National Adoption Month

My Really Son

"He pointed to himself and said, 'Me, son.' "

November is National Adoption Month. In honor of the month, we will be bringing attention to the thousands of people in foster care awaiting forever homes, as well as those who provide and advocate for them. These stories emphasize the idea that families are bound together by the love they share, rather than their biological roots.  

My son was nearly ten years old when I met him and his sister in an orphanage in Russia. On that day Edward had only a few moments to decide his future. As he leapt across the room and into my husband's arms, I had no doubt what his answer would be. He had found a mama and a papa and he was coming home.

Edward and Katia devoted themselves to catching up and becoming part of the family. They each gained twenty pounds in the first two months, made friends, and began to put sentences together in English. Four months after coming home, it was Christmas, and the kids had no idea what to expect.

Not only would this be my children's first Christmas in America, it would be their first Christmas celebration ever. Seventy years of communism had relegated the celebration of Christ's birth to just another day on the calendar.

A few weeks before Christmas, Edward made a list of what he wanted to buy for everyone in the family and proudly showed the list to everyone on it. We discussed the concept of presents being secret, so he hid his list. Then he told everyone what was on it. Who could blame him? For the first time, he had a family to give presents to, presents he had purchased with his own money saved from his allowance.

The kids worked hard to save. They pored over sales ads looking for the best deals on everything for themselves and for others, and dreaming big dreams. More than anything, Ed wanted a Buzz Lightyear, but he was resigned to defeat after seeing one in the store for thirty dollars. It was, he declared, too much. Still, he was full of anticipation, insisting that every day seemed like a year.

As the preparations for the day started to overtake us, we joked that we should have told the children that Christmas was on the 26th so we'd have one more day to prepare. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I was frantically sewing up stockings that had not been finished, and my husband was cooking our traditional Italian dinner.

Edward asked a few times if he could help, but I told him to go play. Six months pregnant and exhausted, I thought it was easier to do things myself than to take the time to explain and translate all that was going on.

Somewhere in there, a little boy felt lost and alone and out of touch with this day he did not understand, and he had a meltdown.

It started slowly at first, just getting into a little trouble here and there, but soon he had my full attention. He started to tell me, in his broken English, that he had done without Christmas before and he could do without it again. He had been without food, he could go without food again. If I wanted him to go back to Russia, he could handle it.

"Maybe you think I can't learn how to be in family. Maybe you not want me anymore. Maybe, when the baby came, you say I not a really-son."

I thought my heart would break.

I put down my sewing and enveloped him in my arms. Through a lot of tears—mine and his—I assured him he was loved and treasured and never going back.

"You will always be my really-son," I soothed.

For over an hour, I held him, explaining as best I could that our family is for real and our family is forever. I talked about extended family, life insurance, and wills, promising him he would always be protected and taken care of by someone who loved him, no matter what.

We cemented our relationship by making a batch of fudge. His tears melted with the chocolate as he stirred and talked and finally smiled. Soon he was content to go join his sister and the neighbors for a game of football.

After attending the Christmas Eve service, we all settled in by the tree with hot chocolate and cookies and read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. Once the kids were tucked into bed, we dragged out piles of presents, set up the train under the tree, stuffed stockings and collapsed into bed.

The next morning we got up, set up the camera, and opened the doors. The children were amazed to the point of disbelief. And somewhere in that pile was Edward's very own Buzz Lightyear.

In the coming days, whenever someone asked Ed if he got his Buzz Lightyear from Santa, his chest puffed out with pride as he declared, "No, my mama and papa give it to me." It was a wonder beyond wonders to him that we would give him this toy, this treasure that he had so longed for.

On January 6, the Day of Epiphany, I overheard a conversation between Edward and Katia. They were speaking in English and talking about the occupations of every adult they knew.

Finally, Ed asked, "What me?"

Katia was puzzled. Ed had no career; what could he be talking about?

He persisted. "What me?" he kept asking, and still she did not answer.

He pointed to himself and said, "Me, son."

Epiphany indeed.

I never did get the stockings hemmed at the top, but I guess the mending I did do was far more important than a little finish work on a piece of cloth.

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Adoption: 101 Stories about Forever Families and Meant-to-Be Kids  © 2015 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

Cover image via Christin Lola I Shutterstock

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