An unexpected effect of our adoption journey has been “sonder”. I happened to be listening to Vsauce’s YouTube episode on The Science of Awkwardness as I was working on the introduction scrapbook for the adoption, which is provided to the caseworkers and prospective Kiddo. I stopped what I was doing a couple of minutes in and watched the episode without any other activity, because it was kind of an eye-opening moment to finally have a name for what I was realizing as I worked on things for Kiddo. He discussed sonder, which is explained wonderfully by him, but is from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.
“The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for. Follow the project, give feedback, suggest an emotion you need a word for, or just tell me about your day.” It defines sonder as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”. There’s a lot of great information in both videos to explain it and gives great examples to help you put it into perspective in regards to your own life, so I highly recommend both videos.
As I have worked on different exercises to prepare us for parenting a child who experienced trauma, and read at least a hundred posts about it, and worked on Kiddo’s room, I learned that we need to go into parenting Kiddo with the realization that there is a whole other life that Kiddo has had, good and bad, and that we need to not only be there for Kiddo and try to bond, but understand that we need to acknowledge and work with the other main characters in her life. It’s no different than my being a stepdaughter, really. Both families are part of my story, but they’re probably an extra in one another’s life, and only connected through me. Kiddo’s life pre-adoption is filled with other people and experiences, and they’re not just part of some worksheet or case study that we’re supposed to work through. She has all ready had such a complex life at such a young age.
It’s not something you really think about usually. You know that your friends have lives and you’re an extra in them, but you don’t always really realize that they are the main character of their own novel, just like you are the main character of yours. This young lady has an extensive life that we not only have to “work through”, but we need to bond with any other supporting characters in her story that she desires, and we need to work to become the leading supporting characters in her story once we meet her. There was finally a name to explain this concept that I was suddenly so aware of. You take the concept for granted and don’t think about it when they’re your friend or someone else in your own life, but when it’s someone that you don’t know (yet), you don’t really think about how they have their own story and you’re just an extra in it. And we have to work hard to not only help heal this teenager, help her reach her potential, and bond with her, but also recognize the previous chapters of her life and incorporate her other supporting characters into our family life if she wants that.
We had to do a project in our TIPS-MAPP class (taken to help those considering adoption and fostering how to recognize and handle trauma in youth) where we had to make a diagram of the connections in our lives. We’re each a little bubble and you draw lines to bubbles of other aspects that make up your life, such as interests and other people, and how strong those connections are. When we did ours and then listened to our teacher’s description of her own family diagram, where her connections to the step and adopted children led then to connections to their own family and friends as well, suddenly the little diagram becomes this huge connected world that is just one family’s story and I realized that our own diagram will be so different one year after making the one for class. And I started becoming more aware of this butterfly effect of connections. I might be a nerd, but this was mind blowing for me and not something I’d ever really paid attention to.
Within a week I came across Vsauce’s video and suddenly I know I have finally realized what sonder is. I pray each day to “…have a good impact…” and it wasn’t just about making something easier for others; it was about making that page of their story a little better, if not improving the rest of their chapter, because they have just as difficult, blessed, and unpredictable of a life as I do. And somewhere out there Kiddo is living her own life, waiting to become a permanent part of a family, while starring in her own story with all of these other characters. It’s no longer just about raising our daughter; it’s about respecting and incorporating her story’s characters into ours. I couldn’t wait to become a mother of some unknown person, but then the love went beyond the concept finally, and I fell in love with this unknown person that has all ready lived a few chapters of her life and is just as complicated as we are. Sonder helped me convert adoption from a two dimensional concept to the beauty of falling in motherly love with a complicated person with a short, traumatic, story that I will become a lead supporting character in. It’s no longer about my story, or his, or ours. Our story will now become part of hers and we will have a whole new book. A new book with three flawed, complicated, and blessed main characters.