I've been thinking back to when Puppy first came home with us, how surreal it was. One day T and I drove off, just the two of us on the freeway with an empty car seat in the back. We came back somebody's parents.
I've always felt that I had to earn my motherhood, to earn the right to call myself Puppy's parent. K's connection to Puppy seemed so clear from the very beginning--the result of biology, made evident in her care for him before and after his birth. My own connection felt so tenuous back then. "I'm your mama," I would whisper into his tiny ear, trying to convince myself it was true. Only K and R's blessing, their choice of us, kept me from feeling like a fraud.
Much is often made of the legal paperwork of adoption, as if it has the power to create or erase relationships. I think K loved Puppy as much the moment after she signed the consent forms as she did the moment before. I'm certain the termination of his first parents' rights meant nothing to Puppy--all he likely "knew" in his foggy newborn haze was that K's familiar presence had disappeared and his basic needs were being met. Hopefully--oh, how I hope!-- he also sensed our tender love for him. Right away, I realized so clearly that everything up to that point--home study and paperwork, process and waiting--had little to do with whether he would one day consider me his mother. The process of adopting was coming to an end; the process of becoming a parent was just beginning. It was only the hours of caring for him, layered one upon the next, which finally made motherhood real to me. I put in my time until one day calling myself Puppy's mom was no longer an exercise in faith.
The legal stuff has an important place, but it isn't a court order that makes me Puppy's mom. It is the relationship I'm building with him and the promises I've keeping. If I have any rights as Puppy's parent, they are ones I've earned. I think i must be the same for non-adoptive parents. It's not about creating or adopting a child. It's about staying committed to them, putting their needs before your own, loving them conscientiously.* That's what makes you a parent.
Earning a right seems like a contradiction. But, to me, that's a reality of parenting. We didn't do anything to deserve our kids, not really. We aren't entitled to be parents. We work for it, every day. And in adoption we have to work just a little bit harder. Our family bonds are built from scratch, started from loss.
But I'm seeing just now that I'm working for something I can't really earn. If grace is an unearned gift, then parenthood has been grace to me. K and R extended it by placing him with us. Puppy bestowed it the first time he opened his arms toward me saying, "Mama." I suppose I am working to deserve that gift, to do the impossible and be worthy of grace.
* Which, incidentally, can be done by first parents, too. This isn't meant to be an I-do-all-the-work-therefore-I'm-the-real-mom screed.