simple when it’s anything but

The question caught me off guard, though it’s not like I wasn’t expecting it, at some point.

I imagine it will be asked again, another time, maybe in a different way, with more understanding.

I’m not entirely sure whether I inadvertently led her into it, or merely created the opportunity and space for it to be asked.

Birthdays are a huge topic in our house right now. Jaye knows the month in which everyone was born — not just our birthdays but nearly all of her cousins and grandparents, as well as Kaye and her family and some close friends. It’s partly how she learned her months, remembering whose birthday is when. She loves singing “happy birthday” and the other day we called our niece to do just that. Then yesterday we got a stream of real-time photo texts of our twin baby nieces opening our presents and eating cake for their first birthday. Today we’ll call to sing to them too. This weekend we will bake cake and cupcakes for Baby Z’s first birthday on Sunday, and Monday we’ll celebrate with a family birthday brunch. So we are talking a lot about birthdays. But I digress, a bit.

Over dinner last night I was talking with Jaye about how Baby Z will get a chance to eat her first cake (her very own with fresh whipped cream frosting to do with what she wishes), just like Jaye did on her first birthday (she loves to watch the video). We were saying how this will be her very first birthday, since her birth day — i.e., the day she was born.

“Did we have cake on Z’s birth day, Mama?”

“No, sweetie. Nobody ate cake. Remember? Mama was in the hospital and Z didn’t even know how to eat yet!” [NOTE: it was completely beside the point that newborn babies do not eat cake…]

“Why she didn’t know how to eat yet?”

“Well, remember all those days we visited Z in the hospital after she was born? She was so tiny and the doctors and nurses had to help her learn to eat. Remember when Mama was teaching Z how to eat?”

“Yah, I remember that,” she said.

“When you were born, you already knew how to eat! But remember Z came so early that she didn’t know and had to learn.”

This led to a discussion about how babies grow. We talked about how when babies come early they don’t have the chance to learn all the things they need to do once they are born, like breathing and eating, and how sometimes they need help. We talked about how Jaye was born exactly when she was supposed to be, and how she already knew how to do those things.

At that moment I realized Jaye had just heard something that was inconsistent with her reality, though not untrue. Jaye knows I am her Mama. She knows she grew in Kaye’s belly. We’ve described Kaye as her “birth mama,” though she doesn’t really understand what that means. Here she was listening intently to us talk about babies growing in their mama’s bellies. Yet Jaye doesn’t associate Kaye with “Mama.”

I saw an opening and stumbled through it.

“When you grew in Kaye’s belly and you were ready to be born, Mama and Dada were there to meet you,” I explained. She has heard this part of her story and seen the pictures so many times, I wanted it to feel normal, even though she was coming at it from an unfamiliar angle. So I told her again (as this is part of her story) how hungry she was and how we fed her, and how, unlike her little sister, she knew just what to do.

I watched her little face, alternating between looking over at me and down at her plate. I could see she was listening — she hears everything, whether directed at her or not — she was paying close attention, her mind ever churning as she grazed her fork through uneaten greens.

Here I was calling it out. This distinction that, for the purpose of my love and attention, makes no difference at all, but may some day mean far more to her than I can ever imagine.

And there it was (wait for it)…

“Why I not grow in Mama’s belly?”


“That is a very good question, baby,” I said. And she waited for an answer.

I knew it might not make sense. I knew what she was asking. I knew what she was not asking. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that children ask what they need to know. They only ask what they are ready to hear. She wasn’t asking why I was her Mama. She wasn’t asking why Kaye was not her Mama. She was asking why, if babies grow inside their mamas, she didn’t grow inside my belly.

Complicating my answer was the baby sitting in the high chair to my side. I knew I had to take Baby Z into account, even though the question was not about her. Or was it? Was she also thinking ‘how come I didn’t grow in Mama’s belly too?’

I knew I had to keep it simple. At just three years old, she is not yet old enough to understand, despite her intelligence and curiosity. By all accounts she is not quite ready for a full discourse on adoption. So it had to be simple, even though it’s anything but.

Once when we were watching “Rio” (one of four movies she has seen), Jaye asked why the “good” guys wanted the last remaining male and female blue birds to get together. We explained it was so they could be together and have baby birds. “How they have babies?” she asked. Um, wasn’t quite expecting that. Mac looked over at me, clearly caught off guard and struggling to find an age-appropriate reply. Inside I chuckled at the typical response about when a man and a woman love each other, but thought better of it (besides, we know it doesn’t always work that way). Quick thinking Mac jumped in. “They lay eggs!” he said, matter of fact. Right, yes, eggs. Of course. “Yes!” I added, “just like chickens!” But I digress, again.

Anyway. Simple.

