Six year-old Belle is comfortable telling people that she and her sister were adopted, but then she has to deal with her young friends' budding perceptions of adoption.
Adults sometimes use the term "real parents" with me when they refer to my children's biological parents, so of course their kids are picking that up. Belle's classmates have asked her about her "real" parents. This seems typical for first grade, so I shouldn't be surprised.
I remember in my elementary school it was customary to be asked, "What are you?" by other children, and you were supposed to answer "Jewish" or "Christian." Those were the two accepted answers. I used to answer "Nothing" or "Half and half" and it always bothered me, every time, because I hated my answers. I don't think I ever discussed my discomfort with my parents. Belle, on the other hand, is uniquely open about discussing her adoption.
Belle: Sometimes[my school friend] says you're not my real mommy.
Me: Oh! But you know I'm real. And Nora (bio mom) is real, too. We're both real, see?
I encourage her to pinch my arm and we laugh, but I know this isn't quite satisfying. Am I real just because I'm here, physically? And if Nora isn't physically here, is she still more real than I am?
Definition One: Giving birth lends authenticity to one's motherhood: it is physical. Therefore, Nora will always be a "real" mother because of the physical birthing experience. And beyond that...
Definition Two: Real mother - the one who does the physical care-taking? The feeding and toileting and administering of medicine? But a nanny could do that, or a nurse.
Definition Three: Real mother: loves you above all else? Thinks of your needs before her own? Yes. This definition fits me.
Real mother: What if she is dead? Or disappeared; out there, somewhere. Is she still real? (Yes. See definition Number One.)
Definition Four: Egg donors as real mothers? Only via genetic material, which is real, therefore, yes. Genetics determines the realities of personality, physical appearance, talents, health.
While I was writing this piece, I found myself looking up the meaning of "phenomenology" and "ontology:" philosophical concepts of "reality" I never got around to studying in college. Maybe there should be a course on Adoption and Phenomenological Reality in 21st Century America. Maybe this blog is just the beginning. It's starting to feel real.