I remember being concerned.
We had already received pre-approval to make the 3-year-old boy with the 5 million dollar smile and the monogrammed “C” on his shirt our son, and we had submitted an update request to learn more about this child who would soon share our last name.
At the time, we knew three things:
1. He had cerebral palsy.
2. He supposedly had cognitive delays.
3. He was our son.
So when we received the Bridge of Love update on this little guy a month after receiving our pre-approval, I could hardly click through the email fast enough.
His hobbies and interests and personality and passions were this beautiful and mysterious gift I couldn’t even wait to unwrap, and as I read each sentence over and over again, I felt God just intertwining my heart with his. I felt so hopeful and at peace about the way I imagined this little personality integrating into our home.
Until I saw them — the words that terrified me and made me wonder if we really had heard God correctly in the first place.
“Will not initiate contact with other kids.”
And I knew it.
He was going to die.
Orphanage life was not going to kill this beautiful, bashful soul.
Our loud, rambunctious, Nerf-playing, floor-wrestling, family of anything-but-respect-your-own-space-and-quiet brood of boys was.
Lord, I prayed, please, please, please just protect this child from our crazy!
Today, exactly two years from the day we legally became parents to the boy we were so sure we would shock with our loud and outrageous us-ness, we no longer pray for his protection from our crazy.
We sometimes pray for our friends’ protection from HIS.
Because, as the biggest and loudest personality in our home — the one who has now started using the phrase “That’s copyright!” when he makes people laugh so hard they cry because he doesn’t want them pawning off his hilarity as their own invention — he is the STAR of crazy.
And the testimonies of the boy who “startled” if you spoke at more than the level of a hushed whisper?
Perjury. Straight up perjury.
Because Superhero 4 is possibly THE most extroverted child we know.
He loves talking. He loves people. And he and his contagious joy love more than anything being the center of the attention and the star of every show.
His vivacious and charismatic personality is bigger than life, and in his school and in our home, we just never stop laughing.
This week, Superhero 2 got his first zit. Because Superhero 1 turned 13 this year, there’s been a lot of background chatter about teenagers and body changes and hormones and puberty happening in our home, and even though these conversations haven’t been directed at this little man who isn’t even yet in kindergarten, he has taken them all in.
So when Superhero 2 was gazing at his new pimple in the mirror, Superhero 4 chimed in, “Pooty. You hit pooty. Next you die.”
That’s right, buddy. He’s 10. Make sure he has all the facts. It’s a fast decline from puberty to cemetery.
Of course, in Superhero 4’s future home, the teenagers can’t die off too quickly.
That’s because, in Superhero 4’s home, they are going to have a LOT of work to do.
"They cook, they clean," he told us one time. "And then they babysit my wife."
“Need a lot of them for that.”
Awesome plan, buddy. I mean, let’s be honest. I would get in WAY less trouble if only I had a babysitter to stop me from falling in love with waiting children I then manipulated my husband into considering adopting.
And I might even get a NAP.
Because with this little guy in our home, being on my toes 24/7 is top priority. Especially when he starts talking to our friends.
One night this year, Superhero 4 was enjoying dinner at the house of our sweet friends while I took his big brothers to an Odyssey competition and Super-Spouse worked late.
We come from a family of unimpressive height, and so when my friend’s husband walked in the door for dinner and stood taller than any human living in our home, Superhero 4 took notice.
At this dinner table of this family of seven where he’d never eaten and had barely met the table mates five seconds earlier, this curious boy with lots of questions and zero filter proceeded to ask my friend about his bigness.
Kristy thought he asked her husband, “So are your pants big?”
Superhero 4 then clarified.
“NO,” he said in probably the clearest English of the entire day. “That not what I said. Is your PENIS big?”
By the time he read the expressions of a table full of high school girls and Superman, who had been dismissed and was playing nearby, he realized that asking about the size of someone’s genitals might not be culturally appropriate. And so, when their preschooler then started asking why everyone was laughing and what Superhero 4 had said, Superhero 4 started exclaiming, “It’s inappropriate! It’s inappropriate!”
