Thursday, May 19, 2016

Learning to Dance

A couple of weeks ago, I came to the hard realization. I need help.

I was sitting in the doctor's office listening to him tell me about Hengxin's condition and what it would mean for the rest of her life. My head was spinning with implications. So much has happened and so much is still yet to come. The endless doctor visits, the mounting medical bills, thinking of all the other areas in my life that are suffering and neglected, feelings of guilt... it was all crashing in at once. All of the sudden I felt like I was floating- but with weights pounding in my head. My ears started ringing, and my fingers and lips were tingling. 

I spent the rest of the afternoon in a deep fog, tears coming several times throughout the day. After dinner, I withdrew into my room and fell into a deep sleep for several hours. I awoke to a darkened house. The kids were in bed and the house was quiet except for the sound of Dennis feeding the dog and closing up for the night.

"I need help, Dennis. I can't keep doing this on my own," I told him as we sat in the darkened dining room. I had said this in the past, but this time I meant in a way I never had before.

In every way, Dennis is my better half. I could never ask for him to be more. I'm beginning to think that he's quite possibly the inspiration for the romantic hero in Nicholas Sparks' books- as well as MacGyver, Spiderman, and the Hulk, all rolled into one. He gives everything he has, exhausting himself trying to help in anyway he can; but because of the reality that he needs to hold a full-time job to support the family, the heaviest part of handling Hengxin's medical issues has landed with me.

I don't know what I've been trying to prove for so long or why I thought I had to do it all. Maybe to prove to all the naysayers and everyone who warned me that this would be hard that I could pull it all off seamlessly- that we could emerge unscathed. But that's just not the case. We were never meant to be islands, and what we think are circling sharks are actually lifeboats, just waiting for us to say the words, "I need help."

So, I started getting that help in different areas of my life. None of this to get a better life, but simply to help clean off my looking glass, and to allow myself to see the beautiful life that I already have.

I once heard the relationship between a parent and a child described as an intricate dance: two people learning to move and sway in sync with each other. When child cries out, mom steps forward to comfort. When mom uses that tone of voice, child steps back knowing she means business. It's an ebb and flow of sorts as they learn to anticipate and react to each other's subtleties, each rhythm unique to each parent and child. With my biological children, that dance began when they were in the womb. By the time they were born, we had already been dancing for nine months. 

With Hengxin, that dance began just two and a half months ago. Dennis pointed out the other night, that we still know so little about her. What was her life like in the orphanage? What else does she remember about her birth family? What's going on in her mind behind those beautiful almond-shaped eyes? We have so much making up to do... so much lost time.

That day in the doctor's office, she shut down again as the interpreter told her some of the medical things that were coming down the pipe for her. She rolled over on the exam bed so she wouldn't have to look at us, and the tears began to flow. As I moved towards her to comfort her, the interpreter, a Chinese woman we have come to love and trust, advised that I give her space and back off.

For a split second I was torn. She knows Hengxin's birth culture better than I do. Hengxin was not taught to display or react to emotional gestures the way I do. Maybe she was right. I hesitated, wondering if I should listen to someone, who in many ways, probably knows more about my daughter than I do.

"Screw it," I thought. That's not how I dance. I went over and hugged her and stroked her head. "Things will get easier. This has been hard, but you have been strong," I told her. I knew she didn't understand what I was saying, but I needed her to know that when she cried, mom would come.

And I'm learning to dance as well... to the reality of my new life- one that involves a lot of jumping between lifeboats and remembering that the music was not given to us so we could dance alone. Nor were we meant to dance with gritted teeth and white-knuckles, but to embrace the music for what it is: crazy, messy, and unpredictable; but intricate and amazing, and full of beauty.

And what a beautiful little dancer my girl is turning out to be.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

She called me "mama"


There's something about being exhausted that makes me want to sit down and write, I think to try to sort it all out. We've been in doctor's offices and waiting rooms all day. Aside from two thyroid scans, we were evaluated for the worst double ear infection I've ever seen, and an arm fractured in two places from four-wheeling- all for Hengxin. Poor girl! Trying to keep Mila contained and acting semi-human for that long was a task of Biblical proportions in itself- like trying to feed Cheerios to a cross between a wet cat and T-Rex. So yes, I'm tired and my nerves are raw.

The other day someone said to me, "You're a strong person. I don't think I could ever do what you're doing. I'm just not that type of person."

I was embarassed. If I have ever made it seem like I am "that type of person," then I have been unintentionally but terribly deceiving, because "that type of person" is certainly not me. Sure, I have my moments, but that's all they are... moments. And sometimes, when I'm in a good place, those moments are longer and closer together, but usually they're sporadic and unpredictable. Hopefully some day those moments will all string together and I will in fact become "that person," but that woman is still light years away.

My children will tell you that I've taught them lots of things: how to say "thank you" and to respect all life, from the tiny ant to the huge oak tree. They've learned tolerance, tidyness, and how to work hard. They've learned that true beauty comes only within- that anything else is superficial and fleeting.

But I've also taught them other things- many of them not so stellar. I've taught them that 8:30pm is the witching hour when moms turn into momsters. They've heard me say (and then repeated) a few four-letter words. And I've taught them - no, shown them- that people can be selfish, short-sighted, and impulsive.

In the few years that they'll live under my roof, my children will see both the best and the worst of human nature, all from the same person- their mother.

On Tuesday Hengxin called me "mama" for the first time. She said it casually, without even looking up, as she called for me to help her with an English assignment.

I answered equally non-chalantly, but inside my heart wanted to burst. She called me mama! I had been waiting and wondering how long it would take. Two months and two days.

I think of the vulnerability it took for her to call me mother. So recently I was nothing more than a complete stranger. What if she called out for me and I scolded her that I was not her mama? What if I told her I was only a mama to my biological children? What if I hadn't answered? I can only imagine. It would have been crushing. But once again, my brave girl stepped up to the plate and took a risk, and I was amazed by her.

But man... I sure hope she knows that she's not getting a fairy godmother version of a mama- that I'm just a 34 year-old kid, still trying to get my crap together. That everyday I pray for the strength to do and to be what I'm utterly incapable of being on my own. As Mother's Day approaches this year, I'm grateful for the greatest gift I've ever been given: the beautiful little souls God gifted me that have helped me so clearly unearth both my short-comings and my potential.

But I guess that's both the beauty and the beast of motherhood. We will never- can never- be everything we should, and somehow these amazing little people still love us and call us mama.