When we first started fostering Emma and Brandon, on the road to full adoption, I discovered something quite by accident that first week of full time custody; Emma responds to music…and a tight hug.*

Age wise Emma was 5. Emotionally and developmentally Emma was more like 3 in many, many ways. I say that to paint this picture; School days, in those first few months, were a chaotic…at best.

Let me walk you through this. We had just gone from one child to get ready in the morning, a fully sufficient 9 year old (Jacob), to three. The 8 year old (Brandon) would get ready on his own with MUCH urging. But only after the thirty-fourth attempt to wake him. You see, school was never really his thing. And, lest we forget, he was still going to school across town for a while. That’s another story. And then there was Emma.

Emma needed full care. She could pick out what clothes she wanted, yet with her leg challenges (cerebral palsy) she still hadn’t quite figured out how to wrangle on our her clothes and shoes by herself. Oh, and Marie left for work even before the kids were up. That means me, DAD!, had to do this all on my own. What?

Are you picturing the chaos? One man against three kids. That is one man (me) completely unequipped with this particular parenting gene.

Between “urging” Brandon to get ready, Jacob doing whatever he was doing and me convincing Emma that clocks really do matter, well, there were breakdowns. Emma wasn’t quite sure how to handle it all.

Look at it from her perspective; New home. New Dad. New clothes. New school.

Every single morning there was crying.

Until I learned to slow down a little bit. You see, the kids’ stress had every bit to do with me as well as what they were feeling. Just days in to this I simply pulled Emma into my lap and we just sat there. And a little calm began. And then, in some deep down urging, I began to sing…

“Hush little baby don’t you cry,
Daddy’s goin’ to sing you a lullaby.”

That’s it. Those were all the words I knew. But I soldiered on. I made’m up! I knew there was something about a bird and a rocking chair so I just riffed.

And Emma melted.

Then I sang her a Jackson Brown song. Or maybe the Eagles. Those words I knew! I would hug and softly sing and Emma would calm down as we slowly rocked back and forth.

Singing to Emma, as well as a good tight embrace, was effective up and until her Borderline Personality Disorder kicked in for real. Then the attempt at our ritual, one shared just between her and I, brought horrendous consequences. She turned away from any intimacy, any attempt to sooth her all the while yelling, quite literally, that we weren’t showing her any love, any support. My heart breaks just remembering…

We cannot always control the first thought but we get to choose our second and all subsequent thoughts. I choose the memory of holding Emma. I choose singing those silly little songs to her in soft tones. I choose the special, private moments between the two of us when I could connect, really connect with her.

As an ending note, we discovered with the help of her very good first grade teacher, that Emma learned and felt through music. She couldn’t learn her ABC’s. Not until put to music. She had trouble spelling…until put to music. There was almost nothing she wouldn’t understand, age appropriate, if you softly created a tune for it. And I guess that is why she was always dancing.

Singing to Emma. I so miss those moments. I so miss my daughter.

Turn off the tv. Put down the phone. Connect with your children at least, bare minimum, once a day. You just don’t know if or when.

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  • It is not lost on me, while proof-reading, that I wrote “Emma responds” in the present tense. Memories are powerful. Memories are energy flowing through our brains. Memories can be shaped and unreliable, yet still powerful. When I stop to remember Emma it is sometimes like she is still here with us. Take time to build worthwhile memories.

One last note; I write this on what would have been Emma’s 22nd birthday. The featured picture is from her 6th.