We have not even been together as a family a week, and at moments it is hard to believe it.
At others, it really feels like it...
Inviting strangers to become part of your family isn't really an easy thing to do. It is hard, first of all, to even make it through the grueling process without giving up! But then comes the real life, and sometimes...frankly...it just feels uncomfortable. Sure, eventually it all comes together, but in the beginning there are real waves you end up riding. Today was one of them when Dominick and I threw a lot of glances at each other and have a hurried conversation while the kids were occupied doing something else. It is not even necessarily about being on good behavior and that gradually slipping away. What it is really about is establishing boundaries without words, it is about everyone watching to see how this all plays out and determining what their role in it is going to be. It is about fully formed, larger sized human beings taking up space amongst you and at your table, and you don't know them well at all. It is also about knowing they come with their life experiences, which are often not pleasant, and knowing that all of who they are is sitting at the dinner table with you.
We felt today we are seeing a subtle yet obvious growing discomfort in Angela about me. Yea, big surprise, isn't it? I stand near her, she walks away. I put my arm gently on her shoulder for a moment, and she suddenly has to go do something. The physical comfort level with Dominick is clear and obvious, and growing. With me, it is not. Again, big surprise...Not. But there are those other little things...she will not let me carry groceries and quickly takes them from me and holds the door for me. She still plays footsie with me under the table and then rests her feet between mine in a little "foot hug". She is patient and attentive as I try out Russian words and she will repeat them several times without laughing at me to help me hear them clearly. She smiles at me at moments as if she and I have an inside joke when we see one of the other family members do something funny. And there is the picture of the angel she drew while talking with everyone else while I want to the store today and then told everyone it was Mama. There is distance...and yet there is not.
Dominick and I talked at length about it today, and came to the conclusion that she has no clue what to do with me, or her feelings about me. Am I just another woman meeting her needs that she has been trained to be polite to? What is a "real mom" supposed to feel like? How is she supposed to act around me and what is her role now? Should she hold me at a distance to remain safe, or let me in? Is she the kid or part adult? Just what exactly is a mom anyway????
I expect it to take a very, very long time to draw truly close to her. Interestingly, this disturbs Kenny to no end and he cried tonight when we were having some quiet time with just him as the other kids were preoccupied. He is no longer afraid that this is going to ruin our happy family, we have had way to much fun horsing around for that to preoccupy him any longer. But we talked tonight about how this is going to be a long, long road for me to win Angela's heart, and how much we appreciated the good example he was setting. He started crying saying it bothered him a lot to think Angela might not be able to love me like he and the other boys did, that he was afraid of my feelings being hurt and that made him very sad.
I knew Kenny had long since moved beyond me being "just another caretaker", and I always knew he had a tender heart, but until the past few days I don't think he OR I realized how deep his feelings ran for his mommy, and I am touched to no end and profoundly grateful that God gave us this huge heart in the form of this tiny little body.
I asked him to recall how long it took for him to feel like I was a real mom to him...he admitted it took a long time because he didn't really understand what it was to be in a family. I reminded him that it had only been a few days and we had a long way to go with both Angela and Olesya, that we were just at the beginning. I said it may take years or it might not even ever happen that she and I can have the kind of relationship that he and I have, but that we went into this knowing that and loving her and Olesya anyway. I reminded him I was so blessed that I had he and everyone else who loved me more deeply than many mommies are ever loved, and that would help when times got hard. It bothers him a lot that I might cry over having my feelings hurt, and it came out that he remembered some incident that I truly don't even recall know where he hurt my feelings with something he said, and he was feeling very guilty over it now. Families are not perfect, and we talked about how both Dominick and I had said things over the years to our own parents that had hurt their feelings and probably even made them cry a time or two, and I reassured him that for certain ALL of our kids would one day probably make us cry...that I had already cried over each of them at one point in time or another. He looked quite surprised to hear that one!
We finished the conversation with me reassuring him that we were ready to take on this task and do our best to handle it all wisely and lovingly, and that he could help by giving extra hugs and kisses on difficult days and doing the best he could to set a warm example of family love.
