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Epilogue: The Dream Come True
Not every story has a happy ending. This one does.
For almost a year, since we first started the adoption process with HeartSent, we waited. Sometimes we waited with joy, as when we received a photo or better yet, a video. Other times, we waited with frustration, as when another day went by without him. But, be sure, it was worth it in ways that are immeasurable.
In two weeks, many things have happened. Paden already knows his new name. Though it was very obvious that he was responding to Yin ("Yeen! Yeen!"), he now turns his head at "Pay-den!". He has discovered new and exciting things about the world that he has never seen before. Breadsticks. Cheerios. Strained Carrots. They're all great. But something else has risen from this chaos: a family.
In two short weeks, we have had a crash course on parenting. Some more Dad Superpowers appeared, such as the ability to squeegee food from your baby's face with the round-surface of their spoon. I didn't train for this talent, it just appeared. And the ability to taste anything meant for him that is obviously not meant for your own taste buds, and still make a face and sound as if you can't wait to get more yourself? Heck, I don't even do that for Lynne's Canadian casseroles! In fact, we both are learning many things that are second-nature (indeed, almost boring) to parents whose babies were born naturally to them. Of course, there is the usual stuff that you hear about from current parents, or those who like to think that they will someday be parents but their time is much too valuable or booked up right now to become parents. Things like, "Well, hope you can survive on four hours of sleep!" and "Guess you won't be going to the movies for a while" are all examples of what we heard as Paden's arrival became imminent.
But every kid is different. The quirks and personality traits are visible even in the youngest of babies. I have tended to babies that belonged to others, my one-year-old niece from Canada, for example. During the stay of Lynne's sister and family, I volunteered to take little Cindy's early morning (or rather middle of the night) exercise, partly to relieve her parents from the loss of sleep, but also to practise that parenting ritual of staying awake when every cell in your body cries out for the comfort of your Posturepedic. I learned that she sweats as much as her Aunt Lynne, takes to bananas like a baby bird opens it's maw for a piece of worm, and refuses to accept hats no matter how fashionable. And that was during a short but ironically similar two-week period when they visited. Most of these revealing traits were observed by our cursory parental contact; the real parenting was still done by Cindy's Mom and Dad. Who knows what other individualistic characteristics would magically appear like the flowers from seeds planted in early Spring?
Discovering those personality traits can be a bit tedious if those traits tend to create more work for the parents. But even then, it's a glimpse of what your child is, a separate individual with their own likes and dislikes. Paden, for example, has an adversion to wearing clothes below the belt (thank goodness for Velcro diapers that don't loosen!). He finds a way to step out of his pants at the earliest convenience, a talent that indicates a destiny for male strippers (Note from Lynne: I do not agree with this career assessment. I think it's indicative of being a swimmer (Kevin: yeah, right, swimmers also take their shirts off, too!)). And, like his new father who has no genetic connection, he kicks off the blankets at night and flops around as a freshly caught Salmon tossed in the boat. It would be fun to track his movements with a time-lapse camera; I suspect is would look like the nature-study films of small worms that never seem to move, but in reality are jumping all over the place in slow-motion.
However, there are some things that are common to all babies, and every parent will experience each of these things at one time or another. While I have changed diapers for my little sister and brother and others (see above, Re: Cindy) and there is no inherent difference in those diapers and the newest diapers of Paden, it is different. In fact, I have learned more about poopies than I thought I could ever (or would ever) want to, such as the different types that I have so far uncovered (no pun intended):
Every day is a new source of joy. I am sure that some of the novelty of the new parenthood will wear a bit thinner over time, but I will never tire of the joy at watching my son discover something new (well, new to him). Paden's diet was simple and consistent when we met him. For the most part, it was formula and rice cereal, and we're not sure there was very much else introduced. This, by no means, does not imply that St. Lucy's was denying Paden anything; on the contrary, Paden was extremely healthy, and we are so grateful for the care and attention that St. Lucy's quite obviously provides to the babies in their care. But it was fun to start Paden on the Gerber vegetables for the first time in his exciting life. All veggies are being consumed with the same zest that our dogs have when I am tossing them pepperoni during Pizza Night at the Freels' house. Paden's mouth is open barely after the last swallow has finished, and Heaven help those who are a bit late with the next spoonful. He eats everything! I've mentioned his affinity for bread and Cheerios, but he tasted a french fry for the first time this last week. It was like watching a Black Hole suck up matter from a neighboring solar system. And just yesterday, I offered him a breadstick, and the expression on his face was one that I had never seen before but would be all too familiar on any adult face: a look of excitement and surprise, as his eyebrows shot up like a coordinated release of two weather balloons.
