Divination

“I want to see my other mommy,” she says from behind me.  We are halfway through the chaotic drive to school.  I glance at her cheerful face in the rear view mirror.  It is a simple thought, simply stated.

“Your Haiti mommy?”  I ask her.

“Yes, my other mommy.  In Haiti.  I want to see her.”

My heart accelerates and my muscles tense.  Not because I don’t want her to ask. I want to have this conversation often and openly. I don’t feel threatened or upset.  Because I want to get this – this one thing – right so very badly that my teeth hurt where I have clenched them together.  I don’t in general believe there is a “right” way to parent.  I don’t think there are good moms and bad moms.  I don’t subscribe to a certain philosophy of child raising in the hope that it will allow me to raise “better” children than other people raise.  Raising children is hard.  We all do the best we can.  We are all best for our children and our decisions are best for our families.

But this.  This thing that she must live with.  This fact that I am not her first mother and this family is not the one that shares her genes or her features or even something so basic as her hair.  This discussion about how to settle into the knowledge that she has another mother and how to carry that knowledge through her life, whether with acceptance or understanding or anger or pain.  I would like to get this “right.”  Where the definition of right is that, as an adult, she will look back on the way that I handled it with understanding and, perhaps, dare I hope, respect.

“Of course you do.  You should want to see her.  I’d love to take you to Haiti when you’re older.  I’d love to go there with you.  Right now, we can’t go because it’s so far and you’re so young, but we can later.

“We can see her?” 

I hesitate.  I don’t know the answer and there are words I won’t say to my five-year-old daughter.  Earthquake.  Death toll.  Cholera.  There are promises that I can’t make.

“We can try.  Sometimes, people are hard to find in Haiti, but we can try our hardest.”

Quinn sings a loud nonsense song.  Garrett stares out the window at the solid fleece-gray sky.

“My Haiti mommy has a dog,” Saige tells me in her blaringly loud speaking voice.  I resist the urge to remind her to use her talking voice not her yelling voice.  “A pink dog named Princess.  She has a lot of crayons.”

I have a rudimentary knowledge of these things, enough to understand that fantasy is a way of processing for children, that I needn’t correct her. She won’t see it as a lie later.  She will outgrow the need to create a world that her mother lives within.

“Mmmmmm.”  I make a listening noise, neither affirmative or negative.

“And she has light skin.”

“No,” I tell her, unwilling to let this one pass, “she has beautiful brown just skin like yours.  Do you remember the picture. We can look at it again.”

“Does she have brown eyes like ours?”

“Yes, just like yours.”

“Like ours,” she corrects me.  “Does she have hair like mine.”

“Exactly like yours.  In fact, I would bet that she’s a really good hair braider, much faster than mommy.”

She giggles.  I glance quickly over my right shoulder at her again, strapped into her five-point harness, her hair in pigtails on the top of her head, her beautiful high cheekbones prominent when she smiles.  Like her Haiti mother’s.

“I miss her.”  This one is easy.  There is no question or equivocation.  Anyone who is a mother knows the answer.  I choke on it only because I know that it’s true.

“She misses you too.”

We are in the drop off line and there are buckles to undue and backpacks to grab.  One of the teachers helps them out of the car and I wave and kiss and call I love you hurriedly because I have to drive on, out of the way of the line of cars.  I find myself, breathless and shaken, alone in the car with Quinn on the slow drive to toddler class, wishing for a soothsayer to appear beside me. A fortune teller with a crystal ball to look into the future for me, read the swirls and wisps of gray that echo the heavy, clouded sky and answer my deceptively simple questions.  The questions we’d all like to ask, really.   Am I doing this right?  How the hell am I doing here?

80 Responses to Divination
  1. Anonymous
    November 17, 2010 | 4:42 am

    I ask myself those same questions everyday. And I hope and pray (yes, everyday) that I am doing a passable job at this parenting thing as well. I know what all kids come with their "issues" and hardships, but sometimes it's hard not to feel like parenting an adopted child is so much more complicated! My daughter is asking similar questions right now (same age as yours!) and I'm grateful on the days that they don't make my heart stop beating. I'm not scared of her questions. I try to answer them with as much truth as a five year old can handle and understand. But, like you, at the end of the day, I just hope and pray that we are doing alright.

    -Michelle

  2. MommyNamedApril
    November 17, 2010 | 4:48 am

    you're doing this right. you're doing this honestly and with love and respect. YOU'RE DOING THIS RIGHT.