Then there is Matthew who has been much more "huggy" the past couple of days, even saying outwardly "Mommy, I really love you a lot!" several times in front of everyone. And Joshie is sleeping on the floor of our room each night rather than being out with the older kids, saying he just prefers to be close to us. No tears, no fuss, no outward signs of discomfort but just needs that gentle reassurance that all is OK in his world.
It's not at all that it is bad, but people often never share what it feels like to adopt older kids...that for awhile it is very, very strange and disconcerting at moments. That you wonder for quite awhile when it will stop feeling like kid gloves need to be on and you can ease into the comfort of a family that feels like old, worn out bedroom slippers. We are a long way from that happening, and yet far closer than one might think given it has been just a few days. Eventually those bodies will feel as comfortable as the boys to be in our midst, eventually the love will run strong and deep, and these "honeymoon days" are filled with growth, questioning, and asserting.
Along with all the subtle and quite expected discomfort has been a ton of fun. We played Blackjack well into the evening last night for Tenge, and again this afternoon for M&M's. We also ended up doing adding and multiplication speed contests with all the kids with a deck of cards and were quite pleased to learn Angela has a very good grasp on saying numbers in English AND her math facts. Olesya and Kenny seem to be at about the same stage and need some drilling on their basic math facts but are pretty far along. All were so sweet with Joshie as he tried to win on the harder ones and even gave him extra time to count. I ended up playing with the kids in the hall for over an hour tonight, with mainly Angela and Matthew batting a balloon and small ball around, laughing and grabbing and shoving around to grab the ball from each other all in good natured fun. Dominick had his forehead polka dotted by both girls and grabbed them for a wrestling and tickle match.
But we had fun where I hadn't expected tonight, having bought pizza makings with a premade crust so we could have an easy meal with recognizable food. The 4 older kids wanted to help and ended up doing all the work while I supervised. They had a great time together, and what started out as a fast meal turned into a great activity for them all.
The evening ended on a more relaxed note, after having had a lot of laughs later in the day after getting back from being out today. The odd feelings were recognized, discussed between Dominick and I, moved through and tucked away, the girls seemed much more relaxed, and we all felt more cohesive than we did all day.
As I reminded Kenny, this does not all come together overnight, it takes months...if not years,,,for the comfort level to come and issues to be worked through. To the outsider seeing the family walk down the street, it appears pretty simple to bring together a family in this way. What they don't see is all the patience and hard work that goes into it. They don't see the spaciousness and acceptance that has to be allowed for humans to mold together into a cohesive unit.
Today, we had a quick visit to the local large mosque where we merely went inside to see the beautiful buildings but were approached by 2 young Kazakh woman who spoke English and were quite curious about our family. We spoke for maybe 10 minutes with us filling them in, and them thanking us for loving children that others in their country did not love. When we were back in the car, Zhanara timidly asked me how I felt about being out in public with our family, and if it happened in America as it happened here that we are always stared at. We are almost (not quite, but almost) immune to it here now, but I answered honestly that yes, at times it gets a little old explaining about our family but we realize that here we are a true curiosity and try to be pleasant and open to those who ask. She was quiet for a few minutes, and then in her soft voice said "I would never have the boldness to talk to people the way you do about it, or to not get angry. I am too shy." she also said she thought it was very rude of people to stare at us or talk to us and ask such personal questions as "Why did you adopt from Kazakhstan?" or "Can you not have babies of your own?" which also happens frequently.
But admittedly, there are times I wish we were all the same color and could "pass" so we could not be a traveling "freak show" here in Kazakhstan. Back home, our town is so small eventually everyone will have seen us out and about and the questions will subside, but here they never will.
On a small side note, we went for a follow up visit at the hospital for Kenny's eye and there was a little infection developing and they had to clean up the injury sight again. We are going to go back Wednesday morning before our flight to have a recheck done, and we pray it is well on the way to being healed so we don't have to worry about it becoming deeply infected while traveling.
So as the gentle snores are drifting up behind me and I tippy toe out of the room in the dark, no doubt stepping on stray electrical adapters and colored markers, I bid you good night from all of us, and again please know how much your prayers of support and encouragement mean to us. We have a long way to go, and I am not at all talking only in miles.