I am standing on a playground watching my son. He climbs up the ladder, rushes across the platform, then shoots down the slide. Over and over he does this same routine. Climb, rush, slide. Climb, rush slide. I watch, mesmerized. I feel another woman's presence beside me. I turn. She smiles.
She calls out my son’s Chinese name “Kun!” He rushes over to us. “Say goodbye” the woman instructs. I'm confused but my son seems to understand. He gives me a hug, takes the woman's hand, and together they begin to walk away. In that moment I know his leaving is permanent. I run after them, desperate to stop them, desperate to reclaim my son. I see their heels rounding each corner but every time I catch up, they seem to move farther and farther away.
The clock reads 4:03 AM. It’s the same dream every night. I check the baby monitor to be sure. There's Jack, asleep in the next room, deep in his own dreams. I take a long drink of water and try to steady my breathing.
Several months ago I was standing in a Carter’s Outlet with my mother. It was just after Christmas and the stores were packed with end-of-year sale shoppers. Excitedly we tried to guess what size Jack would be when I met him. We bought PJs, shirts, pants, and shoes. There were socks and underwear, church clothes and play clothes. But without proper measurements my guessing left my newly adopted son wandering the streets of China in shirts that engulfed him and pants rolled over not once but two and three times.
When we returned home our wonderful friends sprang into action, showering us with their hand-me-downs. One of my son's favorite shirts came from his friend Thomas. I don’t know if it’s the softness of the shirt, or the color, or the image that Jack likes so much but he loves it. For me, it’s my least favorite shirt.
Lucky dog. How many times since we returned from China have I heard those words uttered to my son. "You are so lucky to have been adopted!" "You are lucky to have found your mommy!" "You are so lucky to live in America!" "You are lucky to have opportunities!"
But while people mean well, such statements undermine the loss my son experienced and will continue to experience throughout his life. The loss of his birth parents. The loss of his country. The loss of his culture. The loss of his language. The loss of being inconspicuous.
The thing about adoption is that at its heart, it is yin and it is yang. It is joy and it is sadness. My family was formed as a result of another family’s loss. In order for my son to gain me as an adoptive mother, he had to lose his biological mother. I cannot begin to know what such a loss feels like. But I can be there for my son to help him navigate our path.
My son runs into the room, beaming in his “Lucky Dog,” t-shirt. I gather him into my arms. “You know your mommy is the lucky one, right?” He seems to think about this. He shrugs. "Cookie?" He wiggles out of my arms so he can tickle my feet and then my sides. He laughs and laughs, and in that moment the dreams of last night recede a little farther into the distance.