This is one of those blog posts that’s going to get me scolded either by members of my own family or by the dreamy adoption people who believe that God personally selected the child they adopted. I don’t care because the truth of the matter is that adoptive parents, at least the ones I know, talk about lemons now and then. As in “how did I end up with this child and not that one?”
In our group of adoptive families in which all the kids came from the same orphanage in Nicaragua, this question comes up but only in a joking way. Growing up, my kids would say, “Why couldn’t Louise be my mother?” I’d shrug and say to myself, “Yeah, why couldn’t Louise be your mother?” Please, Louise.
This sounds like an abstract ‘what if’ kind of idea unless you’ve actually been in an orphanage where there are a lot of children without parents and it’s pretty much random how a child has been singled out for you. In our case, in the 80’s, the Minister of Social Welfare herself made the choice. Because the first child we adopted had a heart condition, she had it in her mind to reward us with a healthy child, a 17-month old boy who couldn’t sit up, stand, walk or hold on to someone holding him. He could, however, lay on his back and look at people in a hot, defeated, silent way. Of course, I fell in love with him immediately, slept each night in Nicaragua, scared and tired and wanting so much to be home in Milwaukee, with this detached baby boy laying on my chest in the stifling rooming house where we stayed awaiting our visas to leave the country. In minutes I loved him like I loved his big sister and his just a little bit older brother and his little sister who would come later and the husband whose voice on the phone was the one thing that kept me safe and grounded even so far away.
So it took me a long time not to believe that God laid his very hands on my life and brought me this boy. It took me a longer time to realize that I might have become the mother of the girl in the crib next to his. She now lives on the west side of town with another family. Or a different boy, handsome and friendly, who lives on the south side. When I see all the adopted kids, now adults, in my living room at our annual Three Kings Party, I think, any one of these kids could have been my kids.
It’s such a strange, strange feeling. To see laid out in front of you what would have been your choices had you been asked to choose. What child would I have chosen had I been told it was up to me? One of these? The children bored and rocking, the little guy with the big belly from malnutrition?
The boy in the diaper or the one sitting on the floor? The child that reached for me or the one who looked away?
Of four or five toddlers in playpen, three would look up at me when I talked to them and two would keep playing with their toes. They were all babies. No. They were all orphans. Anyone of them could have become my child. It was a completely random choice, not mine, and not God’s either.
Because no one is comfortable with random, we draw hearts around it. We decide that of all the parents in the world, we were chosen to be this particular child’s parents. But truly it’s only the intersection of kindness and need that is at play. People who are kind enough to consider parenting a child not their own can parent any child not their own. I didn’t always know this to be true, but I do know it now.
I could have been anyone’s mother.