I sit in the truck as Chris quickly runs into their school, and I watch him on the playground. I watch him, swallowed by his green winter coat, the hood pulled tight around his curls, and he wanders. Occasionally he throws a paper jet, carefully creased by a student of mine, and he watches it loop and weave and return to him. Mostly, though, he wanders, and he is alone. Blue coats and pink jackets and bright orange hats bounce and bob, kicking balls and playfully shoving their friends. But he is alone. Then he sees me watching from the truck. Magical crinkles appear by his eyes as he smiles. He's too young to be embarrassed by waving enthusiastically at his mom. And I wave back. I would wave until the muscles in my arm ached if it meant that smile would stay on his face.
Because I am attached. A ribbon has been tied.
In preparing to bring the boys home, we read a lot about attachment, this undefinable, magical "thing" that happens between a parent and a child. It's a connection, a ribbon tied between your heart and theirs. When mothers birth babies, in most cases, attachment enters the world in a fury of blood and umbilical cords and first cries. The baby is at the breast, cradled there with love. As new mothers and fathers change diapers and wipe noses and dry tears, that ribbon bond tightens and holds fast.
We knew that this ribbon weaving and knotting would be difficult with older children, and so we focused on their attachment to us. From slathering on lotion after showers to kisses and snuggles at bedtime, we doled out physical affection as much as it was tolerated. We created rituals of back-and-forth phrases that became our family's secret language, a code that only we can understand. When one boy struggled to make eye contact, we created games and contests that involved gazing into one another's eyes for the sweet taste of an M&M on the tongue. And still we play tickle games and have family dance parties in the kitchen, constantly working on connection.
My prayers from the beginning often included, "Please help them become attached to us, to realize that we are their forever parents." I didn't realize that the change needed to happen in me, too.
Then I began to read stories and blogs from other adoptive moms who had biological children at home as well. They wrote with anguish about not feeling the same attachment to their adoptive children that they enjoyed with the tow-headed boys and green-eyed girls who shared their DNA and their heartbeats. They grieved and wondered if it would ever change. Some entered counseling for their own attachment issues, and I said to Chris, "Well, at least we don't have to worry about that. The boys might not be fully attached to us yet, but at least I know we're attached to them."
But I was wrong. I was wrong because I didn't know what a mother's heartbeat felt like yet. I had no frame of reference like the mothers of biological children did. I didn't know just how tightly that ribbon would soon be threaded around my own heart.
I did have glimpses, though.
When we first came home and battled the seizures, he clung to me and cried in the ER during the evil blood draw. And I wanted to do whatever I could to take away the fear.
The ribbon laced and looped around my own heart.
Other times I went through the motions. I chose to express love as an action and waited expectantly for the emotion, the attachment to follow.
When summer waned and I began to think about school, it physically pained me to think about being away from them, about sending them to a new, scary world.
Something was changing in my heart. The ribbon was wrapping, weaving.
When they marched down the hallways of school on the first day like the brave little soldiers they are, I held my breath so my sobs wouldn't echo. And all day at work I could think of nothing but them. Were they happy? Were they scared? Were they thinking of me, too?
When the onslaught of the stomach flu brought with it multiple seizures in one day, Chris and I cradled his beaten body, the three of us crammed onto the top bunk together. Prayers were murmured with tears, and I wanted nothing more than to have him healthy.
The ribbon pulled tighter. And then it knotted.
Nothing magical happened; I whispered no secret incantation. It was more of a slow realization, a honey-drip understanding that I am their mother, that I felt so much differently about them now than I did back in April and May.
Don't get me wrong. Days and moments still exist when I muddle through the motions. I still have my ugly moments, but no one said attachment was about perfection.
(At least it's not about our perfection. It's about His, and He's been writing this story all along, not me.)
So if your attachment ribbon still isn't tied tightly on your end, I have a word for you:
Wait, dear hearts.
Or in the words of Psalm 27: 14, "Wait on the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD."
(I don't mean don't do anything about it. Waiting doesn't have to be inaction. If you need counseling, seek it out. If, like me, you find yourself treading water in the darkness, don't be afraid to ask for help. Admitting that I couldn't do it alone and getting the support I needed has made a tremendous difference in how I view my relationship with my boys.)
I'm just saying that time does matter.
It's funny to realize now as we near month number eight with the boys that I wouldn't have gone through a complete pregnancy yet. It takes a baby nine months to grow in its mother's body. As her body stretches and grows to make room for life, that ribbon is usually being wound and stretched, too. So I think we adoptive mothers should all give ourselves enough grace and patience to realize that it will take time for our children to grow in our hearts.
And this ribbon of attachment isn't any less miraculous than the first cry of a newborn infant. I promise.