Category Archives: Adoption

I’m Adopted, Too: A story of gratitude for the man who chose to be my Dad

In my life, family is not defined by blood.  It is defined by love and choice.

  karin pop and josh at karin's 30th bday                      pop grammy and josh at tee ball

When I picked Josh up from school last week, his teacher came up to me and said, “I didn’t know Josh was adopted!”  I was a little thrown off guard because she said it right in front of Josh, and, although it is clearly not something we hide from him, it seemed odd for her to bring it up out of nowhere with him standing at my heel.  I assumed that one of the other teachers told her, but before I could respond, she said with a smile, “Josh told me today!”

“Really?” I thought.  I almost never hear him use the word adopted.  Even when we bring it up, he never really seems to dwell on that word.  I was surprised and also curious.  His sweet teacher gave me a big smile and choked back tears while she told me the story.  During a Thanksgiving activity where all the kids were instructed to say one thing they are thankful for, Josh said, “I am thankful for my adopted family.”  My eyes met hers and we were both fighting back tears.  I touched her arm and thanked her for sharing that with me.  I tried my best to pick up the puddle of emotions that fell on the floor and walk to the car with my son.  As we were leaving, Josh stopped to show me the Thanksgiving wreath his class made.  Next to his name, it said “I am thankful for my family who adopted me.”  He gave me a big hug and told me he loved me.  “Thank you God for these moments.” I thought.

A little while after that, we were snuggling on the couch and I decided to ask him about his decision to tell his class he was adopted.  He couldn’t really give me an answer, which is not surprising since he is 5 years old and that is a fairly abstract concept I was asking him about. (Sidenote: Why do we parents do this?  I have training in play therapy and I teach counseling students how to do play therapy by tracking and reflecting and avoiding direct questions, and I still feel the need to ask my son abstract, complex questions with no clear answer to amuse my adult mind and satiate my curiosity.)  Although he couldn’t answer my initial question, he told me that one of his teachers told him she was adopted too!  He seemed really excited to know that, and I felt really grateful.  I was so glad that someone was there to connect with him as he shared this personal information with his class.

Then Josh looked at me and asked, “Mommy, are you adopted?”  My immediate response was “No”, but he challenged me by saying, “Yes, you are!”  I couldn’t tell at first if he just said this because he wanted us to have that common ground, but then it hit me and I knew exactly what he was talking about.  My step-dad, Richard.  I thought back to the way I talked about my dad and step-dad, using language with Josh like, “I have two dads who love me.” and explaining that even though my step-dad didn’t know me when I was little, I was meant to be his daughter.  I thought about the meaning of adoption and the significance of loving a child that is not your biological child, and also loving a child that you didn’t know since birth.  I have the best step-dad.  I really do.  He loves me and supports and honors me.  He accepted me as his own when he married my mom, and he never made me feel like I didn’t belong.

hull wedding

Beyond loving and accepting me, my step-dad also honored my father and did everything he could to show respect and even gratitude toward him.  He never tried to replace him, but he also wasn’t threatened by him.  He recognized that there was room for both of them in my heart.  And because of this, I made room.  A lot of room.  He filled voids I never knew I had and met needs I hadn’t identified before they were filled.

I remember the first time my step-dad told me he loved me.  My parents hadn’t been married long, and my mom got in a minor car accident with us in the car.  I had just turned 15, so naturally I wanted to go to a friend’s house later that night despite the circumstances.  In fact, I am sure I was more concerned about the prospect of having to miss my sleepover than I was about the car or anyone’s physical well-being.  I was dropped off at my friend Emma’s house before my step-dad got home from work, so I didn’t see him that day.  That evening, while my friend and I were watching a movie and talking about boys (undoubtedly), I called to check in with my mom before going bed, and she told me Richard wanted to say hi.  He got on the phone and asked me how I was feeling after the accident.  I could sense the concern and care in his voice as he spoke, and before hanging up the phone, he told me he loved me and he was glad I was okay.  I was a little caught off guard, but it also felt natural to return the words to him.  I hung up the phone, and instead of talking about boys, my friend and I talked about my step-dad and how glad I was that my mom married him.  I will never forget that night.

