Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A New Relationship or More of the Same?

There was a time in my life when I saw travel for what it was ... an opportunity to leave familiar surroundings and experience something new. Perhaps travel could be an opportunity to learn, or to sample new food, or to immerse oneself in a new culture. Now that I am feeling the reality of middle-aged living, I understand travel has the opportunity to transform relationships. Maybe I have known that intuitively for some time, since I have always enjoyed taking a kid (or more) with me when I travel on church- or adoption-related travel, or travel for pleasure. And my most faithful traveling companion son has been Kyle, our oldest son.

Early this morning (the taxi picked us up at the hotel at 4:30 AM) Kyle and I left Minneapolis for Washington, DC. It has been at least two years (and longer since it was just Kyle and I together) since Kyle and I have traveled. The last time was after his second year of college, he was still living at home and we had our share of both good and conflicted times. Historically Kyle and I have traveled together quite a bit over the years. When he was younger (twelve and thirteen) I took him with me on overnight trips simply to get him out of the house so that he and Claudia could survive one another. In time he and I developed a good relationship, and I have grown to enjoy Kyle very much over the years. He is now a college graduate, twenty-one years old, and not living in our home (which, according to him, he hopes he never has to do again). Come to think of it, maybe Claudia and I agree with him on that assertion, too.

While I have enjoyed and celebrate with Kyle his continuing steps toward independence, it has also been challenging for me for let him go. I have given so much of my life to him over the years since he came to live with us at the age of eleven that the past couple of years have felt disconnected. There is a distance that was not there previously, and I have had a hard time assessing what is normal young adult behavior and what is complicated by attachment issues related to older-child adoption. Regardless of causation, I have to acknowledge my own feelings as I understand them. And I have missed Kyle.

Part of this first day together has caused me to ask the question if he and I will develop a more mutual, adult-like relationship, or if it will be more of the same. By "more of the same" I refer to his naturally critical, caustic observations, most of which are pointedly personal. He has learned to be more socially appropriate over the years, for which I am grateful, but asking him to serve as my navigator in an unfamiliar city (and especially an "undriveable" one like DC) was an exercise in "more of the same." I have to say, though, that he redeemed himself (as he pointed out) by helping me figure out how to open the liftgate on the back of the rental vehicle we are driving.

Kyle's love of electronic stimulation has abated little over the years. We arrived at our hotel an hour or so ago, and his first step was to pick up the remote to see what was available on television, a selection which he found abysmally disappointing. Not one prone to conversation, Kyle spends much of his time, even with his significant other, being electronically stimulated, so I do not feel bad to spend our first hours on vacation with a television in the background as my laptop keys clatter. There is little conversation, but that's not something that conveys meaning to Kyle. I asked him a week or so ago about what conveys meaning (I think I said "how do you know someone loves you?") to him, and he said, "When someone spends time with me." So, I am reminding myself that I am spending time with Kyle, and even though it is not exactly via an enriching conversation, it conveys meaning to him.

But I can live with that. I'm to the point now, chronologically, of knowing Kyle more years than I have not known him. I think that's kind of an adoption-related emotional tipping point. Once a parent has known a kid longer than they have not known them there is a sense of attachment that did not exist previously. I don't know how to elucidate that, and it's only my intuition speaking, but I can sense the difference.

And, truth be told, even if the relationship Kyle and I share is only more of the same, it's OK. I have watched the transformation in his life from an angry, sullen, solitary, resentful, embittered, unattached eleven-year-old to a young man who is at peace, while still enjoying moments of introverted distance, occasionally grateful, content and maybe, just maybe, attached to the people who have called him son for well over a decade.

While I will continue to hope for opportunities to strengthen and renew our relationship into something more akin to adult mutuality, I am also learning the value of what we have now, a complicated connection fostered over years of intentionality. I think it's what some people call a "father-son" bond, and I am grateful to God that it is enough. Perhaps not forever, but for today it is.

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