Three months ago today they placed her in my arms while we wept and wondered, my fingers beginning to learn her bony, small body from that first touch. Her eyes were empty, moving only to track those around her warily, wondering what to expect of these strangers who were stealing her away. She watched us out of the teeny corners of her eyes, while she lay limp in our arms. There are things you don’t think when you are in the moment. In the moment you are only surviving…learning how to feed, hold, settle. It’s later when emerging personality gives glimpses of her past that you wonder what went before. Her fighting spirit bears testimony to the strength and stubbornness she surely needed to last as long as she did. And the other day when she peed on the floor and looked at me with terror in her black eyes, waiting for my reaction, her past was there on the surface, written on her face. I held that inconsolable baby for the better part of an hour, pee over both of us, reassuring her that all was well. That mama loves her deep and will forever. This is the hard work of picking up where someone else left off. Of teaching grace where lessons of punishment have been started.
So how are we doing three months in? Depends on the minute, the second. At our core we are good. Really good. This girl is being knitted right in with Father’s perfect stitches. She is learning sign language and just last week connected that these signs we are using over and over mean something. She and I, we communicated for the first time last week when she used the sign for eat and then was asked, are you hungry? Her little nod nearly made me dance. She is all over this house with her stiff legged jaunt, hanging on to her walker wagon. Steps are coming, I can feel it. She eats. That’s all. She eats. Never have I been so happy to see a toddler with her mouth full. Never have I had to work so hard to make it thus.
Last week I was so empty. Just totally depleted. And Father knew that, which is why we spent Friday on mystery trips, starting with Craigs Cruisers and breakfast with the cousins and leading into Dutch Village with Nana and Aunt Veti and ending with dinner with Daddy and back to school shopping. That day was just what I needed. To have fun with my Smalls. To see Maggie on the train ride with her sibs, laughing and trying to work the lever. To see Tess walking a goat, to break the rules and bump Grant and Peter on their go-carts, to watch Lucy, with her measly 21 tickets, be given all of Peter’s out of sheer grace so she could get what she wanted from that stupid, stupid prize counter. And Maggie spent the better part of that day in Nana and Aunt Veti’s arms, something I was aching for. Three months it’s been since someone outside our family has held her. Three months she’s spent her days perched on my hip, me doing everything with one hand, thankful for her small presence there, yet so ready to have a break from that for a bit. I got that last Friday. Because she is learning that they are forever too, this Nana and these uncles and aunts and cousins.
She learned to give hugs. Oh my soul, it’s the sweetest thing. And if she gives to one, she gives to all, her bird arms reaching out, teeny hands fluttering against your back as she pats you like a good dog. She understand everything. Seriously, everything. Three months only of hearing English and she understands it all. And while communicating it, without words, has been a challenge, understanding it is the bigger battle and it’s been fought.
It’s hard, this work. I still ache to hear my name from her lips. I hurt every single morning when she lays in her bed until someone discovers she’s awake and picks her up, long for the day that she lets us know with her words or her body that she wants out. Long for the day she just gets out. But time is a teacher and it’s taught her over two and a half years that no one comes when you cry out, so you stop doing it. She would lay in her bed until Kingdom come if we let her, if her siblings didn’t wake up every morning still and rush to check on her first thing. She no longer hoards food in her mouth. That is a beautiful thing. She has figured out that there is an abundance, that she won’t be denied. And she has figured out how to ask for it. Which is why she spends the better part of each day in her booster on the counter, begin shown choice after choice. She wants to eat all the time and we are happy to oblige for now. Maggie is learning that things taken away can be given back. Her shoes, which have been slept in countless times are on the kitchen counter waiting for her as I type. Taking them off was easy peasy last night. She knows they’ll be there in the morning for her. Stripping her of her shoes would have led to a tantrum a month ago. Progress in adoption, I’m learning, is measured in small doses. Measured in small doses, but celebrated in large ones. At least that’s how we’re playing the game.
It’s hard, not going to lie to you. Dan and I are stepping out tonight for our first dinner alone since before we left for China. I’ve been tied up in knots all day thinking of leaving Maggie, but needing it so badly. Nana and Aunt Veti will come and hold her and distract her and we’ll be home in time to do our bedtime routine together. The Smalls will remind her that she hasn’t been left, will remind her by constantly being in her face and touching her as they have for the last. Three. Months. Straight. Y’all, it never stops.
So amidst the mountains of laundry and the work of settling a new member into our family, amidst wallpaper being torn down and replaced and fool’s errands to find a throttle cable for Peter’s mini bike, amidst the daily mess, both physical and emotional, of becoming us, we are blessed beyond measure. It is so much harder, so much better, so much sweeter, so much everything than I imagined. And don’t you look at the many many moving parts that had to align just so for HER to land HERE and try to tell me there isn’t a Father who desires to set the orphan in families. Don’t even try, because these ears are closed to that kind of bunk and even though I’m too tired to formulate a proper argument with citations and such, I do know this: that we cannot claim to be following if we are unwilling to be lead to hard places.
This is me being real. Thankful and overwhelmed with love and a couple hundred things all mixed up (I mean, really…look at that face!). And wondering what hard place are you being called to today?