On his first night in our care my son listened to the voice of his foster mother, filtered through the plastic innards of a toy microphone, over and over.
More than ten times.
I sat across the room and watched him.
Watched his little face scrunch up, and then relax when her voice came on.
Watched him lean forward, straining towards the words of comfort.
Watched his mouth mutter "Ne, ne" in response to her message.
Watched him stare intensely at the microphone when the message ended, and then shake his head once or twice before hitting "play" again.
And in my head I thought "This is grief. You are watching your son's heart shatter and mend itself."
It was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen.
It was not outright screaming in anger, it was not sobbing with bereavement, it was not shutting down entirely to avoid feeling anything. These were the expressions of grief I expected, the ones I was watching for.
No, this was a different kind of expression of grief. A trying to make sense of it all kind of grief. A retreating into the comfort of a recognizable voice, willing her to materialize kind of grief. It was my son trying to be strong and good (as his foster mother's message instructed him to behave) while his world rebuilt itself around him.
When he was through with the microphone, YH lay it on the ground and picked up a new toy. He came over to the kitchen, where I sat numb at the table, and asked for a cracker.
(He hasn't touched the microphone since.)
That night Sean and I were like first time parents all over again. Mrs. S had spelled out YH's night-time routine for us, and we did the best we could with her instructions--but it was obvious we did it WRONG.
She said he drinks a bottle of milk or water at bedtime.
We heated up a packet of formula the agency had given us, got the little tyke in his pj's and headed into the bedroom. We put YH in the middle of the bed--one of us on either side. We handed him the bottle and stared at him expectantly. In my imagining of his nightly routine this was the part where he would drink his bottle as he lay down. He would become drowsy and I would rub his back until he fell asleep, just as Mrs. S said we should do.
He took the bottle and looked at us like we were fools.
NO. NO. NO.
He sat bolt upright and drank the bottle then handed it to us when it was finished. He lay on his stomach in the middle of the bed, firmly closed his eyes and waited for a hand to stroke his back.
He was asleep in a few minutes.
I lay by his side staring at this tiny stranger sleeping next to me. It was weird. The adoption books tell you that you may feel like you are babysitting someone else's child for the first few days. Instead I felt an enormous amount of responsibility for YH; for protecting his already fragile heart, for doing what I could to balance out the losses he had suffered.
I didn't sleep much; nervous about him waking up, nervous about the plane ride the next day, nervous about coming home to our pets.
I watched his back rise and fall. I watched his limbs twitch and heard him moan a few times. I scooted closer and smelled the top of his head. I breathed in his baby breath and cautiously, ever so slowly, stroked his fist with my index finger.
I think I fell in love with him over the course of that sleepless night.
My beautiful boy.