Our relationship continued to deepen and strengthen after that.  My sister and I renamed Richard “Pop” because it just didn’t seem personal enough to call him by his first name.  We made up a game where we would talk about all the things we did together when we were little and all the family vacations we took.  He would say, “I remember when Karin was just a little blonde girl with pig tails running around.”  For senior prom, we all went to my friend’s house to take pictures, and one of the other parents told my Pop how I looked just like him.  Without missing a beat, he said, “I know.”  When I was 19, I crashed my car (at 11:30 pm on New Year’s Eve), and my Pop was the only person I thought to call.  The person I trusted most to help me.  (And the one who I hoped would be the most forgiving, which proved to be true.)  When I was away at college, I called him regularly to ask for advice and feel “taken care of”.  When my heart got broken, he reminded me that no guy is worthy of me and that, to him, I am the best.

pop and karin dancing at wedding  karin wedding family pic

On my wedding day, we danced a choreographed dance to Mama Mia’s “I have a dream”.  It was his idea, and he said it was the perfect song for us.  We laughed because, in the movie, the daughter has three dads that love her.  And they all agree to “share her” in the end because none of them can imagine not being her father and none of them care enough about the biological connection to let that push them away.  The love of her fathers gives her strength to set sail on her own, with their love and support as the current behind her.  I don’t remember much about my wedding day.  But that dance is embedded in my memory.

When I told my Pop that I was adopting my son, he didn’t miss a beat.  He didn’t question my motives (or sanity), and he didn’t express concern or hesitation.  He embraced me.  And then he embraced my son.  Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that my step-dad so readily embraced the concept of adoption.  He lived it.

pop and josh christmas 2012                          pop grammy and josh at dinner

All of these thoughts and memories and feelings flooded my mind as my son looked at me and told me I was adopted, too.  I smiled and responded, “You’re right! I am adopted! We both are!”  Then we hugged and laughed, and I could feel the connection between us deepen.  I also felt an immense gratitude and love for my step-dad; my Pop.  He loved me when he didn’t have to.  He chose to be a father to me.  He received me as his own even though I wasn’t his biological child.  And he modeled the significance of adoption years before it would be present in my own family.

During this Thanksgiving season, I just want to take a moment to say thank you, Pop.  Thank you for choosing to be my dad.  Thank you for standing by me and showing me what it means to commit to loving someone.  Thank you for teaching me that blood is overrated.  And that love stronger still.

Adoption Awareness Month and Our Charge to Care for Orphans

foster-children 1

November is Adoption Awareness Month.  Last week, our church participated in Orphan Sunday, which is a day designed to raise awareness in churches about the plight of orphans and the serious call Jesus makes in the Bible for caring for this innocent and vulnerable population.  My husband and I were asked to speak about our adoption story and our personal views on caring for orphans.  It caught me off guard at first, and I thought to myself, “I am all about helping orphans, but how does that relate to our adoption story?”  Maybe I have had the definition wrong in my head of what an orphan is.  So I looked it up.  No, the dictionary clearly defines the word as “a child whose parents are dead.”  Josh’s biological parents are very much alive, so I wrestled with this idea of my son being an orphan.

According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), there were almost 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States in 2012.  Many of these children have at least one living biological parent, so technically, they would not qualify as orphans either.  So here’s the catch.  We read over and over again in the Bible to take care of orphans, but the existing definition of the term orphan isn’t comprehensive enough anymore.  Orphans are also referred to in the Bible as “fatherless”, which seems to get a little closer to our modern day foster care children.

As I dug in to this idea of “What is an orphan?”, I realized with much sadness that my son was an orphan.  He was fatherless and motherless and in need of a home.  That pretty much sums up the concept of orphan to me.

My son and I love to watch the movie Hook.  I love any story that can capture the beauty and magic of childhood, but beyond that, there is also a powerful adoption theme.  The whole reason why Peter goes to London, leading him to have to return to Neverland to save his children from Captain Hook, is to honor the Wendy character for her lifetime dedication to the plight of orphans.  I felt a tremendous weight on my heart as I watched it this past week because, maybe for the first time, I realized how powerful and serious the call to care for orphans really is.  It was Wendy’s life work and passion.  And we have no evidence from the Peter Pan story that she was doing it to fulfill God’s call.  She just knew it needed to be done.

