Sunday, February 25, 2007

Choosing words carefully

Many times I have begun to talk to my son about his birth and his life before he met us, and come up empty as far as the right words. Adoptive parents frequently talk about the fact that we want to keep lines of communication open with our children, and with regard to their adoptions, we want them always to know their beginnings and how they came to be in our families. Paula brought all of this to mind again last week with her post, When is Too Young? ** Her post was a good reminder and a (gentle!) kick in the pants for me.

It's not that I haven't made any previous attempts at this - it's that every time I say anything to my son about his birth, his Omma, Korea, his foster family, I immediately sense that whatever I'm saying is just plain inadequate. I am very enthusiastic about the idea of making it possible for these discussions to be a regular occurrence in our family, but when it comes right down to it, it seems like another instance where I have good intentions, but then quickly realize that I can't possibly do justice to the actual task at hand.

Right now my little guy is only 2 years old. I've been murmuring his story to him as we rocked or snuggled together almost since he came to live with us. Many times I just ramble on while he listens quietly, sometimes he seems very interested and wants to talk. This is a snippet of what went on several months ago:

[snuggling in bed at night]

Mommy: Did you know that you were born in Korea?

Baby brother: [big smile] ME!

M: Yes! You were born in Korea.

B: OH! ME! [points to self, nods, does little squirmy-happy dance]

B: Tum-tum? Mama? [pats my abdomen]

M: No - you weren't in Mama's tum-tum; you were in your Omma's tummy - your Mommy in Korea - your Omma.

B: Om-MA! ME!

M: Yes!

B: Born? [still smiling]

M: Yes! You were in your Omma's tummy and then you were born.

B: Choi?*

M: No....Mrs. Choi* is not your Omma. But you lived with Mrs. Choi when you were baby, and she loves you very much, too.

[Can I say confusing?! And also here is where I get all tongue-tied about how I am going to make the connection between Omma and Mrs. Choi.]

B: OH! [smiling] ME! LOVE! ME - HAT!

[he loves the pictures of him riding in his foster mom's podaegi, and he is always wearing one of several cute baby caps in the photos]

M: Yes - Mrs. Choi took good care of you when you were a tiny baby, and she gave you a hat.


M: Yes! We will take you to Korea soon - in a few years - and we will take you to visit Mrs. Choi.

[mentally slapping self for making promises I only hope I can keep. Not so much the trip itself, but the possibility of not being able to meet with his foster mother]

B: OH! Thank you, Mama! ME! GO! ...............

So, that isn't too exciting (well, you can see it was exciting for my son, hence the ALL CAPS) or too difficult. I haven't included other, more difficult (for me) conversations, because I fear being criticized (sorry!). Still, I think all of this is of utmost importance, so here I go. Have pity on me and give me some suggestions. I'm talking word-for-word, if you don't mind. What do I do when we get to the hard parts? These are some things I've actually said, for better or worse:

"Your Omma loves you very much"

"You were such a handsome and sweet baby! Your Omma loves you very much. But, when you were born, your Omma did not know if she could take care of a baby." (I have also added, at times, "....your Omma was sad because she didn't know if she could take care of you...her baby."

"Your Omma thought it might be a good idea for you to come and live with Mama and Papa."

I don't know. I want to be completely honest (hard to do when I don't know all there is to know about the situation), I don't want to project my feelings into the conversation, I don't want to assume I know how his mother might have felt (but I almost can't help myself in saying that she was sad and that she loved him), most of all I don't want to say anything patronizing or disrespectful when talking about his mother.

I'll leave it at that, for now. Critiques, and especially suggestions, welcome.


*The little guy can't pronounce "Mrs." yet, so he refers to his foster mother by her last name only (yikes!). Also, her real name is not used in this blog.

**Ugh- I see I can't get embedded links to work tonight - here is the link for Paula's post:


At 3:03 AM , Blogger cloudscome said...

I think you are doing fine with this. It is one of the most difficult things about being an adoptive parent, especially when you don't really know the first parents. Starting when they are really young is so important, so you can work out the awkwardness and practice... I think you figure it out as you go. I have changed how and what I say over the past four years so I see it as a process.

One thing that has helped me is writing it down. As journal entries or blog posts, as potential/practice conversations, to record actual conversations like you did here, and as a story for your child. I have done all of these and that has helped me work out how and what to say. Not that I have it all figured out, but as they grow it evolves...

Have you done a life book? That is another way I have worked through this. We read the life books together. I have added a lot to those books that I don't read out loud to them now because they are so young. But I want them to have every scrap of information I have about their first families, even though it is hard. Some of the things I put in there no one else knows except me and the social worker who told me. If I don't write it down who will remember?


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