Someone Else’s Payback

I am sitting in the van waiting impatiently for my middle child to get in so I can drive her to tutoring. We will be late again. No matter how early I wake her up, she complains that she is too tired, that I haven’t prepared the right food, that she doesn’t have enough time to get ready…

Fortunately, I have discovered audiobooks. For years, I yearned to have time to read until, one day, it occurred to me that I could LISTEN to books while I drove the many hours I spend in the car each week, often without a child in one direction. Not surprisingly, I am drawn to works of fiction about families and mothers, in particular.

As I wait for Skye, I hear again, in my current book, a description by a mother of one of her children who has the nose or expression or interest that is the same as her husband, herself, or some other relative. Although I cannot see the words on the page, they appear in my mind bold-faced. You know what I mean. The author is announcing these statements more loudly than the other text. I am aware that the author believes she/he is striking a cord of recognition with the reader: “Ah, yes, I know exactly what you mean about those inherited traits.” But that reader is not me. That reader is a biological parent, and I am a parent by adoption.

As a person who takes pride in being on time and my impatience with Skye grows, I think: “I am dealing with someone else’s payback!” You know the expression. Mothers (or fathers) tell their children something like this: “You will get your payback when you become a parent yourself. I hope your son/daughter throws tantrums just like you!”

Now, if John and I had produced biologically related children, they might be super-competitive. They might be Type A to the extreme. He or she might be fastidious about cleanliness. (That would be John’s gene pool.) She or he might be the out-going crowd-pleaser or everyone’s confidant. (John again.) He or she might be indignant about some cause or another, and intolerant of other opinions. (My genes.) Our child might wear an additional coat of shame and guilt for all the injustices in the world. (Me again.)

I imagine that if I had a daughter who was “just like me,” she would not be late to every appointment. She would not find it “unfair” that she didn’t have more of the material possessions that she wanted. She would not be so careless about doing well in school. She would not hope that some rich man would marry her so she didn’t have to work. She would not believe appearance was more important than character… And so I conclude, this is someone else’s payback!

Okay, I know what some of my friends are thinking: “Oh, Rebecca. You are making a mountain out of a mole hill. My children are nothing like me either.” To that I would respond: “Think about it. Over the years, I have heard you talk repeatedly about how this quirky expression, or that artistic flare, that obsessive quality, that mind for numbers, and so forth – ‘runs in the family.’ I have heard you say: ‘He/she is just like I (or my spouse/partner) was at that age.'”

Where does that leave me? I will probably always see the kinship references in boldface on the page. But I’m just as doggedly protective of my non-bio child as any parent, I think. He or she may have characteristics and beliefs that do not resonate with me, but I was the one who changed his diapers a million times. I was the one who rocked her to sleep every night and mixed monster potion to rid the room of scary things. I’ve shared the vacations. I’ve been to every doctor appointment. I’ve worked on the school projects and arranged for the extracurriculars. I’ve been there to congratulate her athletic and academic successes. I’ve gathered him into my arms when he hurt. I’ve been there. I’m invested.

And, to tell the truth, I saw this coming. Each child was much the same as a toddler as she or he is today. That toe-headed, curly-haired two-year-old who hid behind my legs in the company of others is the same boy who now resists and struggles to stand before his class to present a paper. That little girl who could get so mad she would hold her breath and pass out is now the teenage girl who says “no” to all my requests. That child who could not stay in timeout without me holding her there because it offended her so, is now the pre-adolescent who is disturbed by every raised voice or conflict between friends and family members alike…

I return to the audiobook and hear these words: “…most of our fears are petty and small, and … only love is monumental.” Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen. And, in my mind, these words are bold-faced as well.

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2 thoughts on “Someone Else’s Payback

  1. I love the vulnerability of your words here. You say it out loud. The things we think. The things we know to be true, but must only whisper in our minds because others might think adoptive love is less because we notice these things.

    As a birth parent, I wonder about things like this for my daughter. How will she feel, when her siblings, who are her parent’s biological children, look like their mom and dad? When her sister can dance like her mother, the professional ballerina. (My poor little girl has no chance of being a ballerina if she carries my genes). Her siblings are only 15 months her junior. She will grow up one of ‘almost’l triplets. The only one who doesn’t look like the others. Forever smaller than her younger sister. The only one with curly blonde hair.

    And then the personality differences. I can only imagine how she might be like me or her birth father (soon to be my husband). If she is my payback, she will be a handful for her parents. 🙂

    And what if she is? How will they handle a child who is not like them, when they have two others who are?

    I wonder. And worry.

    I pray that someday her parents allow us more relationship with her, so she can know why she is who she is.

    And maybe if we have a relationship with her, she can still be my payback too.

    • Beautifully written. My position: if we don’t speak the truth about all these uncomfortable places, all these “imperfections” – when compared to what we expected or learned about families while growing up, we can’t find the responses that make the most sense. We can’t share the healing power, light, and love that is in us to give. A child CAN be loved by two mothers or two fathers or some other combination of adults, but it is less-traveled territory and it isn’t always validated by people who stand on the outside. Share your truth. Persist. It matters.

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