Jax’s eighth Gotcha Day is coming up. “Gotcha Day” is the anniversary of Jax’s adoption from China. It’s the day Jax became our son, and like good adoptive parents, we celebrate. Jax gets a few presents, we decorate, we eat pizza and cake, we participate in general adoption merriment.
Gotcha Day has been easy the last seven years. Jax hasn’t had much interest in his adoption story. He didn’t seem to care, or really understand, that there was a woman in China who gave birth to him and chose not to keep him. Jax knows he was in an orphanage for his first three and a half years, but hasn’t asked all that much about it.
Mostly, Jax cared about the Gotcha Day presents. And I was happy to ride this cozy, warm adoption train until it stopped.
I think we’ve stopped.
Gotcha Day is going to be more complicated this year. The questions are coming and the reactions are strong. My kid is a football field or two away from typical, and I am truly not sure what he understands and what he doesn’t. Navigating adoption has become a little like a minefield. I’m walking gingerly, I think I’m on safe ground, but then it explodes under my feet.
This is tricky stuff.
Over the 4th of July weekend, Jax and I were eating dinner at a restaurant in Flagstaff. The weather was perfect and we were on the outside patio, overlooking a golf course. Jax, without my help, ordered mac & cheese for himself, then asked the server if she could “whip up a smoothie.” The combination of our swank surroundings and my son’s independence struck me. I thought, You’ve come a long way, kid.
Maybe he sensed where my mind was, because with eyes darting to and away from mine, the way he does when he’s anxious, Jax, for the first time, asked, “Why was I in an orphanage?”
When in doubt, I try to stick with the truth. But this was a big truth. A minefield of truth.
I did my best, and over gourmet mac & cheese, watching golfers walk by at the 18th hole on the most American of holidays, we talked about his Chinese birth mom. We talked about his cleft lip and palate, and how I don’t think his birth mom could feed him. I told him that I know, without a single shred of a doubt, that he was loved. We talked about how sometimes love means doing really, really hard things. Impossible, heart-breaking things.
That night, he cried himself to sleep. Face muffled into his pillow, tears streaming, he quietly cried for himself as a tiny newborn who was left alone without a family. He whispered, “Mom, I think I was so scared,” and I, a woman who was across the world when this took place, rubbed his back and cried with him.
This year, Gotcha Day has a dark and scratchy underbelly that I don’t think a toy airplane is going to fix.
There will be presents, there will be pizza and cake, decorations and general adoption merriment. But the largest thing he’s getting this year, I don’t even think he’ll notice. My gut says I need to make some room for this adoption stuff, create some space. It’s coming, it’s almost here, and like a storm, I need to prepare.
I’m taking Jax’s schedule that has been non-stop since he got home with therapies and counseling and activities, and I’m clearing it. The focus of the last few years has been to expand my son’s world, teach him new skills, edge him a little further from “delayed” and a little bit closer to “typical.” Most of this stuff is getting kicked to the curb. I think it’s time for a shift.
Jax gets to live smack-dab in the center of his comfort zone for a while. He gets to settle in, get comfortable, and walk through what lies ahead feeling as safe as I can possibly make him.
On the eighth anniversary of his adoption, I want my son to know that I gotcha, kiddo. I gotcha.
Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.