Adoption Friends!

This weekend we got to make some new friends!

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I’ve known Erin for awhile, but only online through an adoption group. We never met in person until Saturday night when I took the girls to pick her and her daughter M. up from the airport.

Maybe that seems weird to some people, but we had talked a lot, my boys had sent her host-boys presents for Christmas two years ago, and I have posted about their efforts to bring those boys and their little brother home from Ukraine. They have all been home now and learning to live as a family for 5 months!! M. was also adopted from Ukraine 3 years ago, AND she has CP just like Vi.

CP and Ukraine aren’t the only things our two girls have in common, it turns out. During our short 24 hours together it quickly became clear that a whole host of “orphanage” behaviors, which can be so frustrating and challenging to deal with, are still there too. Even after two and three years home.IMG_2537

Behaviors that take vigilant parenting and what may be viewed by others, who haven’t walked a similar path, as “unfair” or overly-critical parenting. Especially if those outsiders are feeling pity for our girls, who obviously had a tough start in life and continue to face struggles because of their physical challenges.

But they don’t need pity. They need someone who will hold the line. They need someone who expects more. They need someone who won’t fall for the old tricks, who can call them out on their behaviors and redirect them to a more positive way of living constantly and consistently instead of fanning the flames of institutionalization survival-driven tactics. Behaviors which are unfortunately all to often fanned in to a forest fire by individuals who don’t understand, or don’t believe us when we say “Please don’t, that is not good for my child.” Giving them treats without asking, picking them up or otherwise hugging and touching them, praising them non-stop, treating them like they are pitiful and helpless, or even like they deserve to be spoiled after the hard lot they were given the first years of their life.

It’s not what they need.

We are here to give them what they need. And it’s really, really, REALLY tough sometimes.

A lot of the time, actually.

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There are so many things I just can’t put in to words about the toughness of it. And because she is my daughter and I have to be responsible for how what I share publicly might affect her I choose not to share quite a lot. The positive things keep me moving forward, the progress she is making, the way her eyes light up when I walk in the door in a way they didn’t before, the way we can now sit and talk through a bad time afterwards and try to problem solve together even if it doesn’t make it all better. Even if we will have to do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

The way she has taught me what real Love means, even as much as I have taught her I am not above admitting she has perhaps taught me even more.

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We are working, constantly working. It’s not a war that is won when they step on to U.S. soil and are embraced by their family. It is an every day battle, mentally and emotionally, to find balance and peace and keep the demons of the past at bay. They still spring up, unexpectedly sometimes but more often than not you can sense the storm brewing and feel the internal tornado-sirens alarming. You adjust, and things get better, but life isn’t the same.

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In the same way that as hard as I try to write about our experiences with deployment, and to help people understand what it is like, there is no way to understand really until you have lived it. It is an experience so foreign to most people that the best you can do is explain it and hope they take your word for it. But when you are with your Army Wife friends, you don’t have to explain. They get it, because they’ve lived it. And you can breathe a little easier just knowing you are understood, without pretense or pretending with the plastered on “Yep, everything is going Just Great!”

It’s the same in adoption.

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When Vi was screaming in the basement for an hour after hurting her sister and telling M. she “didn’t want to be her friend anymore”, it didn’t faze Erin. When she still periodically pretended she couldn’t remember M.’s name, after using it 500 times, it wasn’t a problem. When Vi needed assistance or encouragement, Erin didn’t jump in to try and help or make the sad, sympathetic eyes, or judge me for handling the situation in the way I know is most appropriate. When she locked herself in the bathroom and acted like she had no idea how to get out….and then also pretended she didn’t know how to flush the toilet….the only look I got was empathy from Erin to ME, in the “been-there-done-that-bought-the-t-shirt” kind of way.

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When M. put out her hand, I reminded her to ask her mom for help. When she acted like she couldn’t get out of her chair, I didn’t intervene. When her Mom told her to get out of the car and climb in a second time in order to “practice following directions and do it safely” I didn’t judge.

There was something so incredibly healing about sitting in a room with a real live person, with a fellow adoptive Mom who is right now sharing this same road, having a glass of wine and just being able to Talk about how it really is.

“Sometimes I still feel like…..”

“Sometimes I still struggle with….”

“Sometimes I don’t know how to handle people who….”

To hear someone say

“Yes, I know.”

“Yes, Me too.”

“Yes, I get it.”

To sit with a person who understands that the world at large will look at you and think you are “parenting backwards”, but understands why it is so absolutely necessary. Who is fighting the same fight, and fighting it for the same good reason: Because it is the only way our girls stand a chance at becoming healthy, happy, well-adjusted adults.

