As a 23, soon to be 24 year old, I am solidly myself. I know what dress size I am (US6-8), I know how coarse my hair is after a swim, I know the strength of my fingers. I know my likes and dislikes- I don’t like vegetables, I don’t like wearing nail polish, not even on my toenails. I like soups- kimchi, chicken, pork ribs, tofu and seaweed. But there are many things I have not figured out, such as “why do I like children? Why am I not scared of being alone and in the dark for many hours, why can’t I commit to relationships?”
Sometimes reading helps. Heather Harpham writes about how Gracie (her first born daughter) coped with her illness. And reading through her experience made me realise all the different parts of a child that I appreciate. Exactly why I like children, as if the parts of a smaller human being can be dissected and laid on the ground, ready to be scrutinised and magnified under my stare. I remember things like their innocence, the way they trust you to give them cheerios which taste the same week after week, they never ask “is this the only food?” The way they meander into class in the morning, half asleep, sometimes fully asleep, only to wake up and realise that they are surrounded by other little monsters and plastic toys. I remember how beautiful and universal some traits are- like their complete and utter faith in your ability to protect them while they sit on your lap. And their anxiety when a parent is late to pick them up, and they are the last ones in the classroom.
“We don’t deserve these kids.” It was true, we didn’t, because no one does; a child is an unearnable grace. There is no way to deserve or earn a child.
I love children, I love everything from their short height to their tears and the way they extend their arms to you when they want to be carried. I love their fluffy hair and soft skin. I love the way they don’t blink an eye at wherever you put them- on the sofa, on the table, on the chair, they will automatically explore what is around them because they are curious. Are there books? Yes. Good. Excellent. Said books must be touched and bent and gently taken apart. Chewed a little if necessary.
Their smells, the way they lifted their arms for “uppy” with total confidence that Brian or I would reach down, the velvet of their inner wrists, the translucence of their ears- little shells held up to the light.
“We might not deserve them,” I said. “But we cherish them. That must count for something.”
I can’t imagine any of the kids I know falling sick. Or being kept in the hospital. I can’t imagine any of my foster brothers being treated badly, although I know that their parents often do. I can imagine my life going on and being the same when an elderly person dies. It is natural, she has lived for long enough. What emotions were spent throughout her life, all the things she enjoyed. But children are different. They have not had enough time. It feels like something was robbed from them.
They played in this room, each of the four children. They touched the crayons in that box by the door. They handled the videos. They took out the games. We are surrounded by things they picked up and put down, but with no way to call them back.
I drive home from the hospital crying. I’m not sure if I’m crying with grief for the four children who died beside us, whom we did not know. Or with relief that my child has lived. Or with lingering fear.