Louisa shares some of those ‘first moments’ she had with her son as part of our 100 Voices!
“Pedal, pedal, keep pedalling! You’re doing it! You’re doing it!”
The first time my wee boy rode his bike was something special. Before he came to me, back when my longing for a child was a cold weight in my heart, I had imagined this amongst many other firsts. I had shared great joy in the firsts of the children in my life that I loved, but I ached for these moments with a child of my own. The annual Facebook Firsts of others could sometimes be overwhelming – endless fancy frocks next to Christmas trees, birthday grins and front-door-posed first days of school. Meanwhile, I felt like I had so much love, and nowhere to put it.
When I accepted there would be no baby, I re-imagined my path to becoming a mother. I wanted my child to be able to play with my kind, funny nieces and nephews, and decided adopting an older child was the best path for me. But when you choose to adopt an older child, you need to accept that you have already missed so many firsts – first steps, first words, first day of school.
What I know now is that, often, these traditional firsts are over-rated. Big occasions are frequently fraught. Play-acting picture perfect, balancing the teetering edge between excited and overwhelmed. Juggling everyone’s emotions to avoid the moment when Reality kicks Expectation in the ankles and stomps off in a huff. I think this may be true in all families, not just in adoptive ones. How many of those Facebook grins are forced?
What matters more are the countless small and unexpected firsts. The day I blew his mind by mixing blue and yellow to make green, the day I finally taught him to make a “pop” with a finger in his cheek, the first time he played Minecraft and instantly dug straight down and buried himself alive, the first time water sliding in the back garden, the first time he caught a fish in a bucket, the first time we exploded vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, the first time he wrote a sentence unprompted (“Mum is a poo!”), the first time we drove up into the hills, just to look at stars, in the wintery dark. So many joyful firsts we didn’t plan, so many lovely days we didn’t see coming.
It is also true that some firsts are less meaningful than later moments. I had heard him say a thousand people-pleasing “I love you”s before the first time he said it to me and I knew he really meant it – because he said, “I love you more than dinosaurs”.
Finally, there are the firsts you really earn. The first time he rode a bike was special because we earned it. He was five, and we were still in the first few months of being a family, swinging between him pulling me closer, and pushing me away. We learned a lot in the weeks it took to get to that final moment, and not just about balance and pedals. He learned persistence against his secret fear of failure, learned to trust me enough to let me lead (sometimes). I learned a little of the hardest trick in parenting – when to push, and when to let go.
The day itself. There are tears, rages, frustrated sighs. One final, bitter dispute about why you can’t start with BOTH feet on the pedals. Then suddenly, unbelievably, he is away, bumping down the grassy hill, determined eyes fixed on the distance. And I am running behind him, shouting “Pedal, pedal, keep pedalling! You’re doing it! You’re doing it”. I am crying and laughing, and watching my brave, beautiful boy fly.
For me – this is adoption. A bumpy, hard-won path to absolute joy.