Well as I said in ‘Momma Says . . .Part 1’, my conversation with my mom about growing up adopted went pretty good. So, welcome back to Blogville for Part 2 of this amazing conversation. I have just brewed a lovely cinnamon apple tea for your visit.
Let’s focus for a minute on my mom.
My conversation took place last month when I was with my mother to celebrate her upcoming birthday. As well, she needed refills on her supply of her favourite GF carrot muffins and cookies, and we often chat while she watches me bake. Realizing the golden moment that I was presented with, I asked her, “So, mom, how does it feel to turn 97 years old?” She thought for a moment and said, “You don’t really think about it until someone asks you a question and you stop and realize it is getting harder and harder to figure out the answer to their question. Also, I can no longer do so many of the things I used to easily do.” She expanded by saying, “I feel weaker and less able to do things but I’m definitely smarter.” I asked why she thinks she is smarter now and, without missing a beat, she grinned and said, “well, I don’t have to do so many things anymore, everyone does it for me”. Well, that is smart. So I handed her the muffin tin liners and put her to work!
Back when it was mom’s 90th birthday I suggested we get her an IPad. People thought that was a bit of a ridiculous idea but I prevailed. She has loved it from the beginning and still loves it seven years later. So when she was talking about being smarter now she said, “Its kind of like my machine here (referring to her IPad). I can play cards all day and my machine has to do all the shuffling and count the points. I don’t even have to pick up the cards when I’m done. Grinning, she turned her screen to show me the cribbage game that she was currently winning.
Her memory is failing for sure. It bothers me the most when I’m visiting and she’ll suddenly just stare at me. I know at that moment that she isn’t quite sure who I am. There was a time late last year when my mother sat across the table from me and proceeded to tell me a story about how she and her had husband adopted a little girl. I realized that I was listening to the story of my own arrival into the family from a perspective I had never heard it told from before. Sadly, in my heart, I knew it was because she had no idea that, sitting across from her, was the aged version of the little girl they had adopted.
As I explained earlier, given her age, and mom’s memory issues I decided it was the time to talk to her about adoption in general and my adoption specifically. This was the conversation I had started so many times in my life but quickly retreated because I sensed her pain or discomfort. Since, at that moment, she thought she was telling a stranger about her experience, she seemed very comfortable talking about it. So as bittersweet as it was, during this conversation I learned about her heartache at not being able to carry a baby to term, and how she and my dad learned about adoption from a visiting missionary at mass one Sunday, and how she called for information on adoption the following day. She talked of wanting a baby girl but reminisced about when they called about a 2 1/2 year old boy and how she called my dad and excitedly told him, “We are getting a little boy!” I learned how afraid she was to hire a babysitter and go for a drink with my dad at a ‘beverage house’ because they might take her child away. How she felt that she had to ask her social worker if that behaviour would be ok. Though I asked about it, she didn’t remember the application process or other pre-adoption steps specifically. Her response? “You just did what they said if you wanted to get children.”
Suddenly, Mom surprised me by asking, “Did you know about the woman who had you? Her father did not want her to bring you home and he wouldn’t let her, so we got you instead.” She looked sad when she added, “I always felt sorry for her because she could have a baby and was not allowed to keep it, and I got to keep it instead.” Mom then blew my mind by asking, “Did you ever get to meet her?” (Definitely a topic for a different blog, but I finally told my mom what happened regarding my birth mother because she doesn’t read my blogs, and she’s 97 years old. I’m afraid you will have to wait.)
Getting back to my first ever real heart to heart conversation about adoption with my mom. I asked her, “Was it hard to tell people that you were going to adopt?” “I forget”, she said, “we just brought you home and said you were our children. Nobody ever gave us a hard time.” She qualified that with, “It was just what families did. If you couldn’t have children you adopted. Simple as that.”
So, I asked her how her siblings, and her mother, my Granny, took the news that she and my dad were adopting. Mom looked at me like I had suddenly grown a beard and said, “Granny didn’t think anything of it as it was something that always was. I mean, adoption.” She added, “Like in the old days when parents died and their families would take care of the children. If there was no family then a family that knew the children would take them in.” She looked me in the eye and said, “Lynn, children need a family to take care of them and that was that.” Here is where I start bawling again from simply typing the words that she added, “You and your brother needed a home and that was that, you were part of the family.” Keeping the tissues close as I write that, I remember how she concluded with, “You were such good children. I think you were so glad you had a brother when you came to us, and he was so glad to get a sister. You were never strange with each other when you came to us, it was like you both knew you were home now.”
I am being honest when I tell you that I have never had a conversation like this with my mom. She always looked so hurt when I would ask, or would just stare at me like a ‘deer in the headlights’ and now I know that I was wrong not to have kept asking. But I was just a kid, and no kid wants to put that look of fear on the face of their parent.
As you know, I had decided to take a bigger risk by asking my mom if she had any advice for people who want to adopt. As I noted in Part 1, venturing into this topic felt like the risk we kids used to take after the annual Cochrane Carnival fishing derby. Usually on a dare, we would run across the lake dodging (we sincerely hoped) the abandoned fishing holes. You might make it across unscathed, or you might break a leg, but worth the risk.
It kind of felt like that when I asked, “Mom, would you have any advice for people who want to adopt children?” Without missing a beat she replied “I’d tell them to make sure that that is what they want”. Pushing aside the little girl in me begging me to stop talking, I asked what she meant by that and she replied, “I’d tell them that it’s not just like having your own” (I thought I had just figuratively fallen into one of those fishing holes- I could almost hear my leg snap). Well folks, since I have two legs, I decided to continue to ignore the little girl in me and pursue the concept. Metaphorically, I felt mom putting a cast on my leg when she said, “They need to be sure because sometimes children have questions about adoption that you can’t answer. You can’t just tell them about the birds and the bees.” I was in it now, why not keep going? I leaned forward asking, “Why couldn’t you answer?” She replied, “Well, lots of times I didn’t know the answer because they didn’t tell me much” (meaning the adoption workers). “Other times I didn’t know the answer because I wasn't adopted.” Well I sure did not see that one coming! I flashed back to some questions I had as a child when she would give me that ‘deer in the headlights’ look. Honestly, until that moment it had never occurred to me that adoptive parents sometimes struggle to answer their children’s questions because they have never experienced what their children were experiencing. Wow! What an enlightening moment for me, and hopefully for you.
But, since opportunity was knocking! Something I have always been curious about but was too afraid to ask my mom was why, when a doctor would ask about family medical history, my mom would give him a look and the two of them would leave the room. I remember thinking that she was sharing some magical secret about my biology with the doctor, or revealing some terrible medical facts about my birth family history. So today, I took the plunge, I worked up the nerve to finally ask, “Mom, I’ve always been curious why, whenever family medical history questions would come up, you and the doctor would always leave the room to talk?” In response, my beautiful 97 year old mother looked me straight in the eye and said, “I have no idea.”
Are you KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW???
Nope, no clue, not even a twinkle in her eye. Sigh.
I love you mom!
As usual, please know that I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments. If you prefer a less public forum, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Deiulis' personal and professional journey sparked a passion to write a book that offers an opportunity for children to learn about how they came to be living together as a family or living with another family.