This time of year, man. It’s stressful and chaotic and my annual intention of providing a Pinterest-perfect Christmas lasts about a day and a half until I decide that F-bombs will definitely help me assemble the gingerbread house. Ahhh, December. This year, the sparkly exterior strands of house lights worked perfectly on the ground, but after a four hour installation, decided to offer a non-working section of fifteen lights right over my front window. And I have to tilt my head to the left, like I’m pondering something serious, for my Christmas tree to look straight. If the devil is in the details, I’m in angelically good shape because you won’t find a Christmas detail I’ve mastered.
But the mornings. December mornings are my gift to myself. I have, against all odds, become an early-riser. Hours before dawn, I creep out of bed, turn on the leaning-tree lights, and soak in the Christmas quiet. It’s my thinking time. My quiet time. I treat these chilly December mornings with reverence, and use them to process the less quiet eleven months that came before.
The last few months, my friends, have been something. My son became curious about his adoption, and like all things that spark this kid’s curiosity, it went from a few questions over the 4th of July weekend to an outright obsession that colored the rest of his world. If I remember one thing about 2016, it will be that this is the year my son realized he was left by his birth mother in China.
It turns out that finding out you were abandoned as an infant doesn’t make you feel great. I knew this. I mean, I’m still smarting from the fact that my 7th grade crush wasn’t into me so it’s pretty obvious that finding out your birth mother left you, walking away forever, would have some lasting effects, right? But don’t worry, I was ready. I had done my research and was prepared to walk my son through this.
(Haha, insert laughter here. At what point do you think I will realize that all the late nights reading internet articles might be better spent checking out Netflix or Perez Hilton? At least, then, I would be a decent happy hour participant.)
However foolishly it seems now, I felt ready for this adoption discovery phase.
I can assure you, however, that I was absolutely not ready for my son to say, “Mom, I don’t want my life anymore.”
This happened quickly. One day he was asking about adoption, and it feels like the next day he told me his mind was dark. He drew pictures of black and gray mazes with no exits and told me that he was trapped inside. He painted broken hearts and scenes where he and I were separated by brick walls that reached to the sky. He told me stories about eerie dirt roads and scared, crying babies. He put his hand over his heart and said, “Mom, my light is gone.”
(Side note: I did something painful to my rib while chopping an onion last week. I think I separated my rib from whatever it should be connected to. Whenever I breathe, it hurts. It hurts a lot. This feels entirely symbolic.)
I hid the knives and the scissors and the sharp crafting tools, totally recognizing the futility of these efforts. I talked to his school, told the neighbors and his sitter, making the easy decision to trade his privacy for his safety. We went back to the child-whispering psychotherapist and increased visits to the gifted art therapist who understands that my son processes best when creating.
I watched my son like a hawk. I set my alarm at middle-of-the-night intervals to check on him, he and his dad sat for long, calm hours gluing together model airplanes, and I bought paint and canvas and markers like a crazy art hoarder.
Sometimes – well, a lot, actually – in the middle of dinner or YouTube or making a flight simulator out of cardboard, my son would start crying. He would look up, find my eyes, and say, “Mom, my mind is dark. I’m in the maze, I can’t get out.” I would hug him, I would let him talk, I would do my very, very best not to speak in stupid clichés.
Over the past half a year, I looked at my bloodshot eyes in the hallway mirror more than once and pessimistically reminded myself that nothing in my life experience was adequate preparation for a suicidal ten year old. I questioned whether I was up for this, I questioned if I was doing enough, I questioned if I was actually doing anything at all.
Then – as quickly as it came, the darkness lifted. Somewhere in mid-November, my son felt better. He stated simply, and with no fanfare, “Mom, my light is back. I have enough now.” He smiled. And that was that.
I don’t know how my son found his way out of the maze. I don’t know if the dark mind is gone for good or if this is a temporary reprieve. I don’t even know where to keep the damn scissors anymore.
I don’t know anything at all except that it’s Christmas time. The sun isn’t up yet, it is perfectly still, and my leaning tree and burnt-out Christmas lights over the front window have never felt more perfect.
Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.