John and I kid around a lot about the oldest of our three new children. We should probably stop, but in the beginning, we joked around as a form of therapy for ourselves. "Big C" as I call him in this blog, is a difficult child. Oh, he is a beautiful little boy. All three of our little angels are beautiful. "Little C" has a grin that will have the girls swooning one day. And our little girl has golden hair and little gold flecks in her eyelashes. And Big C is just adorable too. He has those big brown eyes and mischievous grin. He's handsome, and smart and coordinated for a five year old. But he is far from the easiest child I have ever parented.
The kidding around between me and my husband is normally something like this:
Me: "I'm going to the store to get milk, eggs, etc. Do you want me to take one of the little ones with me?
John: It doesn't matter, I can watch them all - or if you want to, you can take Big C . . ."
(Insert sarcastic laughter)
Occasionally, we have a little disagreement over who will handle his antics. It goes like this:
Me: It's your turn, dude. I've had enough of the master of disaster.
John: Seriously? I changed two exploding diapers just now on the other two.
Although it doesn't always go like this, you get the picture. It's not easy. We knew this whole "arrangement" would not be easy. But all the classes we took, books we read, stories we heard, and conversations we had- nothing could have prepared us for these specific children and their needs, experiences, and trauma.
And being that Big C is the oldest, he remembers the most. He holds onto the most.
After he went to therapy this past week, he started recalling stories of his parents, who he referred to by their first names. He knew the names of the towns he lived in, who he lived with, and where Little C lived, and all the other details. He knew unbelievable details. It was so sad.
And as frustrating as this child can be, sometimes I am overwhelmed with grief for what he has lost and what life has done to him. He has a hard time with trust. The first time his caseworker came to visit us, he was terrified that she was going to take him to live somewhere else. The first time I took him to daycare, he clung to me, afraid I would leave him. And at therapy, before he will go in the room and play in the sand or with the other toys, he turns and asks: "Will you be right outside the door the whole time?"
I don't know what heavy burdens he has carried but I know he has had a hard time just being a child. He spent the first five or six weeks in our home telling us how to change the baby's diaper, how to discipline his brother, how to cut the food for them, how to hold the baby, and all manner of things most five year olds never bother to be concerned about.
Recently I decided to look up the children's names and read about their meanings. I have this big fascination with names and what they mean. If I had ever been able to have my own babies, it would have been a big process to choose their names. As it is, I put great time and thought into naming my two babies in Heaven - Jacob and Abigail. So, not being able to choose your children's names is hard, but I wanted to know their names all the same.
I flipped through a book of baby names and read the meanings. Everything was pretty straightforward, nothing spectacular. But I did pause when I got to the meaning of Big C's name.
It means "winding valley."
Another translation claims that his name means "bent or crooked."
Could there be a better name for this child?
It breaks my heart, but his name fits him well. We watch him struggle, make unwise choices, use profanity (at five years old!) and learn the hard way. We watch him battle moment by moment with simple rules and structure that is designed to guide and protect him. He has been in this winding valley all of his life. He has struggled on path that is bent and crooked. His life has been less than ideal.
So it was that today I did go to the grocery store to pick up milk, juice, bread, etc. You know, the basics. And I was tempted to just take the baby. She is so easy and sweet and people stop by the cart to gush: "Oh! She looks just like you!" And I smile and feel so happy. Or I could have taken my handsome Little C, who sits happily in the cart and is just glad to be there. But when Big C heard I was going to the store, he slipped into the narrow space between my body and the kitchen counter and reached for my hands. "Can I go with you Mommy?"
Flashback of the last two times he accompanied me to the grocery store: Screaming, kicking, clawing me, slamming the grocery cart into my heels (ouch!) grabbing at helium balloons and knocking down a display of Little Debbie cakes . . .
John looked hopeful . . . the baby was content . . . Little C was about to take a nap.
"Okay, buddy. You can come with me."
And the little Winding Valley happily trotted out the door with me.
In the parking lot, I laid down the ground rules. You may have one (1) treat, if and only if you stay with me, do not ask for anything, and do not attempt to push the grocery cart. Do not argue with me, do not talk to strangers, and do not run in the grocery store.
He agreed to my rules.
We shopped for about thirty very uneventful minutes. We spent even longer with the cashier due to an issue with my kool-aid coupon. As we checked out, I told Big C he could choose his one (1) treat. He chose a cheese danish, of all things.
While I paid, the charming child walked over to some 25 cent-candy machines but HE DID NOT ASK FOR A SINGLE THING.
We walked to the car, loaded the groceries into the back and he climbed into his booster car-seat. I buckled him in and he asked if he could eat the danish in the car. I said yes and got into my seat, started the AC and began backing out of the parking space. While I was turned around looking out the back windshield, his eyes locked with mine. Between bites of danish, he smiled and said: "Thank you, mommy."
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of him in the rear view mirror. I was overcome at the sight of him: sweet, innocent, pure, lovable, precious, full of life, and full of energy. He looked so safe and so "at home."
"I love you, buddy." I said.
And I meant it.
I do love him.
We didn't sign up for easy street. We signed up for the winding valley. And I am happy to be moving forward, one step at a time.