How I wonder what you are
I have been a mother for four weeks now. The mother of Will Jiho. I’ve felt pretty much every emotion under the sun during those four weeks. But the ones that consistently come out on top are happiness and love. Happiness at being Will’s mother. Love for him that began, in full unadulterated force, the moment John scooped him up at the agency in Seoul, and we got into the impossibly tiny elevator, rode the seven floors down to the lobby, entered the waiting cab, and drove away, across the river, back to our hotel. A family of three.
I think what I’m going to do here is just write whatever comes to mind about him. Because really, what these four weeks have been about is Will, learning to care for him, and getting to know him. They’ve been about me and John, too, and our adjustment and feelings, but really, right now, this isn’t about us at all. It’s about the eighteen-month-old who’s in the midst of one of the biggest changes a person can experience—with no real way to understand it, or have it explained to him. And it’s our job to help him through it.
To be blunt, I’m in awe of how well Will is doing. I don’t credit myself and John much; I think it’s largely due to Will’s personality. He is a cheerful, outgoing, funny, friendly, and curious kid. He smiles and laughs a lot—I’m realizing that one of my number-one goals these days is getting him to laugh! He’s not afraid of meeting people and going new places. He was certainly bonded to his foster family, with whom he lived for sixteen months, but he was happy, playful, and relaxed with us during our first meeting with him in Seoul. From day one, he has let us comfort him and care for him. When he’s upset, he’ll sometimes show a preference for me over John, but overall he seems think we’re both pretty cool.
…Eating. His foster mom thought he ate too much, although he’s under the fiftieth percentile for weight and height. Favorites so far are strawberries, grapes, fish, chicken, sweet potato, waffle, Puffs, yogurt, bread, applesauce, Cheerios (or rather, the Trader Joe’s brand of faux Cheerios), and cheese.
…Going outside. He gets so excited about his shoes and coat! He truly loves heading out, whether it’s on the back deck, to the playground, or for a run in the stroller (thank goodness). He’s been fussy a few times during my runs, but usually he’s completely relaxed. We’re not sure if he ever rode in a stroller in Korea, so we were worried about this.
…Bathtime! We have a true little fish. No matter where he is or what he’s doing, when he hears John turn on the tub faucet, he goes running to the bathroom. He shrieks and babbles with happiness and tries to climb into the tub. In four weeks, the adorableness of this has not waned. He also just loves H2O in general—when we give him a sippy cup of water, instead of drinking it, he revels in letting it drip down his chin. One of the best ways to keep him occupied during a wait at the doctor’s office was to let him turn the water fountain on and off (and on and off…).
…Music. He loves to dance and bop his head along to his toy piano, the maraca we gave him, bits of music played during NPR newscasts, even the sound of two plastic cups being banged together. He also loves any kind of song that has accompanying hand motions, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “The Wheels on the Bus.”
…Waving. He is an expert, and he gets a lot of practice, since we live in a neighborhood bustling with pedestrians, dogs, cars, and buses. All of them get an enthusiastic wave.
…Buttons, switches, dials of any sort. Our lamps, the wall light switches, the DVD player, remote controls, cellphones, John’s guitar amplifier—you name it, he wants to push/pull/turn it. …Opening and shutting cabinets, doors, and drawers, repeatedly.
…Stella! His foster family had a dog on the premises (not sure if it was an indoor dog), and he’s never shown a shred of fear toward his hound sister. We’re still working on “gentle petting,” but he’s getting there. After a few days at home, he knew which toys were hers and would pick them up and bring them to her bed (heartmelt). For her part, Stella has been a true champ. Her tolerance amazes us. If he does something she doesn’t like, she simply walks away.
…Interesting textures. He loves to rub his fingers on the heating vent, stuffed animals, screens, the grass, etc. His favorite books right now are the kind that are “touch and feel.”
…Keys. Sadly, they (like everything else) go right into his mouth, so we don’t let him play with them for long. This can lead to screaming.
What doesn’t Will love? Well, naps have been a challenge. Apparently he was taking two daily ones in Korea, but he’s been haphazard about it here. I think this might change as time goes on and he’s more used to his surroundings. The best way to get him down is to wear him on our backs in the Ergo (he’s actually snoozing there while I type this). Better than nothing, because no nap = not a happy Will.
Everyone asks how sleep is going, and really, it could be a lot worse. One of us slept on the floor in his room for the first two weeks or so, with him beside us on the crib mattress. (The jet lag was crazy those first few days—he’d wake up at 3 a.m. ready to play.) After about two weeks, we slowly moved him up into his crib. He now falls asleep there between 8 and 8:30, wakes up around midnight for a bottle, sometimes wakes again around 2ish but can be soothed back to sleep, then wakes about 4 or 5 and usually isn’t soothable, so we bring him into our bed to sleep until we get up for the day. Honestly, I don’t have many complaints about this right now—I feel like we’re getting a bit of co-sleeping in there, which is supposed to be good for attachment, but he’s also learning to sleep in his own room and in his crib.
I’m trying to think of what else upsets him, or what he doesn’t like. He does have cranky days, and he does tantrum. Sometimes diaper changes are a challenge. We have to say “no” to him and remove him from situations quite often, since he’s 100 percent mobile and into everything. But truly, his default personality seems to be goofy, happy, and curious. He often wakes up in our bed with a smile on his face, his hair all sticking up. It is the very best way I have ever woken up.
How I’ve been feeling: in love, in awe, in shock, confused, frustrated, incredibly lucky, worried, impatient, guilty, tired, amazed, overloaded, wistful, bored, proud, happy, purely joyful. My first few days home alone last week, when John went back to work, were pretty mentally overwhelming. The 10 hours of each day seemed unfillable. I could not fathom how to handle the following eleven weeks. This week felt much, much better—I have ideas for how to structure things, we get out and do something every day, and that makes a huge difference. A lot of the time, I really, really like hanging out with Will. At certain times, all I want is for John to get home. My son is a toddler, and I’m thinking these feelings are pretty normal, especially for someone who didn’t have the eighteen months leading up to this to get used to parenthood and this particular child.
I want to write that watching John parent—which he does generously and responsively and thoughtfully and well—has been an amazing thing to see.
That I cried at least once a day for almost two weeks after we got home: tears of jet lag, joy, exhaustion, frustration, love.
That I still don’t quite feel like a “real” parent, and that we have no idea what to do in many situations (let’s just say that Will’s diapers went on backward for awhile), but that I have learned mightily in the past month.
That hearing Will laugh and seeing him smile floods me with a kind of happiness I’ve never felt before.
That you should absolutely never turn down an offer of a homemade meal when you’re a new parent.
That it is possible to go out to dinner with a toddler, if you choose the right place and go early enough. That putting on makeup and pretty clothes can feel hugely restorative.
That I had read about people needing months to feel attached to their adopted children, and about women dealing with post-adoption depression, and I’d secretly thought I might experience these feelings, but I haven’t.
That I suspect the Pororo music will be playing on a continuous loop in my brain for the next five years.
That taking care of a toddler for a whole day alone can be really, really hard. You might find yourself thinking purely in terms of how to fill the time until your partner comes home. Then you might feel guilty for thinking that way, but you still kind of do.
That I sometimes look forward to Will being a little older, and other times want him to stay a baby so very much.
That sitting on the couch at 9 p.m. with a New Yorker
That feeling my son’s arms cling around my neck for comfort at 3 a.m. is a beautiful feeling, no matter how tired I am.
That I don’t understand how the universe worked to make us Will’s parents and him our son, but that I will be always, eternally grateful that it did.