The question again, posed by my incredibly intelligent, clever and compassionate three year old daughter: “Why I not grow in Mama’s belly?”

“Well honey, Mama wasn’t able to grow a baby in her belly when we were waiting for you.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“I don’t know, sweetie. I just couldn’t.”

And we left it at that. I could have gone on, but I didn’t. In the next instant, Jaye was talking about the cucumbers on her plate. The moment had passed.

Honestly I don’t know whether I led her into that discussion by bringing up Kaye, or whether I was merely trying to create the space and opportunity to talk about something that came up in conversation. It’s a tough balance.

I know I could have answered in so many other ways, but I didn’t. Still, I imagine any answer will only lead to more questions. They usually do.

~ by luna on August 30, 2012.

13 Responses to “simple when it’s anything but”

  1. Wowza……. I’m, well, wow.

    Such a great question – just the way it was put… Having a biological child certainly forces questions to the forefront it seems. I like your answer about why you couldn’t have a baby. It’s just unknown. Sometimes, that just has to be the answer…

    I have had ZERO questions from Theo on that front. I’m just lieing in wait.

  2. I don’t think you “led” her. it’s just a fact that regular conversations can all of a sudden trigger questions like this. if z wasn’t in your life there would likely be less discussions of this nature right now. and I think you handled it well! It’s such a good thing that they’re young so we have ample time to perfect our response!!

  3. For what it’s worth, I remind Lil Pumpkin all the time that you can join a family in three ways: marriage, adoption, and birth. This helps her understand the way her Daddy and I first became a family, then added her, then her little sister (biological child).

    She understands that I am her little sister’s birth mother and forever mother. She knows and we talk about her having had a birth mother, foster mother, and forever mother (note: I know some people don’t like “forever mother” phrase, I have no problem with “adoptive” but she prefers “forever” and so we use that.

    Sometimes she asks me questions that I don’t have a well thought out answer to. I’d encourage you to ask “why do you ask?” to help examine the route of her inquiry, and sometimes reply (as I do), “hmmm, thats a complicated question. Can you let Mommy think about it for a bit and then answer it later?”. We don’t have to have every answer ready to go, and children are usually willing to give us a few minutes to collect our thoughts if we do answer it eventually.

    Just some food for thought. Much love and support to you 🙂

  4. My son, Adam, at one point felt very sad that he didn’t get the opportunity to be in my belly — and he was very sad for me that I had, in his words “a broken tummy.” He actually would ask if there was a way he could get into my belly for just a little bit — oh, the mind of a three-year-old!

    I find that I answer a lot more questions with “I don’t know” than I ever thought I would. Sometimes there just isn’t a better answer and I think it’s good for kids to know that parents don’t always have all the answers.

  5. “…children ask what they need to know. They only ask what they are ready to hear.”

    Oh, oh, oh…this is so very true, and it crushed my heart for all the reasons that you know and that I can’t say aloud.

    They need answers. And though you might feel fumbly as you tiptoe along this path and handle her questions with kid gloves, you are giving the answers that she needs. You’ve given her ownership of her story right from the very beginning, and that is making all the difference in the world.

  6. You handled this beautifully. Just beautifully.

  7. Oh, lordy, you got a smart one, eh? I have a pregnant friend and I had to explain that to the Precious and he asked was amazed that there was a baby “in there”. I like your answer though, and I’m filing it away in my head cause the day is a coming for me soon….

  8. I think what’s so appropriate here is less WHAT you said (which was a terrific approach) than THAT you “saw an opening and stumbled through it.”

    This moment showed Jay that this topic is discussable by you and Mac and has set the stage for all the other curious questions she’ll have for you, knowing that you won’t dodge or squirm. That, like her, you are curious and confident about her ability to process her adoptedness.

    Well done, Luna!

  9. […] a conversation about where babies come from toward an adoption talk with her 3 year-old, Jaye. In Simple When It’s Anything But, Luna responds to the question “Why I not grow in Mama’s belly?” Her thought processes are […]

  10. Good for you! I learned to answer specifically what Sophia asked. Yes , in time her questions will need more detail, but you will know the time. Although, sometimes tne answer is still ” I don’t know.” I will never know why my body could not carry a child, but I am sure glad my heart was! THe adoption journey is like none other, enjoy and savor each minute. Congrats on the birthday coming up!

  11. […] it means, the ground won’t crumble beneath her as we help her navigate her truth, her story. Once again, I saw an opening and tried to stumble through […]

  12. Here from CDLC. You handled this SO well! I love hearing how you are helping Jaye find her way through to the heart of her story.

  13. I love how you saw an opening to talk about adoption and jumped for it. I look forward to hearing those conversations keep developing!

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