planting the seeds
These riveting conversations around the kitchen table always seem to catch me off guard.
Yesterday Jaye stayed home after being up all night with a high fever. Though she rarely gets to watch TV, she spent much of the day on the couch watching Curious George. Poor girl was burning up with chills and wrapped in blankets yet couldn’t sleep. TV was actually just what her glassy eyes needed. After her meds kicked in, she finally fell asleep and awoke hungry. (Note her illness is irrelevant to the rest of the story, except to illustrate how surprised I was by the lucidity of the following conversations, given that she was babbling and semi-incoherent for hours.)
Over a snack, we were talking about names and family and friends. We had spent Saturday with a family from our adoption group, who have kids the same age as ours (side note: it is amazing how we turned from a group of four to eight in just over two years). I told Jaye that her friend Elle was adopted just like her, that she had a birth mama named Shana in Texas where she was born. Then we were discussing another family whose little girl is about to turn four. Isa was adopted too, I told her, just like you and Elle. Isa has a birth mama named Kelly in Sacramento. Drawing the connections in her little head, Jaye started talking about where she was born too.
“Yes, you were born at Grandma Bea’s house after you grew in Kaye’s belly,” I told her, once again. “Then Mama and Dada became the luckiest people in the world because we got to be your Mama and Dada.”
She smiled and did this thing where she turns her head to the side all cute-like, then nodded, as if ‘yeah, I’ve heard that part before.’ Then she promptly changed the subject to the plants in the garden that needed weeding. Right.
Later, over dinner with Mac, we were talking about babies and family. Jaye likes to point out how Baby Z was born in a hospital in SF, but that Jaye was born at (her grandma’s) home a few counties away. I imagined she might have been thinking about our earlier conversation, though I don’t know. At not yet three and a half, Jaye still has no real concept of adoption and what it means to have been adopted. I’m always looking for opportunities to plant the seeds of understanding, to lay a foundation that should feel comfortable and familiar, so that one day when she does begin to comprehend what it means, the ground won’t crumble beneath as we help her navigate her truth, her story. Once again, I saw an opening and tried to stumble through it.
“Babies can be born into families, or they can be adopted into families,” I explained, “like you and Z.”
But what came next was not at all what I expected.
“But how do babies get into mamas’ bellies?”
Uh, gulp. Yikes.
Once more, my eyes darted across the table to Mac, who tends to think of these lovely simple answers while I offer an initial “well, that is a very good question” and try to quickly think of a response myself.
It hasn’t come up before, the fact that it takes two people to make a baby.
In Jaye’s case, it took several people to make us a family. She knows Kaye, of course. She knows I am her Mama, and she knows her Dada. Yet she has no idea about her biological father. We have met Vic twice, when Jaye was 5 months old and again at 8 months. She has seen photos in her book, including one of him holding her the first time we met. She has asked about him but only in wondering why we have a photo of someone she doesn’t know and we don’t ever see. We haven’t spoken with him in well over a year. While an email from his mother (Jaye’s other birth grandma) awaits my reply, likely to discuss her plans to visit next year, we don’t know exactly where Vic is and we have no real way to reach him.
Embracing Kaye’s significance in our lives is far easier than explaining who Vic is. First, while adoption is still too complex a concept for Jaye to fully grasp, she has heard the story of how we became a family many times (though I don’t know how much she understands yet). She knows she grew in Kaye’s belly, that Kaye brought her into the world and asked us to be her parents, that we became a family when she was born. But that’s just it. Kaye and her family are our family. We celebrate birthdays, we have brunch, we talk about family resemblances. But Vic? We don’t have that. For now, he is not a part of our lives like Kaye is. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that maybe it’s been easier this way. Yet I am aware it may not be this way forever. I want Jaye to have access, some day, if Vic is capable. But right now? Right now it’s hard to even say the words: he is your biological father. Really hard. And even more difficult to explain what that means. Still, I know we have to find a way to plant that seed too.
So yeah, I gulped when she asked how do babies get in mamas’ bellies.
Thankfully Mac had a simple answer for her, for now. “Well, it takes a little part from a Mama and a little part from a Dada to make a baby. These two little parts come together and grow and become a baby, and it grows and grows until it’s born.”
And then she promptly changed the subject.