Jimmy was five when his parents adopted Neil. He still remembers that day in court when the judge called him up to the bench, all by himself, and said,”Today, it’s not just your mom and dad who accept the responsibility of raising another child. I’m counting on you, too, to share that obligation. Being a big brother means that this baby is going to look up to you and depend on you. Are you ready to take on that job?” Even though he was only in kindergarten at the time, Jimmy took the judge’s words very seriously.
Neil grew up thinking that being “adopted,” as he called it, was the coolest thing. His parents must have read every book in the library about how to explain such a complicated issue to a child, and they did a great job. Not only did he not feel bad about it, he felt even more special than if he weren’t adopted. At every opportunity, whether it be current events or a talent show or even a holiday celebration, he’d proudly stand up and tell the immediate world how he had a “tummy mom” and a “heart mom.” Sometimes it got to the point where Jimmy felt a little neglected.
When Neil was in second grade, he came across someone who had a different idea of what being adopted meant. Andy, a fifth-grader who rode the bus with Neil, didn’t have a lot of friends in school. He acted like a big shot with the younger kids on the school bus. One day, for no reason at all, he yelled out from the back of the bus, “Hey, Neil, you know what being adopted really means?”
Neil was nervous because Andy had never spoken directly to him before. Andy sounded mad as if Neil had done something to make him angry. Neil knew better than to go into his show-and-tell routine, so he didn’t answer.
Then Andy snarled, “It means your real mother threw you in the garbage.” The bus got very quiet. “That’s right, the garbage. You were lucky someone came along and got you out before the trucks came and ground you up.”
Neil felt as if his heart had moved up to his throat. He tried to get off the bus at the next stop, even though it was blocks away from his house, but the driver wouldn’t let him. Everyone was talking, but he didn’t hear a word.The second the doors opened in front of his house, he ran out of the bus and through the front door.
Jimmy was already home from school. He and his mom were sitting in the kitchen. Neil’s milk and Oreos were waiting on the table.
“What’s wrong?” his mother asked sharply, in that way mothers have of knowing before they’re told that something bad has happened to their child.
Neil told them what Andy had said. His mother slumped in her chair, without any comforting phrases about tummies and hearts to offer. She knew that all the advice in all the books couldn’t erase the devastation on Neil’s face. When she reached out to hug him, he moved away. Instinctively, she sought her own comfort and grabbed the phone to call their dad.
Suddenly, Jimmy stood up. He walked around the table to where Neil was sobbing with his head in his hands.
“Neil,” he said quietly, “just think about what’s true. Babies aren’t adopted because nobody cares about them. Babies are only adopted when they are loved. Very much.”
Their mom stopped dialing the phone. Neil picked up his head. Some people say the truth hurts. But sometimes it cures when it comes from the heart.
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