Sunday, August 9, 2009

A new child

Jacqui and her new son Amila

The moment - Jacqui's mother, Bernadette and brother Andrew holding Amila.
My friend Jacqui has just adopted a child. The waiting for this moment has been long and laboured. I wonder why this seems to be the norm? I wonder why, in a country wracked with HIV, poverty, unemployment, violence and often completely unthinking sexual behaviour, it seems to take the social services so incredibly long to sort out the match between obviously able parent and obviously needy child?

It was really no different in our case. Despite that fact that I kept on changing my mind about it, when all was said and done and decided, we still had to wait months and months for our first child. And the second spent months and months waiting for us apparently, because we could have taken him three months before he actually was given to us! Those three extra months, were fairly critical in his development. When 6 month old Joshua arrived, he was a bit like a zombi. He seemed to have no emotions. He just stared around him - never crying, or gurgling, or doing any of the other social things which babies of 6 months are supposed to do.

Luckily, the light did switch on - and Joshua today, is the most animated child imaginable. But there has been damage. His motor movements are not what they should be. His writing and drawing is extremely bad and he needs Occupational Therapy to see him right. All because of the level of under-stimulation which he received in those crucial early months.

Jacqui's little boy (named by his birth-mother, Amila) has been in foster care - and though this might mean that he has other problems, he certainly does not seem to be under-stimulated. He is bright, alert, aware and self-confident. A beautiful little boy.
As we sat there, in Jacqui's maginificent Hout Bay house, overlooking a wonderful valley, amongst her friends and family, I could not help think back on the welcome parties we had for both our boys, some 6 and 7 years ago now, and started to enumerate in my mind the absolute joy which these children have brought into our lives. As I have said before, in previous postings, I may not be the world's most natural parent, but our children have undoubtedly made me a better, a more fulfilled person. A more whole person. That is what children can do, it seems, if you let them.
I remember the first time their grandparents met our eldest child, Gabriel. What we were doing was not the expected. It was, perhaps, not what they had dreamed for their son. They came from Harding - a tiny town in KwaZulu-Natal. Their exposure to situations like this was limited. But if they did have difficulties, though, they had determined they would overcome them. And they have proved themselves to be the most supportive and most loving of grandparents through the years.

I watched as Jacqui's mother arrived, also from KwaZulu-Natal, to meet her grandson for the first time. I watched her eyes, as they first set eyes on her new grandchild, Amila. If there was uncertainty before, (and there must have been) there was none at that moment. Because immediately, the bond had happened. I spoke to Jacqui about this two nights ago. I said to her, wasn't it amazing how that thing happens? That thing which is hard-wired into our make-up as human beings. The way in which once you meet your child, you change as a human being. You cross from being an observer, to being a player. From being a relative, or a friend, or a helper, or a next-door-neighbour, to being a father or a mother. The switch is thrown. You will never be the same again. And then a grand-mother or grand-father. You have changed into something else. You can't ever go back.

On our children's birthdays, Leon and I write a letter to them in a book. We write about what is happening around us and what is happening in our lives. We write about our pains and our sorrows and our joys and our pleasures. We tell them about themselves - what we see in them; what we hope for; what they have done in the past year; what they have said, what they have achieved. We will give it to them, when they are 21, as a word-scape of our journey together. Because it has been, so far, a wonderful one.

Our children, Gabriel and Joshua, are both very different from each other. I have no doubt that they will journey on very different paths. But, for sure, the one thing which will bind them together is Leon and me, and our family and families. That is a constant they can rely on.

And so, Jacqui, I welcome you to this strange and bewildering state of being that is parenthood. I know, without any doubt that you will face both joy and anguish. You will know love (like you have never known it before) and moments of the deepest despair. And above all of that, you will experience the thrill of guiding another human being on this exciting path called life.

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