Book Excerpt: Parents, are you ready for unconditional love?

 

Illustration by Kate Whitley www.littlethingsstudio.com
Illustration by Kate Whitley
http://www.littlethingsstudio.com

There are two reasons I’m finally posting an excerpt from my hopefully soon-to-be published book with the same title as this blog.

a) I haven’t been writing about parenting much lately, even though it was one of the main intentions behind starting this blog. When I asked myself why, I realized I put most of my best writing about my son and my own parenting experiences in said book. I decided it’s time to move the veil and share some of it.

2) People are naturally curious and asking me about it. A lot. I understand. In this era of instant gratification through technology, reader patience is short.

I’ve been talking about it for a bit now, and was working on it for quite a bit before that. The publishing process is slow and, truth be told, the manuscript hasn’t found a forever home just yet. So, in an effort to appease, tease and keep the energy around the book moving along that magical path to full maturity, I’ve chosen most of a later chapter to share with you below.

It tells a portion of our adoption story, but more importantly it describes the universal parental struggle to figure out what kind of parent you want to be and what unconditional love truly means. I hope you enjoy it.

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Larry sat across from me in an identical soft chair, his one-click video recorder in his hand. The bustle of businesspeople and tourists starting their sunny spring morning in Tainan City in southern Taiwan swirled around us, but we were plastered to our seats, terrified of moving too fast or too soon toward the cab ride to the nursery where our son had been waiting for us for more than ten months. If we are too eager to touch him to prove he’s real, does he blow away?

“What do you want to say?” Larry asked, holding up the camera to begin his detailed video memorializing the day.

So much, I thought. I wanted to tell him how excited I was, how long we’d waited, how many things he’d already taught us. I wanted him to know how I adored his home country and looked forward to introducing it to him. In only four days we’d seen so much of this strange yet familiar place, we began to feel at home. We navigated Taipei’s crowded Shilin Night Market holding a map hand-drawn by the young woman at the National Palace Museum jewelry counter and a list of items to buy at her favorite fried food stall, all written out in Chinese characters so anyone along our path could help if we needed it. We hung on for dear life as the rickety public bus took us to aboriginal Wulai for a hot spring soak and a trip up the mountain in the tiniest train in Asia. Only the day before, we’d spent a sunny morning at the original Confucius Temple across the street from soupy, sweet dumplings both Taiwanese and Western bloggers claim are the best in the country. We wandered into a Tainan tea shop looking to buy a proper set and were invited to an afternoon tea service by a group of elderly regulars who spoke only Taiwanese, rendering our English to Mandarin phrase book useless but reminding us kindness is a universal language. I felt so comfortable in his culture; I had to have spent some time here in another life.

Instead of all of these stories that surely would be told when he was old enough to ask, I said what I’d been saying to myself for months. “I just want to meet him.” I’d only uttered it out loud once before.

The past few months had been both the most excruciating and the most beautiful time of my life and our marriage. Waiting in a bubble of absolute lack of control, feeling a bond with a child on the other side of the world, gaining legal custody even, but not seeing or hearing anything of him for weeks. If I could have given up reality for a constant meditative state, I would have. It was the one place I knew I always could find refuge from all my expectations. My higher self, now a constant conversation companion even when I’m not in the mood for her company, reminded me many times that we don’t live to meditate with the divine. We meditate to help us live in the divine. “Thank you, higher self,” I said, giving her a sarcastic smirk…

…Larry and I were slowly realizing that we wanted to parent largely differently from how we previously believed we should. We wanted to allow our son the freedom to learn and explore his own truth in his own way and in his own time. I still didn’t know exactly what that meant, what we as parents would look like, or what choices we would make when the time came. Would we fold like a lawn chair when the shit hit the fan? I only knew our child and our family would be so different from those we understood that we would be required to throw out most of what we thought we knew.

Our trip to Henry neared and the nesting process was full of all the expected fear and excitement, but mostly curiosity. My mantra held true. Who was he? What were his preferences and quirks? How would he change the dynamic of our home? Would he get along with our beloved Pepperjack, who by all accounts was resistant to the mere suggestion of competition?

