Telling Stories

This guest post is by Jennifer Grant, an adoptive mother and author

Jen-and-Mia-summer-high-res

My youngest child has a remarkable memory. No, no, I’m not just another bragging Mama. I have three other kids with whom to compare her, and Mia’s memory is the one that stuns me.

A few nights ago as I was making dinner, for example, she looked up from her homework and said, “Remember that ice cream you and Dad got us at Mount Rushmore? That was so good. And wasn’t it fun when we went into the bookstore there and bought those books about South Dakota?”

Now there’s nothing shocking about an eleven year-old reminiscing like that – except that the last time we were in South Dakota, she was five years old. And, in the years since then, when we talk about that vacation as a family, there are other things that are in our greatest hits of memories. A trip to a gold mine. How the stars were so bright at night. And, of course, coming up the road and seeing those massive faces, carved in stone.

But the ice cream we bought the kids at the monument? Not so much.

My husband and I adopted Mia when she was a toddler. Having spent the first almost year and a half of her life in Guatemala, the only words she knew were in Spanish. But, several months later, she began to speak English. And once she was fluent, she was full of stories.

When one of her siblings was writing a book report on porcupines, for instance, Mia said: “Oh, yeah. I know all those. I’ve petted porcupines.” The same went for all kinds of fabulous animals and exotic locales. Volcanoes? Well, sure, she’d visited them hundreds of times. And tigers? They were as cuddly as housecats. She knew; she’d spent time with them.

“What? When was that?” her sister and brothers would shout.

“Back in Guatemala,” she’d answer. It was her trump card. None of us were there, so how could we dispute it?

Over the years, ones we all could corroborate replaced these more whimsical “memories.” The ice cream at Mount Rushmore. The time we brought a dog home from an animal shelter, and he scratched her. The first day she rode on a school bus to go to kindergarten. These things – and many more – made impressions on her. They are memories that don’t seem to fade, even after many years.

All of my children love hearing stories about when they were young. For my older three children, the ones to whom I gave birth, I can tell them about the days they were born. A hurried trip to the hospital. A rainy night. The music I played in the delivery room. When I tell them what they were like as infants or the funny things they said as toddlers, I am creating memories for them. In Mia’s case, though, the only real stories I can tell begin after she was adopted.

Not long after she came home from Guatemala, I created a lifebook for Mia. In it, I wrote what I knew of her story – bits and pieces gleaned through a translator from her foster mother, items her birthmother shared in interviews with social workers. I included the few pictures we were sent when we were waiting for her adoption to be finalized. Waiting parents can begin such a project for the children they long to bring home. It’s a gift the child will likely cherish.

In Mia’s lifebook, I glued in postcards that show the beauty of her native country. The boarding passes we used to visit her and then the ones we used when, finally, we were able to bring her home are in her book. Near the end, photos show us all together and in some, she and I gaze at each other.

“I was so happy that you were finally able to come home,” I tell her. “I missed you so much — and I didn’t even know you yet!”

“I was thinking, ‘Hey! Who is this lady?’” Mia once told me. “I didn’t know yet you were going to be my mother.”

Whether that is a story more like the fabled porcupine or like the ice cream at Mount Rushmore doesn’t matter to me.

I just like the way she tells it.

Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family, and has two books due out next year (Disquiet Time and 12: A Daybook for a Wholehearted Year.) Read more at jennifergrant.com.

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