Monday, August 1, 2011

The Healing Child

Years ago there was a big controversy over this family having a baby in order to use her cord blood to save her older brother. I heard a lot about how she was "used," how it was unethical, how she was somehow less than human (or at least being treated as such). The family went to news outlets to assure the hysteric masses that they did truly desire a second child and had been putting it off due to their son's illness, and that they were extremely delighted that they were able to not only finally have their second child but also save their son's life.

It was an odd controversy to me. I mean, the family wanted a second child anyway, they absolutely loved their daughter, and their story, to me, is nothing short of miraculous.

I didn't know then that I would be in a similar situation years later.

Oh, no, neither of my children has a horrible illness (that I know of, fingers crossed!), and I certainly could not provide any cord blood to either of them.

What I'm talking about is how A really helped to heal P.

Way back when, in our life before Ambrose (which I can hardly remember), P was very hurt. Very, very hurt. He was hurting for his first family and couldn't find the words to talk about it. He was hurting for his lost memories, and for the painful memories he did keep. He was hurting for all the changes, all the shifts, the loss of innocence, a child made to process adult emotions again and again at an age when his biggest concern should have been a dropped lollipop or a balloon floating away.

We wanted a second child, so badly, and yet on some level we were so worried. What if a second child made life that much harder? We were already giving our all to P, what if less attention hurt him irreparably? What if jealousy completely overtook him?

And yet, in my heart, I knew it would help. I knew it would be a blessing. I knew that as a single child P was lonely, scared, isolated. He needed a sibling, a co-conspirator. He needed someone who looked like him. He needed someone to dote on, someone to care for, someone to love. He needed someone to slap him back, to steal his cookie, to laugh and dance and look at books with. He needed a brother.

And it was perfect, wasn't it? We wanted more children, and we were betting and Ambrose would help.

And, oh, did he ever!

Oh, sure, those first few months were hard. P absolutely LOVED A, he would feed him and give him toys and hold his hand in the car and sing him songs and tell him stories. But he was waking up super early (think, up for the day by 4am daily) and he was very, very mad at me.

But as time has gone on, things have gotten better, easier, happier.

P's hard, rigid, tough exterior melted away. The surly mini-adolescent de-aged back to a preschooler, aided by the daily reminder of how to be a child. Sure, preschool helped here, but he was also able to see a baby growing daily, see him every morning and every afternoon and every night and all day on the weekends and holidays.

In a sense, as A has grown from a newborn to a toddler, P has grown with him. He is so incredibly verbal now, something he's struggled to become given that he just has so much swimming around in his head that he needs to talk about. We know, from our conversations, that being there for A's first couple years helped him to, in a sense, re-live his own first couple of years.

The rough infancy, the separation, the fear... and with it, the physical milestones, and the knowledge that he was once this size, that he once did this, that he was once so tiny and helpless, that he'd been loved and cared for. As I would nurse A I would tell P how he had been nursed by his Amaye. We would talk of his sorrow that she isn't here anymore, and of his pain over how I didn't nurse him, how I regret it, and how we need to process this, grieve this, and move on.

When A became mobile, a whole new world opened for P. Maybe it's because he turned 5 around that time and mentally he was in a different place anyway, but man the difference was stunning! He truly reveled in everything A learned to do, and suddenly started to ask about his own milestones as well. Instead of me bringing up his past whenever I saw him getting moody, he'll actually come to me and openly ask about his infancy, his life in Ethiopia as well as his life here.

I look back at where P was before Ambrose. I think of all the anger, all the sorrow, all the fear. And yet, he's been processing, learning, accepting. For almost two years now he's been helping Ambrose grow. He's been loving him, picking him up when he falls, reading him books, playing games, sharing his food, and even physically getting between me and A when I go to discipline him (you know, with my nasty time outs or wagging finger, I'm sooo mean!).

Beyond watching Ambrose grow, he's also watched Ambrose bond. He studied the baby's soft gaze as he looked into my eyes while we nursed, and suddenly P stopped giving us a sullen, pleading look whenever we locked eyes. It was replaced with a loving gaze. He watched how physically affectionate we were, and didn't hesitate to ask for the same thing from us. I would rock the baby then rock my big boy, hand them drinks at the same time, pop food into both their mouths, and cuddle them close and rub their backs.

P has seen how calm A is with being dropped off. He's seen his interaction with extended family and friends. He's seen how A responds to the world, how little fear he has so long as mommy and daddy are with him. And P learned from him. His heart calmed. His fear dissipated. His trust increased. No longer were we so hard to figure out, and no longer was the parent-child relationship so complicated. Ambrose taught him how it was done. He taught a child with anxious attachment exactly how to attach, how to relate, how to trust, how to love.

And P soaked it up.

Where are we now?

In a sense, it almost feels like we're done this journey. P was an estimated 24 months at homecoming, and A is now 22 months and bigger/more advanced than P was then. We're up to "oh, that used to be your shirt!" and "oh, you used to do that too!" and "you LOVED that toy when you were his age!" And the utter joy you can see in P's face blows me away. Suddenly, he has HISTORY, documented in photos and videos and countless stories. He has memories. And he is watching his own childhood play out in front of him, not the sad parts, but he happy parts. In a way, we're all reliving it. He was so upset as a toddler, so scared and hurt, but A isn't. A is just happy and bubbly and so, so uncomplicated. And it simplifies us all, heals us all.

P talks a lot now. He talks about his first family, his childhood. He talks about the unfairness in his life. Whenever and wherever he wants, because that's how we roll. And yet it's not so complicated anymore, not so raw. It sucks, it really, really sucks, and there are going to be times when it hurts to bad he'll feel like he can hardly breath. But that's not a daily truth for him anymore.

Ambrose is attached, fully and firmly. He doesn't have to worry about us abandoning him. He doesn't have to worry about where his next meal is coming from. He doesn't have to worry about losing his home or favorite foods. He just has to worry about having fun, and he does a great job at that!

Through his own innocence, his own peaceful heart, he really has mended our family.

Our second child, so wanted and desired and hoped for.... And our first child, who needed him so badly, who protects and cares for even as he is emotionally cared for....

We love them. So much.

We are so lucky.


Sarah said...

This is so beautiful. They sound like they have such a great little relationship. They will probably be best friends their whole lives. I truly believe that one of the biggest blessings we can give our children are siblings.

manymanymoons said...

This post is amazing. Definitely something to share with them when they are older.