By Renée Henning
Romance may come early or late to an adopted child. Pre-adoption experiences and societal expectations can affect his romantic life. As shown below, the results are unpredictable–and often charming. Here is a glimpse into the romantic life of three adoptees. (All children’s names in this article were changed, to protect privacy.)
Many children were adopted by a person of another race or ethnicity. Some, like Fawn, grew up among people who looked different from them. Particularly in the past, these children were likely to face prejudice with regard to dating or marriage.
A Caucasian woman talked to me about this problem. Decades ago, she adopted Fawn, a Native American. According to the woman, her friends had told her not to adopt because the girl would never get married.
In time, Fawn proved the bigoted friends wrong. She did not marry a local boy, perhaps due to prejudice. However, she did succeed in finding a husband. Fawn married an English nobleman!
Jack was adopted as a one-year-old from Latin America. He came from an orphanage and from foster care. Prior to the adoption, he had experienced at least six moves and six changes in his primary caretaker.
A summary of Jack’s social life reveals numerous relationships and frequent change. Perhaps due to all the farewells in his early life and his personality (as well as to his dashing looks), he has had more girlfriends and “best” friends than the average boy.
Jack’s romantic life began early. He was one when he got his first girlfriend. Tiffany, a blonde older woman, was two. They met at play school. When he arrived on school mornings, she would run to him bringing him a toy and calling his name.
It was a delightful romance. One day Jack and his classmates were walking hand in hand to the playroom. Tiffany broke away and sprinted to reserve the prized hobby horse for Jack. She helped her tippy little beau to mount. Then he rocked merrily, with Tiffany facing him and both children holding the horse’s handles. Another day Jack was racing around and around a pole, with Tiffany in pursuit. Failing to catch him, she stopped, waited for him to complete the circle, and pounced. Then she hugged and kissed him.
Unlike Tiffany, Jack indiscriminately hugged and kissed his playmates. However, he kept forgetting the puckering-up part of the kiss.
Naturally, this toddler romance did not always go smoothly. Jack once went to play school sucking a pacifier attached to his shirt. Tiffany also wanted to suck on the pacifier. When he refused to share, she knocked him down.
After she moved away, Jack had other girlfriends. At this stage the girls took the lead. Jack himself seemed to love everybody.
He was two when he first chased a girl. Leila, a brunette, was a smart, spunky tomboy. One day the teacher wrote in Jack’s daily parent report, “Jack displayed his affectionate side today by plastering Leila with kisses. They interact with each other very well.” Another day the teacher wrote, “All the kids, especially Leila, really like him.”
Unfortunately, this romance provoked jealousy and revenge. A lady-like blonde had a crush on Jack. The boy once altered his practice of playing with everybody to spend the day with Leila. The blonde, incensed, kept eyeing the merry couple as the day progressed. Late that afternoon she went behind Jack–and bit him. At bedtime his shoulder still bore the imprint of all of her teeth.
He remained popular as a three-year-old. Three teachers named him as their favorite pupil. A daily parent report said, “[A] number of new parents have come in asking who Jack is because their children have come home raving about him.” According to the play-school director, Jack was the darling of the school.
At four Jack tended to have a crush on multiple girls. Some of them were beautiful, some were not, but all were spunky and intelligent.
When he was five, a boy and a girl invited him to separate birthday parties for the same day. Jack accepted the girl’s invitation. The only male invited, he played happily with seven females.
At that age Jack planned to have four wives simultaneously and sixteen children. He picked the prospective brides from his schoolmates. The four-bride roster varied from time to time that year and included girls of different shapes and races. Typically, the common denominator for the brides was spunk and intelligence.
While still five, Jack spent a week at a foreign Club Med. Most of the children vacationing there did not speak English. Because Jack was so outgoing, a hostess-teacher sent shy children from any country to play with him. He soon had a “fan club” of boys, despite the language barrier. Two pretty girls also followed him about the grounds. It was not uncommon to hear, when Jack walked by, a child telling a parent something like, “C’est mon ami, celui-là!”
At night the Club Med guests danced under the stars. Jack’s black sneakers had small red lights that flashed in the dimness when he danced. He performed twirls, cartwheels, round-offs, and other gymnastics on the dance floor. The child won several awards that vacation, including the medal for King of the Disco. By the end of the week, the chief of the club, the staff, the French guests, the German guests, and everybody else seemed to know Jack.
