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).

E: (crying)

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.


  1. Having experienced becoming a first time mother through childbirth, and becoming an adoptive mother, the experiences are not entire dissimilar. Both are intense. Both are alien. Neither is even remotely as romantic or real and imagined. You sleepwalk through them both, and remember mainly the best moments.

    As for E's grief. I think it is always there, though mostly latent. She still feels the loss. Someday, she will only know the knowledge of the loss, not the feelings of it. Maybe there's something to that - to keeping that real and alive and valuable for her. She'll grow up and be a woman missing something that she can't remember. I don't know. My Stitch has never admitted to missing China. I can't recall missing Korea. But there is always longing, I know it is there. Nothing fulfills what is now merely the impossible. Nothing overshadows what is now reality. It is all conundrum, paradox, mirrors.

  2. PS that photo breaks my heart. It's too easy for some AP's to ignore what the world has put our children through. We must never forget. Their hearts have been broken by everyone.

  3. Thanks for this post K. Sometimes it is *hard* to be in it with them. Thing is, it seems that it isn't just the trip to China that wasn't about ME, but this whole mothering thing. Us. Us. Us. Yep.

  4. You are an incredible Mom.
    -It's as simple as that.

    And right now your Mom is watching you, thinking wow, what a girl I raised!


  5. Nicely written post:0)

    "...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)..."

    I think this is very true. I also think some would-be-parents romanticize the POST ADOPTION chapter of the adoption process as well. Life- as I'm sure you know -is ALWAYS far more real than romantic (I don't know how many times I've learned that lesson). And in becoming a parent, LOVE is the strength that helps you bear all when the veil of enchantment is removed and replaced by the reality of things.

    I hope I've made sense.

  6. you never, ever, fail to astonish me with your written word. I am touched beyond words my friend.


  7. This post made me cry. Because of the beautiful bedside exchange with you and E. Because of her sadness. Because of my own fears and anxiety as I look ahead to my referral, my trip, my transition to mothering a grieving child.

    Thanks for writing it.

  8. K,
    You are doing a great job! About a year and a half ago (age 4), Kieren wanted to know why her China Mommy gave her away. Why she didn't want her or like her. It's so hard to understand the depth of loss these children have faced and still face. Answering "I don't know why" never will be enough, but it's what we have. I won't make up fairy tales about her abandonment, but I won't rake her birth mother or country over the coals either. We have already faced racism from 3-year-olds. It's never going to totally go away. We just have to be there with our unconditional love no matter what. (((HUGS)))

  9. Thank you for stopping buy my blog ~ I am just catching up on your blog and it is amazing to see who you were and where you are now {BIG HUG!}
    I wish I could tell you the child that my girl really is ~ maybe someday :D

    Ladybug hugs ;D

  10. Beautiful yet makes my heart hurt. I only hope that when Aiden deals with all of the loss in his life I handle it half as well as you do.

  11. Beautiful, beautiful, honest & heart-felt post, K....and oh so true!

    Attachment is a lifelong doesn't happen all at our children grow & we grow with them, we will go through so many peaks & valleys. I often wince when I read blogs that say: "It's only day 3 in China & she is attached to me!" No, no, no, doesn't happen that way! How can it? Our children will have to process so many things as they mature & come to understand their personal stories.

    Anyway...YOU are a GREAT mom!!! That is so evident by this post!!

    You rock, my friend, & you are all so blessed to have each other!

  12. K ~ you have such a way with the written word! I've never been able to truly express how I felt when we were in China. What you've written just wraps it all up. I sat here in tears reading your post and then in sobs when I read the dialogue between you and E. My husband came up behind me and asked "what's the matter". I could hardly talk. Miss M has moments like Es too. I've never known what they are. They are cyclical though and she cannot express anything as to why she feels that way. Perhaps she is missing something too and just doesn't know what it is she is missing. :0(

  13. " might be messier, and harder, and scarier than i might imagine" . . . I think life is like that more often than not. It's sometimes hard to wrap my brain around the last part you said - "and that while i will be enough, i also won't be enough. my gut tells me both are true." The fear is of not being enough; how do you get over that?
    ...resilience can be so engimatic.

