The days that felt endless. The days that I felt less than. The days I cried out to the heavens and God to just help me through the next minute.
Fifteen years ago.
Now I lean into my husband and take in the scene playing out before me.
The crowd is immense. Everyone is holding their breath as the young man completes his parallel bar routine. Flawless.
Only when he stuck his landing did he open his eyes and look up in our direction. His magnetic smile is electric and the tears start pouring down my face. The four of us stand and roar in amazement. He did it. HE DID IT.
Alex didn’t find his voice until Jia-Ming entered our home. Let's be honest. For the first five years upon Jia-MIng coming home, I didn’t think we would make it. You may not want to know this, but in adoption? It’s not always an instantaneous love match. It takes SO much time. SO much patience. So much of all the things you don’t think you have in you..but that surface because of faith, family, and your village.
In fact, it took both Jia-Ming AND Alex both, five years from entering their new family to finally feel like they could breathe. That they could lean in and know that despite their behaviors and verbalizations…that they were not going anywhere. They were a Cooper for life.
But Alex. That boy stole my heart from day one. I think it was his size. His vulnerability and the need to be held and loved on. Maybe it was the three of us that held him back. That babied him too much. He never really had to “stand up” for himself. Wyatt and Alex were always thick as thieves. Wyatt bending over backwards and carrying him and just doting on him endlessly. Alex was just easy to love.
Enter Jia- Ming.
While Alex did not lose his birth order placement…still the baby; he did all of a sudden gain a brother 9 months older. A very VERY verbal brother. He suddenly discovered that if he wanted to be heard at all, he would have to speak up. He would not only have to speak up, he would have to stand up for himself as well.
Will and I watched this transition take place gradually over many years. It was beautiful to behold….like a flower bud that you know will be stunning in full bloom, but you’re just never sure if you will see it in all of its glory.
I think back over the past decade and a half…of the verbal and physical fights between those two. Of their differences…their commonalities…their desire to discover who they are, where they come from. SO many questions. Jia-Ming, the big powerhouse, but Alex finding the ability to step out of that broad shadow and create his own identity and following his heart and passion. Watching his skill today and all that his hard work and the fruit of his labor had born, I could not be more proud…and I knew that his brother had propelled him there.
Will seems to read my mind and weaves his strong fingers through mine. He squeezes and looks over at Wyatt. I follow his gaze and smile to myself. Our Wyatt. The child whom I swore I would never have, then once he arrived I promised would be an only child. A mother brags on their child for sure….but Wyatt. He’s a special one. He has a heart that is bent towards helping and serving others. I was so worried when we were in the adoption process with Alex. The stress of the process, then the stress of Alex’s arrival. The sleepless nights, my irritability….so many regrets and things I look back on wishing I could change. Wyatt was always willing to help me out, but I never noticed just how much he had emotionally grown until Jia-Ming came home. Jia-Ming tried desperately to alienate everyone in the family, while simultaneously trying to squeeze drops of love out of us like blood from a stone. I could not have made it through those five years without Wyatt. He rarely ever complained. He jumped in to watch the boys, to let me go for a run, to just catch my breath. Wyatt learned to read my mood and knew when he needed to step it up. He learned to read Jia-Ming’s face and hug him tight, even when Jia-Ming pretended he didn’t care. I watched Wyatt painfully learn how to not favor one brother over another, and to empathize with his brothers' emotions. Particularly Jia-Ming, who came home at the age of six and was in a very pained emotional state. Wyatt, just entering adolescence and trying to cope and handle all the emotions and feelings that come from beginning puberty, was also learning and coping and empathizing with a six year old who did not know how to handle his. Wyatt would in these scenarios, without question, grab Alex, leave the house or room without needing to be asked. He was just a constant presence that I could not have lived without.
And here he was. A twenty eight year old married man, in the midst of the adoption process himself. A man with a heart for children who are hurting and in need of a father. A man of integrity, strength, and humor. A man who would not have turned out the way he did without his unique life experiences. I wish that I hadn’t wasted so much precious time worrying and fretting. God was holding him in the palm of his hand the entire time…and the result was breathtaking.
As if he could read my thoughts he turned to me, half grinning half rolling his eyes. Typical.
We all looked at the judges scores…each of us sucking in our breath.
“C’MON"……I heard Jia-Ming talking aloud as he was waiting on the results. He had finally cut his long hair. It hung thick and wavy in front of his eye. I begged off the urge to push it out of his site line; instead lightly brushing his scarred cheek with my fingers. That damn scar was still there from when he decided clinging to the cement post was a great idea. I refrain from going back to that place. It’s hard not to. Because this young man. This young man with his new heart….
*sigh* I would have never thought over a decade ago that MY heart could hold so much love for him. It had been such a long journey to get to this point. A journey that had broken me into a million pieces. Over the years these pieces were put back together, to form something different, something lovely. He brought me to my knees in prayer. He forced me to seek and cry out to my village for help. To be less selfish. To be more humble. To be more forgiving. To be more Christ-like.
With closed eyes, I let myself go back there…to that place. To those days of grieving and mourning what I believed was lost in that moment.
Grieving and mourning you ask? Absolutely.
To grieve is to feel sorrow, to distress mentally…. And I did. I grieved over having emotionally and behaviorally, nontypical children. I grieved over not having a day that was filled with therapy or Dr. appointments of some type, whether it was speech or attachment therapy, cardiologist, endocronologist or neurologist appointments… I grieved for the days that were once not filled with screaming, thrown objects and punches and smacks across my face. Grieving and mourning all the days lost with my family unit as half of us had to leave the vicinity so as not to become a casualty in a fit of rage.
I remember my village at that time telling me that it was OK to grieve and mourn these losses. This path we chose was the road less traveled, and it was a rocky one. Did I get stuck in this place of grief? No. But I allowed myself to feel and work through it.
I open my eyes. And here we are. I glance over and see JIa-Ming looking at me. He sees me in a way the two others do not. While Wyatt and I have similar temperaments, he is not as observant as our Jia-Ming. Jia-Ming "gets it" and sees people on an entire different level. A young boy who knew to much to soon. Feeling him reading my thoughts I reach out. He grasps my hand in a way that tells me I am loved by him. A feeling I was never sure would be reciprocated.
My breath catches. Again.
We all stare down at the competitors. Alex. HIs numbers are in. We are all on our feet. He has done it.
I think back to when my boys were 6, 7 and 13….If our choices had been different. If we decided to stop at a family of four. It would have been the equivalent of clipping the wings of my sons for an easier "right now." This present moment that I was experiencing would never be happening. These men would never have become these men because they would not have been able to sharpen one another to be who they were meant to be.
** As I am working through the grieving process now, this story gives me hope. Hope for the future, for the men my boys are becoming **