Friday, December 31, 2010

Clean slate

It's mundane but priceless.

I hold bathtime in high esteem. Ideally, bathtime provides a reverie from the rest of the day, a time to wash off both the grime on the body and the ugly feelings of the moment. In my younger days, I emerged from the bathtub refreshed, cleaned inside and out.



This was, of course, before marriage and children. For a long time, I tried a shower, but when the little one kept "finding Mommy" and needing a new set of clothes, I switched back to baths. They take only slightly longer and require a change of clothes for me only. Alas, however, they no longer provide the spiritual renewal of my younger days. When Calgon takes us away, it should not permit stowaways.



My children, however, enjoy baths for other reasons. When we lived in Korea, a real bath was a communal event, and they trooped off to the public bathroom with all of the males in our extended family. And they came back after swimming (and sometimes washing) and filling their bellies with cup ramen and banana milk.



For them, bathtime is about bonding. Now, it begins as they race, both to get to the bathroom first and to get their clothes off. The trail leads from the socks in the living room, across the shirts strewn over the couch, up the steps and over the jeans, and past the underpants on the bathroom floor. Two giggling boys straddle the sides of the tub.



"Don't fall into the lava," says one, nudging the other, who sways precariously.



"No!" giggles the other, poking back. "Don't YOU fall!"



The water fills up, and as soon as the toys spill in, so do the boys. They play. They share, kind of. They learn to mediate their problems so that Mommy does not remove them from the tub before they are "shiny enough."



While they are busy playing, Mommy confiscates whatever troublesome toys have been left about the house and retrieves their pajamas. She listens at the door. She tries to ignore such beauties as "That was COOL! Splash the door AGAIN, BJ!", "No, no! Kangaroo Commando can swing from the silver thing like this! (thud)", and "I have a 'dea (idea). A standing up kicking 'dea!"



When I return, they are overflowing with information. I am their captive as they tell me their stories. Perched on the edge of the toilet lid, mopping up the water with my foot, I listen for perhaps one of the few times of the day.



Minutes later, they are are ready to wash, and we begin negotiations over their shampoo, whether they will wet their hair with a bowl sitting up or laying down in the water, which washcloth they will use for their eyes, etc. It is a time of giggling, splashing, giving. When the last soap bubble has been rinsed from their hair, they are ready to lather their little bodies.


Out come the bath puffs and the "namja" (boy) soap (Old Spice fagranced body wash). They giggle. They scrub one another's backs. They splash. They tag each other with soap bubbles. They call out the body parts that they shouldn't forget in English and Korean ("Front butt!" "Back butt!" "Arm pits!" "Knee pits?"). And then it is time to rinse and let the water out. Draining the tub is occasionally accompanied by tears from the little one, who may claim that he is a frog and lives in the water or that his vampire parents never make him come out this soon. The big one, however, is busy learning "real science."

"The water goes down because of gravity, Mom. That's right? If the hole were up higher, the water wouldn't go out. I can slow it down with the washcloth, that's right? But it won't stop the water because it has little holes, that's right? When I put the bowl over the hole, it makes a not-loud, not-cleaning vacuum, that's right? I cracked this bowl because the vacuum was too strong, right, Mom? I have to use a stronger bowl if I want the water stay in, that's right?"


He told me the other day that he needed to take a bath so that they could be "two good scientists."


When they finally emerge from the tub, they are Batmen, draped in towels and fighting evil from atop the toilet lid. I wrestle BJ to get his moisturizer on while AJ smears so much on his belly that it becomes like a clown face and he can scribble his name in it with his finger nail. Occasionally BJ corrects his letters.

Warm and dressed, they brush their teeth while I dry their hair. Then it's downstairs to give Daddy a kiss and blind him with their shiny teeth before bounding back to bed.

Bedtime is another story.

Perhaps it happens in thousands of households with thousands of variations, but it only lasts a short time, a few short years over a life span.

Mundane, but priceless.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Past

It was three years ago Christmas day that I screamed at God and wanted to know why he gave me a son I never planned only to take him away. And I was granted an extension.



It had started out as ordinarily as it could have. I was homesick, away from home, surrounded by family that I was learning to love and that was learning to love me. I was preparing Christmas lunch--eggplant parmigiana--and my husband had taken the boys to my sister-in-law's where they could play and I could cook in piece.



AJ didn't look sick. But he had cried for more than half an hour without a break, and my husband was more than happy to hand him over to me. We ate lunch, me with AJ in my arms. Even then, he always wanted to be held, never wanted to be set down. So this was normal and not cause for alarm. After lunch, I laid him down to change his diaper. He felt warm, and I asked Ilsuk to get out the Tylenol, intending to dose him once his little bum was nice and clean. Only seconds later he began to shake. Then he was turning blue. Not blue tinge. Indigo. New Levi's jeans. Everywhere. Ears, lips, hands, feet.



