Center of the Universe


My dear loves, each and every one of whom are my rock and encouragement and invaluable, treasured, essential support; who bear our burdens and our joys with inexpressible grace and sympathy… Let’s go ahead and not maybe say stuff like “keep”. I do realize that we’re getting into the wicked awesome exciting part of actually approaching actual adoptive-type language and stuff. But maybe not with the “So are you gonna get ta keep him?”

I know. Terrible to start with a (gentle, judgment-free) admonishment. But I’m hoping for you TLDR-ers* out there maybe you’d at least get through that part, since we are being asked this with increasing frequency (and with good reason).

The answer, anyway, is that yes, it is looking very, very much as though we are moving toward a (probably not-too-distant) adoption date. Yes, the party is in the works, and yes, you are probably invited, unless I don’t know you. In which case, hi! Sorry about the awkward time when I told you about a party you weren’t invited to.

I can’t entirely explain to you why I don’t love the “keep” language, but I don’t know. When else do we use that terminology when talking about humans? Nothing particularly comes to mind, unless it’s like a “We’re switching insurance carriers but we’ll be able to keep our podiatrist” kind of thing, which isn’t exactly in the same emotional wheelhouse, maybe**.


If I had to summarize the last few weeks in terms of What We’re Working On etc., I would probably have to say that it has been an interesting time of trying to figure out how to balance Trauma Kid with Normal Toddler in terms of “How much are you actually supposed to be the center of the universe?”

Regardless of whether you’re a C-I-O*** enthusiast or the crunchiest, soft-talkingest co-sleeper that ever was, basically regardless of your parenting style, there is a part of the process in foster/adoptive care where you kind of have to spoil a kid rotten in terms of attention and affection. They call it “connecting before correcting.”

If he came to you, torn from his familiar home, no matter what kind of home that was, from whatever situation; if you are going to be Mom and Dad, and if he is going to feel Home, you have to hold every time he wants to be held and sit on the ground and play every time he wants to sit on the ground and play, because that kid is colossally freaked out, and needs to be reassured that he is not going to be abandoned/uprooted again/abused/neglected/whatever until he believes it, because learning and bonding cannot happen when their brains are basically completely dominated by fear. Which can be a super long time, or less so, depending.

Did we do this perfectly? Ahum. Not even. But for the first few months at least, you intend to, and you feel super guilty about it when you don’t, and you do it a lot more often than you might otherwise.

You will recall that the timing on this particular placement was maybe not spectacular and sometimes I just didn’t have it in me. But still. You get the point.

It’s kind of like infancy. You know how they say you can’t spoil an infant with attention/affection? There is no such thing as too much at that stage. The more they get during infancy, the healthier/happier/more secure they are, on a million different levels, for the rest of their lives. You kind of always have to go back to infancy a little bit with a new placement, even if they are like seven. They have a need, you meet it, no questions asked, for a little while, until the survival mode instincts can finally convince themselves that they’re off duty.

But so we’re kind of to the point now, though, where you start to say “You know what, I think you’re pretty confident in your place in this family, and I think your deep-seated emotional needs are fairly well-met, and I think now you just want 100% of Mommy’s AND Daddy’s attention 100% of the time because you’re two and you just WANT IT.”

I feel like my mom spent a lot of time when we were growing up being like “I will feed and clothe and teach you, experience lots of exciting things together, affection and hugs and kisses etc., but also go play your own games and come up with your own ideas and I also have other people I am teaching and other jobs I am working on and you can survive without both of my eyeballs on you 23.5 hrs/day” kind of thing. And honestly, I think I’m better off for that.

Everybody (hopefully) reaches the stage where they figure out how big the world is and how small they are, and for some people this is a horrifying, deeply shattering idea that comes along right about at adolescence and throws them completely off the rails for a good stretch.

I’m kind of a believer in making sure that my kid knows that he is THE GREATEST KID IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, just like every other kid is in their mom’s eyes. That HE CAN DO ANYTHING, but he has to work hard and be smart about it and make good decisions. That NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT TO ME THAN YOU EXCEPT MAYBE DADDY, but also I think that you will be a better person if you see me working for things I believe in, having discipline in the way I stay healthy and keep my house, investing in relationships, helping other people who are having a hard time, etc. and not sitting on the floor engaging in targeted toddler-appropriate activities and entertaining you eighty hours per day.

In other words: You are the center of the universe, you are a fascinating miraculous human being with infinite potential, I would take on a mama grizzly bear to protect you, but also the world is a very, very big place with many, many infinite human beings in it.

