A couple Sundays ago, on Mother's Day, I found Puppy coloring a picture at the dining room table. We had been drawing cards together all week to send off to the many grandmothers and first moms in our family for Mother's Day. I asked him what he was working on.
"It's a picture for my mom," he told me.
We play a game often, a game which ends in grins and snuggles. "Who's my baby boy," I'll ask. "I am!" he'll squeal happily, throwing his arms in the air. More often, Puppy is the one starting it off. "Am I your baby bear?," he'll ask. "Are you my mama bear?"
That Sunday as he colored in the afternoon sunlight, I smiled and asked him, "Who's your mom," slipping into our familiar routine.
"Kelly," he said, his eyes never leaving the paper, his tiny hands still coloring. "Kelly, my mom. Birthmom Kelly. My mom."
Puppy and I had a hard couple of days together right before Mother's Day weekend. Really hard. The kind that fill up with thunder and tears and end in quiet crowded with regret. The sort of days we never seemed to have when he was younger and less independent, when I was watching over one child instead of two.
Those kinds of days when I'm not the kind of parent I want to be--the kind of parent I want to believe I can be--tap into fears that normally stay tucked deep away. The little voice starts up that says your kids didn't have to end up with you, you were supposed to be better, you chose this, they could have had parents who never lost their temper... It is hard to even admit that I think those things. If I had birthed my kids, the little voice would probably find some other impossibly high standard to hold me to. But I am a parent through adoption, so this is what it says to me.
Hearing Puppy unexpectedly call Kelly "mom" that afternoon, something that would have been more of an interesting observation on another occasion, hit me in a spot that was already tender. What on another day would be just words, on that day made me draw up tight inside.
"This side [of the paper] is an elephant. And this [side] is us. This is Kelly [pointing to the largest figure]. And Daddy and Firefly and me [three smaller figures in a row]. We're kids. Here, I'll draw you in, too. You can be a baby."
"It looks great, buddy. Have you been thinking about Kelly today?"
"Yeah. You can color with me, Mommy. Draw a horse for me."
I can hit 'publish' on this finally because Puppy and I have had some wonderful days together since that week. We're back in our groove. Maybe that is small of me to admit that I had to have some of my confidence restored before I could share this, but it's the truth. We went back to our equilibrium almost right after that Sunday, in fact.
I've been thinking more about those hard days leading up to Mother's Day. The past several months, since a little bit before Puppy's sister's birth (Kelly's daughter, not Firefly) I've been struggling with a lot of frustration in our open adoption. Babies and marriages and the like change how we relate to the people already in our lives; that is just reality. We have less time available, less emotional energy. Those changes can bring up hurts we thought were behind us. But sometimes people deal with those shifting relationships and emotions by simply pushing out the people who were there before. It's a hard thing for me to understand, especially when the one pushed aside is so young. It was on my mind more than usual as Mother's Day approached.
At the same time, Puppy is getting older and starting to have expectations of the people in his life. He's sorting out, in a basic way, what it means to have birth family and reaching out more. It would take so little to make him feel loved and important. A birthday card. A phone call. Part of me now wonders how much that was in this thoughts with all the talk of Mother's Day. If my struggle to practice compassion and his questions collided beneath the surface.
If there is anything that is true about open adoption, it is that it's about our kids, not ourselves. We meet them where they're in at in in any given moment. That day we sat and drew and talked a little about Kelly. Puppy finished his picture and asked me to mail it off. We colored together as the sky turned pink outside and I wished that I could read his mind. And wished that loving people wasn't so complicated.