- Posted May 25, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
The Heartbeat, The Challenge, The Forever
I am supposed to be on a massage table right now, but instead I am stuck in snarling, creeping, bumper to bumper, relentless traffic on the interstate. Right now, someone is supposed to be kneading their elbow into my lumpy, tense, needy shoulder muscles. Instead, I am sputtering near-silent curses under my breath as a minivan attempts to creep the entirety of itself into the four foot opening I've left between my car and the car in front of me.
There is a reason for everything, and for everything there is a reason.
1. The reason that there is a ridiculous amount of traffic because it is two days after Christmas and everyone is coming from or going to some festivity.
2. The reason that I am stuck in this traffic isn't because I'm on my way to celebrate, but because my son, Scout, needs an EKG, and the children's hospital where he can get said EKG is about an hour from our house, straight up the interstate.
3. Scout needs an EKG because he was prescribed Focalin for his newly diagnosed ADHD. An EKG is needed for Focalin prescriptions when there is a familial history of heart problems, or, as in our case, there is no knowledge of family medical history.
We don't know Scout's family history because he was three when he became part of our family through the foster care system. He's close to six now.
Scout's pediatrician has known him almost as long as we have. A week after he came to live with us, two and a half years ago, she examined him. She examined his nearly bald head, shorn short to deal with lice. She examined his rotting tooth, chipped a year earlier and decaying ever since. She examined the open sores on his skin - bites from fleas or bed bugs left to fester. She attempted to speak with him as he grunted and pointed in lieu of words. She looked at him with sympathy and talked to me like a human being. Mother to mother: this is how you care for a little boy who has never had anyone care for him in the three years he has been alive. When she tells me to do something, I listen. Even when I have a massage scheduled.
On our way to the hospital, we listen to music, pumped through the car's stereo from a playlist I made. I had about a minute in between strapping Scout into his car seat and taking off. Any longer would have created questions, restlessness, and anxiety. I worked with a deft quickness, my fingers feeling like Vienna sausages as they selected songs for our ride. It is important to me in a way that I couldn't possibly describe. If I attempt to come close: there are so many things I haven't been able to control about this day; I need to have this one.
Scout likes songs with drums. I look in the rear view mirror and see him smile as Siouxie and the Banshees launch into Hong Kong Garden. He dances entirely with his upper body, a fluid movement that starts in his head and runs down to his hands. His arms move from side to side as his face is enveloped with a smile that could melt a thousand ships.
There isn't much that can make me sacrifice 60 minutes of pure bliss, but my son is one of them. This is how you care for a little boy. This is how you care for a little boy who has never had anyone care for him before.
I hope his heart beats like it is supposed to. Not just for the medication, not just for his health, but because his heart is so pure, so sweet. If this EKG finds that his heart doesn't beat as it should than the machinery is surely broken.
II. The Challenge (February 2014)
In the back seat, Scout is bopping his head to Vampire Weekend. He likes this kind of music; the kind he can move to, the kind he can feel. For Scout, life is about movement, and if you aren't moving, you're missing out.
Scout is blond haired, with large hazel eyes, round cheeks, and a perpetually smiling mouth. His good nature is noted by everyone he meets - teachers, relatives, parents of friends. Everyone tells me how sweet he is, and I nod in agreement because I see it every day. He stops playing to hug me around the waist, telling me he loves me and really meaning it. He snuggles up next to me on the couch and leans his head on my shoulder. He grabs my hand in parking lots and shopping malls. He asks for more hugs after he's been tucked in, and sighs loudly when he's held. He is my sweet boy, a boy who doesn't have a malicious bone in his body.
But even deep behind his smile, his sweet nature, and his doe eyes, there is something that hurts. There is something just waiting for me to let him down, waiting for me to be like so many adults he's known before. He remembers his birth family, and speaks about them still from time to time. Sometimes the memories are impartial - someone did something somewhere. From time to time, the memories are succinct. Other Mommy threw up in my bathtub. Other Daddy punched holes in the wall and the cops came.
Well meaning people - people we love and respect- have said things along the lines "Thank God they're too young to remember what happened to them."
But Scout remembers.
Scout remembers, and he reacts. When he talks about his birth mother, he folds the tips of his ears inward towards the bottom. He uses this as a defense mechanism - when he is overwhelmed, when he is scared, when he doesn't know what else to do. He folds, he thinks, he remembers.
Loving Scout is easy; it pours out of my heart without effort. Being Scout's mother is even easier. I love, I set boundaries, I recite made up stories about superheroes, I help with homework, I supply his favorite and often demanded cheeseburgers, I insist he eats vegetables, I chase invisible dragons as Sir Scout saves the day, I hang his beloved light saber from a hook under his bunk bed while he sleeps.
But being a parent to a kid who has been hurt before is a challenge. There is something deep inside my boy that will always remember how it feels to be left with strangers for weeks at a time. There is a piece of him that still thinks about his birth parents being violent towards each other, wrecking their house in the process, and attracting the attention of the police as a result. It's hard for a three year old to understand why they're being taken from the only home and family they've ever known, no matter how bad things where while they were there.
The challenge isn't in the memories. They will come and they will happen and we will deal with them. The challenge is this: how do I let my boy know that everything he went through made him who he was? How can I tell him that while my heart was waiting for him, he was spending his days in a horrible situation? How do I tell him that he was meant for me, when that means that he was also meant for three years of neglect until we found each other?
The universe is often unfair - but how can I explain that to my boy? That is the challenge.
III. The Forever (March 2014)
On the way home from school, I tell Scout that in six weeks we will go to court for our adoption. He seems more concerned with looking out the window and inspecting the water level of the low tide, inland marsh we are passing over. He reports back to me "Seems safe to cross, Mom." He tells me that he is looking for dolphins, to make sure I don't hit them with my car. I nod my head, telling him how thankful I am that he is on the lookout.
I tell him again about the adoption, trying to get his attention. I tell him that adoption is forever, that once we walk out of court, he will have a new last name: the last name of my husband and I. I catch his face in the rearview mirror, surprised, as he says "Isn't that already my last name?"
For the past two and a half years, Scout's life has been here. For the past two and and half years, Scout and his sister have been our children. Birthdays, holidays, stubbed toes and skinned knees, parades and parties, picnics and vacations, bedtime stories and long walks. Those little moments that make up a life, they've happened to him here.
That adoption decree - the piece of paper that I've longed for, wished for, hoped for, cried over not having - it means so little to Scout. It means so little because actions are the loudest and most important denominator in his young life. We are a family and that is that.
I'm not so naive to think that there will never be a moment that my kids don't ask about their past. There are no secrets with us, just closely guarded information that will be revealed to them when they're ready. They understand that they grew in another woman's belly, but in my heart.
And there, in my heart, is where they became part of our forever.
So, while it may be just another day to Scout, to me, adoption day is the culmination of a hundred emotions that I've felt during this process. Love, sadness, frustration, anger, pride, joy, elation, grief.
But, love? Love is pretty much all that's left at the end of each and every day. And as I glance into the rearview mirror at my sweet boy, searching for dolphins in the marsh, love is the only thing I can remember feeling for as long as I've lived.