His speech therapist would be so proud.
This English learner’s current favorite phrases are “maybe yes, maybe no” and “hope so.” So yesterday, for example, he told us, “Hope so, Mom and Dad take me to hibachi grill for my Gotcha Day!”
Just like, “Hope so, Superhero 4 get a job and make enough money that we can eat at hibachi grill as often as Superhero 4 asks to.”
(Since last year’s Gotcha Celebration was such a circus of calamity, we did try to redeem this year’s Family Day yesterday with a trip to the hibachi grill with Grandma and Pop, who were the only ones who got out of wearing the matching Mickey Mouse shirts this spicy little boy picked out for them. Only, once his brothers were appropriately dressed in his favorite character, Superhero 4 then crawled to his room and changed into dress clothes.
Because, as the subject of the celebration, he was too good for their t-shirts.
And then he asked ME to go change into “nicer clothes” to go match HIM.
Because this boy LOVES food. I mean, LOVES. FOOD.
He can out-eat his oldest brother on most days, and he is the least picky eater we know.
Although his favorites include shrimp and asparagus and anything Asian, he is the official garbage can of both our family and his school classroom, where Superhero 4 was known to have thirds and fourths of all the vegetables that his table mates refused at lunchtime. He can down three plates of anything without blinking, and we have rarely seen him turn down a new dish.
Which was problematic when we attempted to break him of finger sucking.
We assumed that the same trick my grandma used to break me of thumb sucking might just break this little guy of sticking his first two fingers in his mouth.
As it turns out, little man LOVES hot sauce, and apparently a little Sriracha on the pointers only makes them tastier.
After hot sauce, rubber necklaces, CamelBak water bottles and five million and one sucking substitutes (as well as countless practical suggestions from our amazing therapist team), we are still at Ground Zero in the finger sucking department.
Next up, sticker charts.
Although we’ve made zero progress in the get-the-fingers-out-of-the-mouth department, Superhero 4 has made HUGE strides this year in every other area.
Thanks to the incredible speech and occupational and physical therapists who work with him multiple hours a week, and thanks to the most amazing teachers at his children’s center this year, Superhero 4 has nearly caught up to his American-born peers. By the time I attended his IEP progress meeting at the end of the school year, this boy who came to the center a year and a half ago at a 1.5-year-old developmental level grew in some areas to a 4.5-year-old level.
He turned 5 in December.
That means that, with English as a second language and with no early intervention or therapy, he caught up on three years of development in some areas in just 18+ months (!!!).
(We have been working with an angel of a retired kindergarten teacher this summer, and in six weeks, this little guy moved from recognizing three to four letters of the alphabet and their sounds to consistently recognizing 23!)
In the humor and interpersonal relationship category, the school psychologist actually tested him at a 7-year-old range.
“I have never seen a 5-year-old engage with peers and adults like that,” she told me. “After I interviewed him, he immediately began asking me about my background and my life. Most 5-year-olds don’t do that.”
That’s because Superhero 4 truly has one of the most tender and compassionate and people-loving hearts in the world.
He speaks loudly, feels deeply, loves lavishly. He asks a million questions not just to hear himself speak but because he genuinely loves getting to know the people in his life. And he loves praying for them.
This tender little man’s prayers often include the words “pray to God, so-and-so feel better,” or “pray to God, Ge Ge have a better day,” or “pray to God, fires stop hurting.” He doesn’t always have every English word he needs to articulate every thought, but he can always articulate the spirit — and it’s always a spirit of thinking of others.
He loves serving others, and he’s so giving. Lately, he tells us, “All Ge Ge and Daddy and Mommy eat first. That fine. I want get my plate last.”
When big brothers want to play something that isn’t top on his list, this sharing little guy compromises quickly, and he often takes one for the team. When I’ve had a rough day, he crawls over and into my lap, pats my hair and asks, “Want me to snuggle you?”
Because snuggling is both of our very favorite things in life.
