Last night I sat here in a strange bed in a strange city and a strange configuration of our family. Matthew and Joshua slept in the room next to ours with our friends, and Dominick and I spent the first night we have ever had alone with our 3 newest children, the ones all adopted as older kids. I realized this after Dominick had drifted off next to me, and I gazed down into the faces of my son and daughter, trying to burn the image of their peaceful sleeping faces into my memory. For the very first time, I felt as if a fist had hit me in the gut, sucking the very life breathe out of me. These precious kids who have stolen my heart, each and every one of them, have a past I was not a part of, and it changed each of them permanently. Sure, Matthew and Josh also had a brief past, and in the case of Josh it was terribly traumatic and the impact is something we still deal with today, but this was different.
I lost their infancy, I lost their childhood, I lost the intimacy that comes with mothering babies. Five children and I had a grand total of about one year of cuddling an adored child of mine who actually wasn't rejecting me. I never had the chance to stand over their crib and stare in awe and wonder at the tiny creature that lay swaddled beneath my gaze. I never had the chance to feel their sweet baby breath on my cheek as I held them to my shoulder and rocked them to sleep. I missed the opportunity to see their first toothless grins, to hear their first spoken word, to see their first wobbly step.
There they are, asleep before me know with big bodies sprawled across floor and bed, arms splayed above their heads, Kenny's hands tucked angelically up to his face as if in prayer. I tuck the blanket under their chins, Olesya sighs and Angela moves not a muscle as I tenderly brush the wisp of hair from her face. The sorrow wells up in me as, for just a moment, I allow myself to acknowledge the years lost, the grief rolls quickly through and it is something that I have spent years trying to deny. Our older children bear scars internally and externally of the time we all missed together, of love that was in such short supply. It aches in an unfamiliar way, as it has been pushed aside for so long as I worked hard at grabbing onto what we have left.
Blinking back tears, I smile, for what we do have is so much more than many will ever have. What makes it even more special is that each of us, young and old, each knows that as well. So often I hear "I am so glad I am in my family and not in another family!" or in our cheekier moments "Of course we are crazy, we are LaJoy's!" said with a broad grin as we talk about some nutty idea that to us seems "doable" and to others would be unfathomable.
But within the mix, the joy is tinged with sorrow, for there is loss on all sides, and this weekend it was felt not only by myself as I lovingly tucked in my Big Bodied pre-teens. Angela struggled mightily as well, trying to walk a painful path of understanding without the benefit of all the tools to figure it all out.
Being with Bekah and Emma Wright was a real blessing for her, but it brought to the surface the grief she has buried about leaving behind her heart sisters at the orphanage back in Kazakhstan. What she surely thought she was coping with just fine became quite a painful moment of recognition today. I had mentioned to Dominick on Friday that I felt Angela pushing me away in extremely subtle ways which I can't even describe very well. She is a young lady of great sensitivity and an astute yet kind heart. The distance I recognized creeping in was not imagined, but it was very low key and began with the arrival of the Wrights. I had an inkling that Bekah and Emma were bringing up old feelings of loss, but wasn't quite sure.
Today she made an unusual remark when I was not around, about not having to do something because I was not present. This was highly unusual for Angela, as she is an extremely respectful child, and she cares a lot about setting a good example for her siblings. Dominick told me about this and I decided that we needed to immediately address what was going on, that we could not let another day pass with letting her slip deeper into rebuilding that wall we have worked so hard at tearing down. So, we found a way to get her alone and sat her down. She immediately knew what this was going to be about, and even brought it up herself without prompting from us. I love her honesty so much, and her keen awareness for her age shows a remarkable depth.
I started off playing hardball, letting her know in no uncertain terms that her behavior was unacceptable and we would not tolerate it. She would not look at us, but agreed in her quiet, surprisingly deep voice. After a few moments of this where I could see she was compliant but unmoved, I said just a few words..."Are you missing your friends more after being around Bekah and Emma? Are you feeling sad the past few days?"...and the chin began to quiver and within moments the tears fell. Yes, she was missing her friends, but she was afraid to tell us because she didn't want to hurt our feelings. Still no eye contact and not much offered in the form of verbal explanation, but none was really necessary for I knew what was going on, and I understood her dilemma completely.
We spent the next 45 minutes talking to her about our understanding of the loss she had suffered. I explained that we knew she loved us, and that it was OK to feel more than one emotion at a time, that we all carry around many emotions about certain people or events and it can be confusing to feel so many things all at once. She sat there, the wall between us had a crack in it now and I could see into her heart again but only through a small crevice. I needed to break it wide open...we had a lot of work to do here.
