Five days after Y.'s adoption day, comes R.'s. We've now lived a year of polar opposite adoptions, and I've been wondering for days what I would write today; how I would convey our present reality; how I would communicate everything that has been roiling around in my head for this past year. Forgive me if this seems more personally therapeutic than a well-thought out blog post. I process my life through writing (if you hadn't already noticed), and the one year mark of R. being home seems to be a good time to start.
But where to start, that's the question. I suppose the brutal, honest truth is always a good place. It's been hard. It's been hard on everyone, and by everyone I am definitely including R. herself, for whom it has been the most difficult. Now, often when people say an adoption has been hard, it usually has lurking in the background the unspoken reality of raging and pain and destruction. The reality of feeling as though one is living with a ticking time bomb and every interaction is akin to tiptoeing through a mine field. That's not the hard I'm talking about. R. is extremely loving. In theory, we could just let her float through her day and she would be the most pleasant person in the house.
This is where it becomes difficult. I want more for this child. I want her to gain skills and awareness. I want her to develop an inner life. Heck, I want her to develop an outer life, one she can fully participate in to the best of her ability. I want so much for her. Yet the hard reality is, she is so trapped inside her own head and her own ingrained way of dealing with the world that she has no conception of there being anything outside of what she already is comfortable with. To break through this comfortableness is hard. To recreate the natural desires of childhood, the desire to explore, to discover, to experiment, to test, to push oneself. When a child has settled down into a very narrow window of what is comfortable and is afraid to leave that window it is challenging. And frustrating. And usually makes the parent feel more than a little rotten. This is especially true when any slight push out of this comfort zone is greeted with shrieking from the child at a level one would expect if a person's fingernails were being pulled off.
It's been a year of knowing what she needs to do (this would iclude expanding her vestibular awareness and proprioception) and a year of being met with incredibly resistance at even the most basic of challenges. (If you're wondering what I might consider to be a basic challenge, well, doing a high kneel is one such challenge.) We've gone through multiple cycles of pushing and resting, never quite finding the correct balance. Too much rest and she loses any microscopic gains she has made. Too much pushing and the stress of it all causes a complete shut-down of any cooperation, combined with a ratcheting up of attachment issues and disassociation. Her traumatized brain can only handle so much.
Her traumatized brain has also affected so much else in her life. Her attachment to us? It's kind of meh. We're OK with her, especially if we are doing what she wants (or not making her do what she doesn't want.) The indiscriminate affection is still pretty rampant. She has a very small world right now and the other people she associates with know the drill and are good about keeping her at arms' length. If there are new adults in her view, we still need to keep a physical hand on her to keep her from parent shopping and wrapping her arms around them. R. has had to switch caregivers so many times in her previous life that nothing is permanent and it is almost too hard for her to do the attachment work necessary to fully accept us as her own.
Her English acquisition? Also kind of meh. She has basic words now. Mostly. We came to the slow realization the her wonky brain was not differentiating between Mandarin and English. She was treating them as one and the same language. Even though both J. and I have enough (VERY) basic Mandarin to understand the words she typically uses, we have had to play dumb. It has been the only way we've found to help her sort the two languages out in her own head. (And as a side note, before I am blasted with comments... what would be considered best practices for any other child on the planet, it seems are not the best practices for this child. Her brain is unique and processes things very uniquely. We are having to rewrite what I would do or suggest for any other child. And we are doing so very carefully.) So far, our success is that she has officially switched from 'wo' to 'I'. We are still working our way through other pronouns and verbs. I attribute this inability to switch languages to be one of the roots of many of her difficulties and one of causes of the overwhelming trauma she experienced with the adoption.
If we are going the brutally honest route here, I will say I have never felt like such a failure as I do much of the time parenting this child. Knowing what to do, then actually doing those things... patiently, trying to fill her love tank that is the equivalent of a black hole. These are all difficult things. They seem endless. There is very little real return. By real return, I'm talking about genuine emotion. Reciprocation. A baby, when a mother spends time cooing over him, will happily gaze into his mother's eyes and smile. He cannot do anything for himself, he takes a lot of work, but those smiles and gazes are enough to cause the mother to want to love and care for this small, helpless human. While R. is just as needy as a newborn.. and perhaps more so... when trying to develop a relationship with her, there is no reciprocity. No return gaze, instead there is constant effort to avoid looking into anyone's eyes. There is actually constant effort to not even open her eyes. There is no smile of happiness... instead there is often a shriek of some form or another because I have asked her to open her eyes. No, the smiles only come at inappropriate times. I know about trauma. I know about attachment disorders. I've lived with these things in more than one of my children for years. Yet this time it feels harder. Much harder.
