Friday, April 23, 2010

A Baby's Smile

One of the things no one told me before we adopted a newborn was that they start smiling only just before you tape their mouths shut with duct tape. Before the first smile, they give you nothing - and take a lot. I knew this, I guess, in an academic sense. But there is no way of knowing the extent to which this drains a person until you are all in. I cannot speak for a biological parent, but I suspect that the same is true. There is no strong bond at first. I have now adopted two babies, an eight-month old and a newborn, and both experiences were the same in that fact. There was no question that each was my child and that, from the time I first saw them and ending only when I could no longer move, I would die protecting them. But I don't know if I would say I loved them at first. I felt more like a babysitter. And when I did think of myself as their father, I dreamt of all the things we would do someday; all the things I would teach them, the games we would play, the fun we would have. As much as I can't wait to teach them everything I know, it occurred to me that teaching them how to drink out of a bottle wasn't a gratifying experience for me. Before we adopted our first child, our agency required that we attend a two-day seminar on the process of adoption. Someday, maybe, I will go into a seminar expecting it to be a positive experience. But, I doubt it. Every time I go to one, I'm surprised when I learn something (shame on me). The adoption seminar taught us plenty, but by far the most helpful thing they told us was not to expect a Hallmark moment when we met our child. And we did not get a Hallmark moment, with either child, but especially in Guatemala, where not only was seeing her mom and me not comforting to my daughter it was one of the things which started her screaming. When you are dreaming about becoming a parent this is not what you have in mind. But eventually the screaming became crying and then she calmed down and warmed to us and we to her. We began bonding by listening to Spanish voices on the T.V. together. And in the years since we have had too many Hallmark moments to remember. Still, I have to take the long view as a parent. I am not interested in teaching them things they are going to learn themselves, or from teachers, soon enough. I don't care if my children are among the first in their age group to hold a pencil correctly. I hope they write great things when they pick one up. And so this isn't a very interesting stretch of child development for my taste and it can be a struggle to get motivated for the daily grind. But everyday there is a moment, a smile and a coo for me or for each other or for their mother, when I say to myself, "Yeah, this is a good life."

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