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.

Let’s talk about the schools for a minute

Our son Henry attends preschool. Based on my unscientific research – i.e., conversing in-person and online with a wide variety of parents – about two-thirds of you are shrugging and saying “Okay, and…” and the rest of you are wondering why. This post is not meant to answer that question. I have so many questions of my own, I’m instead using this space to help navigate the process and welcome you into it.

The community of alternative educators, homeschoolers and unschoolers is growing by leaps and bounds. They all have immeasurable love for children and robust beliefs about their development. And I still consider myself one of them – or at least a passionate supporter of these ideals who is still considering her child’s options.

I believe mainstream educational institutions no longer address the needs of our evolving children and communities. A hierarchical structure designed to train young people to be compliant and effective factory workers or, if you’re from a wealthier community, corporate managers, doesn’t work for our children or our society any longer. I think there is a lot of merit to the myriad of alternative options growing in accessibility and acceptability, including home schooling and/or unschooling. I will have a lot more to say about this over time, especially after I return from the AERO conference in Portland in August, but that’s the gist of my thoughts on education.

Here’s the rub. Our son is a truly social being. He loves people – being around them, playing with them, entertaining them, laughing with them, showing affection, enjoying the reciprocation. He runs up to the newest kid or parent on the playground to say hi and invite them to play. Everyone at his school knows him because he welcomes them all as they arrive, usually with a huge smile and a hug. He’s the first to console a crying classmate or defend them when he believes they are mistreated. He is a genuinely friendly child who enjoys the energy and security of a community. He was raised in a group setting – a wonderful nursery in Taiwan – for the first 11 months of his life, and perhaps something stuck. When he’s not with Mama and Daddy, and sometimes when he is, he wants a strong community around him. Preferably one made up of two- to four-year-olds.

When we needed to look for a daytime care situation about a year ago, we were lucky to stumble upon a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool in our community. The short answer to the “What the…?” I just heard you all utter is that this school is one of surprisingly many around the world that uses a community-based approach, developing lesson plans based on what the class collectively is interested in. Then they explore this subject in a very organic, natural way, all while taking the needs of the entire class into account. It builds community, a sense of belonging, a strong sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings, open minds, open hearts, open imaginations, as well as mutual respect among a very diverse group of kids.

Henry thrives in this environment. He’s joyful. He’s challenged. He has strong friendships with his classmates and teachers. He loves going to school because he can express himself, make mistakes and be authentically Henry while he’s there. Like at home, he is loved and accepted unconditionally.

But what’s next? There are few options for Henry to continue with a similar program once he is five or six. Well, unless we want to move to Italy… (Hmmm.) In an ideal world, we would be able to keep him in an inexpensive or free variation on this program for the rest of his schooling, because even public schools would be designed around a similarly progressive philosophy. But alas the educational times aren’t a-changin’ as fast as the rest of the world seems to be and that likely won’t be an option in a couple of years. So, we’ve been looking at our non-mainstream choices and getting dizzier by the month. Homeschooling, unschooling, radical unschooling, expensive private schools, start or join a joint parent-run school, online education, democratic schools, and on and on.

Like every child, Henry is a peg of a unique shape. He doesn’t fit perfectly into any institutional hole. But as an outgoing child without siblings he doesn’t fit neatly into a homeschool hole either. So, our exploration continues. We are confused, concerned, even a little frightened. We want to trust that a path will reveal itself in some quiet moment, and I do believe it will, probably by Henry himself. I guess we’ll just breathe, keep listening and the knowing will come.

I’ll write more about this journey as it unfolds. There’s nothing terribly profound about our story just yet, but there is something profound that happens when stories like these are shared. Just like so many of you, we are parents making tough choices in an ever-changing world. The more we are willing to honestly and openly talk about our fears and ideas, without judging or fearing being judged, the more we all benefit. I guess I’m simply adding our story to all of yours and welcoming you into the conversation. Happy parenting.

When you realize how perfect everything is…

Okay, I’m ready to write about this. The germinations in my head are at last so insistent they be expressed that I’ve created a place – a cute little spot? a sacred space? a garden? a safe haven? – for them to live. For years well-meaning people have said I should write about this. Until a few days ago, I brushed off the interest and encouragement, believing that maybe someday, if the winds were coming in perfectly from the East and the planets were aligned accordingly, maybe I would. Today, I’m ready. Why?

On May 3, 2010 in Tainan, Taiwan, I became a mother to a 10½-month-old perfect little person. Last week, without any direction or videos or photos or prompting, this little person started placing offerings in the open hands of the Buddha sculpture in our back yard.

That’s perhaps the main catalyst, but it’s one of many.

On August 25, 1971 in Dayton, Ohio, I began this lifetime. On February 14, 1995 in Cincinnati, Ohio, I recognized for the first time that my body is not immortal but my soul is. On September 25, 1999 in the same city in which I was born, I became a wife to a beautiful spirit and the perfect partner for this stop in my soul’s journey. On April 6, 2008 in Santa Monica, California, I finally acknowledged admitted that we all are far more powerful than we realize and have access to all the energy in the universe, simply by believing we do.

Sometime in July of 2010, while playing with my son in an inflatable outdoor pool in the heat of a Los Angeles summer, I knew – not just the intellectual knowing that happens after reading it and hearing it a thousand times over from every other parent you’ve ever encountered, ever, but a true knowingness – that parenting will be the most significant challenge I will face in this lifetime. That not only will it strip me down to the core on most days, but that I will find more joy and learn more than I could possibly have learned had Larry and I never ventured to that introductory meeting at the adoption agency almost three years before. And at that moment – after my heart palpitations stopped – I knew everything was perfect, and I laughed. As Buddha said… When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

You’re joining me a little bit into the journey, but in this space I will chronicle what I learn, how I learn it, what I’m embarrassed to still need to learn, what about this craziness makes me laugh, cry or rage against the universe, and most importantly how I let it all inform how I raise my child. Like many, I’m trying to discover how best to pass on my conscious intentions, my way of living, working and being on this planet, to my son. Wait, no, that’s not it. I’m trying to figure out how to be a parent who consistently and lovingly allows this eccentric, beautiful boy to remain his true self. To believe what he already knows. To believe he already knows intuitively how to be a conscious being. To trust himself above even me. To know he is a perfect piece of universal light right here on earth. And to know he is loved unconditionally.

He already is who he is meant to be. He already laughs at the sky on a regular basis. And as he grows he’s merely trying to show me how not to get in the way of his journey. I am a student and he is my teacher. Thank goodness we can laugh together. Here we go.