She’s four now. Four.
The once stoic infant-like toddler has slowly transformed into a joyful, ham-for-the-camera, no longer napping, energetic delight.
She came to us like this…
Just a few days ago, we celebrated her like this…
She takes my breath away.
She’s the product of preschool and teenage influences, demanding to watch Dora the Explorer one minute and yelling phrases like, “Mom, I wrecked you” the next. (Thank you, 13-year-old son.) She could listen to 50 books in a row and still want more. She can’t stay in her seat during dinner to save her life. Her favorite thing in the world is when her whole family is together, and she’s always sure to let us know when someone is missing. Family. She knows what that means. She feels its strength. She knows she has a place; she knows she belongs there.
She’s been a part of our forever family for almost three years now, and I find we’re dancing the same steps we’ve been dancing since she was first placed in our arms. Oh, the rhythm may have changed a little bit, and the time it takes us to get from one step to another has decreased, but we’re still dancing all the same.
Safety, trust, rest. Safety, trust, rest. Safety, trust, rest. And again. And again.
It’s the adoption waltz. It starts out with two strangers facing each other, one eager to begin and the other not so sure. At first, you may not even be able to hold hands; you may only hover in front of each other, nervous, awkward, and afraid. And then the music of love-as-a-choice begins, and you step forward and meet your child’s physical need. “You are safe,” you whisper. You stay here for a while. You do this step over and over and over. You feed your child. “You are safe.” You respond to every cry. “You are safe.” When she fights you, you hold her tighter, promising to never let go. “You are safe.”
And then, one day your child initiates the side step. Trust. It may be the tiniest step you’ve ever seen, but there is definite movement. She looks to you for comfort. She prefers you over strangers. She raises tentative arms to be held. She says in the most subtle of ways, “I believe you.” You’re afraid to breathe, because you don’t want her to change her mind. Please, please don’t change your mind.
And then, step three. Her body relaxes, the tension releases, her head dips towards your shoulder. Fear drains away, and her feet come together beside yours as she rests. In the beginning, this step can be over all too quickly, but you savor it all the same.
And then you begin again. Safety, trust, rest. Safety, trust, rest.
Despite all the training we received prior to our daughter’s adoption, I think I believed we would only waltz for a little while. She was so young when she became ours, so surely we would be able to move on from the waltz within a year—two max. And yet, we’re still dancing. Our steps are more fluid, and we are much more comfortable in each other’s arms, but it’s just as crucial now that we keep dancing as it was when she was 15 months old, stiff as a board with fear.
Her four-year-old self screams in a sensory-overload tantrum, or in a flat-out fit from being told no. We grab hands, hold on for dear life, and step forward. “You are safe. You are loved. No matter how loud you scream, we aren’t going anywhere.” Her response time is quicker now—although I confess, still not as quick as I’d like—and she calms down. She burrows her head into my neck and quietens. She steps to the side…trust. “I believe you.” And then she relaxes her balled-up body and runs off to play again. Feet together. Rest.
After months of security, she starts melting down again when I leave her in Sunday School. Safety, trust, rest.
I forget to pack a snack, and her once-malnourished body responds with rage. Safety, trust, rest.
She withdraws at her own party, unsure of how to respond to the stimuli firing at her from all directions. Safety, trust, rest.
And the dance goes on.
Fellow adoptive parents, I know you are often weary from the dance. I know you sometimes wish you could sit this one out, or that your child would just get it so you don’t have to keep proving yourself, proving your love. You may feel like you’re literally dancing in circles, not making any forward progress at all.
Keep dancing. One-two-three, one-two-three…Safety, trust, rest. Safety, trust, rest. You are God’s chosen dance partner for your child, and she’ll be learning this step her whole life. She’ll get quicker; she’ll become more confident, but only if you never let go of her hand. Keep meeting her needs, even though you are so weary of being the need-meeter. Press on to give love and assurance even when you don’t feel so loved and assured. Waltz on, and internalize the melody of a love that richly deepens with each sometimes eager, sometimes frightened, sometimes bone-tired step.
She will trust. She will rest, and you will too. After all, that’s the sweet spot of the dance.
Psst! If you want to know more about our adoption story, one that involved a heartbreaking, unprecedented immigration debacle that left our family separated across the globe for months, then check out my book, Bringing Lucy Home! (Australian readers, you can purchase it from Koorong.) You might cry your eyes out, but you’ll actually laugh a lot too. Amazon readers have all graciously given it 5 stars, so you can’t go wrong, right? Also, keep your eyes peeled for my devotional book coming in March 2017—30 Days of Hope for Adoptive Parents.