A couple of days ago, Maddy came into the kitchen and proudly proclaimed; "When I was a little tiny baby, I was in your tummy!". She didn't ask me this. She TOLD me this. She's always so proud of herself when she finally figures something out but before I could think of anything to say back to her, she turned and merrily skipped away with her pigtails flopping behind her. Then I spent the next three days thinking about what to say when the subject comes up again.
We've always spoken openly about adoption. We own (and read) every kid's book ever published on the subject and never speak in hushed tones when we disclose to strangers that our beautiful daughters are adopted from China. In other words, this isn't exactly 'news' to Gwen and Maddy. But while they know that they are adopted, they clearly have no idea what it means to BE adopted.
The door to this conversation has been opened several times over the years but, unlike many of my China adoption community friends, we've never viewed any of those early opportunities as a signal or sign from the girls that they were ready for this discussion. At least not until now.
I guess what it really boils down to is whether we believe that it will make our kids stronger and better adjusted as adults if we force them to come to terms with all of this earlier rather than later. I know they'll eventually have to face it but is it better if they do it sooner? Maddy can barely manage her grief over the loss of her Elmo Bandaid in the pool last night and I'm worried that she's probably still not ready to hear about some other mommy who abandoned her as a baby. Gwen is less attached to her colorful adhesive strips and pretty emotionally secure overall but we can't tell one child and not the other. I worry about how ready Maddy is.
How can you talk to a 5 year old about why she was abandoned and give her enough details to help her understand that it won't happen again? My kids are really smart but I know they can't understand anything about the social and political influences that might have forced their birth family to do that. And calling them "family" or "mother" or "father" only makes it that much harder to grasp because they'll have to erase and then rewrite everything they thought they knew for certain about moms and dads in order to believe that such people could ever leave them. Under any circumstances. Ever.
And the instant they do finally accept that sad reality, they'll have to question how permanent their relationship is with us - their 2nd set of parents. The ones they got because their first ones didn't want them. Ouch. (Seriously, I'm just trying to think about this like a 5 year old might.)
So far, their faith in family is watertight but when we start telling them about this, all of that will change forever. We'll have to be ready to help them patch holes that they can't tell us about and we can't see. Not only am I in no hurry to do that to them, I feel like I have a moral obligation to make sure they're mature enough to handle the news when we do eventually deliver it. They're five now and they're clearly ready for more info but still a very long way from being ready for all of it.
The next time the subject comes up, I'm going to tell the girls that most of the time babies grow inside their mommy's tummy but sometimes they grow in a different lady's tummy. Maybe we'll call her the Tummy Lady.
Now, for those of you who only come here for the pictures, here are some recent ones. :)
Princess Madeline on her 5th Birthday
Gwen and her 400 Million Year old Friends (Ammonites)