I had a dream last night about the child we are adopting. It wasn't a good dream. We got the call for our referral, and a few hours later we were introduced live and in person to the child who was now our daughter. She looked to be around eight or nine years old. She didn't really like me. It wasn't that she was necessarily shy; it was that she preferred being with anyone else who was in the house. I was trying to get her room ready in a futile attempt for her to like me. Everyone else in the house kept oohing and ahhing over her while she simply ignored me, her new mother.
That was my dream. I obviously have some fears about this next adoption. I am afraid to write about it, but I'm choosing to do so mainly because of the encouragement I felt while reading Melissa Faye Greene's brutally honest take on the adoption of her son from Bulgaria. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend doing so.
So what am I so afraid of? Why am I having bad dreams? Why did I sort of flip out one day last week and need to go on a several-hour walk by myself to think and pray?
It's difficult to explain. Please bear with me as I stumble around for the right words.
When we were in Ethiopia bringing home our tiny baby Abe, we had a conversation with Belay that changed forever both me and Ted. Belay is an Ethiopian man who works for Gladney. He is one of my biggest heroes on this earth. If Belay hadn't been on the scene, it is very likely that Abe would not be our son right now (in case you're new to our family, you can read about the twists and turns of Abe's adoption here and here and here). The first thing Belay does every day when he wakes up is to call the Gladney transition homes to check on the children. I heard that his wife asked him one day why he did this when he had his own children at home to check in with in the morning. His response was that his children have two parents already and that the children at the Gladney home have no one. Saying that he loves children is an understatement. He is utterly devoted and children respond to that. We got to see Belay this spring at Chris and Heather's St Paddy's Day party in California, and despite not having seen him in over a year, Abe flew into Belay's arms when we walked in the door (as evidenced in the slideshow I just linked to). It may sound trite or corny to say so, but I'm gonna say it anyway: Belay is an angel walking the face of this earth.
During one of our meals with Belay during our time in Ethiopia, Ted asked him a question that we really wanted the answer to. We asked how, in the face of overwhelming need, how do you take it all in? How do you keep your heart from breaking into a million pieces every day? His answer was that you simply choose one area of need that most strikes a chord in your heart and go with that. He said, "If Bill Gates used all his money, all he could do was buy each person a steak dinner." Point being: there will always be need, and no one person can solve all the world's problems.
We thought about this for a while and then asked, "And where is your heart?" Without a second thought, he replied, "older girls." He explained that boys who never find families, though it will be difficult for them, have less of a hard time making their way in the country. There are simply more opportunities available for men. The young women who age out of the system have a more difficult time (and my understanding is that this is why Gladney chooses to employ many of these young women to care for the children in the transition homes). He went on to explain that once a child reaches the age of two, her chance of being adopted drops drastically and continues to drop each year exponentially.
That was the word that did it for me. Of course we knew before we adopted Abe that many older children never find families, and we certainly don't have a single regret about our first adoption. I don't stand in judgment of those who are adopting an infant; we were one of those couples, and we have many friends who have adopted or are adopting infants. Every family has their own path, and we knew that this conversation with Belay was leading us to a path of toddler/preschool adoption. We knew what our next step would be. We knew what it had to be. Like Belay said, this is what was striking a chord in our hearts.
So, in answer to that question of our next adoption, the one I'd been putting off writing about, this is it: we are hoping to adopt a preschool-aged girl.
My big fear in explaining our motivation in adopting an older-than-infant girl is that I will come off sounding self-righteous or as if my only motivation in adopting again is to "save an orphan." I cringe at this kind of stuff, really I do. We always knew we wanted to adopt again. We want another child. That's the plain truth. Selfishly, we want to parent another; we want Abe to have a sibling. We feel extremely fortunate and grateful that we have the means to bring another child into our family. We just didn't know who this child would be until we saw with our own eyes these sweet preschool children with no parents and talked with Belay, our Ethiopian Superman, about what pricked his heart the most.
I am excited, I really am. But I am also scared. "Older child" adoption is a completely different ball of wax than parenting an infant. I read incessantly about what it means to bring a child into our family who already has language, an intact personality, connections to other people, and memories of her first home. This little girl is going to be freaked out by what is happening to her. It's scary stuff. It scares me. I'm afraid she won't bond to me. I'm afraid she'll prefer anyone else to me, her new mother. I'm afraid she'll meet our amazing neighbors and want to live with them instead. I'm afraid she and Abe won't bond as brother and sister. I so love mothering my little boy that I'm now afraid that I won't know how to mother a girl. I'm afraid because with an infant, you snuggle them and bottle-feed them, and wrap 'em up in slings that you wear around all day, and take naps together, and lots of goo-goos and ga-gas and before you know it, you belong to each other. With Abe, he wanted me and Ted over anyone else within twenty-four hours. Seriously, our bonding was nearly instantaneous.
But with a preschooler? It's not the same. It takes longer. There are tantrums and language barriers and nightmares and insecurities and food hoarding and inappropriate affection for strangers. I'm not saying all these things will happen. I just know that they could. I know that I have to prepare myself for the potential of these things so that I don't flip out. This is why I read constantly. This is why I pay such very close attention to families like this and this and this.
This morning while baking peanut butter cookies with Abe, Harry Connick Jr. started singing my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night (no, he wasn't actually in the kitchen with us, though what a lovely thing that would have been). These lines hit me square in the chest:
"He knows our need, our weakness no stranger."
I worry so often that I won't have what it takes to mother a little girl who understands just enough to know that her world is turning completely upside down. But what I need to remember is that, as scared as I am right now, she's going to be that much more scared. This is not about my having or not having what it takes; God is not a stranger to my weakness. He'll fill my cup. He'll forge a bond between us all, even if it takes a little longer. He knows our need. I cling to the hope that by the end of it, we'll belong to each other. She'll call me her mama, and I'll call her my girl. Our baby girl. Our own Rooney.
(I thank you in advance for being gracious with me. I decided, in the footsteps of this lady who is another hero of mine, to use this space to decompress, sort it out, and hold it up to the light. I'm a messy person on a journey here. Please excuse my mess.)