I desperately want to spend your life teaching you how to be ambitious but always ultimately compassionate, confident but not self-absorbed, hopeful but firmly rooted in reality; to somehow get that any single one individual is infinitely and eternally important but also to understand that you are one of seven billion humans on this planet and they all are, equally. (How do I say this? It is such a different idea even though it’s the same words: one person being of infinite importance vs. seven billion people each being of infinite importance.)

All that to say. Do we go back on the list and move towards securing our dear boy a sibling? 🙂

Ha. But kinda seriously.

I imagine this is a universal (thoughtful) parent conundrum, not just for foster/adoptive parents. How do I fill my child to the brim with security in me as his mom, in himself as himself, without accidentally raising someone who bashes through life as the star of their own movie, unaware of other people and larger issues?

I have this image, which I am sure isn’t even accurate, that when you start that process with like the little sea-monkey fetus and a child goes from one person’s literal womb to that person’s sort of figurative blankets-and-rhythmic-shushes-and-pats-and-lullabies womb and basically sort of takes their steps slowly, one at a time, out into the world; that this is not something a parent has to obsess over. You fret the first time they go down the street without you to play with a friend, or whatever, but it’s kind of the next natural step.

But when you go about it, shall we say, less than traditionally, it’s complicated. Our wee one is shockinglyspectacularly well-adjusted given the circumstances of his tiny little life so far. He is warm and affectionate, he trusts us completely, he wants to please us. We are BEYOND fortunate to have this sweet thing under our roof, and to soon be able to give him our name.

Sometimes I want to think: He’s two, and he wants to kind of be the boss of the situation, and he wants what he wants when he wants it, which sometimes is true, and the best thing for him ultimately is to have structure, to learn to be patient, to play by himself for a minute while Mommy works on something important. But sometimes… maybe he actually is hurting very real hurts or fearing very real fears that I cannot ever relate to, not really. So it’s kind of tough to know how to react.

Just as an odd observation, from where I’m sitting: I do have the perspectives of friends who can stay at home all day, go in every time their child cries whether nap or midnight no matter what, etc., can always have a toddler-approved snack and a toddler-approved TV show and a room-full of toddler-approved toys and activities. And I also have a certain amount of interaction with like kids who live in a home with 8 other kids, or who have a working single parent and have zero choice but to be in day care most of the time, and they eat when there’s food, and if they don’t eat at meal time, they don’t eat until the next meal time. So they learn to eat at meal time. Or they play with what’s around and develop a much more creative imagination.

It’s like somewhere between Entitlement and Despair there is a nice, well-rounded little person who will never have to be too greatly shaken about their place in the world as they learn more about said world, but who will also believe that they have a purpose and a job to do.

I think this is one of those great things about the Bible – the way it says “You are of infinite importance, made in the image of God for great works that were set out specifically for you.” But it also says “You are a grain of sand on a beach and you can’t ever possibly remotely fathom everything that God is about; he is doing things you can’t possibly get your brain around, but go ahead and try.” And it also says “Consider others higher than yourself 100% of the time.”

So. Now. My mission, and I have apparently chosen to accept it: Begin, now, teaching this to my toddler.

And you, moms, dads, heck – aunts, grandpas, friends: Begin, now, teaching this. To your toddler, your teen, your son-in-law. Whatever. Now. It will only ever be harder “later.”



*Too long, didn’t read, for those who WILL ask me

**I DON’T KNOW YOUR LIFE. Maybe you are totally that emotionally attached to your podiatrist.

***”Cry-it-out”, for those who don’t know, aka the TOTALLY inhumane God-awful practice of teaching your child to self-soothe when their tummies are totally full and their diapers are totally dry and their beds are totally warm and the only actual problem actually is that they are way over-tired but they want to be the boss of everyone and make everyone over-tired because of an (unfathomable, to me personally) resistance to sleeping which apparently most toddlers have out of (primarily) stubbornness. I betcha can’t tell which camp I’m typically in.

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One comment on “Center of the Universe
  1. Susanna says:

    I always thought people’s tendency to use the phrase “keep” was borne from our childhoods when we go to a pet store and fall completely and immediately in love with a kitten or a puppy and we say “can we keep him? pleeeeease?” in which case I do think there are some emotional comparisons to be made, though obviously still we are talking about pets vs people, but a puppy to a child vs a child to an adult? i dunno. anyway I love you and I love your writing and your brain and your parenting and your son and I’m really happy for you.

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