“Mama, why was I adopted?”
The weight of her question barely registered as my mind focused on the invisible checklist that appears every time I exit the car:
Purse – check.
Wallet – check.
Keys – check.
Dang it – where’s my cell phone?
In a flurry of my own activity, I nearly missed the opportunity I’d been waiting for – the moment my daughter was pulling me into a conversation about her adoption rather than having me (once again) push it on her.
Fortunately, before I completely missed the moment, I found a fast response:
“That’s a great question babe, let’s go talk about it inside – Daddy’s waiting for us.”
I soon located my phone and in one synchronized motion we closed our car doors and headed inside the “house with waffles” – her request.
I normally wouldn’t have marched so enthusiastically into a bright yellow Waffle House, but like they say:
Kids change everything.
And, truth is, I would have eaten breakfast in a prison cafeteria if that’s how she wanted to celebrate her annual “Mae Day,” the day we “officially” became a family.
Once we made it through two different glass doors, the smell of bacon and waffle batter hit me. I wondered if that’s why the other guests had come too; it was surprisingly tantalizing.
There were a few people in the restaurant and I immediately noticed the gray-haired senior adults – their presence was like the first yellow daffodils that pop up around springtime signaling the cold arctic winds of winter are almost over and sunnier days are coming soon.
They smiled as we walked by, adding a few more wrinkles to their faces.
We made it to our booth where Daddy had already ordered three waters and had menus brought to the table. The pictures on the menu made ordering simple – waffles and eggs hit the spot.
I’m not sure how it’s possible to cook waffles so quickly, but within minutes, our table was covered with white dishes full of food.
Once we dove in, I decided to bring up her question again:
“Mae, can we talk about why you were adopted again?”
Although she wasn’t as eager to discuss it, she seemed open. So I went for it.
“You were adopted because your birth mom needed help.”
Although we’d used this answer for seven years when adoption came up, because she asked me again, I wanted to go deeper and help her try and understand.
“Tell me something that is really easy for you to do.”
Immediately she thought of singing, and Daddy and I chimed in adding math and reading to her list.
Then, Daddy and I took turns saying things that came easy for us but not for others, “being a dad” and “writing.”
She seemed to understand. But then, I flipped it:
“Now, tell me something that’s harder for you but easier for other people to do.”
We all thought for a second and Daddy chimed in first,
We locked eyes and gave each other a nod – that was true (for both of us).
Mae thought a little longer, and while I appeared to be focused on facilitating, my mind was also doing an uncomfortable self-assessment.
“Holding a spider!”
I smiled at Mae, showing her I appreciated her answer.
I thought for awhile longer, not only uncomfortable with the examination of my own weaknesses but the amount of time it was taking me to admit them.
Finally, my racing mind stopped on one I knew Mae would understand:
She agreed – sewing was much easier for Grammy and Daddy (who’d helped her use her new knitting machine). It did not come easy for me.
With her bacon gone and only a few pieces of waffle left on her plate, I hurried to wrap things up:
“Your birth mom was very good at loving and growing you, but taking care of a baby and raising a kid didn’t come as easily for her. So, she made one of the hardest decisions anyone would ever have to make, and she chose to let us help her. That’s why you were adopted.”
Mae seemed appeased at the answer and went on to finish the rest of her waffle and sips of chocolate milk.
As I finished my own waffle, the reality of what I had just said sank in.
She let us help her.
Not like the person who helps me by mowing my lawn or grabbing my suitcase off the airport shuttle bus.
This woman, a mom who had all intentions of raising her baby, had found a strength I still can’t comprehend. She admitted her weaknesses to her family members and social workers, adoption lawyers and judges. She let us step in to raise her kid.
And because she did, we’ve all experienced the miracle of adoption.
With a clear plate, a full stomach and an even fuller heart, I looked across the table at a little girl who would be a woman faster than I’d like to admit (if the past seven years have taught me anything).
I began hoping that no matter where life leads her, she will have the same courage as her birth mom to admit both her weaknesses and her strengths – and to find grace for herself within them.
And I prayed that no matter what she encounters in her life, she will act out of the same motivation that led to the reason she was adopted: