My son Kyle is one of the bravest people I know. He was adopted from China one year ago at the age of three. In one afternoon, his life was completely turned upside down and sideways.
He woke up in familiar surroundings. His nanny dressed him in his best outfit. She probably told him how wonderful it would be to have a mommy and daddy of his very own. But when you’ve lived your life in an orphanage with row upon row of metal cribs and revolving caretakers, do you really grasp stuff like forever and family?
Later that day, he was handed to a loud redhead who spoke funny words he couldn’t understand (that would be me). A couple hours later after a flurry of paperwork, the representatives from his orphanage left, taking the last shred of everything that was familiar with them. Forever.
I don’t know which of us was more scared. I didn’t feel love for this vulnerable little boy. I felt panic and dislike. He was sick, smelly and malnourished. He was as white as chalk and so, so tiny. I could count every single rib.
We later discovered he’d been bundled up and padded in pictures and that he had medical issues that we weren’t prepared to handle.
I remember with clarity sitting on the bathroom floor of our hotel in China thinking “I can’t do this.” I went through disruption scenarios in my head, but I knew I couldn’t leave him there. Whether I acted out of love, pity or saving face, I don’t know. I don’t go too far below the surface on that question.
We returned home and launched into a cycle of constant doctor appointments. We had generalists and specialists, nutritionists, immunologists. You name it. In spite of the fact that this kid’s world had been rocked, he was adjusting pretty well. He began to trust us. He learned to understand the funny language we spoke at a speed that was nothing short of amazing. And he ate. Oh how he ate.
I was encouraged by his progress. If he was adjusting, I’d get there, too. Right?
Loving this child was a choice. The phrase “fake it till you make it” goes against my nature, but that’s exactly what I did. My pre-adoption parent education focused heavily on ways to help my child bond to me, but not so much on the other way around. Bonding is a two-way street, but we don’t often focus on the parent’s feelings. It’s hard to admit to being “that parent” that has a hard time developing feelings of attachment.
I look back on the past year and marvel at how far we’ve come, in every possible way. Kyle has transformed into a secure and healthy child. We’re still working on weight gain, but he’s filled out and lost that hollow look.
When Kyle had been in our family for seven months, I walked into the den where he was watching TV. “Sit here, mommy,” he patted the couch. I had a gazillion things to do; the last thing I had time for was an episode of the Wiggles.
But, I sat. Kyle hopped on my lap, tugged my hands and wrapped my arms around his body. “Mommy, we best friends,” he declared. I pulled him just a little bit tighter. I rested my cheek on his head and realized I’d given that gesture of affection without thinking about it. I wasn’t faking it. He was content and I was at peace. I thought to myself “we are there.”
This hasn’t been easy. But, it has been worth it. I cherish my bond with Kyle all the more because I was so afraid we'd never get here. We’ve nourished this child’s body and it’s been exciting to watch him bloom. In turn, he has nourished my soul. For us, love was a choice that I’m glad I made.