“Mami, vamos a contestar,” is my afternoon request from Isabel. “Contestar” is her 4-year-old version of the Spanish word “conversar”- to converse. “What do you want to talk about?” I ask, knowing what is coming. “Tell me about S. and Charleston,” she replies inevitably. S. is her birthmother and Charleston is the first place she remembers. This is our afternoon ritual. When she gets up from her quiet time, she calls me to the bed or comes to sit on the couch and beckons me for our afternoon conversation.
This is actually my fault, though. When she was so small I wasn’t sure she could understand, I started telling Isa her adoption story. When she was about three a friend of mine came to the house with a big pregnant belly. I think this was the first time Isabel noticed this phenomenon and asked me what was inside my friend’s belly. This started a set of questions that inevitably led to the one I was dreading most: “Mami, was I inside your belly?” I knew Isabel knew she was adopted, but this was the first time adoption was connected to biology. I choked as I answered her. How I wish she had been! But, I tried to explain it all to her as matter-of-factly as I could. We have vowed to make adoption as normal in our family as having different skin colors, speaking different languages, or living in different countries: just another way people become family.
As she has grown older the story has expanded, details have been filled, and funny anecdotes have been revealed. It is a joyful time for her. She loves to hear the story of how badly we wanted her and how quickly we loved her. This is the part she revels in. She smiles as I tell her about the phone call that told her dad and I that she had arrived. She giggles at my impression of her dad driving like crazy to get her. She laughs when I tell her how the first time we changed her diaper even the dogs were covered in poop. For me it is a bitter-sweet routine. I laugh with her at the way our life changed that Friday morning, at how full my heart has been for the past four years, at the wonder of the moment we were given a daughter. I shed inner tears when I try to portray to her the sadness her birthmother must have felt at saying goodbye, when I think about how adoption is addition through subtraction, and when I imagine the day she will really come to understand what adoption means and grieve herself.
In the meantime, we “contestamos.” I answer her questions and I re-live the moments since our paths crossed, sweet and sad, afternoon by afternoon. She knows all that a 4-year-old can handle about her adoption and she thinks it is a wondrous thing; after all, seven of her playmates were adopted, including her baby brother. At times I wish we didn’t have to have this conversation; that she was another kid hearing how they grew in mommy’s belly, oblivious of the many other ways to make a family. I wish I could shelter her from the pain I know will come. But, this is who she is; it is who we are and it is who God has called us to be. Adoption was a God thing for us and we believe He brought us together. How else would this crazy multiracial, multicultural, multilingual family have come to be!