What Love Looks Like

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“I miss my papa,” she said.

It was nighttime. Dark in the room. She rested her tangled head of curls on my shoulder. I held her and did a few paces around the bed before crawling into it. We were staying at my mom’s house in Arizona. We were day 4 into a 10-day stretch of being away without Adam. This was the 3rd night in a row she had whispered this to me, and the whispers continued until Adam arrived.

Adam got to town one night around midnight and sneaked into the room Solana and I were sharing. I had told Ana her daddy would be there in the morning. She was pleasantly surprised when she woke up in the middle of the night to find him lying next to her. She spoke to him with quiet and giddy excitement. She made him stick out his arm so she could nest into the crux of his armpit. He hugged her tight. He was love wrapped around her.

I smiled into my pillow. “This is what love looks like,” I thought.

At first blush this little encounter probably seems unremarkable. A child loving and missing their parent is a given. Or at least I had always thought so. Instead, I stand as a witness to a brokenhearted father who poured his love out to a little girl who wanted nothing to do with him.

You see, Ana came to us with chapters of mistrust for men already written in her life’s storybook. At a year and a half she had been burned and had learned her lesson. Men were no good. Men hurt people. Men were something to run from.

I remember a night not so long ago when I stood in the kitchen with my husband. We were new to parenting. New to foster parenting. We were tired. Beat down. Uncertain what the future would hold. Uncertain we were doing anything right. Ana was sleeping and though Adam is a man who is strong and steady he looked at me with tears in his eyes. He was deflated. A well of untapped hope and love and unmet expectations for fatherhood was finally bubbling over.

“Your kid is not supposed to hate you,” Adam choked. “This is not how first time fatherhood is supposed to feel.”

I ached for him. This was a path he was walking alone. For months I was the one who got to hold our daughter and hug her. I dealt out love and felt its warmth returned. I was the one she ran to, cried for, and wouldn’t let go of. She was looking for someone to feel safe with and I was her girl.

I played babies and blocks while Adam did the dishes and the laundry. I gave baths and got smiles while Adam walked the dog in the cold and took out the trash in the snow. Adam worked behind the scenes to keep things in our house together. Our daughter hardly noticed him.

In the beginning Adam would reach for Ana often. Time and time again she recoiled, or screamed at him, or ran away. She hit Adam, pinched him, and pulled his hair. If he dared to pick her up she flew into hysterics. He quickly learned and started to reach for her a little less. He gave her time and space to heal. He never stopped reaching altogether though, and if ever there was the off chance that she was willing to give just a little something, he was right there to relish in her love and let it sustain him until the next time.

On occasion Adam would let us know he was hurting. Mostly he just kept his head down and loved like he does. Quietly. Persistently. With the hope but not the expectation that he would be loved in return. He kept on doing the dishes. He took out a lot of poopy diapers. He did not give up.

My husband’s patience with our daughter has taught me more about God’s love for us than anything I’ve ever read or seen or heard about before. Day after day God washes our dirty laundry and throws out our poopy diapers. So often we don’t even notice. But He is there. Loving like my husband did. Quietly. Persistently. With the hope but not the expectation that we would love him in return.

I think it’s time to stop running. I think it’s time to let your daddy love you.

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XO,

Kara

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not give up. It never fails. – said at every wedding ever

 

All of the pictures in this post were taken by the lovely and talented Melissa Young, who just so happens to be Solana’s auntie and my sister. Thank you Mel. You are THE BEST!!

http://www.melissayoungphotography.com

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www.melissayoungphotography.com

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Daughter, This is Who You Are

A story about the honest, imperfect, messy love in adoption.

Hugs for Momma on Adoption Day. Photo cred to Adam Gilbert

Daughter,

It is the middle of the night. Your newborn brother is sleeping soundly next to me. I should be taking advantage of that by trying to sleep myself, but I can’t. There are things you need to know. Things you might wonder about when you are 12, or 15, or 20. Things I need to say before time turns the answers to your questions about memories and conversations and reasons why into foggy hues of grey.

November 24th, 2014 was your adoption hearing. You would no longer be “Little A,” a number in the state’s foster care system, or a child in limbo.

November 24th was the day we would be recognized for the family we had become.

November 24th was one of the best days of your daddy and I’s life.

November 24th was the day you would get a new name.

I had visions of the perfect celebration for your adoption day. I should have known. Instead, your adoption day turned out a lot like how adoptions really are.  It turned out a lot like how life really is. It was messy. And honest. And imperfect.

And it was beautiful.

Adoption Day!

