I had not expected this from a kid who wasn’t even two yet. But Miles was verbal early, and he was observant. How could he not notice that the other kids at toddler gymnastics and story time constantly mentioned this “mom” thing? Where was his?
After recovering from being thrown, I told him, “You have a Papa and a Daddy.” Travis and I wanted to give him a simple response, one that he could repeat, which he did with a giggle and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
For several weeks, he kept asking, “Where my mom?” So we decided to introduce more information. We told him, “You have a Mama M_______ who loves you very much; she chose Papa and Daddy to adopt you and be your parents.”
I wanted to use a name for her that acknowledges she’s his mom but not a mom in the way other kids around him have moms. So we chose “Mama M_______.”
By the time he was two years and a few months, we gave him his life book. It took lots of time, wordsmithing, and an assist from Blurb.com. “The Miles Book” tells the story of his birth and adoption. We get it out every few weeks, and he mostly lingers over the spreads of family members, adoptive and birth. Occasionally he has questions as if he’s clarifying the story for himself: “Who’s tummy did I grow in?”
We didn’t consult with his mom about what we call her or about the life book. It was already wrenching to craft the narrative. I couldn’t imagine asking her to be an editor. But we kept her in our thoughts as we wrote it and included some of the language she has used to explain her adoption decision.
So before her visit this past weekend, I was anxious about the fact that we hadn’t talked about what we’re telling Miles and what we call her. I think of myself as fairly direct about most things, but my conversations with her don’t flow freely into serious territory.
Two nights before their arrival, I realized it might reduce my anxiety—and possibly hers—if I took the time to send an email. I wrote, “We were thinking it might be helpful to tell you a little about what Miles is understanding these days about his adoption…..” And, in just a few paragraphs, I explained what we call her and how we’ve explained the adoption and her role in Miles’ life. I gave her the rough outline of the life book and asked if she’d like to read it during the visit.
I wrote, “I hope you don’t mind the “Mama M_____” name too much. We were worried that he’d be confused if we called you ‘mom’ or ‘mommy,’ because his friends all have moms who are with them every day. We wanted to name you something that would make it clear that you’re his mom, but not exactly like other kids’ moms. When he’s older and can understand the concept of adoption better, you and he can work out whatever name you’d like for him to call you.”
I hit send and held my breath.
Within minutes she wrote back a short and sweet note with exclamation points. “Mama M_____” was “perfectly fine” with her and, yes, she would love to see the life book.
She said she was Miles’ age when she started having questions about her adoption.
That’s right, she was adopted herself at three months old from Mexico (it was a completely closed adoption). I had not forgotten this, but until that moment, I had never fully considered the ways in which that experience might inform her approach to how we talk about Miles about his adoption. Navigating adoption can be foreign to people born and raised in families with strictly biological ties, but that’s not her experience. Adoption, its consequences, and its culture of non-biological ties have always been a part of her life.
That revelation released some of my tension about the visit. I was also relieved that she appeared to be okay with our name for her. I went to bed that night more excited than anxious about their arrival.
One morning during the visit, right before I took Miles to preschool orientation, I took “The Miles Book” up to her room and lay it on her bed. When I got home, she told me she really liked it (and seemed genuine about it).