As the story goes, the adoptive parents are holding the baby that’s just been placed in their arms and ask their social worker when they should tell the child he’s been adopted. The social worker replies, “On the way home.” While we didn’t start telling Teddy he was adopted quite from day one, we did make an effort to bring it up fairly soon after we brought him home. We have several children’s books that discuss adoption, and since he was about 1 and becoming more mobile and curious, Mike has used his adoption bracelet to tell Teddy about our adoption story. Teddy will play with the bracelet—and often demand to wear it—prompting Mike to tell him that adoption is how we became a family.
Until recently, our efforts have mostly been for our own benefit, not for our adopted boy’s. Teddy doesn’t understand the concept yet and we were pretty sure he wasn’t taking anything from our monologues. But we continued to tell the story so we’d be completely comfortable with it when he did start asking questions on his own. We didn’t want our first real conversation about adoption to be awkward because we weren’t used to talking about it.
But last Monday, for the first time, Teddy mentioned being adopted without Mike or I saying anything. We were having a family hug before Mike left for work, and Teddy happened to touch Mike’s bracelet. Sandwiched between Mike and me, Teddy said, “Adoption. It’s how we’re a family.” This is the language Mike uses, and we looked at each other gobsmacked. But we recovered quickly and validated his statement: “Yes, that’s right. Adoption is how we became a family.”
And that was that. Teddy didn’t say anything further and Mike left for work. I kept waiting for him to bring it up again, but the day passed without further such declarative statements.
That evening, I was feeding Teddy dinner before Mike and I went out for date night. He spooned some oatmeal into his mouth, chewed, swallowed, and then said, again, “Adoption. It’s how we’re a family.” I wondered if he’d been pondering this fact all day without saying a word. Again, I confirmed the statement as true and elaborated a bit, explaining how another mommy carried him in her tummy—a tummy mommy. That mommy loved him very much, but she wasn’t able to care for him, so she found another mommy and daddy to take care of him, an adoptive mommy and daddy. He looked at me, eyes wide, pointed at me, and said, “Tummy mommy.” I corrected him. No, I’m your adoptive mommy. And Daddy is your adoptive daddy.
At the end of the conversation, our friend who was babysitting arrived and sat at the table to eat his own dinner, and Teddy pointed up and said, “Light!”
And just like that, the conversation was over. As Mike and I were walking to the metro to go to dinner, I couldn’t help repeating that I never thought Teddy would start talking about adoption so soon. I was incredulous. I thought we had until he turned 4—or at least until he started school—before he’d begin questioning how he came to be part of our family. I’m so thankful we’ve been intentional about telling him his story so that the words don’t feel awkward coming off our tongue. The fact that we have a rapt listener now makes us a bit more nervous telling that story, but the story itself comes out pretty naturally.
In the last few days, Teddy has mentioned being adopted a few more times. I also pulled out my favorite children’s book that we have that deals with adoption and read it to him, thinking that might invite him to talk about it more, but no dice. Do I think he understands what it means to be adopted? Absolutely not. But the word is now clearly part of his vocabulary, and that’s the first step in ensuring it’s a normal part of our family conversation. And that he can feel comfortable bringing up the topic any time it’s on his mind.