Thursday, August 4, 2016

My response to a friend's letter (Our youngest daughters were adopted from the same orphanage around the same time)

Yes we are still in the Athens area. My goodness, it sounds like you guys have been through so much! I teach swim lessons and 2 of my swimmers have autism and one has downs. But honestly, each child I have comes with their own unique set of fears and backgrounds so I approach each one with a goal of moving them forward, each at their own pace. Each child is precious and I try to meet each child where they are at and ignore chronological age. I believe unconditional love is the only thing that heals.

I don't blame you for wanting answers from their past. I think I've told you most of what Emma remembers from the orphanage. She was covered in bug bites when we got her and had fingernail scratches around her neck from itching. Not sure if it was head/body lice or bedbugs. She still has a terrible fear of bugs! I mean, no-one likes bugs, but she freaks out and it takes a long time to calm her. 

I think they left them in their cribs for long hours and babies continually cried. As Emma said when she 1st started communicating... "baby no like China crib, baby cries and cries and nobody comes!" I told her that I would always come when she cried and will never leave her. That seemed to sooth her. She'd repeat, "mommy never leave you..." That became her little mantra after that. Whenever she couldn't find me, like if I was in another room putting up laundry, or if I stepped out on the deck... she would flip out if she called me and I didn't answer right away. I would come running when I'd hear the screams and say, I'm right here. She'd say, "mommy never leave you, mommy never leave you", over and over until she would calm down. 

I don't think they were bathed much or even got their clothes changed. She was in a torn blue outfit when I got her. It was filthy and smelled, as did she. I couldn't get the black out of her fingernails and toenails for a long time. She had giardia when I got her. Must have been painful. Also trachoma (eye infection). 

I'm sure food was scarce. Her little face was plump, so when I first undressed her to bathe her, I assumed I had a healthy little girl. She was skin and bones with a bloated belly. She hoarded food and would throw down if you got near her plate. We were at a restaurant and I ordered chips and dip. She thought it was ONLY for her. When I took a chip from the basket, she went ballistic and chips and dip went everywhere. We worked on sharing for quite a while. She hid food in her socks as well. 

I'm sure it was survival of the fittest in the orphanage, because my little Emma was a fighter. The girls were coloring one day and Ellie took a crayon from Emma's side of the table and Emma went after her sister, whose 4 years older than her, and chased her and pulled her off the bed by her hair. She's a survivor. 

A book that helped me help her was From Fear to Love by Brian post. Also, I still subscribe to online parenting websites for healing kids with trauma...

I took Emma with me to the store one day recently. She wanted to help. I said, "Can you grab the mozzarella  cheese. She picked up 4 different cheeses, none of them mozzarella. She reads well, so I thought she was just messing around and I was in a hurry and a little annoyed, so I grabbed it and pointed to the word mozzarella, then tossed it in the basket. Then she asked if we could buy some coke. I said, "Okay, but make sure you get decaf." She brought me caff. I said, "Emma, I said decaf." She said, "I couldn't find it." I just let it go because I could see she was getting upset. I said, "It's no biggie, this will be fine." Then we picked out pasta. She said, "Let me do it." I said, "Okay, get the penne pasta." She brought me spaghetti. So I walked over with her to show her what the penne pasta looked like. She started crying and saying, "I'm so stupid, I can't do anything right, I hate myself..." I tried to reason with her I told her that she is only 10 and its hard to find things in the grocery. I told her, "Emma, I have been grocery shopping for my family for 30 years so I should be good at it, but when I send dad, he always brings home the wrong thing. Do you think dad is stupid?" She kind of smiled and said, "No." I said, "And neither are you." She is very much a perfectionist. While we were in line and she was calmer, I asked her why she thought she got so upset. She said, you made me feel stupid when I got the wrong cheese. I said, I'm so sorry. I thought you were just messing around and not paying attention and just grabbing any cheese because you kept grabbing the yellow cheeses and the white mozzarella was right in the middle... I was in a hurry and feeling impatient. Will you forgive me? She said, yes, but mom, I was really trying. I didn't know mozzarella was white? It seems like she still has this fear of not pleasing me. Still trying to "earn" my love and acceptance. So when I correct her or ever get frustrated, I have to be careful because she takes it as an attack on her self worth and worries that I don't love her or she's not worthy of being loved. I do know while we were in China, that she was looked down on because of her dark skin and her strabismus (her eyes were crossed before we had surgery) Several people over there made shockingly cruel comments to us about her. It made Keith and me so angry and broke our hearts for her.

Another episode that she had just the other day was when Drew, our youngest son, moved out (and took his cat with him). Transition and saying goodbye really is hard for her. Also her best friends (3 little boys) from across the street moved this summer. She came home from playing with a neighbor's dog and said, "Mom, can we have a dog?" (our dog died this year). I said, "No babe." She said, "Why?" I explained it to her. Then she said, "Can we at least foster a pet?" I said, "No". She said, "You fostered a bunch of kids and pets are easier than kids, it's not fair." I laughed at her witty comeback. She wasn't laughing though. Then she started begging me and crying and telling me that I love the boys more because I got them a pet when they were little. I was thinking, is this her hormones, is she about to start her period? Where is all this coming from? Then I just decided to hug her and let her cry out all her sad and tried to be as empathetic as I could. I hadn't a clue what was behind this behavior that made me want to say, "You're acting like a spoiled brat!" Actually I said, "Emma remember that girl on Willie Wonka? The girl that said, I want a pony and I want it now, daddy!" She just glared at me. I said, "Seems like you are demanding that you get what you want, even if it's not best for the family." But she wasn't ready to reason just yet, she had a full emotional backpack that she needed to unload, so I just held her and hugged her while she cried and ranted about how unfair it was...I just kept saying, "I'm so sorry babe." But I still didn't give her what she wanted, just empathized with her sadness and disappointment. Then as she cried, she began to unload her emotional backpack and got to the real source of her sadness. She said, "I want a dog because I want somebody to play with, I'm so bored! Ellie never plays with me, she's a teenager! The boys across the street left me, Drew left me, now all the brothers are gone and I have nobody!" I said, "Oh Emma that is sad! That is a lot of loss in a short amount of time." Then I repeated to her the mantra she used to say to me, "Mommy never leave you...". And she just cried and melted into me. She hasn't mentioned the dog since then. It was never about the dog. She was upset and didn't know why. All the loss triggered her deepest fear of abandonment.

While these episodes are fewer and farther in between, I don't have an agenda for her. I don't have a goal for her to reach by a certain age. In fact, I let go of that for all my children. We are all broken, every human. It frees me and allows me to love them each where they are. To love them each unconditionally without comparing them and to allow them to each have their own journey. I want the highest and best for them, whatever that looks like. I'm hoping to move Emma toward healing and wholeness the way Jesus taught us to heal the world... "Love one another as I have loved you." 

Sorry I wrote a book! Gotta go cook dinner. Girls had  their 1st day of school today and I can hear Emma getting frustrated at her Legos not fitting together. Lol, I have a feeling it's about more than just the Legos;)