Someone to Watch Over Them

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, November 26, 2006

If my girls go to Chinese class, they get candy. Any kind. Free choice. We go to the candy store and pick. Bribery is not a noble parenting tool, but I'm here to say it's efficient, convenient and practical. Any guilt I feel dissipates when we come out of class and they're singing those Chinese songs, drilling each other on the Mandarin words for moon, star and underpants. They love it. They forget how much they love it when it comes time to go again the following week. I remind them with the candy.

Someday, they'll thank me. I'll be a hero. It'll be, "Thanks, Mom, for making us learn Chinese," when they're all grown up and taking treks back to the orphanages that once housed them; they'll be bearing gifts and appreciation and promises to build playground equipment. This is what I imagine. My girls giving back. We'll see.

For now, it's Skittles, Reese's Pieces, Kit Kats or possibly 3 Musketeers. We're in the car on the way to class, and they're trying to decide. We pass Sunshine Kids, the place where Anna, 7, went to preschool. "That was my first school!" she announces to her younger sister, Sasha. "That's where it all started!"

"You told me before," Sasha says.

"My teacher was Miss Donna," Anna says. "You never met her because you weren't born yet."

"I know," Sasha answers. "You tell me this every week."

She does. It's getting old. There is something about this "starting place" that seems to have Anna hooked. Today she goes further, begins naming every teacher she's ever had, and then every babysitter she's ever had. Britney, Erin, Linda, Mrs. Linton, Miss Pato. Soon Anna has retrieved a pen and a notebook, and is doing the tally.

"So that means I had seven teachers," she says, "seven babysitters and two moms." Two moms? Well, now wait a second. Where did that come from? And she's just dropping this so . . . casually? If she means what I think she means, this is big.

"Two moms?" I ask.

"You and the one whose belly I came out of," she says.

Well, glory be. It's finally registered. We've had so many frank discussions over so many years about what it means to be adopted -- endless times I've tried to directly place this information into my kids' brains, and it has never, before now, seemed to have even made a dent. I always expect big tears of awareness and deep talks about "real moms" vs. some other kinds of moms . . . and it never happens. Instead, whenever I broach the subject, my children appear flat-out bored with it. So I don't push. That's a choice. Plenty of adoptive moms go about this differently. I know of one who has a little memorial to her kids' birth mothers in her home; every night they pray to her with thanks. There are kids' books and dolls and whole play sets you can buy to deal with the issue.

I never wanted to automatically assume it would be "an issue" for my girls. Instead, I go for the factual, simple declarative: This is how it is. Some kids are raised by their birth mothers, some by birth fathers, some by adoptive parents and so on. And my kids practically yawn at me. This is the first time either has brought it up on her own.

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