Some people fall in love at first sight. Grizzly and I did not, which is probably for the best as we were 4 and that would have been weird. Our love was a friendly kind of thing that somewhere between teenage angst and the brink of adulthood became rather more permanent and somewhat less platonic.
When we brought Big Bear into the world I was lucky enough to fall in love with him straight away. I say lucky because growing and delivering another human whom you do not love perhaps for a good while afterwards must be a heart-breaking and desperate thing.
That is not to say that I found first time motherhood easy. Ravaged by a rather traumatic labour and a lot more naïve than we thought we were, the first year of his life was, to put it mildly, a little difficult. But I loved him. Even at the dead of night when I still hadn’t slept and he still wouldn’t settle, I would see his big eyes staring at me in the dark and think he was the most gorgeous creature I had ever seen. And the feeling of his chubby little cheek against mine…..bliss. It was an easy and natural love.
As I lay in my hospital bed fresh from labour (not actually fresh, no one is fresh after labour!), with Grizzly weeping beside me from the trauma of what he had just witnessed, not, I hasten to add, from the joy of getting a baby, we said “lets never do this again”. And we didn’t.
However, we very much loved having Big Bear and very much wanted a littler bear to love and press to our cheeks too. It was always going to be adoption when the time was right.
Fast-forward six years and the search was officially on. From the moment I saw Little Bear’s profile in an adoption newspaper (yes, it feels weird and a bit wrong, yes, it feels like you are shopping for a child in a catalogue) I began to have some feelings towards him. The overriding feeling at the early stage was excitement – which was distracting and all consuming. There was probably a 50% dip in my work productivity. Waiting for news was excruciating at each point and with each scrap of information we became more sure that Little Bear should be with us. When some social work bureaucracy threw this into jeopardy, I was devastated and flummoxed my colleagues having an out of character display of emotion at my computer.
It cemented our feelings though and my mother bear instincts kicked in. We would do whatever was necessary to get him to us. And we did.
Five long months ago, Little Bear whizzed into our lives with a flurry of switch-pressing, tap-turning, toy throwing and general over curiosity.
I think the first meeting could probably be said to have gone well, as these things go. He knew who we were; he greeted us with cuddles; he showed us his toys; he wanted us to stay. I would love to say that, on our part, it was love at first sight, but it wasn’t. Real life is much messier than that.
It was as though we had just had a nice visit with someone else’s child. A child who, we quickly learned, was very challenging in the behaviour stakes. Obviously there were reasons for his behaviour – we understood about attachment difficulties, about the need for boundaries, about under-stimulation. We started as we meant to go on. We did not accept behaviours that were unacceptable. We were firm, consistent, nurturing. We worked hard and to Little Bear’s credit, change has been quick and transformational. However, at times, it has been really bloody hard.
Getting bitten, scratched, hit, kicked and told to “shut up” by a 3 year old throughout the day and also for several hours of the night, challenges your every fibre. When you do not yet have your love for this child to cushion you and soften the blows and you cannot yet press him to your cheek because he doesn’t really know you and he is rejecting you for fear you will leave him too, you are challenged to the very core of your being.
There were days I feared I couldn’t do it. I didn’t love him. There were days I didn’t like him. There was the odd day I considered sending him back. I remember those days vividly – day 3 of introductions when Big Bear finally met his brother and it was beyond disastrous; a day in week 3 of placement when Grizzly took charge so I could be alone for a while and crawl back away from my mental edge; a day towards the end of month 3 when I was furious with myself for repeatedly losing my temper but didn’t seem to be able to stop doing it.
Throughout this, no matter how bad I felt, I would not allow myself to give up on him. On us. I still believed the Universe had meant him to be here with us and had to blindly believe that the love would come. And just like that, about one week after my third crisis, it did.
I have no idea what changed. Maybe it was time. Maybe it was my renewed efforts to be calm no matter what. Maybe it was because I became uber-strict on night time shenanigans and we all started getting more sleep. Je ne sais pas.
Whatever it was, I think he knew I had stopped faking it and he began to let me in. The rejections of me as the female caregiver began to drop away. His guard slipped so much it pretty much fell off. He stopped pushing us away at bedtime and actually reached for hugs. Not perfunctory, superficial embraces but genuine, I-want-to-be-close-to-you-squeezes. I got butterfly kisses and Eskimo kisses and lovely, blissful, cheek to cheek time. He started to say “I love you”. Well, not exactly, his delayed speech and language skills won’t allow him – more “I wuzh you”, which is rather cute, especially with the recent addition of “ a not” (a lot).
So there you have it. Love is complicated. It sneaks about, teasing you and really only arrives when it is good and ready. And now I have 3 lovely bears and many, many more stories to tell. And I wuzh all my bears. A not.