When you pursue adoption – at least domestically – part of the process is filling out an enormous form saying what kind of a child you will consider. That seems like kind of a stark way to say that, but honestly it’s a stark part of the process. Will you consider a child that wets the bed? Will you consider a child with a history of abuse? What about a child that was exposed to illegal drugs in utero? What about a child where literally nothing is known about family history?
We were using a private agency and were almost certain to get an infant, so a lot of the questions were moot. (For instance, I fully expected a newborn to wet the bed. I was not disappointed.) But filling out that form involved a lot of soul-searching. It felt cruel to check NO for any of the boxes – after all, each of those boxes represents a child, at least in theory, who needs love. But I truly believed (and still do believe) that it was necessary to be honest with myself and the agency about what was realistic. I had to say no to some things, because I just didn’t think I could handle them.
One thing that Paul and I had no trouble with was color of skin and national origin. We already had some shading in our extended family, so it wasn’t a new idea, and it just didn’t matter to us. (Let me say here that if a family doesn’t make the same decision, I am not standing in judgment. Every family has to make choices, and as I said above, they have to be honest ones, and they have to work for your family.)
So we always knew that we might have children that don’t look like we do. With Levi, we got one who could fly under the radar. With Elias? Not so much.
Awhile ago, Elias started talking about how his cousins are brown like him. Levi talks about it, too. My hands-down favorite story about the different colors of family is from the day that Levi had to have surgery to remove the bead he’d put in his left ear. In the middle of a discussion about anesthesia and counting backward, he informed the African-American anesthesia resident solemnly that his brother is brown. The resident leaned over to him and said, just as seriously, “So is mine.”
Recently, Elias has ramped up a little, and has taken to telling me, “Mommy. Your eyes are black. Just like me.” I decided it was time to address this issue a little more directly, so I went looking for a book that was recommended to me years ago. I couldn’t find it, but Amazon had it for around six bucks so I just got another one. (If history is a predictor of the future, I will find my original copy sometime today.)
A Mother for Choco is a paperback children’s book about a little yellow bird with no mother. He’s looking desperately for a mother who looks just like him, but he can’t find one anywhere. He finally finds a mama bear who looks nothing like him but behaves just like a mother should, with hugs and kisses and love and silliness. When he goes home, he meets his new siblings: a crocodile, a hippo, and a pig.
It’s a pretty great little book – a lot better than that synopsis – and he loves it. Especially the parts where we do the actions along with the story and hug extra tight.
I know this isn’t going to be the last time we talk about how Elias looks different than the rest of us. It’s going to come up for Levi eventually, too. Even though his skin color is pretty close to mine, some of his features are different than you’d expect from a biological child of ours, if you were thinking about that sort of thing.
And I know that the discussion is going to get deeper and more complicated as they grow up and ask harder questions. But I hope that both our boys will always understand, deeply and unthinkingly and at the very core of their souls, the lesson that Choco learned. That families are sometimes identified by biology and eye color and that weird crooked third toe that all the girls have. But not always. And that the most important components of families are commitment and time and sacrifice and humor, all stuck together with the immutable mortar of love.