Monday, November 03, 2008

The Shrimp and the Great White Shark

Yes, Virginia, I am father to children other than Mike, although he has occupied much of my blog's attention over the past couple of weeks. His life is a circuitous one, interesting in many ways, but his is not the only life who is part of mine. I have a spouse and I have eleven other children who add so much depth and meaning to my days. They do not always receive here the attention they rightly merit. (A subtle reminder that it is never a good idea to measure a person's life simply by what they read on one's blog).

Of the twelve years I have been a father, I must say that many of those years have been filled with emotions ranging from moments of joy to periods of real desolation. Caring for children whose histories and biologies are mysteries is a challenging proposition. There are many moments when I have entered too deeply into their past traumas or present defiance and lost myself. I continue to learn, day by day, what it means to be a "self-differentiated" person who can maintain a hold on my own sense of being. To lose oneself as an adoptive parent is a frightening proposition for both child and parent.

There are many heavy, heavy moments in the task of parenting older adopted children, so when moments of lightness appear they are too often forgotten or relegated to the trash can of frivolity. Because of my own personality qualities, I continually have to remind myself to find more opportunities to bask in the light than to lurk in the shadow of my family's existence. They are really two different modes of being, the one offering hope and the other continual disillusionment.

One of the bright lights in my existence currently is our youngest son, Wilson, who is now age nine. He and his birth brother (13) have just celebrated their first anniversary in our family. They have been so delightful. It is almost as if I have been holding my breath for a year to wait for things to crumble. With many of our kids (especially those whom we adopted earlier in the journey) it took only a few weeks before things really fell apart. Wilson and Leon, however, are very emotionally healthy and exhibit all the signs of children who were emotionally cared for in their early lives. They are, I am sure, "normal," but for a family like ours, formed through adopting older children with considerable emotional challenges, they seem unique and special.

Wilson, who is a slender, spindly child who will soon by ten, looks to be about five or six. His petite frame and diminutive stature belie the truth of his age and sophistication. It is always a surprise, then, when a witticism rolls from his puckered lips. One of his favorite things to do is to come bounding into my bedroom and jump into my lap. I have a comfortable chair in a corner by a lamp and spend a lot of my reading (and television, when I watch it) time there. As his slight frame nestles into my ample one, the warmth of his emotional presence lights the corner. We exchange teasing words on occasion, or share a candy from his Halloween bag or watch a television program together. It is a joyful, heart-warming experience.

Yesterday as he snuggled into my side I said, "How are you doing, Shrimp?"

With his crescent-shaped brown eyes sparkling and a smile filling his gap-toothed grin, he responded, "Who are you calling shrimp, great white shark?"

In our multicultural family where we who are caucasian are now "outnumbered," my rejoinder was, "Hey, are you being racist or just commenting on my size?"

He giggled happily and we shared another moment of attachment happiness.

These moments of happy, healthy attachment have been so far and between that when they occur, even after twelve years, they surprise me. While I love all of my children equally, I have found that I love them differently. Some of them are so very hard to love because of the continual emotional rejection and distance they convey, but this one is a delight to my soul. He is just so easy to love, warmth received and shared, love reflected and received.

Life for a parent as it was meant to be.

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