Alongside Us

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This week my son learned how to ride a two wheeler bicycle. With each milestone he experiences, I have a tendency to get very emotional. Of course I started to cry. When he realized I was crying he asked, “Mommy sad that I ride the big boy bike?” What is it about milestones that gives me such pause? Maybe it’s the reminder that he’s growing up and there’s nothing I can do. Perhaps it’s the panicky feeling I get knowing I can’t possibly hold on to the memories forever. Why can’t everything slow down?

One of the losses of adoption is that I didn’t get to experience some of his earlier milestones like the first time he learned how to walk. I wonder how many steps he took before he fell. What was his first word and how did he look after his first haircut? I will never know.

This month marks another milestone for my son. It is the anniversary date of when he left his foster family in Korea. Each year around this time, his body reminds him of the grief and loss he experienced. His brain knows the moment when he said good bye to his foster family and was uprooted from everything familiar. On this day, his body told him that he was in danger; something wasn’t right. Two years later he relives this trauma while he sleeps by waking up shaking and crying. He is inconsolable until I rock him back to sleep.

Sometimes I think about what my son’s life could have been like if he stayed in Korea. I don’t think about it in terms of whether his life would be better or worse, good or bad, rather how it would be the same. I have no doubt that he would be experiencing life like most three-and-a-half-year-olds by going to preschool, learning how to sing the ABCs, and making new friends the entire time with his same giggly smile and determined personality. I’d like to think that if he stayed in Korea with his birth mother, he would be content and happy.

As I mark his progress in the world at each milestone, there’s a part of me that wishes his birth mother was running alongside me-alongside us-cheering him on as I let go of his handlebars for the first time and watch him pedal away.