Two years ago, my son spent his 7th birthday hyperventilating in the shower over all the questions that might never be answered about his past and his future. The cupcakes were eaten and our day had been big-time fun, but the sun set on his heartbreak and he asked to take a late-night shower. We agreed, never guessing he was smart enough to know that behind the curtain, his tears could blend quietly down the drain pipe.
Being 7 and all, he couldn't switch it off with the water.
I have seen a baby grieve, and even a pre-schooler. Silas's tears brought Cory and I to the edges of who we are, his pain was pulsing, palpable. Just below the surface of our life together as a family is a current of unjustness, of loss and pain. It has become a quiet part of our experience. We've been changed.
But until that night with Calvin, I have never seen a child grieve like a full-grown man.
As a mama, bearing the full weight of disarming every heartache and evaporating each tear of my children, I was painfully aware of my limitations in casting away this particular pain. I fell raw into the riptide, allowing myself to believe, for a moment, that I was part of the problem, that I had inadvertently played a role in carving out this place inside my son that throbbed while I sat with wringing hands.
But then the room stopped spinning and the world stood right. Light seeped past the edges of the night and I knew I could help. I knew that I, fully his mother, held a key to unlocking part of his hurt. Not only did I hold the key, I was the only one who could ever hold it.
What he needed from me that night and every single day before and since, is the promise that he never has to choose. He doesn't have to parcel love for his first mom from his love for me. It's not a pie that needs to be portioned or a scales that needs to lean perpetually in my favor.
He can love her with every ounce of his heart. He can daydream about how tall she is and if her eyes slant just like his, or if they're moonier, like his brother's. He can conjure up the most beautiful Korean there ever was and claim her as his own.
He can wonder why she let him go while I catch his doubts and all his worries like clean drops of rain, filling the bucket, carrying it with us as we grow. I'm his mom, and I've got this.
I look him in the face and promise she loves him, that she'll never forget him, and he can always do the same for her.
I can wish for a future that finds us one day in the same room with her, knowing there are no guarantees, but allowing him see that I want this, too.
The best gift I have to offer my brown little humans, and even the not-so-little one, is that I'm not afraid or threatened by their instinctual, beautiful love and curiosity for the woman who loved them enough to deny her own heartbreak and nudge her baby into its future, her unfailing if fragile motherly instincts whispering her child's worth and greatness in the pauses of an impossible decision.
Calvin tells me all the time that he wants to live in South Korea one day. And though he's just 8, the kid is convincing.
I reserve the right to cry my eyes out and shake my fists at the sky if and when he boards that plane. But I hope I won't. I hope I'll send him out with all my love, denying my own heartbreak, and nudge him into his future.
Just as I used to stalk the mailbox for Robert's letters from prison, I'll pace around waiting to hear from Calvin, from Ruby, from Silas. I have no idea where this world will take them, but I feel like we might be raising some movers-and-shakers, and I hope I'm right. I hope I can match the bravery of their childhood by just a fraction, remembering love means so much more than proximity or skin-tone.
Come what may, I'll keep being their Mom, the woman in the world that cheers for them the loudest. And the one who reminds them often of the woman somewhere out in our world cheering for them in the way only she can.
*I share this story with my son's permission. He wants all the moms to know that "it helps kids to talk about it, even when they're little." :)