46 years ago this Valentine’s Day, a bright-eyed 22-year old man proposed to his 19-year old girlfriend. It had only been five months, but they were young and in love, and she happily said yes. Eight weeks later, they were married on a Tuesday at the local Methodist church. It was the beginning of a beautiful love affair, what would soon become the greatest love story I’ve ever known.
I’ve witnessed this marriage between my parents for over 36 years, and to this day I’ve never seen them argue. It’s the perfect balance between two people; so similar in their approach to life, yet different in personality and demeanor. My father, a creature of habit and routine, enjoys his scheduled lifestyle of leisure, while my mother’s unpredictable and lively nature keeps you guessing. They were ideally suited for parenthood as the harmony between them infused their children’s lives.
A stream of confidence that never wavered, they provided a solid foundation of support during the emotional roller-coaster ride of my childhood. They were the calm beneath my teenage storm, a warm shelter and soft place to land. They always put their children’s needs before their own.
Now as a mother and parent of three strong-willed children, I think of their example as I react to the ups and downs of daily life. I feel their strength when I’m at my best and their forgiveness in my downfalls. I remember their kindness before responding to a tantrum, and I still ask them for advice on a regular basis.
Here in the throes of motherhood, I have many opportunities to practice patience. Like most moms, I am constantly being challenged by my kid’s outbursts and behavior. I get easily frustrated with Evelyn’s shouts of defiance in her attempt to gain independence, and while I’m open and receiving of Mason’s wisdom and energy, I’m fearful, even angry, when he blindly follows his friends. Already a mother, yet still the student, I try to respond with kindness, but fall victim to my fear instead.
It has been widely quoted that “making the decision to have a child is to forever decide to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” I find it both exciting and terrifying to have such little control over these beings that carry my heart in their hand. For one day soon they’ll be making their own decisions and charter a new path. They’ll sail off into the world, taking my heart with them, but I’ll do my best to support their decisions, as my parents did for me.
A few weeks ago, Tilley and Mason brought home a heritage assignment, the most dreaded, yet cherished, school project for an adoptive mom. Although we talk about Mason’s heritage on a regular basis, this assignment facilitates a deeper discussion, providing a great opportunity to explore his feelings and any questions he may have. On the morning of his presentation, my heart leapt from my chest as he courageously presented to his classroom. He spoke proudly of his country, his heritage, and the details of his adoption.
As part of the assignment, we were asked to choose eight significant life events to outline the story of his life. Of course, I wanted to use his birth as the event that began his timeline, but we were asked to provide more specific details on what happened that day. Nervously, I dove into the discussion, wondering how he would respond.
On October 4th, 2007, in the capital city of Hanoi, Vietnam, Mason’s birth mother, doctor and nurses welcomed him into the world; a beautiful day when he and his mother spent precious hours together. This woman, who I may never have the privilege to meet, made my son’s life possible and for that I owe her a great debt. As he wrote down the details, he looked at me with his wise, insightful eyes and said, “I bet she misses me.” Those five words split my heart into a million pieces, evoking feelings of love and deep sorrow. I responded, “of course she does.”
On that day she made the decision to have her heart walk outside her body in the most selfless way; she offered her son another path, a different life than the one she could provide. The love she has for her son is the most unconditional love I know of; a divine, selfless love that pours everything out, yet expects nothing in return. Even if there is sorrow, only the purest love remains. Like finding the most beautiful flower, but not picking it because you want it to live.
Mason’s birth mom may never get to experience the joy that I feel when his smile lights up a room and she may never bear witness to his compassionate heart. Although their lives took separate paths, the connection between their souls will never be lost. Instead, they are on a journey to find each other within, to achieve inner peace and solitude, even amidst the physical loss.
I’ve been told that a broken heart physically hurts because light is breaking in allowing the heart to expand. In these broken moments we can either repress the pain by closing off our heart in fear, or we can give ourselves some time to grieve, the catalyst to healing and growth.
Behind every one of my children’s tantrums is an opportunity for my heart to expand or contract. When I was a child I acted out, but my parents showed me compassion. That love is part of me; the living and breathing example that shows me which way to go. But when my defiant children stand before me and anger is all I can taste, I can think of a woman in Vietnam, whose heart is standing before me. I can sit with my fear, feel my heart-break, and experience a level of love like I have never known before; pure, unconditional love with no expectation or attachment to the outcome. I can just let go, and when I do, I will find her there.