  3. Linn
    November 17, 2010 | 4:50 am

    Stacey, I think that you are doing a great job. I don't have adopted babies but I have three of my own and I hope and pray every day that the decisions I make for them are the right ones. I think that so long as we have their best interests at heart and do our best to tell them as many truths as possible that it's the best we can do. I love your blog. It always makes me think of what I can be doing better.

  4. mosey
    November 17, 2010 | 5:10 am

    You are doing beautifully. Compassion, love, understanding, reassurance. Yes.

    I feel that breathless … pang…. on behalf on my nieces who also ask those hard questions for which sometimes there are no easy answers.

  5. Susie
    November 17, 2010 | 5:18 am

    You're doing great and I'm glad you're doing it a few steps ahead of me and writing it down. These posts are my deep breath as I wait for Charlie to ask the same questions.

  6. Mom 4 Kids
    November 17, 2010 | 5:33 am

    You are doing this right because I can't think of any way you could have done it better! Awesome job!

  7. Deb
    November 17, 2010 | 5:53 am

    I have wondered if you have heard anything about the Haiti mommy, and whether you know if she is okay.

    As to if you are doing it right – answering the hard questions even when it hurts is definitely in the Doing a Good Job column.

  8. shauna
    November 17, 2010 | 6:21 am

    I wonder if I will have the right words to say when my daughter is old enough to articulate herself like Saige. Thank you for this post… it is very helpful… it would appear that you are doing everything right.

  9. Claire
    November 17, 2010 | 7:31 am

    You are doing it right, you are doing your absolute best, and that best is amazing. Your babies are so lucky that you are their mummy.

  10. luna
    November 17, 2010 | 7:42 am

    I think you're doing great.
    all you have to do is right by saige. and you're doing it, with grace.

  11. Maura
    November 17, 2010 | 9:04 am

    I love you so much. Only someone who cares SO MUCH can worry SO MUCH about doing it right when it's so clear, even to a know-nothing like me, that you are. :-)

    Every bit of your heart shines through in these posts and there is nothing more important in the grand scheme of things. It's not whether you say the absolute right thing every time or answer every need every time; it's the sum of the parts that you so obviously put into everything you do for and with them.

    Even if you are complaining about how cold it is when you do it. ;-)

  12. My name is Andy.
    November 17, 2010 | 10:56 am

    As an adoptee myself, I would say you are doing a bang up job!

  13. Mom24
    November 17, 2010 | 11:55 am

    It sounds like you're doing it perfectly, but boy does it make my heart ache. Good luck.

  14. Rebecca
    November 17, 2010 | 12:20 pm

    Wow…a simple car conversation bringing us to tears. What a sweet girl, first of all. What a sweet Mom…giving her the chance to talk these things out and allowing her to remember. Some people would be too afraid, but the faith you have in the love you're giving her, overpowers that fear. You're a great Mama…

  15. HollyMarie
    November 17, 2010 | 1:14 pm

    Stacey, are you familiar with melissa's blog "yoon's Blur"? If not, it has been a great resource for me… my 4 year old daughter has been doing some grieving and processing lately about her Korea mom; I feel the same way you do… I sure hope we're doing this "right".

    If you haven't read melissa's stuff, here's a post I really liked:
    http://yoonsblur.blogspot.com/2010/09/precious-painful-treasure-first-5-days.html

  16. Robyn
    November 17, 2010 | 1:22 pm

    You have to be doing it right. I can't imagine a more perfect conversation.

  17. a Broad
    November 17, 2010 | 1:30 pm

    It sounds like you are doing it All Right , to me.
    Having not been adopted nor having an adopted child, I can only go by how these stories sound and feel to me.
    I know that the way your answer her questions feels right to me.. I still remember questions and answers from my own childhood, and the hurt and confusion that the unthinking and unloving answers caused.
    I think you did and said exactly the right thing.

  18. Elizabeth@Romans8:15
    November 17, 2010 | 1:50 pm

    "She misses you too."

    (tears)

    Absolutely. Positively right on. Of course she does and thank you for letting her know.

  19. Enjoli
    November 17, 2010 | 2:19 pm

    I'm no soothsayer or fortune teller, but I'd say yes, you are doing just fine. Have a good day.

  20. Evonne
    November 17, 2010 | 2:58 pm

    I think you are doing a wonderful job. Adoption is a hard thing to handle at times, both from the receiving and giving end.

  21. Marinka
    November 17, 2010 | 3:03 pm

    So much more than "right." Fantastic.

