Monday, March 26, 2012

One Side of a Heart - On Adoption

Some time last week, we celebrated Silas's "Gotcha Day". It's the twenty-something of March and that's all I can tell you for sure. Oh, and we didn't really celebrate it at all, only due in part to the fact that I was lying limp and ragged near death's door.

Gotcha Days are a bit elusive around here. For one thing, Ruby's Gotcha Day is also her birth day, and it seems unfair for the boys to get two days to her one. For another thing, we were in the hospital ushering Ruby into the world during Calvin's first Gotcha Day and then Silas's Gotcha Day falls right around Calvin's birthday. Mostly, we're just too busy celebrating regular life with our regular family to specifically honor that one day that they came.

I can hear all of the adoptive Mamas of the world sucking in a collective gasp of air and indignation over my confessed sacrilege of one of Adoption's holiest days. While they're already fainting in the aisles, I'll go ahead and admit that I do not know Ruby's precise birth weight (even though I was there) and we do not regularly celebrate the Korean New Year. Or Kwanza.

I have struggled, over the years, to cut my groove in this adoption thing and the reason is really simple: I don't see myself as an "adoptive mom". I'm just a mom. I'm a big, bad, don't-dare-mess-with-them-or-you'll-answer-to-me Mom. They are all I've known. They made me a mommy. I'm theirs and they're mine. I tell them eight thousand times a week how much I love being their Mommy and how thankful I am that we are a family. But that might be over-simplifying a few things.
Silas's Gotcha Day was hands-down the most traumatic day of my entire life. If I were a method actress and had to shoot a scene where something terribly emotional was happening, I would conjure up that day in March and shut the set down. I would find myself in a tiny room full of plastic toys that sang songs I couldn't place. I go there, and it's hard for me to recover. I see it all again. I can't forget a thing. I hear it all. I feel once more the fingernail drag of bone-deep pain down the front of my soul. So much happened in that little room. So much that I was not prepared for.

With each adoption, I clung to differing shreds of willful ignorance.

With Calvin, the possibility for trauma and attachment issues hung loose and ghost-like on the horizon. When I got to "those" sections of the book, I closed the cover and went to sleep. I didn't want anyone muddying up my rosy future before I'd even seen his face. It seemed too hard and mostly, it seemed like a big waste of time, because he was just a tiny baby.

With Ruby, I read some of the sections, but only because I knew I wouldn't need them, her being our precious, well-adjusted daughter, born of the most beautiful open adoption.

With Silas, I highlighted a few paragraphs here and there, but we'd be fine because he was in a foster home. He was not institutionalized. He had not experienced trauma. He was strongly attached to his caregiver. Plus, in the grand scheme of life, he was still really quite young.

Of course, half of me knew there was always the chance. I knew that Silas's age would make it trickier. I knew it would be a different kind of ball game.

But I did not know our precious son would spend two entire years (and counting) running toward us and away from us at the exact same time.

I did not know that the moment we took him in our arms and ran, trauma would be inflicted.

I did not know we would seek help from three different specialists in the span of a single year.

I did not know that a child, so wiry and beautiful, would so fully deplete my every emotional and physical resource on a daily basis.

There are other things I didn't know.

I didn't know my 7 year old son would cry because he misses his birth mom.

I didn't know my daughter would be on the receiving end of racism clothed in "they mean no harm".

I see a world opening its heart to the millions of orphans who desperately need a family and I feel immense hope. These kids, no matter where they're from or what their background is, need a new last name, a forever one. They need family traditions and trips to Dairy Queen. They need warriors to fight for them and mommies and daddies to kiss and tickle them.

They also need the freedom to feel the hurts no one else can understand. They need the space to never have to choose between the life they didn't get to live and this one right here. They need a free pass from computing that the two could never be mutually exclusive.

With Silas we have had a front-row seat to the heart-busting-up trauma of being taken from all you know. These are children, and children are smart and intuitive. They understand more than they can verbalize, and what's left unsaid leaks out in tears, rage, and banged-up self-worth. I'm thankful to have seen it with my own eyes two years ago, because I might never have believed it otherwise. I might have looked past the fight to hold on to a history. I might have remained naive enough to hope that the two older kids did not suffer the exact same losses.

So we hold their fragile hearts with the tenderest hands. We try to anticipate the emotions that shift the weight from one side to another without warning, but we often get it wrong. We feel the slip of trust through the cracks so we reach out and grab it by the ankles. It's not always practiced or ideal, but we promise to never let them hit the floor.

And maybe that's what adoptive parenting is like. Maybe it's a bit like a field day water balloon toss.

Maybe it's less about memorizing the right answers and more about looking them square in the face during every question, every doubt, every sadness. Maybe it's leaning in to a kind of pain that we do not know and will never understand just so that they aren't there leaning alone.

Maybe it's less about finding the exact right therapist to tell us what to do to fix the problem and more about promising to never tuck the child with the broken heart in at night without a kiss and a hearty sniff to the head.

The books are valuable. They are there to help, and I don't suggest my path of willful ignorance. But at the end of the day, the bright-spot surprise days and the grim ones where it seems like it will never get better, they are ours and we are theirs.

Maybe our days never will get better. Maybe two years really can turn into forever. But that child knows he is fully loved, all the way to the top, in times of sunshine and weeks of drear, and that is the point of adoption.