mothering bodies ~ adoption ~ alt.gender ~ parenting ~ work/life balance

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lover of Hounds

Connor and I took our dogs for a hike around the lake a few months ago. Damp wind cut through our sweatshirts; we could smell the cold in the air. Connor wore his brand-new spy glasses--the world's coolest birthday present--and led the way. We hiked the length of the berm along one end of the lake. We sang:

     We're following the leader, the leader, the leader.
     We're following the leader wherever he may go.
     We won't be home 'til morning, 'til morning, 'til morning.
     We won't be home 'til morning because we told him so.

Connor looked up at me and smiled as we repeated the verse again and again. I told him that his name is ancient Irish for lover of hounds or wolves. "That's because I love Bella and Beau!" he exclaimed excitedly, "I wish our dogs were wolves, though." Satisfied and emboldened by the fact that he also shares his name with numerous ancient kings, he held my hand as the wind plastered our clothes to our bodies so completely that fabric edges trailed us like superhero capes.  We looked like two Han Solos cryogenically preserved in carbon. We felt like kites; pretended to be blown backwards and off balance, laughing. The bright sun bounced off the lake surface but offered no warmth. No matter, though: we were on a spy adventure and spies care not for the cold.

Beloved Hounds. Photo: MLB
In that moment, despite the cold and the wind, Connor's smile radiated happiness. How much fun is a spy adventure by the lake with your Mommy and your dogs? Pretty freaking fun, let me tell you. At seven, Connor is already leaving me behind to play Star Wars Spy Ninja Legos with his best friends Caleb and William. He returns to me when they've had to go inside for supper and I am a sorry substitute then, pushing nutrition and clean hands. That day, though, exposed on the berm to the cutting wind, I squeezed Connor's hand and we belted our song to hear our echoes across the water. Beau and Bella pulled on their leashes toward the woods and warmth. I picked up Connor and carried him for awhile, his lean body turtle-shelled against my chest and shoulder both a shield and mother-needing baby. Connor's long skinny legs and arms wrapped around my waist and neck and I breathed in this extended hug. "Ah, this," I thought, remembering the long wait, years ago, for children to hold and comfort just like this. Connor thought I was warming him, but our combined body heat paled in comparison to that of my joy at being with him, together and loved. Connor is like that: if you are near him, then you are together and loved. To him, being seven is a series of adventures. To be near him is to orbit the sun.

A few weeks ago, Connor's wide, easy smile healed one hundred grieving hearts. Someone very close and precious in his birth family died. The funeral service was on the first warm day after a too-long winter. The morning air was light and bright but still smelled more like snow than spring. White arms shimmied out of black cardigans in the heated sanctuary. After the service we all stumbled out of the church as if blinded by the unfamiliar sun. Or was it by Connor's smile? He was easy to pick out in a crowd comprised almost entirely of adults. Numerous extended family members and friends introduced themselves and asked to shake his hand. He already knew his immediate birth family as part of his adoption story and was eager to see them again even as we mourned the loss of one who had been dear. Everyone at the funeral knew Connor's name and his relationship to their family, but his seven-year-old's understanding of their relationships to him had remained--until that point--more abstract. After the two-hour drive to the church and the very touching hour-long mass, Connor was in Star-Wars-Spy-Ninja-Lego withdrawal, as any self-respecting seven-year-old would be. And, yet, he was enchanted by every reconnection and new acquaintance, greeting everyone who approached him and posing for photos for over an hour without any sign of flagging.

While I would not call attending a funeral an adventure, Connor was interested to go to a new place and meet people whose import to him he is still learning to understand, to smile, shake hands, and offer hugs to so many loved ones hungry for his likeness and his congenial spirit. People often say that Connor looks like his Daddy and me, and it has been observed that families do grow to resemble each other--even non-biological ones such as ours. When we see ourselves in others, we know they belong with us. A sense of belonging brings comfort in the assurance that we have a place with others in the world. That day, outside the gleaming white chapel under still-bare branches, Connor's wide grin and fearlessness seemed to give peace and comfort to so many now bereft of another smiling, adventurous one. We all found some comfort in the belief that although bodies die, spirits remain--sometimes in the smile of a child. Throughout the service and in the churchyard afterward, no adult was ever far from tears, but an amazing transformation seemed to occur when joy entered into hearts previously full with despair. Despite the tragic circumstances that brought the congregation together that day, Bryan, Connor, Cole and I treasure those bittersweet reunions and new relationships formed.

That Smile! Photo: MLB
On some level, Connor understands what he did for a churchful of sad folks that day. He knows that we should all show love to each other, and he truly enjoyed showing and sharing love with people he now regards as his new friends. "When can we go to their house, Daddy?" he asked on the car ride home.

What an amazing kid I get to mother!

Connor's birth parents named him before we met and, although we could have legally changed it, we kept his name because we wanted to reflect the depth of our connection to them. When they named him after the great kings of his heritage, as one who loves all companions, how did they know?