  22. Andrea (ace1028)
    November 17, 2010 | 3:09 pm

    Beautifully written, very well said. That is all we can hope for, as mothers. Your responses are (were) perfect. I can only imagine how this conversation touched you, as for me, just a reader, it tugged at my heart.

  23. slow panic
    November 17, 2010 | 3:09 pm

    Oh sweetie. I'm adopted. I wanted to know and see and touch and feel my birthmother for as long as I can remember.

    It was a prominent theme in my childhood.

    For all the things my mother did wrong she did that right — telling me about being adopted, allowing me to search for my birthmother.

    I felt everything Saige was saying to you. Every word. Sweet girl.

    I'm so glad she has you to go through this journey with.

    (k, last sentence is not right, but you know what i mean)

  24. Anna Lefler
    November 17, 2010 | 3:10 pm

    Oh, what a beautiful post. You are an inspiration.

    XO

    A.

  25. Lyndsay
    November 17, 2010 | 3:18 pm

    Better than "right".

  26. the mama bird diaries
    November 17, 2010 | 3:18 pm

    I want you as my mother. You are amazing.

  27. Heather
    November 17, 2010 | 3:27 pm

    I think you are doing it amazingly. The fact that she smiles and misses her and loves her but all of you, shows it perfectly.

    Much love my friend.

  28. Galit Breen (Minnesota Mamaleh)
    November 17, 2010 | 3:57 pm

    oh sweet lady (and for the record, as bad ass as you are, you *are* sweet, too!) you described that moment in time beautifully, perfectly. i was right there with you. and yes, you are the perfect mama for your sweeties. all of them. xo

  29. Issas Crazy World
    November 17, 2010 | 4:18 pm

    You are darling. I know in my heart that you are.

    Beautiful post friend. Love you.

  30. Wendi
    November 17, 2010 | 4:20 pm

    I bet she has the world's best ponytail.

  31. jodifur
    November 17, 2010 | 4:26 pm

    This post is beautiful. There are no easy or right answers to these questions.

  32. Lisa Page Rosenberg
    November 17, 2010 | 4:31 pm

    This is beautiful.
    What a lucky girl you have.

  33. Lindsey
    November 17, 2010 | 4:35 pm

    What a gorgeous, tender post. xox

  34. Kirsten
    November 17, 2010 | 4:47 pm

    Perfection.

  35. Sade
    November 17, 2010 | 4:48 pm

    You are doing the right thing for sure and a fantastic job to boot. If I had a penny for every time I brag about you to people I would be a millionaire.

  36. coffeemom
    November 17, 2010 | 4:49 pm

    You are doing this right. Just right. W/ heart, mind, and compassion. Not necessarily with sentimental sparkly pap. But with real truth and with care. That's it, that's what it needs.

    YOU are doing this right. Well done.

  37. Alivia
    November 17, 2010 | 5:21 pm

    After every line I read, I thought "Oh, God. How would you ever answer that question…" And then you did it. Perfectly. I don't normally believe in the word "perfect," but you did it for me. I hope I can be as articulate and compassionate with my children someday.

  38. Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog
    November 17, 2010 | 5:23 pm

    I can only imagine how it must pull your heart in different directions… The world is so unfair and she is so young and innocent. I don't know how to explain the inequalities of the world to myself, let alone a 4 year old.

    Love to you, Stace.

  39. Scary Mommy
    November 17, 2010 | 5:25 pm

    I think you are amazing.

  40. angela auclair
    November 17, 2010 | 5:29 pm

    this was beautiful:)

  41. Christy
    November 17, 2010 | 6:28 pm

    You are doing an amazing job – what a wonderful mother you are! Seriously!

  42. JustMom420zaks
    November 17, 2010 | 6:28 pm

    I am an adoptee and a birthmom.
    You are right, so right. Her first mother (I liked that phrase and I'm stealing it) misses her very much. She also has a connection that is uniquely that between a birthmom and her relinquished child.
    I didn't meet my first mother until after I was 18, but it was so cool that there was someone who looked like me and had all the same mannerisms.
    I always feel like reassuring adopted moms, whether they need it or not… but from a grown adoptee, there may be a connection you will never have between your daughter and the first mother.. the one who looks just like her… but YOU will always be her mom.

  43. Just Words On A Page
    November 17, 2010 | 6:30 pm

    You are doing amazing, I am so proud of you. I really am.

  44. Gretchen
    November 17, 2010 | 6:41 pm

    I too have had 3 of my 4 children through adoption. Their questions are just as hard to address, to manage. The hardest for me is the wish my daughter voices every few weeks: "I wish I grew inside you like [older brother]" – because she sees him: big, healthy, strong, and KNOWS her life is impacted from being born early to someone who "grew her for me"… I just hope I am answering with enough information, focusing on the positives that this woman gave her to me- and I am SO LUCKY- and hope that it's the right thing.

