Adoption. The military. They don't seem connected in most people's minds, but right now thoughts of teh two are swirling around in my head. The link? Commitment. Or lack thereof.
I'm sure that many have heard of Torry Hansen and the 7 year old boy sent back to Russia on the plane. (If you don't know what happened, google her. The news changes so fast it's difficult to choose a relevant link.) I have thoughts about what happened. It's easy to want to judge her for what she did, but the fact remains that we don't know everything about what went on. Now, having said that, I firmly believe that she missed one crucial element: commitment.
And the military? Well, twice in the last 2 or 3 weeks I have become aware of friends who have children choosing to go AWOL rather than fulfill their commitment to the military and the US government. Both young men are younger than Ms. Hansen, but it does make me wonder: are we raising up a generation that has absolutely no concept of what commitment really means? I am afraid so.
When you talk about adoption, what does commitment look like? Besides the day-in, day-out love and care for a child--the obvious part--commitment means digging deep when it's hard. It means remembering that love is NOT a warm fuzzy feeling, it's a choice, and making that choice as often as needed. It means doing hard things that your child may not like in the short term for their long term benefit. One example: Ryan was 9 months old when we adopted him. At 9 months, babies are beginning to realize that they are totally separate entities from mom, and stranger anxiety often kicks in. So does the need to start exploring and expressing their autonomy. Ryan was at that point. He was both frightened of us and determined to explore the new world he'd just been placed in. And a battle began. He didn't want me to hold him close and cuddle him up for his bottles. He didn't like being face to face with me--it was frightening and threatening. He didn't appreciate having his world 'shrunk' even temporarily--he wanted to determine how things would go. In his mind, the ideal position for taking a bottle would have been sitting on my lap facing the big world and not having to look at Mom's face. But there's a reason Moms and Dads are older and wiser. They know that the long term good HAS to outweigh the immediate need. So Ryan was unhappy as I held him close, snuggled up like a newborn. I stroked his face and talked to him softly. Initially he hated it. I think we both did. There's nothing fun about trying to feed a baby who wants nothing to do with you. But perseverance was the key, and I knew it. After a couple of weeks, I could see a huge change. The baby who didn't like to be held started seeking my lap or my arms. He started recognizing that I was trustworthy, that I could keep him safe. After a few more weeks, it turned into fun as he would put his hands on my cheeks and turn my face toward him if I tried to do something else when it was time to eat. He had discovered the fun and the joy that comes from the snuggles, from being deeply loved and loving in return. He and I played tons of peek-a-boo type games. Every day. They involved snuggles and tickles and kisses. And they taught him that Mom and Dad were fun. It's so easy to say "He didn't like it" and let the child win that battle...but where do you draw the line? There are so many adopted children who struggle with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) in varying degrees. (To learn more about RAD, click here, then click RAD Symptoms on the red scroll bar on the left.) It's hard to know exactly how many, since it shares many symptoms with autism spectrum disorders and mental health issues. I just knew that I didn't want my child to become a statistic, that I was going to do whatever I needed to do to make sure that in the long run he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was loved and wanted, and that he had every opportunity to learn that we were trustworthy. For Ryan, it paid off.
When we first contemplated adopting Logan, we knew things would be different. Instead of 9 months, we would be bringing home a preschooler, already over 3 1/2. And we knew that he was already seen as the 'alpha male' in his living situation. It has to be incredibly hard to go from being the top dog in the orphanage to low man on the totem pole in a few short hours. That's what happened to Logan. His journey has been much more difficult. How well I remember emailing a dear friend from China, telling her I couldn't do this! (She assured me I could. She was right.) His sensory integration issues mean that snuggles and soft caresses are not comfortable for him. His hearing loss means that he doesn't necessarily hear all the words we say to him, increasing the frustration for all of us. His vision issues (and the cultural learning from 3 1/2 years in China) mean that maintaining eye contact is hard for him. His speech issues limit communication and frustrate him to no end. But the goal is still the same; the road is just different. Instead of close snuggles, we've opted for side by side time. We play games together that require face to face interaction, and I often whisper to him so he'll come close. He's my perpetual helper in the kitchen, and I try hard to use those times to our advantage. His journey has been much slower, much more difficult. Many people know that I have said the first year was like spending every day having my character power sanded with 30 grit sandpaper--it hurt! Now, nearly 2 years later, we are using mostly finish paper. There are still lots of rough spots, times were the coarse paper comes back out. In the process, though, the entire family has been polished and refined. We've learned a lot about ourselves and about Logan. And it's paying off. Every day we see Logan grow and learn and trust us more. As he continues to trust, he lets his guard down further and becomes more and more fun to be with. It's a process, but we're making huge progress, and while there are still things to work on, Logan is clearly and firmly attached to this family.
On the wall in our stairwell, there is a picture. It says "No reserves. No retreats. No regrets." Those words were spoken by William Borden, heir to the Borden family fortune, as he pursued God and his desire to be a missionary in the early 1900s. They are amazingly similar to the Marine Corps motto: "Honor. Courage. Commitment." Maybe it's not a surprise that Brent enlisted in the Marines--he grew up with similar values. These days, they get to see them in action more. No reserves? Check. Some days it takes everything I have mentally and emotionally to deal with Logan's issues. No retreats? Check. We are still here and so is he. So is Ryan, for that matter. It's a choice. No regrets? Check (at least most of the time!). How could we have regrets? Two sweet boys who love their family? They are such fun! It's not easy dealing with all the stuff or trying to juggle the needs of preschoolers, high schoolers, and college kids, but it's life and you just do it.
So...would I do it again? Absolutely! If someone else would foot the adoption bill... :) It's hard, but so are most good things in life. Do I have regrets? Probably--there's a place in my heart I simply don't let my mind go right now because hanging out there isn't productive. Does it mean I love my little guys less, or wish they weren't part of my life? Absolutely not.
Bottom line, that's the truth of adoption--it's hard work but SO worth it!