In fact, we did know about his chewing abilities. Even as we were being informed of his medical history, it was brought to our attention that he had seven teeth already, with at least three more in the bullpen. My father says he's more of a Piranha, with two prominent bottom teeth that can tear the cover off any breadstick in a matter of seconds! Of course, these instruments of eating require constant sharpening, usually on any local target that he can get his mouth arround, such as toys, fingers (someone else's), and furniture. Our rocking chair already has these neat little scores in the arm from where our little woodpecker has decided to try the taste of Fine Oak. The aforementioned fingers are a perfect chewing experience, except to the person whose hand they are attached to. The resulting dental impressions can be as painful as having a fingernail ripped from its roots. Mr. Piranha decided to take a taste of my pant leg the other day...with my kneecap still in it. The marks that were left look like my knee was shot with a bag of Chiclets!
And speaking of sharp, beware the Ginzu knives masquerading as his fingernails. Lips and eyes are nice soft tissue, ripe for the cutting edge (pun intended) of his exploring fingers. However, the real talent is when he grabs your neck in his impression of Darth Vader's memorable speech in "Star Wars" as he chokes one of Pricess Leia's guards: the pinching on the victim's throat, aiming for the Jugluar Vein, the cutting off the blood and air supplies... *gurgle*... *gasp*... "Where is the Rebel Base?!?" We've taken to wearing steel collars under our shirts.
As every baby-rearing book seems to tell you, this is also the time when discipline starts to be noticed and appreciated (at least, by the parents). This is a tightrope walk, at best, and a road to insanity, at worst. We can't quite move everything in the house out of the Paden Radius, not unless they repeal the Law of Gravity so that we can make things hover at a pleasant thirty-six inches from the ground. Paden seems to be interested in our CD collection, but not for the musical aspects Lynne and I are interested in it. Colorful labels, another easy chew toy to access, what's more to want than that? As he heads for the jewel cases at Warp Three, we head him off. The keys to dicipline are "Relocation, Diversion, and Repetition". First thing to try is moving him away from the target. Paden has none of that, to him it's a game as he turns back around to the original target as surely as a compass points to Magnetic North, "Let's see how many times we can get the Parent to do this!". If you do it more than twice, he wins. Okay, Plan "B", and it's Diversion. But this has to be done correctly or it's ineffective. You must totally divert (with a little Relocation thrown in) to something really appealling ("Here, son, chew on the chair for a while..."). If you don't Divert enough, he remembers the original target, and it's back to the "Do this again" game. Finally, you say "No" and repeat this while exercising Plans "A" and "B", while repeating to yourself, "This is what I signed up for?!?" .
But it is what we signed up for. I couldn't wait for this, because the good times, in my opinion, far outweigh the bad times. I love my son, and in a way that he most likely doesn't understand yet, he loves me. Every time Lynne and I yell "Incoming" like a soldier expecting the next shell to hit the ground whenever Paden kicks in the afterburners to move to the next target, we physically see the love from us, as it fills the air of this home with a peace that is only attainable in this way. Every time I get up at 5:00am because Paden is "done sleeping for the night, I want to play, Daddy!", I can't even fill my brain with enough energy to turn on the coffee maker, but the thought of how much I love my son and how happy he is to see me (and change his diaper, of course) is overwheming and unmoveable. Yes, this is what I waited for.
In a very short time, we bonded as a family, such as to the point as it seems we were always a family; there was never any gap of time between his birth and our meeting. We thought it might take weeks to reach this piont; it took a nano-second. There will be conflict, of course, especially as he hecomes a teenager. But that conflict is in every household, and only through conflict can growth (for all parties) and change occur. I promise to do whatever I can to give my son the best chance at whatever he wants to do with his life, and that chance is all I can ever ask for.