It happened again last week.
We were next in line for face painting at a local pumpkin patch. One painter’s chair opened up, and I ushered my four-year-old over to her. My older two children were being tended to by the the other painters, and I stood by my youngest son, casually making conversation with the artist as she painted a butterfly on his forearm.
“So, you’ve got three, huh?” she asked carefully.
“I do,” I replied, sensing a shift in the conversation. By now, I can almost always see it coming. Adoptive moms seem to develop a sixth sense about these things.
“Those two are clearly yours,” she said, motioning toward my older two (biological) children. “What about this one? You say he’s yours? Where is his real mom?”
My youngest son looked up at me, his gorgeous Chinese eyes full of confusion. I opened my mouth to reply, but another painter spoke first.
“She IS his real mom. They’re all hers, Carol. Geez.”
I was grateful for the other face painter’s correction. I was even more grateful that we were able to wrap that up and move on soon after the awkwardness. But, it got me thinking that maybe people don’t really know the right words to say around an adoptive family.
What this face painter was actually asking is what happened to my son’s biological mother. What she meant when said my older two “were mine” is that they are clearly biologically mine.
Let me assure you—all three of my children are 100% equally mine. Whether or not we share DNA has nothing to do with that.
But, what is a “real” mom anyway?
In case there is still confusion, here’s my definition of a “real” mom.
A real mom comforts and soothes her terrified preschooler at 3am because the sound of the air conditioning turning on was confused for thunder.
A real mom spoon feeds Pedialyte to her toddler on day 14 of Rotavirus because it’s the only thing keeping that baby hydrated and out of the hospital.
A real mom watches Moana for the 872nd time in the summer. She sings along to every song and shows all the excitement once again because it’s this week’s favorite. (And sometimes, she even pretends to be scared of the Lava Monster, too.)
A real mom scrolls through her child’s pictures when he’s gone, arrives 10 minutes early to pick him up, and cannot wait for that running bear hug she gets at the end of a school day.
A real mom fills a spray bottle with water and Lavender oil and sprays every tiny crevice of her child’s closet with that “Ghost Spray” to be sure those pesky ghosts are really, truly gone for the night.
A real mom drives back up to the preschool at 8pm, praying a custodian is still there because his beloved blanket was accidentally left in his cubby.
A real mom sneaks in long after that baby has fallen asleep for just one more check before turning in herself for the night.
A real mom is willing to dig into the hard and the awkward and educate those who don’t understand that their words have power. Even though he’s only four, he understands what you’re saying when you ask where his “real mom” is.
I’m right here, Carol. I’m the one holding his hand and tucking him in and pretending your butterfly painting on his arm is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t his first mother, but I’m as real a mom as he’s ever going to know.
And I’m not going anywhere.