The girls and I were at one of the criminally underused neighborhood pocket parks last week (and as an aside: a beautiful day in a neighborhood full of kids - why is almost no one playing in the park?) when two little girls walked up to us. I don't quite remember how the subject came up so quickly, but within a few sentences the older one told me they were both foster kids. I told her brightly that my daughters were adopted, and for a brief moment an intense, inward stare clouded the face of the girl. All the girls ran off to play together, they all got along well, while I read under a tree.
But that expression that crossed her face has stayed with me. I have seen variations of it on my own children. It wasn't loneliness, or sadness, exactly. It was, I think, an "aloneness" particular to adopted kids and foster kids. Everyone feels alone, I know, in some way or another. You're born alone, you die alone, yada, yada, yada. Some feel it more acutely than others. Writers and artists might feel it more than others, or maybe they are merely better at exploring its depths. But the lack of a biological family creates an emptiness I can empathize with but never fully understand. It's different than coming from a dysfunctional family. Different than family members dying.
I don't think it's my job as a parent to fill that empty space. I don't think I should, or even can. Rather, I think my job is to acknowledge it, protect it, to make it a safe place, a welcome place, a part of their identity they can one day embrace, and nurture, and cherish.