Long before I became a mother, I thought children were molded, not unfolded. I thought you held them in your hands and shaped them with warm nimble fingers. I thought you offered a logical explanation (“Rinse your milk glass and then the milk won’t get dry and sticky and hard to clean”) and they would assimilate this information and incorporate it into their daily routines. I thought you whittled them into miniature replicas of you.
I might not have such fixed ideas about the nature of children if I weren’t the mother of adopted children as well as biological children. The traits of the biological children are so vividly recognizable as the traits of my husband and me that I must conclude that the traits of my adopted children must be duplicates of their birth parents’ traits. So behavior that seems inexplicable to me (the aforementioned dried milk in glasses, for instance) likely has a reasonable, organic basis. (Perhaps their loathing of math can also be explained.)
My daughter inherited my curly hair. She’s articulate and stubborn and slow to warm up to new situations. As a baby, this reticence to embrace new situations revealed itself at three months of age when someone other than me held her. She screamed her head off and refused to be comforted until I took her home into her own room. After that day, no one could hold her but me and on some occasions, her dad. No one else. Ever. She would shriek and freak out.
She clung to me like a barnacle. For months I did everything with one hand, including peeling potatoes. I took her everywhere. She had no babysitters. I thought I’d have to homeschool her since I couldn’t imagine her letting me out of her sight.
But when she was about four, she began to venture away sometimes. She’d talk to other adults. She became friendly to people at the pool. By the time she turned six, she was able to go to kindergarten. Her public school teacher would sometimes let her call me when she missed me a lot, but by halfway through the year, even the phone calls tapered off.
My baby girl grew brave and independent. Usually.
But sometimes, like today, she reverts. Today, when I dropped her off at VBS (Vacation Bible School), I was stunned when she left her group and ran to me. She burst into tears, rubbed her eyes and begged me to stay with her. I have no idea–I guess her tank of braveness and independence ran dry–so I told her she could come home with me but she’d miss all the fun–or that she could stay and have fun. I refused to stay with her. “Moms aren’t allowed,” I explained. I gave her the choice: Come home with me or stay and have fun.
She cried and cried. Finally, her group headed to the activity and I said, “You need to decide” and she wanted to stay and have fun but she wanted me to stay, too, which I refused to do . . . so I gave my phone number to the 17-year old in charge of her group and told her that if she needed to come home, Shelby could call me and I’d come get her.
And what do you know? She never called. She had fun.
I understand her. I feel introverted and scared and shy and I’d really rather not interact with people some days. I remember being worried about speaking out loud during Sunday School class when I was a little older than her. I hated middle school and never had anyone to talk to because I just couldn’t decipher the code everyone else seemed to know.
So when push comes to shove with my daughter, I try to not push or shove. I try to let her tip-toe into the world at her own pace. I hope that she’ll stop looking back to see if I’m still waiting and watching, that she will understand that I’m always waiting for her, even if she can’t see me.
Mostly though, I just hope that tomorrow morning she doesn’t cry. Or I might.