Today is H.'s 12th birthday and we'll be celebrating tonight. (So that means no pictures until tomorrow.) It's quite the different child who is celebrating. H. still has challenges ahead of her, but we have seen such growth in the past year. I looked back at the post of her two last birthdays (10th and 11th) so I could refresh my memory. What strikes me in looking back is the difference in emotion. Her first birthday here made her so happy. And while I think she was genuinely happy with her celebration, to my eyes now, she has that 'deer in the headlights' look about her. Everything was so new and different. New family, new country, new language, new level of attention and care. I find the photo of her clutching all her new gifts to be particularly poignant. This is a child who is happy to have stuff, is clutching it to stop others from taking it from her, and while happy with it, doesn't really have any idea what to do with the things she has been given.
Fast forward to the next year. She looks more relaxed and more comfortable. But as I read through the post I am remembering that this was when I really discovered how terribly passive she was in her life... just a by stander, not a participant. Things happened, she didn't why, sometimes they were good and sometimes were bad. Why bother remembering it? No one tells you in adoptive parenting classes how to help a child get off the sidelines and be a participant in their own life. We started with just remembering what happened the day before and went from there. We talked about what had happened, what was happening and how she could join in, what was going to happen.
The trouble with having a very polite, happy, passive child is that they can be perfectly content sitting in a chair observing life while the louder people garner all the attention. I know that a quiet, well-behaved child doesn't sound like a problem, but over time, you realize it is odd. When every other child in the house sees something happening and wants to jump in, you start to realize that one child never thinks to jump in. When life isn't going well, other children will moan, complain, and cry. You start to realize that one child never moans, complains, or cries. Now, I'm the first one to say a good outlook on life is a positive thing, but when pleasant passiveness is a child's only note, it begins to stand out. So, we worked on that as well. We did a lot of talking about emotions. "Boy, I would be really upset if that happened to me. I might even cry." This and similar sentences came out of mouths. We also become more aware of the quiet child on the sidelines and helped her to see she could join in.
This birthday I find myself looking at a different child. As she intellectually and physically gains new skills, she is also starting to take possession of her own life. The range of emotions she is willing and able to express is widening. No longer is she quietly happy all the time. There is annoyance, frustration, sadness, and even a little tiny bit of anger. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to attach to a child who has real emotions. Real emotions you can engage with. It is like watching someone slowly become real.
So Happy Birthday, H. I am privileged to be your mother and to be a part of your story. You are one of the bravest people I know and you have weathered so much in your short life. I am filled with joy watching you grow and learn and become the young woman God created you to be.