I wrote this a couple of years ago, to celebrate our family day. I wanted to share it again, although I’ve amended it slightly mainly because I’m an inveterate fiddler and can never leave well alone.
Five years ago now, our son came home.
Five years a week ago we met him for the first time. He was four and a half. The door opened and we heard his foster carer say in a loud voice “You know who this is?” to him. And we heard a tiny nervous voice on the other side of the door say “Mummy and Daddy”. Or as near to those words as he could pronounce. Even before the door opened I could tell that he was nervous, excited and anxious. The two of us on the other side of the door felt exactly the same.
Such are the wierdnesses of adoption, that he knew we were going to be his Mummy and Daddy before he had met us. He had seen photos of us, of his new bedroom, his nearest play park, his Nursery via a photo album we had sent him. He’d even heard our voices, as each photo had a wee mp3 accompaniment. We, on the other hand, had only seen a photo of him about three days before we met him. I must admit I was anxious about that. “What if we get a minger?” I’d asked my wife – only a joke, you understand dear reader, but you know it’s really hard to get emotionally attached to someone you’d never met. Imagine knowing you’re effectively already a Dad, barring something awful happening, and you don’t even know the colour of their eyes, hair or skin?
I really wanted to dive into this parenting thing body and soul, but I’m a cautious chappie by nature, and it was the hardest few days of my life, knowing I’d be Dad to someone who I’d never met. What if he didn’t like me? What if he didn’t want to leave his Foster Mum? What if… oh a billion things.
There are two “Things They Never Tell You About Adopting”.
1) the only thing you can really do to prepare for adopting a child concerns your comfort zone. You have to bid it a fond farewell, as it leaves the building, hurtling off at a million miles an hour never to be seen again. Adopting is something you can never train for, never be prepared for.
2) In the adoption process, you learn about all the difficulties, all the problems, all the toughness of adopting – and it’s right that you do. We knew our son had speech delay, that he may have learning difficulties, that we would struggle to understand any words he said, that he may not ever have the sort of life one might wish for him.
3) Pockets. You need lots of very deep pockets. Not in terms of money. Actually that’s a lot less then I thought. He had so many electronic gadgets when he was in care, but no-one to play with. These days he las us, and friends, and sticks, and trees, and pebbles to skim. That’s why you need pockets. When you take a boy to the beach who has never been to the beach, there are lots of things he wants to keep.
4) Expectations. What no-one ever said was that the “powers that be” in the education and social system have a set of expectations for an adopted child which puts them firmly into the “under-achieving” set. Our son was very behind in speaking, reading, learning, but that was because of his background, not due to any mental delay. But because the care system would rather think that he was medically unable to learn, rather than that it had failed him, they were terribly keen to make sure we had low expectations of him too. I have no expectations of my son whatsoever, I just want him to be happy and kind. And I’m glad to say, that’s going pretty well.
But the main thing that no-one would ever tell you about adopting a child is that it is just possible that everything about him and about us as a family, might go blissfully, ridiculously, unbelievably right. You are often presented with worst case scenarios, and it’s right that they do that. We went into adopting with the expectation that our son would be dependent on us for most of his life, that his childhod would be angry and traumatic. But thanks be to God, it didnt’ turn out that way.
They never tell you that the child that you fall in love with so completely will seem every bit of, and perhaps, even more your child, than any birth-child could.
They never tell you that your child’s laughter (and there’s a hell of a lot of it) will shatter any anxieties you might have, that it will break down any worries and troubles, until you realise the truth of adopting, which is that everything that matters, all that matters, is them, and the love you give them, and everything else can go hang.
The never tell you that your child will grow up in ways that surprise and delight you, as well as filling you with utter horror about how dangerous the world around him is.
They never tell you that it might be possible that there is another human being which you would unquestioningly, instantly give everything you have, if they needed it. I’m by nature a pretty selfish person, and any level of generosity I have ever had I’ve had to work on like mad. I’m by nature an anxious person, and have always sought safety and comfort to keep those particular demons at bay. But when it comes to my son, there’s no thought, no question.
It says in 1John “there is no room for fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear”. I see what that means now. Fear is so last season. Fear is so pointlessly low priority. I fear for him, of course, but I don’t fear for myself any more. What a gift that is.
Six days after meeting us, five years ago yesterday, he moved in. Five years later, he is a boy full of giggly laughter and heady joy. He is a boy with no malice in him, and his only sin is over-exuberance, and sometimes a careful filtering of the ability to listen. I’ll take that – he’s a much nicer kid than I ever was. He has all the anxieties that a boy who was adopted might have – they will always be there, and I’m sure there will be more to come as he gets older.
But I hope that he knows that these anxieties belong to our family, not just to him, and that’s where they can be shared and dealt with. He is as full of energy as any boy can be, he is as geeky about Doctor Who as I am, he is as soppy as my wife, and his vocabulary is wide (perhaps a little too wide, but then that’s my fault for letting him listen to me when I was on the phone to BT). He also makes me laugh. He’s witty, he loves puns, he’s inventive. He’s discovered how to make axes out of flint, which is problematic.
So today is our family day – a family birthday, and if there’s one purpose in this blog post, it is to recommend it. Every family should have a special day when you celebrate the fact you have one another.
Today and tomorrow for us will feature cake and “stinky balloon” (if you get hit with the balloon you smell like a pig’s breath) , den-building and Tintin, Doctor Who and tree climbing. So why not give yourselves that? Go on, Pick a day – mid-way between birthdays, an otherwise dull day, and make your family a cake. Think of one thing which someone in your family most wants to do, and make sure it happens. Make each other laugh. I do that by telling my son a joke, my wife does it by trying and failing to remember a joke, my son does it by pretending that he has a balloon for a willy.
Family days are a great idea – do try it. Any excuse to tell your family how brilliant life is with them is always going to be worth it.