Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Big Brother

Many years ago, I saw a picture of a boy on a photolisting and had a stirring in my heart that I was looking at my son. II said I was crazy, and since I knew we were years ago from starting an adoption, I agreed with him. Until three years later, that same boy was still staring at me from that photolisting and I realized he still needed a family, and he had only grown older in an orphanage for those years. That was the day we started our first adoption. I spent nine months worried that he would not accept me as his mother, nine months reading everything I could get my hands on to prepare for an older child adoption, especially one who had survived a brutal civil war and had trauma issues to overcome. Months banging my head against a wall everytime I asked for realistic preparations and being told that food, shelter and love were all he would require to be "fine."

Ten years ago, after years of dreaming, months of preparing and working and weeks of fighting immigration to NOT block his final file because of a beaucractic glitch that sent his original file to the National Archives and his photocopied file to the embassy, II traveled to a West African nation to bring The Big Brother home.

For all of my worries, for all of the challenges I've faced over the years with other kids since then, the one thing I did not have to worry about was whether A would love and accept me as a mother. We had had weekly phone contact with A through the adoption, had an opportunity to send him a care package and pictures and information on our family. Yes, there were still years of trauma issues to overcome. There were times that my poor child was not cognitively *with* me but stuck in nightmares from his past. There were nights he thrashed and woke up too scared to take himself to the bathroom safely. It was not all sunshine and happiness when he got home. His trauma was not resolved until I finally forwent traitional therapists and found a specialized trauma therapist who utilized EMDR, a sepcial therapy meant to help resolve trauma memories. However, attachment and adjustment into the family was a textbook perfect experience with A.

Mothering A was also about learning that when you adopt older children, you don't make them like you, you learn to meld your family to encompass different personalities. You have to meet them where they are, show them who you are, and meet in the middle where everyone is respected and loved. For me, that meant that this totally NOT athletic mom had to learn how to support a child who lives and breaths sports. For A, it meant learning that being The Big Brother meant he had to set an example and be protective of little siblings. There are things still that baffle me about A. How can every person who ever meets this young man be totally blown away....when he hardly ever speaks? Seriously, I adore him, but most weeks I can count on one hand the number of sentences that come out of his mouth. I worry that a partner in life will not be so accepting and understanding of a man who is not merely of little words but mostly of no words. Yet, everyone who meets this child developed what we call A-worship. From the tiniest of babies who love to stare into his face in awe and tug on his dreds while he grins at them, to the most calloused of adults who watch how this young man carries himself and stands in respect of how self-assured and strong of character this child is.

Despite the fact that he was seven when he entered our home, he was still very much a little boy. He liked to cuddle. He often came into our room early in the morning after nightmares and cuddled until time to wake up. He ate like nothing I had ever seen before. He still eats much like that, though it feels far more appropriate at nearly 17 with such a low body fat and athletic phsyique. He prefers meat to other things, but sometimes a snack is three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for him. He is also my most adventerous eater. There is no other child in my house that I can give something bizarre, excotic, strange, and intriquing and they will gladly try it with me. A, he'll try anything once...so long as it is NOT chocolate. He likes white chocolate but he finds American milk chocolate too sweet and too grainy. Offer him European or Asian chocolate and he's all over it, but offer him standard American chocolate and he will not go anywhere near it. That alone baffles most people who know him.

For years, I told A he was brillant but clearly struggling with his English as a second language struggles. He never believed me until seventh grade. At that point, he felt he was never, ever going to overcome those challenges and requested he go to public school to enter formal ESL coursework. It was there that things that we had together struggled to make sense of for years (with the guidance of an educated ESL teacher I had made friends with along the path), clicked instantly. Today, I can always predict A's grades before they are issues. A will make mostly As. However, he'll always have two Bs and they typically will not be in the same class twice. Once in awhile, he'll so something stupid like have missing assignments and he'll show up with a C in his grading, but he's always able to fix that back to acceptable rapidly once he's made aware of it. He's also my worst procrastinator, found typing away on a paper at 11pm the night before it is due but never, ever touching it before that last night. I would like for him to improve some of those habits, but I cannot argue that he is doing well even with his less than stellar habits intact.

When he was newly home, A was a little boy with absolutely no self esteem. He had no voice and no ability to face the world as if he was an equal within that world. We did two things to help him. We placed him in community soccer, which eventually led to top level competitive soccer (until we moved to New England rural and cannot find an adequate program so he has quit this spring in frustration at his available options not the game itself) and I encouraged him to grow his hair into dreds. He wanted to grow his hair longer than the mandatory buzz cut of the orphanage but his head is far too sensitive to handle longer hair. Six years ago, he started growing his dreds. Watching the self esteeem he has developed by seeing the world interact with him so positively for these two steps has been one of the best things I did for him as a mother. In fact, the running joke within our house now is that A is sometimes a bit too self-assured and borders on arrogant at times.

A dreams of becoming a doctor. He wants to be a Hematologist, so he says. He has the capabilities to do so, but I am unsure if he will hold onto this dream as he enters college soon. I am fine if he chooses another path, but I don't discourage him from dreaming either. My own brother has a promising career in professional track and seems to think A is capable of following his footsteps. I don't want to disagree with my brother, but I truthfully am not as excited with that prospect, even if my brother is correct in his assessment. Current issues with A's legs when he runs show that he might not be able to go that path anyway. I have made peace that I cannot dictate his future and his dreams for him, but I would prefer he not seek athletics for a career versus for a healthy outlet and if possible a means to pay for his education beyond high school.

Whatever his future holds the running joke in the house these days is that no one is safe to mention that this baby is leaving me in two short years. Mom is prone to crying everytime she realizes how fast this baby has grown up and how soon he will be launching into his own adult life. Most days I work every hard to forget that the tiny boy I tucked into my lap, scared, lost, shaking and too confused to fall asleep that first night home is now a man-child on the verge of his own life and his own future. I can't wait to see where he goes and what he does. I just don't like the knowledge that I have to step back and let him go there, to be a friend and a consultant and not a daily influence over him in just two very short years.

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