Adopting to change

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A friend of mine believes that childhood is a kingdom everyone must learn to leave by degrees. Adopted children learn to do so faster than others, he says, because they leave their first home behind at such an early age.

I would put it another way.

Of the 12 families on the dead-end street where I grew up, five had at least one adopted child. Those of us who'd arrived the usual way were always a bit envious. It wasn't only that they'd been "chosen," as we put it, while the rest of us "just happened."

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Because of their special status, we imagined that the adopted kids knew and understood things we couldn't. They seemed more mature - worldly almost - because they'd already grappled with tough questions: Who am I? How do I fit in?

For other kids on our street, those questions came later. One family faced them when the father died unexpectedly. Another household was altered by divorce.

But some of the "chosen" in our group seemed so aware of how others felt. One adopted girl always knew when to give advice and when to stand by you like a soothing, swaying willow. One boy knew when to drop his tough-guy act and place a kind hand on your shoulder.

I've kept in touch with that boy - now a man - and have watched him with a niece who struggles to speak clearly. He waits, ever patient, and gently encourages when her words clank against her teeth, instead of rolling out smoothly.

My younger self might have said, "See, that's because he was chosen."

My adult self knows that his journey from being adopted to finding himself has helped him understand how hard it can be for others to navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of childhood.

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