetrated the silence.
“You are not my birth mother. Someone else was. Did you ever meet her?”
“What does she look like?”
“Does she have a strange face?”
“What if she is not a good person?”
Believe me, I read the book. Or books . . . yes, all the books. Adoption books. I’ve written about them before, in fact. They are helpful, useful and important. The problem is that all the books in the world cannot account for each individual journey to this truth. Every soul has to come to terms with this familial arrangement in its own way. In its own time. And every stage of Luca’s life will bring a new revelation of his needs. Needs I might not know, until he is ready to tell me. Until that iceberg reveals itself inch by frozen inch. I’ve just got to have the patience to wait him out and more importantly, the grace to listen.
“Luca, I did not give birth to you. That is true. But let me ask you this. What is the definition of a mother? What does it mean to be a mother?”
He ponders for a moment, “Someone who takes care of you. All of you. All the time.”
“So by that definition?” I ask.
“You are my mother.”
I love you, Luca. Always and forever. No matter what. -Mom
This is going to be short and sweet.
It finally happened. I’ve been waiting, anticipating, planning, articulating my beautiful three point sermon with a tiny, but life changing poem in my head. And then, boom.
“Momma, I think it’s weird that you and Daddy didn’t have any real kids.” Luca said, nonchalantly last night as I tucked him into bed.
“But, Luca,” I said. “You are our real kid.”
“Oh, I know, Momma. You really do feel like my momma and Daddy really does feel like my daddy, but I have other parents, you know.”
You see, up until that very moment, Paul, Luca and I have largely lived our adoption story inside the pages of a sweet, preferably Christian, storybook. An angel with feathery wings, hovers above a beautiful, chubby-cheeked boy, whispering words of affirmation in his ear, singing to his soul the truth of providential appointments and God’s divine order. Page turn. Adoptive mother serenely strokes adopted child on the cheek, singing the prayers of her heart and the appreciation she feels for his birth mom. Page turn. New family runs together, hand in hand, in a field of daffodils, while creation watches in wonder. The End. I know that book. I have that book. It’s on the shelf in Luca’s room in seven varieties. And that book is good. Except when it’s not.
I opened my mouth to say all the things I am supposed to say in that moment. God brought us to you. The judge declared to all the land that you are our boy. We loved you before we knew you. All the things. Yet, the whole time I was thinking to myself. This wouldn’t have been enough for me. At 8, these words would not have been enough. If I were him, I would want to know why I wasn’t with her. Why she cast me aside. None of this. No, nothing would make any sense until I had answered that question.
And, let me get this part straight. I am not offended by his line of questioning. I KNOW I’m his mother. I have bandaged wounds. I have cleaned ungodly messes. I have wiped . . . it all. I have paced the floor over a crazy high fever, more than once. I have prayed, cried, and celebrated. I have held him to me in the moments of his deepest, wildest desperation. I have disciplined. I have stood as sentinel over a table filled with homework. And the pancakes. Good grief, the number of pancakes I have made. Nobody has worked harder to earn the right to be called his mother, but me. Nobody.
What I am is hurt. I am hurt that this is his cross to bear. I am hurt that this question will linger. That this will be his fight, and there is nothing I can do to change it. And as I was considering the depth of my hurt over his hurt, I got my moment of clarity. I am always trying to make Luca’s pain about me. But this one. This isn’t about me. It’s not about infertility or inadequacy or inability. This is about him. This is about his story. This is about his destiny. He doesn’t need my pity. He needs my strength. That way, he will know that he will be okay when the storm of pain subsides.
So I got in my car this morning on my way to work, and I asked God to make me an oak. To cut out my heart. To make me as strong as the tallest tree in the forest so that he never feels like he can’t tell me that he sometimes misses her. And then I cried a little.
Real life is not a storybook. It’s tougher, but it has such a better plot.