Every Story Needs A Beginning.

Published on http://www.chicagonow.com/portrait-of-an-adoption/2015/11/every-story-needs-a-beginning/
By Anne Sawan

There are some stories in life that we tell our children over and over. Favorite books, old fairy tales. Books that hold messages and lessons we want to pass on. Stories that have meaning, that matter to us.

I was driving in the car with my seven-year-old daughter. It was a warm summer night, just the two of us, a wide-open evening full of possibilities and fireflies. After camp she usually likes to tell me stories about her day, about the arts and crafts they created, the games they played, but this day she was quiet and I thought she must be tired from a long day. She certainly looked like she had been busy: her hair a mess, her sneakers scuffed, her knees dirty.

It was just the two of us that evening, my other children scattered about at various friend’s houses to swim and eat hamburgers. I asked her what she wanted to do with our free time together.

“Can we go to the mall and get some sushi and Legos?”

I smiled.

It was always the same answer.

As we meandered down the road I glanced in the rear view mirror. She was staring out the window, a serious look on her face, her lips moving slightly as she muttered something quietly to herself.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said, her eyes looking away, her finger tracing a path against the glass.

There was a beat of silence and then, “Mom, I know someone else who

is adopted.”

“Really?”

“Yes, he is at camp.”

I nodded, “How do you know he is adopted?”

“I heard him tell someone.”

“Oh. Did you tell him you were adopted too?”

“No.”

We drove along. Each lost in our own thoughts for a few moments. I wondered why she had brought it up, about this other camper. Having no real inkling about what to say next, but knowing there was something there, hidden in her words, I casually asked, “If someone at camp were to ask you what that other camper meant by adoption, what would you say?”

My daughter shrugged, her finger still smudging an imaginary track against the window. “I guess I would say, it means someone had you but they had to get rid of you, so your mom and dad got you.”

Get rid of you?

I pulled into the mall parking lot, my heart thumping.

My daughter.

My beautiful, sassy, silly, sweet, wonderful daughter thought someone just… got rid of her?

I turned around. “Honey,” I said. “Your birth mother didn’t just get rid of you, she loved you.”

My daughter stared at me, her brown eyes growing wide, her hand falling away from the window.

“She did?”

My mind swirled.

Hadn’t I told her?

Hadn’t I told her, her adoption story a million times?

Hadn’t I told her something like this:

You didn’t grow in my tummy, you grew in your birthmother’s tummy, but she couldn’t keep you, I am not sure why. But your dad and I wanted you soooo much so we flew far across the deep ocean and over the tall mountains, picked you up, wrapped you in a soft pink blanket, flew back across the big ocean and over the mountains where everyone was waiting for you and we had a big party full of love and kisses and cake!

Brakes.

Rewind.

Did I say, “I’m not sure why, but she she loved you very much”

Did I say, “I’m not sure why, but she loved you very much and it must have been very difficult for her to say goodbye.”

I must have.

I did.

Didn’t I?

My child’s beginning is unknown. I don’t know the reasons why her birth mother couldn’t keep her and I realized that in telling her I try to breeze quickly by that part, the beginning. It just seems tricky and messy and fraught with such hard questions and deep sadness that I hurry through, telling my daughter instead a story of a kisses and cake and a soft pink blanket that enveloped her with love; shielding her from sorrow.

I so want that story to be enough. For our love to be enough…but it can’t be, because it’s not her story.

When we open a book, we don’t just jump into the middle. We need to have an understanding of where the story begins, and my daughter’s beginning, although difficult, is just as important as any other; a beginning that doesn’t start with my love, but with the extraordinary love of another person. A love that while complicated shouldn’t just be casually rushed over. A love that deserves to be talked about slowly and carefully and with respect. A love like a cherished old book on the shelf, that can be revisited over and over again.

So I took a deep breath and slowly, slowly I spoke,

“Sweetie, I don’t know why your birth mom couldn’t keep you but I do know that she didn’t just get rid of you. Maybe she was too young to have a baby, or maybe she didn’t know how to be a mom yet but she loved you very, very much; and she did the hardest and bravest thing a mom could ever do and found you a place where she knew you would always be safe and where she knew there would be a family that would love you as much as she did.”

My daughter stared, her brown eyes meeting mine.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. She loved you and you know what else? You are full of extra love because you have love from your birth mom and love from all of us.”

A broad smile settled on her lips.

