I think virtually any parent will tell you that there are moments in the parenting journey when for one moment everything is lovely and then in an instant, you feel sorrow so intense that it might just rip your heart out. Perhaps those kinds of experiences are even more poignant and present with an adopted child. I don’t know, since this is honestly my first time parenting an adopted child and some days I feel like a total newbie, but I suspect that it’s true.
I had one of those experiences tonight with Matthew—one of those moments in my own head that started beautiful and turned so deeply sorrowful and then back to joy again. Here’s what happened:
As an educator who has always been interested in multiple intelligences, it’s really fascinating to me watching Matthew start to take off in his development, only to realize with delight that some of his strengths are things I didn’t expect. One strength that is developing is his amazing love of music and songs. He can’t speak one single real word, but our son has a repertoire of about five recognizable songs that he can—and does—hum throughout the day. Totally in tune. It’s amazing.
The first one I recognized was Wheels on the Bus. Next it was Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Then came The Farmer in the Dell. The fourth is a tune I’ve sung to him since he came home—one that reminded me of the sounds he made with his thumb in his mouth but has since morphed into a version of the Campbell Soup song: “Mmm Good, mmm, Good. That’s What Campbell’s Soup is, mmm good.” With his thumb in his mouth, it sounds like a Cantonese version of the soup commercial. Hilarious and adorable.
Then all day today I noticed that Matthew was singing a familiar tune, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. At first he was just humming the first half, but then later today he started humming the whole song. And tonight it finally dawned on me: Just a few days ago, Matthew’s preschool teacher wrote a note saying Matthew was learning to sing the “Hello” and “Goodbye” songs with the rest of the kids. I realized the song he was humming today was that song:
How are you today?
And then the goodbye version, sung to the same tune:
We’ll see you here next time
I first learned this song from an album that my brother gave me when Maya was born. I had to admit that tonight when I realized what Matthew was singing, I started to cry tears of joy. Matthew’s love of song is another testament to the fact that his ears are finally working and he’s really hearing the world around him. It was also amazing for me to realize that Matthew’s not just singing songs he hears at home but also at school—that the gift of music is present in all places of his life.
It was a lovely moment for me, tears streaming down my face. I love seeing this little person emerge from his shell—love seeing him open up and take in the world around him—love knowing that he is moving forward and gaining skills and knowledge because of preschool and the love and support of family and friends—all the people who have come alongside him to help him learn and grow.
But that wasn’t the deeply sad moment. No, that moment happened later in the evening.
It was 7:00 and I had gathered up Matthew to change him and get him ready for bed. He was smiling up at me from the changing table, again humming the “Hello” song, and I remembered something we had read during our adoption training—that new studies about the nature/nurture debate are showing that it turns out most of us are about 90% nature after all. Our temperaments and behaviors are significantly shaped by the nurturing families around us, and we learn to grow and develop because of those wonderful forces, but when it comes down to it, the most recent behavioral science suggests that most of who we are comes from something biological.
And it dawned on me tonight, while changing Matthew’s diaper and getting him into his pajamas, that his love of music and his amazingly in-tune ear don’t come from me and Aaron, but are knitted deeply into his biological make up.
Someone in his biological family is musical.
And then I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my cheeks as I looked closely at this beautiful boy who is my son and felt so sorrowfully all that his family lost when they left him on that street corner in Xucheng Town.
They’ll likely never know that their boy loves music. They won’t see him work so hard to learn, watch him say his first word or learn to read or become this amazing human being that he is becoming.
And after standing still with the weight of all the sadness one mama’s heart can hold, my sorrow turned to joy again as I realized that even though I didn’t give Matthew the music gene, I get to foster it—to develop it—to nurture it. We are a singing family—we sing our way through our days. We sing in the morning. We make up songs about breakfast and getting dressed and Matthew’s bus driver who takes him to school each day. And we sing in the evening—bowing our heads in thanks at the dinner table, doing dishes, taking baths, tucking small people into bed.
Music comprises the greater part of our day at our house, and Matthew’s proclivity toward music multiplies and adds to the tapestry of our family in blessed ways.
I’ve said it before, and I still know it’s true—loss will always sneak its way into our lives somehow, no matter what we do to keep it out. Adoption is beauty and new life and love, but it’s also loss and grief and sorrow. I suppose that’s the way life is—and adoption is no different.
But when those tears start to pool in my eyes and my heart weighs heavy with the knowledge of all that Matthew has lost, I will pull that little boy into my arms and hug him tight—and together we’ll sing our own song of joy and sorrow—the lines a kind of melody and harmony that break my heart with their intertwining loss and loveliness.
And music will soothe us even when nothing else can.