  45. Gayle
    November 17, 2010 | 7:06 pm

    Step-parents could learn a lot from you and your approach to conversations. You take the time to really get it… your parenting skills are amazing.

  46. 6512 and growing
    November 17, 2010 | 7:16 pm

    I love what you say about not believing there is one good parenting philosophy and that every parent parents their child right.

    You did a beautiful job answering Saige's questions. I think you can trust your love for her, it will guide you.

  47. Ann Imig
    November 17, 2010 | 8:40 pm

    Please go read these comments whenever you feel doubt.

    You are absolutely wonderful.

  48. Anonymous
    November 17, 2010 | 9:02 pm

    Oh how lucky Miss Saige is to have a mommy like you.

  49. Sharon
    November 17, 2010 | 9:06 pm

    I think all any mother, Anymommy, can do is their best. Seems to me like you are giving your best.

  50. bunnysmom
    November 17, 2010 | 10:16 pm

    You are my hero. You make me feel not so alone and I love watching you do it right.

  51. kendrasue
    November 18, 2010 | 12:15 am

    I know you are not looking for affirmation but it sounds like you are doing an AMAZING job. And I'm sure your kids know it!

  52. Meredith @ Now Is Good
    November 18, 2010 | 2:04 am

    I won't pretend to be an expert. I'm just a mom, too. But I think you did beautifully. I can't think of a way I could have handled it better if I were in your shoes. And I can't think of a way I'd have been happier about the handling of it if I'd been your daughter's first mom.

  53. K.Line
    November 18, 2010 | 2:24 am

    Trust me, you're doing this just right.

  54. Bella
    November 18, 2010 | 3:39 am

    As an adopted child I got the message early on that my parents did NOT want me to ask about my birthparents. So I stopped asking but knew they thought of me each birthday.

    When I was older and found out Joni Mitchell had relinquished a child to adoption, I hoped she was my birthmother! Alas, I should have realized my lacking musical talent was a clear sign she was not, but it was a comforting fantasy.

    I hazard to surmise that if Saige is comfortable asking about her, then you are on the right track with this journey.

  55. Elizabeth @claritychaos
    November 18, 2010 | 4:31 am

    We're all asking ourselves, Stacey. And I don't know that we'll ever really know.

    But trying? And caring? Counts for a whole hell of a lot.

    (tears and chills and admiration.)

  56. Minivan Mom
    November 18, 2010 | 4:57 am

    Oh Stacey. Beautiful. And as someone who every. single. day. asks myself the same questions and has the same wishes (just in a different context) I think you are amazing. I truly believe your sweet girl will grow up so proud and honored to be your daughter. Hugs.

  57. 4suns4me
    November 18, 2010 | 12:53 pm

    ou are doing it so right. those are perfect answers and as I'm sure you know, Saige will continue to ask. There wil be some questions tht she will only ask herself, but the answers you have given her early on will give her what she needs to find her own peace with the world. Your approach reminds me of the one my mother has always had with me, and Saige WILL come out of it with respect for how you handled things, but you are giving her so much more than just that.
    Lucia

  58. ~Laura
    November 18, 2010 | 2:27 pm

    Why is it always in the car that they bring up these all important topics? I think it's because sometimes the conversations are too difficult to have full on. You handled it perfectly. Have faith in yourself and your abilities as a mother. Anything you care about this much, have put this much thought into, you will do well. How can you not? Have faith in yourself.

  59. Leah and Maya
    November 18, 2010 | 2:52 pm

    sounds like you are doing great to me. We haven't had a conversation like this yet, maybe the age or maybe the fact that she only knows basically more about her fostermom (abuelita) and then me living in Guatemala with her. She knows and has 2 pictures of her BM but maybe because thats all there is for now she happy with what she understands. I'm sure I will get the same questions eventually and I hope to that she will be able to see her BM and sisters when she is older and we can go back for a visit, if not she is very lucky to have a whole foster family that love her.

  60. Ranger
    November 18, 2010 | 3:46 pm

    I just discovered your blog, and have been reading and laughing out loud and going at intervals to the cats 'omg these kids are GORGEOUS'. The nature-touch-me-if-you-dare kids in the flowers shot is just perfect. The love that pours out of your blog is something else that's gorgeous, how lucky your children are {}

  61. Allyson
    November 18, 2010 | 6:16 pm

    My nephew is adopted. Only his mom is closer. Oh so very much closer. So I know looming out there somewhere are the same questions from him. I have to believe that you, and they, are doing it right. Are letting your children love more than just you as their parents. Are teaching them that family and love and bonds are more than just about genetics. That those things are so so much more than what we can see with our eyes.

