The older my youngest son gets, the more aware I become of my responses to personal questions about his adoption. I also become more aware of the gap between my level of recognition of his sensitivity and the rest of the world's ability to see the subtle ways his face falls.
No one ever asks me if Garrett is my son.
Matthew notices that. And his expression drops--even if ever so slightly--when people ask me if he's mine.
No one ever asks if we adopted Garrett.
It's true that we didn't, but how do they know?
Matthew is nearing five. Questions like, "Where did you get him from?" just might make him feel like he came from outer space. And, as much as he might like to pretend he came from space when he's playing with his brother, he doesn't want to feel like he's different in real life.
This is a challenge for us as parents. We are adoption advocates. For me, I simply can't understand why everyone doesn't consider building their families in this way. It's outrageous and I get that. It's complicated and I get that. But it's also gorgeous and wonderful and I couldn't love anything more than that boy. I want to answer people's questions because I know that they (almost always) come from a place of genuine wonder and I want to take any chance I get to share about what an incredible experience this continues to be for our family. But the older my son gets, the more challenging these questions become. I just can't risk his well being to satisfy the world's curiosity. I'm an open book when he isn't right next to me but I'm trying to be more protective when he's standing there.
I've learned subtle ways to respond to their questioning while still trying to confirm Matthew's permanent place in our family and in my heart. Generally speaking, we do okay. I can usually change my tone when questions become too invasive. People seem to pick up on the fact that I don't want to talk about it with my ever aware four-year-old standing there.
In our country.
But in the Old City in Jerusalem, it was another story.
We were browsing in the Muslim quarter and our family of four wandered into a shop. As we stepped in, a man pointed and said, "Is this your son?"
"Yes," I replied with a smile.
He gestured more emphatically, as if clarifying that he was talking about Matthew. "This one?"
"Yes," I said, a little less friendly because Matthew was now staring at the man, aware that he was being singled out.
"Is this your husband?" he pointed at Troy.
"Yes, he is."
The man looked baffled. We continued to look around and, eventually, Troy and Garrett wandered out. Matthew stood there with me. The man questioned me again. "This is your son?"
I set my jaw. I think I flared my nostrils a little bit. "Yes. He is."
The man then said, "But he's not your son..." and as he said it he moved his hands from his torso to his pelvis as if to simulate childbirth.
Matthew stared up at me. "No. I did not give birth to him. But HE IS MY SON," I said.
"You adopted him then?"
"Yes, we did," I said more curtly. He wasn't picking up on my tone. At all.
"The other one is your son?" he asked.
"Yes. They are both my sons," I responded. Then I turned and walked out.
I conveyed the rest of the story to Troy who explained to me that in Arab cultures adoption is completely different. If a child is adopted, he becomes a ward of the caretaker and not a son. The concept is completely foreign. So then I kind of felt like a jerk.
Except that this stuff affects my kid.
Moments later he looked at me and said, "Mommy, before you came into my life I missed you so bad. And you should know that. I missed you so so bad." Oh sure, he was just repeating Carly Rae Jepsen but he wasn't singing it. He was saying it. With feeling.
Just a few shops down the street another man began waving me over. I approached him. "Is that your son?" Here we go again.
"Yes," I said.
"You adopted him then?"
"Beautiful," he said. My family was still down the street and out of earshot. "Where did he come from?" he asked.
"We're from the United States and he was born there as well," I answered.
"Do you get to keep him until he's grown?" he asked. I was thankful for my husband's quick lesson on Arab adoptions because, without that new information, I might have said something really snarky. No I do not keep him like I hang on to last night's leftovers or a shirt that has sentimental value. I raise him, love him, clean up his vomit. He's not a possession. Instead I smiled and said, "Yes." But it was easier, because Matthew was down the road.
"Amazing," he whispered. "I want to see him. Bring him to me, please?" he asked.
That was kinda weird. Not gonna lie.
"Uh...he's with his dad. He'll be coming this way in a minute." I figured Troy could handle whatever strangeness was about to happen. I went into another shop. When they met up with me, I asked Troy what the man did. Apparently he just said hello and waved at him, enthralled by this concept of adoption.
I grapple with this, though. What to say. What not to. How to validate my child and still answer questions to advocate for future adoptions. It's a difficult place to find myself.
Lately Matthew has been saying, "I wish I was in your tummy. I like your tummy better than your heart." I remind him of how special it is that he has two mommies that love him. But tonight I decided to just share my feelings with him when he said it again. "I know. I wish that you had been in my tummy too. But that isn't the way that God chose for us to be a family. He decided to have you grow in my heart and His plans are always the best plans."