Friday, July 23, 2010
language of the heart
it's been 10 months since we arrived home from china. not to the day. but 10 months, nonetheless. i am a shadow of who i was 10 months ago. the paralyzed with anxiety "mom" is gone. (mom in quotes because though i can't name when it happened, i didn't feel like a mom instantaneously). i have been thinking a lot about our beginning- particularly those first 2 weeks. a couple of friends are in china now, struggling, living what is now a vivid memory for me. the chaos of those first days. the stress of being piloted from one place to the next for paperwork, meetings, appointments. long drives to orphanages and civil affairs offices and consulates. sick kids. sleep deprivation. and that yearning, no matter how much you love the country of your child's birth, to be home. to be finished with this part of the journey. not because you haven't cherished it underneath the maelstrom of tension. but because your mind, your heart, long to be in a place that is familiar. it's an innate desire for for the ordinary and the mundane after endless hours of... intense and intensive transitions.
i think those waiting (including myself) have a tendency to romanticize the adoption trip,or what that trip will look like. it almost never resembles or feels remotely the way you expect(ed). just today, a note from a friend who is now in Guangzhou said: "all the reading in the world could not have prepared me for the reality of this". (insert the sound of hammer on nail head). for some, the worst case scenario is imagined, and the trip is a dream. for others, they imagine the dream and live the worst case scenario. i think most of us who have been down this complicated road fall somewhere in the middle. and this is just my experience, one in how many thousands? and i know in our case, it was compounded by and made unique by her age and her multiple medical needs.
it is or was surreal at best. i felt not just transported to a new culture and time zone, but relegated out of myself. displaced regionally and personally. dissociated. was this some subconscious defense mechanism allowing us to survive those first 2 weeks? (yes- us- not just me). i believe that theory holds weight. because had i for a minute allowed myself to tap into what i was feeling while we tried to parent a frightened, grieving, distressed child- i undoubtedly would have crumbled under the weight of my own fear, my own grief, my own confusion. and an adoption trip is not a time to focus on yourself. that doesn't equal the negation of taking care of yourself through the process. it would be absurd to think you have to chuck aside the entirety of who you are (in my case, in large part, i was terrified and anxiety ridden). in retrospect, i see that it was necessary to bring some of those emotions to this new relationship. bonds are created when two people share kindred feelings. E and i were in it. we were in it. together. because underneath my inability to recognize what was happening as i numbly (but firmly) held her in my arms- whispering about her bravery while she wailed, telling her how much i loved her when i'd yet to feel any real emotion- the seeds of attachment, the seeds of that very love, were being planted and taking root. this was, i am certain, the most meaningful (and most painful) component of our first weeks together as mother and daughter.
we have a long way to go and instinct tells me there is no end to this path we are walking together. some roots are thin and shallow, others are thick and sturdy, running deep. we will face her grief in cycles, as she comes to comprehend the magnitude of what took place during our induction into the role of parent(s) and child.
and much like i did when i fantasized about the long awaited voyage to a country that has held my attention since i was a tween, it is easy to get trapped romanticizing how i might navigate her losses with her. it's easy to see her adoration of me, her need for me, and think that i will somehow be enough. i'm not saying that i won't. i'm not saying she won't soar or that she won't integrate these losses in a way that allows her to thrive. i'm just saying that it might be messier, and harder, and scarier than i might imagine. and that while i will be enough, i also won't be enough. my gut tells me both are true.
tonight, because she's my girl, because i know her now as every mom comes to know their child- biological, adopted, or step- i sensed her discord as we lay her down in her toddler bed. but because i am human and selfish and make mistakes and wanted my evening time with G, i chalked it up to exhaustion after a long day. as i sat down to sink into a little TV reprieve in the from of a fave sitcom, something- that same gut instinct- urged me to get up. to climb those stairs. to check on her.
i found her laying with her eyes open, one leg swaying back and forth by the force of her hand. i came to her bedside, and this is how we met each other.
Mom: Hey sweet pea, you can't get to sleep?
E: (silence, eyes begin to water)
Mom: What's up buttercup? Come here. (lifting her out of bed to sit in my lap, snuggling her to me).
Mom: I'm right here sweet pea. Mama is right here. You know you can talk to me, okay? Whenever you need to. Whenever you are ready.
(holding her for several minutes, rocking her).
Mom: I love you so much E. You are such a brave and beautiful girl. Can you tell me what's upsetting you?
E: (looking into my eyes, speechless, tears streaming down her face).
Mom: Did something happen at school today?
E: (shakes her head no).
Mom: Are you feeling sick?
E: (shakes her head no)
Mom: are you missing someone?
E: shakes her head yes.
Mom: are you missing China?
E: shakes her head yes.
Mom: do you miss GeGe (her best friend, she called him big brother)
E: (shakes her head no)
Mom: Tai Tai? (the name she called Joyce, the director of Hope)
E: (shakes her head no)
Mom: Are you missing your China mom?
E: (tears welling up again. chin shaking. a sob. she shakes her head yes).
and I knew immediately who she spoke of... her favorite nanny. i gathered her closer to me and told her i understood how hard it was to miss someone you love, and that someday she will see her china mom again. i asked if she wanted to look at her china pictures, her grin and nod an affirmative. so, instead of a mindless 30 minutes in front of the TV, i spent it snuggled close to my girl- examining photo after photo with her. watching as she pulled her favorites from their sheaths for closer inspection. some she'd hold up to my face (ones she liked of herself), imploring me to plant a kiss on the image. i happily obliged.
and not once did she speak a word, or use language to convey what was in her little heart. but i heard, somehow. listening being so much more about being present than hearing.
now, she is tucked in and sleeps soundly. she will wake tomorrow with her same smile, one that almost never leaves her face. i pray she will come to learn that no subject in this house is taboo. that there is never a time, if she chooses, that she can't come to me. to us.
and until she knows how to make that choice, i will go to her and offer myself. and if she'll have me, i'll be in it with her. we will be in it together.
Posted by kitchu at 1:43 PM