We were already in love with him. The stories and photos provided a small sense of his personality. We knew he was easily amused, easily frustrated, a showman, requiring a lot of human interaction and not afraid to speak out to get it, a good eater, small but freakishly strong. And more than once we practiced our new skills by checking in on him during meditation and sleep.

There already was a recognition of his energy, that we knew each other previously, that we were becoming a family in this lifetime to accomplish significant things. We are coming together to help keep each other in check and open up to what is to come.

“Your child is special,” I heard over and over.

“I know,” I responded.

“No, really.”

“Okay,” I said. Deep breath. “What do I do?”

Silence. For now.

When you are truly open to a new idea, a new way, but don’t yet have any vision or certainty about how to live in it, the universe eventually shows you what you crave. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. With impatience and a haunting sense of responsibility, I sat back and waited for my new teachers to appear.

My friend Sally’s daughter is a very sensitive, very gifted, very connected healer and human being. I don’t know her well; I believe I insulted her the first time we met. We were the only two energy healers participating in a promotional open house for her mother’s new company offering chair massages, healings and other kinds of group energy sessions to companies and organizations. Sally asked her daughter to lead an opening meditation for the practitioners. She was a teenager at the time and I was in my late thirties and, I’m ashamed to admit, my ego set my jaw in a familiar clench as she explained how she didn’t do what “other healers” did and mixed and matched techniques and such. Rather than seeing her youth and pure intentions, I saw a whippersnapper trying to set herself apart from the only other energy healer for the day, and doing so inaccurately. When the chair massage therapist I was sitting next to asked me what I do, I said, perhaps a little too loudly, “I don’t rely upon only one technique either.” She avoided me the rest of the day, but as I caught glimpses of her work in the area next to mine, I knew she was a bright light to be reckoned with. I knew Sally understood what it’s like to be responsible for such a human being.

After a healing trade beside her warm suburban pool, Sally gave me the simplest and truest parenting advice I’ve ever received. I was bemoaning my self awareness that I truly have no idea what I’m doing, especially since we have no idea what kind of development issues Henry might have or how he might be behind when it comes to walking and talking, and neither the parenting classes we took at the adoption agency nor the books we’ve been reading really address that too well. Plus, there’s the whole bonding thing that we hoped wouldn’t be too difficult.

When I stopped, she said, “The only thing you really have to do is love him unconditionally. The rest will come in time.”

Unconditional love? That’s all? Then what were all these parenting classes for? I got this, I thought, and relaxed into my post-session glass of water and glints of sunshine reflecting off the pool.

By the weekend, I was already questioning myself and checking this new information against all I’d learned. Quantum parenting. Clairvoyant motherhood. Nature Mama. These are fantastic aspirations, but what do these grand designs mean when your child takes his first steps or vomits into his fruit bowl? If the universe we’ve created is a meticulous illusion created by us to allow for growth, then the small moments have to mean as much as the broad philosophies. If our reality is just a reflection of our own energy and beliefs, then with every interaction we potentially impose our version of reality onto our children about everything from food to sexuality. Our beliefs about others, but also our beliefs about ourselves. How we treat others, but also how we treat ourselves. Ultimately, how we love ourselves. These things determine how we treat our children. Somewhere at the end of this internal tirade I recognized the bare truth: I am only able to love my child as well as I love myself.

“Do you love yourself unconditionally?” I heard.

I considered it, but I already knew the answer. “I have happiness, peace, love and gratitude,” I said. “I’ve healed so much, forgiven so much. I know my intentions are good. Does that count?”

“Sure,” she said. “But it doesn’t answer the question.”

Unconditional love. I’ve felt it. I feel it every day from my husband. I knew it was possible. I’d had glimpses of it, moments of perfection and absolute knowingness. I’ve walked on the clouds, crawled in the dirt, swam through the seas and sped to the stars. I’ve felt as small as a molecule and as large as the universe at the same time. I’ve sat in meditation and suddenly lost all feeling and sense of the chair beneath my body or the walls and ceilings around me. I’ve experienced both the bright light of all and the peace of endless space. I know beings who exist in a realm beyond my human comprehension but are with me the moment I need them. I am part of a collective consciousness that emanates from a source of love that knows no bounds. I have felt the reasons why, and they have nothing to do with who I am or how I live and everything to do with the fact that I am. You are. And therefore we both are worthy of love.

