It was nearly ten years ago that Claudia and I first entered the world of older child adoption. On a December day in Vancouver, Washington, not unlike this October day in Dallas, Texas, we met for the first time two boys who would come to share our last name and our family life.
Kyle (then 11) and Mike (then 8) were living in separate foster homes at the time, so part of our immediate task was to bring together two brothers whose relationship was lack that of magnets. You are, I am sure, familiar with the way that two magnets respond to one another. I learned about the way magnets work at my Grandmother Fletcher’s kitchen table many years ago, probably when I was a preschooler. She had two large magnets that always sat on the shelf next to her kitchen table, and I remember many minutes spent learning about similar and dissimilar forces. If I placed the magnets together with similar magnetism they would actually move away from each other, and if I took the same magnets and reversed their relationship they would summarily find themselves tightly connected.
We learned quickly that Kyle was the magnet doing his best to keep distance from his younger brother Mike, and that Mike was the magnet clinging with force to his older brother Mike. You can guess that their first years back together again with us were challenging ones. From the first moments they were in our rental car together before we ever flew back to Minnesota they were engaged in bickering, argumentation and some expressions of physical force. Their only moments of appropriate sibling interaction were ones in which they were competing together (in a board game, for example, or in swimming stunts in the hotel pool). Their relationship over the years has continued to be similarly characterized: Kyle continues to distance himself from Mike, and Mike reports that Kyle is the only person in the world he has ever really trusted or loved.
What a striking contrast Claudia and I have discovered in our two newest boys, Napoleon “Leon” (12) and Wilson (8). We met them for the first time last night at the airport upon our arrival, and it is apparent they are healthily attached to one another. Leon extends a brotherly hand to protect his brother on occasion, and Wilson looks to his brother for direction and safety. It is too soon to tell whether their relationship is one that is unhealthily enmeshed, but even the first hours we have been with them stand in stark contrast to the chaotic, fractious ones we spent together with Kyle and Mike a decade ago.
We are not naive, and we know that this is the “honeymoon” period for all of us. The boys are on their best behavior, and we are able to be generous with our time and attention at the moment without work and other children competing for our time. But by all reports these are two healthy boys. They have no documented diagnoses, they have not had a horrid history of physical abuse or emotional trauma. They have experienced neglect, but it appears that their early years have caused them to be bonded together, but not codependent or enmeshed. Their time together is not characterized by internal chaos or external anger.
It will be interesting to see what may develop in the weeks ahead, but for now I will receive as a gift from God’s hand the lives of these two handsome, intelligent, calm children.