I know that adoption is not for everyone, but what are some ways you can care for orphans?  Have you been defining the word too restrictively also?  Where are the needs in your own community?  I don’t think it is a coincidence that Adoption Awareness Month is in November.  This is a time for us to be thankful for all that we have.  And in our thankfulness, it is also a time to challenge ourselves to give.

I would love to hear your stories about what the call to care for orphans means to you or some ways others can get involved (including me!).

If you are interested in learning more about adoption from a Christian viewpoint, I strongly recommend the following resources:

Adopted for Life by Russell Moore

The Spirit of Adoption: At Home in God’s Family by Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner

adoption 2   adoption 1

It’s official. I’m a mom.

josh-sick day

I have been a mom for over a year, and these days, my parental identity is solid and clear.  I remember when we first brought Josh home and started introducing him to people, I felt sort of awkward and uncertain.  I realized in those moments that other people, even those who knew me well, didn’t know me as a mom, which meant I was introducing them to my 4-year-old son and Parental Karin at the same time.  The trouble with that was that I didn’t really know what my identity as a parent looked like yet. For a while, my parental identity seemed to be getting stronger when I was interacting with Josh and establishing our family with my husband, but it seemed confusing and foreign when I was engaging in other aspects of my identity or when I was in “mom-centric” environments where the parental identity of others was in full force and I felt like mine was catching up.

Naturally and gradually, I have grown into my parental identity, and now I have very few days where I experience those out of body “Whose life am I living? How did I get here? This must be a joke” moments.  And that feels good.  It feels like growth.  But as established as I may feel as a parent, I appreciate it when I have new experiences that expand my parental identity, like today.  Well, around 2 am this morning to be more precise.

Caution: This next part is not for the weak-stomached.

After a year of parenting, I am finally able to commiserate with parents who say, “I was up half the night with my sick child.”  Of course, Josh has been sick before.  But this time, he was sick sick.  Like puke everywhere kind of sick.  His upset tummy turned into a full-blown violent expulsion of his stomach contents, and I was right there in his bed to witness it (and smell it and see it and even hear it).  A million thoughts raced through my head, including, “Yuck”, “Poor baby”, “I have to get him to the bathroom”, and “I am going to have to clean this”.  Oh, and “I hope it didn’t get in my hair.” 

It was a rough night, to say the least.  But I have to say, it was a good night, too.  Some situations just make me feel more like a mom, and as someone who still feels like I am catching up in the parenting department, clear “mom moments” are encouraging and motivating for me.  The image of the throw up all over his bed I could do without, but the image of my son looking at me with upset eyes and a quivering lip, seeking comfort from me, that is lasting and sacred.

After Josh’s hard night, we all woke up feeling dazed and depleted, but unified.  We had made it through, together.  We had a lot of things planned for the day (t-ball, a brunch, a drive to Orlando for a special bridal shower), but the reality was that all of our plans changed as soon as Josh got sick.  Dave and I looked at each other with understanding and contacted the people involved in our plans to let them know we wouldn’t make it.  I don’t like to disappoint anyone.  Sometimes, that results in my pushing myself too hard or compromising my highest priorities for extra commitments, but not today.  Today, I trusted my instinct and snuggled with my son in my pajamas.  And it was a really sweet day.

Most days, I feel the strain of balancing family, work, school, and other commitments, but not today.   Today, I pressed in to my parental identity and let everything else go.  And while he napped, instead of doing schoolwork or making calls, I watched Star Wars and ironed clothes.  And this distinction makes me more than a mom.  It makes me my mom. 🙂

Life gets busy and full before I even notice it has happened.  Sometimes, it takes a force of nature, like a hurricane or projectile vomit, to slow me down and simplify things.  As I reflect on the last 24 hours and I think about my son sleeping soundly in his bed (with clean sheets), I feel full.  And I realize that I feel a little more like a mom tonight than I did last night.

If I live to be 103…

“Mommy, is Gramps older than my Daddy?”

“Yes, honey.  By almost 70 years.”

Age is a funny thing.  I am 30 years old, but it only takes one moment to transport me back to my 10-year-old self or my 20-year-old self.  A certain smell or image.  An unexpected memory triggered by a familiar face or story.  These instances come up even more now that I am a mother as I watch my child experience new things and grow.

