01 May 2007

Of forebears and hockey night in Canada

On the Tenth Day of Four
I think-as I do every day--about Curious Girl as she makes her way in the world, telling her own stories her own way

Later this month, Curious Girl will be the student of the week in her class. She'll get to bring a special snack one day and have a guest reader come in to share a special book. Her teachers have suggested it's a good week to do some talking about where she was born, and our family, and adoption. Whether it's because of that, or just her regular birthday reflective angst, Curious Girl has been thinking a lot. She told me the other day that she wants to bring her book about when she was a baby to school, so her friends can see the pictures in it. That's her lifebook, the story of her life that Politica and I have written and illustrated (which really isn't written for her friends, so we'll deal with privacy issues another day). That morning, she asked me to read it to her, so I did. It sits next to her bed. Sometimes we read it often; sometimes weeks go by without anyone picking it up.

That morning I told her that she could write her own lifebook, too. So we loaded up Powerpoint on the computer in the family room, and she dictated and I typed. She came up with something like:
My Life Came True, by Curious Girl.

I was a baby in Where I Was Born.
I didn't know Mama and Mommy. But they came to get me, and then I met them. I didn't know Mama and Mommy before.
J. and S. are very special to me. I liked them and I like them forever.
I miss them. I love them.
I miss them. I love them.

This was my first time encouraging her tell her own story as a narrative. CG talks about being a baby or being adopted quite frequently, and she thinks a lot about her first parents, especially her mother. Around her birthday, she particularly seems to ponder her birth. She likes hearing the story as we know it, and she has lots of questions (and lots of imagined conversation about what she said to J. when she was born or what she said to the doctors, or what she said to the other babies around that day). But this was the first time I helped her to tell her story (as opposed to helping her tell a fact, like the name of her home city). The first thing she said, beyond the fact that she was a baby, was about me and Politica. That was sweet, but that's not how her story goes. We don't enter until later, and I don't want her to erase those months. Not that I have a lot of story to give her about those months, but I don't want her sense of self to be all bound up in her adoptive parents. I want her to know that she, herself, existed in those months before she met us.

So I said to her, "what about telling something about how you were born? About S. and J?" She looked at me, nodding. "I grew in J's uterus." My turn to nod. "They were....." she trailed off. "They were your parents," I said to her. "Your mama and your daddy. They made you. An egg from J., and sperm from S., and it made you!"

"But you are...J....they are..... Mommy and Mama..." she said, uncertainly, and then looked up at me. "You both are!"

Four parents. We both are.

Now, we are all parents in different ways. Politica and I are here, with her, watching her grow, helping her grow, loving her day in and day out. We talk, we write, we tell stories. J. and S. are mysterious figures. They are here, in her, daily, their gifts to her blossoming as she grows. Curious Girl's body comes from them. Her talents, her personality, her looks. We may never know exactly how she maps against that first family, whether they would look at her with a sense of familiarity or whether they would look at her and wonder "how does she fit in with us?" We may well never know their stories, how they came together, what kind of ties they have to each other, what other family stories they could tell. But they are parents, who brought her life into the world.

Curious Girl makes sense of this the best she can. "Why couldn't J. take care of me when I was a baby?" "She couldn't take care of a baby when you were born," I say. "I don't know why. Maybe she didn't have enough money. Maybe she didn't have enough food. Maybe she didn't have enough help. But it had nothing to do with you, " I say. Usually CG changes the subject then, but I can tell, she's starting to think more deeply about what adoption means.

For the first time this week, she got mad and said she wished things had been different. "I want to go to Long-Haired Teacher's house," she said in tears. (She went there for 3 days of mini camp during spring break, and much fun was had.) "I think her house is bigger than ours, because it has a play basement. Neighbor Friends have a play basement, and Long-Haired Teacher has a play basement, and everyone has a play basement except us." I allowed as how play basements are fun, and in fact, I had always wanted a play basement while I was growing up, but had none. Then the zinger:

"I wish when I was a baby and I came to your house, it had a play basement. We could play hockey. Hockey is fun." Tears, tears, tears.

Hockey is fun, and I admit, I miss hockey. The fans of our minor league team are too crass and I won't go to games here (not that the Ranger fans are likely much better these days, but I have fond memories of being in Madison Square Garden with my dad when I was growing up). I miss Hockey Night in Canada coverage. But what does CG know of hockey? Not much, as far as I can tell, although perhaps it is true that she has played hockey in a friend's basement.

I'm a trained English professor, so I'm good at finding what my students call the Hidden Meaning in things. So I don't think CG was really crying about the hockey. I think she's figuring out that she misses her first parents. She's figuring out that she is getting older, and might separate more from me and Politica. She's starting to realize that her life might have been different if different choices had been made. That's sad and scary and happy and anxious. She loves us. She loves S. and J., or at least the idea of S. and J. She misses her dead grandmother, and she misses her, too.

And that's all OK. Nicole, at Paragraphein, has a wonderful post about the complicated emotions of adoption. It's not all roses, it's not all bleak, and people who talk about how placing children for adoption makes birth mothers happy, or how adoption leads to angry grownup adoptees, are way oversimplifying things. Curious Girl is starting to find that out, and testing out her own story in her own words. She'll add to it, and make her own sense of her four parents, her two families, her two countries, her past and future.

It's hard, watching her be sad, watching her struggle with these big questions. But it's also awe-inspiring, to see the complications she can juggle and the questions she can pose. I'm glad she's getting the language to talk about herself. Maybe someday, definitely someday, she'll need to talk to others about it. But for now, I'm glad she talks to me.

"You both are." You bet.


S. said...

I love the way you're using the four's to go broad and then go deep.

I think that taking each adoption on its own terms is important, rather than grasping for a script. It must be hard seeing CG sad, though.

With Z. we have two's for now--Mama and Mommy--but when she's she'll understand why we tell her that her hair is curly because Extra-Special Uncle's is kinky and mine is wavy. Then we'll start having three's in some form. Legally it's adoption, but since I birthed her, emotionally it's not quite the same thing--I guess it will be what it is.

liz said...