Meeting your adopted child for the first time isn't always love at first sight. It can be. Some families immediately fit like a glove. Other times the bonding comes in fits and starts. The funny thing about bonding with your adopted child--surprisingly, is that intentional bonding often works. Force your stiff face into a smile. She smiles back. Your heart melts just a wee bit. You both take a step towards each other. Kind of like a drawn out game of Mother, May I. One step forward, two steps back.
[Note, although Julie is a girl, during the pre-transition stage we use "he."] We arrived home from China in the hot stuffy weather of August in Pennsylvania. True, China was hotter and stuffier, but not by much. Early the next morning neither L nor I could sleep. At 4 am we arose, wide awake but bone tired. The two of us stepped out into the dawn for a barefoot walk around the block. I am not a morning person, but I wish I were. It was lovely, the quality of light, the quiet streets, the early birds. At that time of the morning it wasn't yet searing, but our tender feet were not used to concrete. In fact, L had never been barefoot outside in his life and by the end of the walk he was practically limping. Our black cat, perhaps due to missing us so much while we were away, in a rare act of companionship accompanied us around the block. What must we have looked like? A bone-tired mom, a wincing, limping boy and a nervous cat, bravely following along, yet anxiously clinging closely to the bushes near the houses like an incompetent spy.
The evening before, my mother had gifted L and his three brothers with welcome-home Lego cars. Tears of frustration filled L's eyes when he could not assemble his. We had assumed that L, being a boy, would love Legos, especially Lego cars. We'd sent little packages of Lego sets to China, as well as a super-hero wallet and sports stickers. One of the pictures we received from China during our nine-month wait was a photo of L looking morose and holding a rather realistic-looking stuffed animal duck we'd sent him. Behind him were hints of pink coverlets, stickers. We had not sent any frilly dolls or fluffy bears, but a mandarin duck. How were we to know? I mentioned it to Janet recently and she laughed. "It made a really weird noise." She'd wanted a soft white bunny.
Not long after L's arrival he discovered the dress-ups. Giggling he came downstairs, strutting in a wig of long ratty black hair. We'd used it for a caveman costume. The lack of dresses didn't stop him for a minute. He'd found a black wizard's gown, turned it backwards and voila! A dress with a deep vee neck. Clown's make-up worked in a pinch. He was spinning around dancing, then ran out onto the lawn. "Get back inside!" my sweet, anxious hubby bellowed. This angry side I didn't recognize. Hadn't he gone to Berkeley, of all places, for University? I am typically the "one who yells" in the family, Matt the stoic is the "one who keeps it all inside." Needless to say, Matt had to have been going through some tough emotions. I didn't know why L couldn't play dress-ups outside but knew Matt was upset. The adoption had been my idea. Okay, more than my idea. Had it not been for my persistence (insistence?) we would still be a family of five. In my mind I was the intermediary and in that capacity set out to please everyone. Probably ended up pleasing nobody.
One day not long after, I sat in the living room of my neighbor, a lively, funny woman whom I'd never gotten to know real well. Like most families who have lived in this town for generations, she was Irish, Catholic and Republican. We both looked up as L came floating down their stairs modeling the daughter Callie's dresses. My neighbor sent him back up, reprimanding, "Those are Callie's church dresses." "L likes to try on girl's clothing," I confessed. "Maybe he's crossgender," she suggested. Wow. I wasn't expecting that from her. "Ah," she explained, waving her hand dismissively, "as a nurse you see everything!"
Later L came home from their house with two Barbie dolls and a story. One of the dolls sang a dreadful song when you pulled the string on her back. Some high-pitched gibberish I barely listened to. I rolled my eyes, already imagining hearing that all day long. Great, I muttered to myself, more annoying children's electronics!
As for the story, it turned out Callie had a hat box full of memorabilia. Her birth certificate, a lock of hair, etc. L really wanted one too. My heart did a flip. We could have a mother-child bonding moment, healing the wounds of being an orphan and creating our family lore together. I helped him gather together his adoption certificate, a copy of the note left with him when he was abandoned outside a police station stating the day and time of birth, early photos. Then he described to me the box he hoped for. I sighed as I realized it was pink and beribboned. I trudged back to see the neighbor's special box. Around the rim of the box it said "It's a girl! It's a girl! It's a girl!" Oh, shit.
In his room we examined his newly acquired dolls. Another bonding moment. "What is the song she sings?" he'd asked, innocently. I later discovered he was quite familiar with the song--he'd watched the show over and over in China. Barbie, Inc. puts out a series of well-known stories as musicals, with Barbie as the star. This particular Barbie doll came from the story "The Princess and The Pauper." In this version the Princess, named Annelise, meets a young woman, Erika, in the marketplace and they realize they could be twins, they look so much alike. The whole DVD had been translated into Chinese, but the songs remained in English. As I later learned, L had carried along with him to the States a stack of these Barbie musicals. Now, he pulled the string and asked me to interpret. I had to pull it a few times to decipher the song in it's entirety:
I'm just like you
You're just like me
It's something anyone can see
A heart that beats
A voice that speaks the truth
Yes, I am a girl like you.
I stood in front of the hat boxes at Ross Dress for Less. They were clearly made for babies or children and not for hats. There sat the exact same squat cylinder box declaring "It's a girl!" The me inside me knew I should get L. whatever he wanted. What difference could it make? Everything, apparently. I could have then and there bravely stepped forward and declared (in my heart), "I will treat this child just as I have tried to treat my other three. I will not regulate his tastes to please myself." But the scared part of me didn't want to make any waves.
I didn't choose the blue boy one, but couldn't get myself to buy the frilly girl one. I told myself had it been merely pink, I'd have bought it. But the words, I thought, they were too much. Instead I chose a neutral beige box with sleds and tricycles. Later he accepted it halfheartedly.
In my heart I knew I would be letting him down. On the way back down the aisle I saw a big bright fuschia fluffy blanket. Perfect, I thought! I would buy it as a concession. When climbing into bed he would be thrilled to discover the beautiful blanket, yet I was secretly glad it would be safely layered under a blue coverlet, keeping him comfy, but hiding his light. That night I made his bed, tucking in everything just so. The next day I checked in to find he had remade his bed, cool sheets inside, warm comfy bright pink blanket on the outside.
Hello? Mom? Are you listening?
© copyright protected