Along with the feelings of failure, come the feelings of guilt. Guilt that I am not living up to what all the people in China had hoped for their darling girl. There are two churches' worth of people in China who adore R. Who poured out love and resources on her at a time when she desperately needed that. Who took her into their hearts and prayed for her. J. and I met these people. They showered us with their love and prayers as well. It is always humbling to be the answer to so much concerted prayer. As a result, I always have in the back of my head, "Am I living up to what all these people hoped for this child." I fear that too often, I have to answer myself in the negative.
So there's that.
Up to now, this has probably been the single most depressing one year anniversary summary that anyone has done, so I don't want to leave you here, because we don't live in this place all the time. We have seen some progress, glacial though it may be. I also want to share R.'s successes. This time last year she could not walk downstairs alternating feet. Now she can do that about 90% of the time. This time last year she could not pedal a bicycle. Now she can, though I have a feeling we will have to do a little review on that skill when the weather warms back up. This time last year, she would spend a good chunk of her day disassociated if I didn't catch it and force her back into the present. Today I'd say that percentage is down to about 40% and she is quicker to come back when disassociated. This time last year she would "W" sit all the time and fought us when we asked her to change. Now she only very infrequently does it and will change immediately when asked. This time last year R. would use either hand indiscriminately and had equal (and rather low) facility with either one. Today, after concerted effort on everyone's part, she will use her right hand over half the time and is developing better control over it.
Probably the best way I can show you what progress she has made is to show you two photos. These are of an activity that I sometimes have her do during school. It's laminated cards which have a design on them. The child chooses a card and uses dried split peas to outline the design. (Just for information, in case others were thinking of creating the same activity, the peas live in a ziplock bag, and there are also bowls for scooping out the peas and holding for the actual activity inside the box that holds all the pieces. The children do the activity on an IKEA tray to contain the peas. Usually a child will start out doing the actual project and it will devolve into the child just playing with the peas. It's a great tactile experience, so I don't worry about it.) When we first started doing this activity together, this is what R. could manage. Five peas in a row. Any more than that and she would either stop lining them up and they would become just a messy bunch, or she would feel compelled to mess up her line on purpose. Either way, the line was never more than five peas.
This past week, I got the activity out for her again. (We've also done it every couple of weeks over the course of the year, so she's been working on it all along.) She sat down, and this time was able to line up about 25 peas, before the messy bunching/undoing would start.
It is so little and so big at the same time. It would be so easy to miss the progress, to see the success, in trying to see the bigger picture of what still need to be conquered. But it is big. R. is starting to do more, to try more, to expand her world a little bit. There are just so many foundations that need to be relaid; the process cannot be rushed. We need to be patient and work on focusing on the little things, the important things, and not get caught up in what still lies ahead.
And for anyone wondering about two very important things, and I don't blame you after all of this. First, yes, I love my daughter. She is a joyful person. She is cute. She is caring. And she is my daughter, make no mistake. Just watch me at a doctor's office if they try to dismiss her. It's just that it can take a while for emotions to catch-up with facts. I've been in this 'now but not yet time' before. It passes. The emotions will come.
Second, do I regret adopting her? No.
Parenting can feel hard. Parenting can try your patience. Parenting can make you lose hope. Sometimes. Parenting can also make you a better person. Parenting can force you to see the world differently. Parenting can change your priorities.
And sometimes parenting can just be fun... if you allow yourself to let go of all that other stuff and just enjoy the present. My favorite memory from the year has to be from the Sundays in Advent when we all sing Christmas carols around the piano. R. adores music and has an amazing memory for it. Joy to the World is her absolute favorite song. When we would sing it together, she sang with gusto. Loud gusto. I'm quite sure that never has such a joyful noise been made to the Lord. It wasn't melodic. It wasn't beautiful singing as most people would describe that phrase. But it was joyous. R. has brought joy into our lives. Even through the hard, the joy is always lurking there underneath, waiting for us to rediscover it once again.