After quick hugs with his foster carers (“no long goodbyes please”, they’d said), I strapped J into the back of the car and handed him the map. During the preceding two weeks, I had been going backwards and forwards from home to theirs while J and I got to know each other, and as we drove off, the moment hummed with significance. In an instant I had gone from being prospective adopter to mother of one.
He was only six, and could barely see out of the window, so the act of placing the map in his hands was a symbolic gesture of course…. Another way of telling him that in future he would have some control not only over where we went together, but more grandly, over the course of his life. I didn’t for a moment think that he would actually look at that map. But as we neared our destination, it became clear that he was making sense of the marks and colours on the page in a way that I had not anticipated. He seemed to instinctively translate two dimensions into three, and I was more than a little impressed. In the days before satnav, I was sorely in need of a navigator!
A few months later, I had another surprise. This time I was engaged in the Battle of the Flatpack. J had a good vantage point from the sofa, where he had half an eye on the cartoons on TV and half an eye on me. I was struggling to build a chest of drawers, increasingly despairing over the multiplicity of parts and screws. He leaned over and picked up the instructions, and then (and I am not exaggerating) the child built the chest of drawers.
So I knew from early on that J had both manual dexterity and a remarkable facility for translating two dimensional plans into three dimensional concepts or objects. Now where did that come from?This post is written for the Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO week 55, on the theme of the work of our children, so now to the point of this story…
J has always spent a part of every school holiday with my parents. It’s been great for him as he loves them dearly, and it has allowed me to carry on working, saving up my leave for the longer holidays. In the early years, I would commute to work daily from their Sussex home when he was there, so that I could be around in the evenings, but as he got older, everyone was happy for me to leave him with them for longer stretches at a time.
My parents arranged for all their grandchildren to have riding lessons when they stayed, enough so that they could sit up on a pony and canter on demand. My mother was also a good amateur artist, and while she was still alive, she fixed for each of them to spend a day each year with a local potter who ran workshops for children in her studio. (And in case, you’re wondering, no, neither my sister nor I learned to ride or throw a pot when we were growing up, but rather had quite an austere upbringing. Ah, grandparents!).
J was not so keen on the riding (the hat was never quite big enough apparently), but he absolutely loved that potter’s studio. They could make what they wanted, within reason, and over the years, I accumulated a variety of interesting constructions.
This one though is still by far my favourite.
J was nine when he made it. The hand is life sized, nice and solid feeling, and quite apart from being a great demonstration of his hand skills, I think it contains huge symbolic power. I like to think that in making it, J is saying that he himself feels empowered. It is also, rather to my amusement, more than a little reminiscent of the symbolism of Soviet communism.
J, to my astonishment, has never let go of the map, and continues to forge his own unique and somewhat quirky path. His early experiences will continue to set him apart from his contemporaries. I don’t see how it could be any other way. But I have a strong sense that he is now in charge of his own destiny, that he has the hammer in his hand, and that, I must say, is a very good feeling to have right now.