It occurred to me recently that I will only get half of his childhood.
I guess I already knew that. I must have. The math here is pretty straightforward; our foster son, whom we expect to adopt, is 9 years old. That is quite clearly halfway to 18.
I have a picture I took of him and our biological son, Ryan, the first night we met him a couple of months ago. In it, James* has slung his arm around Ryan’s shoulders and is leaning into him, a soft smile on his face. Ryan is grinning. It is a picture I know will be special to me for the rest of my life. It’s the first picture I have of James in a special moment. The very first one, despite the fact that he already is half grown.
I haven’t allowed myself to dwell on this very much up until now. The first time I read the date of his birth on a document, I did a quick tally and realized he was born before Mike and I were even engaged. And that was it. That was as far as I allowed the thought to drift. I didn’t think about the fact that I was barely 25 years old when James was born (whereas today I’m knocking on 35’s door) or how 2,500 miles separated me in Arizona from him in Pennsylvania.
Because if I allowed my mind to wander that way, the next logical question is how? How could it be that this baby boy was born across the country and, as though nothing significant had happened, my life moved along uninterrupted? How could it be that I still had an engagement, a wedding, a pregnancy and birth, job changes and vacations and a move across the country. A whole year with our first foster son and then a year to recover from the experience. All of that living before someone would ever utter his name in my presence?
How is it that I didn’t feel his presence before that point?
Or maybe I did? Could some subconscious sense of him have propelled us down this path? People ask me, “Why foster adoption? Why build your family this way?” and all I can come up with is, “Because it makes sense for us.” Maybe the better response is, “Because I had to find my kid, and this was the only way.”
You can see why one can’t go down that road too often. Because the flip side — James’ side — is even harder to grapple with. Why did it have to take half of his childhood to land in a safe, permanent home? How is it fair that the mother who hugs him tight before he runs toward the bus in the morning has absolutely no idea what word he first spoke? That the oldest photo we have of him dates back only to age 8, while he lives in a home full of photos and mementos of Ryan’s whole life with us.
I am grateful for the years I will have even as I mourn the years already gone. Every parent knows how quickly 18 years can pass. But nine? Will it feel as though he walked in, I took one long, deep breath, and then he walked right back out?
I wonder whether he had chubby cheeks as a baby or whether he was an early walker. I wonder whether he gobbled up mashed bananas and spit out green beans. I wonder whether he was nervous on his first day of school or if he walked through the classroom door with a confident excitement.
It is no use dwelling on these things, I know. He was born before we were engaged; he is here with us now. Both of those things are true. They are just two facts in the complicated timeline of his childhood. Everything that happened between then and now is done and cannot be changed.
But what we can control is the color of the light we shine on it, the lens through which we view it.
We can mourn what has already passed, or we can decide that the past nine years aren’t a loss because the next nine years are a gift.
*James is not his real name.