“Be careful, Mommy. Don’t hurt me,” Mattix said, his cute little 6-year-old mouth open wide. He had laid down on the couch, absolutely at ease, ready for me to make the “ouchie” stop.
I shined the flashlight in with one hand and used the other to perform the sort of oral surgery only a parent can do so expertly. Using floss, a dental pic and tweezers, I began the process of removing the piece of popcorn kernel skin that had lodged deeply under his gums, likely a few days ago. He thought he’d had a toothache, but I discovered otherwise tonight. It’s amazing how someone with poor fine motor skills can suddenly become MacGyver when her child requires such precision.
As I carefully dug, poked, and scraped, removing remnants of dinner in my effort to get to the real problem and just sticking them on the back of my hand – the way a seasoned mom does without thinking about how gross it actually is – I looked into his sweet eyes, staring up at me with complete trust.
I’m not sure that I had visions of what motherhood would be like. I probably thought of it like many women who want to be moms, but aren’t sure what to expect. It has turned out to be far more amazing, rewarding, challenging and full of pure, unconditional love than I ever could have imagined.
Last week, we celebrated the sixth anniversary of Mattix, Ed and I meeting each other and becoming a family. In mid-November, I mentioned to Mattix that the occasion was coming up and I asked whether he’d like to do anything to recognize the day. We’ve always done something as a family, but it’s not a decision for us, his parents, to make any longer.
“Oh! Yes!” he said, his eyes dancing with excitement. “We can get a jumpy and decorate our house and get an ice cream cake and invite everyone from my class over for a huge party!”
His enthusiasm and excitement filled my heart, not just because of this particular occasion, but because his enthusiasm for life in general is that big.
I said that sounded lovely, but suggested we save such a large celebration for his upcoming birthday and maybe keep our “Family Day” smaller and more personal.
“Okay, sure!” he said, equally excited. “We can go out for pho and have ice cream with our family and Grammy and Papa!”
The older he gets, the more important it becomes to give him control of the way we recognize these adoption “milestones.” The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve struggled to reconcile my feelings of absolute gratitude and joy over getting to raise him with the deep and lifelong loss he experienced that led to his adoption.
I felt no remorse walking out of that orphanage with Mattix. I can’t imagine feeling anything other than utter confusion and heartbreak and maybe anger when one pieces together a situation that shouldn’t exist. But I felt – and continue to feel – the sadness of taking him away from his country, his culture, his language. Decisions that he had no control over have altered his entire life.
Recently, I’ve realized that no matter how much I try, I won’t ever be able to reconcile those two very different feelings. And I’m okay with that. I’ll always be so incredibly grateful that I’m the mom raising him. And I’ll always feel sadness for what he has lost. Above all, and as I’ve always felt, I’ll give him the space to have and process his own feelings, independent of mine.
If he decides against celebrating his Family Day at any point, we’ll stop. I can quietly reflect on the experience of meeting him for the first time, holding him, feeling that pure joy of meeting the amazing human being who made me a mom. I can feel those things without having to make sense of them, juxtaposed against the loss that adoption brings.
At his Family Day dinner, he was so happy and proud he could have burst. “I love you, Mommy,” he said, mouth full of pho. “I love you, Sissy!” he exclaimed as he and Molley watched the giant fish in the tank. “I love you, Daddy!” he shouted across the table. “I love you, Grammy,” he said, his little hand in hers, as we walked out of the restaurant. “I love my family!” he said more times than I could count.
The privilege of parenting is a big one. The privilege of parenting someone so special and full of life and love and light who wasn’t even supposed to mine to raise, well, that’s more than I could have ever asked for.