These are lovely words and magnificent experiences. But when my higher self asked if I loved even my big butt, tendency to come across as a know-it-all and non-producing ovaries, I couldn’t say yes.

I know unconditional love. Yet, I still believed this universal truth, creator, source energy, Spirit, whatever God is and whatever love these things may offer comes only from without. I sadly confessed that I believed there were times when I deserved more of its love than others.

The tears came then as oceans of memories and regrets. Reasons I remained unworthy. False humility masking internal self-flagellation as I held lifetimes of misdeeds in my heart like Scarlet As, reviewing flashes of them like a horror movie, refusing to take them off for fear of repeating.

The greatest knowing can arrive in less than a moment, and not less than a moment before you’re ready to receive it. In a flicker, the tirade ended, the movie stopped, my brain was quiet, and I knew the only karma we keep or feel the desire to resolve is the karma we believe still exists. At the point it no longer serves you, you must let it go. I knew as well as I knew anything that those I’d wronged have long since forgiven me and now are too busy spending lifetimes resolving their own misdeeds to worry about mine. Even if they haven’t, it wasn’t their forgiveness that was the key to my salvation. It was time for me to forgive myself.

And so it was. Just like that. Well, first there were multiple lifetimes of growth and recent mountains of self-discovery and healing. Then there was forgiveness. And then unconditional love.

I could see straight through to the answer to my questions. I saw that it’s not a matter of whether I love myself. I am love. It’s not a matter of finding God or even determining whether God exists. I am whatever I believe God to be or not be. I don’t need to go somewhere to find the light. The light shines from within. How do I know? Because I am. How do I know Henry, no matter how he comes to us, is a piece of perfection right here on Earth? Because he is.

Larry and I clutched hands the entire cab ride to the nursery, and not only because driving in Tainan is like navigating a congested demolition derby track. I still had no idea what I was doing or what kind of mother I would be, but I felt more comfortable with the uncertainty of so much as long as I had the certainty of what mattered. Somehow I knew that Henry would tell me how to be his mother, if I only loved him.

We sat in the receiving room for two hours before Henry arrived. He was sick with bronchitis, drowsy from medicine and thoroughly confused about who these two nervous, smiling white people were. When the nurse put him in my arms a wave of pure love and compassion washed over us all. Nothing else mattered. He was my son, and he was absolutely perfect. I was glad to finally meet him. I wondered what he would teach me first.

om

 

Comments and conversation are always welcome below. To sign up for updates on the availability of Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go to www.laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!

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What’s your soul doing?

silhouette-jumped-boy-sunset-background-41488310Our family woke up this morning talking about death and taxes. It sounds depressing and stressful, and I’m not going to lie and tell you our exploration was all purple pansies and smiley faces. But it wasn’t sad.

My husband Larry and I had been up a few minutes talking about some financial planning we needed to do for next year. We both are self-employed and have to plan ahead a bit when it comes to reporting and paying taxes, and we were thinking ahead to adjustments we needed to make to prepare for 2015. Scintillating morning bed conversation, I know, but it was sweet and intimate in its own way—filled with hope and excitement for what’s to come and shared responsibilities for helping it happen in the most graceful and connected way possible. But as we continue this relatively new exploration into being completely self-employed, talking about money is never without some level of pressure.

Soon our sleepy-eyed five-year-old son Henry climbed onto our warm, messy bed and we happily suspended our discussion. As Henry gave us both morning “boops,” or bumped noses as the rest of the world would call it, Larry asked him how he slept and what he dreamt about.

“I died,” he said. “So did you and you. In water. Ahhhhh!” He mimicked the sounds of a person drowning, though I know he’s never seen that on television or in a movie.

Larry and I smiled to each other. I know this sounds extreme and scary, but this wasn’t the first time he’s told us of vivid dreams and memories of some sort of death. Often he remembers us, or at least a mother and father, being there too. He rarely feels afraid after experiencing them—more a neutral memory than a premonition—and he always describes them very matter-of-factly.

“What happened after you died?” Larry asked. “Did you go somewhere?”

