Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How far we've come

I got to spend Mother's Day with my daughter. That hasn't happened in three years.

Two years ago I flew home on crutches (having just broken my leg in two places and ripped up my shoulder) to spend what turned out to be my Mother's last Mother's Day with her. Last year I spent Mother's Day with my son in Iowa, going to my future daughter-in-law's college graduation and helping move her out of her college apartment.

To spend Mother's Day with my daughter, we drove to Colorado State University, where Katie is finishing her freshman year, helped load much of her dorm room into our Jeep and went to lunch. Just as we finished, my cell phone rang. It was our son and new daughter-in-law, calling from the Republic of Georgia where Nic is doing Fulbright Scholar research.

This day was not a sure thing 15--nearly 16--years ago. I don't know what I expected, but it surely wasn't this wonderful future. In fact, the only thing I did know was that I was supposed to be her Mother.

In hind sight, I didn't know then what I didn't know. I knew how to be a mother; our bio son was seven when we three left for Russia. But I didn't know how to parent a tiny girl who had been relinquished at birth, suffered life-threatening illness, a hospital stay of 16 months, followed by a year and a half in an orphanage and hip casts that were left on for more than a year. Too long, as we later learned. All I knew was that the same dream kept waking me up at night. The one where a little girl in green was running toward me calling “Mama, Mama, Mama....” She always disappeared before she reached my arms and I would wake up. The day we adopted her in 1994, our small son swung open the playground gate in the dirt courtyard of the Baby House, and she ran toward me. And the dream happened. On that day, crying out “Mama, Mama, Mama...” she reached my arms. And yes – she was dressed in green.

I thought about that as I sat next to her eating my Veal Marsala last Sunday. Listening to her talk, she worried about final exams and enthused about her summer swim-coaching job and living in the sorority house next year. I realized that she has become a whole and healthy person. As much as I knew she was meant to be ours, we had all the early trauma issues to work through, the developmental delays, the back-tracking to do every single emotional and developmental hurtle. We had the attachment issues, the comprehension skill gaps. We had the middle school identity crisis, including experimentation with cutting and traumatic friend crises. Then in high school, just when we thought she was flying, doing well in classes and swimming varsity, we learned the awful truth about her hips. So began the past two and a half years of major hip reconstruction surgery and therapy. And she is flying again.

Looking back, we were incredibly na├»ve and untrained. Adoption in Russia had not been open that long – and closed for several months the day after we adopted her, for some much-needed logistical organization. FRUA didn't exist until three weeks after we arrived home. To use Katie's favorite word, which she learned to spell when she was only five, we practiced perseverance. We never gave up on her and she never gave up either; even though her trying sometimes looked like the opposite of the word. We grew as FRUA grew and the support of other adoptive families, who understood this adoptive parent experience, has been priceless.

I love my daughter--completely. Forever. And I am eternally grateful that her 17-year-old birth mother was brave enough in 1991 to give her up to get the medical care she needed, so she could walk, swim – and fly.