The story was shifting, the words were changing, slightly perhaps, but it was enough… for now.

“Can we go get some sushi and Legos now?”

“Of course.”

Anne Sawan is a mom of five, a psychologist and an author, having books published with MeeGenuis, as well as having articles published on Adoption Today, Adoptive Families, Brain Child, Scary Mommy and BluntMoms. She won The International Picture Book contest held by Inclusive Works and Clavis Publishing in 2014 and her book, What Can Your Grandmother Do? is scheduled to come out sometime this year.

The Dreaded School Summer Reading List

A version of this piece was published in Brain Child last year. Ten To Twenty Parenting has republished it on their blog. Some things change over time…my feelings towards this summer assignment has not.

http://tentotwenty.com/why-i-hate-summer-reading-lists/

Don’t Be A Sh**Head

http://tentotwenty.com/dear-kids-if-i-die-please-dont-be-a-sh-head/

I recently wrote a post for Ten To Twenty Parenting. Here is a copy of my parenting wisdom summed up in 10 pieces of advice. That’s all I got…

Dear Children:

Should I die from heat stroke in hot yoga class I am being forced to take tomorrow by my alleged “friends” here is a list of ten of the most important life lessons I want you to remember.

Love Mom

1) DON’T be a sh** head.

Don’t be a sh** head is actually the only piece of advice you will ever need in life. A sh** head can best be summed up as a person who thinks they are better than everyone and therefore can act however they want without taking into account the feelings of others. Just think about it: ISIS, filled with sh**heads. Nazis, sh**heads. Westboro Baptist Church, sh**heads. That girl in fourth grade that invited everyone in the class but you to her birthday party, sh** head. and her parents are also sh**heads.

You will, unfortunately, find sh**heads everywhere, they will be in your school, on your sport teams, sitting beside you in the movie theatre, the coffee shop, on the train, the airplane, the beach, maybe even at Thanksgiving dinner.

2) DON’T ever think you know the whole story. The truth is while some people are born sh**t heads, most are made that way by either crappy parenting or crappy events in their life. You never really know when someone acts unkindly to you what else is going in his/her life so give people a second chance, then if they are still a sh**head, move on.

3) DON’T let anyone push you around. If some stupid bully on the playground hits you, hit them back. I know, I know, your teacher says, “Use your words.” Great. Here are some words to use (try to say this with a low and gravelly voice, like Liam Neesen), “Listen jerk, I don’t want to hurt you, but if you hit me again I will hit you back and you won’t like it.” Now, if they hit you again, hit them back, hard. You tried to warn them, you used your words, it didn’t work.

4) DON’T ever say, “I would NEVER…” The truth is, we don’t know what we would say or do in certain situations; what words we might say or how we might act. Don’t be too quick to judge others. There are circumstances in life that cause us to become strangers even to ourselves.

5) DON’T do drugs. Seriously, have you ever seen this particular life choice work out well for anyone? Ever? Elvis? Whitney Houston? Michael Jackson? The Rolling Stones? Ok, well maybe the Rolling Stones, but that’s it.

Onto the 5 DO’s:

6) DO check your teeth, feet and fly before leaving the restroom. Teeth: for wayward pieces of broccoli; feet: for pieces of toilet paper that are quietly and grossly trailing along behind you and fly: to make sure it’s up and you don’t look like a creep.

And don’t forget to discreetly tell your friends when they have something stuck in their teeth or if their fly is down. What kind of a sh**head wouldn’t tell their friend when something was in their teeth? Wouldn’t you want to know? Isn’t that what a true friend does? Tells you when something isn’t quite right. Helps you out in a jam. Steps on that nasty piece of paper stuck to your shoe. Now that’s a true friend.

7) DO pass the ball. PASS THE DAMN BALL! And I don’t mean to your best friend or the star player on the team, I mean pass it to that kid that will probably miss it. The one who might fumble. Throw it to him/her and if they miss it, no big deal, this isn’t the NFL or the NBA. They just want a chance. Everyone wants to be a part of the team.

8) DO surround yourself with people you can be yourself with. So here’s the harsh truth: you tend to make mistakes, you are sort of strange and sometimes you smell. You are no different than anyone else, and you better be with the people or person who will love you through all of that. I recently read about a woman who said she could never pass gas in front of her spouse because it would ruin their romance. Seriously? I have been married for almost twenty-five years and personally, I just don’t have the energy to hold in all of the bad parts of me all of the time. Once in a while the ugly and smelly just come out. It’s life. It’s human. It’s you. It’s me. It’s all of us.

