I assume that parents raise each child differently, according to his or her personality, needs, likes and dislikes. I assume that growing up isn't the same for the children and that each child, in turn, gives the parent a completely different experience. I assume this is true for all families, not just my own.
Four years ago, I sat in a doctor's office for hours waiting with Matthew's mother, her sister and brother-in-law, and my husband. I wanted to reach out my hand and rest it on the rounded abdomen that held him tight. I wanted to meet him and know him and love him but he belonged to someone else. Someone's who's belly I didn't know well enough to touch. She knew him. She knew his wiggles and his sleep patterns and his hiccups. I knew only the idea of him--wrapped in a love so foreign I couldn't understand when it spoke. There was a blue and white stuffed puppy his brother had chosen for Valentine's Day, sitting in his bed two states away. There were bottles and diapers and a baby swing. There were tiny baby clothes washed and waiting for the boy I would call, "Son."
I loved him. The way I love Italy even though I've never been there.
I wanted to surgically transplant him into my own body, as though his mother was giving me a kidney, because I wanted to feel him there, where his brother had been. I wanted to have--if only for a moment--his legs shoved against my rib cage, his head pushed into my pelvis, his very life dependent on my own. "But he is hers," I would think to myself as though the moment he was pulled from her, he would suddenly be mine.
But he wasn't.
And it's maybe taken me all this time to realize that.
It wasn't a firework explosion of instant attachment like it was when his brother was born. Where else would Garrett have gone? He'd been my son for nine months already. As much as a child can belong to a parent-- which, if we're honest is never really very much at all--he belonged to us. Matthew was placed in my arms only after we'd been made aware that there was a war waged on his life. Birth mother against birth father with a tiny baby caught in the crosshairs of a piece pursuing checkmate.
I loved him purely and honestly--not the way I love Italy--but it was always with the knowledge that we might lose him to one who's blood pulses through my son.
And when the battle was over, I loved him purely and honestly but always with the knowledge that he might grow up and choose one who's blood pulses through him.
But sometime, when I wasn't looking, I realized that I love him purely and honestly and that my blood pulses through him. It doesn't match. I take no part in his creation. But I cultivate his God-given passions. I kiss his boo-boos and I celebrate his victories. I keep him alive with care and I keep him sustained with discipline and hugs and two enthusiastic thumbs up.
He is different from his brother.
He is moody and emotional and neither his father nor I can adequately figure out what to do with his temper. We don't know if it's hereditary or simply the luck of the draw but in these first four years he has kept us on our knees, asking for wisdom in parenting a personality so unlike our own. And I have wondered, as these days and weeks and months have passed, if a moment would come when I didn't subconsciously feel like I share him.
Don't get me wrong. I do not spend my day dwelling on the fact that Matthew has four parents. It rarely enters my mind at all, really. But I think, down deep in my soul, I have felt the need to send his birth parents telepathic messages when Matthew has victories--as though it is only because of their DNA that the victory was achieved.
Until last night.
Either the clouds parted and sun poured down and I had a major break through or a shell cracked and allowed me to see that the break through happened long ago and I've been too ignorant to realize it.
Matthew has wanted to play sports for a long time. First, we told him he had to be three since few sports begin before that. He was going to play fall t-ball but we were having so many issues with his attitude leading up to preschool that we told him he would have to prove to us that he could be good at school before he would be allowed to play a sport. He's done very well at school and we registered him for indoor soccer. He was thrilled. Then, a week before his first game, he started telling us he didn't want to play. He wasn't big enough. Why would we make him play soccer? WHY? WHY? WHY? So, needless to say, we thought his first game would be a disaster with him sitting in the middle of the court, refusing to play and crying his everloving head off. But Saturday came and he did great. He had an incredible attitude, was nice to the other kids, and wore a smile the entire time. His team lost a lot to nothing. Not that they keep score.
Last night he had another game. Garrett had a wrestling practice at the exact same time so Troy took Garrett to wrestling and I took Matthew to his game. He started off on the sideline. For half a quarter he sat on my lap and I explained that he needed to try to get the ball in the net. I showed him which net. I said, "When you get in, go kick it in that net for me."
Well, Matthew got his turn.
He sprinted past the other kids.
He gave the ball a good kick.
It flew into the net.
There is a moment in The Blind Side when Sandra Bullock (as Leigh Anne Tuohy) says, to a particularly obnoxious rival parent, "Yo, deliverance. You see number 74? Well, that's my son." Matthew is playing peewee soccer. The parents aren't annoying and the skill set is nearly nonexistent. But in that moment, when the ball sailed into the net, when the parents all cheered, when my son turned around and tried to act nonchalant but couldn't stop his face from twisting into a smile, well, I don't think I will be more proud of that kid if he one day plays on the winning Superbowl team. He ran toward me with his thumbs up and I threw my two up in the air. I couldn't wipe the stupid (AND HUGE) grin from my face. I couldn't swallow the lump of pride in my throat.
He scored again.
He sat out for another half quarter, all the while howling, "I NEED TO GET BACK IN THERE!"
He did and he scored once more for good measure.
His team lost six or seven to four. But those four goals belonged to my son. (And, actually, the other team can thank him for one of theirs.)
"He's seriously good," people whispered. "He's got skills," they said. "Who's kid is that?"
That's my son.
He'll be four tomorrow. He's not playing on the World Cup team any time soon. But it was a victorious day for him. When we climbed into the car to go pick up his brother, I told him how very proud I was. "Because I got the ball in the net!" he declared.
"No, Matthew," I said firmly. "I don't care if you get the ball in the net or not. I am so very proud of you because you had a great attitude. But, yes, you did great getting the ball in the net four times."
Truth be told, while obviously his attitude is the most important thing to me, it was the fact that he scored four goals. Because, in those goals, I couldn't contain my pride. In those goals it wasn't because his birth parents DNA came together in such a way that Matthew can score at age not quite four. In those goals was a smiling boy who falls asleep across the hall, who practices his letters with me, who sings and dances and calls me mommy. In those goals was my son.
I couldn't reach my hand across the chair four years ago and touch my son through his mother--but I can spin him around now because he's mine. I can hold him tight. I can whisper, "I love you."
And I do.
Every chance I get.