One of the hardest parts of being moved around so much is that nobody really knows you.
Before we met our children, we read paperwork, we talked to their social worker (who had met them once!), we chatted to the Medical Advisor and the current Foster Parents. We tried to build up a picture of these boys, and we thought that we knew quite a lot about them.
During Introductions we played with the boys, bathed them, took them to the park, made them lunch; basically tried to build up from strangers to parents. It’s a peculiar time.
Then the boys came home and I began to have questions.
Do they like broccoli?
What size are their feet?
Have they had chicken pox?
Have they ever been to a zoo?
Some of these questions were answerable, but others, I began to realise, nobody knew.
I remember once driving into town and telling the boys we wouldn’t park under a tree because I didn’t want birds pooping on the car. Middly piped up, “bird poop is lucky”. I was rather surprised, and asked him who’d told him that. He was very confused and couldn’t answer. Several days later, Middly called cabbage “lucky” and wee “lucky” and I finally understood. He was trying to say “yucky” all along, no wonder he couldn’t tell me why he thought bird poop was yucky! What an absurd question that must have seemed to him!
I know that all children mispronounce words, and all families must have stories like this. But, for us, I think that the misunderstandings were our first language! We were trying to function as a family, but I didn’t know any of the boys’ cute pronunciations of words. Our conversations were full of comments and questions that made no sense to one another.
I only know about the ones that I spotted. Goodness knows how many misunderstandings never got ironed out!
After the boys had been home for a while, we became their longest-lasting placement. I realised that I knew them better than anyone else. Yet, I barely knew them at all.
Eldest once asked for a toy for several days and I never worked out what he wanted. In the end, he just gave up asking. I was heart-broken. Though, I could see his point, clearly this crazy woman had no idea what he wanted and was just going to keep offering the wrong stuff or trying to get him to look at the Argos catalogue. I don’t think he was quite sure of the connection between the paper and actual toys. Though, I suppose we’ll never know. He doesn’t remember the incident now, so he can’t tell me what it was all about.
“You are the expert on your child,” our post-adoption social worker said. I am sure that’s a fine principle, but I was terrified. How can I be the person who knows them best? I still know so little about them.
Why did they scream when people sang in church?
Have they ever paddled in the sea?
When did they start to walk?
We’ve been a family for years now, and I can answer more and more questions about them. I’ve been there watching many of their favourite memories. But, there are still blurry bits. There are strange half-memories that they told us in the early days and I carefully recorded for them. Sometimes, a song or a food will seem to remind them of something, and I won’t be able to help them place that memory. Maybe it was something that happened before we met. Maybe it wasn’t.
This year, I asked Eldest what birthday cake he wanted and he said “A Chocolate Castle Cake”. Really? He’s had that most years. Does he definitely want it again?
But, this year was different. This year, he carefully explained to me what he wanted: a square cake, covered with icing, and a castle built out of flakes on top.
That’s what he wanted last time he asked for a Chocolate Castle Cake, and the time before. So many years of birthdays, he was asking for this cake and never quite getting it. I made lots of chocolate castle cakes, but none were quite what he wanted.
Of course, I’m pleased that Eldest got the birthday cake he wanted this year. But, a part of me is still mourning for all those missed moments and botched attempts at talking to one another. When the boys most needed understanding, I was least able to give it. I wish that they’d had the luxury of being fully known and I wish that I’d had the joy of fully knowing them.