My real kids

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I spend a fair amount of time being asked about my real kids. I am still trying to sort out which ones are real and which are fake, and the determining factors involved in making that call, but “the public” often seems to believe they have it better figured out than I do, and often feel the need to define it for me.

How many kids do you have? I don’t know.

I guess it depends on the day you ask me.

I guess it depends if you count the babies I carried in my body that never took a breath outside of heaven.

I guess it depends on if you count the foster kiddos that were in our home for a brief time, or the one that was here for a longer time, or if you only count ones we adopt.

I guess it depends if you count the children we committed to adopting and then received calls or emails that left me sitting on the floor of a newly finished nursery crying both sad tears and happy ones, both for my own loss and for a family restored.

I guess it depends if you count the young man I step parent, who has a mother that I adore, who used to be married to my husband, who I also adore, who has the unfortunate “gift” of having four parents instead of two.

Biology matters, it matters so much that I champion for biological families to remain together whenever possible, but it’s also not everything. Sometimes, for whatever reasons, kids find themselves needing someone to whom they are not related to step in and step up and love them like a “real child.” Sometimes loving them will crush you. That is okay, they deserve it. They deserve to be loved in a real way, and real love is hard and sacrificial and demanding and confusing and complicated. You will love them and you will give them a piece of you, and sometimes they will stay close and your heart will feel solid, complete, and sometimes they will leave and with them, a piece of your heart will be missing. They are still your real child, even if they are also someone else’s. Love isn’t a divider. Loving someone in a big, real way, doesn’t mean that anyone else cannot. There is no maximum capacity of “real child” love. In fact, you can often best love a child by also loving those that loved them first.

When you ask my family which ones are our “real children,” you are really asking how many of them are really ours. The answer is all. At that moment, they are all ours, and so are the ghosts of ones before them that we loved in the same real way. But what you are saying to that child that may not be a child forever ours, or may not be chosen for us biologically, is that they are less. You are reminding them of the transient, wobbly, undefined place they have in our family. And that is crushing to me because I know that they are my real child, and every day that I have access to them, I will remind them of that.

I wear two necklaces most days: One that says “I get to be the one” and one with initials of children that I love, forever in my family and for a season. They’re all real. They are all mine. Wouldn’t you want to know you are real? That you matter as much as the others? {Also… that is my eleven year old’s hospital bracelet. I dieeeeeee. Time, stand still. Please?}

How many kids do I have? I have no idea. A lot. How many real ones? Also, a lot.

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