I became a mom ten years and 11 days ago, and I can vividly remember the first 24 hours of parenthood. The first five were spent coming home from the airport, hubby driving in the rain on zero sleep - my India.Aria CD playing in a continuous loop because he didn't know how to change it, and me in the backseat trying desperately to calm a hysterical seven month old stranger. Yep, we were complete strangers on that first night - connected only by pictures (we had three of him, he had a chewable photo album with a few pictures of us) and health reports. We stopped at a gas station to change his diaper and were yelled at by the attendant for not having a hat on our baby.
Initial thought: I am a complete failure as a parent.
Back at home, I tried my best to help P adjust to his strange surroundings while hubby caught some much needed zzz's. I showed him his room, lovingly decorated with Noah's arc animals. We read books and sang songs. I felt like the babysitter waiting for mom and dad to come home and take over the real parenting. In the morning, we gave P a bath and he screamed. His foster mother told us he loved baths. My husband looked at me with an expression that asked, "I thought you knew what you were doing - did you lie to me?" In truth, I didn't have a clue how to be a parent, and I'm pretty sure none of us do until it actually happens. My brother had become a dad a few years earlier and he told me that the hospital staff passed him his son and ushered him out the door. Without any sort of instructions as to what to do next.
Truth: No one truly knows what they are doing at first.
There were two profound moments in that first 24 hours and both of them could be seen as parenting fails, but to me they were shifts in perspective that helped with our rocky transition. The first was during the bath, after hubby realized that no, I did not know what I was doing. He said, "Everything we're doing is wrong." Me, with bewildered expression, "Huh?" But he was right. Every smell, every sight, every experience was not what P had become used to in his foster home. It wasn't WRONG in the broad sense, but wrong in his little slice of the world. The second moment took place that afternoon when we brought him to the doctor's office. Our pediatrician, a kind and enthusiastic Asian woman who cooed at P when she first saw him, made my little boy's face light up for the first time. Her face, her tone of voice - the familiarity - comforted him.
It wasn't me. We had ripped this kiddo away from everything he knew, forced him to fly across the world with a complete stranger who handed him off to two other complete strangers, two weird smelling people who had no idea how to draw a proper bath. When I think about that day I think about our gain - I love my boy so much it hurts and I can't imagine life without him - but I think about his loss, about how scared he must have been during those first 24 hours. We were all pretty terrified. But his journey, and the journey of his little brother four years later, must have been incredibly frightening. We celebrate the anniversary of those days (known in our family as KTA day, or Korea-to-America) and recognize both the joy and the heartache involved.
Truth: Parenting is hard, and I'm not always good at it. But I love my kiddos unconditionally and try to grow as a mom every day.
No doubt I have made countless parenting fails along the way and there are plenty more waiting for me in the next ten years and even in the ten beyond that. But I'm trying to shift my perspective. We had P's conferences yesterday and it was overwhelmingly positive. They haven't always been, believe me. But yesterday, as I listened to his teachers talk about how smart, hard-working, and enthusiastic about learning he is, my heart swelled with pride. Sure, a lot of that is genetics, but some of it must be our parenting. Don't get me wrong, I make mistakes. ALL THE TIME.
But somehow we've figured out how to do a few things right.