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It wasn’t all seriousness,of course. There was lots of laughter, to the point of tears at times. It was funny to watch the girls interact, both absolutely convinced that the other “needed more help” or was somehow “less able”. Both of them needing reminder after reminder that “you don’t like it when people treat you that way” or “she isn’t a little kid, she’s a big girl just like you so you need to let her do it herself.” In fact, in the morning when everyone first woke up Vi, after spending an hour in the car last night conversing and sharing her Innotab with M., turned to her Mom and asked “Does she even speak ENGLISH?!?” Or later that morning when she remarked there was something upstairs she wanted M. to see but that she would “go get it, cause she probably can’t go up the stairs”, even though she had seen her walk up the stairs to go to bed last night. Or when M. was so upset that Vi was having a tantrum and her Mom had to explain to her that HER negative behaviors at home have the SAME effect on other people, too. Plenty of moments where we just shook our heads and thought…..”Really??” And plenty of moments where, hopefully, the girls were able to gain a little insight in to themselves.

Last night we dropped them off at their hotel near the hospital where M. is having a procedure this week (hence, the reason they are actually in our state at all!) and then we went out to dinner. We managed to find a tiny, totally empty hibachi grill:

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None of the girls had ever been, and it was quite a memorable experience. From the fireball of death, to attempting to catch broccoli in their mouths, to M. getting “squirted” by a bottle which turned out to be a trick string but certainly made us all jump, to the little man shaped squeeze-bottle who appeared to be “peeing” on our noodles, we had a lot of laughs!

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When it was time to say goodbye, the girls were undeniably sad. It’s hard to make new friends and say goodbye. But, as I said to Erin, even if we experience some emotional fallout as we have before in similar situations from Vi because of it this is still something she needs experience with in her life. The coming and going of other people doesn’t have to always equal the end of the world. The making of friends, having a good time, and saying goodbye can be appreciated for what It IS, instead of what it Is Not. It IS an experience worth having, and it Is Not “Abandonment”.

Her family is permanent, her family is security. Everyone else who comes along may not stay forever, in fact they often won’t stay forever. But if she can accept us, truly, as home and as forever, if she can allow us to be the safety and security she desperately craves instead of looking for it in other places, she will find peace.

As we drove away she started to get upset. And I said to her “Well, Vi, we have two choices don’t we? We can make friends, and sometimes have to say goodbye. Or we can never make friends and never have to say goodbye. I would rather make friends and have fun while we can, even if goodbye is a little bit hard and sad too.”

She paused, thoughtfully, and said “Yes Mama, I think that is true. You are right, and I like making friends even if we say goodbye.”

And that was that. So far, no emotional fallout. Progress.

My hope in all of this truly is that someday, through these connections, Vi will find in her fellow adopted Ukrainians the same sort of refuge that I have found in their Mothers. Someone who “gets it”, who lived it. Someone who will understand her on a level that I never will because I was never an orphan, never adopted, never had to learn a new language and adjust to a whole new way of life.

Someone she can sit up with until the early morning hours and say

“Man, you know it makes me crazy when my Mom…..”

“When I left Ukraine I felt….”

“I still wonder sometimes about….”

And feel totally and completely understood.

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16 Responses to Adoption Friends!

  1. Milena says:

    :-)! I read her blog and I just guessed that it had to be you she went visiting :-)
    I understand how you are careful about what you share, but I appreciate that you share that some stuff IS tough even though you don’t share details! Whatjoy that you can see progress in Vi’s behaviour!

    • Lora says:

      Thank you!! Yes, she has come leaps and bounds from the child she WAS to the child she IS. It isn’t perfect, and there are still issues, but we can mostly laugh and smile our way through them instead of feeling dragged down in to the pits of despair. She is remarkable and I have no doubt she will do remarkable things with her life, but it was good to have a friend who really GETS how hard it is to parent a child with such a traumatic past.

  2. samm says:

    I looked at that first picture and recognised M. I read Erin’s blog every day just as I do yours. In fact, it was you who introduced me to the Johnson family. Thank you!
    You are a very smart parent, Lora, and your parenting of Vi is very similar to my teaching of children with big problems, academic or family or disablilty. I parented my own children in a similar way too. You are giving Vi the best kind of mother she can have. I admire how thoroughly you understand what she needs and stick to it. Consistency is the most valuable trait any parent of any child can have. Vi is a lucky girl to have you as her mum.
    I’m so happy you and Erin got to compare notes! It is so special to have a friend who understands completely how your life is with Vi. It is invaluable to have such a friend.
    I’m sending you a huge hug just because I like you. :)

    • Lora says:

      THANK YOU SAMM!!!!!

