This guest post is by Brian Esser, an adoptive father and attorney.
My seven-year old son Keith initiated the most recent visit with his birth family.
Our spring and early summer had been a hive of activity, and we had overlooked setting up our usual summer visit with his “Pennsylvania family,” as he calls his birth mother, her new husband, and the four kids she is parenting, with one more on the way.
He thought some weekend in August would be a good idea. He is a planner.
We were originally discussing a petting zoo in Pennsylvania, but there was a threat of rain, so opted for the aquarium in Camden, New Jersey.
It can be a challenge to find a suitable place for kids who range from a young teenager to preschoolers, and a zoo or aquarium has proven to work well. (Pro tip: With an aquarium, or any indoor space, you never have to change location because of rain, excessive heat, or snow.)
The days before a visit spark a lot of emotion in all of us. I get jittery about logistics, to avoid having to deal with those pesky feelings, like a good Midwesterner.
Keith and his little brother Jason, age four, discuss who was in whose tummy, and conversations return to Keith’s Pennsylvania family and Jason’s Connecticut family.
Sometimes the boys get anxious, but they were mostly excited about the car ride this time—a big treat for two Brooklyn boys whose dads don’t own a car.
We visit Susie and her family about once a year, in addition to sending them regular letters and pictures.
My husband made really sweet life books for both boys about a year ago and they have been valuable tools for talking to them about how we built our family.
We have tended to focus on providing information and answering their questions, as well as initiating the conversation periodically, versus giving them a line or set of lines that we have drilled into them.
I’m a lawyer with an adoption practice, so they hear the word regularly. And Jason proudly brought “Tango Makes Three” to class to share with his friends during the first month of Pre-K this year.
We greeted Susie and family with big hugs. Our sons had a lot of questions about the new baby. And then off we went to explore touch tanks, walk through a shark tunnel, and see uncommon aquarium animals like penguins and hippos.
Partway through the day Keith took Susie’s hand, and off they went toward the piranha waterfall. Keith was beaming and chattering away.
Susie was clearly happy and giving him her full attention. I desperately wanted to be a fly on the wall and hear what he was talking to her about.
I think my sons are fascinating and I hang on their every word. But I gave them space and let them have their moment. This was what we wanted; we wanted them to have their own relationships with their birth families, relationships that are not necessarily mediated by us.
I didn’t necessarily expect it would happen so soon, but I’m glad it did.
I realize how lucky we are. Susie lives a three-hour drive away, and so does Jason’s birth mother, Vanessa. They are interested in having a relationship, and there are no safety issues.
When we plan to see each other, we do not have to worry that Susie or Vanessa will cancel or not show up. Not all adopted kids have that opportunity.
A therapist friend once told me that adoption is an adult word and an adult concept. It’s hard to know what exactly Keith thinks of it.
At the moment, it seems like having two dads is more unusual than the fact that he was adopted. I worry sometimes that we haven’t explained his birth story fully enough and he might think that Susie was a surrogate, not his birth mother—as if second graders understand gestational surrogacy better than adoption.
What I do know is that we have made sure that he and his brother have met their birth families and that they are real people to them, not just concepts or strangers.
There will be no big reveal, and no awkward first reunion meeting. Our sons will be able to form their own relationships with them when they are ready. And they already are.
They grow up so fast.
Brian Esser combines his experiences as an adoptive father with a dedication to providing the highest quality and personalized legal services. His law practice is focused on adoption, reproductive law, and estate planning for families of all kinds.
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