In my description of our trip to Addis Ababa and visiting different orphanages, I remember mentioning that many children referred to visitors as Mommy and Daddy. I also remember feeling sad upon clarifying that I was not their Mommy, but also happy that I was indeed someone's Mommy. I thought these kids were just confused, things hadn't been properly explained etc...
I am beginning to see things differently now.
From the time we received our referral of Boy and Baby O, we were fortunate to be in contact with other families traveling over to pick up their children. I was able to give them our son's names and ask if they could take pictures or even deliver a letter or two. People were extremely kind and giving with their time and as a result, I have hundreds of pictures of our boys in the months before we met them. I remember spending hours with Daddy O dissecting the pictures and interpreting the facial expressions in each snapshot. Every picture had a story. Now we look at those photographs with Boy O and he has names and stories to go with those same pictures. He will point to kids and say their names if he remembers them, he will point to doorways and explain which one was his classroom, bedroom and bathroom. As time went by and his English progressed, he started pointing to adults in the pictures and referring to them as Mommy and Daddy. This was and is still hard for me to hear. From a logical standpoint it makes perfect sense, but is nevertheless painful to this Mommy who loves him so fiercely and whose definition of Mommy has been limited to only her experience. Since I know most of the adults in the pictures through previous correspondence, we have chosen to correct him and refer to them by their name. That's Miss Morgan, or that's Miss Melissa and so on.
From time to time, he tells me stories of his past-they usually are told from the view of a typical 4 year old-woven with tales of spiderman, motorcycles, and pancakes-I never quite know what to think and where the shreds of truth exist. Every once in a while though, he says something that really sticks in my head and makes my brain itch. The other day he was telling me about the Mommy in the picture (a woman who was kind enough to personally give him some one on one attention) and I corrected him by saying, no honey, that's Miss Marnie. Frustrated, I followed it up with "How many Mommies DO you have?" and he responded (very matter of factly) "Oh, Mommy-I have a 100 Mommies. Teacher Mommy, this Mommy, this Mommy..." pointing to all the women in the pictures.
And it hit me.
He's right. For that particular moment in time, they were his Mommy or Daddy-they provided him with what he needed for that occasion. I was able to see how he responded to adults working at Layla and how much he was loved. That much was clear. His teachers were his Mom during class, the cooks were his Mom when he ran by the kitchen for a snack, Baby O's caregiver's were his Mom when they watched him visit his brother, and a traveling parent or volunteer was his Mom when he needed a hug or some reassurance. And the list goes on...
As an adoptive parent, I was ready to acknowledge, embrace, and explain birth parents and adoption, I was just not aware of the role other Mommies and Daddies would play into the definition of 'parent' in Boy O's world. It's just a different way of defining the word 'parent'. At that time in his life, he did have 100 Mommies. Now the work begins to not necessarily change his perception, but expand it to include other concepts as well. This Mommy and Daddy will be around for more than one moment. We will stick and we are here to stay.
Thank you to all the 100 Mommies and Daddies out there who took care of our boys even for just a moment-there are too many to name and you know who you are. You made a difference in this boy's life.
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