Emily, K.J., Becton and I have just returned from a trip to Nebraska to visit birth family. To the question: “Where are you going for Spring Break?” most of our Georgia neighbors responded, “To the beach. To Florida!” But the Falcos headed inland, to the middle of our great country, instead.
There is so much to report that it is hard to know where to begin. If you don’t know our story, a little background is in order. When John and I were living in California, we signed-up with an adoption agency that did only fully open adoptions. We were chosen by a young mother of three girls, pregnant with her fourth girl by a different man. Baby Emily was born almost 18 years ago and our families – biological and adoptive – have remained in contact ever since.
Two years after Emily’s birth, baby K.J. came on the scene, born in the same hospital in Nebraska. His parents were teenagers who later married and had three more boys. They have since divorced and K.J.’s birth father has two daughters with his second wife. Emily’s first mother also had another child, a son, with her second husband. This brief description doesn’t begin to tell the story of loves and losses, relationships made and broken, births and deaths. As a family in open adoptions, we have been privy to many of these life-changing events.
While we were in Nebraska for five days, we spent time with K.J.’s first mother and three brothers, his birth father and current wife, two sisters, two grandmothers, a grandfather, and K.J.’s aunt and three cousins. We spent time with Emily’s three sisters and their two children, her brother, her first mother, two aunts and three cousins, an uncle, two grandmothers, and two of Emily’s ten siblings on her birth father’s side. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone!
K.J.: “I win!”
For K.J., this was the perfect vacation. He got to be the 10-year-old boy, the Peter Pan, that he longs to be, but in the body of a 15-year-old who can win all contests.
He wrestled continuously with his brothers, and threw the football around. He watched “WrestleMania” and played videogames. He never touched a vegetable. He didn’t have to think about schoolwork or chores. He didn’t have to plan ahead. Children and adults alike adored him!
On more than one occasion, he proudly declared how “awesome” he was. K.J. was the indomitable belching champion. And he announced triumphantly, on many occasions, “I win!” We laughed that we would need to purchase another suitcase for the trip home to carry K.J.’s large ego.
But it was interesting to me that after one night spent in the apartment with his first mother and siblings, 12-year-old twins and a 9-year old younger brother, K.J. wanted his own bed in the hotel and some “alone time.” They wore him out. He loved being a superstar in his brothers’ eyes, but he’d grown accustomed to having his own room, private TV watching, and texting with his teenage peers. When we left Nebraska, he seemed to revert to his pre-trip ways without experiencing any emotional letdown.
I don’t think that means K.J. doesn’t care. I think it means he is happy being who he is in both places. He appears to have a deep acceptance that he straddles these two worlds. It works for him. And it’s all he’s ever known.
Emily’s acceptance of her place in the family is also deep, but different than K.J.’s. She clearly loves her mother and siblings.
She wants to spend as much time as possible with them; and the smile on her face is as genuine as it comes.
But Emily’s role includes the status of “the first one who will go to college after high school.” Her summer job is not the beginning of a lifetime of work to pay bills. It is a true “summer job” for college expenses, clothes, and leisure activities. She is choosing not to marry young or become a teenage mother. Emily is not judgmental about the people she loves who call her one of their own. She simply chooses a different path and feels proud of that fact.
Becton: “I am an uncle!”
Becton came on this trip while Journey and Skye remained at home for school. (Five different schools and vacation schedules…) Becton’s situation is different from Emily’s and K.J.’s because his adoption is closed. This has never seemed to bother him much. I have done the worrying for him. But, by day two of our trip, Becton said to me, “I feel left out. You are not my real mother.”
“Real” is a loaded word. But I knew what Becton meant. Contextually, Becton had been having fun with K.J. and his biological brothers. K.J. did a great job of keeping Becton included in the roughhousing. Becton had fallen in love with Emily’s 18-month-old niece, and her mother had been gracious about allowing Becton to play freely with her daughter. The extended family had never once suggested, in any way, that Becton didn’t belong.
In fact, I think it was precisely because the entire family included Becton as one of their own that I knew what to say to allay some of Becton’s newly discovered sadness.
“In this family, we have six mothers,” I said.
“What?” Becton responded.
“I am your mother, but so are Tina and Rachelle. And then there is your birth mother, Journey’s birth mother, and Skye’s birth mother. And if they are your mothers too, then Emily’s sister is YOUR sister, and her daughter is YOUR niece.”
“Cerenittee is my niece!? I’m an uncle!?” A broad smile covered Becton’s face.
For the remainder of the trip, I pointed out to Becton all the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers and sisters that were his relatives too. We had a great time remarking about the breadth of our marvelous family.
It’s an amazing, mind-boggling thing – these visits. The kids I share with these two other mothers fold into their birth families like they have never left. There is a level of comfort that can only be explained by biology and a willingness on all sides of the adoption triad that has been present from the beginning, to allow these connections to exist and flourish.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard and beautiful at the same time. I witness the love and almost lose my breath. I feel sad and guilty about robbing these families of their children. I feel the weight of the sacrifice. To be honest, I also feel the weight of my own infertility. “I wouldn’t be a parent without you. I am forever indebted. I would not be who I am – a mother – without you.” And that, too, is a heavy burden to bear.
But I also feel affirmed. I have never once felt judged as a “bad parent.” I have never experienced from these two mothers the sentiment: “I made a mistake. I should not have given him/her to you.”
This may sound strange, but when I embrace my children’s other mothers, I am made whole. There is a part of me that is missing until I am with them. And all you have to do is look at K.J. and Emily to know that we belong together, that we complete a picture of “family” that is true for us all.