After a little while, I thought he was ready to come out and lick the frosting off his cupcake, but as you can see from his body language in the pictures below, he was clearly still suffering from quite a bit of anxiety. Hunkered down, avoiding eye contact, tense and teetering on the edge of panic. All because he was surrounded by a small crowd of people who love him and wanted to celebrate his special day with him. He had no idea what to do with that.
Some days I see such huge strides with my dear little Gideon. Amazing progress. Astounding breakthroughs. Beautiful milestones being met. I see him becoming stronger, and calmer, and more in touch. And then a day like this comes along, where we all just want it to be fun and relaxed, and instead Gideon is in panic mode.
And I just want to fix this for him. I want him to be able to relax and enjoy his birthday party. I want to go back and reclaim the five birthdays that I missed . . . that he missed. I want those five and a half years back. The years that were stolen from him. I want to be able to swaddle him as a newborn, and rock him to sleep, and to build those crucial neural pathways in his little brain that mommies build when the gaze into their baby's face and touch their cheeks and say sweet, silly, beautiful things. I want to be able to go back, and re-do those years, so that he could know that when he spills his milk, he will not be hit. When he is naughty, he does not need to cringe and cower in fear. When people gather around him, smiling and singing to him, he does not need to panic.
I want to be able to give to him what I cannot. I want to take away this anxiety and fear. I want his heart to be trusting and calm. I just want so much for him, and I missed out on the five most crucial years of his life. And instead of hugs and eye contact and rocking to sleep, he was laying in an orphanage, waiting. We have so much lost time to make up for.
And on days like this, when Gideon reminds me of how very wounded he is, I am angry. How can I not be? People have hurt my baby. Through abandonment, and neglect, and abuse, my baby's heart has been deeply scarred. I am angry, and I am sad, and I am helpless to take away this hurt.
He had a lot of trouble calming down enough to open his gifts, but he did really like this little vibrating bug toy from his Grams.
I guess I am just sharing this raw truth with the world because I do not want to make it seem as though Gideon's transition into his new life has been without bumps. And because I want the world to know what the reality is for children who grow up in orphanages. And because I want people to know that no matter how wounded my son's heart is, and how much he screams and panics and tantrums and acts out, he is a delight to me and I would do anything for him. He did not deserve this. No child does.
Gideon is home now, and he is healing. He is learning what it means to have a birthday party. He is learning what it means to look into a mommy's eyes. He is learning to trust. He is learning to let daddy hug him. He is learning to let a hug calm him down instead of scratching his ears and legs until they bleed, and ripping out fistfuls of his own hair to calm himself. He is learning how to go out into the big wide world, even if it seems really, really scary. He is learning, all day, every day. He has five and a half years to make up for, and he is learning as much as he can, as fast as he can. But on days like this, when life simply feels too overwhelming . . . the road just seems so long.
And I want you, my dear readers, to know that there are so many children still waiting for a chance. A chance to be loved, and to begin to heal. Not all children in orphanages are physically abused. Not all of them are as severely neglected as my son was. But all children need family. All children need love. They need their own special place in the world, where they know they belong, always and forever, no matter what.
Is it scary to adopt a child, knowing that he is coming with this sort of baggage? Heck, yeah. But it would be far, far scarier to think of leaving him there.
These were the adoption photo-listing pictures taken of Gideon when he was waiting at the orphanage.
I know this look. This is a scared, nervous, shut-down look that I still see on occasion. I saw this look just today, when I was walking through the living room and accidentally slipped on one of his toy cars. I cried out as I slipped, and Gideon, on his hands and knees driving his little cars, heard me cry out and immediately threw his hands over his head, rolled onto his back like a turtle, and stared up at me, frozen in terror, as though he thought he was about to be slapped. That panic is so deep in his heart, with a hair-trigger that is still on high alert. It broke my heart to see him so terrified. And it breaks my heart to see that look in this photo. So many years I missed. So many days. So many moments. I just want to scoop that boy up and kiss his hair and take away his pain. When I see him looking so small and vulnerable on that chair, my heart breaks for him all over again. I wonder where I was that day. What I was doing. Before I even knew that I had a son whose heart was being broken.
Gideon is worth it. Some days are easier for him than others. Some moments feel insane, when he is screaming and self-harming because going into an office building sends him into a full-blown panic attack, and all I wanted to do was run a quick errand, and instead it ends up being a gigantic fiasco with me sittting cross-legged on the hallway floor of that office building, hugging and rocking a sweaty, raging, struggling, terrified boy, while dozens of annoyed workers poke their heads out of their doorways to glare at our spectacle, and my other kids are standing around, bewildered and restless, as the quick errand morphs into a huge, emotional meltdown out of the blue. Yeah. Some moments with Gideon are really intense. But he is worth it.
Gideon is not alone in this world anymore. I cannot fix this, but I can be here with him, every step of the way. I can hug him, and love him, and never give up on him, and I can teach him new ways to deal with his very big feelings. And as much as I love Gideon, and as much as I cry for him when he is hurting, I know that our Healer loves him even more, and cries for him more deeply. And it is our Healer who gives me hope. Hope that these wounds on Gideon's heart are not mortal. Hope that healing is possible. That what has been broken can be made whole. Our God is bigger than this hurt. Our God is stronger than the baggage. Our God is love, and His love will win.
And I want to leave you with my beautiful boy's shining smile as he shows off one of his new accomplishments:
After some initial fear and panic, Gideon decided that sitting on the toilet was not so scary after all, and he has not had a messy diaper for weeks now. He does not tell me when he has to go, but as long as I remember to stay on schedule and keep putting him on the seat throughout the day, he does great. And his beaming grin when mommy claps and cheers for him . . . after sharing with you about the intensity of his panic attacks, I just felt that I should leave you with this. Yes, there are those moments that are intense and heart-breaking. But they are not what dominates our days. These moments are the ones I treasure. These moments are plentiful, and beautiful. The moments where Gideon is smiling, and his eyes are looking right at me, not afraid, not nervous, just delighting in life. Full of joy and wonder and excitement. I love this kid so much. And I thank God for him every single day.