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.

Love the cracks

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.  – Anthem, Leonard Cohen

The cracks are showing a lot these days, often revealing themselves at inconvenient times. Many wise people in my life lightheartedly (but accurately) call such phases “growth periods,” so I have adopted the habit, as well. Symptoms of a significant growth period include disorientation, emotional vulnerability, sometimes unexplained frustration or impatience, fruitless grasping at control over things decidedly out of your control, loss of focus during business meetings, and bawling at the end of movies containing dogs and/or dolphins and/or kindly aliens. Luckily, they also include great clarity, love, compassion, strength and growth, even moments of extraordinary peace and knowingness – what I would call nirvana. A rollercoaster of evolution indeed.

Basically, like the entire human race, I am experiencing some growing pains. And some times more than others, my cracks show. My son is very aware of this. In fact, he is quick to point them out.

The moment my voice changes and I start to get impatient with him for not putting on his shoes on my swift timeline so we can leave and not be late darn it, he squeezes his eyes shut, shakes his head and goes limp in my arms. If I decide to use my time in the car bringing him home from school to make a phone call and finish the work I was rushing to complete before I left, he decides he needs a drink, a snack and to ask what absolutely everything out his window is during the drive. When I am frustrated with someone, that person becomes his favorite person in the world for the day. When I’m frustrated with myself, he surprises me with a simple act of kindness.

They are such effective teachers, our children. As mine, Henry could be more patient at times, a little less infuriating, but he is only three.

Exactly when I need it, Henry shoves me back into the present. He forces me to let go of control. He shows me how to allow everyone their own cracks and appreciate them all the more for them. He pushes me to look at my own and be grateful for the ability to love myself as much as he loves me, despite them…because of them.

He knows just how far to stick his little fingers in to make that crack big enough to let the light come rushing in.

An offering

In my first post a couple of weeks ago I began to tell a story about our Buddha statue, one of the catalysts for starting this blog. I’m loath to leave a storyline open-ended or keep the six or seven followers I’ve gained since then (shout out!) dangling, so I guess that’s a good place to go this week…

From all windows in the back of our home we can see our new Buddha statue. It sits humbly amongst the herbs and lavender in a small bed in the back yard near where Henry plays toddler basketball, practices jumping and sets up his race car track on sunny days. We purchased the statue from a free trade store in our Seattle neighborhood of Queen Anne a month and a half ago. Larry and I looked at hundreds of sculptures of all kinds over the last few years, searching for the one that spoke to us, that had the right energy and simplicity. We knew in a moment this – calm, beautiful and still in its shipping crate from the owner’s recent trip to Bali – was the one.

For the first week I found myself seeking him out whenever I was in prime viewing rooms: the kitchen, the office/guest room and Henry’s room. We all did. At bedtime before I closed his blinds, Henry would cock his head sideways, look out at Buddha, wave and say goodnight, which these days sounds mostly like “beebee.” In the morning when we hatched our way down to the kitchen with Henry in our arms, he made sure to say a special good morning to our guardian friend. That week was chilly and wet, so we didn’t much venture out to Buddha, but his presence was felt.

The following weekend the spring sunshine favored us and the yard became the preferred play area. We always said hello to Buddha when entering his realm of the garden, but Larry and I had no regular ritual nor had ever demonstrated one in front of Henry. Then, one afternoon, in the middle of testing which car sped the fastest around the hairpin curve, Henry stopped, picked up his favorite yellow utility truck and placed it gently in Buddha’s open hand. Then he took his brand new drag racer with blue flames on its hood and offered that too. Then he turned around and continued playing.

Over that weekend he offered pebbles, rocks, flowers and more cars. He tried to balance his water bottle in the crook of the statue’s arm, but couldn’t figure it out. He pulled up his Henry-sized monkey folding chair in front of Buddha and sat for several seconds looking at him before getting up and sitting between Mama and Daddy who were watching him in wonder from the garden steps.

Even the strangest concepts seem obvious when you see them unfold so naturally before your eyes. Especially in the last several years, I’ve experienced countless things many may consider extraordinary, even impossible – all part of the package when you start to explore seeing your world more clearly — and as so many of you fellow parents can understand, parenthood has only increased the regularity and normalcy of the “bizarre.” It is so easy to take for granted what many call everyday miracles when you’re negotiating the sippy vs. big person cup conundrum or walking your child to go poopy in the potty. However, this one got our attention.

Here’s what I believe Henry was reminding us that weekend. Children We all have an innate sense, a gut instinct, a strong intuition, a clairvoyance, a memory, a higher self, a wisdom, a voice, whatever you want to call it, that allows us to just know…whatever we need to know. And most of what we know to our core is love.

Henry loves and shows respect for Buddha without even thinking about how he knows to do it. Thoughts, expectations, obligations, beliefs, right and wrong. They don’t have anything to do with it. It is unconditional and without logic. It is simply love and connection. He wants to make an offering in that moment, so he does.

That’s what he came out of the womb understanding…being. We all did. We all are born at peace, connected to both the center of the universe and the center of the earth. It’s allowing ourselves to remain there that’s the tricky part. And, as Buddha teaches, sitting in that is where we learn whatever it is we are here to learn.

I believe it’s that simple. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, but our children often make it look that way. Okay, they know it is. Henry will help me remember that.