Friday, 6 September 2013

Real Birthday

Last November, we celebrated Fort's 4th birthday, and first birthday celebration.  But truly, we don't know how old he is.
In the adoption process, a birthday is just a formality. Each child needs a birth certificate and therefore a birthdate. They estimate a child's age, and Fort's birthdate is the day he arrived at the orphanage. November 25. That is what his official document says. He turned 4 shortly after we got home to Ohio, and it seemed like a reasonable age. I wondered if he were older, but his life experience was so dramatically different, and he was so damn resourceful, that it was hard to compare him to any 3 or 4 year old I knew. We had the option of having a bone scan done, but it would only narrow down his age range to within 6 months and we were pretty positive we were in the ball park. Not to mention that after the multitudes of tests he had to endure during his very first weeks here, it just seemed unnecessary.
Not having or celebrating a birthday is a normal thing for an adopted child, but it was something that stunned me the first time I learned about it.  How odd, and what a sad little hole that will forever be in his life. Kids here learn their age and how to hold up "this many" fingers almost before they can talk. Their birthday is a constant marker- Facebook pages are full of the "I'm -- months old today!" announcements.  Parents follow the milestone markers obsessively to be sure "Baby" is developing as expected. And the more I think on it, the more I am aware of the importance The Birthday in our American lives. 
Now he is nearing turning five, and we are bizarrely close to having him here with us for a whole year. Under the Ohio rules, he is not eligible for kindergarten until next year unless we tested him in. I didn't even think about it last year. We were getting him acclimated to seat belts, tricycles, pizza. He began preschool after just a few months here- he was desperate to go, not understanding why the other kids could go and not him. He asked his teachers for homework, so that he could sit with the kids after school while they did theirs. He made his first friend outside of my circle of friends, learned about sharing and moving from one activity to another. He loves to be scheduled and rarely got in trouble. (They reported he wasn't listening when they told him 'no tackling with friends'. I mentioned he had never heard that word and when I told him 'no wrestling at school'- that was the end of it).  He loved his teachers, especially helpful since he takes any small correction from me, however gentle, as scathing criticism. 
What a year. How he has grown. Although he seemed to actively forget his native Luganda language, no matter how we tried to keep it up, his English is amazing. His math skills are impressive- he can learn something new so quickly and retain it. He is behind in many linguistic areas- still stumbling in the alphabet ("A B C D B F G...") and having little understanding that letters make sounds. But for ESL, I have no idea where his progress stands. He has caught on to many many idioms, making me laugh in my attempts to explain them. "Why de batteries run out?  Dey run out de door?  Dey having legs?".  Or with his characteristically huge grin he will say knowingly to me "mom!  I am 'hopping' in shower now, ok?  See hopping?"  
There has been so much physical growth this year- heck, this summer!  I don't know how many inches he has shot up, but his shoe size has grown almost 2 sizes, and he's gone from a 3T in clothes to nearly a 6. He had never tried a pedalled bike - I sat on the floor in the garage, moving his feet on the pedals to explain they went round & round. He spent all winter making circles in the garage on his tricycle, then a 2 wheeler with training wheels and by spring he was zipping up & down the sidewalk on his 2 wheeler with NO training wheels. He worked through blistered hands to master the monkey bars like his big sister, at first using pure strength to muscle his way from bar to bar until he connected the idea of momentum. And then he not only lost his 2 front teeth, but the new ones are barrelling down into his mouth, as if something had been restraining them all this time. 

So is he not yet 5?  Probably not.  But is he 6?  What happens if we make a careful choice as to what year to begin school, and he is 140 pounds and 6 feet tall in 6th grade?  Ah, these decisions of when to start school are so much more complicated by the fact that he is catching up in all areas.  And I see that growth, in every area of his quickly growing body and mind.  Because something has been holding him back, and now he is on fire.  Burning with curiosity, trying to figure out life and his place in this world.
So, in November, he will turn five.  And his face will light up at the candles on the cake like any child turning five.  And that will do for now.