|Eli as Darth Vader, Wonder Boy as Yoda|
And not just because Eli just found out that Darth Vader really was Luke Skywalker's birthfather, though he initially refused to believe it when Darth Vader said it in the movie. The cool part about that is that when he finally accepted that fact, it elevated Luke Skywalker to awesomely cool adoptee status. But that part...not tough at all.
In the wake of Wonder Boy's departure (our 3rd foster child, but only the second one to leave for those who are counting), I think Eli's been feeling unsettled and a little confused.
We're seeing it in his behavior even though he says he does NOT miss Wonder Boy AT ALL. Even though he says he can't wait to have another foster child because...why not? And - possibly - because he occasionally worries aloud that Itty Bitty will leave one day.
The really tough questions began tonight after we heard an ad for Operation Christmas Child - a program that we participate in at our church by filling shoeboxes and collecting/donating items. We were in the car, and it was fairly quiet and dark, so I think he felt vulnerable and more open to serious talking than he usually is.
He started by asking what an orphanage is. And then demanding to know why the kids in the orphanages are not all in foster homes. And then fuming that there are simply not always enough foster families...going so far as to say that he would "never go to a place who didn't care enough to find enough families to take care of kids who need it." And saying that he would always want to care for kids and he would grow up and take care of all of the kids who need it.
My heart was breaking for him. He's so innocent and sensitive. I have to be so careful what I say, as he is so smart that he understands things he probably shouldn't - and he gets furious if he thinks his questions aren't taken seriously or answered to his satisfaction - yet he is so tender hearted that he genuinely gets distraught if the answers are too much for him.
But then he asked the clincher: why WE were the ones to send presents at Christmas....after all, isn't it Santa Claus's job? Especially for kids who don't have anything?
How in the WORLD do I explain this to a FOUR YEAR OLD?? I've already had to explain, as gently as possible, what orphanages are.
And granted, I'm not the one who told him about Santa, and I always dodge Santa-related questions by telling him to ask his father. But he was already confused and worried enough to ask this question, and I was NOT about to hurt his feelings further (especially so close to Christmas) by throwing Santa under the bus (though I am not a fan - sorry, Santa)...and he wanted an answer from ME.
I thought for a moment, and was able to say that 'even Santa needs help sometimes, and that he would want us to show our love to other kids this way.'
The answer must have satisfied him...at least enough to change topic a bit. But then, Eli began asking some tougher questions about HIS story. He knows that every kid has a different story, and we've told him repeatedly that his is VERY different from W's, Itty Bitty's, and Wonder Boy's...and their stories are very different from one another, too. For his personal privacy, I am leaving out the parts of our conversation that are only his to tell - I feel the need to share what I can.
He said that sometimes he gets really sad, and wonders if his birthparents ever miss him or think about him. He wants to tell them about Star Wars and swimming and how he loves to read comic books. He says he wishes that his birthparents and foster parents lived nearby so that we could visit. I did tell him that I would help him search for them, if he wanted to, when he was old enough, and that I firmly believe that his birthparents DO wonder about him and love him. I am so grateful that his foster family has kept in touch with us, as that helps fill in some answers to some of his questions.
I'm very glad that Eli has enough confidence and trust in me that he is able to ask these questions. I just never expected it at his age, and it is so hard to realize that he does genuinely feel the losses he's experienced - even though he doesn't consciously remember them. I know part of this is because we do have foster kids coming in and out of our home, so he does see and learn more about how other people live at a much younger age than other kids. In addition, it has definitely put his view of his time in foster care in Korea in a different light.
When we got home, Eli asked to see his pictures. The ones that his foster mother in Korea so carefully organized into an album. The ones that are so, so precious to me, too, since I wasn't in his story yet. As I retrieved the album, a burgundy gift bag slipped off the shelf, and Eli asked what it was. I explained to him that I kept EVERYTHING that came home from Korea, and that the bag was the one that most of his belongings were packed into when we brought him home. I didn't expect to see the initial sadness as he quietly asked, "But it's so small. Is that all I had?" I had to gently explain that he truly didn't have many belongings, that he did have a second, (smaller) bag, and that his foster family really loved (and loves) him. I also reminded him that he's seen for himself that children in foster care don't always have a lot of belongings to take with them. I reminded him that the amount of belongings someone has does not equal the amount of love that they have (which is a really difficult concept for a preschooler), and that he has (and had!) a lot of people who love him very much. I think, for the first time, Eli realized part of what being in foster care really meant as part of his story; I think a part of him began to identify, at least a little bit, with W and Wonder Boy in a very new way.
I don't know how other adoptive parents feel, but geez....these conversations do leave me feeling as though I wish I could make everything better...and that I wish I had so many more answers for him (especially happy/comforting answers). I walk a very fine line sometimes, with him especially, to make sure he has the honest answers he deserves in a way that is developmentally appropriate.
On the upside, it was awesome to see him, when he'd had his fill of the conversation, go immediately into a 'Ghostbusters' break dance. It makes me realize that, even though he is serious when he has questions, they aren't always in the forefront of his mind.