This cuddly and compassionate guy just has the best heart and best attitude, and the joy with which he does life is absolutely contagious. He’s afraid of nothing, and there is absolutely nothing he doesn’t believe he can’t do.
Including race his oldest cross-country-running brother.
"Someday, I beat Superhero 1," Superhero 4 will often say. "I run FIVE miles! I beat him in a race!"
"I believe you will," Superhero 1 always tells him. "Because Superhero 4 is SO STRONG!"
Bound to a walker for mobility, Superhero 4 has thus far not been able to participate in any of the races he's watched his big brother run. But he's been the biggest cheerleader from the sidelines, hollering and clapping every time Big Brother crosses the finish line.
But in May, he got his very first opportunity to cross a finish line of his own.
That's because Big Brother's running club hosted a fun run fundraiser for children of all ages. And instead of sitting on the sidelines, this incredibly motivated warrior insisted on running.
The entire .5 mile race.
The entire obstacle course.
And across the finish line, all with the help of our special friend, Miss Gina, the mama of the national champion and the fastest kid on Superhero 1’s team, who insisted that he, too, get to participate.
He really is just fearless, indomitable and amazing.
The way he conquers every hard thing and every challenge with that trademark smile and that motivated can-do attitude convicts me when I’m not always so joyful about dancing in the rain.
Last week, Super-Spouse took him to an appointment we have been waiting months for at a prestigious children’s hospital. The orthopedic surgeon was evaluating him to see if surgery might be an option to help him learn to walk better. (Although Superhero 4 has made huge strides and can now use crutches/canes to stand while dressing himself and get around even museums for short periods of time, he still struggles to take more than five or six independent steps. He can’t walk without pushing up on his toes, and his hip is constantly collapsing on him. Even so, this girl cried ugly tears when he didn’t scoot but WALKED across the stage to receive his diploma at pre-school graduation.)
After Super-Spouse reviewed the x-rays and discussed the pros and cons with this doctor we totally trust, he very gentle broke the news to Superhero 4 that he would be getting surgery.
“Surgery?” he asked. “What surgery?”
Super-Spouse told him that he would come back to the hospital in September and they would put him to sleep.
“Sleep? I LOVE sleep!” he exclaimed.
“Then, the doctors will work on your legs and perform a procedure that will help you to walk better.”
“Walk? I LOVE walking!” he exclaimed.
“And when you wake up, they’ll give you a popsicle.”
“THREE popsicles?” he asked.
“Sure,” Super-Spouse told him.
One for every month of recovery in a wheelchair with a brace or cast.
“I LOVE surgery!” he then announced.
But maybe after September 10, not the same way he loves Mickey Mouse, Legos, his Ge Ge, the card game Exploding Kittens and all food.
At age 5, this little man has the sweetest heart for the Lord. He is the first to volunteer to pray in our home, and he loves telling others that “they no be sad when they die if know Jesus!”
Last week, we attended a luncheon with our pastor for the older boys, who are getting baptized at the end of this month.
When he asked what baptism was, we tried to explain in the simplest terms the death and resurrection and the old and the new. To which he responded, “I love Jesus! I go swimming, too!”
We told him he needed to wait until baptism was more than “swimming with Jesus” before he made that life decision.
The love and laughter just never ends.
Truly, when we said yes to bringing home this little man with the superpower of cerebral palsy and the supposed temperament of a mouse, we were terrified.
We had no idea what this life would look like, be like, feel like. And we were pretty sure after five seconds in our obnoxiously loud and active home, this “timid” little boy would die.
Instead, what died was our expectations.
Our preconceived notions.
And our formerly more boring life.
There is no life richer, brighter, more hilarious or more beautiful than the one we get the privilege of living beside this big personality with the big smile and the bigger love.
Thank you, Superhero 4, for two years of allowing US to soak in YOU. We can’t even believe God, in all His grace, would entrust you to us.
We don’t take that privilege lightly, and we will never take it for granted.
Not for you.
Not for the first mama we will never forget on this day or the foster mama who loved you so well.
Life with you is an honor, and we are so humbled and grateful it gets to be ours.
Happy Adoption Day!