The gift of time

I have big news to share with all of you. H. has learned to ride a bike! I had reached a point where I had decided that this was something that wasn't in the cards for her. She never showed interest, even when other siblings learned to ride. She only extremely rarely tried the bike with training wheels. She was either completely uninterested or completely intimidated, but either way she just wasn't going near a bike. And we were okay with that.

Then yesterday, I suggested to her again that perhaps she might like to try riding a bike, and see if she could figure out how to ride it. This was precipitated by having been given several nice, larger-sized bikes, and J. and I were trying to sort out if we actually had a bike for each child at their current height, now. (We do, as miraculous as that sounds.) Being faced with the bikes, and watching G. (the most recent to learn) and Y. (whose bike riding ability is just as unexpected), I thought I'd ask again. H. doesn't always make her wishes known.

At first, she shook her head no, as usual. So, after one more bit of encouragement that this really was something she could do, I dropped it. Then later, I noticed she had actually gotten on the bike, and was pushing herself around with her feet a bit. I was thrilled, as this was more effort in the bike riding department than I had ever seen. G. told me that she had been giving H. some pointers.

Then today, as I was driving up the drive from having been somewhere with TM, I look up, and the sight which greeted me was H., riding her bike, up the grassy hill right in front of me. I will admit to starting to shriek a bit, managed to park the car, and then got out and ran towards H. shouting my congratulations. There's nothing like seeing your child succeed at something you truly believed was out of their reach.

At age 15, H. is an official bike rider, and has been riding her bike pretty continuously for the entire day.

Other than being just so excited and proud, there is another reason to share this with you. H. has been home for over six years now. Six years... not weeks, not months, but years. There was so much that she had missed that most children experience in healthy, stable households. There were so many set backs from trauma and neglect that most children do not have to endure in healthy, stable households. There was (and still is) so much to make up for her to even get back to the starting point.

I think of it as a picture. Most children start their climb to adulthood on level ground; the only direction they go is up because they were born to healthy parents and continue to live in a healthy family. But some children are born far below that point, in a hole as it were, others have experiences which cause them to go downwards instead of upwards, and still others start out in a hole, and are then pushed even further downwards by life experiences. I'm afraid that many of our children who ended up in orphanages are the third example.

Helping someone climb out of the deep hole they end up in is not a quick process. It is far more than changing their family membership and living situation. These things are the beginning of the climb, and often the only way that the climb can be attempted and accomplished. But it is just the beginning. Sometimes I fear that new adoptive parents are under the illusion that suddenly being in a safe and loving family means that the child is automatically lifted from the hole, and can begin the climb upwards. In actuality, it means that the climb out of the hole can begin. Some holes are easier to get out of than others. I'm afraid that for a few of my children, their starting place was, and for some continues to be, a very deep and very dark and frightening place. Climbing out is a long and arduous process.

I wish those whose job it is to prepare parents for adopting an older child would do a better job of communicating realistic time lines. Instead of weeks and months, parents need to think in terms of years. One and two years home is truly just the beginning. It can be frustrating and hopeless at turns, as I know intimately. But I also know I am most hopeless and most frustrated when my internal prediction of how long healing and growth should take does not match the long reality. When I want things to happen faster, is when I am most unhappy and frustrated.

We need to jettison the idea of 'catching up', and instead embrace the idea of watching a child grow and heal in their own time. Parental worry about catching up isn't helped by our societal obsessiveness of age grading and segregation. It serves no child well, as every child, whether adopted or not, whether typical or not, has their own unique trajectory of maturing and growing. All it does is create worry, learning problems where their aren't any, and an unrealistic expectation that children do anything on a normative schedule. I've raised quite a few children, all who share the same genetics, brought up in the same household, with the same teacher and learning philosophy... and they are all different and surprise me every time. If these children grow and mature at such vastly different rates, think of the potential variation of a larger group of children.

And this rush to catch up, to heal, to do everything and learn everything is just so silly, because the absolutely best gift we can give to any child, after love, is time. Time to mature at their own rate. Time to spend together. Time to take their time to do and learn what they need to learn. What does it really matter if a child is ready for college at 17 or 18... or 21 or 25? The clock doesn't stop on a child's 18th birthday. We don't suddenly cease to become that child's parents. Their brains don't click off for any learning under a college level. The age of 18 is completely and totally arbitrary.

Time. We have as much as we need, though none of us acts as though we do. Rushing ourselves and rushing our children does not get us through life any faster. There are no awards since there is no race. What we don't know is exactly how much we get. How much better to fully appreciate the time we have in front of us instead of worrying about reaching a certain, mythical milestone.

And let me tell you, the victories which arrive later are the sweetest. 


Anonymous said…
You are so wise. And you share your wisdom so beautifully. Your words have made me well-up. God bless you.


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