9) DO say yes when someone asks you to dance. It takes a lot of courage to get up the nerve to ask someone to dance. They aren’t asking you to marry them; it’s just a dance for Christ sake! So, don’t be a sh**head, dance!

10) DO listen to old people once in a while. We know a few things. We have had hookups and breakups. We have done mean things and done the right things. We have been drunk and high, and woke the next morning full of regret. We thought we knew the whole story, only to find out later that we didn’t actually know the story at all. We have worked up the courage to ask someone to dance only to be rejected. We have tried to hold in the stinky parts of us, only to realize we cannot. We have known sh** heads and we have been sh** heads. We know.

Fly Away

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The plane lifted off the ground and the buildings and cars and trees below quickly became nothing more than small gray smudges against the earth. Clouds soon enveloped the tiny window next to me and unable to see past the foggy haze anymore I sat back, willing myself not to cry.

I had just said goodbye to my daughter who is spending a few months abroad in Europe.

I arrived a week earlier and she met me outside of my hotel where I held her in my arms for an embarrassingly long time, burying my face in her shoulder and drinking in the familiar, delicious scent of her. She proudly showed me around her city: the coffee shops she frequents with friends, the bakery where she gets her morning pastry, the bars with the best sangria.

Despite the relentless rain we had a wonderful week, traveling about, meeting her gracious host family, touring the university, listening to the stories of her adventures in foreign countries, but as happy as I was to see her, somewhere below the surface I kept feeling a slight something; a tremor, a subtle shifting…something had changed and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

So now as I sat there on that plane, the miles between us growing with each passing minute, I thought back to the beginning of this life journey which we had started together so long ago.

I remembered bringing her home for the first time, setting the car seat down in the living room and just sitting and staring at her… I was terrified; filled with fear at the realization that I was now responsible for the very survival of this tiny, helpless creature. Oh, how she needed me and oh, how it frightened me. She needed me to be her sustenance. She needed me to be her voice. She needed me to be her eyes. She needed me in ways I had never been needed before and it was, I thought, too much. But somehow, step-by-step, day-by-day we made it through and slowly, overtime, my confidence grew until I found myself on the other side of the ambivalence, suddenly relishing the fact that she needed me.

She needed me.

How flattering. How empowering. How wonderful.

I was needed.

I thought back to when she needed me to clean off her skinned toddler knees after falling in the park. I thought back to when she needed me to stay by her side as she wobbled down the street on her two-wheeler. I thought back to when she needed me to coax her into the pool, “Come ‘on. Jump! You can do it!”

How she needed me later still to help her navigate the strange changes in her body, the unexpected torment of fluctuating middle school friendships and the confusing new interactions with boys.

Then I thought back to that summer after a particularly bad school year during which a ruthless teenage bully had undone all of my child’s confidence.

I had wiped her tears and told her that this mean girl was no good. That the things she said weren’t true. That it was all just garbage. But no matter how many times I told her that she was beautiful and perfect, I couldn’t fix what was broken. She needed something else.

“It’s called Girls Leadership,” I said, handing her the colorful brochure sporting photos of teenage girls rock climbing and zip lining. “I think it might be good for you.”

She gave it a fleeting glance and handed it back, saying with the sage wisdom of a teenager, “You can call it whatever you want Mom. I know what it is. It’s confidence camp.”

The night before she left we went for a walk on the beach and she cried and begged and pleaded,

“Please don’t make me go.”

How I wanted to say, “You’re right. Forget it. Stay with me. I will make it all better.”

But I didn’t. I couldn’t, because while I wanted to always be the one who could magically kiss away her fears and fix her bad days, ultimately it wasn’t me she needed anymore.

She needed to go. She needed to discover that she would be all right on her own. She needed to climb over those rocks by herself and if she fell, well then she needed to find her own way up.

She needed something more than me.

She needed herself.

So there on that plane, as I thought back through all those years, I finally realized what the unsettled feeling I had been having all week truly was: it was the glorious, beautiful, and bittersweet goodbye of childhood.

Goodbye.

She has done it. She is standing on her own now without me by her side. She is scrambling over those rocks on her own. She will stumble, this is certain, but if I am not there to offer a hand, it’s ok. She will get herself back up, she will clean off her own skinned knee and she will whisper to herself, “Come ‘on. Jump! You can do it.”