Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The rain has been relentless. It's gray and cold and late in the day and we’re driving home from Chinese class. My daughter reminds me I promised to buy her a book from her favorite series, The Warriors. I joke about being a softie, then pull into the parking lot by the grocery store. The bookstore lies across the way. As I turn the key in the ignition, the car grows quiet except for the slow, steady tap of the rain. My daughter confides:

Mom, I worry you’re not really who you say you are.

This is the second time she’s offered this. The first time we talked was three nights ago, in my bed. She asked if I had any secrets, if I was hiding things from her. If maybe I’d locked her birth mother away in a cabinet.

I'd paused. Stroked her arm. Asked questions. I tried to explain – gently -- that I never met her birth mother. That I didn’t come along till later. She arrived at the orphanage a 7 day old baby and was placed in her foster mother’s care. I arrived a year and a half later. We went into her room and I pulled Kids Like Me in China by Ying Ying Frye from her book shelf and asked if she’d seen it. If she wanted to see it. She wanted to. So I scootched in behind my daughter on her bed and held her as she turned the pages, reading, studying every picture. The photos of the children are sweet, but they’re sobering. The room fell unnaturally quiet. My heart throbbed in my throat. We talked a little more but she was subdued and I knew I shouldn’t push. So I tucked her into bed, kissed her, hugged her, and told her I loved her.

I hated she had to face that.

For the next three days it felt as though my stomach had flipped and couldn’t quite right itself. It rattled me to think my daughter could think me evil or possibly hurtful. That she might lose her sense of trust. That she might be afraid. Of me.

This is a child who’s watched me gingerly capture lady bugs and bees in glass jars in our house so we could free them from her window.

My first reaction was to second guess myself. She is so very sensitive. I try incredibly hard to be patient, to communicate, to be logical, loving, and fair. But I’m a parent. I get frustrated, and I get testy. Her radar is so acute. She takes it all to heart. It doesn’t leave a lot of room to be human.

Was I really that awful? That scary?

A part of me wanted to ask her more questions, to reason with her, yes, even argue with her. I wanted to defend myself. Then, a small voice in my head whispered: This is not about you.

I stepped back and tried to ponder if there might be another reason for her to think this. Perhaps she’s not thinking evil or scary. She knows I love her. We have our own little mutual adoration society. Maybe… maybe she saw me as …desperate? A single mom so wanting a child she might steal from another…?

I struggled but knew I had to hold off, to be patient and offer quiet hints of support. And wait. I had to make it safe for her to talk and let her choose her moment.

The rain drums harder on the roof of the car now. I twist round and look back at my daughter on the seat. I feel, I hope, if I am still, very still, perhaps she will tell me more.

You worry I’m not who I say I am?

Yes. I worry Mom.

Tell me more, honey.

I worry you’re just being nice to me but that… maybe you might hurt me…

My heart feels almost too big for my chest. My child thinks I want to hurt her. It’s beyond imagining. I wonder if the world as I’ve known it may be slowly breaking apart.

Oh honey… do you really think I could ever hurt you?

Well… not you maybe… but that maybe you might hire someone…

But… why…? How could I ever hurt you? I love you, honey.

Its hard to breathe. I need to breathe. And be still. And listen. Closely.

Well… I wonder if maybe you locked my birth mother in a cabinet somewhere…

But… that would truly be a horrible thing to do, wouldn’t it?

She nods sadly, agreeing. Her eyes fill. A lone tear drops onto her cheek.

Do you really think I could do that to another mother? I ask this gently. That would be just awful. Wouldn’t it?

She nods and agrees again. More tears drop down, dotting her cheek. She leans forward to rest her elbows on the compartment between the two front seats.

Do I really scare you?

She nods a weak no. A few more tears escape. She lowers her face in her arms as if she is weary. I feel sick. Heartbroken. I ask, almost beg, her to come and sit with me in the front. I want to gather her in my arms. She nods her head weakly again, no.

I ask if it's okay then if I might come back and sit beside her. She nods her assent. But when I do, she leans forward, away from me, hiding her face and her tears in her arms. She seems so conflicted.

I place my palm on her back and rub, gently. Very gently.

We are quiet. Together.

Then… a thought …

Do you think.. that maybe.. you worry about this because it’s just too hard to believe you could have been born to one mother, half a world away, but now, you’re here with me?

A bigger nod, yes. She is only half facing me but I see a fresh well of tears surge up. They fill her eyes and course down her cheeks.

I pause.

Do you think… maybe…. it might be easier to believe I could be evil than to imagine your birth mother could have ever actually… let you go?

She lifts her head and finally turns to look at me directly. Her face puckers and breaks with emotion and I reach to draw her gently toward me, into my lap. She lets me. Drawing her knees in close, she sobs openly, releasing the sadness.

Oh honey. It hurts doesn’t it? I’m so sorry.

I stroke her arm and we cry together.

Minutes pass. Then she sits up and wipes her face clean and takes a deep breath.

Okay Mom. Another sigh. Let’s go get that book now.

I try to pull it together even though my insides are jelly.

Okay. How do I look?

She manages a small smile and shakes her head.

You’re a mess, Mom. A mess.

We pull on our hoods and climb out of the car. She takes tight hold of my hand and we dodge through the rain together.


KLF113 said...

This entry brought me to tears..I am a mom to a sensitive four year old, also adopted from China. I can easily imagine these thoughts coming from her someday. Thank you for sharing.

Sage said...

Thank you for this. I just discovered you on APC. My husband and I are waiting for our referral (soon, I hope!) for a daughter from China, and I'm excited to have found your wonderful blog. It will be so helpful in my journey.