This weekend we got to make some new friends!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.