“You wish to change your daughter’s name to Solana Alejandra Gilbert?” the judge inquired from the front of the courtroom.

You had skipped your nap that day and you were loaded up on a party weekend’s worth of sugar. There was a substantial audience of state workers present to witness our new beginning. We had tried to explain to you in advance what was going on, but it had to be more than a bit confusing. Any of these things may have thrown you off that day. Or maybe it was just the fact that you were two. At any rate, it was a court proceeding to write home about (or maybe one to keep a secret!).

That day your dad and I sat at the same desk your bio mom had occupied throughout her involvement with the court. The judge hammered us with questions about ourselves and our intentions and our family. During this time you made it your mission to distract us and everyone else from the business at hand. You fidgeted and squirmed, whined and loudly demanded your way, and splashed drinking water all over the expensive wooden desk. The floor beneath you was littered with your deconstructed paper cup. You paid zero attention to the judge’s questions or to my pleas for you to behave.

And then the judge came to the name change question.

“Adam and Kara, you wish to change your daughter’s name to Solana Alejandra Gilbert?”

Your over-stimulated little head shot up from your busy work. “I noooooottt Solana Gilbert,” you proclaimed to the world loudly. You said it with conviction. You looked the judge in the black robe straight in the eye.

Well… Crap.

I flinched.

The judge raised an eyebrow.

Your daddy kept his composure. “Yes. We do.”

Only a few months have passed since that day and you have already embraced your new name. We know this because when Santa Claus called out “Solana Gilbert” at your preschool, you bolted out of your seat and ran to his lap to retrieve your gifts. Your dad smirked. I know what he was thinking. “Who’s Solana Gilbert now?”

Your reaction in court on adoption day probably sums up adoption pretty well. It’s not lost on your dad or I that one of the best days of our lives may carry with it some heaviness for you. While your adoption day is a day to celebrate the making of our family, it is also forever a day that will represent the loss of your bio family. Your dad and I get that. We want you to know that however you feel about it throughout the years, it’s okay. And your feelings do not have to be a secret. You already made them clear when you were two. :o)

A messy beautiful adoption day in all its realness.

I am not sure if it was “Solana” or “Gilbert” that you were reacting to in court that day. I don’t think you were sure either. I do want you to know that changing your first name was a tough decision and one that your dad and I struggled through making. We spent months talking it over. Ultimately, here is why we did what we did…

Let me start by saying it really makes no difference what your name was yesterday, is today, or will be tomorrow. We love the person you are, the heart you have, and the fact that we get to call you daughter. Your name does not change YOU.

But…. we did reason that perhaps your name would impact the way you saw yourself. We wanted to give you a name that we felt fit who you were. We wanted to give you a name that would tell you what you meant to us.

There is a story in the Bible where God gives the gift of a name to a dude named Simon. Jesus says to Simon, “now I am going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock.”

I’ve always been a little jealous of this situation.

Some people… many people… spend their whole lives trying to figure out who they “really are.” Simon was lucky enough to have it stated for him by the freakin’ God of the universe. God said, “you are a rock,” (the rock on which I will build my church) and Simon left the conversation with a new name and a sense of purpose.

We chose the name Solana for you because it means sunshine. That is “who you are, really are.” (Unless that is not who you want to be and then when you are old enough we will talk.)

You are our sunshine

We also felt a new name would befit your new future.

Throughout our interactions with your bio parents one thing struck us. We could not help but notice how consistently alone they were.

In one particular meeting I watched as your lawyer delivered unpleasant scenario after unpleasant scenario to your bio mother. Your mom sat by herself on the lonely side of the room in a cold metal chair. She was told that she had made progress towards getting you back but that it probably was not good enough. She wiped a tear away. Nobody was there to hold her hand, pat her knee, or pass her a tissue.

My eyes were looking at your mother in that chair, Ana, but my heart was seeing you. Like a scene from A Christmas Carol, what could have been your future played out before us. Your papa and I left there that day determined. The lonely side of the room was for the girl you were and could have been. The lonely side of the room was not intended for the girl you were going to be.

Your father and I know we cannot control the decisions you will make as you grow up. You are your own person. But here is the deal. If as you get older you find yourself in a mess… a mess that involves a cold metal chair… my darling you better pull up two more. The girl named Solana will not be sitting by herself. Your papa will be holding your left hand, your momma will be holding your right, and daughter, I dare someone to tell you that you aren’t good enough.

This is who you are. Really are. You are Solana. You are our sunshine.

We love you,

Your Parents

 

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