One year ago today, Noel & I put our infant daughter into the car and drove two hours away to Rx for a very special purpose. It was the day we were bringing her brother home for forever.
It was a sunny afternoon and we met Joshua’s birth mother and Sandy – the lady from our adoption agency – at a local park. After we visited for a few minutes, Sandy told us that she needed about an hour with BM to do her relinquishment counseling and to sign the formal papers that would terminate all legal rights to him; she had received those same papers from Joshua’s sperm donor just a few days earlier.
We headed over to Walmart with nerves clanging and butterflies in our stomach… anxious to have the technical aspects done, even though BM had reassured us time and again over the past thirty days that she had NO doubts about what she was doing and she was NOT going to change her mind at the last minute. Holding onto that promise, we started shopping. Everything that we had seen of his was either stained beyond repair or torn. He had NO toys and, at 15mths old, he was still in a newborn car seat that was far too small.
Looking back now, I have to laugh a little at ourselves. Noel & I had never been the parent of a toddler before and we really had no idea what he would need. I remember just grabbing anything and everything that looked like it would be useful, debating over which car seat would be the best with my husband, and hoping against hope that the size of clothes/diapers/shoes/socks/etc. that we were buying would be the right size. It was more than a little disconcerting selecting items for a child that would soon be officially our son… but having no clue what his likes/dislikes were, what sizes he wore for different things, and so on.
Finally, the hour was up and we confirmed by text that they were finished.
When we arrived, Joshua was walking around this little playground area while Sandy, BM, and BM’s boyfriend sat on a park bench watching him. We spoke for a few minutes – but I honestly couldn’t tell you a thing we talked about. I couldn’t take my eyes off the little boy with blond curls, chubby legs, and big, sad, empty eyes. I was also too overwhelmed with relief that everything had gone smoothly to care about much else at that moment.
Everyone walked us to the parking lot and watched as we loaded a quiet, unprotesting Joshua into the vehicle. There was no tears on anyone’s part – not BM, her boyfriend, or our son. They waved bye… then turned to us with radiant smiles and said, “Thank you so much for taking him! I know you guys are going to give him a great life.”
And just like that, we were driving away. I remember stopping at a convenience store and getting him some milk and cookies for the ride home. And that the hour drive to my parent’s home was torture! I just wanted to give him a bath, get clean clothes on him, and rock/snuggle him until he was full of light, laughter, smiles… and a little mischief. Just like little boys should be.
I’m not going to lie: There have been parts of this journey with our son that have absolutely ripped my heart out. You can teach a severely neglected little boy how to play with toys and to not get into the trash can when he’s hungry. You can teach them that baths are not a scary place of torment. There are a lot of things in a physical context that you can do. But the emotional side? THAT is where the deepest struggle has been for me. You can’t force a child to attach to you. To love you. To feel safe when he’s with you and to enjoy your snuggles and hugs. You can’t force him to be happy when he sees you and to light up when you walk in the room.
That is only something that can come with time, consistency, a LOT of patience, a LOT of perseverance, and a LOT of love.
There have been times in this last year that I’ve snuck into their nursery in the middle of the night, gotten Joshua out of his crib, sat down in the rocker, and just held him for hours. Nuzzling his head and humming softly… praying over him and for him. Whispering in the dark to my sleeping child all the things I couldn’t say when he was awake and holding me at an arm’s length. Telling him that I have enough love for the both of us until he can learn to love me back. That I’m his mama and I will NEVER purposely hurt him. That he can trust me, but it’s okay to take his time because I am never going anywhere. Eventually, I would wipe the tears away and put him gently back to bed so I could get some sleep. And wow… my heart is wrenching in my chest just remembering those nights.
It has not happened overnight. None of it.
But somehow… over the course of the past twelve months… he has been completely transformed. Don’t just take my word for it though. They say a picture is worth a thousand words: The top picture was taken the day we brought him home – June 2, 2011. The one below it was taken yesterday.
I have made many mistakes along the way as a mother and, I can say without hesitation, that I will make a million more throughout the course of our lives. I remember sitting on my mom’s porch one day, pouring my heart out to her about how frustrated I was. It had been a difficult few days – I felt like we had taken three steps forward, then six steps back, and I was discouraged and my heart was bleeding all over the place. My mom listened quietly and then she reached out and took my hand, giving it a little squeeze, and said, “But you know what sis? Not once have you ever entertained the idea of giving up. I’ve never once heard you say anything that came close to sounding like defeat. You aren’t giving up on him and that is what will bring the breakthrough. Besides, he loves you more than you realize. Just give it time and keep doin’ what you’re doin’.”
Wise words from a wise lady. And she was right.
A year later, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Joshua loves me. He knows I’m his mama and he accepts and embraces that fact. I can say that he has absolutely blossomed. He is talking more and more each day, he tells me when he’s hungry, and he has entered the “make believe” stage of play (which is adorable). My son gives me great big kisses on the mouth and says, “MUAH!” And he giggles when I tickle him. He climbs into my lap or sits next to me while we read stories together. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that he… trusts. And he loves. And MY GOD has it been a difficult road, but we’re there… and I am SO thankful. And so very, very blessed.
For anyone that is wondering, Joshua attached to his daddy right away. There was no hesitation on his behalf with Noel because there had never been a man in his life that abused that role to hinder the connection. They have a special relationship… and it’s crazy because Joshua not only has the same mannerisms as his daddy, but their personalities are very similar and he looks just like him.
I love the relationship that my two kids already have with one another, too. They sit on the couch and watch cartoons together, they wrestle, they laugh at each other and randomly give one another hugs and kisses. They play together all the time and listening to them “talk” to one another first thing in the morning, bouncing on their beds and shrieking across the room, starts every one of my days with a smile (unless it’s 4am, in which case… not so much lol).
With all that said and in all seriousness, Joshua has changed each of us for the better. Simply by being, he is teaching us (and already has) so much! I can only pray that one day, he can understand (probably when he has a son of his own), how he has completed his daddy & I’s hearts and lives. I love him more than life itself and I thank God, first and foremost, for handpicking him for us; his BM for making the decision to give him up; our family/friends that have been there to support and encourage us as we’ve been on a very steep learning curve this last year; and my husband… for being the amazing husband and dad that he is. There’s no way that we would have come this far, this fast, without all of it.