Death has been more present for our family lately, as it has been for so many of us. Only a few weeks ago, Larry attended the funeral of a good friend who was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier in the year. She was only a year older than us. The funeral was a meaningful celebration of her life, as well as an opportunity to check in on our priorities, experience the universal cycle of life in a profound way, and reconnect with some good friends who had drifted.

Henry contemplated Larry’s question quietly, like there was something he was considering saying but couldn’t find the words. “I don’t know. Don’t ‘member. I’m hungry.”

Henry ate his breakfast quietly at his favorite spot along the kitchen counter while Larry and I continued our financial planning conversation. We talked of tasks to be done before the end of the year and new and potential client work. We both admitted we were worrying about it all a little more than was helpful.

Twenty minutes later, I was still in get-it-done mode.

“Wash your face, please. Shoes. Jacket. Backpack. Time to go to school,” I said as we finished our 14th car race along the step to the dining room. I made a quick note to myself about starting the computer with our account records on it as soon as I got home, and we walked out into the wind and rain.

“Mommy’s car! Mommy’s car!” Henry said excitedly. It is the much older car of our two and we usually don’t drive it unless we have to, but there was no reason not to, so we got in.

“Mommy, Bubbles!” Permanently inserted into this car’s CD player is the first disk of the What Color is Your Bubble? series for kids. His friend Alison talks him through some simple energetic and meditative exercises. We hadn’t listened in weeks. I turned it on and Alison began the second exercise all about setting and changing your grounding cord.

We pulled up to the stop sign at the end of our street, lists of numbers dancing in my head, as Alison asked, “What does your grounding cord look like today?” I chose not to look, instead imagining the spreadsheet I had in mind. Then I heard a voice from the back seat.

“What’s your soul doing?”

I turned Alison down, not sure I’d heard correctly, and I looked at Henry in the mirror as he asked it again the exact same way. He looked directly at my reflection with clear, calm eyes.

“What do you mean, Sweetie? You want to know what my soul is doing?”

“Yes.”

It was a simple question. A profound one. One I have an answer for. An answer I’ve heard over and over and know to my core and beyond. As I thought of what words to say, a calm came over me. In an instant I was in my body, connected, confident, clear. The top of my head tingled and suddenly the driver’s seat of the “old car” was the most comfortable place in the world. All thoughts of money were gone.

The answer that quickly and easily popped into my head and heart also was the simplest and most accurate. “Henry, I believe my soul is in this body right now so I can learn what I’m supposed to learn.”

He was silent at first, but his gaze never wavered and his ears and heart were wide open. Then he started to talk and explore the notion in his own way. As we continued the conversation over the next couple of minutes, concepts and energies flowed between us like an easy stream of water. Love, peace, growth, clairvoyance, healing, sharing, family. Most of it never made it into words, but we did talk about how we all chose to be together in this lifetime. He spoke quietly about how when he was a baby he wasn’t in our family yet, but then he was.

“How do you feel about that, Henry?”

“Happy.”

And then it was done. Less than three minutes from start to finish.

It didn’t take an hour of meditation and energetic cleaning. It didn’t require any practice or body position and wasn’t specific to any belief system. It didn’t even take the whole second track on the CD.

With one question asked by my greatest teacher, together we refocused, shifted perspectives and got to where we needed to be for the day: What’s the big picture? What’s the “why” behind what you’re doing right now? Behind it all? Why are you worrying about these practical things when the greater good, the longer path, the lessons, the love is all that really matters?

Perhaps Henry had tried to get us there first thing in the morning as he remembered his dreams and previous lessons. Death and the afterlife are bigger than taxes, despite their mutual inevitability. But today the cycle-of-life, universal-plan reminders that came with our friend’s funeral weren’t enough to bring us home. Given a second chance, Henry intuitively knew what to do. It was so simple. So clean and perfect. And it worked.

By the way, Henry wanted me to ask you something.

What’s your soul doing?

——–

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and coaching services, go to rebeccagifford.com or contact her at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

Knowing Great Love — A Special Tribute for National Adoption Month

love handsMy world is filled with all kinds of parents. Not one of us is perfect, nor would claim to be. But all of us know great love.