Last weekend, I spent some time with my grandfather who turns 103 next month.  No mis-type.  103.  He was 72 when I was born, so he has basically been “old” ever since I can remember him.  He wasn’t the grandparent who played on the floor with me or took me to a baseball game.  His house was always very calm, which, as a child, translated to unstimulating and fairly boring.  My brother, sister and I did the best we could to come up with games to occupy ourselves.  These included Letter Opener Sword-Fighting, What Looks the Coolest Under the Magnifying Glass, and, my personal favorite, Find the Whitman’s Sampler Box.  Sometimes, we pretended to be detectives or spies, exploring Gramps’ office for clues and analyzing old pictures.

12-27-2010 13-30-17_057

I loved my grandparents very much.  I have one left, and I often think about how different my life would have been if I had gotten more time with my other grandparents before they died.  When I see Josh interact with my grandfather, I feel so lucky.  Since Josh didn’t get to meet Gramps until he was 4 and I wasn’t sure how much exposure he had to older people before we met him, I prepped him a lot for that first meeting.  I kept telling Josh that Gramps is really old.  He would compare him to someone for a frame of reference.  “Is he older than Daddy?”  “Is he older than Grammy?”   I realized during those conversations that there was no comparison I could make to help Josh grasp just how old Gramps was.  I probably talked it up a little too much because, by the time Josh met Gramps (at his 102nd birthday party), he kept about a 10-foot distance for most of the day and seemed worried that this old man would break into a million pieces when Gramps finally got him to sit on his knee.  For a while after that, Josh referred to Gramps almost exclusively as “that really, really old guy”.

josh and gramps meeting

Recently, my grandfather had a fall, and he broke his hip.  Every other time he has been hospitalized, I have of course been concerned, but I am just conditioned to expect him to keep living.  After all, that’s kind of his thing.  But this time, I felt a tremendous pressure on my heart.  I didn’t necessarily think he was going to die, but I found myself thinking about all of the questions I had for him and all of the time I wasted for so long not really talking to him and learning from him.  I couldn’t remember his sister’s name or how old he was when his mother died.  I didn’t want Josh to only think of him as “that really, really old guy”.  I wanted him to make memories with him and I wanted those memories too.

To be honest, I was concerned about what my grandfather would think about Josh’s adoption.  He has always been loving and generous to me, but I still worried that he wouldn’t be able to wrap his mind around this.  Or worse, that he could wrap his mind around it, and he wouldn’t approve.  I feared that he would accept it outwardly, but that he would see Josh differently than his other grandchildren.  Obviously, adoption is not a new phenomenon, but it was new to my family.  It was new to me.  I found myself thinking that maybe I was asking too much of this 102-year-old man.  Then I remembered a conversation I had with Gramps when I was in college.  I was visiting him for lunch, and he looked at me with sincerity and said, “What are young people thinking about these days?”  I wasn’t sure what he meant, and then he added, “I know that I am old, but it is important to me that I keep learning things about the world and the way people think.”  I remember feeling inspired and motivated by this statement.  I chose to give my grandfather the benefit of the doubt and stop assuming that he wouldn’t understand.

What a typical Millennial generation mindset I have sometimes: assuming that I have to teach my old grandfather something instead of looking for an opportunity to let him impart wisdom to me.  In the process of being open to the knowledge and experience of my grandfather, I can see now that Gramps has grown, too.  Josh has taught my grandfather (and many others) that his heart is big enough to love him fully and uniquely.  I see the amazement in Gramps’ eyes when he sees Josh and realizes that he loves him as if he has always been there.  That is a gift that he could give this 102-year-old man with more life experience than anyone I have ever met.  After a century of life, my grandfather was given the opportunity to experience the beauty and blessing of adoption.

