We knew we wanted to adopt a foster kid, and that the kids would have special needs and sensitivities, and that the adoption process itself would be grueling and tedious (though we probably underestimated that aspect.) What I never really understood is how tender it would be, or how much I would care for this other person, or how fierce those feelings would be. I thought bonding and attachment would be goals, something we'd work toward over time. It's not like that at all! It's a lot more like becoming totally enchanted in a way that eclipses everything mundane and ordinary.
Just last month, adopting a foster kid was entirely theoretical. And now that empty room actually belongs to him and it's full of ordinary things, like toothpaste and a hairbrush that we shopped for and bought together. This afternoon I went and sat in his room just because I miss him. We root for football teams we've never cared about, and hum pop songs we used to hate, and eat food that I used to worry would make me fat, just because he loves these things and they bring us closer to him. On Sunday, I told him I was doing a load of laundry and he brought me his undershirt and socks and carefully placed them in the laundry basket and it felt so sweet to wash them with our own clothes. We look at photos we took with him just last week, or the one before, and they already feel precious.
So many things in life, you imagine and then you get there and they disappoint. But this is SO much better than I ever could have guessed. Certainly this is the proverbial "honeymoon" period that the books about older child adoption so often try to puncture with their grim clinical realities. Why do that? At a wedding reception, do people hasten to tell the bride and groom all about the grim realities of divorce statistics? At a christening, does anyone dare to tell the new mother that the baby is likely to disappoint her someday?
There wasn't any absence in our relationship. We didn't long for a child and we didn't try for a baby before T. There was just life before him, then the thought that we might like to try adopting an older child because it seemed like a good thing to do and a good time to do it. And then WHAM - there was this captivating person with this incredibly complex mix of strengths and vulnerabilities, doing his 15-year-old best to join his life to ours. And suddenly we were just so smitten.
It reminds me of a feeling I had after my grandmother died, when I realized that grief had elements of sublime joy, and every perception seemed heightened. Parents must feel the kind of joy and awe and fear and exhilaration we feel right now all the time, but I really just had no idea. I was so driven by principle and logic - I didn't know how much joy he would introduce into our lives. I don't doubt that much sooner than we're ready for, we'll find ourselves waiting up for him to come home, or fuming over some act of defiance, or worrying about some lie he's told. I'm sure we're not at all ready for such an event. I'm sure we'll make terrible mistakes. That's when I'll re-read this, or look at the pictures from this weekend and remember this incredibly sweet moment of agreeing to be what the adoption workers call a "forever family."