Her face was etched with fatigue, but her eyes glowed with the joy of a new mom, beaming from the inside out. As she arrived at the “enchanted forest”, she sighed a breath of relief. She’d made it to an adventure – with her new baby!
The moms who were already there took in the sight of her and her bouncy baby boy, who looked vastly different from her. We knew instinctively that she was a new mommy who had recently adopted for the first time. Her little cherub was 10 months old – a thriving, chubby-faced little doll. After a round of hellos, she suddenly began searching her overflowing stroller, packed to the gills with everything she might possibly need for a morning out, including three changes of clothes for her baby (and one for herself!), snacks, drinks, diaper changing items, sun hats, jackets and more.
But one thing she had forgotten – a picnic blanket to lay on the forest floor. Exasperated at the realization that she had left behind this important item, she turned to us with a defeated look, a pink color rising to her cheeks in embarrassment.
However parenthood comes to you, it’s a miracle.
We all jumped into action, making space on our blankets, inviting her in, drawing her close. She laughed, happy tears rolling down her overly-tired cheeks. “You’d think I’d have it! I mean, I take half the house every time I leave. I’ve never been a mom before and it’s all so … new,” she said shyly. We surrounded her with affirmations of how we had all been there, how normal it was, how wonderfully she was doing. Although it was her first adventure, she began to visibly relax, feeling at home, feeling connected.
Her baby quickly engaged with the other children, scrambling after balls, laying on his back looking up at the majestic trees, listening to the sounds of the magical forest. He tried some of everyone’s snacks, happily doled out cuddles and smiles to anyone who was willing to receive them, and he completely delighted all of us.
When the morning was over, I walked back to the entrance of the park with this mom and listened while she gushed her story, her fears, her dreams… and her thanks for us. But we hadn’t done anything, really. We just enjoyed an adventure together with her and her son, inviting her into the Adventure Clubs community. But to her, it meant so much.
“I have been a mom for about six weeks now and there is so much to learn! I have a wonderful faith community, but they only meet once a week, and there is a speaker and an agenda, so it’s a busy morning. I needed this,” she admitted. “Actually, I need this at least three times a week, maybe more! This is lifeblood right here. Friends for me, friends for him, stuff happening every day.”
My heart soared. Oh how deeply I wanted her to keep feeling strong and brave and supported as she continued her adoption journey.
I have a friend is the president of one of the largest orphan and foster care organizations in the world, and he has shared so many stories of how hard it can be for parents who adopt, and how important it is for the parents to have community and support far beyond the moment of the adoption.
In what ways can we use adventures to teach our children about the wonder and importance of adoption?
So a question began to take root in my mind. In what ways can we use adventures to teach our children about the wonder and importance of adoption? How can they learn – from the youngest age possible – how to surround adopted children and bring them close as friends for life? There were so many ways to do this, but we started with a simple, child-accessible concept.
We created an adventure about adoption. First, we read a beautiful story about adoption and what it means. Although the kids were small—some just learning to walk and talk, others just entering school age—they each understood it at their own level: seeds being planted for the future. We talked about how children come into families in many different ways—some through their mother’s tummy, some through adoption, some through foster care. The children listened intently, learning, processing, thinking. Then we headed to a pet shop, where we visited the birds and fish and other animals who were waiting for loving people to come and adopt them. To bring them home, feed them, care for them, and make them part of their families. Each child then chose a goldfish to adopt. And there was so much the excitement in that special choice. They put so much love and care into choosing just one fish. As the fish bowl and starter kit goodies were handed to the parents, the fish was placed in a bag of water and into the children’s tiny little hands… and they began to understand a little more about adoption. This was THEIR fish now, part of their family. They were responsible for naming it, caring for it, loving it. Some children laughed with joy, some were serious, but ALL were immediately in love.
That night, as all fifteen families who were on the adventure went home to prepare their homes and hearts for this new family member, discussions continued with the children. What would they name the fish? How would they teach it to trust them when they came to feed it? Who would sing it a lullaby at night when it was time to sleep?
In my home, my girls were beyond thrilled to introduce their new family member to their daddy. There was great debate over the name (they eventually agreed on “Mr. Nibbles”), and a responsibilities chart was worked out for feeding the fish and cleaning the bowl.
From that day on, adoption has had a new meaning in our home.
We have also spent time looking at the pictures of our friends far away who are currently fostering a tiny baby born to a mom who is unable to care for him. They are hoping and praying that the baby will be reunited with his birth mother when she is ready.
The importance of understanding and supporting adoption is often overlooked in the early childhood education of many families. Perhaps it’s time we change that—for every child deserves a family, and an Adventure Clubs community to love and support that family!
It’s World Adoption Week – here’s to all the families who have adopted. We love you! Come adventure with us.
Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone,
But still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
You didn’t grow under my heart
But in it.Fleur Conkling Heyliger