Any good fiction writer knows that a character without a past is a cardboard cut out. No depth. No spirit. No life. An author can write all the angst and emotion she wants, but if her character comes from nowhere, her character will go nowhere.
The same is true of life. Without knowledge of where we’ve come from, we can never truly understand the direction we’re heading.
As an adoptive mom, I go days and weeks without thinking about my daughter’s past. She has transitioned so beautifully, fit so perfectly, that I’ve had little reason to question what came before. When I have thought of her past, my mind has only gone to what I know – that Cheeky’s foster family loved and cared for her.
But there is much more to my daughter’s past than that.
There are things my mother’s heart does not want to know, but that it must know if I am to help Cheeky process her life story.
Last night, I recieved the second installment in the story of Cheeky’s life before we met. It was as painful to read as the first. In it, China Mom describes an extremely delayed three year old who was so terrified that she wet her pants each time China Mom approached. She did not interact with the adults in the home. Nor was she able to feed or dress herself. She could not verbalize her needs and was so weak she could barely stand. Just fourteen days shy of her third birthday, she was developmentally on par with a twelve month old.
I felt sick when I read that Cheeky did not smile for nearly a week after arriving in the home. My girl never stops smiling.
I felt sick when I read that Cheeky was so desperate for food she cried when meals were finished. My girl enjoys eating, but she’d much rather be playing or singing.
I felt sick when I read that Cheeky would sit by herself for hours and never seek out companionship. My girl loves to be with others.
I felt sick when I thought of that neglected and scared little girl. That terrified and delayed child. That little one who would be mine.
I do not want to know, but I must know. I do not want to believe, but the truth is before me.
I have been up at four the past two mornings. I have walked into my girls’ rooms, and I have looked down at Cheeky’s pale face, I have touched her soft cheek and I have cried for the baby she was. My heart has bled for what she didn’t have all those years ago. It would be so easy to turn my back on what I know, to hide it away and never reveal it to Cheeky.
One day, though, she will ask what her life was like before us and before China family. I know this as surely as I know that I will sit her down, I will look into her bright blue eyes and I will explain all that I know of her life.
The lack of affection and love.
The miracle of China Mom discovering her in a corner of the orphanage that long ago day.
The miracle of our adoption agency spotting her on the shared list and choosing her for us.
The miracle of us coming together and becoming a forever family.
Cheeky’s life is not a one sided story. It has its darkness and it has its light. Her character and strength come from all that she has experienced. Good and bad. Ugly and beautiful.
When the time is right, when she is ready and seeking, I will explain that to my darling girl.
For now, I hold her story close. It is not the lens through which I view her, but when it seems that she needs more cuddles than my other children, when I sense in her a quiet desperation to belong, when she comes to me with bags of candy that she’s hidden under her bed, I remember it.
Adopting an older child does not mean the past is gone. It simply means that it is hidden. It is our job as parents to reveal what we can of it, and then to remember. No matter how painful remembering may be.