When you have your first child, you start saying your name "Mama" over and over while your child is at a very young age, just holding your breath in anticipation of that moment your baby will utter it back. Unfortunately, then you figure out that once Baby learns it, it can and will be used during the middle of the night, after a messy incident at home, or when the sun doesn't shine just right. So the next child that comes around, you practice saying "Dada" instead. :)
Our youngest was with one foster mother for almost eight months. He was just a week or so old when he went to live with her, and he remained there until we picked him up. I had read that when a child has a primary caregiver, the transition is usually fairly smooth after adoption. And it was. The first night or so our little guy had a "mourning" period for his foster mom. After that, he switched his allegiance over to me where it remains today. Now it took him a while to say "Mama" but I always just knew when he was talking to me whether he said it or not. When he finally did start, he learned it well. I hear it probably 200+ times a day, and I am not even with him much of the day during the week. It is a call I will hear if he is more than five feet away, and sometimes I think he says it just because he thinks it is fun. Many of conversations in the car consist of this child saying, "Mama!" in many different voices and volumes, with me answering his name in the same voice and volume. When he gets up in the morning, one of the first things I hear (Mark usually gets him up) is "Mama? Where's Mama?" Then in the evenings when I put him down for bed, he is in his bed calling out, "Mama? Mama?"
Last night I was trying to chill out. It was a long day at school...good but long. I was out in the sun a lot of the day which drains me of energy. Mark took the two big kids to Child 1's game. I took the easy way out. I really don't do it often. I put in a Thomas the Train movie. It kept Child 4 still for about...8 minutes. (Child 3 however was mesmerized the entire time) Then he started to get bored. I was trying to deal with some school paperwork which for some reason is an invitation to him to climb in my lap rendering the job almost impossible. This child is very touchy feely, and he spent some time just exploring my face as he yelled out the body part (picture a chubby finger in my eye as he is yelling "EYE!"). And just when I would feel a bit exasperated, he would get right in my face and say, "Mama". One of the sweeter moments was when he pointed to me and said, "Mama" then pointed to himself and attempted to say his own name. Last night as I put him down, he said, "Love you" first. He has said it to me for a while in response to me saying it first. That is the first time he said it on his own.
All this to say, I have no doubt where I fit into his life. I have no question about who I am to him. I am his mom. Pure and simple.
On the other hand, Child 3 was not in foster care. She was in a hogar (orphanage) from the time she was about six months old until we brought her home. As far as we could tell from our visits there, she was well cared for. However, a hogar setting is a bit different than a foster care setting. She had multiple caregivers. She had most of her physical needs met, but she was one of several children in that setting. I just cannot imagine that she had a lot of individual attention nor the love and affection of a family. (I am not saying that her caregivers didn't care for her...I just cannot imagine that situation/setting would allow for a lot of personal attention)
If you have followed our story at all, you will know that the transition was not an easy one when we brought her home. For at least two weeks, this child would have NOTHING to do with Mark. Now, I see that it wasn't that long, but at the time it seemed like an eternity. And she did come to me...I think she saw me as her one road to survival. I cannot say we "bonded" right away nor even developed much of a relationship for some time. In fact, it was one of the most difficult times in my life. I am not blaming her for any of that. And of the few regrets I have in life, one would be that I wish I could go back and handle a lot of the transition differently. I still have to remind myself that I did what I could with what I knew. It was a really hard time for so many reasons. Yet I cannot lie and say that I don't feel like I failed in so many ways to meet her where she needed me to. All I can hope is that in those moments, God filled the gaps where I missed.
Anyway, Child 3 took a while to say "Mama" too and even when she did, I am not sure she completely understood who or what that was. It has taken some time for our relationship to evolve as she has learned what having a mom means and I have learned how to be a mom to someone who didn't have that for the first 26 months of her life. I cannot say we have completely fulfilled our respective roles. And some periods are still difficult. But slowly and surely our love has developed. Not too long ago, this child started using the word "love", not in a routine or habit kind of way but in a true heartfelt way. And now we are very likely to hear it just out of the blue. She is still coming to grasp with the idea of love and what it means. It is not necessarily a comfortable thing for her yet. But she is opening her heart to truly feel it, I think, for the first time.
The other day I went to pick the little ones up at the park. I had taken Child 2 to gymnastics. Child 1 had baseball practice (unexpected I might add...that seems to happen alot). So Mark took the kids to the park next to the ballfield. I drove out to pick them up so I could get them home for dinner and bed. It took me a bit to figure out where to park. Even so, I ended up parking a little bit away from where they were playing. So they started the short walk to me. I was watching Mark hang Child 4 upside down as he squealed with delight. Then in a blink of an eye, Child 3 ran up, threw her arms around me, and yelled "Mama" like we hadn't seen each other in days. And in that moment, I thought, "We have arrived." She knows who I am, pure and simple.
Later that night as I pondered all of this, I was flipping through the tv channels. I like to have background noise as I do things on the computer. I happened upon an episode of True Life on MTV. I am not typically an MTV watcher, but for some reason this show captured my attention. For those who don't know, True Life is like a little reality show. There is usually a theme (some more serious and others a bit bizarre). Cameramen follow three different people as they face certain situations.
This theme was "I'm Looking For My Sibling". One person in particular caught my eye. It was a dark haired young girl meeting with her birthfamily for the first time. I caught only the end (and hope to find the whole episode soon) of it, but basically this young lady had been adopted from Guatemala early in life. She had a twin sister living in Guatemala who she had searched for. The moment I caught though she was meeting her birthmother for the first time. And her birthmother stood there and cried, telling the girl that she wanted her to know that she just hadn't been able to care for both girls, that she was not playing favorites, and that she did what she felt she had to do. The girl responded (via translator) that she harbored no ill feelings, that she was thankful for the life her birthmother had given her because she had a good life. In the background...the girl's American adoptive mom. And of course I cried.
I forget sometimes about the whole adoption thing. Our kids are just part of us. Yet there is a chance that someday I will be the lady in the background watching as our daughter embraces her own birthmother (I have contemplated searching for her but am on the fence about that). I don't know if she will thank her birthmother or feel resentment toward me for bringing her here. I just don't know. I just pray that either way, I will have the right words to say and that I will just continue to love her for who she is. I hope the same for our son (who actually has a half brother also adopted living in the US).
I don't really know why I felt I had to share that, it has just been running through my mind. I know adoption is scary for a lot of people. And I never expected to be an advocate for it. Five years ago this was not even a seed in my heart. But for whatever reason, God brought us here. With it comes more joy than I can ever share. They are our children and bring joy to our lives in new ways every day. And with it comes some fear...fear of the unknown. Will they one day resent us? Will they feel like something is missing from their lives? I don't know the answers. I just know I am thankful for the lessons I have learned and have yet to learn. And I am thankful...I am thankful I am the Mom. Pure and simple.