I keep thinking of Beowulf when I’m trying to come back to write about our trip to China and bringing our baby home for Christmas. In Beowulf, the speaker uses a literary device called a “kenning” to describe a noun with an adjective phrase, so the sun becomes the “sky-candle,” the ocean the “whale-road,” etc.
If I were to summarize this season, the trip and Christmas and all of the emotional and joy and heartache, it would be the special-stressful.
This Christmas, our little Fei finally made it home from China. When I last wrote a blog entry, it was on the second day of our two-week trip. I fully intended to write there every few days. I have at least seven posts started, many of them almost finished, but I just never got around to putting them online. I will, I promise. It matters to me to finish those up. I so admire the moms (and dads, I’m sure) who are able to manage that trip, write meaningful posts, take darling pictures, keep everyone updated, and apparently also shower.
That was not our trip.
I’m ready to call it–this is easily the hardest thing we’ve ever done. And we have lived pretty adventurous, difficult lives.
It is also the best decision we ever made.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart. I blogged a lot (and will continue to blog) about the ethical aspects that are some of the most important parts of the pre-adoption process. Post-adoption, I still want to ask hard questions and face hard truths. So I’ll be honest–bringing home an almost three-year-old with a life and a past and a daily routine and a determined personality is pretty stinking hard.
By the third day, we knew that we were facing some serious grief on the part of this little girl. Selfishly, that’s a good thing–it means she was well-loved and well-attached to her caregivers (she was so adored by those nannies), which means her attachment to us, when it does finally gel, will be secure. There are none of the signs of reactive attachment disorder or even minor attachment issues.
We know, compared to many of our friends both online and in real life, that we have it pretty good. In many ways, this feels like a textbook adoption.
And it’s still really complicated and complex and painfully difficult to navigate.
During the day, Fei is an absolute love. She cuddles, she charms, she smiles, she sings, she putters, she pats, she wants to be held, she makes faces, she mimics, she dances. We are deeply in love with her little personality–she’s a ham. She’s a pixie. She’s a snuggle bug.
At night, it’s all too much for her. The first night, her crying was sad and pitiful. It broke my heart. The second night, the rage hit. Bless her.
It’s beyond my capacity to be a good parent with so little sleep, much less to blog and write well about the experience. We traded off, but we had no idea what positions she wanted to be held in. If we did it wrong, and even when we did it right, she flung (flings, still) her body from one side to the other or back, with her knees bent, so it’s almost impossible to catch her before she crashes to the floor. We’ve gotten stronger and faster and our reflexes are better, but it’s like holding a live monkey and trying to calm her down.
There was no instruction manual for this little one.
During this season, the special-stressful, a famous Dylan Thomas poem keeps running through my mind. Perhaps it’s because Fei’s fits magnified as we got closer to nighttime:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though Thomas is talking about aging, I think it fits adoption as well. What we are experiencing with Fei (though it has gotten better in the last three weeks, this is a long, long road ahead) seems to fit that first stanza. I think adoption SHOULD burn and rave at close of day. It’s all too much. No child should ever face all of the grief our daughter has in her short three years.
It’s just wrong.
In China, she only wanted to be held and walked. For that first week, when she barely knew us, when we smelled and looked funny, when her tummy hurt from new food and her skin was irritated by new clothes, when everything was totally off, the only thing we could do was pat her and walk while she raged.
Miles we walked in two tiny, tiny hotel rooms, trying to keep the big girls asleep, trying to give each other a break. Every hour or two, she was up for an hour or two. Jet lag was a joke–we didn’t sleep for two weeks straight. And we’ve barely slept coming back. I got strep throat. We struggled to be civil to each other, to meet our biological daughters’ needs, to be patient with the whining and the tears of everyone (I might have been the whiniest of all).
And at night I’d whisper encouragement into her ear: “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
There is a grief so stark it can only be marked by throwing your body to the floor and raging at the top of your lungs.
This time has also been catch-your-breath sweet. Watching her giggle with her sisters. Seeing her hold her arms up for love again and again. Listening to her English words (“please,” “mama,” “nana,” “no”). Witnessing her confidence and her belly and her cheeks grow in the last three weeks.
She was loved, but she was one of many in that orphanage. Now she’s one of three very, very loved little girls. And we can see the difference it is making in her life. One of the sweetest things (which I will post about later) was watching her nannies’ joy at seeing her with us. They celebrated and smiled–everything we know is that her future in China was bleak. It was beds in a row and the lowest level of education and a name that clearly marked her as an orphan.
I can’t talk about the children we left behind. I might never be able to talk about walking out of that room with one and leaving twenty behind, not to mention the other rooms all along the hallway in the cold, unheated corridor that stretched on and on.
Having this baby home to walk around at Christmas time with fat legs jutting out of her diaper, sunglasses on her face, a Dora cell phone to her ear and a Christmas bag slung over her shoulder like a purse as she waves bye-bye, it makes me want to weep at the rightness of it all.
She has always belonged to us. She belongs here. She is ours. We are getting to know each other, but having walked through the fire of the first three weeks together, we are more bonded and blessed and blended than we might have been had all of this gone smoothly from the start.
With every fiber of my being, I can say, she is mine, just as much as her two blonde sisters who have had my heart for seven and four years.
People text me or message me and say, “Isn’t it so fun to have her home for Christmas?” And it is, truly. But “fun” seems like such a small word to use for the heart-stopping rightness of her being here. And it can’t possibly touch the shift-on-a-dime feel of one sweet moment sliding into a full-body-throwing fit over picking up blocks on the living room rug.
The grief-joy of this time is intense and precious and holy and too hard to put into words.