One year ago today we woke up at 5 am to prepare to meet our son for the very first time. Exhuasted from the 12 hour journey we took the day before and a night of catching up with Andres and Martiza we were functioning exclusively on anxiety and coffee. I will never forget the look on Andres’ family’s face as they said goodbye to the three of us that morning, knowing we would be coming back home later the day with our son.
We were taken to a small room and given a pep talk/information. We signed some documents. It was surreal and scary.
And then they gave us a child.
Can I repeat that?
They gave us a child. To stay with us forever. For the rest of our lives.
The first year was very, very hard.
Because becoming a family is hard work.
But now, a year later our house is full and so are our hearts.
Thank you for sharing the first part of the journey with us and supporting us along the way.
Love, La Superfamilia Perez
For awhile now I’ve been fixated on the idea of getting an initial necklace. All cool girls have one! Carrie Bradshaw has one and so did Betty Suarez. Ms. Allyn has one too.
Obviously I had to get on that train.
It had to be just the right necklace though. Even though I am not necessarily vain, I am self-involved and my letter necklace had to be just right for me. This set off an existential crisis of the highest degree. What kind of letter was I? Bold Typography? Delicate filigree? It had to be something meaningful. I didn’t want just a piece of jewelery. I wanted something that reminded me of something.
And nothing was right.
Then I saw the locket and I realized that “my” necklace wasn’t really going to be about who I am, it was going to about who I wanted to be. Each part of the necklace means something to me and today, on the very last day of my life that I can say “At this time last year I was not even yet a mother” I want to tell you why it is special to me.
The dove with an E represents the Holy Spirit. When we were dating Arnold brought me a necklace with the outline of a dove and told me “You hold the Holy Spirit inside of you. Don’t forget you are special.” As Christians Arnold and I believe that the Holy Spirit is present inside us, guiding us and giving us strength to love in a way that is bigger and better than we could do on our own. That necklace is chipped and worn now but whenever I see a dove I remember his first gift to me and that time in our lives: when we were falling in love and the world was our oyster. The dove makes me want to be worthy of the young man who gave it to me so many years ago.
The clear glass disc and chain are from a clearance Anthro necklace I bought for 9.99 in Atlanta last Spring. At the time we were struggling tremendously as a family and I needed a little sparkle. Elian loved to play with that necklace. Each day I came home and even though he refused to let me touch him, he would play with that necklace giving me the chance to hold my face close to his and run my fingers through his fuzzy bear hair. When I see that clear circle I remember those tenuous moments of hope when it seem that happy days we share now were an impossibility.
Last but most certainly not least is the locket. The locket reminds me of Elian’s foster mother who cared for him from the day he was born till the day we met him. I knew that I was going to have the unusual opportunity to meet her and I wanted to bring her a gift. But what do you bring to the person to whom you are most grateful? To the person who cared for and loved your child for a year and a half knowing all the while she’d have to give him away to strangers.
It’s a situation where Bath and Body Works just doesn’t apply.
I wanted something special, to give her something so that she would know that I will never forget what she did and I will always be greatful for her love and sacrifice.
So I gave her a locket. And I told her this story:
My grandfather died when I was 10 years old and after he died I put his picture in this locket. And I wore it around my neck and close to my heart to remember that even when someone close to you is no longer in your life, the love you shared still lives on. I want to give you this locket with my grandfather’s picture and remind you that even though Elian is far away the love you gave him will always be there, living in both of your hearts. We both know that he is too little to remember past a few years the care that you gave him, but I want you to know that I always will.
If you think I got through that carefully planned speech without bursting into tears you are delusional. I only got halfway through the word grandfather before I exploded. I can’t say Elian’s foster mom did better, she was a mess too. In fact she was worse than me in that she burst into tears upon seeing our faces for the first time. Her husband teased that she is a chronic crier in the best of times, but I saw him covering up his sniffles with bright red eyes. It’s not generally a goal of mine to elicit tears but I felt proud because I knew I had done my job, I had let them know how much the love they showed my child meant to me but what I didn’t know is that God can take a little love shown and turn it into something more because she took that locket, held my hand and told me ” I have fostered children for 9 years and giving him up was still one of the hardest things I ever had to do. The past weeks have been terrible and I prayed every day telling God. ‘Give me a sign if you want me to continue.’ Thank you so much for being my sign.”
Obviously I burst into tears. Again.
So now you know why I needed a new locket.
I thought my necklace would represent who I am but it doesn’t. It represents the person I want to be.
I want to be worthy of my husband’s love and a bearer of the Holy Spirit.
I want to be a mother who loves her son in the hard moments. I want to always look for way to love when it seems there are none.
I want to be the kind of person who can give love freely without the need for a thank you, knowing that even a tiny bit of love can become greater than you ever imagine.
Love can overcome death and give life to those we leave behind. It is our sign, our only hope and our saving grace. It is bigger than our broken hearts and grander that our wildest exaggerations. It is God’s gift to us and I wear my necklace to remember not to take it for granted.
