Monday, September 19, 2011

Am I a hero?



I've got a confession to make: I've been boycotting all things orphan.

I only casually glance when facebook friends bring home their newly adopted children. Haven't watched a gotcha video on YouTube in weeks, maybe months. My Africa reading list? Collecting dust.

This book, especially, I have boycotted. I stopped just a couple of chapters in. I knew it would be too painful to read the detailed descriptions of abandoned orphans in Ethiopia. I'd be in complete agony, wanting to go there now, to grab hold of just one of them now. Decided not to torture myself.

We thought we might have our daughter by now. Thought we would at least be close to having her sleep under our roof, in our arms. But our adoption has trickled to a crawl. Slow as molasses. Slower than Christmas. Insert any other annoying euphemism to describe how painfully long this process has taken and the disappointment and heartache that has ensued.

To cope, I've shut down emotionally. I can do that, if needed. Years of practice taught me that skill.

I've reminded myself that it is God's timing several billion times. Decided to delight in the fact that I have serendipitous free time, for the first time in eight years, what with all four of my children in school. I've painted half the rooms in my house and have big plans for the rest. Organized many cabinets, even built a shelf in one. Got a much needed surgery done. Scheduled long neglected physical therapy appointments. Joined bible studies, prayer groups, the PTO. Met friends for lunch. Got a mani/pedi, right in the middle of the day.

I even convinced myself that this was a good thing, this delay. A gift. Some "me time" before I jump back into the me-less world of mothering an infant, especially an adopted infant.

Then tonight, I get a text from a dear friend, with long awaited and coveted information about the child she is finally about to meet. "He was abandoned in a market," she writes. "Someone brought him to the orphanage. They gave him a name and a birthday. He was so malnourished, they were probably a year off. Think he's 3, not 2."

And the walls I've built up come tumbling down and pummel my heart out of its sleep state. As it awakens I remember why I turned it off. It was because these stories hurt.

Once I was shopping at Target and there was a little girl of about four years old, walking alone. I took note, then a minute later, when she was still alone, I walked closer, and stared. When I took my eyes off her for a quick second, I noticed that there were no less than three other women, all of us staring at her. Our mom-dars had all gone off, and from a safe distance, we had encircled her like a band of wild animals. We would not leave her until we knew she was safe. Finally she cried "Mommy!" and bounded away to a worried faced woman. Instantly the spell was broken, and all of us went back to sifting through sundresses or pocket tees.

Had a boogie man tried to approach that child, he would have had four women to contend with. Would we have let him take her had we any suspicions? Not on her life. Not on his life. Not on our lives. Is it because we were heroes? No. We were just mothers.

I vividly recall myself at her age, wandering in another Target unaware that I was even lost, when someone firmly gripped my arm and began to walk away with me. I tagged along unquestioningly, curious, until we appeared at the front counter where a man asked my name and paged my mother. The strange silent woman disappeared. She had rescued me from the unknown. Was she a hero? No. She was just a mother.

Another time, I was separated from my family at Galveston beach. Another strange woman grabbed my hand, talked to me about seashells as she walked me up and down the beach until I was claimed. Was she a hero? No. She was just a mother.

I picture another little boy, abandoned in a crowded place on the other side of the world. Tears stream down my face as I imagine how scared he must have been. I pray that if he has any memory from that day, the Lord will see fit to erase it. I praise Him that He has taken what was eaten by locusts and is restoring it here, with two parents who have labored so long and painfully for the opportunity to call this child their own.

But I wonder what happened, that day at the market. How many strangers passed by, not taking note of a crying, lonely toddler? But some noticed. Some strangers stared, and circled him, until one grabbed his hand, took him to the proper place, made sure he was not left prey to anyone who might wish him evil. Because Lord knows they are out there. The stranger who took his hand knew that they are out there. And the stranger rescued him.

Was that stranger a hero? No. But I bet you, I just bet you, she was a mother.

And now that child, who has fattened up and found his smile in an orphanage in Africa, will soon be held firmly by the hands of my friend and her husband. She has sacrificed more than the woman at the beach. She has spent a lot more than the women at Target. Is my friend a hero? No. She is just a mother.

There's a lot of controversy about those of us who adopt thinking of ourselves as "rescuers" - there's a lot of criticism for rich white people who "swoop in" (as if) and adopt poor brown babies. This mentality is probably contributing in part to the slowdown in Ethiopia now.

I get it - now, finally, over two years in this wretched process. I've been schooled. My innocence is gone. I've learned things about the adoption 'industry' that has made me literally want to throw up.  And recently Walker and I watched this movie, which shows clearly that indeed, those people do exist.  A certain celebrity and her questionably ethical adoptions have only perpetuated the stereotype of a brown skinned baby being the latest must-have accessory for the highly fashionable trendsetting white woman.

Do I think that we are "rescuing" our daughter?

Another confession: (deep sigh) (bracing myself) yeah. I believe fervently that orphanages are no place to raise children. I believe that even the most loving, well run orphanage is an institution, and God did not design the human child psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually to be mothered by an institution.

Was I rescued as an infant by my own adoptive parents? Yeah. Although that was not their intent, I was. Because I also don't believe that I was designed psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually to be mothered by an unwed, unsupported, immature teenager.

Is adoption the answer? Not in the long term. Adoption is chemotherapy to the cancer of the orphan crisis. And like chemo, it is painful and sickening and makes your hair fall out and sometimes it doesn't even work. In a perfect world, there would be no adoption. There would be no need.

But our world is far from perfect.
And this imperfect world is full of orphanages full of children.

I am white, but am not rich (not by American standards anyway). It takes an incredible amount of effort for me to be marginally fashionable, and I haven't set a trend in a good twenty years. I'm just someone who enjoys being a parent, who (with my husband) was called to adopt - neither by a chorus of angels nor a burning bush, just the boring ole way of seeing it mandated in Scripture over and over and over and over to care for the orphan.

There are millions of little children wandering alone in places like Ethiopia and Russia and Korea and Houston and Dallas and Nashville and Peoria. My mom-dar has got to beeping, and I am slowly, oh so dang slowly, encircling one of them.

Am I a hero?
No. I'm just a mother.

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