I am faced with a daunting task this evening, I am trying to tell Kenny's story in photos in a brief 2-3 minute slide show...and I have to tell a story that even I don't fully know. The slide show will be shown at Kenny's baptism this Sunday, and we are so fortunate to have a few photos of Kenny at various ages thanks to our friend Tami. However, I can not begin to accurately portray the life of Toktogul Mursaev, a child I never knew. There is an 8 1/2 year gap that leaves us totally in the dark, they are the "Unknown Years". I know people will see his bright, smiling little face staring back at them, and they will see a relatively clean and decent living area...but how can one express the loneliness, the despair, the lack of decent food, the narrow "jail-like" existence he lived? It simply can not be done.
What I'd love to be able to depict are his shallow little breaths during the first few moments we met him, the look in his eyes when he received his first praise from us, the courage it took for him to grab our hand and walk out the door of the only home he had ever known, never to return. But perhaps those moments are meant only for us to hold near to our hearts.
As I looked through the many photos I have taken over the course of the last 10 months it is amazing all that Kenny has experienced, the sheer number of photos taken of a child once they are in a family and their history is recorded by a loved one versus the long years pre-family when that history still existed yet there was no one who cared enough to capture it so it could be relived over and over again. But that lack of recording doesn't change the fact that events did occur, that our sons' lives began long before we walked through the orphanage door. It is easier to put aside when adopting an infant, it is impossible to deny when adopting an older child. All of who they are is cloaked in that history and every once in awhile the cloak is drawn aside so you, the parent, can peek inside and capture a glimpse. It sometimes offers an explanation for certain behaviors or attitudes, but often I find it simply leads to more unanswered questions.
As much as we often ignore it, that history also includes birth families, which for most of our children are impossible to trace and for which they have absolutely no information. They are left wondering what their birth mothers and birth fathers looked like, the even larger question of why they were abandoned lingers forever...and believe me that comes up more often than you might think as they grow older, at least for some children.
Matthew and I had a conversation in the car yesterday evening during which he stated he wished he could be white for just a little while, because then he wouldn't be teased as much. As I gently drew out of him what he meant, he realized that he wasn't really teased that much but that he just grew tired sometimes of having to offer an explanation for why he and I look different from one another...he wished he could be anonymous sometimes like everyone else rather than being "that adopted kid from China", as everyone mistakenly assumes. I asked him to stop for a minute and think about things as if he were me, to put himself in my shoes...then I queried "Do you think that I get the same thing all the time? Or is it only you?". A slow grin spread across his face he seemed for the first time to recognize that he is not alone in this and he drew comfort from it, then he said "Yea, but you get it 3 times as much! Do you sometimes wish you were born Kazakh?". I replied that I didn't wish to be anything other than who I was, and he shouldn't either because I thought we were both pretty cool...but that I had moments when I wish I had been his birth mommy because then I wouldn't have missed being there when he was born, wouldn't have missed his first smile. I told him how sweet it was at the hospital holding our friend's new baby and that I wish I had been there for all three of them from the very beginning. He got quiet for a moment, mulling that one over and that led to him asking "Do you think my birth mommy or daddy ever thinks about me? Do you think they wonder what my life is like?". I told him I was 100% sure they did, that a parent always holds their child in their heart even if they can't be with them. He didn't say much else but I have no doubt that this conversation will be continued soon.
But it made me realize that as much as I may have missed with the boys, I have gained far, far more and there are 3 others mommies halfway across the world who are missing so much...and whose children have a story that they too can not tell either. While we are building a history, their history was oh so brief...a mere 9 months or in Joshie's case maybe 10 months, plus a few hours post-delivery. Did they stare into their child's face trying to sear their features into their memory forever? Did they cry as they relinquished them? Do they think of them on their birthdays...dates that they know for certain but that I have only an estimate of guessed at by a hospital worker or policeman? Do they yearn to hold the child that I get to hug and kiss every single day? It seems the more one ponders this, the more one recognizes that both moms...biological and adoptive...end up knowing part of an incomplete story. Somehow though, I think that I come out the lucky one, and as incredibly grateful as I am for that, there is a part of me that knows what each of their moms is missing and feels deeply saddened that they will never have the day to day joy that I have. And my sons as well will never have the mother and father that they look like, that they no doubt have personality traits and quirks that they inherited from them.
So Sunday I will tell the parts of the story I know, we will celebrate that Kenny is part of our family and is welcomed into God's family as well, which is far more important than being a LaJoy. But the truth is that God held him long before we arrived, He nurtured Kenny when there was no one to nurture him, He loved him when no one was around to love him, He cared for his spirit when no one was there to guard it. And I will be reminded that although I nor Kenny's birth mother know his full story, God does. And that is what is important.