I am lucky enough to have brilliant models — both fellow parents and trusted caregivers. Some have been in my life for always and some I’ve known less than a week. None is like another, but they all have wonderful qualities to watch and emulate: boundless loyalty to their children’s happiness and best interests, respect, trust, open-mindedness, creativity, presence, an easy and natural way of moving through the day with their children, love and laughter even in the face of adversity, endless energy for play and talking and storytelling and discovering, unconditional support for their children’s eccentricities and unique qualities, and lots and lots of patience.

Even the most even-tempered caregivers struggle daily to maintain at least some of these qualities, but the desire to keep struggling and growing is what makes them real and wonderful. I love all my teachers. They share such unique gifts with our family. But as I embrace all these remarkable souls, one in particular keeps showing up.

During National Adoption Month, I’d like to honor Henry’s birth mother.

Her time in Henry’s life was very brief. Depending on Henry’s choices later in life, she may or may not ever be in it again, but I always will consider her a strong example for me, Henry and us all — for her great compassion to create and nurture such an extraordinary being in her womb, great courage as she struggled with impossible choices, and great strength as she relinquished her parental rights to my husband and me.

Now four and a half years later, I continue to feel her love and supportive energy as it travels over the mountains of Taiwan, across the blue water and lands gently next to our family as we giggle at the dinner table, sing in the car or dance with the pelicans on Moonstone Beach. She makes sure we know she is happy for us and still loves her son. I smile and send love and gratitude back to her, over the oceans and mountains, to wherever she now calls home. I make sure she knows our families are bound forever.

She holds a special seat in my circle of trusted parents, caregivers and guides.

She, perhaps more than most, knows great love.

Kindergarten Renaissance

Henry SkyBelow is a blog from the spring of 2012 I’m compelled to share with you again. Henry was about to turn three years old and going through his own older toddler renaissance, a very fruitful growth period after a year of awkwardly adjusting his eyes and energy to his new Seattle home and school that glowed with a very different light from his Taiwanese and Los Angeles environments. Lessons were coming at him at lightning speed and, despite a few understandable bumps, his arms and heart remained open to the challenges. The result was the beginning of new interests, a new vocabulary and new friendships he maintains today even though we’ve carried him away. His light was shining brightly in our lovely but soggy world. Eyes naturally fixed upon him like an afternoon sunbreak over the Puget Sound.

We are in another Henry renaissance. This time the catalyst came with a move in May to Central Coast California wine country and the start of kindergarten in August. The previous year was filled with uncomfortable shifts for us as people and as a family, resulting in behavioral challenges, energetic and developmental confusion, and weeks of doubt about whether we had any idea how to be parents. After an initial adjustment to the move — the strange and simultaneous expansion of living space and shrinking of our social climate — Henry is learning, interacting with and talking about his new world in exponentially more exciting ways than even two months ago. The rollercoaster ride known as parenting living is clicking quickly to the top of that second (or seventy-fifth) thrilling hill and we’re all smiling into the sunshine and beautiful view.

While I considered all of this, the below blog from a couple of years ago came to mind. As a new parent, which really wasn’t that long ago, I struggled with the shifting focus and dynamic in our family. Now, on most days, I’m the one holding the spotlight and asking what color gel he would like. That may change tomorrow, but today I share this post with gratitude for the growth we are all enjoying during this Kindergarten Renaissance. Thank you, Henry, for sharing your glow and raising us all up to new heights.

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silhouette-JumpingGreater than the sum of its parts

May 28, 2012

Anyone who’s been any sort of mother for even a day understands what I am about to say. Once these precious and adorable little beings become a part of our lives, we become less visible to the naked eye.

We are there, but somehow translucent — a way to get to the sparkly little creature we hold in our arms or who clasps our hand. It’s as if a Rachel Berry-esque bright white spotlight is constantly shining on our children and we are merely the nameless blondes in Cheerios uniforms swaying and ahh-ing in the background.

It’s not that people completely forget about us or intend to ignore us, and I know this oversight is not meant to hurt us in any way. In fact, most mothers have done it themselves. I know I have. We almost can’t help ourselves. We all are drawn to where the light shines the brightest.