      You have no idea how much this means to me today. I worry so much whenever I post anything lsightly “less than” sunshine and rainbows about Vi. She is a GOOD girl with a BIG heart, but she struggles. We all do. She isn’t perfect and I am not perfect, but we are figuring this life thing out and I do believe in my heart of hearts that long term she is going to do FANTASTIC. But only if we do the hard work now. Thank you for understanding that and showing your support.

      • Milena says:

        I honestly think that we readers understand better what a remarkable child Vi is when you do share about some struggles. At least I personally would never think anything negative about her because you share something that isn’t rosy. Rather I think “wow, what a fighter, what a special child!”.
        I am deeply impressed by your family and by how you handle struggles with such insight. And I am thankful for any little bit of knowledge that I learn from you. We host a child in the summer and although I suppose it is nowhere close to what you face it is still a challenge.. (We cannot adopt this child, unfortunately).

        • Lora says:

          I appreciate that Milena. She IS a fighter, and she is very strong! I would hesitate to speak negatively really about any of my kids on the internet though now that I think about it. But I am glad you can read this and see it for what it IS, and offer support and encouragement to us, it really means a LOT to me!

      • samm says:

        I think Vi is going to be more settled, more confident, more sure of her family’s love. But she’s already a fantastic girl. You are right. The work has to be done now, in order for her to become her best self in future. But you’re doing it, my friend, and doing it well. Of course Vi struggles. I think how it would be for me, as an adult, moving to a country like Ukraine, so unlike my own, with a language I don’t understand, people I don’t know. And I’ve learned about having a family and love and enough love and happiness in my life. I look at your little girl and it warms my heart to see pictures of her grinning and happy, and joining in and showing her big heart. She is remarkable! Two years isn’t a long time for someone previously so deprived to learn and bloom. But she’s done a lot of each. She’s amazing! Keep on keeping on. I know it will be okay. You are just as remarkable as Vi is. No parent is perfect, and no child is. You have the learning from raising your other children, but it is different in lots of ways for raising Vi. But know what? Bottom line is, consistency and love, firmness and fun, all those kinds of opposites, are what it takes to raise any child. You’re doing wonderfully well! I admire you. And I’m so glad you share about your family, ’cause they are pretty special people too. Big hugs girl! :)

        • Lora says:

          It really is so crazy to even try ad imagine how any of us would handle such a transition, even as adults. It’s incredible how well she is doing when you consider that she has had 2 years of family vs 5.5 years of institutional living. I am sure she will continue to learn and grow, her potential is unlimited!! But it is a lot of hard work and I appreciate your support so much!!!

  3. Christina says:

    I just loved everything about this post. It is SOOO nice to be with someone who gets it. And I love how you referenced the girls finding future community with each other and saying “I hate it when my mom….” :)

    There is a steady blaze growing in our city for adoption support and it is so refreshing. I attended a breakfast last month for adoptive moms. I arrived early and was waiting in my car when a van pulled up and a mom hopped out with a trail of kids following her of all colors. I immediately texted my husband and said “I’ve found our people.”

    • Lora says:

      I think Moms need MUCH more support AFTER adoption then they do before! There should definitely be more therapy, family and individual, required with the post placement visits in my opinion. But I am glad you have “found your people”!!!!!

  4. mamaporuski says:

    Love it! Isn’t it amazing how God uses the internet for his purposes and connects us in ways we couldn’t do on our own!
    It took four years for my CP adopted son to drop the “poor disabled me” orphanage behaviors. He came home at almost 7 years old. His sister is a little more challenging. She came home at almost 16 years and 5 years later we are still working on it.
    Thank you for reaching out to others and continuing to share your journey.

  5. Rachel says:

    So, you don’t know me but I come to your blog often when i need a “pick me up” and am always amazed by your life and how you manage everything.

    I work in a residental treatment facility as a Treatment Counselor and I have so many kiddos who were adopted but also have mental health issues. I am so amazed on how you are raising Vi and teaching her the skills that she, unfortunately, was not taught in Ukraine. Empathy, compassion, hope, and “to love”. <3 Thank you for sharing your struggles with Vi too – I feel like too often people judge the kiddos who tantrum and become aggressive because they don't know how to appropriately express frustration, needing attention and all of these crazy overwhelming emotions and have no idea that while this behavior is inappropriate, it is a survival instinct.

    At age 23, I hope someday I can take on the world with someone like you and your husband do. If only there were more people in the world like your kind soul..

    • Lora says:

      Thank you Rachel. You have no idea how badly I needed to hear this today!! And kuddos to you for the tough work YOU do helping these kids, at just age 23. I bet you have a lot of stories. We hope that we are teaching her all the right things and leading her on the path to healing and a full, happy life.

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