Ben will only be 2 years old for 5 more weeks. It kinda makes me tear up even to type that – wow – didn’t expect that. We got him when he was 2, and soon he’ll be 3. I wonder why that is such a tender thought for me.
Ben has been a Goodgame for 6 months now, and we spent memorial day weekend swimming in his Grandmama’s pool, down south of Tuscaloosa, AL. Jonah and Livi can’t get in the water fast enough. They sit by the pool waiting for “squirty” the vacuum to finish his automated cleansing, then they wriggle and squirm with impatience as we apply the 55 SPF before they take the plunge. Ben was in no such rush.
Granted, there are lots of fun things to explore around Grandmama’s pool. There are lines of pretty orange lily’s, wet moths struggling in vain to escape the speedy green lizards that dart out from underneath the decking, and there’s the scattered unused floats. For Ben, the inflated innertubes and rafts were as exciting as if they had been in the middle of his bedroom.
Eventually though, the siren song of his sibling’s glee drew Ben to the edge of the pool. Finally, he let me reach out and lift him under his arms, and he was in! And… he was strangling me with his Ethiopian death grip.
Truth be told, there is something deliciously wonderful about when your kids get scared and cling to you – especially in the pool. I guess it wouldn’t be awesome if they are like, 17, but at 2 years old, when their little arms wrap around your neck and their little body warms your torso, you kinda never want it to end. Unless it suddenly gets too warm, then you want it to end right away.
So, Ben clings to me, and then to Amy, and then Livi, and after about 10 minutes, he was done. We dried him off and he found a watering can which occupied his attention for the next thirty minutes. He’d fill it with water from the pool and then pour it out the spout… into the flowers, onto the deck, back into the pool… that smooth stream of water was endlessly mesmerizing for him, until someone brought out peanut butter crackers. (Like father, like son.)
How Ben approached the pool is very consistent with how he typically rolls. He is very suspicious of new things, but with patience, he can be coaxed to try most anything. He does not like to be thrown up in the air, but he loves “flying” on my feet while I lay on my back. He will bury his face at most any introduction, but he will let anyone hold him if we seem to trust them.
He has a giving and helpful spirit, SO eager to please Amy and I, as well as Livi and Jonah, though one unfortunate but inevitable consequence of mommying has bloomed in Ben. He’s around her the most, so she’s the one he tests the most. Daily, I’m amazed at her endurance in the face of his high pitch monotone chatter.
First thing in the morning…”brefas peese (breakfast please) brefas peese brefes peese ceral (cereal) peese ceral peese egg peese egg peese. Ben egg, Ben egg, Ben egg, Ben egg, Ben egg, Ben egg. Ben waya (water), Ben waya, Ben waya, Ben waya Ben waya…” and so on.
And speaking of amazing, it is amazing how quickly my 2 year old can turn me into a 170 pound 2 year old. When faced with more than a few minutes of this incessant sylablabber, I sometimes just start repeating – totally mocking – whatever he says, in the same tone and pitch. The older kids will walk in and ask, “Dad, what are you doing?” And I’ve got nothing. I’m acting like a 2 year old.
As I ponder what all to write about Ben after 6 months as a Goodgame, I really don’t know where to begin. In many ways, he is just like any other third kid at 2… searching for boundries, trying to be just like his siblings, and vying for our attention. But in many ways he is miraculous to us. He has changed so dramatically on the inside, it is a constant wonder.
He doesn’t get jealous when I hold Jonah or Livi anymore. He is content to just giggle and run and hug my leg, or even to turn away and return to what he was doing. He knows I love him just like I love them, and he will get a turn. Ben responds to correction like he has always been ours, without a trace of that sullen mistrust that marked our first few months of confrontations. I can eat off his plate and he doesn’t think I’m stealing his food. He is healthy and happy and strong, his brother and sister adore him, and the only hitting he’s done he learned from his 7 year old brother!
I can’t tell you how thankful we are for how things are going. I know many adoptive families that have had (and are having) a very difficult time deep into their first year, so we truly feel blessed beyond measure to feel this secure this soon. One of the main struggles we do have revolves around the age gap, which has nothing to do with adoption. Ben just can’t go outside and play with the older kids when they are in the creek, and that’s just one example of the things they get to do that he doesn’t. The other day I took Jonah and Livi swimming in a neighbor’s pool (God bless the Gauses), and I thought we’d be back before he woke up from his nap, but we arrived too late. He saw us all in swimsuits and towels and totally knew what had happened. But a little suffering in the hands of love builds character , and I made sure he knew he was loved and he got over it pretty quickly.
Ben’s language development continues to improve, (as you’ll see a bit in the video) and he understands what we’re saying a little too well. We’re already having to start spelling stuff out – and he’s figuring that out too! He knows that m-i-l-k is our code for milk, when we don’t want him to understand, and he’s figured out m-o-v-i-e as well, much to our chagrin.
From this point forward, we really feel like we have stepped out of the dark forest of transition and into the high undulating prairies of life as a family of five. We know every inch of him, we recognize every cry, and every laugh. We are overwhelmed by his joyfulness and love of life, and we are so thankful for Livi and Jonah and their real effort to bend their understanding of our family to make room in their paradigm for their new brother Ben. That transition is complete, and a new season has begun.
Yesterday Ben sneaked into Livi’s room, took all the caps off her nice markers and dropped them in her pretty cloth-lined basket on the bookshelf. By the time she found them, they were all dried up, and 4 of them had left huge ink spots on the cloth lining. She was crying and furious, and we felt sorry for her, but there was really nothing to be done but hug her and listen to her fume about her brother and how frustrating a 2 year old can be (and I think now she’ll be more consistent with keeping her door closed). I told her it won’t be the last time he makes her crazy. It’s what happens with little brothers. But we’ll all continue to grow, and we’ll continue to love and hurt each other and we’ll continue to forgive and be forgiven, because we’re a family, and that’s what families do.
Here’s a pretty awesome “Ben at 6 months home” video clip of Amy reading to Ben. I call it, “Harvesting the Book.” About halfway through, my phone rings, and Ben wants it so he can look at the pictures. You’ll hear him chirp, “Ben pictures… hold it?” He loves to flip through the pictures on the phone.