Two decades ago a social worker told me it isn’t unusual for adoptive moms to experience grief when their daughters reach puberty. She said as our kids enter their reproductive years, many adoptive moms are approaching our apple doll years. We watch their lives blossom while we become fruit leather. The wise social worker said we might grieve again our own losses all those years ago. Loss of fertility, loss of genetic continuity, loss of the child we wanted but couldn’t have.
I can report with great relief that this hasn’t happened to me – yet. The daughters are well into their teen years and one is now in her twenties. Yes, I’m finding a house full of young adult daughters overwhelming at times but not because of the high cost of providing tampons or thinking about future grandchildren who won’t look like me, or cursing them for being able to make babies while I couldn’t.
What causes me regular gut-grief is the incisive scrutiny of my mothering abilities. I am a bottomless source of commentary; a mothering experiment in a petrie dish picked up with tweezers and latex gloves, dangled and examined – a mom-amoeba naked in front of my children. At 58, that jelly-like mass of cytoplasm that holds mom-amoeba together isn’t pretty and my flaws are as visible as banana slices suspended in lemon Jello.
Frankly, I’m happy my kids don’t have my mess of DNA. But their routine examination of me reveals my pathetically fragile emotional life. And I can’t blame it on hormones anymore.
Here are a few examples of recent interactions.
Daughter: You know what I hate?
Mother: No dear, what?
Daughter: Nervous laughter.
Mother: I do that.
Daughter: I know.
Daughter: Do you want to see what she posted on Instagram? No. Wait. I’ll show dad – it might hurt your feelings.
Daughter: Do you want to see?
Daughter: (Nervous laughter – YES! Nervous laughter.) Are you sure?
Mother: (Agrees, knowing it will probably hurt her feelings.) Okay.
Daughter: She doesn’t post this stuff all the time.
Mom: (Applies stone-face) Good to know.
The following day. parental units converse while teenagers sleep.
Father: What’s wrong?
Mother: That meme hurt my feelings.
Father: It’s not about you. It’s universal.
Mother: It’s also particular.
Combined with the workshop I attended a few months ago on non-verbal communication, which resulted in some unsettling personal reflection, and the on-going assessment of my qualities as a mother, my jello ego is getting a helluva workout and my mom-amoeba’s cytoplasm is drying up. I’d like to go back in the petrie dish, have a warm salt bath, and dream about grandchildren who won’t look like me but who, I hope, will have the jagged tongues of their mothers.