Twenty questions, remember that game? You tried to figure out if the person your sister was thinking of was a famous historical figure, your dog, or the boy band singer she was crushing on… It was a game you played as a kid, during road trips, sitting on airplanes, or in doctors offices. It was fun, but only as a last resort, when all other games had been exhausted. As an adoptive mom, I sometimes feel as if I live my life inside of the 20 Questions game, except I want to re-name it Infinity Questions!
I realize all moms have a period of living inside the question game (usually with your three year old), but for us adoptive moms this phase can last much longer. Many adopted children have lived in chaos for so long before coming home that they need to control their environment so tightly in order to prevent feeling out of control. Many times this manifests as the “Question Game” as we have affectionately coined it in our house! Often times our children will ask many many questions, repetitively. And this is a result of them being afraid, they feel out of control. They want to understand every situation, every sound, every facial expression. They want to know every car that drives by, every noise they hear, and where every one is and why, at all times. This can be an exhausting place to live. Answering questions all day long, the same questions day in and day out, while you remain consistent, mellow, and compassionate, every single time. Super hard.
When our son Demetrius first came home he was obsessed with cars. We lived on a busy street in our small town, and although I did know a good number of the people who drove by on a regular basis, I surely did not know every single car, who was in it, where they were going, and why. But Demetrius would stand in our living room and watch the cars go by and ask, sometimes over two hundred times a day,
“Who was that?”
“Whose red car is that?”
“Who was in that white truck?”
“Where is she going?”
All. Day. Long.
You see, we were his seventh home, and he was not yet three years old. Cars meant change to him, and he needed to know what change was coming, when, and why. And so I consistently answered his questions. Over and over, and over again. After what seemed like years, but was only a few short months the car questions began to slow down. But by this time he also knew what cars the important people drove. He knew when my husband was home, or gone. He knew when my mom was coming, and he knew when the case worker was pulling in. He knew the G.A.L’s car, and the therapist’s cars, he knew them all.
This was just a window into his heart. A window into his past, and how out of control his little world had felt. He was showing us that these things were important to him.
When he started school again a few years ago, the questions began once again. But this time it was, “Who is picking me up from school today?” I was baffled, I pick him up from school everyday. I was trying to answer this question, sometimes eighty times in the hthee hour time frame, between when he awoke in the morning and I dropped him off at school, without showing my annoyance. I was sending him to school with a laminated picture of me to remind him when he forgot during class, I was letting him draw pictures of who picked him up every day, I was calling the school to remind him, and I was trying to answer this one question the same way every time. But all I wanted to do was scream, “MEEEEEE! It’s always ME!!!!! What is so hard about that? Why don’t you understand???”
Thankfully on a cold morning in October I got my answer. He asked me again, while eating his oatmeal, mouth full and berries smeared on his cheeks, “Who is picking me up from school today?” I am pretty sure this was about the 20th time he’d asked that morning. “I am picking you up Demetrius. I promise. Why do you ask?”
He dropped his spoon into his bowl and I remember watching the milk splash on the window as he started, “ I remember when I went to school and my Megan Mom was suppose to pick me up. But instead Miss Jessica picked me up and brought me to your house…” He then went on to describe his entire first day at our house. The clothes he was wearing, the place I was standing when he walked in, what they talked about in the car on the ride over, crossing the street as he looked into our windows, and of course, the model, make, and color of Miss Jessica’s car.
I wanted to cry, I wanted to melt, the frustration I had been feeling towards him, my lack of patience with his never ending question, my lack of empathy. It was all choking me in that moment, and it came out as a sob. I was so grateful, I had finally gotten my answer.
Throughout the years he has been home we will occasionally see this behavior resurface. Usually there is no pattern and we don’t know why. Yet I know each time, it is a glimpse into his past, a picture of what he has been through, and a step towards our healing. So I have become grateful for the questions, eager for the answers, and anxious for the insight.