  62. Heather
    November 18, 2010 | 6:31 pm

    you are such a wonderful mom. and i can only imagine (or maybe i can't imagine) what a gift your blog must be to other adoptive parents.

  63. Erika
    November 18, 2010 | 10:02 pm

    Oh, wow. I can tell I'm going to love it here. (Thanks, Ann Imig!)

  64. Jessica {Team Rasler}
    November 18, 2010 | 10:06 pm

    I haven't read all the comments and I'm no Prof. Trelawny, but I'm pretty sure we're all saying the same thing here: You are amazing, and you did it right. Truly, you're an inspiration not only to your children but to the many other people who read your words and are touched by your thoughtfulness and beautiful ability to reflect on this life. I can't wait until you have that moment when the grown-up Saige tells you what a brilliant mom you are. It's definitely going to happen.

  65. Deidre
    November 19, 2010 | 2:00 am

    I held my breath reading your responses, as I'm so anxious about answering those same questions. I, too, have an adopted 5 year old. She is Guatemalan and has not started asking questions about her first mom. When the questions start to come, I hope I'll give her such thoughtful answers as you gave your daughter. Kudos to you! This is my first time commenting, but I absolutely adore your blog.

  66. Naomi W
    November 19, 2010 | 2:45 am

    Thank you for sharing this (and everything else you write). I know that my daughter will someday ask similar questions, and you've given me a great example of how to respond.

  67. Mama Cas
    November 19, 2010 | 2:43 pm

    I've never been in your shoes, but from what I can tell….YES, you're doing it right. I would imagine you and she will dance this dance a million more times and I'm sure you've tried to think of all the things she might ask. Don't forget that it's okay to admit, "I honestly don't know the answer to that." She will appreciate your honesty.

  68. Superjules
    November 19, 2010 | 5:50 pm

    What a beautiful story. It sounds to me like you are doing things right :)

  69. Heather of the EO
    November 19, 2010 | 5:52 pm

    Okay then. Now I'm crying my face off.

    I love your heart and your thoughts and the way you say them.

    Thank you.

  70. Anna See
    November 19, 2010 | 9:20 pm

    Beautiful, and wonderful, and hard. You are doing the right thing, sweetie!

    We don't have the same issues here, but we today we have school behavior probs, multiple visits to the principal's office in one day, crippling shyness and outbursts at the same time and a bullying email received and deleted by me. Isn't life fun?

  71. Michelle
    November 20, 2010 | 2:56 am

    Stacey you are exactly what she needs. I love how you handle it, the grace you show for not just her but yourself and her siblings. You are doing great – and making me cry again. She'll tell you the same someday.

  72. Pseudo
    November 21, 2010 | 6:48 am

    I'd say you are doing wonderfully.

  73. a Tonggu Momma
    November 21, 2010 | 2:56 pm

    "Because I want to get this – this one thing – right so very badly that my teeth hurt where I have clenched them together."

    Yes. Exactly.

  74. slouchy
    November 21, 2010 | 8:17 pm

    Tears here.

    This is beautiful, and so are you.

  75. Sarah
    November 22, 2010 | 1:08 am

    I'd reach out hand hold your hand if I could. I think you did a great job.

  76. Burgh Baby
    November 22, 2010 | 9:09 pm

    Damn, you're good.

  77. Lisa
    November 22, 2010 | 10:10 pm

    Wow….just…wow.

    I'm new to your blog and this was pure beauty here for me. Not even the specifics of what was said or not said, but simply because your beautiful Mama's heart and compassion shone brightly throughout.

    Thank you.

    Lisa

  78. Annje
    November 23, 2010 | 1:04 pm

    I think you are doing awesome. It takes a lot of courage to both be honest with her about her biological mother and to simultaneously let her imagination create a version of her that Ess psychologically might need as a coping mechanism.

  79. musicmd
    November 24, 2010 | 3:49 am

    This is truly one of the most powerful and beautiful things I've read relating to a key, central issue in adoption. Your words will help me address these critical issues when our son asks similar questions. Thank you for the thoughtful way you work through this powerful stuff.

  80. Natalie
    November 25, 2010 | 11:19 am

    OMG – You are not alone – I am asking myself the very same question every.single.day.

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