“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”– 1 Corinthians, 13:4-7
Among the many wonderful books we’ve been gifted by family and friends for T’s personal library are those written by Canadian author Robert Munsch. He enjoys them and finds them silly and fun.
One beloved Munsch story we’ve had for a while but only started to read recently, because T is able to sit through it now, is Love You Forever, a book that is seemingly simple on the surface but profoundly rich in meaning once you dig deeper.
The picture book chronicles the life of a mother and son through his birth, adolescence, young adulthood and when he becomes a dad himself. Every night, the mother would wait until her son is asleep and then picks him up and cradles him in her arms to sing to him the following phrases: “I love you forever. I like you for always. As long as I’m living. My baby you’ll be.”
The first time I read this book, I had no idea what I was in for and I was in tears by the end. The story is so moving and the theme of the unconditional love a parent has for their child resonates with me now that I read it through the eyes of being a parent myself.
When I was in my early 20s, I was still living with my parents. On weekends, I often stayed out late, coming home at 3 or 4 a.m. At around 10 p.m., Pa would start calling asking me where I was and when I would come home. When I’d get home, he’d be sleeping on the couch waiting for me.
Pa was a worry wart. I would get so annoyed and explain that I was an adult, graduated from university and there was no need to worry. Often times, his response would be, “You will understand one day, when you are a parent.”
I moved out in 2006 at 25. Pa passed away 2 years later at 86. He never got to meet our T, who came into our lives almost a decade later in 2016. If Pa was still alive, he would’ve found his grandson very amusing and I would’ve been able to tell him that yes, I now understand what he meant.
My hubby and I are hands-on parents. I wouldn’t say we’re helicopter parents, but I now understand where Pa was coming from when he said that a parent will always worry about their child.
When we learned T’s at-risk FASD prognosis, it changed our view about parenting. It continues to consume a lot of our energy and thoughts. While we celebrate T’s many successes, we are always anticipating and planning a few steps ahead, whether it is the next day, week or far into the future – like identifying a plan for his care, in the event something happens to my hubby and I.
Being a parent makes me look back into how my parents raised us. It puts a different lens into their actions. I now understand the sacrifice they made, in their middle age, to immigrate to Canada so their children could have opportunities that we would never have had if we stayed in the Philippines.
I’m always learning and being continually humbled every day about how to be a parent. For me, it’s really about loving your child unconditionally and with abandon. Keep it simple and don’t overthink it (like I often do): spend time with your child; play together; listen to them; be patient, kind and forgiving; protect them; empower them to explore their world safely and with incremental independence; support and push them to be the best version of themselves.
For my hubby and I, loving T unconditionally means to celebrate and to build on his strengths and to accept and support his challenging needs. More importantly, to be patient, thick skinned, resilient and to be his greatest champion when the world reacts to or does not understand his challenges.
Did I ever imagine I’d be the parent of a child who some think of as the “trouble child” in school or the child who learns differently and needs supports to learn? Did I ever imagine I’d be the parent of a child that other parents complain about? Did I ever imagine I’d be the parent of a child who sometimes has embarrassing meltdowns in public and who sometimes tells us in public to “Shut up?” Not at all. Do I care? I’m learning to care less about what others think. Does all this matter? No, because our love for T overrides everything.
I bet that my Pa never imagined that at nearly 70, he’d uproot his life to immigrate to Canada, a foreign land where he would have very few friends, have to speak in a language foreign to him, give up a personal and professional network – all so his two kids could have a better life.
It’s funny and wonderful how life works in truly unexpected ways. In a way, I’d never have met my hubby or adopted a child, if it wasn’t for my parents.
It is an accepted fact that love will not heal the damage that prenatal alcohol exposure has wrought on T’s brain – the extent of which we are unsure of. But I have faith that unconditional love will help him – and us – through the speed bumps ahead. I believe it will help T to push through the things that will be harder for him than for other kids.
We’re certainly not always patient or kind with him or with ourselves. But we’re getting better at it. We remind ourselves to try to start and end each day by telling T positive things, like the fact that we love him. Most days, we’re good at this; some days are a disaster, especially those days when he’s pushed and worn down all our buttons. But I truly believe it goes a long way.
I also believe it is no coincidence that we finalized our adoption in court, three years ago, the day after Valentine’s and before Family Day long weekend – and that this is how this special anniversary will be celebrated every year.
What’s so profound about Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever is that it shows the circle of life, that everything comes full circle. The child becomes the parent at the end and it all starts anew, with the grown up boy now sharing the bedtime tradition with his daughter.
Earlier this month, I was finishing up bedtime stories and getting T ready for bed. He leaned over and hugged me and said without any prompting, “Papa, I love you forever. I like you for always. As long as I’m looking (unintentional wrong word), my baby you’ll be.”