Jennifer Grant’s memoir, Love You More is now on sale for just $1.99 (in e-book format) for National Adoption Month. (Click here to read more than 130 customer reviews, endorsements, and to order.)
I'm honored to share a poignant excerpt from the book today.
It’s hard to miss the irony that while prospective parents by adoption lay bare the most intimate details of their lives, no one regulates who can parent a child who has come into the family the traditional way. Waiting parents look at the paperwork that is spreading itself over their dining room tables like ground ivy, documents that disclose their assets, reveal how good they are to their friends and enumerate how often they floss their teeth and think, “Wait a minute. If I were pregnant, no one would get into my business like this. This is just plain unfair.”
(Okay, I was kidding about the flossing. Fortunately for me, being a good flosser is not a prerequisite for adoption.)
In the thick of the paper-gathering stage, however, I comforted myself that this expensive and tedious process likely weeds out people who come to adoption for the wrong reasons and aren’t ready for parenthood. If you can’t deal with the time and frustration it takes to collect birth certificates and financial statements, how are you going to raise a child?
I soldiered on.
Meanwhile, my three children grew increasingly curious. Three year-old Ian would often ask me how we would find her. “But, where is my baby sister?” he would ask.
“I don’t know where she is, but God does,” I answered. “We’ll just take it step by step.”
This kind of talk was utter nonsense to Ian. Here was his mother, serenely pouring half and half into her coffee, saying that although he had a sister he had never met, we didn’t know where in the whole wide world she was? He wasn’t even allowed to go off by himself at the park and this so-called sister of his got to play hide-and-seek on a global scale?
At about that time in his life, Ian decided he was a big fan of hide-and-seek. He even played it when we were out on errands. After a few minor scares when I thought I’d lost him, I sat him down for one of our “little chats.” I told him “we” don’t play hide-and-seek at stores. I said he must respond to me when I called his name. He smiled and nodded, but at three years old, he must have assumed that I was simply unclear on the concept of the game. He would later admit that of course he heard me calling for him. He had even seen me push the stroller past, with a thrilled little Isabel who enjoyed making laps around department stores at such high speeds. But, Ian explained patiently, it was my job to find him, not to call for him.
The very last time he played hide and go seek at a store, the manager called a “Code White” and employees locked all the doors. My mind flashed on some predator working quickly in the back of the stock room, dying Ian’s hair in the janitor’s sink and changing his clothes so that he could steal him away to a salmon-fishing boat in Alaska.
At that point, I hadn’t done any research on kidnapping statistics. I didn’t yet know how rarely stranger abductions occur. Just one abducted child is, of course, far too many but my worry as a new mom was disproportionate to the reality. I kept getting the message that almost all adults were out to hurt my children. What happened to those sweet grown-ups of yesteryear with their pocketfuls of butterscotch candies and stories about walking ten miles to school in the snow? Now it seemed like there was an epidemic of creepy marauders who loitered around school playgrounds waiting to snatch a child away.
Every other week or so, I received mail from companies selling teddy bears armed with hidden cameras so that I could catch the babysitter neglecting or abusing my child. Or self-defense videos for my preschoolers so they would be prepared to defend themselves from the attack of a malicious teacher or crossing guard. There were ads for identification kits that came with fingerprinting supplies. There were even mailings from companies advertising microchips that I could have surgically implanted into my children’s arms. If someone ever abducted my “chipped” children, they could be located via GPS satellite. The profusion of such safety products made it feel more like “when,” and not “if” such an event would occur.
Happily, since then, I have come to know (and love) the work of parenting expert Lenore Skenazy. Skenazy jabs a pin into the helium balloon of misplaced anxiety and misleading statistics that so often distracts parents in our culture and cause them to become “helicopter parents.” Regarding stranger abduction, Skenazy writes, “when the numbers are about fifty kids in a country of 300 million, it’s a very random, rare event. It is far more rare, for instance, than dying from a fall off the bed or other furniture. So should we, for safety’s sake, all start sleeping on the floor?”
There is no need for parents to live in abject fear that someone is going to steal or hurt their children. Be wise, yes. Teach them how to be safe, yes. But don’t live in a murky, buzzing swamp of worry. Most people do mean well. Most people. Some even keep a few butterscotch candies – perfectly innocent ones that have not been laced with rat poison – in their pockets.
“Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage,” Skenazy writes on her blog. “The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.”
All to say, no one had abducted Ian that day. He was hiding in a rack of men’s winter coats until a store employee spied his little cowboy boots poking out from underneath a parka and pulled him out. Caught, Ian emerged, his face flushed from the ambient heat and his eyes as merry as ever. They called off the “Code White” and unlocked the doors.
“Ian, didn’t you hear us calling?” I said, shaking. “Why didn’t you come out?”
“Because,” he said in his most patient, teacherly voice. “It’s hide. And. Go. Seek. I hide. You gotta find me.”
Out in the car, I leaned my head on the steering wheel and sobbed from relief, from frustration and from embarrassment. It was a good long post-traumatic stress cry. He and Isabel watched me from their car seats, their eyes wide. Ian never disappeared in a store again. The Code White episode, however, surely made this whole “missing sister” issue all the more difficult for him to comprehend.
“Where is my little sister? Where in the world?” he asked. When I told him that I didn’t know, he asked more specific questions. “Who knows where she is?”
When I told him that only God knew where she was, I worried that Ian would think that God was playing some kind of game with us. That God was teasing us, hiding our girl. I tried to explain. “There are many children, all over the world, who do not have families or homes. Some of them live in orphanages, you know, like in Annie. Some of them have to take care of themselves. Mommy and Daddy want another child and this time, we are going to adopt her. It is like being pregnant – you know when a Mommy has a baby inside? Except the baby comes out of another Mommy’s body.”
From the look on his face, I could tell I was making things worse. I was pregnant and my baby was in someone else’s body? How preposterous! What would I think of next? I knew it would be easier for him after we received a referral of a specific child, but first our home study had to be completed.
Excerpt from Chapter 6, “Where in the World Would We Find Her,” Love You More
Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family, Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by Skeptics, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels (co-editor, forthcoming, 2014), and 12: A Daybook for a Wholehearted Year (forthcoming, 2014). She is a grateful believer, a reader, a sometime poet, a dog lover, and, with her husband of 25 years, mother to four wonderfully creative and quirky tween and teenaged children. Learn more at jennifergrant.com.