On Older Child Adoption and Missing the “Firsts”

Yesterday, Little Bean and I visited the library. We love our tiny, local library. As we were walking in, a flyer taped to the door announced a Taiko drumming presentation that would begin soon. In ten minutes, actually – serendipity! Being on spring break, our schedule allowed for this fun detour. So, we quickly returned our books, checked out a new one, and chose seats for the performance.

Given his age, personality, and history, my Little Bean has optimal success in new situations (like impromptu concerts at the library) when I front-load the new items for him. So, as we were waiting for the Taiko performer to begin, I did that. IE: I gave him the choice to sit on a circle on the floor with the other kids, or in my lap. I talked to him about listening to the performance and clapping after songs. And I let him know that we would not be using the computers today, but that we could return for that on a different day when there was not a performance going on.

Given the extra supports, Little Bean did great! We stayed as long as he could hang. The Taiko drumming was awesome (“tastic!” as Little Bean would say), but in the end, it turned out to be a bit loud for his taste. So when he reached his limit, we came home and actually watched more Taiko drumming videos on our TV. Little Bean enjoyed the different rhythmic beats of the drumming. He also loved that, in the case of the video we watched at home, the drummers were “maked” (yep, pronounced exactly like “naked,” but with an “m”) … meaning that they drummed shirtless. He made a point of telling me several times that they were maked. ūüôā

“Expectation is the root of all heartbreak.”

I’ll be honest. When Mr. Bean and I began¬†foster care and adoption, I had expectations. And initially, my expectations made me sad. Because of said expectations, I was disappointed at the thought of missing out on “firsts” with an older child adoption. You know the ones: the first tooth, the first solid food, the first steps, the first words, the first birthday, and on and on. To be perfectly honest, initially I felt¬†cheated. I know I’m not alone in this. When I expressed this to the caseworker in charge of our homestudy, herself a foster-adopt mama, she helped me to look at older child adoption “firsts” through a different lens.

Its true. The firsts that I mentioned above are not part of my shared history as Little Bean’s mama. (He was almost 17 months old when he was placed with us.) However, the rest of the firsts will be. And you know what? There are still a lot left! For example, I made Little Bean’s first Halloween costume. (And that we took him trick-or-treating for the first time.) Also, … Disneyland. We got to take him there first. And seeing him successfully ride his tricycle for the first time? I got to see that.

Because of my musical background, I have also had memorable firsts exposing Little Bean to the performing arts for the first time. He has¬†attended choral and band concerts and dance shows with me (or Mr. Bean). Much to my delight, I’m the one who got to teach him the instruments of the band. Now he can pick them out, by sight … and sound! (Not gonna lie. I had a very proud mama moment when he recognized Idina Menzel, in a concert setting, as one of the voices from¬†Frozen.)

Older Child Adoption and Your Legacy

I think as a parent, one of the things that makes us tick, and makes the struggles worthwhile, is leaving a legacy. The knowledge that on¬†my watch, and because of my input,¬†this child was able to move from point A to B. We remember with fondness where they¬†were¬†… versus where they¬†are. Our parental anecdotes¬†mean so much to us¬†that we take great pleasure in telling others the stories. Stories of growing up, and of newly acquired words, skills, quirks and habits.¬†The firsts with an older child adoption may look different, but are no different in that regard. In fact, because many of our kids may come from an environment that has not been experience-rich, you may be surprised at the number of firsts that you have with your child.

Please do not misunderstand me on this point. If you are an adoptive parent struggling with similar expectations, acknowledge that. Get it out so that you can grieve that loss. (It is a loss and its OK to just say that!) Honestly dealing with that is the catalyst for moving forward in a healthy way.

At the same time, be mindful of the many firsts ahead. Some will be obvious. The first day of school, the first bike ride, and the first girlfriend or boyfriend. Other firsts will be tiny, subtle every day things. The things that you will remember, and so will your child. A new concept learned, the first time you had a big talk about an important topic. And the list goes on.¬†These will be your legacy. I like to remind Little Bean, “I wasn’t your first mama … but I will be your forever mama.” The many firsts that we have shared and will share since he’s been a part of our family are incredibly special to us, and we do not take them for granted.

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