I have a memory box that I was saving for Samuel. Inside are things like the split pants he was wearing the day we met him, and his little race car tennis shoes. I have a Tibetan necklace that was made for him. It was a gift from Steed, the man who helped us on adoption day. There is a newspaper and a little flashing dragon pin from the market. Most importantly I have the name of Samuel’s foster mom written on a piece of scrap paper, and some photos of her wearing a puffy leather jacket, playing with toddler Samuel and his stuffed blue bunny. She loved him. I could tell by the way Samuel was cared for when we got him. He came to us as a boy that had been loved.
I wonder if she knows what happened. I wonder if she questions it all too. I wonder if she’s mad that she had to let him go. If she negotiates it in her head, trying to figure out how she could have kept him, protecting him from a senseless foreign tragedy.
When Samuel was about 2 years old I showed him the pictures of his foster mom. He grew quiet and sad as he looked at them, and then pushed them away. Last summer I showed them to him again. He was mildly curious as to who she was, and excited to see blue bunny in the photos, but his memories had faded. She was a stranger. My heart was heavy for his loss.
Samuel knew he had three mommies. There was his birth mom, his foster mom, and me. I never felt threatened by his other moms, and wanted to honor each one. His birth mom gave him the priceless gift of life. She gave him history and genetics, which shaped him even though they were a mysterious unknown to us. Maybe he got his curiosity from her, or his shyness, his skin or his ears. Maybe she hated to have her feet touched too. Maybe she loved watermelon and soup, just like Samuel. Then his foster mom gave him attention, love, and probably was the one who cared for him through his first surgery at around 12 months old. She fed him before his cleft lip was repaired, which was a time-consuming task. She helped him learn to walk and no doubt had to child-proof her house so he would be safe as those little fingers explored endlessly.
We had not started any traditions to remember Samuel’s birth mom or foster mom, but I had ideas. Maybe we could light a candle on his birthday. Or we could look at the moon and remember to pray for his relatives on the other side of the world, since the moon shines on us all. We could sing the old song, “When you see the the sun you’ll know I see the same one too. When you see the stars they’ll say hello from me to you.” Samuel was too young to need us to do anything special to remember his past, but I was ready if that changed. I was ready to talk about them, to assure him that no mother forgets the child she births, even if life is so complex and hard that she has to do the unimaginable and let him go. I was ready to welcome his questions. I hoped he would feel the freedom to embrace his life, as much as he chose, without any shame or hiding.
Samuel lived for 5 short years, but he has left three mothers with broken hearts. Three women have hoped for him, dreamed for him, and loved him, only to be disappointed and say goodbye. Quite possibly all three of us have questioned our choices, and questioned why he had to leave us.
I’m the most fortunate one. I had him for the longest. I’m the one who got to hear him say “mama,” who saw him become more confident and secure. When he was little I suspected he was smart, and I got to see proof. I heard all the ideas and questions and silly jokes that came pouring out of his head as speech therapy gave him a voice. I knew his favorite songs. I got to introduce him to the ocean. I saw enough of his personality and talents that I could tell people he had the makings of an engineer or an architect.
I am the mother who had the privilege of watching Samuel’s faith grow. I taught him about Jesus, promised him God’s love. I held him in my lap as we did family advent by candlelight at Christmas time. I heard his simple prayers. “Dear Jesus, thank you that you died on the cross for my sins. Amen.”
I’m also the one who was fortunate to be there on his last day. I know how proud he was to finally be big enough to ride in the booster seat in the back of the van. I know that the accident happened fast, that he didn’t suffer, and that he was given the best possible care. I was able to pray desperately for him in his last moments. Of his three moms, I’m the only one who said goodbye with a funeral. If this was to be the path he had to walk, I’m blessed in a painful way to be there with him all the way to the end.