On Mother’s Day, we were excited and a bit nervous as we waited for our friends to arrive. We’d invited Cameron and Andy, with their daughter, Cleo, adopted from China, and our friend, Victoria, a birth mother to two children placed for adoption. In the living room a heart-shaped vase, empty except for water, sat on the table, surrounded by a ring of small candles. Across the room were two more vases, full of fresh flowers.
We’ve celebrated Mother’s Day ever since our children, Emilio, now ten years old, and Claudia, now six, joined our family. Other than their birth mothers’ names, we have little information about Emilio’s and Claudia’s early history. All the same, last year, we found a way to honor our children’s birth mothers in our annual Mother’s Day celebration.
As we sat down to plan our Mother’s Day ceremony, the children and I discussed how we might honor not only adoptive mothers, but also the birth mothers we do not know and cannot contact. Claudia and Emilio decided to write letters to their birth mothers. Because young children sometimes confuse fantasy and reality, I made sure that Claudia understood that we could not actually send this letter to her birth mother by talking about the difference between “real” and “imaginary.”
When we sat down at the computer together, she eagerly dictated her letter to me. I typed it in Spanish, exactly as she said it. When I told her what a beautiful letter she’d written, she smiled and said, “Yes, but it’s sad too.”
Emilio composed his letter with great poise, saying he’d thought about it and knew just what he wanted to say. He added that “of course” he understood it would not be sent to his birth mother. When he finished, tears welled in my eyes. He touched my arm to reassure me, and I told him that his letter made me happy and sad at the same time. “It’s O.K.,” he said.
“Love Has Made a Circle”
On Mother’s Day, Claudia rang a bell to welcome everyone to the gathering. We began by singing a Raffi song, “All I Really Need”:
All I really need is a song in my heart,
Food in my belly,
And love in my family.
After the song, I spoke of how our lives contain a mixture of joy and sorrow, how we can’t have one without the other, and how Mother’s Day is an example of this.
Claudia then chose a flower for me, placed it in the vase on the table, and, with my help, lit a candle. After giving me a hug, she chose a flower for her birth mother, placed it in the vase, and lit a second candle. Then, while she sat on my lap, I read aloud her letter to her birth mother, first in Spanish, then the English translation. When I finished, Claudia was smiling–and Emilio was distributing tissues to the teary-eyed adults.
Next, Emilio chose a flower for me, placed it in the vase, lit a candle, and gave me a sweet kiss and a hug. He chose another flower and lit a candle for his birth mother. Although capable of reading his letter himself, he sat in my lap and asked me to read it to the group.
With her mom’s help, Cleo chose her flowers, lit candles, and showed us the collage she’d made for her birth mother.
Victoria chose a cutting that contained a few small flowers to represent her birth children and their adoptive families. After adding her flowers to the vase and lighting a candle for each of her children, she showed us their photos and finished by reciting poems she had written for each of them. Feeling Victoria’s love for her birth children was the perfect ending to our Mother’s Day ritual.
We joined hands and sang the Kate Wolf song, “Give Yourself to Love,” which a friend had sung at our wedding. Now it seemed as much about adoption as about marriage:
Love has made a circle
That holds us all inside
Where strangers are as family
And loneliness can’t hide.
Later, after our friends had gone, Emilio said, “That was a good ceremony. Can we do it again next year?”