There are so many things to document along this process, I don’t even know what should be next. My original plan was to write about the alphabet soup of diagnoses and labels that this kid has been swimming in for the past few years of his life, but then this evening we had one of those perfect family evenings where nothing was planned but everything and everyone came together, and it got me thinking about love and loving an older child that has only been in my family for a few weeks.
I guess, because I don’t want to forget it, I will share one alphabet soup story before I ruminate on love and the older child.
This story is brought to you by the letters ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). We had been told Spuds has ODD. We were told he doesn’t do well in team sports because of his ODD. He was on a team once and intentionally ran the ball the wrong way down the field “because of his ODD,” so that was petty much the end of team sports for him. I think they said he was six at the time. Maybe younger. Maybe older. I don’t remember.
“I bet he thought he was hilarious when he did it?” I asked. I was right. I’d met him twice at that point. I could just tell — that mischievousness kind of oozes out of him. So a child doesn’t take a little league game particularly seriously and has his version of fun with it rather than trying to impress all of the parents on the sidelines who probably are too emotionally invested in the game anyway. Hmmm . . .
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ODD, of course. That is only one incident, and I haven’t lived through that incident or whatever all the other incidents were. Here is what I have lived through so far:
We were at a park yesterday for a church activity for all of the young kids. Unfortunately, the part of the park with all of the playground equipment had been reserved for a graduation party, so our little group had to meet at the far end of the park with plenty of fields but not play sets. About half way through the activity, Spuds ambled over to me with longing in his eyes and said, “Mom, I want to go play over on the playground. Can I go over there, please?”
“No,” I said. “I’m sorry, but we have to stay here with our group.”
“Ok,” he said, and he went back to play with the other kids on our less-colorful side of the park.
Again, I can’t overstate that I realize we are in a honeymoon phase. But ODD? This kid can behave, listen, follow instructions, etc. I realize that he can, and probably will, break down emotionally once the reality of his new living situation really sets in, and when/if that happens he won’t be in the mood to be so cooperative, but does that really mean we should stick a label on him and say he has this problem. That’s just not the way I see it. He has problems, none of which are his fault, and feeling too overwhelmed to deal with even the most minor disappointment maybe has been, and definitely could become, a symptom of those problems, but why label it? Why make him feel further broken, more defective? Why make him feel limited by three letters? Why limit him with three letters? Why look at every mischievous little boy behavior and use it to justify the label? Why not just let him be the hurt little kid that he is, have compassion for that, embrace that, and give him hope that he can get through it, give him the knowledge that he is more than his past and definitely more than a label? I don’t know. We haven’t seen him at his worst yet; but we because we haven’t seen his worst I can’t view him or treat him as his worst self. And when/if we do see his worst? I am going to do my best to remember that his problem is fear, fear born of more trauma than anyone should ever have to endure in an entire lifetime, not ODD.
And with that, I’ll end this edition of Alphabet Soup and move on to love.
Every day, several times a day, I tell him that I love him. McH does the same thing. He tells us he loves us, too. But in some ways? It feels hollow. I think part of the reason it feels hollow is because he looks at me when I say it, and I can tell that he questions it. I can tell that it doesn’t have the meaning for him that it has for my other kids. Let’s face it, if someone you’d only met a couple of times took you home one day and just started telling you that they love you, would you believe them? You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. He doesn’t. Not really. He goes through all the motions, but he doesn’t really believe it yet, and I don’t blame him. I don’t blame him for lots of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with me, but I also don’t blame him because I know that I don’t yet feel the same love for him as I do for my other children.
Big confession right there, but don’t judge me for it yet.
This evening, as we were all outside as a family doing sparklers and other non-firework fireworks, and I saw all of the kids running around, cooperating, having a good time, and the sun was setting and a slight breeze was blowing, and everything just felt so perfect, I felt my heart swell a little with that love that only a mother knows, and that swelling love was for Spuds. He was having such a good time, and he seemed so carefree and joyful, and it made me so joyful (but in that quiet, grateful, contemplative way that feels like true joy to me), and my heart just swelled for that little boy who has gone through so much and is still going through so much as he adjusts to his new life, and I knew I loved him a little more than I did just moments before.
I do love him, I would take a bullet for him, but I have been acutely aware that my love for him is different than the love I have for my other children, and that difference is born of time. I’ve had all kinds of time with my other kids. I’ve had just over three weeks with Spuds. In those three weeks I have read to him and played with him and baked with him, etc. to create shared experiences that will help us bond. I have prayed that my love for him will increase, I have worried that I don’t love him enough when what he needs most right now is what everybody always needs most — complete and unconditional love, mother-love. But I can’t cram eight years into three weeks, and time will take time.
Love is a choice, and I’ve known that for a long time. When we adopted the other boys they were babies, and we got pictures, and I fell in love with those babies in those pictures, and by the time they came home I was fully invested with every ounce of mother-love I had. But they were babies. Older babies, but babies nonetheless. They came to me not tabula rasa, I don’t really think anyone really comes into this life that way anyway, but they came to me young and babyish, without as much background and with more need to be loved and mothered than to be cautious. They came to me, in short, easier to love. But love is a choice, and every day I choose to love Spuds, and every day I do love him, and I know that with time that love will grow to equal the love I have for all of the others. So I need to be patient with myself and keep working toward that goal, and when the honeymoon ends? I need to be even more patient with him and keep working toward that goal.
I am so grateful for that perfect evening we had tonight as a family. I am so grateful for that peaceful, joyful moment wherein love for my newest little boy overtook me. I am grateful for that experience not only because I now love him more, but also because it reinforced in me the knowledge that I can and will continue to love him more. Time takes time, and I can’t manufacture shared experiences to speed it up.
Adopting an older child is not the same as adopting a baby. Love takes a different course, or, at least, it has so far. I don’t think there is any way around this, but I know we will make it through.
Tewt the Newt’s heart grew three sized today as well.