The Puzzle I Love

He speaks sentences of five or six words. He can put on his own shoes, get his own glass of water, throw away his trash after dinner, and use the toilet (most of the time) all on his own. He can count to thirty, name animals in pictures, recite his ABCs. He’s four.

He wakes up two or three times some nights. Sometimes he’d rather be held than walk. Sometimes he’d rather be in a lap than in a chair. If I leave the house to run a quick errand he cries so he’s almost always with me. He’s an infant…or two…or…

Our case worker prepared us well for international adoption. The classes we were required to take have been incredibly helpful, reassuring – we’re not the only ones who’ve ever parented a puzzle. He is a puzzle. Emotion, cognition, body, attachment – every piece of this child is at a different stage of development.

But he’s a puzzle we love. There are difficult moments, sure – days even – when so much attention and patience and understanding and teaching is required of us that we crawl into bed shortly after he does! But there is progress too. Much progress in such a short time.

Tears are progress: No longer does he hold them in, possibly fearful that we would leave him if he was anything but perfect. “Good boy,” he would say when he got hurt or worried. “It’s okay,” he told us, holding back tears in exchange for permanence and acceptance perhaps. But now he cries. Not often, but when appropriate. A skinned knee while riding a bike. A sister who refused to share. I never thought I’d be happy to see a child cry.

Generosity is progress: “Mine” is rarely spoken now. He realizes these toys, this food, mom and dad – it is all his and will be his all day, and the next when he wakes up too. The need for control is waning a little perhaps. “Here ya go,” he says and gives a cookie to his sister. He lets her sit in my lap without demanding she move and give Dad back to him. What a remarkable shift in just a few weeks.

Homesickness is progress: “My house in the sky,” he said while I held his waist and he stretched from bar to bar to bar across the playground in the backyard. In heaven? I thought. As he talked I realized that, no, he misses his country, that place he left on an airplane, across the sky to his new life in America. He misses friends and school. He was well loved by so many back there. And I feel loved when he trusts me enough to share this sadness in broken sentences and furrowed brows the best he can.

Proof that parts of S are so much older than four. He has experienced more at his age than the four year-olds I’ve raised before. One more piece of the complex unique sometimes-exhausting but so beautiful puzzle that is this little boy who calls me Dad.

Good night, son. I love you. Sleep well. Tomorrow we’ll play again.