Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tha Language of Adoption

As we near the one year anniversary of the day Maria joined our family, I’ve been reflecting on how our family has changed. There are the obvious changes such as going from three children to four or progressing backwards from the youngest being eleven to a youngest of five. While the adjustments were challenging at times, we had experienced similar transitions as each of our biological children joined our family.

More profound yet subtle has been the change in our language. Not from English to Spanish. Rather this last year, like no other time in the life of our family, has taught us to be thoughtful and intentional about the words that we use.

We learned this first by necessity. Adopting an older, non-English speaking child initially required that we change our language to use simple words. This is hard for me. I like words, big words, and lots of them. Despite this, we adjusted our language to choose rudimentary words whose sole purpose was merely to communicate the necessities of day to day life. In no time Maria’s vocabulary and understanding increased to where conversation was no longer cumbersome.

At this stage we began to relax and revert to less intentional word choices. It was then when we learned that sarcasm, colloquialisms, and teasing are not appreciated by a child new to both our family and our language. Maria’s literal interpretations, although comical at times, were more often than not a cause of great distress for her. We adjusted our word choices once again to avoid confusing or potentially hurtful language. This is challenging for a family that practically drips with sarcasm. A year later this is still a major need for Maria’s continuing adjustment into our family. While we don’t always do this perfectly, we do our best.

We learned quickly as well that even when a conversation did not directly involve Maria, her need to understand what was going on was vital to her emotional well-being. Quick-witted bantering at the dinner table or spontaneous laughter would often trigger her insecurities. If Maria didn’t understand what was being said she would immediately assume that she was the topic of conversation or the cause of the laughter. As a result she would become distraught and withdrawn. And so we slowed down our dialog allowing ample time for repetition and explanations.

We have also acquired new language. Most notable is the use of the word adopt in all its various forms. I struggle a bit with the need to continue using the word. Not that I would for one minute want to avoid the topic or gloss over the facts of how Maria joined our family. I just thought we’d be done with the word by now. After all, one year after our older children each joined our family I wasn’t still recounting their birthing stories. I want it to be the same for Maria. But adoption is different. Not inferior, just different. I’ve begun to understand that by keeping Maria’s adoption story at the forefront, we are in a sense making it the new normal. By using adoptive language in an intentional and positive way, we are affirming Maria and the journey that brought her to us. Her story is what makes her who she is and what completed our family. It’s a story that did, and always will, include adoption.

Some words are difficult. For me the phrases “your first parents” or “your first mommy” are challenging. I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that these words are brutal to my mother’s heart. I want to be the only mommy that Maria has ever had. And, although I’m the first and only one to fill this role in her life, I cannot pretend that another woman did not give her the gift of life. It’s an issue I’m working on. I hope that one day these words will flow from my mouth with grace and ease, bringing healing and comfort to Maria’s heart. Meanwhile, it is my challenge to mention her first parents with some degree of regularity, my words always seasoned with compassion and gratitude for the gift of our daughter.

There are also the sweetest of words. Maria has begun to earnestly appreciate the gift that is a family and she verbalizes this frequently. Mercifully, most six-year-olds have never gone without a family and therefore can not fathom life apart from one. Maria can. Almost daily she will mention how wonderful it is to be part of family and how happy she is to be with us. Her expressions of joy and gratitude are often accompanied by emotional tears. What a blessing it is to be the recipient of her heartfelt sentiments.

This past year has conditioned us to be ever mindful that words are powerful. We are a better family because of it. We have learned that the language of adoption is quite simply adjusting how and what we say to most thoughtfully communicate. It’s using words to intentionally build one another up and convey a sense of belonging. It’s the language of love. Of family.


Emily Bertholic said...

I love you, Stace! Thanks for sharing your heart.

Benjamin said...

Methinks that is the first post in which it was not punctuated by "Simply Stated". /gasp!