How hard it is to explain emotions to someone who has never been encouraged to share them! How challenging it is to be on watch at all times for the perfect "teachable moment" knowing that the best ones only come along once in awhile, and if missed might not come back around for a very long time again...if they ever do at all. Poor Angela, she has all this innate understanding of human interaction, and yet does not have the vocabulary in either English or Russian to express herself well about it, nor does she feel safe enough yet to do so! She doesn't want to appear weak, she doesn't understand why something feels so conflicting, and she doesn't know how to work through it herself without help that feels so uncomfortable to reach out for! How hard this parenting thing is, to see your child in emotional pain and know you can't easily fix that, and that it might take years (if ever) to help them move to a place of true healing.
We spent the our time breaking down the emotions and reasons, one by one, I providing her examples and vocabulary, but more importantly giving her permission and space to feel whatever it is that she is feeling without fear of reprisal or harm to others. I urged her to come to me anytime she felt confused or sad, and to not worry one bit about hurting my feelings. I got a giggle out of her as I told her "Remember what Matthew said to you once? That I always know anyway and you won't ever get away with anything? Well, I always know something is up with your heart, I am an expert on Heart Work, but I can't help you work it out if you don't share it with me. Moms are always the experts in that stuff, and you have a brilliant mom! Hahaha!", and with that, she was back...my strong, loving, resourceful daughter returned to me with a bit of exaggeration and a lot of awareness on my own part of what her needs might be. I regained eye contact, as through her tears she admitted she missed her friends so much sometimes. We spoke of the sisterhood she had experienced with them, of the surrogate mothers some of them were, and how we can love what we have and still miss what we lost, and ALL those feelings are OK.
It was important to help her separate what is adoption related and what is just life. I pointed out to her that her missing her friends wouldn't hurt me, as I assumed it had nothing to do with her love for me and nothing to do with adoption at all. I shared how I cried copious tears myself as our friends moved from Montrose to Chicago, and that even now at times I wanted to cry because I missed the times we shared and the love that existed between us. But I pointed out that had nothing to do at all with not loving the friends we have in Montrose who are so important in our lives. We talked about how the feelings she was experiencing were normal and natural, and that it was about moving away from friends, not about regretting being adopted. The relief that washed over her face as she understood that I really and truly understood what her conflict was told me I had hit the nail on the head squarely.
We cried together a little as I told her that I wanted her to learn how to be open with her feelings, that trapping her pain inside her heart was not a good way to deal with things. I asked if she felt better talking about how she was so sad right now, and she nodded as more tears came. I said that her honesty would never hurt me, that I was mature enough and smart enough to understand more than she thought I could, and I could handle whatever she had to share and help her carry it so it would feel lighter just like this now felt lighter for her.
I then told her as I wept a bit that the wall she had put up over the past few days hurt far worse than her sharing that she missed her friends. I said "You and I have years and years of being close to one another to enjoy...we have years of hating clothes shopping and doing it together complaining all the time about it, we have years of exploring what your wonderful future might turn out to be and working to get you to that place. We have years of laughing together at the silly things the boys do, and of peeling potatoes together, and of watching you create a warm and loving family like you now have for yourself. Don't put that wall up and lose that, don't put that wall up and become someone your own children won't be able to be close to, for all of you will lose. Don't return to that girl I met the first couple of weeks in Kazakhstan who was too scared to share what she was feeling and almost lost her family because of it...look what we ALL would have missed if you had kept that wall up!! I am here to help you keep that wall down, and I am safe...your secrets are safe with me and I can handle it all, and I promise you I will never hate you, only love you no matter what."
Her eyes locked on mine, and her heart broke fully open. We sat there, side by side, holding one another, knowing we had a lot to lose and had to keep on fighting to keep it from happening.
Later, Dominick and I talked, and I told him I was wrung out, spent, totally exhausted. These moments are so intense and require skills that, frankly, I am not trained for and go strictly by gut instinct in responding. Am I taking the right path? Is this the right way to engage? What do I let go of and what do I need to address? Where are the lines that at times can be obscured by so much that blurs them? Will I one day regret how I handled something?
Ahhh...who knows...I certainly don't, and I am sure I will live with the same sort of doubt that every mother lives with. I am doing my very best, knowing I am imperfect and am screwing up along the way, hoping that love will cover the majority of mistakes.
And man, how I love them all.
Tomorrow is Matthew's appointment, he is not his usual self and it is obvious he is nervous. By this time tomorrow we should have some answers, perhaps ones that are not pleasant to hear. We are grateful to be here, knowing God has handled our lives in surprising ways, far better than we ever could ourselves.
And we are reminded that for every loss suffered, God drops something else in our hands...but those hands have to be open to receive it.