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Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007 04:13 am

Love and Skittles

When Evan’s birth mom came for the holidays

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Last Christmas, we had some relatives come visit. Stop the presses, right? It seemed pretty mundane to me, too, at the moment I so casually tossed out the invitation: “Hey, why don’t you and Derrion come to our house for the holidays?” It was only after I hung up the phone that the magnitude of what I had done began to sink in. Dang! I had just invited my son’s birth mom and half-brother to spend five whole days and nights in our home.

What the heck was I thinking?

Evan was adopted at birth. I was present in the delivery room. When he emerged, wet and wiggly, his birth mom, Samantha, told the doctor to have me cut the cord. She and I have been in pretty regular contact ever since.

I had no problem promising Sam that we would have an open adoption — exchanging phone calls, letters, photographs, and, yes, maybe even visits. The pledge was easy for me to make, because I’m adopted and I’ve been in contact with my birth mother for 20 years.

As everybody knows, though, promises are more easily made than kept — especially a promise so vague, so general, so unregulated. The adoption agency that brought us together didn’t map out any plan; Sam and I were making this up as we went along. Because she lives in another state — with her now-15-year-old son Derrion — all our communication traveled by way of phone wires or stamps. A prolonged personal visit meant taking our relationship to a whole new level.

I could tell I might have bitten off more than I could emotionally chew when I announced Sam’s upcoming visit during the “joys and concerns” segment at church (it was both a joy and a concern). The congregation emitted a small, polite gasp. I started to fret: Should I have consulted some kind of expert? A child psychologist, maybe? A therapist, perhaps?

But at the same time I knew deep down inside that having Sam come visit Evan was quite simply the right and natural thing to do. She loves him. She’s a good person. He deserves to know her. She deserves to know him. Besides, he had just turned 6, and was doing so well in school, in sports, in life in general, that I couldn’t wait to show him off.

OK, I’ll admit it. One corner of my heart fluttered at the thought that Sam might have second thoughts about Evan’s adoption. “You’re not going to stash him in your suitcase and carry him back home, are you?” I asked.

She laughed: “No! Kids are a lot of trouble!”

Of course, the larger fraction of my heart shuddered at the thought that Evan might decide that he loved his birth mother more than me. And Evan, who has always been wise way beyond his years, seemed to have the exact same fear. As soon as I told him that his birth mom was coming, he put on his most solemn face and did that heart-wrenching thing with his big brown eyes. “Don’t tell her,” he whispered, “but I love you more.”

I’ve written here previously that parenting is all about pop quizzes, but this moment with Evan felt more like a pop final exam. I could not let this visit make him feel somehow torn between Samantha and me.

Luckily, he had just eaten a bag of his favorite candy, those neon-colored fruity little discs called Skittles.

“If you had given some of those Skittles to me and some to your dad and some to your brother, you wouldn’t have had many left, would you?”

Evan shook his head no.

“Well, love is not like Skittles,” I told him. “You can give Samantha all the love you want to give her, and you’ll still have plenty of love left to give me.”

Sam and Derrion arrived on Christmas day. Their stay was utterly uneventful. We cooked, watched movies, went to the Lincoln sites, did a bit of shopping, had a little party, took some snapshots, played a marathon game of Scrabble. In short, it was probably a lot like holidays you’ve spent with your cousins (the boring ones on your father’s side).

I write about Evan every November. It’s National Adoption Month, it’s Evan’s birthday, it’s Thanksgiving, and I’m more thankful for Evan than anything in my life. If you’re involved in adoption or any other complicated relationship, I would encourage you to follow your instincts. Don’t be scared to open your heart. Pass the turkey, have some cranberry sauce, and don’t forget the Skittles.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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