It's been a little over a month now that H. has come home. Today is our first Saturday at home with nothing to do and all day to do it. The three of us are recovering from our colds/fevers, and my obsession with my baby's snot is waning. MucusWatch (TM) is somehow not as fun on day 5 as it was on day 2. We've gone through two boxes of tissues, 25 nose drops, 13 Ricola (not for baby, of course), two cartons of OJ, and I have been slimed by snot-boy more times than I care to recall. So we are ready for a day like today, when the rain pours incessantly and keeps us inside, where it's warm and we are free to enjoy each other's company in between sneezes.
H. is a much different boy than the one we met a few days after Thanksgiving in a boxy apartment in Seoul. We had received H's referral with several photos of him at 2 months old back in September. As an adoptive parent, this is the motherload (no pun intended), the moment that makes it real: there is a baby, and he's waiting for you. We clung to all the pieces of information about him as if our lives depended on it. We studied his photos; our fingers traced the lines of his face, the thick tufts of his black hair standing straight up. We wondered about him in the morning and at night, we woke from sleep thinking about him. Who was he? Who would he be? What did he smell like? Was he sleeping that very moment or out in his stroller with his foster mother, seeing things for the very first time? As much as I would like to say we could envision all these things clearly, it was one-dimensional. We knew what he looked like, we knew his name, but it was hard to know more than that. A couple months later we received more pictures. Here he was smiling. There he was sticking out his tongue. On his tummy with his head up straight, offering up a million-watt smile for the camera. This was more, but it still wasn't enough. Thoughts turned to how much he was growing, the "firsts" he had without us, would he still seem like a baby when we met him? Still, we felt we knew him. We felt close.
When we finally met him, it wasn't as we thought it would be. In our minds, it was going to be this huge moment, the one in the movie where the orchestra swells and the audience wipes their eyes with Kleenex. Instead, it all happened very fast. Mr. Fits spotted him first. "I see him. I see him," he said, his voice in a hush. I was taking my boots off, almost afraid to look up. This was THE moment. My heart was racing. I looked over and saw him. He was tiny. I suppose in my imagination, he had become larger than life. And yet here he was, a little thing looking at us with great interest. We were ushered quickly into the apartment and told to sit on the floor. It was heated and we began to sweat. The foster mother sat to my right holding him, and before I knew it, she stuffed him into my arms. "Jung Ho-ya, oma. Oma. Opa. Jung Ho-ya." Hey Jung Ho...your mother. Mother. Father. Jung Ho. I felt myself about to cry, but didn't want to scare him. He was smiling, examining my face. I smelled him and held him close before passing him to Mr. Fits, who though he denies it to this date, began to cry. And then the baby began to cry as well. We had an hour or so with them, and asked an unending stream of questions about our son, his likes and dislikes, his firsts, what he ate, how to keep him happy, how to soothe him when he was sad, all without taking our eyes of this little creature, who we knew, in two days, would be with us for good. It was surreal. We marveled at how alert he was, how happy and strong. We knew we'd all be okay.
When we finally had him to ourselves back in the guesthouse two days later, we were able to shower him with kisses and all the love we'd been saving up for him. We wrote long, gushing emails home about what a wonderful baby he was, about how he could jump and turn over and how much he liked to smile and how easily he fell asleep and how much he loved his walks outside in his stroller. When we couldn't sleep at night, we whispered to each other about how readily he opened himself up to us, to being loved and how truly amazing it felt to be needed by someone so small.
But the truth of it is that as incredible as we thought he was a month ago, he is a different person today. He has blossomed--there is no other way to describe it. Everything he was, he is now more than that. When I walk into the room, he squeals with delight. He opens his mouth WIDE--in a perfect, O--to express his joy. He laughs from his belly. He reaches for everything and when he gets what he wants, he sticks it in his mouth. He'd rather chew on books than read them. He is mastering the crawling thing, and can flip from his back onto his knees with Olympic timing and accuracy. He's always in a good mood, even with a cold he musters a smile for strangers. He looks right into my eyes and explores my face with his hands as if he is trying to get to know me better. When he has a bottle in the middle of the night, he finishes and then his head crashes into the crook of my neck, his arms around me, and there is no better feeling on earth. He laughs at anything his Dad does, any silly noise or face he makes repeatedly just to entertain H. He uses my ponytail to gain leverage and pull himself up. Just before, he used my chin as a teething device. He's a smart one, that H.
I guess what I am saying is that it's possible to bond with a picture, to love a child a million miles away, but it's no preparation for what your heart will feel when he's in your arms. That as great as you think your child is one day, he's even greater the next. And it occured to me earlier, as I watched him move his knees in tiny motions across the bed as he tried to crawl, that there's nothing wrong with baby steps. We became a family on the day we met him, but day by day we have revealed ourselves, growing towards each other in a thousand little baby steps.