How often do I think about the fact that two of my kids were adopted? About as often as I remember that the third one wasn't. That is to say, not very often. Unless they bring it up.
When my husband and I went through the adoption process (FBI and Interpol clearance, psychiatric evaluations, home inspections, social worker interviews, etc.), the pros warned us that children who are adopted often have issues - feelings of not belonging, and curiosities about their birth families.
This was particularly stressed right before we flew to Peru to bring home Maria, who is now 13. "She'll look different than you," the social worker said. "You can't sweep it under the rug."
I thought about that when I took baby Maria out in her stroller. Her silky black hair and beautiful caramel-colored skin never failed to elicit compliments from the other moms in the neighborhood. I said nice things about their babies, too.
But the years went on, and even though I was prepared, none of the children anguished, or at least not that we noticed. Our oldest, Charlie, was quick to let us know when we compared poorly with other parents, but it seemed to be a Charlie thing, not an adoption thing.
When an issue did crop up, surprisingly enough, it was our younger son, Jack, who had the difficulty. I overheard him say to Charlie, with whom he is always at odds: "Oh yeah, well you're not even supposed to be in this family. You're adopted."
I held my breath, waiting. Charlie didn't miss a beat. His reply: "Well, I've been in this family a lot longer than you. They picked me; they were stuck with you."
I thought the matter was settled - score even - until Jack came to me later in the day. "Mom," he said, "if I wasn't born to you, would you have adopted me?" It was a pretty existential question for a 6-year-old. I found myself thinking it through too much: If he wasn't born, he wouldn't exist, so how could he be adopted? It was a chicken-and-egg riddle.
Not only that, but the adoption process was so arduous and costly, my husband and I had agreed the second time would be the last. A third adoption was out of the question.
But as I looked at his little earnest face, I realized he just wanted assurance I would have wanted him regardless. "Yes," I said, "I would have adopted you."
The matter didn't come up again until a year later, when Maria had a friend sleep over. In the morning, the two girls and Jack decided to watch a video, "Prince of Egypt," while my husband and I slept in.
Even as I snoozed, I was aware of the sound of the movie coming from the living room, but I still wasn't prepared when Jack came into our bedroom to ask a question. "Am I the firstborn?" His voice was distraught. "Hilary and Maria say I'm the firstborn, so I would be the one the 'angel of death' kills. I said, 'No, Charlie is the oldest,' but they said that doesn't count because he was adopted."
My sleep-muddled brain grappled with the multilayered question. Charlie was born first, but he wasn't technically our firstborn. Still, he had that status in the family. Jack was the first baby born to me, but the third child. What a puzzlement.
It all came down to this: What would the "angel of death" do?
Finally, I awoke enough to make sense of it all. "Jack, it's just a movie, and it happened a long time ago. The 'angel of death' isn't coming to our house."
Relieved, he went off to tell the two girls what I'd said.
Since then in my family, there have been questions and recriminations, rants and tears, but mostly over X-Box usage rather than adoption issues.
Still, I'm not naive enough to think it'll never come up.
My kids have always kept me informed of their problems, everything from the dry skin between their toes to major crises at school. So if there's anguish, I'm sure I'll hear about it.
Until then, I'm just a woman with three kids I love dearly. I feel the same about each one of them: They all make me crazy.