I previously wrote a blog about being at a party and meeting a number of people who knew our sons from their time in foster care. we had been confused that nobody recognised them and surprised by everybody saying just how much the boys had changed.
We could not see such a huge difference and even when told that it was more than them just looking older, and that it was a ‘fundamental’ change, that they looked healthier and happier – as much as we understood it and accepted it, we failed to see it to the extent that was clearly evident to others.
That is until now.
This week we stumbled upon a DVD that the boys brought with them when then first arrived that was filmed at a children’s play centre. It showed the pair of them sitting in a car seat ‘driving’ in front of a screen projecting moving cartoon images. We had watched it soon after they first arrived and it is sweet and charming and we thought it a lovely little peep at the younger – yet to be part of our world – them.
However, watching it again now is very different indeed, and what we see are two almost unrecognisable little boys. They are smiling and laughing and there is no doubt that they are enjoying themselves, but their smiles are not the smiles that we know, the smiles that we see every day, the smiles that light our lives and that we love so very much.
It takes me a while to understand. I study the faces in the DVD and I realise that the smiles are ‘limited. They are quite brief and contained around their mouths and only around their mouths. It is suddenly very apparent that the rest of the face and particularly their eyes are not smiling or sharing in their happiness at all.
In fact it’s very clear to see a sadness in their eyes, a sadness that the laughter simply fails to erase. It is a look that wonderfully is no longer there, making the two little boys in the DVD quite different little boys to the ones we see before us today.
Terms such as ‘smiling, but with sad eyes’ are used a lot and I have always considered them a bit of a literary tool for lazier writers – especially in the music industry – and also a bit of a cliche. In fact if I gave it more thought and consideration I guess I found it to be a bit nonsensical, people smile because they are happy or amused or content and it lights up their face, when they are not truly happy the smile is very obviously insincere and not a true smile at all.
However what we are watching in our sons’ faces in the DVD is indeed happiness, they are having a lovely time and there are spontaneous bursts of laughter and genuinely happy smiles, but regardless of them both so clearly enjoying themselves and being happy with what the moment brings, their smiles are concealing a sadness.
It is heartbreaking to watch – both my partner and I are emotionally affected – but just how deeply we did not realise until the following day.
I was with a close friend and telling her about the DVD and how the change in the boys is SO evident and explaining about the sad eyes. She said ‘it must make you so happy and proud that you have erased that sadness’, at which point the always positive, glass-half-full me started to say ‘No. In fact I feel the exact opposite. It makes me hugely sad for how they suffered before we were there to protect them’… but the sentence was never completed as I felt myself choke up and immediately start to shed tears. Real tears. Proper heart felt tears.
I was embarrassed and also shocked. Shocked at the level of emotion I was feeling but most of all by the tears which had literally sprung from nowhere.
Tears had been a pretty regular event in the first few months of becoming a father – surprisingly more for me than for my partner, and dealing with the overwhelming emotions of it all had knocked me for six. I had got used to uncharacteristically shedding a tear or two in the early days but things had slowly calmed down; and although I often have a lump in my throat when talking about the first moment we laid eyes on ours sons, or about something they have said or done that has touched us, on the whole tears are nowadays thankfully under control.
Or apparently not.
It pains me hugely to think of my sons suffering and me not being there to prevent that and as much as I know it is illogical and I guess even foolish, the feelings are real and they are clearly beyond my control. As a parent whose place it is to always protect my sons, knowing it was an impossibility doesn’t stop it from feeling like a failing on my part.