TJ’s first pizza (among other firsts), at the Garden Hotel, Guangzhou, Dec. 6, 2010. By this point we had persuaded him to remove a few of the many layers of warm clothes he was wearing when we met, a few hours before this photo was taken.
IT’S A TESTAMENT to how crazy life is these days that this blog is not commemorating TJ’s second anniversary in our family until hours after the next day has begun.
For our family December is bursting with celebrations, and we can hardly keep up with the shopping, cleaning, decorating, cake-baking, and, oh yes, sleeping, that we need to do. But December, really, belongs to TJ. He joined our family in December, his birthday is in December, and today we reflect on how far he has come.
It must have been frightening that first day to meet this noisy gaggle of people the first time TJ saw us poke our heads between the curtains that separated the children from their new families. He was the last holdout, crying in the corner of the room, and it took a promise of 10 yo-yos (which we still have not fulfilled completely, as TJ often notes) to get him out of that room in a public building in Guangzhou, into our arms, and, eventually, onto the dreaded bus that invariably made him carsick.
Outside the Guangzhou Social Welfare Institute, an admonishment to use birth control.
That tenacity and willfulness has shown itself again and again since that day. TJ is strong and once he plants himself, won’t budge until he is certain he is comfortable entering a new situation.
I can’t blame him. It’s certainly served him well as a survival tactic through years of unexpected changes in circumstance, some of which we can only guess at.
There are many things we are still guessing at with TJ. He is struggling with encopresis, a condition that is rarely discussed except in Internet forums and doctors’ offices but which complicates daily living for many children and adults. We did not become aware of his condition until many months after he had come home, and we have only recently established the nature of the problem, but not the cause.
Slowly, he has become more trusting and let us get close enough, physically and emotionally, to collect further clues on the issues involved and to begin to treat the problem. Certainly he has experienced enough trauma in his life to cause this problem, but we have only begun to understand what is going on, and since he has not been with us since he was an infant, and we don’t have any medical history, there are other possibilities.
One thing TJ has shared in these two years is a generous capacity for humor. He can see the funny side of a knotty situation, and his tears often turn to spontaneous laughter once he does. It’s truly a delight to see TJ engage in wordplay in his second language, even as he becomes frustrated by new words or the unexpected underlying meanings of the ones he already knows.
Menu from a noodle shop we went to in Guangzhou that first week with TJ. He had two giant bowls, vociferously ordered without the “green stuff.”
He has found it hard to shake off the idea that he is not intelligent, and he expects the very worst from school. Early on he was not at all self aware, and he seemed free of inhibition in some classes, like music, but completely flummoxed when asked to pick up a crayon. He still resists drawing in color, but his drawings have grown in size and detail, and he got some giant markers and poster board for Happy Adoption Day gifts. Now, however, he is completely self-conscious, unhappy at being nearly 10 and in second grade. The idea of a parent-teacher conference petrifies him. “When the mom sees the teacher, it means I did something wrong,” he told me this evening when I mentioned I would be at school tomorrow.
He is working hard and putting the pieces together, and most of the many teachers he spends time with are experienced and perceptive and want to work together to give him the best opportunities for success. Not all of them understand that a child whose first exposure to English, not to mention to Western family life, was two years ago is not going to grasp all fine points. Others seem almost preternaturally able to pinpoint hidden issues outside their areas of expertise, like the occupational therapist who, correctly, thought TJ had a vision problem (one that could not be detected by a pediatric ophthalmologist, but which was diagnosed by a developmental optometrist, a specialty I had never heard of).
A break from shopping in Guangzhou, and a smile.
The glasses he needs to wear for schoolwork and computer time disappeared this week. So did his lunchbox. I’m waiting to see if the reward I posted for the glasses will result in their reappearance from some hiding place. And if he thought that the lost lunchbox (lost under a tree?) meant he got to buy lunch at school every day, he was mistaken. He is getting better at tricking me, but not too much better. Sometimes his efforts to avoid things (requesting zillions of after-school enrichment classes so he won;t have to ride the stinky school bus) mean that he is exposed to activities that really are enriching, like a printmaking class that forces him to come to terms with using color and form to express himself.
He still thinks of Chuck E. Cheese’s as some kind of paradise; still thinks there is no better place for a couple of hard-earned quarters than that wonder of wonders the a gumball machine; still believes that if he had his own iPad he would be allowed to use it 20 hours a day; still believes that corn should suffice for all vegetable servings. He still cries, sometimes crocodile tears and sometimes painfully real ones. He still calls out in the night just to make sure I am here. “What took you so long?” he will ask when I work late or have crept downstairs for a little grown-up TV.
It’s not easy being TJ, and some days it’s not easy being his mom, but it’s always rewarding
The flight home.
to see the light of understanding in his eyes, and to feel his head settle on my shoulder or his hand creep into mine. The little boy who never smiled and who wasn’t quite sure how to sit on Mom or Dad’s lap is now very much at home.