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Adoption Blog: Melting Pot Family
Where Is Her Mother?
When we started down the path towards adopting internationally from Ethiopia, we added some words to our vernacular like “transracial” and “conspicuous family.” Our adoption agency educated us on the attention we could expect and suggested responses we could give. They also discussed how transracially adopted children's needs would change as they matured. Since we brought our daughter, Leyla, home two years ago when she was 6 months old, we've seen these once-theoretical concepts play out in interesting ways.
Now that my wonderful in-laws are getting on in age, we travel to Greece to visit them once a year. We generally have a long layover in Frankfurt, Germany. We pass the time by reading, window shopping, and chatting. Leyla found another way to pass the time this last summer when she discovered the moving walkway. Her 13-year-old brother, Dimitri, dutifully followed her as she went around and around and around again. I could see them from where I was sitting. I never tire of watching my children interact. I am struck by their special bond. It's an intimate picture: The lanky teenager, who looks like he is 80 percent arms and legs, bending down to patiently listen to the petite toddler as she shares her latest excitement with an exaggeratedly animated face.
After a bit, I saw Dimitri come back toward us carrying Leyla. His face had that black-thundercloud look he gets when he feels truly wronged. “Mom, you are never going to believe what just happened,” he said.
I looked at Leyla thinking she might have gotten into something. But she looked just fine being toted around like a princess.
“What happened, honey?” I asked.
“This security guard came up to us and asked me, ‘Where is your mother?’ I pointed to you. And then he asked, ‘Where is HER mother?’ Can you believe it?” he asked. He was outraged.
I tried to explain that it wasn’t an unreasonable question under the circumstances.
Dimitri was having none of it. “Don’t tell me it’s no big deal," he said. "She is my sister.”
I let it go because I wasn’t going to be able to convince him otherwise. I completely understand that he expects all the world to see and instantly understand their connection and relationship. I get the same kicked-in-the-gut feeling when asked those kinds of questions.
This specific question, in a slightly different form, has lingered with me. Who is her mother? Leyla is 100 percent my daughter; that is crystal clear for me. And I am as fully her mother as I am to my biological sons. But I know for her, unlike her brothers, another mother has a claim to her too. A friend who is also an adoptive mother says she views her child's birthmother like a surrogate, a vessel who brought her child to her. I'm not judging—I believe everyone involved with adoption makes their own peace with the cognitive dissonance in how adoptive families are formed—but that description didn’t sit right with me.
I can’t devalue Leyla's birthmother’s pregnancy and early days with her. To do so would be like discounting my own pregnancies and early days with my sons. And they are part of who Leyla is.
I find myself looking at Leyla and wondering which qualities she took from her mother. When she babies her dolls (or her big brothers she convinces to pretend to be her dolls), I wonder. When she gets her father his remote, his phone, his keys, and his Diet Pepsi and says, “Here you go, Daddy,” whether he wants them or not—nearly every day, I wonder. When she climbs into our bed in the morning like clockwork after her dad has left for work with a “Bood (having trouble with g currently) morning, Mama!” and plants a juicy kiss on my lips while wrapping her arms tightly around my neck, I wonder.
Leyla, Damian (my second son), and I went to the opening of the Ethiopian cultural center in our town on September 11 (Ethiopian New Year). Damian befriended a kid around his age and, once he received permission, ran off to play with the boy. (I saw him later happily oblivious to the fact that he was the only non-Ethiopian child making Ethiopian flags and other decorations for the celebration.) I stood in a quiet corner of the main room holding Leyla, who wasn’t as quick to join the festivities as her brother, and watched the many happy, beautiful faces interact with each other celebrating their culture. I then noticed an Ethiopian couple watching us back. When we made eye contact, they walked over and introduced themselves. The woman said, “We were just looking at you and your daughter. My friend is an artist and he was commenting that your faces are similar. We know it sounds strange but we think she looks like you.” This was a surprising comment for me. It occurred to me that if it were true, maybe Leyla’s other mother looked a bit like me too. For some reason, that thought made me feel even more connected to her and that felt right.
What makes you feel connected to your child’s biological family? How do you honor that connection?
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