I look in the eyes of my newest son, and I see courage and strength and fear combined. I see pain when he tells me how he cried today at school because he missed me, and when I ask why he was seen swatting at some kids on the playground at lunchtime he explains that some kids were teasing him and lacking the language skills or the knowledge of where to turn to, he did the only thing he could think of. He feels so alone right now, so vulnerable. I realize that as an adult, I can see beyond the immature and babylike behavior at times but as a child of the same age I would simply think he was a weird kid.
This afternoon at home he had a meltdown over some insignificant incident and I know it is more about his school day than what just happened in the backyard. I hold him on my lap as he sobs and I try not to cry myself, cuddling him like the baby he really is in many ways right now. He slowly relaxes and his breathing becomes normal, and he flashes his smile and is off and running to play again.
His brain is in overdrive and not much is making sense to him right now, and there are moments when pity for him floods my senses and then I stop and make myself think clearly and rationally, knowing that pity will not help him at all right now, knowing that in a few months life will look very different to him and surely he will have friends and will be in a routine that is comfortable to him, and his natural confidence will return. But the road to that place which is months away will be rocky and hurtful and filled with sorrow. It might also be decorated with magical moments of discovery, scattered like pebbles embedded in the new, smooth asphalt.
There are times when I too am scared and overwhelmed, as I see all that needs to be taught, all the gaps that exist, all the correcting of behavior and grammer that already is occuring as if on auto-pilot and I know that I am at moments exhausted without even realizing it, for as his brain is being filled, mine is also being stretched as I reach for ways to explain something that has been misunderstood or to define new words in his vocabulary which is often a huge struggle without enough language yet grasped to work with. I am always "on", and never more so than now as he enters school and new experiences are coming at him with lightening speed, and I realize I am the interpreter for him of this new life. It is also my job to pump in the positive and look for opportunities to praise him to balance out the negative input that will come from simply failing day after day and being totally lost. Sometimes, the fact of all that has been missed and all that can never be made up for is beyond my comprehension, and if I allow that to settle in too long it seems an impossible journey we have ahead of us. I often feel inadequate and find myself trying hard to ignore that very feeling.
Watching him bravely walk to the playground this morning, seeing him set his shoulders straight as he enters his classroom, and holding him close as he cried those desperate tears of frustration this afternoon, I am filled with admiration for this young boy who is my son. He is straddling two worlds...his old life of Russian institutionalization and American freedom and independence...his desire to recapture the babyhood and nurturing that he never fully received and his desire to be seen as a mature, capable boy of 8. He is walking dead straight into the fire with no tools yet to extinguish it. He is so eager to be a "good boy" and yet he has no basic understanding of the expectations for his behavior at school. The coping skills that served him well in the orphanage are not appropriate outside of that environment, and he is only beginning to understand what is expected of him in this new life he is leading.
This will be a years long process, the changing and educating of Kenny. It will not happen overnight, or in a week, or in a month. I remind myself that I must take what I am feeling and multiply it by 10, and even then I will not come close to the pressure he must be feeling. The day by day successes will be measured in small increments, and I must let go of feeling judged by others if he does not "perform" or behave properly. I will remember how far he has already come and look backward rather than forward when it all seems too much, and I will help him to do the same. Much is being required of both of us right now, and great will the eventual reward be, if only we both can manage to keep our perspective in it's proper place.