One year ago today I was sitting at my desk getting ready for a day of work. When the phone rang I groaned inwardly. Who starts making business calls before one can even check their e-mail? I picked up my phone and the person on the other end said “Hi Emily. This is Janet. Are you ready to become a mother?”
And then my heart temporarily stopped.
Everything started moving really slow and incredibly fast at the same time.
“Uh, I’ll call you right back.” I stuttered.
I slammed the phone down, keeled over at my desk and did my best not to hyperventilate.
I was not ready, our application had only been approved one week earlier.
I was not ready for an early morning phone call at work let alone a life-changing revelation.
I was not ready to open an e-mail attachment and see the very first picture of the little boy who would become the dictator of my existence love of my life.
I was not ready for any of it and I was alone. Arnold had already started his school day and there would be no way to contact him until 3:00 pm.
I asked myself “Is it wrong to tell your co-workers before you tell your husband?”
The day was pure torture. Needless to say I didn’t do anything at work. Not unless you count taking bi-hourly breaks to go outside, lay down on a bench and watch the sky expand to limitless possibility. To lay there and try to understand that your life as you knew it had changed forever.
And you never saw it coming.
A year ago I was not ready for anything and today 365 days later I am living everything.
Note: Imaginary Vacation will be back next week!
Last year on this day you looked like this:
Awwww sweetheart you were so cute! Last year on this day I looked like this! Less cute than you, but I do my best.
On that day I was blogging about silly things. I’m guessing that you were smiling and shrieking because that’s what you do best. Beyonce was doing this. Beyonce has nothing to do with us but you know, a little Beyonce usually doesn’t hurt anybody.
Unbeknownst to both of us a group of strangers in Bogotá gathered in a room and decided that you, me and Papa would make a great family. They moved some magic papers around and put us on the road to becoming a family.
I am so grateful to those people who we will probably never meet. You are everything that we never knew we needed and wanted in our lives.
I love you more than you will ever know.
Remember when I talked about how Elian pays us back in smiles? Well I think he is ready to start exploring other forms of currency: He has started to hug!
Overall I would say Elian is not into hugging or cuddling. Cuddling requires him to stay still for more than 2 seconds and let’s just say we don’t call him the hurricane for nothing. Still Arnold and I have been hugging him and kissing him and doing our best to coddle him despite his reticence. I honestly had kind of given of hope that he would ever be interested in hugging us back.
Just like a pot that doesn’t like to be watched though, the second I accepted his lack of interest in hugging he changed his mind about the practice and embraced it with gusto. Elian is not a conformist though, he has his own special ways of hugging. He starts off with the piggyback hug. This is where he runs around in back of you and kind of strangles your neck gleefully. Then he moves on to the full flying bear hug. He runs at you from the front, throws himself into your lap and grabs your neck forcefully. He is surprisingly strong for a not-yet two year old. Sometimes he gets overcome in the moment and follows up the hug by pulling your hair. I’m not so much into that part, but you know, I’ll take what I can get.
I recently came back from a business trip to Atlanta expecting to arrive home to fallout: a confused toddler who was upset that Mommy left. Last time I left for work he regressed noticeably. He refused to look at me for 3 days after I got home. Let me just say that it is hard to leave home knowing that you’ll have to re-teach your child to make eye contact (for the fourth time) when you return. But you know toddlers, just when you get the zig down, they zag.
This time I didn’t come home to an angry toddler. I came home to one that was happy to see me return. When I got back last week and sat down on him with the floor ready to rebuild our relationship for what feels like the zillionth time I was pleasantly surprised to find out while I was gone my little dinosaur had gotten on the hugging train. Ten minutes of sitting on the floor and playing trains earned me one neck hug and one flying bear hug.
It’s hard to express what those hugs mean to me. Arnold and I love Elian and for the past six months we’ve been doing our best to accept that we have to teach him everyday that we are his new parents and love him without the expectation that he will love us back. To some degree I’m sure all parents do this: adoptive or not. But for many months we did it knowing that our child needed us to love him through the process of grieving the loss of his foster parents. For a long time he didn’t see us as his parents. Sure he favored us, but mostly because we were the people he knew the best in a scary world full of strangers. Sure he looked for us to carry him and feed him but at night he sobbed and called out for his foster mother. To say that it’s hard to love someone with the all-consuming energy that a child requires while simultaneously knowing that they do not yet love you is very hard. It is heart-breaking and it seems like it will never end. So you mentally set aside the idea that your child will hug you, or love you or call you Mommy because thinking about those things is too hard. It’s too hard to watch other children say “Mommy” or happily give their parents sloppy kisses. You tell yourself over and over again “I have to understand him. I have to give him time. He’s just a little person in a big scary world” But still, it’s hard. It’s hard every single day. You tell yourself not to have expectations, but it hurts every single time he pushes you away.
So the hug is not just a hug. It’s a sign that things are starting to change. That your hard-work earning the title of parent is starting to pay off. That you can start to dare to hope that the day your child loves you unreservedly and knows you are his mother is coming soon.