Some days are meant to be happy, and this one was! But it was also a reminder of a lot of loss. So goes the weird mix of happy and sad that have become such a regular part of our lives with adoption.
We celebrated Noah’s first birthday with us, but it was his 10th birthday. We’re so happy he’s here, but you can’t help thinking that there were 9 birthdays when he wasn’t. Nine birthdays when he didn’t have a family. About a month ago I said something to him about what he wanted for his birthday, and he said, “I will have presents?” “Yes, of course.” And then, a statement from his mouth that he thought nothing of but it revealed worlds to me, “I never had presents on my birthday.”
Oh, baby boy. He would hate to know I felt such sorrow for that because he doesn’t want us to think he needs or wants pity. He is strong. He is fine. He has learned to be accepting of how things are because that is the best way to survive, and no presents on your birthday is just the way it is. Or just the way it was.
After that conversation about presents, Noah started getting really tense about his birthday. We are big into traditions in our family, so I had told him that on your birthday, you get to pick what’s for dinner. Everyone will make you a card, and you will get gifts. He wanted to know if he would have a party, and I said, yes, you can have a friend party on the weekend before or after, but we will do “family birthday dinner” on your actual birthday. Having your party on a different day was not weird, and it would still be fun – this was a big point for him. Would other people think it was okay if it wasn’t on the EXACT DAY?!
He asked me question after question, many times asking the same question over and over. “Will my siblings get me a present?” “Yes, everyone in the family will.” “Okay, will Rachel?” “Yes, everyone in the family will.” “Will Toby?” “Yes, everyone in the family will.” “Will you?”
As it went on, I realized that this was coming from both fear and hope. He had never had a birthday celebrated, and suddenly we were offering him the dream – a party, presents, people celebrating you, and he just couldn’t believe it, but he wanted it so badly! He was really keyed up over the whole thing. We had his friend party the weekend before with six boys from his class, and he had so much riding on it emotionally that I was getting nervous! It wasn’t even that it had to be that great, it just had to happen the way we said it would and not be a disaster. As I’ve noticed before, he has obviously had promises broken to him in the past, and he doesn’t always believe what we say will actually happen. Every time something happens the way we say it will, I watch him trust us more. The party was no exception, and the day after the party was so interesting to me – he was so much calmer and several times that day he just spontaneously hugged me which is not all that common. I could tell that we had not let him down, and suddenly he was much more hopeful that the family night would also be good, and would be what we said it would be.
We decided to give Noah 9 presents for the years he wasn’t with us. We wanted to acknowledge that time and that loss in a positive way. But here’s the tough part. We try so hard to teach our kids that it’s not about the presents and the “stuff.” Many kids coming home in the US are told that we are all rich and your family is good for buying you things. I didn’t want his birthday to send that message! But I also want him to know that he is a valued and equal member of our family, and that we love him, and show him with thoughtful gifts. We want him to know that it’s fun to have a birthday!
So for those nine presents I got things that I knew he would recognize as being thoughtful and for him in particular, but they weren’t expensive at all. He loves things that hang off his backpack and he loves Minecraft and Star Wars and Lego, so I got him a couple of Lego Minecraft and Star Wars figure keychains for his backpack. We got him a few Tom and Jerry books in Chinese because he thinks those are hilarious. We got him good winter gloves so he could make his first snowman (he’s so excited about that!). And for his “big” present for his 10th birthday, we got a family game to play together because he absolutely loves playing board games as a family.
All of his siblings made him handmade cards that had inside jokes and sweet things just about him. They got him things that he had mentioned wanting to do together. They were so thoughtful, and I was so proud of them. He had chosen to go to a Chinese restaurant for his dinner, and as we were walking out, he ran up between Rinnah and I and grabbed both our hands and leaned his head into my shoulder. He sighed and said, “Thanks, mom.”
It’s a big thing to send the message that you love someone, that they are valuable, and that you are trustworthy all in one day. I don’t think of myself as being particularly good at being thoughtful, but I realize with Noah it’s very important – he needs to know that we took time for him, and thought and effort. We need to make up for some lost time and the holes he has in his heart. I thank God for helping us do it, and I thank God for Noah.