When my husband and I adopted our son William from Russian seven years ago, I believed that I was his mother from the huge stack of papers that I completed. The Russian court decree listed the names of my son’s biological parents along with their hair and eye color. Both had dark brown hair and eyes. When I met William the first time, I saw pieces of them in his laughing brown eyes. The presence of William’s biological parents would be forever in his life and mine, like Greek gods in the background. My husband and I wondered if he had his biological mother’s big smile or his biological father’s mechanical appitude for tinkering.
As friends and relatives met him they asked about his family history with “Who is his real mother?” I stammered, “You are looking at her.” Yet the words real mother tugged at my heart. The children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit tells how a stuffed rabbit becomes real through a boy’s love. However, like the stuffed rabbit in this story, I also wanted to be real. The wise skin horse, a long-term nursery resident defined real to the velveteen reabbit, the newest nursery addition. Skin horse told the nervous newcomer, “Real isn’t how you are made. It is a thing that happens to you. This I believe: a mother becomes real through everday connections to her child. As I fed, bathed and read to William, slowly I was becoming real to him.
William lived for 17 months in an institution, from the day he was born. One caregiver watched ten children per eight hour shift. When William and I would go grocery shopping together, he would stare at every buxom middle-aged woman he noticed. The look on his face said, “I am over here. Come pick me up now!” I thought these women must remind him of his former caretakers. Yet, I wanted him to recognize me as his mother, rather than a friendly stranger.
To become real is not an overnight process. As the Skin Horse tells the Velveteen Rabbit, “When a child loves you for a long, long, time … but really loves you, then you become Real.” As I was taking Wiliam to swim lessons, dentist and doctor appointments, I was becoming his mother. Around a year later while changing William’s diaper, he looked at me and said for the first time, “Mom”.
William,” I smiled, yes I am.” I felt he loved me and I no longer was a mother decreed on paper but a Real one.
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