Yesterday we had H.'s 6 month post-placement visit. It has been both an incredibly fast and in other ways an incredibly long six months. Some of the factors adding to its length are not even due to H., but to how her arrival has triggered other family members. In many ways, she has been the easy piece of the puzzle.
Because I don't like to sugarcoat things, I want to be honest about the experience of adopting an older child. I believe a family cannot make a truly informed decision to adopt unless they have the whole story. Some of that story is wonderful, some is just interesting, and some is truly difficult.
We'll start with the less-than-happy-stuff first and get that over with. Attachment is a funny thing, and I've come to the conclusion that while the focus on a child's attaching to the new parents is important, more time (much more time) should be spent on the importance of parents attaching to children. I truly think this is the bigger issue. If you are in love with your child, it is much easier for the child to fall in love with you. (This is barring trauma, of course. That's a whole different ball game. But even then, a parent who likes their child will be better able to deal with the difficulties which come with the trauma.) As I have said before, this is the area I struggle the most with. On the plus side, I knew enough about myself and had experience with previous adoptions to know it was coming and wasn't surprised by it. This time.
And it has been slowly getting better. There are moments where I think, "Hey, this girl of mine is pretty darn neat." in the sort of sappy way I think about the rest of my children. But it has just been six months, and there are still things that she does which literally drive me up a tree. Nothing that she is doing on purpose or is necessarily bad, just things that strike me like nails on a chalkboard more often than not. A friend and I were talking and we have decided on an exercise which could possibly be the single best way to experience older child adoption firsthand. Here it is: Think of a friend of one of your children. Think of the most annoying friend they have. The one that you avoid asking over to your house at all costs because every single thing this child does annoys you or irritates you. Now pretend someone has just told you that this child will be living with you always and you have to pretend to like it.
Yep, I have come a long way in my attachment to H. I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress and have stopped feeling the need to hide in the bathroom. Well, hide in the bathroom for that reason... there have been other challenging children in the house as well. It helps that I know I will eventually think of H. no differently than I do my other children. I did not know this the first two times around and guilt doesn't help.
In the interesting category (which for some people could fall into the difficult section), we are still dealing with some orphanage behaviors. I'm not surprised... 6 months would be a really short amount of time to see those go away. There's still some indiscriminate affection going on. Yes, I know she is a naturally affectionate girl and I don't have trouble with that or want to deny that part of her personality, but when you actually witness indiscriminate affection you realize it is to a different degree. There are just no boundaries. We are working on building boundaries.
The bigger orphanage behavior is one that I didn't expect. We are essentially helping H. to completely rethink who she is. For too many years she was treated, due to her appearance, as if she were mentally retarded. There. I said it out loud. It's ugly, but it's true. And when that is how you are treated, that is how you learn to behave, the biggest part being that you don't even really try to do things because you assume you can't. I didn't expect to have to teach my 9 year old some basic self-care and other types of skills. Oh, I expected to have to show her how Americans do things, but that is a little different than teaching outright. The list of self-care skills we have worked on or are continuing to work on is pretty long and I'm not going to go into details, but it caught me by surprise. And not only do we need to teach the skill, we first need to unteach the inability to do it, if that makes sense.
The Lord has blessed her with a bit of a competitive streak which is serving her well. Once we convince her she can do something, she is all over trying to get it figured out. And she really doesn't like her brothers being able to do things she can't. She is willing to try things and then tenaciously practice them to work on mastering them. She is even willing to let me move her body (and consequently her muscles) in new and uncomfortable ways so that she can do more things. I know she spent a good portion of time hunched a bit forward with her head down because this is how her muscles are most comfortable. To move outside that comfort zone, she needed help to put her body in other, more open positions. Once she felt her muscles move like that, though, she practices and practices, taking great pleasure in showing me how well she's doing. And she's building more muscle, is getting stronger, more flexible, and has greater endurance. It is a beautiful thing to watch.
Like her physical muscles, her mental muscles are also being stretched. And like with the other muscles, we see a building and stretching as she learns new and different ways of using her brain... of having real things expected of her. In six months, she has gone from illiterate in any language to beginning to sound out words in English. As we were working through the AlphaPhonics book this morning, I noticed that she is getting the idea of blending the letter sounds together to make a word... definitely one of the trickier aspects of learning to read in my opinion.
She is slowly becoming a real part of the family. I have added her into the line-up for daily and weekly jobs, which, at the moment, she is still thrilled to do. I have a feeling that will be a benchmark... the day she starts moaning like most everyone else. (I work their little fingers to the bone, I tell you.) A new normal is starting to emerge, one that most definitely includes her. It is not something that can be rushed, but is something that is a journey. Sometimes we want to rush to the destination, though, instead of enjoying the path along the way. And there is a lot to enjoy as we get to know this little girl who is so thrilled to be a part of a family and have her own Mommy and Daddy.
One more funny/interesting thing... something that never fails to surprise her is the amount of Mommies and Daddies in the world. She is hyper-aware of the fact that most everywhere we go, children are with their own parents. H. is always pointing out that there are so many Mommies and Daddies. In her former world, parents were a very limited commodity; something that not every child received. You can almost hear her thinking if there are this many Mommies and Daddies in the world, why don't all of her friends back in China have a set? It's a valid question.