When he was six, he liked older women, and they liked him. That summer his main beach romance was a chubby, spunky eleven-year-old. To appear older, Jack claimed to be seven. He often played on the sand with a bunch of college students. He seemed to be their mascot and buddy.
Jack is now eight and still popular. He clearly likes the idea of numerous relationships. Recently, someone asked him how many girlfriends he has. Jack replied, “Two thousand.”
Two children may experience similar conditions prior to adoption. Yet the pattern of their post-adoption relationships may differ markedly.
Robin was adopted from Central America when he was eight months old. Like Jack, he had been in an orphanage and in foster care and had experienced at least six moves and six changes in his primary caretaker. Unlike Jack, Robin shows remarkable constancy in his social life.
He started play school at about ten months old. There he met Will and Cindy. Will was Robin’s age, and Cindy, who was in another class, was a month younger. The two boy babies promptly became friends. Soon Will was Robin’s best non-family friend.
Since the boys were buddies, they had a joint party at school for their first birthday. It was a soggy celebration. Robin cried and then settled down placidly to his bottle and cake. Shy Will wept through the entire party.
Shortly after Robin turned one, he entered the class for walking toddlers. Will and Cindy were also in the class. At that time Robin basically could not talk. Nonetheless, it soon became clear to the staff that Will was Robin’s best friend and Cindy was Robin’s girlfriend.
Robin and his classmates enjoyed lolling with their bottles on bean-bag chairs, looking like baby Neros at a party. They could have the bottles only at scheduled times. In part because children had been grabbing random bottles from the refrigerator, the school had added a so-called “lock.” This fastener kept out the tots. One day when Robin was at most seventeen months old, he decided it was bottle time.
What followed amazed the teachers. Robin walked to the refrigerator, undid the fastener, and opened the door. He selected, out of more than ten baby bottles, his girlfriend’s bottle and his own. He gave Cindy hers and pushed her gently onto a bean bag. Then he reclined on another bean bag, and they enjoyed their drinks together.
Robin and Will celebrated their second birthdays in another joint party. The boys continued to be best friends. Both toddlers had a crush on Cindy. She played with both but clearly preferred Robin.
When Robin was three, a teacher wrote in the daily parent report, “Robin had fun sitting beside Cindy during music class. The two spent much of their time cuddling, not singing.” That year he said he was going to marry Cindy and another classmate. Cindy was still smitten with him. She often talked approvingly at home about his beautiful black hair.
Later that year Robin again announced that he was going to marry Cindy. She had kissed him that day, apparently for the first time. He said simply, “Cindy kissed me on the cheek. It made me very happy.”
At the time of the kiss, the two three-year-olds had been sweethearts for more than two years. Robin and Will had been best friends longer than Robin and Cindy had been sweethearts, and Will had long had a crush on Cindy. The three children were together constantly in play school and were jokingly called “the three musketeers.”
Time brought tests of Robin’s commitment to Cindy. After he turned five, he and Will moved without Cindy to another class. Two cute classmates, one a strawberry-blonde Irish-American and the other a raven-haired African-American, often greeted Robin at school. Upon his arrival, the two girls would rush over and hug him. If the strawberry-blonde saw him in the neighborhood pool, she would throw her arms around his waist and hang on until shower time. (Robin would paddle on, seemingly oblivious of the human barnacle.) Yet Cindy remained his sweetheart.
Renée Henning is a volunteer in the neonatal and pediatric wards of a major hospital, where she sings to infants and toddlers. Since the late 1980’s Rene has crooned to hundreds of tiny patients one-on-one. Her volunteer work and use of song testers taught hera lot about the musical preferences of small children.
Rene is also an attorney and an author on various topics.
Her articles have appeared in books, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters (e.g., WE Magazine for Women, Washington Post, Oslo Times, Modern Ghana, International Concerns For Children Newsletter, News Lens, A Day in the Life of Public Service Lawyers, WNC Woman, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, Journal of Holistic Health, ActiveOver50, Roots & Wings, Ours, Adoption Today, Adoptive Families, Adoption Option Complete Handbook, 2000-2001, Living, and Freelan ce).