The Past, The Present, The Future

January 29, 2010 albinism, older child adoption, Skin Conditions 14 Comments

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.


Soul sick.

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 neglect.

The hunger.

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.

– Shirlee

14 responses to “The Past, The Present, The Future”

  1. Wife of the Pres. says:

    Interesting and God-sized I believe that this post appears back-to-back with mine from yesterday.

    People need to know Shirlee that life is not always pretty.

    And oh how this blesses my own heart today. I just KNOW Joel's foster family has nursed him back from so much pain and hurt. I don't have all the facts you do now, but the FM is making in-direct contact already and I can't wait for the day we can speak directly.

    I am just so grateful to know our children were loved and continue to be loved by their foster families. What a blessing these people are when they fulfill a calling like our children's FF obviously are.

    It is so hard to process it all. My heart does hurt for what our children will one day have to process … all we can do is trust in our God who is able to mend broken hearts physically and spiritually speaking.

    Thank you so much Shirlee for your post.

  2. Lora says:

    Well,the thing you are not awknowleging is that she was there. Maybe you are just learning of it now, but she lived it.

    Somewhere deep in her cells she remembers. She may not have words for it, she may have learned that its more rewarding to cover it up with a smile. Maybe even there are times she can forget it. But its there, and it will be something she will have to greive and deal with her whole life.

    If you love her, study the effects of pretending it didn't exist versus awknowleging it and showing that she doesn't have to hide her self deep in an adoptee shell.

  3. Shirlee McCoy says:

    Lora, I acknowledge that truth to the very depth of my soul. Cheeky and I already talk about her life before. I could not parent her effectively without knowing where she has been and what she has gone through. The stories I am learning from China Mom are knew to me, and, until Cheeky has more language, they can't be fully expressed to her. I simply talk about her birth mom, her time in the orphanage and her foster family in words that she can understand.

    I don't think I've implied in this post that I'm pretending anything. If I have, then I didn't express myself well. What would it benefit my daughter if I pretended that her life began the day we met?

    She has a past, and it must be acknowledged. That is the point of this post, and it is one of the most important parts of our journey together.

  4. The Gang's Momma! says:

    "It is not the lens through which I view her" – a beautiful line. It reminds me that we are all viewed by God thru the lens of His Son, Jesus Christ. Not entirely the point of this post, I know. But it ministered to me today.

    Then again, maybe it is the point. And if so, thank you. Thank you.

  5. A Cup of Cold Water says:

    i read as you wrote, i believe, and that is that you are not hiding her past. and i think it's important to remember that the degree to which our past controls us is dependant greatly upon our personality and that no fault of our own. some people rise from struggles, truly, with hardly a scrape. some heal over time, some heal but are always burdened by their scars. we are all different. there's no reason to think that cheeky isn't healing – she very well might be!! 🙂

    i do also believe that with Christ comes the greatest possible depth of healing. that is not say that personality doesn't still come in to play, but i do believe that with Jesus, we can move though painful parts of our lives as we trust Him. i pray that cheeky DOES/IS healing and not hiding and that the Lord truly has brough joy back into her heart! 🙂

  6. Coleman's A to Z says:

    "Well,the thing you are not awknowleging is that she was there. Maybe you are just learning of it now, but she lived it."

    Huh!? Lora I think you may need to reread Shirlee's beautiful post again.

    Shirlee, I believe you expressed yourself beautifully and you obviously love and adore your daughter. It's just hard to learn more as it makes your heart ache for all that your Cheeky has gone through. Sounds like she has a family who will walk her through this past as she grows and understands more. How blessed you all are to have each other.

  7. Stefanie says:

    I love this post. For your honesty, for your transparency… your posts always find a way straight to my heart!
    How much your Cheeky has endured, and what an astounding transformation she has made!!
    Praising Him for performing the miracles it took to make you all a family 🙂

  8. Lora says:

    I was happy to see you seem to be adressing it. I hope you don't wait for her to ask, but continue to adress it. Because how many years should you wait to talk about it and have her hold the belief that it was her fault because she was not good enough?

    I also see people want to beleive that love will overcome it. Lovely thought, not always true. When you start with the knowlege that you were not good enough, it sticks with you.

  9. Shirlee McCoy says:

    I'm sorry that your past is so hurtful, Lora. It certainly wasn't my intention to convey the idea that the truth should be hidden from an adoptee.

    As I've stated, I speak to my daughter at her level. As her language matures, so too will my explanation of her past. However, telling her about the circumstances will not keep her from asking me hard questions later on. As I begin to understand more about her early years, I am better able to answer whatever questions she has.

    Love cannot change the past, but it is all I have to offer. That and a willing ear, open arms and steadfast support.

  10. Jill says:

    Sweet, sweet girl. SO VERY PRECIOUS! Thank you for sharing this story.
    Love ALWAYS wins.

  11. Wife of the Pres. says:

    Lora, love is not enough but God is able and His love is enough.

    "Love never fails."

    He is the healer not us as parents. He can heal your heart as well; He is waiting with open arms.

    I wonder, are you a parent? You seem to have a lot of advice to give. Is it just based on your own experience as an adoptee or as an adoptive parent as well? I'm not saying you are wrong, just it would help to know what angle you are coming from. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us here. I really appreciate it as an AP.

  12. Deb says:

    Bless you sweet mother. As I read this, I think of things that have threatened to overtake my heart, soul and mind. Deep sadness over things I cannot change. You sound like a strong woman and will not allow this to overtake you or your precious daughter. This will be a part of her story…and a part of yours. God will use this past in ways you canot imagine. The things that hurt our children, hurt us more. God bless your journey.

  13. Julie says:

    Your daughter is just beautiful. I just submitted my SN checklist to my agency three months ago and albinism was one of the SN's I am very open to. I should be so lucky as to receive a referral for a child as darling as your sweet girl. Best wishes to you and your family!

  14. Michelle says:

    Maybe it's because we are on a similar time line… having adopted our daughters at the same time… but you always seem to discuss a subject that is weighing on my heart at that very moment. I love all of your posts, Shirlee. Thank you for sharing your heart, your gift and your love of sweet Cheeky.

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