On this day eight years ago, I became the mom of an amazing baby boy, adopted from Ethiopia. Happy Gotch-ya Day, B’man. I wrote this blog post a few years ago, but it’s no less poignant to my heart today. I love this boy, oh so very much. Happy Gotch-ya Day to my B’man.
This morning my daughter excitedly helped her brother get dressed as they both anticipated our early morning birthday celebration for Benjamin’s sixth. One thing I’ve learned with young kids; there’s no sense in waiting for cake. We do it first thing, candles and all. Let the birthday boy (or girl) start their day with all the extravagance my love can muster before 7 a.m. We trailed him downstairs as he exclaimed, “yey!” to our happy birthday wishes.
Facebook faithfully churned out a memory for me, of a toothy one-year old boy on his first birthday, just seven months after coming home from Ethiopia to join our family. And then I remembered, as I drove into work how I’d really felt when we brought him home. After the infatuation I’d felt in those first months with my daughter, also adopted from Ethiopia, and the bliss of a first child, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of my hesitation to give myself over to that same abandon with my son. Instead, I settled into my role as his mom. This handsome boy needed caring for, but I felt, ashamedly so, like he had just interrupted me. After all, I’d been so taken by my daughter, falling for her uncanny sparkle and celestial happiness without any effort on my part. I wasn’t sure what to do when those same feelings weren’t immediately present the second time around.
This guy was no less winsome. He was no less deserving of my love, that same love I so easily found for my daughter. But just because he was mine, didn’t make that so. I loved him first in a responsible, care-taking way. I committed myself to meeting his needs as any attentive mother would. I actively loved him at first. I put my energy into the practice of that feeling of love I trusted would follow but, at times, wasn’t quite so sure.
Then, somehow, in that choosing, again and again, to give myself over to this baby boy–to learn what made him laugh; to admire him for the qualities that were uniquely him (not my daughter); to give him a bottle in those early hours of the morning and change countless diapers; to acknowledge my limitations in loving him perfectly and appreciating, instead, the process of learning to love him—somehow, I fell hard. I remember when I emerged from the uncertainty and worry–it was right about the time, my world was rocked by a blow that seemed to come out of nowhere. But, instead of jeopardizing that love that had really always been there, that dark time rooted my love for my son (and my daughter) more deeply. That love anchored me. It gave me purpose and direction and a reason to live well.
Loving is a discipline. We love in practice when we show up each day for the people who love us, and in the case of our children, need us. My son’s propensity to spitting up, although tiresome at the time, was an opportunity to practice love in the mundane routine of cleaning up, of washing out shirts, of paying attention to just what might be upsetting his stomach so much in the first place.
Love is a choice. We must give ourselves over to it. It cannot be passively expected to flourish when we don’t cultivate it in practice and pursuit. There should be no surprise when love goes dormant because we are not giving ourselves over to it anymore. We must choose to love and then make every effort to nurture that promise. Over time, I tossed aside the expectation that my experience of loving him would or should be the same as it had with my daughter. He was different. I was different. But, in the end, the love was the same. Always there . . . waiting to consume me.
On occasion, our beloved little elf-on-the-shelf, whom we affectionately have named Umpa, will make an appearance to decorate birthday cakes. Well, last night, I decidedly left Umpa on the shelf. I wanted some credit for a change. It was a perfect reminder of my imperfect love as it stuck to the pan, causing it to break and as I clumsily attempted to decorate it with yellow and black frosting. I knew, no matter what, he wouldn’t care if the batman emblem was smudgy or a corner that had collapsed was filled in with frosting. The most important thing was that he felt loved. And, after blowing out the candles this morning and scarfing down a piece, he scampered over to me and wrapped his arms around my legs.
“Thank you, Mommy, for my birthday cake,” he said. And then in that sweet and squeaky Benji voice, he followed it up with, “I love you.”
I love you, too Benji. I love you too.