  14. I think there is so much i could write in this moment, but instead I want to thank you for the journey.

  15. Beautiful post!! I feel the same way about our journey with Lizzie. Even though she tells me all the time that she loves me, I know that her heart my never completely mend. I have always answered all of her questions as best I can and I pray that she will always feel safe in asking them. Thank you for such a wonderful thoughtful post. You are an amazing Mom!

  16. Look at how strong you've become and in you E will also find her strength. Knowing that she can talk to you and feel safe will help her to grieve and understand.
    Your an incredible MOM!
    Krista D

  17. Very transparent post, K. I love your vulnerability....and you know, mom was first in teaching us how to cope in the trenches. She always came down into them WITH us...sometimes just to sit and be next to us. It's beautiful to watch your relationship with E blossom... very similar to the way I remember my relationship with Mom...I have no doubt that she, like me about Mom, will one day say about you...that you were her very first best friend.

    kitchu....but for me...katchu. I love you to infinity and beyond.

  18. god Kim you are so right. she was always in it with us, wasn't she? your comment brought me to tears.

    i hope my daughter will call me her best friend one day. what an honor that would be.

    i lob you back, kimmy ann.

  19. Every day you show the best intuitive way to be a mommy. Its one thing to have your heart in tune, quite another to be able to share that knowledge eloquently. You do both so well. Sometimes you speak the unspoken and in doing so illustrate what we have an inkling of... and now having heard aloud... know. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Beautiful to the point of tears.

  21. Sometimes the word journey just doesn't convey all it needs to... and sometimes it does.

  22. This is one your most beautiful posts. I hope many can learn from the words you have expressed here.

  23. This post is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. Lovely.

  24. You won't ever realize how much this post has touched my heart....

    Thank you. XOXO

  25. Thank you sharing such a powerful moment.

    Hugs to you both.

  26. I so appreciate your sharing this, you. What a perfectly honest, human and loving mother-daughter moment. xo

  27. What an amazing post, K.

    this is how I'm feeling today - to quote you - "and that while i will be enough, i also won't be enough. my gut tells me both are true."

    Lil M has been curious about a picture of herself on her dresser... it is time to explain a little more about her adoption to her... especially since T (foster daughter) is pregnant and will have to try to explain that, too.

    I worry so much that I won't be enough for Lil M. I worry so much that she will be hurt by all of this... I know that I'm enough, but am I enough?

    It is good that E remembers, and yet I know it hurts. It is SO good that you are there walking with her along the journey... may we all be able to hear their heartsongs.


  28. Tears are definitely in my eyes right now. What a powerful post.

  29. I've had that same conversation with our daughter, quite a few times. Powerful to hear it from someone else, for some reason (not sure why, maybe because it's universal and I didn't quite believe it?).

  30. Wow...amazing post yet again. The romanticism is so true - it's never exactly what you pictured, and no matter how much you read and learn from others, the reality of their emotions can not truly be planned ahead for...not enough anyway. M was too young to remember her foster parents, but loves to look through her China pics, too. Her tears and fears come more through the thought of being left again. Thanks for sharing.

  31. You are a fantastic mommy my sweet friend. Isn't it amazing how different the parenting stuff is from the manuals? You just kind of fall into it, right or wrong. I think you are pretty amazing and I know E thinks so too. I couldn't agree more with what you said, a lot of times there is too much romanticism going on with the trips to China. Love is not always instant, but it definitely comes.

  32. By the way, I forgot to say what a beautiful moment that was between you and E.

  33. Such memories will never ever be erase. Some day, she will file them away like you do the photos, and only take them out once a while to re-live those moments of emotional outpouring. It is good to remember the path we walked to reach where we are today.