Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Remembering Why I Adopted In the First Place

I recognize that I have spent too much time in this blog addressing difficult, negative situations, without offering a bit of balance. I do feel it is important for those who choose to adopt older children to recognize how challenging the task will be, so I suppose I err on the side of realism when it comes to disclosing events in my life. But I would not be a very accurate reporter of my life's experiences or my soul's condition were I not to take some time to reflect upon why I adopted in the first place.

This week my wife is out of state helping other older children find homes, so I have been working from home and taking some vacation time. I typically take only about three weeks a year in "official" vacation (I am entitled to six weeks a year), and use the remaining three weeks in more casual ways, including this week. So, we said goodye to our family matriarch early on Tuesday morning, and I have spent the past two days being solo parent. Fortunatley for me, it is not a huge readjustment in my life, because I am the primary cook in our home (also the primary grocery shopper), do a fair amount of the household work and am quite comfortable in the nurturing and (usually) disciplining of children. So, we are glad Mom has the chance to be away from the rest of us, and we are doing just fine, thank you very much.

This evening's parenting responsibility was to attend (and bring the snacks for) our son Ricardo's soccer game. His team of thirteen-year-old's is really quite impressive, and he, in particular, has some real skill. I am hardly a sports guy, so I don't know this for a fact, but I can tell by watching his moves on the field and comparing him with other players that he has quite a soccer future ahead of him.

Ricardo and Benjamin (who we call "Jimmy" since that was his Spanish name before he lived with us, "Yimy") are our two sons from Guatemala. Generally they are delightful kids who grew up in one of the best orphanages in the country, and were tenderly nurtured and cared for from a young age. They grew up with a strong sense of attachment and had some of the same caretakers all the nine years of their lives they spent in this orphanage. I marvel at how emotionally healthy Ric and Jimmy have been, almost from the beginning. When we brought them out of their native country they both shed tears at the thought of leaving those they knew and loved, but once they were able to make the break, they understood that their new parents would care for them and love them as if we had given birth to them.

This is such a stark contrast to the attachment issues that a number of our other children arrived with (and still have, to some degree or another). Our oldest son may never really trust "adults" in his life, although he has made tremendous progress in the years past. His birth brother Mike, whom you have read about here frequently of late, has little or no attachment to us whatsoever. After nearly a decade of life with us as his parents we are really little more to him than caretakers. His early years were so chaotic and disruptive that we couldn't expect too much more, even though it grieves us when we see how difficult his life is and will become.

Ric and Jimmy, though, are heart-warming, delightful guys. Jimmy is a born extravert who knows no strangers. (While this could be unhealthy in some respects, he does seem to understand appropriate boundaries with those he doesn't very well, so it hasn't been a cause for alarm to us, as in possible abuse situations). He loves to talk, he loves to laugh and he is so relational it makes me wince sometimes, being the introvert that I am. His heart, though, is kind and gentle, and his face often filled with mirth. Now that adolescence has begun to visit Jimmy he's a little more caustic, a bit more irritating and often obnoxious, but I think he will come through that in a few years.

Ricardo is the introvert I am. He is quiet, stoic and deeply centered on things that matter to him. And I am one of the things that matters to him, so that's delightful to me. When he traveled to Guatemala to meet Jimmy those years ago, Ricardo was the first child who came bounding up to me and plopped on my lap. I could tell right away that he was a child that I would one day see again and, sure enough, in a couple of years we were able to adopt him, too. So, from the very beginning he and I had a heart-warming connection. Even now at 13 he will quietly hug me and kiss me on the cheek. There is nothing I love more than see him in a stoic moment when his features are as blank as his native Mayan kin, and then watch as he hears something funny or sees something to make him laugh. His face lights up (I've heard about that before, but I don't think I truly appreciated what "face lighting up" meant until I met Ric) as his eyes sparkle with glee and his broad, white-toothed smile fills the room with warmth and life.

That I have the opportunity to be his father is indeed a blessing, because it has been so very easy. Perhaps it has been too easy, but I rarely wrestle internally about my relationship with him, and I never wonder whether or not he will knife me in the night (I have had that worry with other of our children, actually) or one day walk away and turn his emotions off toward me. The cold, calculating ways of the unattached child are not Ric's ways, and our relationship is so natural and pleasant that I don't even have to think a second time about it. It's an easy relationship, if that makes sense, and so many of the relationships I have with other of our children are not what I would call "easy." They are important, of course, and valuable, and I do not give up on any of my kids, but they are not "easy."

Tonight I had the opportunity to watch Ric play soccer. His team defeated the opponents 7-0, the second of which was Ric's goal. He is a dynamo on the field, and it is a joy to watch him, even for this sports-moron that I am. On the way to his game tonight the three of us (Jimmy, Ric and I) were chatting, and Jimmy was telling us about his new, first part-time job. He finished his second day today, so he was telling us how tired he was, and he just wasn't sure he could work on Friday, too. I explained that the world is filled with people -- most people, in fact -- who work on Friday's, so he needed to get used to that thought.

"I work, too," Ricardo said, his eyes sparkling with delight. "You do?" I asked. "Yes. On the field. My job is to score!"

And indeed he did. His first "score" happened five years in the South American continent's poorest country when he ran to my lap an snuggled in, and his latest score happened in my presence on the soccer field.

Only God knows what kind of life we have been able to save Jimmy and Ric from -- those who know the country say that the odds are not good for orphans of their age, and that they may well have been consigned to one of two short-lived street occupations: prostitution or theft.

But tonight they are sleeping soundly in their own beds, thinking about their "jobs" -- for one his first foray into the working world, and for the other the work of playing soccer. And isn't that about the extent of "worries" there should be for a fifteen- and thirteen-year-old boy?

I am remembering why I adopted in the first. And it makes my heart glad.


ManyBlessings said...

I am a new reader to your blog (actually just found it yesterday) and was pleasantly surprised by what I read today. The reason I subscribed to your blog was the fact that you have adopted older children. Imagine my joy and relief today when I found out that two of those children are from Guatemala!

We have been waiting for over 2 years for our two older children from Guate. We started their adoption in May of 2005, only to have things fall apart. They are now living in a wonderful orphanage and are awaiting an abandonment decree. In August, they will be 10 and 8.

We've visited them 4 times and love them dearly, but I still worried because they were getting older. To read your post today was a breath of fresh air for me. We know our children also love us and to see that these older children can be well adjusted gives me such hope for our two (if we can just get an abandoment decree!).

Thank-you for writing this today. It truly blessed me.


Bart said...

Thank you for your kind words. Our story is that we have adopted ten children, the two most recent of whom are our sons from Guatemala. So, having experienced the difficult behaviors several of our first eight kids brought to us as a result of having spent time in US foster care, I really was concerned. There are so many media accounts of how very troubled children are growing up in orphanages, especially those who are older. I must say that I have been shocked at how emotionally healthy our two Guatemalan sons were from the beginning. They experienced nurture from the nearly the beginning, with consistent caretakers in a place where they always knew they were "home." I am under no illustions that all orphanages in all parts of the world are this way, but our experience with Latin America is that children are highly valued by all sectors of the culture. This is a stark contrast to what I've seen in much of Europe and in the USA, where kids are too often seen a goods or commodities that need to be "handled" or "stockpiled" until the final "purchaser" steps up.

This is so unlike the dreadful way we "do" foster care in the US where kids are bounced around from home to home, family to family, and often families encouraged not to attach to them or make any kinds of emotional bonds. It is utterly devastating. One of the phrases I most use when speaking about adoption is: "There is nothing more damning to the soul of a child than impermanence." And the more I see, the more I believe it.