Avery and Charlotte have been friends their whole lives. They simply do not know life without the other in it.
When I was pregnant with Avery, my long-time friend Michelle was also preparing for her little girl, but our preparations looked different. I knew that Avery would be born sometime in December and that she’d probably be a bald, blue-eyed baby just like her Dad and I were. Michelle painted a bedroom pink and bought lots of frilly dresses, but she didn’t know when or from where her little girl would come. A week or two after Avery was born, Michelle and her husband Josh came to bring us dinner and meet our little girl. They had just finished everything they needed for their adoption, and now they were just waiting to be matched with a birth mom.
“It could be a year or so before we get a baby,” they said.
Waiting a year seemed like agony to me. After all, this had already been such a long and arduous journey. Years before, I sat in Josh and Michelle’s living room with a group of people who loved them and prayed for their family. They desperately wanted to be parents, but they weren’t sure what God had in store for them.
As it turned out, they didn’t wait a year. Three weeks after they sat on our couch holding our new baby girl, they were holding their own baby girl. It was a miraculous whirlwind, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled for them.
Over these last five years, Avery and Charlotte have grown up together.
We’ve been on playdates and beach trips and Science Center excursions; we’ve pretty much been to every park and pool in the greater Orlando area together at some point in time. Their family celebrated with our family when Everett was born, and we celebrated with them as they began their adoption journey for the second time a few months back.
Two weeks ago, they experienced another miraculous whirlwind when one-year-old Bella landed in their lives. (That is another wonderful story for another day!). I couldn’t wait to tell Avery the good news because I had been keeping it a secret until everything was finalized.
“Avery, guess what?” I asked her. “Charlotte got a new baby sister!” I said with excitement.
“She did?” she asked.
“Yeah, do you want to see a picture?” I asked.
For the next thirty minutes both of my kids sat on the couch watching videos over and over again of Charlotte’s first moments with her new little sister. We laughed at the look of surprise on Charlotte’s face as she saw Bella for the first time. We watched them chase each other around Josh and Michelle’s house, consumed with laughter and totally smitten with one another.
“Mom, she looks just like me!” Charlotte yelled. For months, she has been talking of wanting a little sister who looks like her, and she was thrilled.
After we finished the videos, Avery looked at me and asked, “Yeah, but Mom, why didn’t they know that they were going to have a baby?” She knew that before Everett was born, we knew for months that he was coming, and this was a completely different sort of thing.
Later that day, when my sister was babysitting, she asked Avery about Charlotte’s new sister. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned that Bella was adopted. Avery pushed back a little on the adoption thing.
Confused, my sister said, “Well, Charlotte’s adopted, too.”
“No, she’s not,” Avery said. “Charlotte’s not adopted,” she said again, rather defensively.
I have never talked with Avery specifically about adoption. She is precocious, and I’ve talked straight with her about many tough topics, but not this one. I’ve thought about it, but I’ve hesitated for a couple of reasons. She has several close friends who are adopted, and I wanted to be sure that our friends had time to talk about it with their kids without Avery spouting out things before those families were ready. I also felt that whether the families we love became families through adoption or biological means, it really doesn’t make a difference to us. Moms are moms and kids are kids, and I didn’t see a reason to point out a difference to Avery if she had never noticed one. I also was unsure whether I was supposed to tell Charlotte’s story for her. As they grow, Charlotte and Avery will have their own relationship, and I wasn’t sure whether I should just allow Charlotte to tell her own story one day.
Those are some of the reasons. Let me be really honest, though. The main reason I haven’t talked to her about adoption is because I did not know what to say. After my sister told me about Avery’s reaction to the adoption talk, I knew that I needed to revisit the topic but I needed help. I texted Michelle (because for the love, who can actually talk on the phone with kids around?) and asked her how I should explain this. Sometimes, good parenting means you ask your friends for help, am I right?
The following day, I sat in our driveway as Avery and Everett did what they do in the afternoons. They ride cars and push toys around, dig for earthworms or try for the millionth time to catch a dragonfly; they use bungie cords to hook anything and everything together. I call it toodling around; they just toodle around in the yard.
So, they were toodling and I asked Avery about the adoption thing.
“Remember how I was telling you about baby Bella and how she was adopted? I was just wondering if you had any questions, you know, about adoption or anything,” I said.
She stopped and looked up at me, bug catcher in hand, with sad, concerned eyes and asked, “Yeah, ‘cause Mom are they gonna give Bella back one day?”
It suddenly made sense to me why she was so defensive about Charlotte being adopted. She was afraid for her friend.
“No, they are not going to give Bella back. When you are adopted, it means that is your family forever and ever just like we are a family forever and ever. See, God makes families in different ways. He made our family in a special way, and he made their family in a special way. Charlotte and Bella both have a mom that gave birth to them, but they also have their forever family with Josh and Michelle.
“But, how did they get them if they didn’t grow in her tummy?” she asked.
“They grew in another Mommy’s tummy, but Michelle is their forever Mommy just like I’m your forever Mommy. Sometimes God creates families in different ways, but the most important thing about a family is that you love each other. You see, Josh and Michelle prayed and asked God for a family for a long time, and their family loves each other just like ours does. When you see Michelle with Charlotte, do you think she loves her exactly the same way that I love you?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“So, you’ve never thought that Michelle loved Charlotte or took care of her any differently than the way I love and take care of you, right?”
“No,” she said.
“Exactly,” I said. “God may have put their family together differently, but it’s the love that we have for each other that makes us a family. That’s what’s important.”
“Oh,” she said. And that was the end of our first, but I’m sure not our last, conversation about adoption.
Over the next several days, I continued to think on these things. I realized that the reason I thought Avery already knew that Charlotte was adopted is because Charlotte looks physically different than her parents. To me and other adults, that is obvious. But what I realized after thinking all of these things through is that Avery is so accustomed to seeing families of all different races and ethnic backgrounds, the color of someone’s skin really is of no consequence to her. She didn’t know that having kids who were the same race as the parents was the status quo. To her it isn’t; it’s just one of the ways that families look and there are lots of other options.
When I began to understand that this is the lense through which my children are learning to see the world, I became overwhelmed with gratitude for my friends and for all of the millions of other parents out there who have created families through adoption.
In a world that is marked by such ugly scars of prejudice and judgment, intolerance and hatred for all things that are different than ourselves, I feel as though my friends are helping me raise children who see the world a little bit more like God sees the world- colored by the love that binds us, not the small differences between us.
I’m so thankful that my children have a wonderful example of a loving family that was put together a little differently than ours and that looks a little different than ours. I’m glad that my children get to see firsthand that God loves that family like crazy, and so do we.