Cava has been with us just a little over two years now. In that time, we have renegotiated what it means to be a family. We have overcome obstacles and encountered some again and again. But there has been progress. Yet with the progress we have made, we also learn how much further it is to healing in a child who has spent most of his life feeling alone, abandoned, and unloved. Our family has strived to give Cava a home where he can feel at ease, at peace, loved, and safe. So it came as a bit of a shock when, just last week, he confided to me that he often didn't feel loved and that he was still afraid we were going to send him back to Ukraine.
Now having read a great many books on adoption, on attachment disorders, and so on, I never expected Cava to grasp how much we love him right away or that love would be instantaneous. I understood, mentally, that he is overcoming eight years of rejection, loss, and hurt. Should I have expected that in two short years he would understand something that many adults don't even truly get?
We constantly tell Cava that we love him and he responds back that he loves us. When he confessed that he didn't always feel loved, I paused, processed, and prayed before I responded. The first thing I asked him was, "Cava, do you know what love means?" He admitted that he didn't.
Before now, how would he? What would he have to understand or measure love by?
I took a deep breath and tried to explain love in terms that he would understand. I told him how, out of love, we flew to Ukraine to adopt a child. How, after spending only an hour with him, we wanted him to be part of our family forever. We talked about how extremely difficult it was for all of us when he first got here, but no matter how bad it got, we loved him and would never, ever consider sending him back. I also told him that he will never fully get how much his Mom and I loved him until he had his own children. I said that when you have a child and they are sad, you feel that sadness even more so because you want desperately to wipe it away. How parents want their children to be loved and accepted wherever they go and how much it hurts us when they aren't. As I watch Cava struggle so hard at school to fit in and know how deeply sad he is that he hasn't, my heart breaks and I continue to reassure him how great he really is. To let him see that he is worthy and deserving of love and acceptance, even when he can't love and accept himself.
We talked about the turmoil that goes on inside him. How he does not feel peace like calm lake but that his insides feel like the constant crashing waves of an ocean.
After we talked for about half an hour, which is amazing in and of itself and was a real gift because I got to see into Cava's heart and thoughts, I told him, "Buddy, whenever you feel this way. Whenever you feel unloved or are afraid that we will send you back, please come and talk to Mommy or I. We want you to feel like this is your home and that you are loved, wanted, accepted, and that your thoughts and feelings are valuable." I made him look me in the eyes and I asked, "Will you promise me that you will try to do that?" He nodded. "I want to help you and I never want you to feel unloved or afraid at home."
Do I think this settles the matter?
Do I see that we still have a lot of work ahead of us?
Yes! But I'm glad to have a better understanding of how I can work to help this scared little boy to feel loved and to understand what love really means, not by just giving him a definition in one short talk, but in being there for him day after day after day. Loving him when he's at his most unlovable. Reminding him through words and actions that I love him. As an example, I said, "If someone told me, you can either keep all of your books or you can keep Cava, which one will you choose?" I looked at Cava, who, knowing how much I love to read, was a bit worried, so I reassured him with, "I would always choose you. You and Mommy and Benjamin mean more to me than anything else in this world. I would never, ever give any of you up." He smiled a smile of relief that I didn't pick the books and sighed, "Good!"
Every time I see that Johnson's Baby "So Much More Commercial," my heart aches because I know that Cava never got that. He didn't get that attachment as a baby. Eight years he has had to self-soothe and comfort himself, so it will take time for him to understand that strong bond a child can have with its parents. How a parent is there to take care of, nurture, protect, love, celebrate, find joy and pleasure in, teach, and even punish out of love. The latter is really something he struggles with, so we make sure he understands why he's being punished and that we are doing so out of love and not malice or capriciousness. He must see that everything is done out of love, for his best interests, and for his well being.
I pray every day that Cava will grow in the knowledge that he is loved, accepted so that he can feel peace inside. I know this will come, slowly, but it will come. As I told him, "God loved you enough to send a family from a city in North Carolina to a small village in Ukraine so that you could be a part of us. And He loved us enough to send us all the way to Ukraine so that you could be a part of our family. Cava, God knew all of this before either you or I were ever born. Before He even formed us in the womb, God had it planned out so that we would be a family. He loved us that much." Knowing how much his Heavenly Father loves him is going to be a key to his healing. Teaching him "For God so loved the world . . ." can heal this child more than our imperfect love ever can.
So we will continue to let Cava know that he is loved and will be loved. That he is and always will be a part of our family, on good days and bad. I just can't wait to see the day when Cava knows some real peace in his life. Jesus calmed the seas and I know He can do the same for those inside our son.