I’m sitting at the allergist, upholding an appointment I booked months ago. Jack, home sick for the day, plays his iPad at my feet. The doctor regards my son, “Does he know he’s adopted?” I glance at Jack. Thankfully he is engrossed in Thomas the Tank, earphones firmly planted on either side of his head. “So does he?,” the doctor persists. I go clammy. What kind of question is this? Through my hazy, allergy ridden brain I try to think of a response. “Well, both my husband and I are Caucasian, so I think it’s obvious.” The doctor regards Jack. “Huh. I guess I never noticed my skin looked different from other people’s until I was much older.” I chew on this.
The fact is in this day and age in America it’s not obvious my son is adopted. At the pediatric hospital with my husband this past weekend the nurse asked me if my son had a difficult birth. I looked at her blankly and said, “I have no idea.” My husband jumped in and quickly explained Jack joined our family at 22 months but it got me thinking. Maybe my allergist had a point.
The answer, of course, is yes. Unequivocally, resoundingly, yes. Jack knows he’s adopted. We talk on an almost daily basis of how Mommy and Daddy traveled to China to get Jack. He sees pictures of our first days as a family scattered around the house. And he is blessed to have best friends from a similar background (all Chinese adoptees like himself) but what if that’s not enough?
In this day and age of TLC specials of “Where I’m From,” commercials for Ancestry.com and long lost journeys of DNA I worry that someone else will be the one to tell my son his story. Perhaps it will be a well-meaning friend on a heritage quest or a colleague unearthing a long lost truth. Jack knows he’s adopted, yes, but what if….
And so I sit down to write. The hardest, truest, most tear producing words I’ve ever inked. I write from notes passed down from caregivers and bureaucrats. I write from memory and imagination. I include pictures and maps, drawings and icons. I weave together his past with our past. There are holes I decide to keep and holes I decide to fill with speculations I choose to believe as truth. I write from the heart. I write the words I want him to know as his story. The story of how he came to be. The story of how he journeyed from China to America. And the story of how we three became a family.
I’d like to think no one will ever ask my son “Do you know you’re adopted?” I’d like to think that his birth parents won’t come up in casual conversation as a point of intrigue or insight into what makes Jack, Jack. But such thoughts are foolish.
I have the book professionally printed and present it to Jack as a gift on his 4th birthday. The first time I read it aloud to him we both cry. I think maybe it’s too much, so I gently close the book and place it on his bookshelf to be discovered on another day. But then the next night at bedtime something funny happens. He asks for “The story you wrote about me.” And so we read it again.
It has been three weeks and “Jack’s Story” is now part of our nightly bedtime routine. We no longer cry when we read its pages but instead recite the words together. Our favorite part is the end:
For out of this world so broken and torn,
You came to our house on that wonderful morn,
And all of a sudden this family was born.
Oh Happy Adoption Day!
– John McCutcheon
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