There’s a character in my novel, a man from Rwanda, who has every reason to push away the world and never trust again. He has been wronged more deeply than most of us can imagine, yet he chooses a life of love, forgiveness, and joy.
Sometimes (rarely) a character pops into a writer’s mind fully formed, a precious gift of rightness from that first moment. That’s how it was with this character. He is the sum of hopes held with unswerving faith, the embodiment of prayers lifted from countless mothers of hurting children. And when he appeared on the canvas of my imagination, he was standing beside today’s Nothing So Broken guest blogger, Kara Higgins.
If you haven’t read Kara’s blog, you need to. You’ll find authenticity, perseverance, and gutsy determination that’s motivated me out of many a dark place along the parenting journey. I’m honored to kick off this series by welcoming my brave friend, Kara.
Nothing So Broken: When E Said W
Guest post by Kara Higgins
A couple of nights ago I got one of those moments. You know the ones. The kind that need savored, captured in a corner of your heart where you will never, ever lose it. Even in the midst of it, I told myself that I would relive this moment even when I was old and gray. Over the last few years, since we adopted two of our children from Rwanda, many of our moments have been rough. Painful and not blog-worthy. But the other night, I was gifted with a sweet moment over the letter ‘W.’
E’s been home a long time now. Four years today, in fact. Long enough that most of our community doesn’t really remember us from before we became insane (eh, I mean a party of 6). Long enough that it’s easy for outsiders not to possibly grasp the enormity of how we became we. The intricacies that weaved our boys to us. Long enough not to understand that sometimes even the littlest thing, like only eating two helpings at dinner instead of five is a really big deal. Or how a six year old finally, finally recognizing the alphabet after four years of practice is enough to send his mama into a heap of tears.
It’s no secret that school isn’t E’s thing. Kindergarten was really all about attempting to grasp some of the general expectations that the world has on people. Don’t put your feet on your neighbor. Stop clogging the toilets with paper towels. Avoid throwing your socks on other people’s faces. Those. And also recognizing the alphabet, counting to 20. Tying your shoes. Sigh. By spring time, E hadn’t really mastered any of the above listed. He did, however, share the gospel with at least 3 classmates, open his milk by himself and wrap his way into his teacher’s heart. That’s about it.
Before E had started school, I had done a couple of years of “homework” with E every day to help him try to catch up to the rest of the kids that didn’t have three languages scrambled into their heads before the age of 4. Sometimes our homework involved tubs of rice, a string of dyed pasta or a bucket of water. We used clay. We explored forests. We celebrated when E sat for 5 minutes straight. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere. The boy still had a blank look when we read “Chicka Chicka Boom.” Every patient tactic I used failed. Two years of our efforts, and at the end of kindergarten he could not if his life depended on it identify more than a handful of letters. We knew, being the savvy attachment parenting gurus that we are, that this was because our son was still struggling to bond with us as his forever family. There was this wall between my son and me. I finally threw in the cards the day that my sister-in-law pointed to a McDonald’s cup and asked him the letter. He didn’t know I was nearby as he proudly said “M.” My stomach lurched and tears filled my eyes. That was the last day that I did any extra “homework” with my son. We still read books as a family each night, but I quit trying to help E learn. It was pointless. He still cringed when I touched him. Our nights were sleepless, filled with a wandering six year old, wet linens and restless sleep. The kid still glazed over when I told him that I loved him. Each day we were filling every minute with strict routine and structure for our son; giving him less opportunity to spiral into uncontrollable behavior. After three and a half years, we had reached a point where I really believed that God would redeem my son. But redemption would not come in my lifetime.
So we decided to go to Africa. Coworkers, the same ones that weathered years of me swallowing tears, avoiding calls from the Principal’s office, generally looking frazzled, raised their eye brows. Family politely, subtly questioned if that was a good plan “for E.” Why not? Really, we’d already been in survival mode for so long. Part of me wanted the 16 hr flight to just sleep. The rest of me just needed a break from constant frustration. It hurts to keep on loving on someone that doesn’t reciprocate. We had reached a point where we knew that whatever repercussions would come from our trip weren’t anything worse that what we were already living.
We came home to the best summer ever. The kid didn’t wiggle away from my touch. He looked me in the eye. We all six had fun. We laughed. We didn’t speak of it, but Ryan and I felt that there had been a shift in our home. I found the energy to work on a little “homework” again. The week before school started, I asked E to do chalk on the driveway with me. At first he whined, but eventually I convinced him we could make a game. First, I drew a whale. He guessed it. Then I drew a whistle. After the whistle came the wave. Soon, E got that we were making the ‘W’ sound. It’s a tricky one. Just say ‘w’ aloud. Doesn’t it sound like it should start with a ‘d?’ I held up my middle three fingers, forming a wave or a ‘W.’ E could see it. Holding his middle fingers formed the shape of a wave and the letter. It was pure luck that I pulled that wave/three finger W thing together on the spot like that. Whatever. I asked the other kids to say ‘w’ words throughout the day to help their brother with the repetitiveness of it. For a couple of days, the six of us did great holding our three fingers up for a ‘w,’ trying our best to use silly words like “wing nut” and “walrus whisperer” in normal conversation. Then school came and we jumped into our fall routines of school, sports, drama, work. Life goes on.
Ryan and I were tucking E in the other night. I was feeling a little guilty that we hadn’t read that night, we’d watched “Wipe Out,” instead. Ah-ha! “E, what does ‘Wipe Out’ start with?” I asked. It had been at least a week since we had practiced the tricky letter. E thought for a moment, then said:
“Wa, wa, wa. W! Wipe Out starts with ‘w’!” He grinned and held up his three middle fingers, forming his wave.
“Worm! Water! Wave! Wiggle!” He continued with his words. We were all three smiling big, goofy grins. Then Ryan asked E:
“E, who taught you the letter ‘w?’ Was it grandma? Was it at school? On Sesame Street?”
A slow grin spread across E’s face. He put his arms around me, sort of pulling me to his chest. Then he said:
“Mommy taught it to me.”
By this time, I didn’t just have tears in my eyes. I was crying hard and E kept wiping my face. We didn’t need words to explain why this was a big deal. E knew just like his parents. That wall had come down. He learned something from his mama. For the first time ever.
Sure, one could argue that I have indirectly taught my son many things since bringing him home. Speaking English, brushing his teeth or blowing his nose are all things he’s learned living in a family. Those are all necessary skills for a child in a structured setting. This was very different. My efforts, four years of wheels spinning, hadn’t ever gotten us anywhere. And here we were, on a random school night in September, crying our eyes out over the letter ‘w.’ It couldn’t have been more perfect. Another chapter in our E’s story that only our Creator could write.
Redemption has come. In my lifetime. In unexpected and beautifully messy ways. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t the constant structure or framework. I can’t attribute it to attachment parenting or a good therapist. It’s so much more than that. God’s love has knocked down that wall that brokenness and abandonment had built around my E. And it’s not going anywhere. I can feel and see and tangibly touch the changes in my E’s heart. His eyes are soft and he leans against me when we are near. E is all mine and I am all his.
Kara considers herself to be a woman of God, a wife and a mama, in that order. Married to Ryan for 12 years, they are parents to four children (two the old fashioned way, two through adoption). In 2009, after adopting her sons, she fell in love with Rwanda and it’s people. Since then, she has become an advocate to orphans and adoptive families through blogging and volunteer work. Currently, she works as a CNM at a community health center in Omaha and as a Team Leader for Visiting Orphans.
Visit her blog: http://www.higginsadoptions.blogspot.com.
Check out her orphan care ministry: Imana Kids