Perhaps one of the best surprises of parenthood is discovering your children’s capacity to love.
What’s more, the great thing about love is that to children it just feels so much better than fear or anger. But as a choice or action it's harder for children to learn later than usual because it requires the right conditions. Still, we've found that if you can make a child feel safe and happy for long enough and often enough then you can teach them to feel tender affection, although perhaps each child differently according to his or her innate temperament and personality, which is formed through experience.
It's within these experiences where problems can occur.
Each child adapts differently to the experiences that go along with spending his or her first year or two alone in an orphanage. Yet generally it's amazing what children can overcome. This we’ve seen most profoundly in our middle child who spent the first 18 months of her life under daily circumstances that were terrible in every sense, and with her own medical problems (infection beneath her eye cornea and other issues) as insult to injury. Later once home she endured three years of violent night terrors that were likely associated neurologically with the anterior fontanel portion of her skull developmentally remaining unclosed for the same long period, and until she was more than five years old. This condition was extremely rare and eventually began to very gradually resolve itself, but this is a child who has worked extra hard to successfully connect the dots in life.
Someone once wisely told us to look for and treasure those inner things in our children that enabled them each to get by on their own during a difficult infancy. There really is strength in adversity and this is in large part why our two girls are now both, unexpectedly, at this point in their lives, doing as well as they are, each in their own ways. Preschool teachers would often tell us they thought our girls seemed unusually self-aware. What they were seeing was really the surface of our daughters’ epic common stories. In Henry's story the severity of his cleft and the failure of his charity-sponsored surgery in Xi'an very likely worked to his advantage at the Pingliang SWI. These problems guaranteed him some extra attention and until the earthquake last May he never gave up his crib in the orphanage's infant room, unlike other children his age who had long since been moved to other rooms with fewer staff assigned. Still, his was also a bruised beginning that can take a while to mend. Although during the past several months there were many signs that he was adapting well we were expecting the typical long adjustment period--until he befriended a little stuffed animal that we call Baby Jaguar and that he hugs, gently chews, and rolls atop in rapturous glee. He has been doing this for weeks. It's not especially unusual for toddlers to glom onto stuffed toys, but we've noticed that Henry seems to care for Baby Jaguar with the same empathetic joy with which he plays with his sisters. He loves them (and they him).
This past week we helped Henry through his third surgery in only three and a half months. It was the last of the initial, first-round series of surgeries we had planned and with a great sense of relief we don’t expect that he will require any more for at least a year, after which he’ll need more cleft-related reconstructive work. But, looking back, it was through this first series of painful procedures that we began to see clearly that he loves and trusts his mom and dad, something hard to mistake in a child pushed to his absolute limit. He knows that we're not going to leave his side.
Of course it's good to have Baby Jaguar there too.