Last week, as we were leaving a Brooklyn Botanic Garden chili festival event, tired, sweaty, and glad to be out of a larger than expected crowd, Daniel turned to Becky and said, "I had a good time, mom." This was highly unusual; in fact, it was unprecedented.
We had asked Daniel many times before if he had enjoyed himself at some immediately preceding event, and he had always answered "no" very quickly. Or if we asked if he had fun, the inevitable answer was "I didn't have fun," no matter how much we had just seen him smiling and laughing moments before. My first instinct when he started doing this, after I was able to satisfy myself that he knew enough English to understand the question, was to be a little annoyed. Because it seemed he was saying that he didn't want to deal with the question at all. Becky had told me that it was normal for Daniel, especially as an adopted child in a new family, to be very focused on the schedule. What am I going to do next? And what will be expected of me? So I interpreted his answers about the immediate past to be something like "I don't want to talk about what I just did! What else have you got for me?" But then I thought about it a little more, and a different interpretation came to me. "Mom and Dad," he seemed to be saying, "you seem just a little too hopeful and needy when you ask me if I had fun. It is not my job to validate your choices of what we do by giving you a little thumbs up at the end. I showed up, I participated, I reacted. Isn't that enough for you people?" In other words, he was rebelling against gratefulness, something which is a very touchy subject for adoptees, as any tour through blogs written by adoptees will quickly reveal. Of course the desire for an occasional morsel of gratefulness is something all parents feel, whether you are adoptive parents or not, just because the job of being a parent is so damn hard. However, gratefulness is an especially difficult subject in the adoption world, in that there is a very thin line between desiring gratefulness for the hard work you do, and expecting it because of the adoption itself. "Your mother and I spent thirty thousand dollars and went halfway across the world, just to..."STOP RIGHT THERE. You see, everything you can possibly say before, during, and after that includes an element or two that totally sucked for the kids themselves. It sucks to be removed from your home, even if your first parents were part of the decision to do so. It sucks to have to fight for attention at an orphanage, and it sucks to lose all the friends you made there, and lose your country, just to travel "halfway across the world" to god-knows-where with people you just met.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that it's totally natural for Daniel to have a problem with gratefulness, and totally healthy for him to deny it to us, even after a fun day at the park. If we want to know if he's having a good time, we have to pay attention to him *at the time,* which is what we should be doing anyway.
All that aside, when he's 25, he had better call his mother, or I'm gonna have a few words with that young man...