J2 Content – Perspectives

A varied collection of thoughts on education and parenting

The Most Precious Gift

I didn’t have much of a maternal instinct as a child. A tom-boy to the core, I largely ignored the myriad of dolls presented to me by my grandmother in an attempt to turn me into a “little lady”, along with her desperate need to stop me from whistling and biting my nails ragged. But while the girls I knew reveled in playing “House”, I always envied my brother’s much more interesting Legos, Armatron robotic arm, and particularly his Erector Set.

When my unloved and unwanted Baby Alive shuffled off this mortal coil because I refused to feed her (okay, in actuality her batteries died, possibly of neglect), I came to the conclusion that I should probably never attempt motherhood. Animals? Sure, load me up. But babies were a no-go.

My husband and I agreed on this child-free policy for the first decade of our married life, until strangely, in our mid-30s we both came to the simultaneous conclusion that our lives weren’t filled with quite enough chaos and that it was time to discuss children.

Unfortunately, I am physically unable to have my own children, but having been adopted myself, adoption had always been pretty visible on my internal radar. We skipped right over the idea of fertility treatments or IVF, and all those fun things that go along with them, like mood swings, bloating, and the possibility of having a litter. We signed up with an adoption agency who, after an extensive interview process which included background checks, family histories, and possibly some questions about our preferred underpants style, recommended international adoption as the best choice for us.

During the adoption process, which took about three years from joining the agency to arriving in China to meet our son (and would have been several years longer had we not moved to the Special Needs program), I read a lot of articles and personal blogs about international adoption. Most of these made the whole thing sound like a journey of rainbows and unicorns, and I’ve discovered that it’s not really accepted to say anything to the contrary. But I’ll be honest with you, adopting our little boy was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Probably for him, as well. In our case it was more like that unicorn had stabbed me through the chest with his razor sharp horn and then just run around for awhile with me impaled on his forehead, you know, just because he could.

Our son was classified as a “special needs” child as he’d had a severe heart condition as an infant, although by the time we brought him home he was perfectly healthy. He was one of the lucky ones, in that he spent most of his early life with a foster family rather than in institutions or orphanages. But of course, that meant that he was strongly bonded with his foster mother and he grieved her loss deeply. So it was hard all of us, but we weren’t actually supposed to talk about it.

We met one couple while in China who were adopting their second little girl, who were willing to talk about the difficulties in adopting these somewhat damaged children. They told me to just keep reminding myself that it will end, things will improve, and that a year or two from now we won’t even remember how difficult it was. They also gave us a bottle of Benadryl for the long flights back to America, which was invaluable considering how our flights within China had gone. Let me put it this way: you know those parents whose kids scream and scream when you’re on a plane, and you just wish you could open the emergency exit and shove them all out? Well, that was us. On our 1.5 hour flight from one city to the next, our son went on a 20 minute screaming jag that we just couldn’t stop. We felt awful about it, but there wasn’t really much we could do except walk him up and down the aisle to spread the sound of his screaming evenly around the plane.

When we returned from our two week trip to China, I had to go back to work immediately, while my husband got six weeks of what was essentially paternity leave. So the new father and son bonded and got to know each other, and I tried to write functional software code while being interrupted every 20 minutes by the desperate screams emanating from my cell phone. Not from our son, you understand. My husband had little to no previous experience with children, let alone angry, grieving, non-English-speaking little demons dressed in adorable toddler-skin. So he was a little out of his depth, and I spent a lot of time talking him through trying to discipline this whirling dervish of animosity who was spoiled like a piece of rancid meat by his foster parents. The poor kid had never been told “no” before, and it came as quite a shock to him that he couldn’t do or have whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.

And then, at the end of the day, I’d straggle in from work to spend time with a little boy who refused to sit on my lap or really have anything to do with me at all, which was devastating to me. He had given his heart to another woman he considered his mother, and I was a usurper to the throne and he just wasn’t having it. It took a long time for him to accept me, but the first time he spontaneously hugged me, sat voluntarily on my lap for longer than two seconds, or told me that he loved me, it was like the most precious gift.

And in the end, with enough time, patience and understanding, the three of us formed a solid, loving family unit. Three years later, he is a happy, healthy and, according to everyone who meets him, incredibly adorable little boy who thrives on wreaking havoc wherever he goes. And every time he grins up at me and tells me, “Mummy, I like you!” or compliments my paper airplane skills, it just reminds me that every difficult minute was worth it.

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