My hero is tiny but larger than life. Tan skin, black hair and the most beautiful dark chocolate eyes you have ever seen. He is 33 inches tall and weighs 33 pounds. A perfect little pint of goodness.
A little over a year ago, at age three, he left a cold gray building with my husband and I, two complete strangers. He shed only a few tears as he said goodbye to the ayi (nanny) he had known his whole life. He slept in our arms that first night scared and trembling, and let me feed him a bottle even though I am sure he was wondering why I was treating him like a baby.
It was only a couple days before my little hero started showing his strength. Speaking rapidly in Chinese to anyone who would listen, telling them that my husband and I weren’t feeding him enough, that he didn’t want to take a bath, he could wash his hands without help from his mama, and he was going to America to play football.
Strong from the beginning, somehow sure of who he was and what he wanted despite the shifting sands of his short life.
My hero learned to walk in the orphanage when he was two years old. He arrived there, to his second of three known homes, around age one. His caregivers put braces on his legs and taught him to use a walker to take his first steps.
My heart breaks with both pride and sadness as I think about this huge milestone in his life; one that his birth parents may never have expected he would be capable of, one that his nannies and caregivers believed he could do, and one that as his forever mother I missed experiencing.
Later, my hero was sent to a rehabilitation center in a larger city in China to get physical therapy on his legs. I am not sure who, if anyone, accompanied him, or how long he stayed. He must have been so afraid and uncertain of what was happening to him.
His file said he was not compliant with the therapy and they sent him back to his orphanage. Not compliant was another way of saying my hero was strong willed – a fighter. He had overcome so much in two short years of life and would continue to do so.
Once he arrived home with us he began weekly physical therapy, serial casting, and wearing leg braces all day. He often cried during therapy when tasks were too hard or when his legs became so tight that the 30 minutes of stretching was painful. But he kept persevering, kept getting back on the tricycle, the balance swing, and the treadmill.
He picked out his new cast color for serial casting each week and was proud to have his family and friends sign them. He didn’t let his braces or his casts slow him down but continued trying to participate in everything everyone else did.
Now, one year later, he wears AFO braces to keep his leg muscles stretched and in the proper position. He will probably need further rounds of serial casting and other interventions in the future, but right now he enjoys playing on a soccer team with other four year olds. He is so proud of himself and all that he is learning and accomplishing.
My hero has started preschool last fall. He learned english and could speak it fluently within a couple months. He loves going to school, being around his friends, receiving the love of his teachers, and trying new things. He is brave and always willing to take advantage of any opportunity offered to him. Especially if it something his older sister is interested in doing.
He can’t always keep up with his friends and siblings or do the same things other children his age can, but he never stops trying. He doesn’t let his physical disabilities prevent him from having fun and being adventurous. He also enjoys having the little girls in his class baby him and help him out around school.
I often think about my hero’s past when I am laying beside him at night waiting for him to fall asleep. Was he left to be found — or not? I make assumptions and ask questions with answers I may never know.
As a parent to child who spent three and a half years without you it is impossible not to wonder. I think about his little legs, “scissor gate” as his file called them.
Was he showing the physical signs of his cerebral palsy at 10 months of age leading his parents to realize they were unable or unwilling to care for him? Or was that not the reason at all? Was it because of money? A second child being born? I will never know and that is hard for a mother’s heart.
It will be even harder for my hero when he begins to ask those questions himself. When he wonders where he came from, what his biological parents were like and why they were unable or unwilling to raise him.
When my hero first arrived to his new forever home he tried very hard to make himself unlovable, and he still does many days. He struggles with anger, mostly directed towards me and his father or himself. We are working through a lot of self harm issues, including hitting and scratching himself when he is upset, doesn’t get his way or knows he has done something wrong. He has lost so many people and connections in his short life, making it hard for him to trust.
He has still only been with us less than half of the time he was in an orphanage, and I know that the love he feels from us and for us frightens him. He doesn’t truly know if we will be there for him forever or if we too will disappear suddenly out of life. As he begins to feel more settled and secure he also has moments or days of regression where he is angry, sad and the self harm and negative self talk increases. I know we are still in the midst of the grieving process.
The other night before falling asleep my hero told me he missed China. He said he wants to go back in case we decide not to keep him. My heart broke in pieces all over again. My prayer is that I can have the strength and wisdom to be the mother my hero needs and deserves.
He has suffered immensely and I want to be there to help him heal his wounds, face his grief, and believe he has value.
Though his life from here on out will be far from perfect, I pray that I can give him the love, guidance, boundaries and support that he deserves. I also pray that his heart, body and mind continue to heal from his past traumas. That he will feel safe and loved and secure in the arms of his mother and father and ultimately his Heavenly Father.