This weekend, Josh met Dave’s 89-year-old grandmother for the first time.  I saw the same wonder and amazement in her eyes as she watched Josh and looked for opportunities to engage with him.  I never knew any of my great-grandparents.  Josh will remember two.  We will have pictures and videos and memories of these special relationships.  I am grateful for the memories I have of my own grandparents, and it saddens me that Josh will not know them here on earth.  But when I think of my Poppy, Gammy and Nana, I feel a warmth inside me.  They are a part of me.  And they are a part of Josh.  Not because of blood or even personal memories, but because of the legacy of love that is passed down from generation to generation.

josh and grandma

On our last visit to see my grandfather before he broke his hip, Gramps made a paper airplane for Josh and they flew it together.  I got it on video, but I don’t think it will ever leave my memory.  In that moment, it was more than just my 102-year-old grandfather playing with my son.  I was transported back to my own childhood and the moments when Gramps would engage with me playfully and warmly.  He was much more than just a “really, really old guy” then, too.

Gramps with kids

If I live to be 103, I hope I keep learning and growing, too. (and making paper airplanes.)

I missed the poopy diaper stage

first day meeting Josh-play place 1

Exactly one year and two days ago, we met our son for the first time.  He was 4 years old.  We planned to meet him at a neutral location, so his guardian chose a McDonald’s with a play place so he would have something to do. (Smart thinking.  I love a good play place.)  It was the most surreal experience of my life.  We had just driven over 5 hours, leaving my stomach feeling queasy from anticipation, nerves, and car sickness.  When we walked in, I searched my surroundings until I saw a little brown-headed boy with his back to me, playing in the play place.  There he is.  Does he have any idea what he is really doing here?  Could he possibly understand the weightiness of this meeting or what it would mean for him? 

When he finally turned around, I could sense Dave’s breath catch in his throat.  “He’s so small.” Dave whispered to me.  Up until that point, this 4-year-old boy was theoretical- a dream.  Now we are standing right in front of this little creature, and reality sinks in.  In an instant, we both become paralyzingly aware of what we signed up for and are fighting the urge to pass out on the floor in amazement and fear.  We walk toward this little wonder and tentatively say hello.  He half-smiles, looks at the guardian, glances back at us, then resumes his play.  At that moment, I realize the answer to my initial questions.  This intuitive little boy knows exactly why he is here.

All of my training in play therapy and child development flies out the window at that moment.  All I care about is getting this boy to like me.  I hold off on my desire to engage him immediately as he walks away, and instead I choose to watch him for a few minutes.  I notice he keeps looking back at me as he plays.  I track him with my eyes and respond with positive facial expressions.  At one point, he jumps over the side of the slide, and I could sense as he looked at me that he wanted to assess how I would respond.  I caught his eye and gave him a silly/scared face to let him know I saw what he did, and his safety is a priority to me.  He smiled.  After that, I stood up and initiated play with my son.

I tracked his movements and his choices… “You’re picking that up. You’re looking at me.  You’re smiling.  You’re laughing; you think that’s funny.” Then I began reflecting his feelings… “You’re not sure about me.  You seem curious about that.  You feel happy when you do that.”  Gradually, we began connecting.  Dave thoughtfully approached and looked for his moment to engage his son.  Josh asked me to lift him up to the highest part of the play area.  I took this opportunity to incorporate Dave by making a comment about how much taller he is than I am.  Josh looked at Dave, then back at me, then back at Dave with an affirming smile.  Dave continued to lift him on to that platform for several minutes, and I sat there and watched my husband and my son play for the first time.

We have had many firsts since that day.  The first time Josh rode on Dave’s shoulders; the first time he called me Mommy; the first time he said “I love you”.  We also have had other not-so-pleasant firsts.  The first time Josh threw a shoe at me; the first time he fell off his bike; the first time he said “I hate you”.

I often think about all of the firsts I missed in Josh’s life.  I will never be able to tell him about the day he was born.  I wasn’t there when he said his first word or learned to walk.  Sometimes we laugh with our friends who are dealing with diaper explosions and stained sheets, saying, “Ours came potty-trained!”, to which someone undoubtedly responds, “Lucky!”  And I do feel lucky in many ways.  But I still wish I had some  stories about poop to share with other parents. (Well, technically I do, but for some reason it becomes less appropriate to talk about your kid’s poop as they get older.)

Although I do have times when I long for the missed moments, I don’t dwell on these thoughts.  There are so many firsts and new experiences that I do get to have with my son.  There are also firsts that I have gotten to witness with my nephew and nieces and close friends’ children.  I was visiting one of my best friends the day that her oldest daughter walked for the first time.  It was precious and sacred, and I will never forget it.  I don’t begrudge others these beautiful moments, even though I didn’t get to experience them with my child, because I know that my son had these moments.  These sacred moments happened, and whoever was there to witness them now has memories to hold on to and cherish.  I take great comfort in that.  And I take even more comfort in thinking about all of the firsts that I won’t miss.  Josh’s first baseball game; his first trip to Disney World; his wedding day (God-willing).

