Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I love you in three languages

Father Frost- the Russian Santa
My tiny toddler just celebrated the most wonderful Christmas! He seemed to love everything about the holiday, once he got over his totally understandable fear of Santa. They call him Father Frost in Russia and I have no idea if my little guy had even seen him during his 24 months in his birth country.

He squealed over Christmas cookies shaped liked trees and candy canes. He giggled and clapped at stuffed puppies with heads that moved and voices that barked Jingle Bells. He tore into wrapping paper and cheered when he saw the gifts inside. He pointed and yelled from his car seat at the houses blazing with holiday lights as we drove around town. He pulled on Santa's beard and yelled "BUS!" at the top of his lungs whenever he was asked what he wanted Santa to bring him.

Just seven months ago his world was gray. One hallway. Peeling paint, old toys, caregivers coming and going. Did he even know it was Christmas last year? Did he eat the same thin mashed potato and vegetable stock puree for dinner? Did he play with the same toys he had to share with all of the other children? Did he hear Christmas music? Did a loving caregiver sing to him as she quickly settled him in his crib? I will never know. But I do know what he experienced this year.

He sang "la la la" to the Christmas music on the car radio. He didn't know the words but he knew his older brother was singing his little heart out to "Frosty the Snowman" and he la la'd right along. He didn't wear the same clothes he saw on another child the day before. He had his own Christmas sweater and footy pajamas. He was given gifts with his name on them, selected just for him. He sat in Santa's lap. He asked for a special toy, and he got it.  I am pretty sure that my little guy had a truly wonderful Christmas.

But I can also say that I am pretty sure that I had an even better Christmas than he did. Watching my big four and a half year old lead his new little brother through the holiday maze of presents, cookies, day care parties and dress up sweater vests made my heart sing. Hearing the glee in my youngest son's giggles, watching his face light up, seeing him play with his cousins- I spent the entire Holiday season smiling through happy tears.

Last year he had a tiny crib squeezed in between other tiny cribs. He wore clothes from the scuffed shared dresser in the tiny bedroom with the concrete walls. He did not sit on Santa's lap or see the tall decorated tree in the center of town.

Central Square- Vladivostok

This year he has cousins! Warm clothes! Enough food! A big brother! A pet cat! A Home! A bedroom all to himself! And a mommy and daddy.

And I have the family I always dreamed of but never imagined.

My happy family spent the day after Christmas at my sister's home. Our aunt and uncle joined us, meeting my tiny toddler for the first time. As my boys opened gifts and played with my sister's dogs my older aunt and uncle asked me many questions about our trip to Russia and my youngest son's rocky start to life. I shared with them lots of details about the trip and the city of Vladivostok. I shared fewer details of the baby hospital and none of the tidbits of information I know about my son's birth family. Those nuggets of truth belong to my son. It is his story to tell, not mine, and at the very least I owe it to him to tell him the little I know before telling anyone else. I realized, as I sat at my sister's kitchen table retelling the story of our trips to Russia, of meeting my son for the first time, of getting to know him in a small room at a motor inn- I realized that it's not new anymore. I don't look at my son and see the long nights alone in a hotel room with a screaming baby. I don't kiss his head and see him holding his winter hat out to me, demanding to go outside even though rain was sluicing down the hotel room windows. I don't wear him in the hip carrier and instinctively place my hand between my chest and his face in order to prevent him from biting me.  I don't seem to be carrying the battle scars of our bumpy journey any longer. I found that I didn't want to recount my story to my aunt and uncle, even though this was the first time I had seen them since returning home with my new son. Instead I wanted to share my son's triumphs. How his words are coming every day. How he never stops asking "dat?" and seems to want to know what everything is and how it works. How he already has a favorite musician, (Laurie Berkner), and a favorite toy, (buses). How he no longer needs to carry a cup of cereal around with him- I think he is finally full! How he says his favorite color is blue and how he loves to sing and is starting to carry the tune of whatever song he is listening to. How he knows when it is his turn to pick the TV show and always, always picks Blues Clues. How he lovingly pretends to feed his stuffed animals before putting them sweetly to bed, yelling "nite nite!" at them. How he calls his brother "Dao", his attempt at his older brother's middle name, Zhao. How he runs to the door every night when Daddy comes home from work, jumping up and down and hugging his legs.

And how his face lit up over and over again this Christmas as he experienced the sights, sounds, and tastes of the holidays. Ask me about that. Ask me about how I felt as I sat in my mother in law's living room watching my older son share his new racetrack toy with his baby brother. Watching him gently take the little car from his younger brother and teach him how to race it down the track. Ask me how I felt as I snuck away from my in laws home to take in a movie with my husband, leaving my sleeping boys in their grandparents' capable hands. I had to split my life open for all the world to see, I had to
sign my name a thousand times, I had to travel around the world, twice. I had to shed thousands of tears, both out of frustration and happiness. I had to witness poverty and lonliness. I had to learn to make congee and sweet fruit tea. I have worn babies through China, Hong Kong, Russia, South Korea, Japan and America. All to get to this moment, when I tucked in my two sleepy but excited boys and reminded them that Santa would be coming that night.

One last thing I had to learn. How to say "I Love you" in three languages.

I love you in Russian

Best. Christmas. Ever.

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