Last week, one of my kids said to me, "Hey, Mom, did I ever tell you about the time my little brother drowned?" Umm....well, I guess that sounds like a lead-in to a joke to most folks but in our family, it probably isn't.
By now, it's no secret that our family is comprised of Mom, Dad, and 5 kids, 4 of whom were adopted long after infancy. In addition to being older at the time of their adoption, our 4 also
were with their birth families long enough to have memories of
them....and many of those memories are rooted in trauma. Some memories are still surfacing as the kids grow up and begin to make sense of their past. Even though our kids have been with us for several years, they still have stories that are new to me. When my kids start to talk about their memories, I often find
myself holding my breath, bracing myself for what may come next.
Deep calming breath. "Well, I figure your brother didn't actually drown because he's home playing video games right now...but do you want to tell me about it?"
"OK, yes, it was kind of funny."
"Yeah, my dad built us these little cars out of pipe and wood. They had wheels and seats and we were racing them down the hill. The cars were fast and a lot of fun. My brother's car went off the road and into the lake. I remember him getting all wet and my dad was scared."
"So did your brother almost drown?"
"I don't remember for sure. It was before we went in the orphanage, so I was probably about 5 or 6 and he was only around 3. I remember that our dad was scared and my brother was crying. Mostly I remember the cars."
Hmm. How to respond? Think, think. "Well, sweetie, here's what I like about your story. I don't know much about your birth father but this tells me that he loved you boys and wanted you to be safe. He wanted to build you those cars, and he was afraid when he thought one of you might be hurt. That's a happy memory, the first one you've mentioned from your past. I'm so glad you shared it with me...I like imagining you and your brother as little boys, flying down the road in those cars, having fun."
After that, we moved on to other topics...homework, holiday shopping lists, the latest news from high school. It was a short conversation embedded in our everyday life...and yet, it's a huge step.
After years of trauma tales, a happy tale. I don't delude myself; the very real trauma and abuse that my kids suffered will never go away. It's a part of their history and it's etched onto their souls...but if they can reach past the pain and find something positive, then just maybe they are healing themselves. Processing trauma is hard work and most of it falls to my kids. All I have to do is listen...and remember to breath.