11/30/2012 05:54 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2013

'My Life Started When I Came Here': Orphans and Their Memories

Children share very important feelings and thoughts about themselves at the oddest moments. You can be putting them to bed at night, or sitting with them in the car, or even folding laundry together when it happens. At bedtime, they are vulnerable and tired and close to a dream state, thinking about the day. That's often when something comes out. I enjoy listening to these wanderings of the mind.

My son Des is 14-years-old, and he is a bit of a philosopher. He is in the eighth grade and is solidly embracing abstract thinking; he experiments with ideas all the time and even gets engaged in politics. It's fun to listen to because it's not always logical, but it is more experimental, and he is reaching and stretching to find truths for himself. He is indeed creating his belief system.

How I as a parent handle this experimentation is very critical. To compete and criticize would be a mistake. To listen and ask questions is best. Some of what he says is so off-the-wall that I can't help myself from trying to create some reality. After I do respond, I wonder why I needed to do anything.

Out of the blue, Des said, "My life started when I came here." I found his statement poetic and I admired his honesty. I repeated it out loud a few times. I told him that I loved what he said, and asked him why he thought this was true? He was adopted eight years ago, and as one of my dear friends says, "it is on his mind" as it is on the minds of adopted children all over the world. He told me that he didn't remember his life in Ethiopia anymore. I was sad about this, but then I realized that this was just the way of it. The mind has a certain capacity for memories and challenging memories end up denied and packaged. His life is so full and exciting and "in the moment" that I saw his statement as fine and real and just right. And maybe he is saying that those memories are not so important right now. Or maybe he doesn't want to remember them right now....

As the optimist and fixer in life, I replied to him, "Mommy and I remember everything you told us after you learned some English and were able to tell us about your life in Ethiopia. We hold the memories for you, so if you want to talk about them, let us know." I am now writing down what we remember so that I will be able to put my money where my mouth is... Des was happy to hear that we remembered things he said, but didn't ask for me to recount anything. I always tell parents that we must be proactive about adoption conversations with our kids, which means we have to figure out creative ways to mention "adoption" regularly without making it annoying and contrived. Sometimes we need to make it very funny and use some black humor.

Last night as I walked down the stairs to the "boy cave," I admired the drawings created by Ben and Des; we have a gallery of their art work on the walls of the stairs to the basement. One of those drawings is of Des and his father, Neda, and Neda has crutches or canes because Des said he was disabled and very sick. I nestled into my spot on the pull-out couch and I turned to Des and said, "You know when we were looking for that drawing of you and Neda, well it is right on the wall as you walk down the stairs." He smiled.

Children living through adversity all over the world need these opportunities to talk about their feelings and thoughts. They must create their belief systems, and they need to remember and forget just as my children do. This is just another moment to take note of all that is important in childhood, no matter where children are... they all deserve this same opportunity to process and grow and mature into healthy independent critical thinkers. It is their future and ours as well.