In the courthouse hallway, waiting for “our turn” we were surrounded by many of those who love us best. There were grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends who are like family. But I felt this need to pull the seven of them close. To distract them in a little “just us” circle. If I could only occupy their minds, their hearts couldn’t wander too deep into what was really happening. Looking back, maybe I was just guarding me. But there was something that told me that my mom-skill to occupy had never been more needed. So we played a few rounds of our favorite crazy-when-you-can’t-be-crazy game: “hand tag.” And waited, on the brink of forever.
I haven’t really written much about life after adoption. I think today, for the first time, I realized why. For six months we’ve been living a lot like that day… Trying to do normal while what swirls in the air around us is anything but. We’ve felt surrounded, in all the best ways, but the space inside our little family circle didn’t seem like the worlds’ to know or see. One doesn’t really post pictures of snuggling a 7-year-old like a baby because he is learning to be loved that way. A person can’t really describe online what it’s like to “fact check” with an 8-year-old girl about the lies she is flooded with related to her identity. How can you write about creative strategies still being learned, but much needed. Like how to help a 9 year-old surrender some of his self-care into parent-care. While I hope someday soon we can share more, it hasn’t yet been time to tell the world the toll much of this has taken on our marriage, the fight of our lives that’s been required. Because all of this had to happen in our little circle, while normal swirled around us. We needed to hunker down and slowly learn to run this race together. And sometimes, frankly, that’s been pretty exhausting. It’s different than lonely because we were so well surrounded. But still, isolating.
You see, I underestimated the power of standing before a judge. His definitive words of forever catapulted us into a space we had not been before. It’s a little hard to explain how that is possible when not a single thing about the physical components of our life changed. In fact many times people comment “you’d already been living together. So it probably wasn’t much change.” And if you’d asked me on January 12th. I would have agreed. But then the catapult. When we landed from the excitement of celebration, and dusted our britches a bit, we found ourselves in a whole new world. Turns out it is something quite different indeed to begin “forever” than it is to live in “for a while”. There are tough realizations that must take their course,
“no. It won’t ever change. Yes. We will always be your parents. Always.”
And sometimes those are just words a kid doesn’t want to hear. Or believe.
And sometimes a kid must wrestle with that truth while going on about a life where not a single person they interact with can truly understand how occupied their heart truly is. My loves got adopted on Friday and went back to school on Tuesday- to friends playing “family” on the playground, to teacher expectations for attentiveness. They did not always thrive there. Their’s is a quiet struggle making it hard to know how to give space for their grief until it comes bursting forth in behavior, or words or simply tears. And so there has been tension. Is this about adoption? Or not at all? What is going on in their heads? What are reasonable expectations? How do we advocate for what we cannot comprehend? How can we simply love when so much of us wants to correct and fix? Most days of this 6 months could be summarized as “This is SO FREAKING HARD.” And then again tomorrow.
But not all of the path we’ve landed on is grief and hard. There is also immense joy. Because with being able to grieve what was lost long before there also came relief. An exhale of our collective breath holding. Maybe a bit like organs of a body after receiving a transplant, there is gradually new rhythm. New breath. The air is becoming clearer. Deeper and deeper we can take in life and JOY as we release grief and heal.
As a runner there is nothing that can replace the training. To breathe deeper during a race you have to exercise your lungs before the race to increase capacity to endure. That’s what these six months have been. Daily exercises. And sometimes those exercises have been a wreck. A bloody mess of a wreck. But sometimes, often actually, we go a little bit farther than we did the day before. Sometimes it is a natural rhythm instead of a forced one.
My son turned to me as we hiked this week and said “Mommy, sometimes it feels like I’ve just always been a Lewis.” He leaned in closer. I grinned. And hugged him. And then tried to contain myself at the miracle of his words- OUT LOUD verbalization that he is becoming part of us. “Me too buddy. Me too.”
These are the moments when their little minds seem to be occupying all on their own with the goodness of life instead of having to be reminded who they are.
Their training is becoming life. And breath. Deep and strong. And every day of these 6 months, even the sometimes grueling training, this beginning, has been worth it. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like we are reaching the top of a hill with a great view of the possibilities. and a bit of wonder.
What is next?