When Anber first came, she was the size Baby Girl is now.
I can’t believe she is three-and-a-half-exactly.
I remember how she used to sit in the potato basket to watch me cook, and now she’s a big girl who can help Papa make pancakes on a Saturday morning.
We were anxious for her and Barrett moving from the church nursery class during Sunday School and starting Primary with the “big kids”. She has such anxiety, and so doesn’t want to separate at all, but also throws such huge tantrums to express her frustration and anxiety that we were worried how things would go Sunday. We prayed, and practiced, and talked about it for months, trying to get them as ready as could be. Barrett was only upset when he found out they don’t spend a whole half hour having snacks, but was excited once he saw that his class starts out where Papa leads music.
In a shocking move, instead of being upset at all, she just put her head down on the lap of one of the new teachers and just cuddled.
We couldn’t believe it.
It was incredible.
We were so proud of her, and so glad for the exact right teachers for her, and it was a huge relief to us all.
She struggled with leaving Papa’s class to go to her class when music time was over, but did better by the end of her class. She even talked! This is the child that rarely talks to anyone outside of the home! I was so thrilled for her! She came home super excited, telling me everything, and giving me a great big hug.
“I will stop screaming now, Mama, because I am a big kid. And big kids don’t have baby fits,” she said.
I will believe it when I see it, I thought, but what I said was, “it will take some practice, and very hard work, but we can do it together.”
She then, in another surprise move, asked if I would rock her.
This girl, who was my first live baby, who came so tiny but refused to be held, my little reactive-attachment bundle of
joy screaming, who never wanted to be rocked even though we tried, has now for the second time asked to be held and rocked.
She is learning. She is trying. She has come so far.
I did the only thing any adoptive mother of a reactive attachment toddler would do: I immediately stopped everything else, scooped her up, ran to the rocking chair, and started rocking.
She may never ask again.
Even if she does, she will never be this tiny again.
They grow so fast.
I let her pick the songs, and she curled up into me the way her baby sister does, and I knew then that she has been watching.
I sang to her, and we rocked, and I kicked out everybody else so Anber could have her moment.
We rocked and sang for forty-five minutes.
Then she whispered, ever so quietly, “Mama? I love you. I love you so much. I am sorry I scream at you. I am sorry I hit you and kick you and bite you. I am so glad you are my mama. I am so sorry my other mom went to jail. I am so sorry my baby sister was born in jail and doesn’t have a mouth and can’t breathe and maybe will die and needs some oxygen in her nose.”
Oh, sweet girl, none of that is your fault. Those were not your choices. And your sister is trying her best to breathe. You are learning to breathe, too. I know you try so hard not to scream, and the more we can use our words together the more it will help. We are learning together. I love you, Anber, just the way you are. I love who you are, and who I know you already are. You will always be my first baby, the very first baby who came.
Then she cried for a very long time.
She asked for her adoption story, and I let her tell me the pieces she remembers: being locked in the car, being cold without clothes, having a dirty diaper stuck to her bottom, being hungry, hearing screaming.
Then I tell her the pieces I remember: how I found her on the doorstep, because the worker hadn’t wanted to wake her and left her car seat on the porch while she ran back to the car to get the paperwork; how I eased her into the pack and play that first night; how I gave her the very soft Winnie the Pooh blanket that very first night, and tucked a little bear into her arms; how she was still sleeping in the morning, so Alex and I tiptoed in to see, and he woke her up by shouting, “Where did you get that little brown baby, mama? At the gift shop?!”
She always laughs at that part of the story.
I tell her how she couldn’t walk yet, and her bones were soft, and she was tongue tied and couldn’t talk.
I tell her how daddy and I found baby clothes to fit her, and I took her with me to a meeting at work that first day because we didn’t know what else to do yet and I needed her with me to go to the store and figure out what size clothes she needed.
I tell her how she was our first baby, and so we bought her everything.
I tell her it took a long time to learn to smile, but that now her smile is one of my favorite things.
I tell her how grandad taught her to play a game with his coat buttons.
I tell her how she stayed home with Papa while he tried to write musicals with a toddler on his head.
She giggles at that, and remembers being at “the yellow house” – that’s what she and Alex call our home in Owasso, before we moved to Bartlesville.
I tell her how she got a blessing, and Papa learned her story about before she was born, and what we know about her, and what a valiant spirit it means she is, and that to be such a warrior is a powerful thing, but that it means she had to be born to learn how to use that power for good, and that all she endures will make her wise as well as strong. She says she wants to be a missionary and a mother and a doctor, and I tell her she can do anything if she chooses carefully and works very hard. I tell her she is already a mother to thousands, but we must wait to meet them again, and that they will help her get to the temple and to make choices that help her be happy.
“I don’t want to do drugs, mom, because I don’t want to be mean to my babies,” she tells me, nestled into my neck, breathing into the microphones on the cochlear implant processor sitting on my ear.
Please don’t, baby, please don’t. You will be gone so fast. Please don’t, I pray. We talk about drug exposure, and choices, and taking care of our bodies, and then modesty, and all the kinds of things we shouldn’t have to talk about until she is sixteen or seventeen, but because of her experiences and because of what she already knows and because of the world in which we live, it’s now a conversation for three year olds.
I tell her that I love her, that so many love her, and that I am so glad she is able to tell me what she needs.
“I need Grandma Neen’s song,” she says, and so I sing again to her my mother’s song.
Anber’s days are happier lately, with more smiles and more cuddles. There is still screaming, but it is less often, and it doesn’t last as long. We simply walk her hand in hand to her room, and let her scream until she is finished, and then she comes out and tells us she is finished. We hug her and bring her back to whatever activity we are doing as a family. She is trying so hard, and we continue to learn, all of us together.
She smiles at me, and kisses me on my cheek, and I brush back tears for this little one I have loved so long and so hard.
She scampers off to help Papa make “berry blue pancakes” while I keep rocking.
Rocking and crying and praying.