Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Singing Through the Days

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:

Hello friends,
Hello friends,
Hello friends,
How are you today?

And then the goodbye version, sung to the same tune:

Goodbye friends,
Goodbye friends,
Goodbye friends,
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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Boy Oh Boy

I excitedly posted this comment on Facebook yesterday:

This note came home from Matthew's preschool teacher today and made this mama's heart soar: "Matthew seemed very relaxed today and made lots of eye contact. He is growing leaps and bounds right before our eyes!"

Ninety-seven “likes” later (thank you dear friends and family for your unbridled enthusiasm for our boy), my heart is even more full than it was. It’s hard to explain how it feels to invest in a boy for months and months with what feels like such little returns, only to wake up one morning and see the tangible results of that investment.

So in case you were wondering, preschool is going SO WELL for Matthew. He loves his teachers and his classroom, he’s learning to play with other students, he’s signing like crazy, sitting in circle time, experimenting with eating new foods, and settling into the routine like it’s old hat.

I’m thrilled.

It’s a busy time at our house right now, as I’ve shared before, since Matthew is our little explorer and scientist, and we cannot take our eyes off him for a second. He’s climbing bookshelves, re-arranging furniture, drawing on upholstery, pushing every button he can find, and generally making whatever mischief he can possibly make.

But even though Aaron and I roll our eyes several times a day and sometimes audibly moan at our exhaustion, we’re also secretly thrilled at the ways Matthew is waking up to the world around him. It’s amazing to realize that he’s hearing words and sounds, that he’s soaking them in and processing them and coming to understand them.

I’ve had a shift in my heart these past weeks too. Learning to love a child who comes to you already formed and shaped is a strange thing, and in the midst of all the transition, there were honestly times when I had to work hard to feel attached to my boy. He was new and strange (as I’m sure we were also to him), and when he didn’t respond in ways that I expected him to, I felt distanced from him and frustrated too. It was hard to understand him (it still is sometimes, honestly). But the longer we’ve spent time together, the more we’ve come to know each other, and the more he awakens to the world and begins asserting himself as a social being, the more I am falling head-over-heels in love with this boy.

Yes, it’s his sweet face that I think is so beautiful. He’s such a handsome boy, with his deep brown eyes, his luscious lips, his perfect cheekbones. He’s really quite a gorgeous kiddo.

His body is also familiar and beautiful to me, and strong and able too. Despite his many social challenges, Matthew’s physical development has really completely caught up (which is a miracle in itself) and I’ve always given thanks for strong and capable body that carries my boy through his days.

But these days it’s more than just the graceful features of my boy that make this mama’s heart swell. For the first time I’m seeing pieces of Matthew’s personality emerge—his sense of humor, his persistence, his determination—and I’m falling in love with those things too. I remember telling Aaron, after we had been matched with Matthew but hadn’t yet brought him home, that I hoped our third child would be calm and mild-mannered.

What a funny laugh now that neither “calm” nor “mild-mannered” are words I’d use to describe our boy. But now I understand that his persistence and his largess of presence are so important to his ability to thrive in our family and our world. If he was meek and reluctant, hesitant or cautious, he wouldn’t be doing so well in his development, overcoming so many challenges. It’s exactly his STRONG personality that is helping him move through this season.

Today I had this funny thought: Although this journey is foggy and unclear at best right now, one day I’ll look back and see a clear trajectory of development for Matthew that I hope I will finally understand.

It’s always this way, I suppose. When you’re in the thick of things, it’s hard to see where you are going. But once you arrive somewhere, there’s the blessing of looking back and finally saying “oh yeah, NOW I get it.”

That moment will be grace upon grace for this mama’s heart.