Just yesterday, we had the rare opportunity to reunite Anah with the director of her former orphanage (on left). As our adoption story is a bit unique, this is something that allows us the chance to keep in touch with people who somewhat remember Anah when she was younger. I'm assuming that many abandoned children, even when they are adopted, have little or no access to this information.
We had the opportunity to meet with the director last night and did I have my list of questions! Now that we've had Anah with us for almost one year, there were a lot of things I wanted to know. Was she always afraid of the stairs? Was she ever taught to do things on her own or was everything done for her? What was school like for her? Why did she go? Did she have the tendency to just do the same things over and over? And so on.
This first year has been a lot of trial and error for us as we tried to figure out not only her health limitations (if any), as well as assessing her ability to develop bonds of attachment, care for herself, learn and solve problems. We have also had to undo a lot of bad habits as well as re-teach her new ways of doing things. It is so much easier to teach good habits on the front end than it is to unlearn them later on.
All this has made me realize that no, it doesn't take a degree to know how to do the tasks of a mother. But when a child does not have one, the loss is irreplaceable. Sure, anyone can learn how to change a diaper. Anyone can help a child learn good dental hygiene, tie shoes, or do homework. But to have one person, who is committed to your well-being for life, through thick and thin, through your ugliest moments and sweetest victories, who will fight for you, pass on the faith and values essential to life, is vital to the life of a child.
I am realizing it is not the Down Syndrome that we are struggling with. I have met other Down Syndrome children who have had parents to lovingly train and raise them. They may be slower to learn or difficult to handle at times. They exhibit the same behaviors Anah does. Their parents struggle with many of the same issues that we deal with. But they also are miles ahead of her...and my hunch is this is so because they had parents. Even the best of institutions, and I believe Anah was in excellent care, cannot make up for this lack.
Mothers (and fathers) are called on to play many different roles as we raise children: nurturer, doctor, pastor, teacher, chauffeur, cook, dental hygienist, referee. We adapt to the need by wearing a different hat when the situation calls for it. We adapt to our children as they grow, change, and mature. At times they will need a strong hand of guidance. At other times, they will need the nudge out of the nest so they can test their wings. And many times, it is just a hug and "I love you."
Other people will come and go in the lives of our children. Sometimes they will seem to do a much better job at reaching the hearts of our kids than we will. But I am writing this from another perspective, the perspective of one who has to learn how to raise a child who did not have the strong foundations of home and family. Trying to make up for seven years of lack is probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Many days, I wish we were able to start all over again with Anah as an infant so that we can start her off on the right track.
But I am not going to get those days back. And some of you may feel that way too...wishing that you can start over. Well, I am learning that focusing on the days that are past are not going to help. But I do have today. And tomorrow. And the next day. I am learning that I need to be for Anah what she needs now. Right now, one year into this adventure, now that she knows us and her situation has stabilized and her health needs are taken care of, the real work begins. Often times that means a firm hand. Sometimes that means setting boundaries. Sometimes that means letting her learn to help herself. Every day it is about being there, saying the same things over and over (and over) again. I feel like a mean mom most of the time.
And yet, I know that deep down, I do want the best for her, even if it needs to be tough right now. My prayer is that by setting strong foundations and enforcing some discipline into her life before it gets any later to do any good, I will help her to live up to the potential that I see in her. I am trusting that this is what is called for right now and that we will move on. As she grows, I see that my role will change. But I need to play that role, even if it is hard. Even if I were to give her all the material goods and opportunities in my power, it will not make up for the lack of it. Sometimes the challenge is simply being there, and not checking out.
And so, moms (and dads), if you ever have days when you wonder "Why am I doing this?" I hope you will know that it is not what you do but who you are in the lives of your children that is so important. We will sin, fail, and make poor choices. But even so, God still sees you as crucial in the lives of your children. If you were absent, even with all your imperfections, they will be forever impacted.
Believe it. You are crucial.