“Mom, can I wear my new sneakers?”
“No, not today, sweetheart, it is too wet and muddy.”
“I wish I had another mother.” My seven-year-old Jamie slumps away in disappointment. I am stunned and, after pausing for a minute, respond, “Oh.”
My mind is going back decades to a moment with my mother:
“Mom, can I wear my lacy blouse to the movies today?”
“No, dear, that’s for good. Wear one of your long-sleeved shirts.”
I was angry. Why did she say “no”? Why didn’t she understand how important it was to me to look pretty in my favorite blouse right now? I know why, because she doesn’t really love me. My first mother probably would let me. She would understand.
A few days later, when no one was around, still pondering this thought, I went into the living room. There on a shelf behind the couch was a box where I knew my parents kept important family documents: birth certificates, baptismal certificates, records of immunizations, school report cards, and, I was sure, some document or two signaling my arrival into this family from somewhere else. From where, I did not know.
I was old enough to read; I remember figuring out the words on each piece of paper. I found it: my birth certificate—and there was my mother’s name and mine, the mother who did not want me to wear my lacy blouse!
I was the third of five children born into a family where there were lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides. The idea of adoption did not exist, as none of the women ever had trouble having babies. I do remember, however, learning that a family in our neighborhood had adopted a baby boy. I had no idea what that meant, except that he arrived one day unexpectedly from somewhere no one was to know about. We were told never to talk of his adoption, never even to bring it up. We didn’t with him, but that didn’t stop me from bringing it up with myself!
That memory came sweeping over me in those few seconds that my son walked away in disappointment. To my surprise, his comment about wanting another mother did not upset me. Rather, I realized that I knew exactly how he felt, and my mother, too! In fact, how ordinary the comment seemed! Long ago, as a child in a large family, I had tried on the idea of another mother. I experimented with it, not only in moments of anger but in countless scenarios of fantasy as I read books, heard fairy tales, and played with my brothers, sister, cousins, and neighbors. Now, decades later, I stopped to wonder whether or not the thought of my children’s imagining another mother should unsettle me.
Of course, their circumstances are different. Like most adopted children, mine know they had a first mother (and father). But, like all children, from time to time, they wish for another mother, one who would approve of wearing new sneakers out into the mud! Adoptive parents can find solace in knowing that, like all healthy children, ours explore all the possible circumstances they can imagine. In fact, imagining other mothers is a healthy way for the children we adopt to create coherence and meaning for their life stories. Real and imagined family stories prepared me for the life circumstances I meet now. So will this grounding in play and stories prepare my children for their future lives. Life experiences can help us move forward when we listen—to our children and to ourselves.