Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Becoming Brothers

When my wife and I originally decided we were taking Benjamin with us as we traveled to Ukraine to adopt a child, there were a great many people who tried to argue against us taking him.  They offered some valid arguments (extra stress considering the amount of travel and waiting involved or that he could get sick over there were two of them), but we felt it was extremely important that Benjamin meet his new sibling exactly when we did.  For one, we wanted Benjamin to see where his sibling was coming from and also to see how they bonded.  Anyone who's read about our meeting Cava knows, Benjamin was the first to connect with Cava.

From the moment they played together, Benjamin knew that Cava was his brother - and he told us so.  If we hadn't taken him and we had brought back a brother instead of a sister, Benjamin might have had a harder time accepting Cava.  But the first thing out of his mouth when I asked if we should adopt Cava was, "He's my brother."  This was a real change of heart for Benjamin.  Before we left for Ukraine, Danelle and I would pray for the child that God had for us, boy or girl.  Benjamin would immediately pray, "Don't listen to them God.  I want a sister and only a sister."

In some ways, the two of them are very similar: both are inquisitive, like to take things apart to see how they work (which can be a good or a bad thing), headstrong, and picky eaters.  While Benjamin has always been pretty much a sedate child, Cava is rambunctious and extremely active.  Benjamin has never been one to play with trains or cars or action figures, but prefers to play with things he can build and create with (Tinker Toys, blocks, Erector Sets, science kits, and computers).  Cava loves cars, superheroes (particularly Batman and Spiderman), kicking a soccer ball, and anything that involves activity and motion.  

Needless to say, now that Cava is here, in Benjamin's space, there has definitely been some adjusting to do.

Benjamin has always liked his room to be his way.  It is not just a room, but a "lab" and an "office." He views his room as his working space where he can create. Now that he's having to share that room until Cava adjusts enough to go to his own room, Benjamin is learning what it means to have a brother around all the time. No matter how much Danelle and I talked with him before Cava came, nothing could truly prepare this only child to having a younger sibling.

So there have been times when Benjamin will tell me, "I need my privacy."  If I can, I will take Cava into our playroom (the sun-room that used to be my art room with my drawing board, art supplies, and books) and we will build castles with Benjamin's old Imaginext toys or we'll play with the Shake N Go Race-track that was given to us and has quickly become Cava's favorite.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Benjamin was out of school, we went with David Fogarty and his son Shane (who is a year younger than Benjamin and has been one of his best friends for years) to a park.  Benjamin played with Shane, but, being the big brother, would include Cava in some of the time when they played games like hide n go seek. Still, there were times when Benjamin wanted Shane to himself, so David and I played with Cava.  David even tried to teach Cava how to swing by himself (with some success) or Tic Tac Toe (to no success).

When we walked around the lake, David was showing the boys how to skip stones across the water, though Cava was more interested in tossing them (or sticks) into the water to make splashes. Or he chased after ducks, so much so I had to stop him from going into the lake to catch them. Once again, there were moments where Benjamin wanted to be with just Shane and they would walk off way ahead of us (Cava is a very slow mover). At other times, he would come over to Cava and put his arm around him.

Benjamin was also the concerned big brother when we were on the dock because he was afraid Cava was going to fall over into the lake.  "Papa!  Come and get him," he'd yell at me as he held onto Cava's legs.  Benjamin would do this even when I was standing right next to Cava.  "He's fine," I'd try and calm him down, "Do you really think I'd let him fall into the water?"  "I just don't want anything to happen to my brother," he'd say.  "I won't let anything happen to him," I replied.  Still, Benjamin said, "I think we should just stay off the docks."

Today was the first day that I was alone with Cava for most of the day.  I got quite a few calls checking up on me to see how I was doing and it was going.  I'm not sure why, I was a stay-at-home dad for awhile with Benjamin. When we went to pick Benjamin up from school, as soon as Cava saw him coming out, he yelled at the top of his lungs out the window, "BENJAMIN!  BENJAMIN!" There was such unbridled happiness to see his big brother.
Still, when they got home, Benjamin wanted to go onto his computer and Cava wanted to watch TV (he has gotten upset with me numerous times because I limit the amount he watches.  He's very Americanized in his desire to watch TV and play video games).  I told both he and Benjamin to play with each other, but both sulked at my decree that I wanted to find neither one of them in front of any type of screen. (Just as a side note, I truly believe kids imaginations are being damaged by their being constantly entertained. I think they need moments where they are bored so that they can create their own games and use their imaginations). So I sent them both outside, got out the soccer ball, a couple of badminton rackets, and a couple of birdies and told them, "Have fun."  And they did.  They kicked the ball for awhile and then, when they were done with that, they each were out there swatting their rackets at birdies in an attempt to hit them. But they were laughing and smiling and having fun with each other.

But I think all of this is part of being brothers.  I grew up with a younger sister.  Sometimes we loved playing with each other and sometimes we loved getting on each other's nerves. There will be bickering and fighting, but there will be moments of pure joy. Like my sister and I, Benjamin and Cava will do the same.  I've already heard Benjamin calling to me, "PAPA!  Cava's got my . . ."  Welcome to having a sibling. That's all part of it. Like the opening theme to The Facts of Life, "You take the good / You take the bad / And there you have the facts of life."  Or the facts of being brothers.  It's all part of it. And all of it will be remembered later, when they're both grown up, and they'll laugh about it just as my sister and I do now. Both elements will bring them closer together because Benjamin and Cava know that they love each other as brothers. They knew it before Danelle and I knew it. It was there from the very first moment and it will be there long after Danelle and I are gone. Theirs is a heart bond that cannot be broken.

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