Thinking that he was choking, I turned him upside down and started pounding his back. I screamed for Ilsuk to call 119 (Korean 911-can you believe it?). I ran him outside. We were next to a church. A church full of people, in a small village filled with people by American standards. Surely someone was a doctor, surely someone would help us. I was screaming in my bad Korean. "Help me! My baby is dying!" It wasn't my bad Korean that stopped them because my sister-in-law was also yelling in her good Korean, and my husband was pleading on the phone for the ambulance to come faster.

I do not even remember what all I pleaded with God. I was angry, so angry. Why send a child to take him away? Why Christmas day? Why was no one coming?

Finally AJ started to cry. My sister-in-law and I were overjoyed. The ambulance pulled in and AJ was still enormously blue (although there was color starting to come back) and very hot to the touch. They immediately gave him oxygen and attached a pulse ox. We lifted his clothes and began bathing him in cool water squirted onto gauze from water bottles. His pulse ox became dislodged, and the EMT began chest compressions before feeling a pulse. It was a false alarm, but it still shook me to the core.

You do not forget seeing chest compressions on your child.

It was the beginning of months of seizures and infections. To this day, I always carry my cell phone (and it was one reason why I was so shocked when I lost it!). I always expect an emergency call. Everyday, I am thankful for another day with my children. And I am afraid to be thankful. Afraid that it will end any moment.

I also learned something else. It wasn't that no one cared about AJ. People came out of the woodwork to find out how he was, what they could do. We know how to call for help, but not how to give it. We want to be connected. We just don't know how.

And finally, I have heard so many people lately talking about choices and life and not getting what they wanted.

But there are no guarantees.

Accept it.

Bad things happen even when they ARE your kids in your house in your country. If they're not your kids, it's not your house, or not your country--those things aren't necessarily the causes of your problems. Stop blaming. Let it go.

I know this each day I see my sons, my life, my husband. We make choices to love or not to love. These are OUR choices. We cannot control others' responses, and there are times that we are so disconnected that we forget we have the choice to love. We forget that we need to know our needs, and then find ways to love over them.

And for me, brokenness calls it all back together. I can pretend I am put together, but I am not. And I have learned that neither is anyone else. So my hand is out. It is open. We can do our best to love one another. There may be no other chance. Do we choose to live ond love today or not?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Adoption Part 1

She is beautiful, young, perfect. She clearly belongs to one family. Duckling-like and in a matching swimsuit, she trots behind Mom--gorgeous, athletic, in her forties but with the body of a 20-year-old, tanned and toned to perfection. The brothers, running by and tossing towels and insults at one another, are tall for their ages, blonde, ever-moving. If you hadn't seen them traveling in the family pack, you would still know they are her brothers by the offhanded way they throw her into the pool when the lifeguard isn't looking, by the way she isn't angry, by the sly looks they exchange, and by the "enough of that"s and "be nice to your sister"s of their mother that she is obligated to make in public but which they dutifully ignore.

And aside from the fact that she is Asian, I know the girl is adopted every time her mother spies her surreptitiously. The love. The surprise. The overwhelming gratitude of a gift that was never to be. It is not in every adoptive parent, and it shows up other places, too--particularly in the eyes of parents who have not quite but almost lost their children. The awe that this blessedness is truly reality.

And then there is the other, messy side. The side that we are either blind to or that seems to dominate our lives. There are moments when the instinct of the mother and the instinct of the daughter are both suddenly in check. When they know that they do not understand one another somewhere deep down. Somewhere in which a character trait has been neither shared nor witnessed. An uncertainty. A foreignness. And I am sure it was there in infancy as well. I even remember it in our house. The way my brother's ears would perk at the echoes of his own lost language. The way he would turn from our faces when we embraced him. The way he needed things for calming--bumping his head, being held extra tightly--things we didn't understand.

In this time, there are other moments, too--moments when the girls in the pool clearly turn their backs on this girl. Perhaps it is the age. But the frequency of the response and its persistence regardless of changes in the peer group would indicate otherwise. When anything is verbalized, mother and brothers jump in. But it is usually silent. So we needn't mention it. Not a big deal. No blood. Nothing broken. Not even bullying, the new B word. Perhaps Mom or brothers see. Perhaps Mom has even tried to tell somebody. Perhaps she has been brushed off. Even now, I see that I have occasionally brushed off my father about this very issue.

You see, adoption has changed my life, but I am neither adopted nor an adoptive parent. And the problems of adoption are not unique to adoptees and their families. But in adoption they seem to be matters of fingerpointing and blame. And I guess I am here to say, "I have lived both sides. There is no blame. It is not the fault of adoption. It is not the fault of a child or an adoptive parent or a birth parent. There is only loss and longing, and great, great hope and love." And it is the beauty of the brokenness that I want to talk about, that I am learning to live with.
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