Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflecting On Two Years

When Benjamin was born, I remember quite clearly that feeling I had when they were checking he and Danelle out of the hospital so that we could go home. It was a feeling of being overwhelmed and thinking, "Are they crazy??? Don't they know that we don't know what we're doing???"

We didn't.

At all.

That was exactly the same feeling I had when Danelle and Cava were flying home from Ukraine two years ago. I felt that same mixture of excitement and worry. An eight year old boy who spoke no English was coming to live with us. Forever. There was no turning back now.

Did I mention he spoke no English?

Or that I really didn't speak Ukrainian other than a few small phrases and words?

It was a good thing that I didn't fully realize the upheaval our house would be in for awhile as we adjusted to this new dynamic to our family. Now I had read numerous books about adoption, about attachment disorders, about all that can happen to families who adopt internationally, but none of those really and truly prepared me for what was about to happen to us. And, at first, I felt like we were drowning and just trying to tread water to stay above water as the huge waves crashed down over us. To say it was hard was an understatement. The books don't tell you all about the exhaustion: about how you wake up tired and go to bed tired and stay tired throughout the entire day. They don't tell you that you might be so tired that you pour orange juice on your cereal instead of milk and then wonder why it tasted funny.

When he first got here, we weren't sure we could do this, that we would ever be a "normal" family again, but now, two years later we are a new kind of normal. We aren't dealing with the survival mode of those earlier days. The chaos of transition are gone and Cava is learning what it means to be loved unconditionally. This is something that is totally alien to him. He is discovering that just because we may be disappointed in his behavior or his making a bad choice that it does not mean we love him less and that our love for him does not fluctuate depending on how he acts.

That first year was filled with scars for all of us, but now we have climbed out of the rubble of that year and now we are no longer in the period where it felt like everything was being torn down around us and we are rebuilding in a better way than before.

Was it hard?


Does it get better?

Thank God, YES!!!!

But we also realize that it will always be hard because we are dealing with a child who has deeper hurts and grief and struggles than we will ever have.

No matter how many books we read or how many families we know who've adopted, we were ill-equipped and learned early on that it was going to take a lot of patience, mistakes, prayer, tears, and love to get all of us through it. And we have. And we still do.

That season of fear and feeling constantly overwhelmed subsides and we watch as this child goes from what, at times, appears to be animalistic anger to a child who comes up, hugs you, and says with a big smile on his face, "I love you." And you know that, no matter how bad those early days were, you could not imagine your life without this child.

After Cava first got here, Danelle and I struggled daily with burnout and constant exhaustion. At times, I will admit, we were resentful and angry and at others just defeated and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.  What our family was learning was that healing doesn't come easy. Healing is hard work and it comes at a price.

Now, at two years in, we see the true beauty of adoption. Cava feels love and acceptance, not only from us, but from so many people around us. Many of the places we go now are filled with people who love him and are rooting from him (school, church, the library, even the places where Danelle and I work).

This brokenhearted child is growing in health, in height, and in heart. He is a good kid and so much of the success of his growth is due solely to his wanting to. Cava has a good heart. He wants to do better.

We have learned a lot in two years. Things like 1-600As and dossiers are replaced with 504 plans and IEPs.

We have learned that we are stronger than we thought we were and have come to rely on God far more than we ever did before.

We have learned that adoption is not only hard and complicated, but that all of the struggles and hardships are worth it when your child makes even the smallest of breakthroughs. You watch as this child begins to see himself differently and that there is hope. You see that God is faithful and that He was there during the worst of it. His hand never left you and that He is truly making all things new in our family on a moment to moment basis.

And adoption is a moment to moment process.

Early on, it was too hard to go day by day, and we could only look at the moment, the here and now. Adoption is hard, but it is also joyous. It is filled with moments of deep hurts and momentous hurrahs.

But when I reflect on the last two years, it is filled mostly with memories of joy and love. I am amazed every time I look at Cava because of how much he has changed in this short period of time. He looks healthy and happy and full of life and love.

A game he and I have played many, many times is one called, "I love you the most because . . ."  Essentially we tell each other that we love them the most and then give a reason why. It was a fun way to instill in Cava that he was loved and give him reasons why. It was also a way for him to learn to express back his love for us.

Over the last two years, there have been so many reasons as to why I love Cava. Here are just a few:

I love him for his great, big Cava smile.

I love for his ability to just suddenly burst out into dancing for no reason other than he felt like dancing.

I love him for his attempt to sing a song, even when he doesn't know the lyrics.

I love him for his moments of unbridled joy and enthusiasm.

I love Cava for his appreciation of small things, like seeing a flower bloom or getting hand-me-down clothes from friends.

I love Cava for his good heart.

I love Cava for his hugs. He gives great hugs. Even other people now ask for "Cava hugs."

I love Cava for his bursts of laughter, even when I have no clue why he found something funny.

I love Cava when he tries to tell a joke, particularly knock-knock jokes, which only make me laugh because he is laughing at his own joke. An example. "Knock, knock."  "Who's there?" "Chicken."  "Chicken who?" Then he begins clucking very loudly. This is followed by him laughing and saying, "That's so funny."

I love that when I read to Cava, he comes over and lays his head against my chest.

I love that he greets me in the mornings with a hug and a, "Good morning, Papa."

I love the joy I feel when I see him coming out of school in the afternoons when I pick him up.

I love that not only has Cava changed, but he's changed us.

I love Cava because he is my child, my son.  And I love him more than I ever imagined I would.

I love that I would not have changed any of this for the world and that I cannot wait to see what our third year together has in store for all of us.

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