“You are an angel.”
“You saved their lives.”
“Imagine where they would be if it wasn’t for you!”
“God bless you!”
“Such a selfless thing to do”
These are some of the well-intentioned comments I often hear from my family, friends, and people we meet in our journey. Bold, underline and cap WELL INTENTIONED, because they really are, and because there hasn’t been a single person in our journey that hasn’t exceeded my expectations regarding support and love to my adopted children and the little unconventional family we made.
You see, I am bursting with the need to make an admission, dear friends and loved ones: I am actually pretty selfish. I might in fact be the most selfish person roaming the planet right now. Here is what I haven’t had the courage to tell you since that cold, scary but happy (for me) November 6, 2012:
I did not save my children. They saved me.
Imagine where I would be if it wasn’t for them! I would still be a boring grownup, worrying only about how to most impressively decorate my newly purchased home by the sea, ruminating about work, work, work (oh, that brings up a Rihanna tune!) even in my non-working hours, feeling badly that my tennis game is not what it used to be when I was younger and that I lost a match I should have won at my Saturday league, thus messing up my perfect record, missing my family abroad so much that I was always counting the months, weeks and days before I saw them again, grocery-shopping and cooking for one (hint: extremely boring), half-heartedly online dating, and just, basically, trying to “adult”.
They saved me because I am not very good at adulting. Mind you, I fake it real well. I’ve had everyone fooled for almost 20 years of official adulthood.
Which brings me back to my little warriors.
Genesis and Isaiah were 7 and 5 on November 6, 2012. Were they scared? Yes. We had only briefly met once, 5 days earlier. They had no reason to trust me and every reason to fear me. Had life put them in a pretty tough spot? Yes. Although they didn’t know any different way of life. Were they unsure of what the future held, in a way that children should NEVER be? Yes. Were they traumatized? Yes. Yet… beneath all that… they were CHILDREN. Forgive me, but I find that amazing. We adults go through a romantic breakup or a job loss, and it’s like the world ended. Yet, my children, who went to hell and back, were still basically happy children, inside and out. I selfishly took them in and let them teach me how to do that.
First evening. Genesis is squirming on the bed like the always-moving worm she is, and she asks: “So… what should we call you?” I was sort of prepared for this question, but never thought it would pop up on First Evening. I opted for honesty. “You can call me anything you want, just don’t call me Poop Face”. See? Not very adult-like. My daughter thought about it for a second, and decided both for her and her little brother, who was basically quietly hiding under his blanket, perhaps looking for the elusive safe spot in the world. “We will call you Mommy!”
And Mommy I became.
Mommy sees the world through a child’s eyes again, and everything is magic. The most ordinary rock on the beach becomes perhaps the stone where King Arthur buried his sword… or is it a fossilized dinosaur egg? Mommy learns that the quality of her tennis game doesn’t really matter; she is lucky if she plays once a week! Mommy learns the rules of ice hockey, baseball, and dance (Mommy, up until that point, has been a bit of a tomboy). Mommy saves Fishy when Fishy falls in the kitchen sink by accident (prior to that, Mommy hates slimy squishy creatures). Mommy catches bugs, and kills house “tarantulas” and magically makes growing pains disappear. Mommy goes camping, and fishing, and laser-tagging, and trampoline-jumping and even parasailing. Mommy is brave and keeps the children safe. Mommy sometimes turns into a lion when somebody isn’t fair to the kids. Mommy roars and the kids learn to feel safe. Make no mistake, though. Sometimes Mommy is “the worst Mom in the world!” and “so mean!” and “not my real mom!”. Mommy understands that the children feel safe and loved, enough to test the bond. It is not personal. Mommy respects and encourages the undeniable bond the children have with their birth Mom, and grieves with the children when the burden of their loss becomes too heavy to bear.
Still…Mommy comes home from work and gets butterflies in her stomach as she rounds the corner to the family home, even 5 years later, because she is going to see her kiddos after a long day and she can’t believe how lucky she is to be their Mommy. Mommy sits quietly in the evening after everyone has gone to sleep and reflects on all the things she learned on this day. Sometimes the lessons are practical, like, how to get slime off a child’s clothes. How to iron a Little League patch on the sleeve of a team jersey. Other times the lessons are about forgiveness, and resilience, and the incredible healing power of the human spirit. Either way, Mommy wins.
Mommy is so selfish, she is getting ready to do it all over again.
About the Family
Ericka Bueno is a single mother to Genesis, 12 and Isaiah, 10. The Bueno family came together through adoption from foster care in 2012. Genesis and Isaiah’s placement with Ericka happened unexpectedly, quickly, and was considered “high risk”. Five years later, the Buenos are a happy bunch of 3 humans, a full time nanny (think Mrs. Doubtfire), 3 dogs, 1 cat and numerous friends. Isaiah is quite the athlete and comedian. Genesis is the artist of the family, a talented singer and competitive dancer. The Buenos love nature, animals, sports and family vacations. Oh, and they have another little one on the way through international adoption.