“Why Didn’t Her Real Mom Want Her?”
I’m standing by this ice cream trough, which is maybe 20 feet long, narrow and silver- just like a gutter one might put on a house. But this gutter is lined with aluminum foil and filled with many scoops of every imaginable flavor ice cream, sprinkles and whipped cream. It’s a little girl’s birthday party and all the toddlers are hoovering ice cream like they are getting paid to do it.
My daughter, Clementine, is power-eating and not spilling a drop on her dress, which makes me wonder why her plain steamed broccoli always seems to end up in her lap or on the floor.
Suddenly, A Lovely Girl wafts over to me. Slender, pale, with wisps of golden hair that tease her beautiful young face. She appears to be eight but exudes the world-weariness of a fourteen year old.
I smile at her then resume watching my 13-month-old pack in as much ice cream as she can, with suspicious glee, as if someone might someone yell, “Hey, stop eating ice cream outta my gutter!” The too-wise child studies me with huge expensive blue eyes.
“Why did you have to adopt her?”
Even though I kind of wobble, I love how abrupt kids are. They suffer no tedious propriety. No chit-chatty wind-up. No, “Hi, I’m Lulu and I’m curious about this child you are acting like a parent to.”
Of course, explaining my withered uterus, or telling her to visit ThisOldMom.com doesn’t feel like appropriate ice cream trough party chatter, so I smile too hard like a grown up does at cumbersome children that don’t belong to her.
“Well… I couldn’t have a baby of my own, and I wanted to be a mother, so I adopted her.”
The Lovely Girl forges on, like Megyn Kelly digging beneath rehearsed talking points.
“Why didn’t her real mother want her?”
I blanch, looking protectively at Clementine, who is deep within Sugarland Express, unaware she is being discussed, and unavailable for questions at the present time. And my mind coughs.
What’s my pat, polite party story about what drives a woman to give her baby up for adoption? I have my story for grown ups, but not for children, and especially not in front of my own child. I think hard and fast. I don’t realize how California I have become, but when I open my mouth, I am so The (slightly stammering) Center-for-Non-Violent-Parenting.
“Well, I’m her mother, but her first mother or, birth mother, loved her very much and, and, and wasn’t able to take care of her, so she made the very difficult decision to give her up for adoption. That’s how much she loved her. And we met and liked each other and she gave her, uh, our baby to me and I’m raising her as my very own child. She is my child. And so I’m raising her.”
Nervously reaching for a spoon and inhaling melted ice cream despite my lactose intolerance, I force a smile at the miniature Nancy Grace eying my happily oblivious daughter.
Suddenly, no doubt thanks to the sugar pinging my brain, I question The Lovely Girl before she can re-question me.
“How old are you?”
“Do you know any adopted kids?”
And from there we have an actual conversation. About her school friends who are adopted and of different races and what that’s like for her and for her friends and how kind of cool it all really is. There are no mussings of hair or awkward fake hugs. I don’t even get Lovely Girl’s name or meet her parents before she wafts off like a Mini Boden model called to set.
So, it doesn’t qualify at all as a teachable moment for anyone except me. Right now my daughter beams at me with the purity that sees no difference between us. But that will change. And it’s coming soon. And it will probably happen because of something someone else says to her. Which is kind of sucky.
But forewarned is forearmed. I think that’s the saying. So I go home, call an adoption specialist therapist, join PACT: An Adoption Alliance and start educating myself for my future. And for Clementine’s.
Kathleen Dennehy teaches creative writing and poetry to at-risk and foster kids in Los Angeles. As a freelance writer, she has written for Disney, Universal Studios, The Los Angeles Times, Sit n’ Spin, Note To Self, and is a freelance ghostwriter. She also created ThisOldMom.com – a site devoted to the new wave of older moms. Her favorite job is being the later–in-life White mom of a fierce and fabulous Black girl. Her adoption specialist therapist is the wonderful Jeanette Yoffe, Yoffe Therapy | Celia Center, foster care and adoption support.
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