Remember when I talked about how Elian pays us back in smiles? Well I think he is ready to start exploring other forms of currency: He has started to hug! Overall I would say Elian is not into hugging or cuddling. Cuddling requires him to stay still for more than 2 seconds and let's just say we don't call him the hurricane for nothing. Still Arnold and I have been hugging him and kissing him and doing our best to coddle him despite his reticence. I honestly had kind of given of hope that he would ever be interested in hugging us back.
Just like a pot that doesn't like to be watched though, the second I accepted his lack of interest in hugging he changed his mind about the practice and embraced it with gusto. Elian is not a conformist though, he has his own special ways of hugging. He starts off with the piggyback hug. This is where he runs around in back of you and kind of strangles your neck gleefully. Then he moves on to the full flying bear hug. He runs at you from the front, throws himself into your lap and grabs your neck forcefully. He is surprisingly strong for a not-yet two year old. Sometimes he gets overcome in the moment and follows up the hug by pulling your hair. I'm not so much into that part, but you know, I'll take what I can get.
I recently came back from a business trip to Atlanta expecting to arrive home to fallout: a confused toddler who was upset that Mommy left. Last time I left for work he regressed noticeably. He refused to look at me for 3 days after I got home. Let me just say that it is hard to leave home knowing that you'll have to re-teach your child to make eye contact (for the fourth time) when you return. But you know toddlers, just when you get the zig down, they zag.
This time I didn't come home to an angry toddler. I came home to one that was happy to see me return. When I got back last week and sat down on him with the floor ready to rebuild our relationship for what feels like the zillionth time I was pleasantly surprised to find out while I was gone my little dinosaur had gotten on the hugging train. Ten minutes of sitting on the floor and playing trains earned me one neck hug and one flying bear hug.
It's hard to express what those hugs mean to me. Arnold and I love Elian and for the past six months we've been doing our best to accept that we have to teach him everyday that we are his new parents and love him without the expectation that he will love us back. To some degree I'm sure all parents do this: adoptive or not. But for many months we did it knowing that our child needed us to love him through the process of grieving the loss of his foster parents. For a long time he didn't see us as his parents. Sure he favored us, but mostly because we were the people he knew the best in a scary world full of strangers. Sure he looked for us to carry him and feed him but at night he sobbed and called out for his foster mother. To say that it's hard to love someone with the all-consuming energy that a child requires while simultaneously knowing that they do not yet love you is very hard. It is heart-breaking and it seems like it will never end. So you mentally set aside the idea that your child will hug you, or love you or call you Mommy because thinking about those things is too hard. It's too hard to watch other children say "Mommy" or happily give their parents sloppy kisses. You tell yourself over and over again "I have to understand him. I have to give him time. He's just a little person in a big scary world" But still, it's hard. It's hard every single day. You tell yourself not to have expectations, but it hurts every single time he pushes you away.
So the hug is not just a hug. It's a sign that things are starting to change. That your hard-work earning the title of parent is starting to pay off. That you can start to dare to hope that the day your child loves you unreservedly and knows you are his mother is coming soon.