I don’t have any poopy diaper stories to share with other moms.  That’s a bummer.  But forever embedded in my memory and my heart is the day I first met my son; the first time he smiled at me; the first time he hugged me; the first time my husband picked him up; the first time I heard his little voice; the first moment I felt like a mother.

And our first family photo, right there next to the McDonald’s play place.

first family picture  first day meeting Josh-play place 2

Give it a year…

josh on the beach

So much can change in a year.

I am on vacation with my husband’s family this week, a Fields family tradition that I have participated in since Dave and I started dating.  As I soak in the calmness of the beach and watch my son play in the waves, I am struck with a deep sense of gratitude and awe.  “One year ago, could I ever have imagined this?”

So much can change in a year.

A year ago, we first heard the name Joshua and allowed our hearts to be open to exploring possibility, but it still seemed so unlikely, so far-fetched.  I had gotten so used to “not being a parent” that the idea of actually becoming a parent seemed like a cruel joke.  I remember thinking to myself, “If only I could be sure this would work out.”  I wished for a Back to the Future situation where Future Karin would come to me and tell me how happy I was with my son and how all the struggle and waiting and uncertainty was worth it because, in the end, everything worked out.  But I knew that I couldn’t have that kind of assurance.  We never really can.  That’s where faith comes in.

Often, as a counselor, I work with people who are desperately seeking that kind of assurance from me.  “Just tell me my daughter will turn out okay” or “Promise me things will get better”.  We just want to know; we want certainty.  And the older I get and the more difficult things I live through, the less certainty I have in anything other than God.  And I find when I am not trying to control my circumstances or grasp things with a tight fist, I feel free- free to be reckless and free to explore life and its possibilities.

Present-Day Karin understands that if I had known a year ago what I know now, I would have missed out on so many opportunities to take risks and to be forced out of my comfort zone.  I wouldn’t have had to fight so hard, emotionally, physically and spiritually, to push through my fears and really experience faith, vulnerability and community.  If I had known 3 years ago that I not only would be a mother, but that my child had already been born, I could have spent the next two years just coasting.  I could have avoided doctor’s appointments and medication and heartbreak and a substantial amount of time and energy as I waited for the right time to pick up my son.  But that wasn’t the plan.

I know that I needed to go through all of the experiences I went through on my journey to motherhood.  My personal and spiritual growth the past few years reinforces this, but more than anything, I am humbled by the connections that I have been able to make with so many others through my own experiences.  When everything comes easily, it is difficult to truly empathize with the plight of others.  My struggles may look different than someone else’s, but there is a comfort and an understanding in knowing that we all have to fight.

In some battles, we may never feel victorious.  Some people who yearn to find their life partner never do.  Some people strive every day to move beyond desolate living conditions, but it never happens.  Some people fight a daily battle against mental illness and past trauma, and eventually become fallen soldiers.  We don’t know that everything will turn out okay, but we also don’t know that it won’t.  I have come to appreciate this uncertainty and use it as a motivator.  Although I can’t control most things, there are some things I do have a say in.  I couldn’t control tons of variables in the process of adopting Josh, but I could make the calls.  I could get the paperwork done.  I could pray.  I could surround myself with a loving, supportive community.  I could get his room ready and allow myself to hope because I would rather hope than be hopeless.

A year ago, I heard about Josh.  I saw his picture (see below) while I was at the beach with my husband’s family, and I sensed that I was supposed to pursue him.  When I felt like giving up at one point, I asked God while running on a treadmill at the gym, “How hard am I supposed to fight for this?”  What seemed like a rhetorical question became a genuine plea for direction and hope.  And on that treadmill with my headphones in, surrounded by people, I heard a voice say, “Harder.”  So I did.

When things feel discouraging, or even hopeless, give it a year.  It is amazing how much can change in a year.

first pic of Josh beach vacation family pic

My beautiful, complicated family

wedding1

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.

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