Four years ago, I met you, child: you came to me dressed in pink capris with holes in the knee, with a fringe of bangs above your blue eyes and a pink pad of paper in hand, already filled with your colorful drawings.
Four years of you in my life, of your sweet voice calling me “Mommy,” which you only called me in those first few weeks because you didn’t have another word for me.
Four years of earning that title and privilege.
Four years of pink dryer lint spangled with glitter.
Four years of you looking for my hand and squeezing it tightly in yours. Four years of breathing silent prayers of thanksgiving at the miracle of your touch.
Four years of watching you make fairy gardens out of antique jewelry and bird nests out of scraps to house eggs blown out of their tree by a storm.
Four years of “What Shape Is My Food?” played at the dinner table as we examine our meals bite-by-bite.
Four years of the sweetest nicknames: Doodlebug and Twinkles and Snuggle Nugget from me to you, and Poopy Loops from you to me.
Four years of Bob’s Burgers on the TV and snuggles on the couch, my favorite way to spend a Sunday night with you.
Four years of junk food picnics on the living room floor.
Four years of pet houses crafted from cardboard and duct tape and yarn and whatever things you found in the garage and probably weren’t supposed to take.
Four years of being moved to tears by the beauty of your voice as you sing in the shower, unaware that I am listening outside your door.
Four years of being completely amazed by your artistic ability. Four years of your drawings lining my office walls.
Four years of making space for you. Four years of learning how to push myself aside for you, of putting your needs before my own.
Four years of crying over dead grasshoppers and butterflies and raccoons with you. Four years of your tender little heart breaking at the sight of baby animals without a mother nearby, of swallowing my tears as you ask why the mother animal isn’t taking care of her babies.
Four years of tiptoeing around discussions of the past you don’t know that I know you have.
Four years of hearing you scream, “Mommy, don’t leave me!” when I walk into the next room and out of your sight because you are so afraid that I will leave you as you have been left before.
Four years of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Four years of “I love you’s” given but rarely returned.
Four years of you pushing me away, of alternately rejecting and demanding my affection. Four years of trying to love you but feeling like I just don’t know how.
Four years of crying in secret over your broken sense of attachment. Four years of locking myself in the bathroom and filling the bathtub so the rush of water drowns out my sobs.
Four years of hiding the pain you’ve caused me because I don't want you to hurt.
Four years of finding the strength to keep trying to show you love and push past the hurt of rejection.
Four years of catching you up in sweeping hugs as you run past me and holding you as long as I physically can, because I know that both you and I need it.
Four years of not having answers to the hard questions you have about your other family. Four years of only being able to offer you my arms, which always feel like not enough but are all I have to give.
Four years of holding you while you sob and ask, “Why?”
Four years of only being able to say, “I don’t know.”
Four years of watching your understanding of your past grow, piece by awful piece. Four years of watching your confusion, of watching your love for your other family mingle with your pain at what they did to you.
Four years of watching my own words, of being careful not to tarnish your memories with my judgment and disapproval.
Four years of biting my tongue to hold in my rage about the circumstances that brought you to me in the first place.
Four years of tempering that judgment, disapproval, and rage with joy and gratitude, because those ugly circumstances are what brought us together.
Four years, child.
Four years that feel at once instant and eternal: I always feel as though I’ve known you forever and yet have only just met you.
Four years of learning to love you with a love more complicated and rich and hard and beautiful than any I’ve ever known before.
Four years ago, I became your mother, and you saved me from the crush of loneliness that had buried me.
Four years ago, you gave me hope for the future, for both mine and yours.
Four years ago, I met you, child, and nothing was ever the same.