One of my oft-asked questions about Scout’s adoption is this:
How did you prepare Bee?
The answer is layered, of course. Buckle up, if you’re of the curious type.
I will first offer the ubiquitous disclaimer that having children does not make me, by any stretch, a parenting expert. I know very little about very little, and yet, is there such a thing as a parenting expert in any of us? Can we accurately study the lifelong, ever-changing mystery of our children? Is there an expert in the wind, in the tide? The unseen shadows of the moon?
And so, these are mere observations, theories of the moon is all.
Scout came to us quickly, with little time to prepare Bee.
On a late July night far past Bee’s bedtime, the three of us pile out of the van and into an unfamiliar hospital. We weave through fluorescent lights and waxed floors, Ken’s shoulders heavy with a weekender bag carrying toothbrushes and pajamas, me dragging a red cooler behind. Bee holds her blanket close.
We enter through double doors to meet a single beautiful boy and his ardent nurse.
Three becomes four.
I don’t know how one prepares a soul for such a moment, but I sometimes think we spend the rest of our lives trying to catch up to that sort of beauty.
In truth, preparing Bee for Scout was less about preparing a biological toddler for an adopted baby and more about preparing a toddler for a baby.
A few specifics:
- We referred to Scout as “Bee’s brother,” rather than “the baby.” When friends and family would visit, we’d introduce him as such, and Bee would simply beam with pride. It’s a small thing, of course, a simple shift in verbiage, and yet – I can’t help but think the phrase offered her a strong sense of inclusion, the beginning of a bond.
- We included her in the transition. Midnight is never a convenient time to embark on a road trip with a toddler, and it would have been far easier, logistically, for Bee to stay home with Grandma while we signed paperwork, met with doctors, gathered insurance forms. And yet: this was her story, too. We wanted to begin as a family of four together, all of us at the same time. (It was ever worth it, if only for the doting nurses who offered Bee all manner of encouragement, plus Barbies.)
- We didn’t over-explain. There was no time for anything other than excitement, no space for anything other than wonder. No “might-happens” or “what-ifs.” There was no frame of reference here – we were all novices – and so, the general consensus was that we’d all learn how to do this together. That we’d practice flexibility, mistakes, deep breaths, forgiveness. That we’d figure it out along the way as best we could.
- We offered her additional responsibilities, both baby and non-baby related. Once home, Bee slowly gained more freedom around the house. She took pride in her new chore of feeding the dogs and setting the table, and loved the small tasks of folding burp cloths or lining Scout’s drawers with clean diapers. We offered her a larger role in the family dynamic, and like all kids do, she rose to the occasion.
- We didn’t assume. Ever an over-thinker and an empath, I have a tendency to read between the lines (and then some) in every scenario imaginable. When Bee would have a string of less-than-desirable behaviors, I resisted the urge to label them, to construe them into some semblance of greater meaning or regression that was neither true or justified. Sometimes a tantrum is just a tantrum – nothing more, nothing less.
There were and are, of course, a few more adoption-centric specifics:
- During our home study phase, we checked out dozens of books with adoptive story lines from the library, many featuring diverse scenarios in both international and domestic placements. (Here’s a list to review a variety of options.)
- When communicating Scout’s adoption, we are forever seeking to balance an age-appropriate context while resisting over-simplification. It’s important for us to share the complex, honest truths about his story and our own. I find the below New York Times excerpt to be a lovely tone and starting point for this type of conversation:
I don’t know if I’d say my children were “meant” to be mine — it does seem like a slap in the face to the sacrifices of their birth parents, as well as turning a blind eye to the losses my children may (or may not) feel about being adopted as they grow up.
But am I in awe of the amazing alchemy of timing, chance, life paths intersecting and a thousand other intangible happenings that made these children mine? Do I think about the small changes in those random happenings that could have brought other children into my family, whether biologically or by adoption? And do I gasp in wonder at how lucky I am that these are my children? At the alchemy that created my family?
Yes, yes I do.
In peering at the above, I don’t know that any of this prepared Bee necessarily. But I do believe some of it empowered her. And I do believe some of it empowered us – in a slew of unique and mysterious ways – creating the strength required to share the astronomical gift of family.
Theories of the moon indeed.
This is an essay for Land of Nod, one of my favorite brands for kids. Thanks for reading!