Those Kids Who Aren't Ours

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The first time I looked at him, he was grayish and wasn’t doing his one job very well.

Our first baby needed extra oxygen and a short stay in the NICU before coming home to live with us, his under-prepared parents. On the drive home, my Sweet and I looked at each other and wondered why they let us (practically children!) walk away with a real, live person.

That little seven pounds and seven ounces of wiggle changed everything for us. Parents, you know what I’m talking about. Life changes drastically when you claim a baby.

That little boy was ours. We didn’t bother to assume it could be anything else; it was simply a reality. He came from our bodies and he belonged to us. As did his biological sisters and brother after him.

We all have a definition of family and I imagine it varies subtly. My husband and I always belonged to a family up until the day we ceremoniously baby-stepped away from them to form our second.

My first one was neat and tidy and I had no reason to believe that my second would not be as crisp.

There is something about the adoption process that tangles up so many things for a neat and tidy person like myself. There is nothing predictable and sleek about what happens. Not that there isn’t beauty, but it’s not an immaculate beauty. It’s a wild and stretching kind of beauty.

By the time we met our last daughter, she had spent almost three years with her people in her country drinking porridge and playing in red dirt. Our first four weeks with her were spent sharing her, in her country. Everywhere we went, her people smiled at us and acknowledged her as their own.

Making her our daughter was a process. There was a time she existed without us and was not ours. Then she was claimed by us but was still cared for by others. Then the day came when it was official and legal; she was ours for good.

Even today, though she has been ours for more than five years, there are others who claim her in part. My Ugandan friends puts their arms around my daughter’s shoulders and talk to her in a language neither of us understand. She belongs to them too.

There is a brave young woman in this country who claims my son as her own. Not with her words, for she is careful and courteous, and we are learning to tango around this delicate topic. But her heart and her body have created his and she will never forget, nor should she.

There are grandmas and aunts and uncles that claim my son even though they have never met him. There will be brothers and cousins too. People whose faces would be complete strangers to both of us, will belong to my son for his whole life.

I share my son.

My adopted two teach me something about my biological five:

Not one of them is mine. 

Not really.

I was the one changing the explosive diapers. I was the one catching puke and rocking and scolding and teaching and listening and loving. It was me. Surely I can claim.

Don’t hours of worry and hours of therapy and hours of prayers prove it is true?

We like the word mine. With our damp eyes and our tight grips, we like the feeling of belonging, of clamping down on what is rightful to us.

But it isn’t quite true.

Every last one of “our” kids belong not only to a broader family and a wider community, but ultimately to God; he is only allowing them to live with us, enriching our 24/7’s, for a few years.

“Our children are only on loan to us.”

I’ve heard that cliche my whole life, but it was mere words until I looked another woman in the eyes and said “Thank you for giving our baby life.”

I guess he never really belonged to her and he will never really belong to me.

Oh, but we love them, don’t we?

We love them like they are truly our own. 

For in some crazy way, they are.

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