This used to bother me. A lot. There are some, especially my husband Larry, who always are fascinated with my doings and beings. But socially this was is still the norm. I would pout or rant to my poor husband after conversations or dinners where well-intentioned folks would ask Larry about his work then ask me how Henry was doing, somehow never getting around to asking about me. It didn’t help that much of my professional focus is on supporting others in their creative, business and/or healing process. My days are usually spent toggling between meeting Henry’s needs – often involving loudly demanded sippy cups and making sure he knows “please don’t throw rocks at the kitchen window” actually means something – and meeting my clients’ needs and, oh yeah, my husband’s and my own needs whenever possible.

For the first few months after we adopted Henry, when we met with friends I’d enjoy everyone staring and playing and cooing over Henry for a while. As all typical parents, I firmly believe Henry is extraordinary, so how could you not stare and coo? Isn’t he sweet? Isn’t he smart? Isn’t he cute when he poops? Yes, yes he is. But after a while I’d stick in my energetic nose – or foot or hand or waving arms, whatever worked – usually answering their unrelated questions with some vague hint at an interesting anecdote from my non-Henry week. “Yes, we are going to Yo Gabba Gabba Live!, not that the tickets were easy to get. I had to go online at 9 a.m. sharp, during a conference call with a client, believe it or not…”

I did everything but strip naked and dance the Hokey Pokey. So much of my time is spent giving so much to Henry, so why does he get all the admiration? I thought. Women who spend a lot of time together adopt the same monthly cycle. Perhaps so much close proximity to Henry’s toddler maturity level was inducing mine to regress.

Over time I grew up a little and became used to it, expecting to be the mother-in-waiting and becoming genuinely surprised and grateful when someone showed interest in me. I started to understand that a big part of my job is supporting Henry (and my clients and my husband and my loved ones) no matter what, to hold him up, to help him be the center or the diagonal or the sideways or whatever he needed to be in that moment. I’ve gotten a lot of attention in my lifetime, and now it’s Henry’s turn. I accepted my role.

But until not long ago – too recent to not be a little embarrassing – did it all become crystal clear. After receiving a perfectly timed message from a beloved teacher and friend, I began to truly understand…

Being a conscious parent is exactly the same as being a conscious human being: It’s never about me. It’s not just about him. It’s always about “us.”

It’s more than not letting your ego drive the bus. It’s about knowing that when one of us shines, we all do. When we support and love each other unconditionally, it is a gift to the entire family, to humanity, to the universe.

This lovely teacher said a lot of things, but mostly she explained that we all know instinctively when someone makes us shine brighter or be “better” simply by being in our lives, by understanding intuitively what we need or by knowing exactly how to explain why we shouldn’t throw rocks at the kitchen window so we understand. Anyone who agrees to unconditionally love and nurture another is agreeing to a cycle of sharing and support that raises the level of everything we do. The result is much greater than the sum of its parts.

When Henry shines brightly, so do I. When I shine brightly, so does he. When anyone shines, it raises us all up. It heals us all. It honors us all. No one has a role to “accept.” We are a part of each other and therefore can never be made separate.

Now, I am joyful when I walk through the grocery or the halls of Henry’s school or a family event and people involuntarily look past me and down at Henry to return his infectious smile and offer an enthusiastic ‘hello.’ Now I know a part of me is in that smile, just as a part of him is in mine. We are extraordinary together.

Unexplained and unexplainable

I haven’t talked a lot about adoption. Mostly, it’s just not what I typically think of when I think of my son. Because he was adopted, there are things to consider and keep in mind as a parent. But as parents we also have to keep a thousand other things constantly in mind, so it just depends which “thing” is most present at the time as to whether the fact that Henry was adopted from Taiwan at 11 months old is material.

The first few months weren’t so natural, however. The parent-child bond is a complex and transcendent thing. It often defies logic. It rarely follows common sense. It cannot be completely understood by the mind, by normal emotional standards or even by time. It exists at a higher, deeper level — a mysterious blend of heart, spirit and the soul’s journey.  Before I ever met Henry in this lifetime, before his name was Henry, I knew he was my son. The bond on my end was set. My husband Larry describes the same experience. The meeting and getting to know each other part was just the next necessary phase in the relationship.

