People are always telling Laurie and me that they want to adopt, especially couples who haven’t become parents yet. Typically they follow this statement with, “But we want to have our own kids first.” Another common comment happens when people first meet our kids or find out we’re a multiracial family. They ask, “Couldn’t you have your own kids?”
Although they would never admit it, the implication is that our kids, since we adopted them, are not our own. For the couples who haven’t become parents, it suggests the need to have their own DNA replicated. They envision a smaller version of themselves that people will fawn over and say, “Your baby looks just like you.”
Before Laurie and I became parents, the idea that our kids would turn out like us was more a source of anxiety than excitement. We discussed our personality flaws, our impatience and selfishness, at great length. Each disagreement, once resolved, was then debriefed exhaustively. “What are we going to do when we become parents?” Laurie has said. “We can’t be acting like this in front of or toward the kids.”
I remember incidents like a time Laurie was sick in bed and called to me from the bedroom in a raspy voice, “Honey. Can you bring me some juice?” After I pretended not to hear her, I paused my movie and brought her some juice and hurried out of the bedroom before she could ask me for anything else.
The image of a smaller version of me roaming the earth and inflicting my personality on others still haunts me. Now that I have my own kids, I constantly examine their behavior for traces of my influence. An incident with Isaac the other day gave me a little hope about him growing up nothing like me.
Lately, Isaac’s favorite game is called “Can’t Catch Me, Dad” and is little more than him loudly taunting me with this phrase until I chase him around our apartment at full speed. Each round ends when I tackle him and tickle him for five minutes. The game starts innocently but usually climaxes with one of us getting injured. Just in the past few weeks alone, the boy gave himself an upper-cut on my knee and I got my neck stepped on. Whenever he got hurt, he cried loudly until I said, “Maybe we shouldn’t play anymore,” and his sob immediately turned to a shriek of joy and he ran off again begging me to chase him. I was much more hypocritical when I got hurt. Once I regained my breath, I put him in time out and announced that “Can’t Catch Me, Dad” was no longer allowed in this family.
“You’re the one that gets him wild,” my wife told me later that night. “You can’t get him wound up and expect him to know when he’s gone too far. You’re the father and you need to stop it before it gets to that level.”
As usual, I took her advice with good humor and immediately applied it to our next game time. Last night, while chasing him around the apartment I bashed my knee against the side of our bedroom door. The next thing I remember was an excruciating pain shooting up from my knee throughout my entire body.
“What was that?” Laurie said from the kitchen.
Unable to find my voice, I sort of grunted, “I hit my knee against the door.”
“Are you okay?”
I thought about it for a second and realized that I wasn’t mad at the boy which I figured was a good start. “Yeah,” I told her. “Just let me lay here for a minute.”
While I lay on the floor of the doorway, I saw Isaac cautiously emerge from his room. He slowly approached me and began patting my back. “Are you okay, Dad?”
“Yes, Bubs. Dad’s okay, but I’m a little thirsty.”
“Oh. Okay,” he said happily. “I will go get you a drink. You just sit there and I will bring it to you.” He promptly ran into the kitchen and said, “Mom, can I have a drink for Dad?”
“Honey,” she said to me, laughing. “Give me a break.”
“Mom,” he said, reproving her. “Dad got hurt. He needs a drink.”
He returned with a glass of ice water with a straw. “Thanks,” I said.
“You’re welcome, Dad.”
He ran off to play while I got up and tried to walk around. There was a small lingering pain in my leg but otherwise I felt better. I started to pick up some toys when Isaac reappeared from his bedroom, grabbed my hand, and led me to the couch. “Dad, you need to sit down.” He grabbed a blanket from the basket in the corner of our living room and draped it over my legs.
“Thanks,” I told him. “But I don’t need the blanket.”
“Dad, you have to rest. I will go get you an ice pack from my lunch box.”
“No, Bubs, you don’t have to do that. Really, my knee doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“I will go get it for you just in case.”
I heard a rustling in the kitchen and his mother say to him, “You know you’re not supposed to be in the kitchen when I’m cooking dinner.”
“But Dad needs an ice pack.”
He returned from the kitchen and put the pack on my knee. Then he grabbed my hand and placed it on my knee and said, “Now, Dad. You have to hold it here so it will feel better.”
From our living room couch I could see Laurie in the kitchen giving me an “Oh Brother” look. “What?” I said to her. “He’s being helpful. You should be proud of him. He’s being so sweet.” As I was saying this, the boy climbed onto the couch, grabbed some pillows and poked me on the shoulder. “Sit up, Dad. This will make you more comfortable.”
I looked back at Laurie who was now giving me a funnier look. Then I think she said something about how she was sick for three days last week and no one catered to her, but I couldn’t concentrate because the boy had laid his head on my shoulder and was rubbing my knee.
She came out of the kitchen and asked, “Can you clear the kitchen table?” Her voice was more amused than annoyed, at least until I asked the boy to clear Dad’s magazines for him. “Honey,” she laughed. “You’re pathetic.”
While I sat on the couch under a blanket with a Lightning McQueen ice pack on my knee and pillows propping me up, I saw some advantages to the fact that Isaac’s personality is so different from mine. The boy certainly has his faults, but he has a generosity and desire to please that I know did not come from me.
I imagined my wife sick in bed and calling for me to bring her a Popsicle. From the living room couch, I say, “Just a moment, Sweetie.” I’m so moved to compassion that I call to Isaac, “Son. Mama’s sick. Why don’t you go take her a Popsicle? And bring Daddy a snack while you’re in the kitchen.”