July 27, 2010. Seven is no longer a number that holds purchase in our home. Sophie turned eight last Thursday and celebrated over the weekend with four girls at her very first slumber party. Lindy invited Peter to spend the night, enabling him to escape the mayhem and Sophie to enjoy her party sans her meddlesome brother. Miraculously, the girls were asleep before midnight and remained so until 7:30 the next morning. Sophie’s face still beams with the memories and Pat and I were thrilled to witness her exuberance. For 17 blissful hours, normalcy prevailed in our household, affording our daughter the rare opportunity to form childhood memories unmarred by Peter’s disabilities and the family upheaval they so often trigger. But I missed him. I truly did. And it’s not just because I’ve grown accustomed to the madness, though that’s certainly the case. I resent outright that it’s easier to navigate our lives without him because I don’t want to be without him. We adopted two children because we wanted to share our lives with them and theirs with us, because we wanted them to have each other, to know the intimacy of family life and experience a world suddenly within their reach. But the truth is, it’s not just easier for us to exclude Peter, its sometimes easier for Peter too. He would not have been able to handle Sophie’s party, the gifts, the attention, the noise, and the utter disregard for routine. He would have wound up in his room, raging, utterly unhappy and embarrassed by his lack of self-control. Sophie would have been nervous and on edge, waiting anxiously for Peter to fall apart or otherwise sabotage her celebration, a reality which the three of us each have experienced one time or another. By having Peter sleep at Lindy’s, we avoided the predicted catastrophe and at the same time afforded Sophie some much-needed freedom. So why, then, don’t I feel like the experience was a complete win-win? I suppose it’s because on some level we were admitting defeat. On some level, Pat and I were acknowledging that it wasn’t just that Peter might not handle a situation well, we know definitively that he doesn’t have the tools necessary to handle what for most is an ordinary childhood right of passage. Lots of brothers don’t want to be around for their sisters’ slumber parties, but Peter absolutely must abstain, for everyone’s sake. I grieve over the classic boyhood that Peter will never know, and for the manhood he should by right possess but will never fully inhabit. His birthmother and birthplace have conspired to strip him of these God-given opportunities. It’s my job to rebuild him, slowly but surely, in accordance with his own strengths and interests and without undue emphasis on my ideal of what he could, and should, have been. Peter was happy at Lindy’s, and I need to be grateful for that. At least I’m learning. I’m shedding, also slowly but surely, my own preconceptions about what I want for our son. His childhood may not resemble Pat’s or mine, or even Sophie’s, but he’s finding his way nonetheless. Every day I witness Peter coming more and more into himself, his smile less guarded, his stride more confident, his heart well-tended and beloved. Though my mind reflects back to the feral 3-year old boy standing in our bedroom doorway, covered in feces, I can barely invoke the image anymore. We have come so far, the four of us. Who cares if we sometimes must be apart to stay united? What matters is that we are united, that the feral boy whose piercing eyes haunted my dreams and consumed my thoughts is an ever-fading memory. Sophie is eight and on August 4th, Peter turns nine. Just as Sophie did last week, he’ll awake to birthday cake, lit candles, our silly birthday hat and song. Only a few years ago, he crouched like a frightened animal in the corner of his room when we attempted this early morning birthday ritual. But not this year. Peter’s ready. I know because he told me so.