But for Henry, we were the next two in a thankfully short line, but nevertheless a line, of caregivers. Immediately after he met us, we took him away on a train and then a plane to a place where everything looked, smelled, tasted and sounded different, including every word spoken. We spent the first few weeks staring at him like deer in headlights, immeasurably grateful for every consent to sleep, eat, hug or play. Understandably, at times he seemed to wonder who the heck these crazy people were and when he was going back to the nursery.

After not long, he seemed happy to be with us. He trusted we would meet his needs, come back when we said we would and catch him when we playfully swung him up in the air. He enjoyed our company and his new home, even warming up to the dog on occasion. He knew we were his primary caregivers, but this Mama and Dada thing we kept talking about… Even after several months we sensed he wasn’t there yet.

Of course he wasn’t. He was thrown into a new situation without warning. He was understandably confused. Every parent of children adopted older than newborns, every book, every adoption class all said this was to be expected. It’s normal for the bonding process to take months or even years, especially for the child. But what we often felt like were parents of a child who thought we were his favorite babysitters. As if he couldn’t or was fearful of understanding what family, Dada or Mama meant. He loved us, but we were still merely characters in his own play and he wasn’t ready to accept it as real.

More than once I wept tears of frustration and sadness about this unrequited bond. At particularly difficult moments I even railed at the universe. Hadn’t we been through enough paperwork and heartbreak and waiting just to get the little guy home? Why does this part have to be hard, too? You know where you can put your lessons…?!

With love the patience came.

Deep breaths brought me back to each moment. Each moment brought me Henry and Larry and our evolving family, and therefore joy. Joy brought me into gratitude, for however they chose to be in my life in that moment. And once I learned to live there, the unconditional love flowed as freely as the days passed. We were perfect exactly as we were, challenging days and all.

One warm spring day only a few months before moving to Seattle, Henry and I went to the Long Beach Aquarium. He was now about 20 months old and home with us for nine months. He asked to get out of his stroller so he could get a closer look at the sea lions. He stood with his face next to the glass for several minutes, a long time by toddler standards. The sea lions played with him, swimming belly forward right in front of his face, flipping their tails as they retreated, making him laugh and widen his eyes in wonder. I watched from behind, took a photo and smiled at this being I so adored who was so filled with curiosity and fearlessness. I took a breath and knew everything was going to be okay. Right then Henry turned, said “Mama” and beckoned me next to him at the glass. I crouched beside him for a minute or two, then he grabbed my hand so we could walk together back to the stroller.

That few minutes, the whole day, was so natural and easy for us both, I almost didn’t recognize the significance of it until he was asleep in the back on our drive home. It was like the last piece of the puzzle had just satisfyingly thumped into place. This may not have been the exact moment, or even the day or month it happened. But it was when I knew he knew I was his mother.

Our bond now resides, unexplained and unexplainable, in our hearts, in our souls and somewhere up in the heavens. It will never be logical. It will always be exactly what it is — what it came to be in its own time. And it can never be broken.

Great love

My world is filled with all kinds of parents. Not one of us is perfect, nor would claim to be. But all of us know great love.

I am lucky enough to have brilliant models in my life – some who have been in my life for always and some I’ve known less than a week. None is like another, but they all have wonderful qualities to watch and emulate – boundless loyalty to their children’s happiness and best interests, respect, trust, open-mindedness, creativity, presence, an easy and natural way of moving through the day with their children, love and laughter even in the face of adversity, endless energy for play and creativity and talking and storytelling and learning, unconditional support for their children’s eccentricities and unique qualities, and lots and lots of patience.

I love all the parents and caregivers in my life. They all share such unique gifts with our family. I’d planned to write about that today, and may still in the coming weeks. But as I thought about all the remarkable parents in my life, one kept returning to me.

Today I am thinking of Henry’s birth mother. Her time in Henry’s life was very brief. Depending on Henry’s choices later in life, she may or may not ever be in his life again. But I will always consider her a strong example for me, for Henry and for all parents. Look at what she has modeled for me — her compassion for having created and nurtured such an extraordinary being in her womb, her courage as she struggled with impossible choices, her strength as she was able to relinquish her parental rights to us, the continued love and supportive energy I feel constantly from her and send back to her with gratitude.

These are things that bind our family to her forever.

For these strengths I respect her greatly. I happily place her in my circle of trusted parents and guides.

She, perhaps more than most, knows great love.