The Care and Keeping of the Broken Heart

January 25, 2011 albinism, older child adoption, Shirlee 0 Comments

I planned a different blog today. I planned to write about the care and keeping of Cheeky’s hair. We’ve had issues, you see. Food in the hair issues. Marker in the hair issues. Paint in the hair issues. With the big day coming up (have I mentioned that Cheeky is a firefly in a┬áballet?), I realized we needed to do something about the purple and pink streaks in her platinum hair.

Since she was home from church with a fever Sunday, I took the opportunity to treat her rainbow head and today I was going to blog about changing rainbow to white.

And I was going to talk about products I don’t like.

And, products that I love.

But, I’m not going to talk about hair. I’m going to talk about heart, because this morning, Cheeky woke up and told me she’d had a dream.

Now, usually I ignore her dreams. They are kind of like her shared memories…a means by which she connects herself to this home and this life. So, if she hears Sassy say, “I had this weird dream,” she immediately says, “Guess what, Mommy? I had a weird dream.”


If she hears a sibling say, “Hey, Mom, remember how you screamed when that mouse ran over your foot when we first moved here? That was hilarious!” Cheeky, who was not around when the mouse ran over my foot, will say, “Hey, Mommy, do you remember when we were on the plane?” To which I will reply, “Yes.” And she will stare at me, and I will say, “What about it?” and she’ll respond, “Nothing. I just wondered if you remembered.”

All that to say, I tend to go into mindless Mommy mode when Cheeky mentions her dreams. They are usually long and rambling and, often, obviously NOT really dreams.

Today, though, I was shaken from my mindless mode (and nearly choked on my banana) when Little Miss announced that she’d had a dream.

“Yeah?” I say, sliding into the old habit of asking and half listening.

“I dreamed that you were taking me to another house to live.” (This, friends, is the point where I am shaken and nearly choke on the banana).

“Really?” I say, not wanting to put words in her mouth or thoughts in her head.

“Yes. You had me pack all my clothes into a big bag and you took me to the other house and said I was going to live there.” She eyes me over her toast and eggs, and I eye her, and a thousand responses are flitting through my head, and I’m panicking a little because I know exactly how things went down the day she met us. China Mom had her put all her things into a bag and told her she was going to live in her new home.

So, the dream is a memory of the past, right?

And, a fear for the future.

And, this is my daughter with those memories and those fears.

A real dream?

A faked dream being used to express her deepest fear?

I can’t know, so I have to go with my gut. Meet the need right then. Don’t make too much of it. Don’t make too little of it. Find that balance…that elusive balance between treating her like she has always been mine and treating her like she has a separate past with separate memories and much, much different needs than her siblings.

“Well,” I say, “That will never happen. If I found all your stuff in a bag, I would take it out and put it back in your dresser and your closet in your room in our house. Because that is where it belongs. It is where you belong.”

And, she looks at me and she nods, “I know.”

And, I say, “Guess what else? If someone told me I had to pack your stuff in a big bag and take you to another house, I would say ‘no!’. You are my daughter, and we are staying together.”

And, she smiles and says, “I know.”

And, I finish the conversation off by brandishing the giant frying pan. It was my weapon of choice when my other kids were little and had worries and fears. “Don’t worry,” I’d say. “If the monster or bad guy or giant pumpkin headed guy tries to come in the house, I will pull out the frying pan of doom, and I will slay him.”

So, this morning, I pull out the frying pan of doom. It is heavy, but I still manage to brandish it in the air.

“See this?” I say to Cheeky. “This is the frying pan of doom. If anyone ever tried to take you away from me, I would use this and I would slay him.”

But, she doesn’t laugh like my other kids used to. She just looks at me for a minute, with that solemn, old-soul look she gets sometimes. In it I see her past, I see her pain, I see the loss she has learned to live with.

I walk over, and I crouch down so she can see my face clearly. “I am not kidding, Cheeky. Whatever it takes, no matter what, you will always be my daughter.”

And, she puts her cold little hand on my cheek, and she says, “I know, Mommy.”

And, she goes back to her eggs and her giggles and her eight-year-old antics, and I am left with a heavy feeling in my chest.

Nineteen months ago, I knew nothing about the care and keeping of a platinum blonde’s hair. I knew even less about the care and keeping of an older adopted child’s heart. It is so easy, you see, when you begin at the beginning. When you meet every need from the very first moment, the very first breath. It is different when you begin at age seven or eight or nine or ten.

It is different.

Maybe that is not what you thought I would say, or what you wanted to hear, but it is the truth.

What I am discovering on this long and winding journey is that different does not mean bad or less or not as meaningful, it simply means not the same. Building this thing called love with a child who is older is not the same as building it with my other children. It requires more from me. More patience. More understanding. More sacrifice of self. It would be so easy, you see, to assume that everything Cheeky once was, everywhere she once lived, all those past experiences would fade in time and would cease to matter. They will not. They cannot. Sure, the memories will slip into the farthest recesses of her mind, their colors fading, their brightness dimming. Sure, in time, what I have given, the time we have shared, will loom larger than what was given before, time spent before.

But, the past will always be there. Just a breath, a memory, a thought away.

When a child learns that she is expendable, that all it takes is a word from some mysterious entity to send her off to another home and another life….that knowledge settles deep. It takes time to eradicate it. A lot more time than nineteen months. A lot more time than three or four years. It takes every minute of every day of every year until the child is able to accept a new truth and a new reality and a new belief system.

None of us can know how long that will be for our older children. So, we must be prepared for the long-haul. We must learn the careful care and keeping of the heart.

The broken heart.

That is what happens when a child is pulled from what she knows and loves and is thrown into what is new and strange and, even, alarming. The heart breaks. The soul cries. Even when the eyes are dry.

Yesterday, Cheeky and I were walking along the easy road of love. Today, I am spending just a little more time building the path we’re treading. A little more time singing and playing and listening. When it comes to broken hearts, there is no set timeframe for healing. There is only following Cheeky’s lead as I carefully knit together the ripped and tattered shreds of her heart with pieces of my own.

That is the thing about the care and keeping of my daughter’s h eart. It requires more than my love. It requires my brokeness. In that place where I cry for what she has lost, I find the strength to endure her endless need to know that she belongs. In that place where my soul weeps for what she has overcome, I find the courage to face her past with her rather than asking her to face it alone. In that place…in that heart…in that moment where being her mother matters more than a million tiny irritations, I find my own brokeness and my own healing.


Threads of two tattered hearts knit together to create something stronger than the past and its heartaches and memories.

That is what is required when it comes to the care and keeping of the broken heart.

And, I will give it over and over and over again for my daughter.

– Shirlee

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