Adoption is a way of life for me….I have just figured this out. Rescuing plants from Lowe’s that are headed to the perennial grave, animals who are a bit on the unlovable side, older children, elderly orphans, villages in Haiti and “stuff” no one else wants. My heart gravitates toward all of them and I have no idea why. We are not “cat people” or “dog people” for that matter, although we seem to be accumulating more and more of them and do love them. What we are is “adoption people.” It is not a self-righteous, martyred quality (I hope)…it is just in me because God put it there. Sometimes I try to ignore it but He always draw me back.
Several weeks ago, my friend, Kim, saw this Facebook post.
She knew she could not keep him long term because she was preparing to move and had several cats already, but she adopted him, kept him a few weeks so he could adjust, and started to look for a forever family. As soon as I saw the post, my heart wanted him. Really wanted him. I was drawn to his eyes that seemed to be saying, “I need a place to belong.”
Kim had made amazing progress with him at her house and I had no real cat skills to draw from but I knew I could love him. We set up a time for her to bring him over. He did great until she left. Immediately, he went into hiding and stayed there, without eating or drinking for several days. As I crawled around on the floor for many hours, I was sad for Ollie and for my home’s layers of dust and crumbs. No judging.
While he hid hour after hour, I immediately went into rescue mode, brokenhearted with what I saw in his eyes- fear, insecurity, and hurt. I could hear him saying…..
*Are you safe?
*Will you love me?
*When will you give me away?
So I went out to buy anything and everything that would fix him and make him happy…..treats, wet food, toys- things I don’t buy my other pets unless there is a REALLY good BOGO and coupon. I was going to have him blended into the Ellis family in no time. In the meantime, I was acting a little freaky and those around me were starting to notice. Why was I so upset over this cat?? I mean cats are a part of the family but I was taking it a bit too far. Then it hit me- I was reliving the entire adoption process of our son, moment by moment. Our son was 13 years old and had been in a children’s home for 7 years when we adopted him. Everyday his eyes asked the same questions:
*Are you safe?
*Will you love me?
*When will you give me away?
About a week after we got our new cat, Ollie (named after Oliver Twist) I went out of town for a few days. Day two I get a text from my husband that they cannot find Ollie. What? How did we lose the cat?? He was nowhere to be found. Kim came over and scoured the house, finding him in a cabinet that had been shut accidentally.
Guilt set in. We were not good cat parents- we lost him and shut him in a cabinet. Good grief. I had not controlled all things possible to give him a good beginning with us….the same way I could not keep our son from feeling hurt at his new school or by his new brothers. It was my job to be the protector and both times I was falling into exhaustion from trying to give them the best of us. Failure.
We have another cat named Brady who has been smothered with love since birth. Because of the nurture given to him, he is the most peaceful cat ever. I longed to see Ollie be this content! I decided all I could do was wait and see. In the same way, I wanted our adopted son to feel as secure as my birth children. Again, I had to wait and see.
After I returned from my trip, Ollie started to hide in our bedroom and each night we would pull him out of the closet and practice what I called “attachment therapy.” My husband and I would hold him, pet him, scratch his belly and try to show him that we were safe. It started out lasting about 30 seconds before he darted off. After a week, it was about 3 minutes. Each day got a little bit longer. Our son let us in a little more every day too. He started to call us Mom and Dad after a few months, changed his first name solely because he wanted to have a “new start”, and wanted my nephew’s name for his middle name. Letting us in a little bit at a time. The hardest part was waiting. Not pushing. Letting the heart feel loved and connected and knowing I could not make it happen.
I have learned a lot from my son and my cat. A lot of behavior comes from past hurts. I am one to take everything personally but adoption has helped me not focus on how I feel but how it must be terrifying to be in a new place with strange faces and rules we can’t follow because we don’t even know what rules are. Ollie has a clipped ear which I assumed meant he was in a cat fight. What do I know?
It actually means he was feral and they took him in, neutered him, and put him back on the streets. The clipped ear is a way to identify that he had been fixed. His ear was indicative of the life he had lived before he was turned in to the shelter the final time…. just surviving. Survival is a way of life for anyone who does not have a place to call home. Insecurities are rampant and questions are never ending- will I ever be loved as a part of a family? Will someone come get me or do I stay here on the market until something bad happens? I don’t know for sure but I think this is what it feels like to not be wanted and I think that would be horrible. Look in the eyes of someone without a family and I think you will see the emptiness that I have seen. If you dare to look, your heart will break and hopefully it will lead to compassion.
In the past few days, Ollie has decided that we are HIS family. He jumps on the bed, purrs incessantly and loves his belly rubbed as long as you will sit there with him. Today he sat and let me take his picture. It was a victory day for me. Maybe not a big one for Ollie but today I felt his love. The same with my son….as he has gone off to the Army and found his way in this world, he has looked back and told us he loves and appreciates us. Blessings abound.
The process is grueling but the payoff is priceless. I am a proud momma of a once-feral cat and a once-orphaned boy and my heart overflows with pride for who they have become and what they are yet to do.