My husband and I just celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. I felt like we were really mature at the time. When I look back now on who we were then, we seem like babies. So young. So wide-eyed, in love and ready for anything.
During the time leading up to our anniversary this year, several people asked me how long my husband and I have been married (a pretty standard question). Some of those people were more like acquaintances or even strangers that I would be randomly making small talk with (side note: I have found that more people make small talk with me now that I have a kid… has anyone else noticed this?), and I could see the wheels turning in their brains as I stood there with my son and responded, “almost 4 years.” Intuitively, I knew the question running through some of their minds. “And how old is your son?”
I know this sounds funny to say, but I honestly hadn’t thought about the fact that our son was older than our marriage. Not really. The first time I felt myself becoming aware of it was when a stranger at a friend’s wedding asked me how long I have been married, and then quickly followed up the question with “Do you have any kids?”. She didn’t ask me how old our child is, but she did ask me if he looked like me. Ahh, another complicated adoptive family question. I remember just smiling and saying simply, “Not really.” She laughed and said, “Well, that’s how it works sometimes! I am sure the second one will be a spitting image!” My internal voice-over was saying, “You’re sure of that?”
So yes, my son is 5, and my husband and I have been married for 4 years. And that is where the story can end if I choose. For someone who doesn’t like to make people uncomfortable or even uncertain, I could have seen a younger, less motherly version of myself over-explaining, volunteering too much information, and laughing along with the person as I clarify our very intimate, personal story so that no questions are left unanswered. But I don’t do that.
In fact, I sort of like the awkward moments now. I know it sounds weird (and maybe a little twisted), but I like to return the confused look with a warm smile before walking away. The reality is that I have joined a club that I didn’t know I was joining. This club doesn’t just include adoptive families. It encompasses all sorts of complex family structures that don’t fit nicely into our traditional lens of the word family. Having a child who is older than our marriage connects me with blended families, family caregivers, non-married partnerships, and all sorts of foster care and adoptive families. The complication of not being able to become parents the traditional way connects me to other families dealing with infertility, gay and lesbian families, surrogate families, and families grappling with serious genetic concerns. It’s not so lonely after all. In fact, it’s pretty comforting.
Sometimes, it is so clear what God’s plan is in hindsight. If we had gotten pregnant when we first started trying to conceive (or for the two years after that), we wouldn’t have become Josh’s parents. And I know that I was meant to be his mother. I know it so intimately and deeply that it overwhelms me sometimes. He is my son. Completely. Unquestionably.
Maybe that assurance and that conviction makes it easier for me to deal with the awkward and uncomfortable situations that come sometimes. Maybe I don’t feel the need to defend my family and how we got where we are because I can’t control what others are going to think or assume. Maybe it’s also okay because I refuse to spend Josh’s life justifying it.
The fact that Josh is adopted is something we have no intention of hiding or dancing around. We couldn’t even if we wanted to because our son has memories and experiences and feelings that don’t involve us, and we want to know everything he remembers so we can help him piece together his own story some day. He refers to the time period before we came into his life as “when I was little”. As soon as I hear those words, I stop what I am doing and listen as warmly and attentively as I can. I also smile because, I mean seriously, how cute is that?
Sure, our story is complicated. Whose isn’t? I have to catch myself from assuming that people who do seem to become parents the traditional way don’t have complicated stories. I am sure there is plenty of unspoken grief, painful loss and confusing times that may not be conveyed in the Instagram version of a person’s story. I love our story. I love talking about our story with close friends and family. I love sharing pieces of our story in my blog and when I speak to groups of people. But I also hold it sacredly, and I don’t throw it around or respond flippantly to questions that have much more meaning than people may understand when asking them.
Josh is so thoughtful and intuitive. He is already piecing our story together and asking questions and trying to make sense of who he is in relation to us and to the world. He loves looking at our wedding pictures, and often he makes comments about wishing he would have been there. Dave and I just look at each other, smile, and tell him we wish he could have been there too. Then we remind him that he was already in our hearts, even though we didn’t know it yet. He likes that. He seems comforted to know that we existed before him and our love for him proceeded his entry into our family.
And as he gets older and his questions get harder and more complicated, I pray that we will have the courage and the wisdom to speak genuinely about our amazing story- the story of how God made us a family. And I pray that our son will rest in the assurance that, on May 2, 2008, 3 months after his father and I started dating and my first time meeting Dave’s parents who lived in the same city where Josh was born, God knew that our son had arrived into the world years before we did. God knew that we were down the road from our baby, and that 4 years later, we would finally find each other. That’s a complicated story that I could tell over and over again.
So I have decided that I like complicated. The best and most meaningful things in life seem to be.