When the children first come home from Guatemala, I ache to hear one simple thank you. A grunt. I joyfully would accept a grunt in acknowledgement of my sleepless nights, of my exhaustion, of how much care they take. Is this too much to ask? I snivel knowing it is. The children can’t speak…they’re seven and eight months old.
People ask, "Do they know Spanish? Do you have to teach them English?" I want to shout, "DO ANY BABIES KNOW HOW TO SPEAK?" But instead, I say politely, "We haven’t had any problems." If it’s been a day of squalling, I add, "CRYING is a universal language."
The next question asked sweetly is, "Are they twins?" I’ll disappoint them if I answer honestly, yet how I respond determines the route of the conversation. If I say, "Yes." Then it’s, "Oh, they’re sooooo cute." Conversation over.
Antonio and Crystel fit in a category called like-twins, pseudo twins and artificial twins: children in one family who are less than nine months apart. This makes me feel a little better when I say, "Yes." I’m not lying then.
When I say, "No, they’re six weeks apart," irritation and unease float around the children and I. Simply stated, my answer doesn’t speak of the bond that I want the children to feel. My response discredits their closeness and is construed as "less than." I immediately add, "They’re brother and sister."
How can that be? "Oh, they’re adopted then," the person says, satisfied. "They’re not really brother and sister. They’re not from the same family."
"They’re brother and sister," I repeat. "We’re a family."
Once I think I’ve finally got it, and have the RIGHT answer down, I’m asked a question that startles me. "How much do they cost?" a mother said as I was waiting to pay for their haircut. "I’ve heard they’re expensive."
With an eye on Antonio who was jumping to reach a display of bath toys and the other on Crystel swinging between my legs, I answered, "You know, I really don’t remember." I was appalled, stunned, as if I had just gotten in a car wreck with the children, not knowing yet if they were injured. I wanted to rush to their side, look into their soul, tell them how wanted they were, that they didn’t cost too much, and I would have gladly given all of my money to be their mom. I wanted to assure them that they didn’t owe me a thing; it was me that was grateful for the chance to be their mother. Glancing at the children, they were safe…still buckled in their car seat…it was me that couldn’t get myself untangled from the twisted metal.
"They’re sooo lucky."
"No, WE’re lucky." It’s our good fortune to have an opportunity to create a family with children – have a season to heal wounds from our own childhood. Rocking Crystel at bedtime, I’m cradling my inner toddler, amazed at how she sits in my lap, legs spread to the widest point, head resting on my chest. This is what a child who hasn’t been abused looks like, I think. The next day, as I set a screaming child in their room for a timeout, I think, this is what it sounds like to have a voice, to express emotion. Sometimes, I join them for their timeout, watching as Crystel tosses a doll out of her bed, then crying for me to pick it up. I did once. The second time, I said, "No. You threw it on the floor, you’ll need to pick it up."
I imagine the face of my mother had I thrown a doll; surely, I must have had one. Her look, "Are you crazy?" would have prefaced her words: "Pick that up!" I’m blessed to sample a little girl’s emotion, appreciating the range of vociferation without worry of being hit or hated.
During a timeout with Antonio, I’ve held him as he wrestled, screaming, until he calmed. Quietly we left his bedroom, hand-in-hand, and joined our family.
"Where are they from?" Is a question that is unsettling. How long do they have to belong to a family, be a part of that unit, to qualify as being from that home? If they are always from Guatemala are they always a displaced person? The answer that I’ve been practicing is, "The children were born in Guatemala and their home is in Richfield." If the kids are listening, I say, "With their two mama’s." (They’re always listening.) I want them to know how normal having two mamas is, that they can be public, speak the actuality.
Even before the children came home, they shaped my decisions. Two infants floated above me, followed me everywhere, taking note of my every word and action. I appraised myself as a role model, a teacher and a mother. "My partner, Jody, and I, are adopting two infants," I said in my work place. It became known that I had a woman partner. If I couldn’t be proud of my partnership, how could I expect my children to be? There’s no shame in belonging to a loving family, loved by two mothers.
"Are you both mom? Is one of you mommy?"
"We’re Mama Beth and Mama Jody."
"How do they tell you apart?"
"It hasn’t been a problem."
Jody and I had no desire to fashion a name for our mothering, though women friends who’ve adopted children had done so in their created family, usually one person being mom and the other mommy. Both of us wanted entitlement to mom, mommy, mama, mother or any name the children tagged. After calling us, "BAAA" for two years (sippy cup and sheep were also BAAA), they’ve started saying, "Mama, Ma, and Mom," over and over as if testing their ownership.
Two balloons, tied together, became butterfly wings. One balloon lost most of its air, Antonio asked me to cut off the small balloon until I said, "That’s mommy and that’s Antonio. Mommy…baby."
Pointing to the large balloon, he said, "Mom," then tapped my chest saying, "Mom," then pointed to the little balloon saying, "Baybee." He no longer wanted the balloons separated, nestling mommy and baby in his arms.
Grafting involves a bud or shoot of a plant inserted into another plant in which it continues to grow. Two beings merged into the union Jody and I had formed. The questions I’m asked don’t trouble me, as much as the children’s bond is evident as they take each other’s hand to cross the parking lot to our car.
"We’re family. Our family takes care of each other," I tell them. "Hold tight. Don’t let go."