Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympic See Sawing

This morning I sit here in bed, the house still silent as I try to think of how to put my emotions and thoughts into words. I know that soon there will be one set of foot steps...then two...then a few more...and I must gear up for the day. I am leaving at noon for my ministry class overnight retreat. It is not feeling like much of a retreat at the moment and instead is a heavy burden. Let's face it, right now going to study church polity is not really something I wish was on my agenda, but if I want to graduate I have to go and I have invested too much time and too much of my own soul into this to not see it through. I'll admit though that I am going simply on auto pilot with a small part of me asking "Now will someone tell me again WHY I am doing this?". Sometimes following God's desires for our lives makes no sense at all.

Yesterday was a rougher day. I had a lot of running around to do so had to drag 5 kids to the insurance office, the health clinic, the dentist for Matthew, the store, the social security office, etc. Two of those kids had no idea what we were doing or why, and I hate that but there is no other choice right now. Everyone behaved well and actually they were quite easy to haul everywhere. We went to Sonic for lunch and I got my first sticker shock at having 5 kids when we paid $37 for lunch...guess the "I am too lazy to go back home and make lunch" ocassional treat will absolutely not happen in the future.

We had what many usually have with multiple kids in the battle over the car seats with only one child...Angela. We never have had to deal with this, thankfully, and I know to most of you readers there are howls of laughter over this one because every day you face it just as my own mom did with me and my brother. But Angela has staked out a seat behind the front passenger seat and when Kenny wanted to sit there instead of crammed in the back she balked and at first refused to move, folding her arms across her chest and setting her face in a way that allowed for no discussion. Good thing she has a mom who feels it utterly unnecessary to discuss certain issues, and I made it plane and clear she was going to move her little bootie to the back and let Kenny have a turn there and she didn't like it one bit. It is growing easier to see that she considers herself somewhat above the other kids, probably due to being the "alpha dog" in the orphanage as Raynola has so aptly put it in her recent comments, and she is not at all comfortable for becoming one of the group. She sets herself apart somewhat, not all the time but sometimes. This is a rough path for her, and yet I also know it will be freeing in many ways if we are successful at moving her role to child from perceived adult. At 11, she is far from an adult and needs to reach back to regain childhood. While we see the wisdom in this, no 11 year old ever would!

She did ask me to go bike riding yesterday morning with her when she was outside and the other kids were inside, so I grabbed the bike and rode a couple trips up and down the street with her. My gut instinct is telling me to let her have pieces and parts of me, but not to allow myself to become her separate, more mature "play mate" so she can feel more equal with me right now. So I will play basketball for 30 or 40 minutes, then go back to mom stuff. I will ride bikes a bit, then off to do laundry. She needs to see I enjoy being with her and doing things with her...and let's face it, that I am capable of all doing all the things she is interested in...but that I have another role in her life, and that is the role of "mom".

At dinner things quickly deteriorated when she perfectly understood something silly I said about coke when we were all goofing around and she gave me the whole sarcastic look and "Yanipanamayo" (I don't understand) thing again. Well, I put a stop to that right there calling her on it saying "Yes you do understand, you are being mean...stop it." and I stared her down. And I know she understood the English when she bowed her head low to her plate, wouldn't look me in the eye and whispered a quiet "I'm sorry" while the rest of the table was silent. Thankfully Dominick spoke up as well saying "That's not right Angela, don't be that way" which she may or may not have understood but certainly knew he disapproved too.

Later our friends who speak Russian Skyped with us and helped us explain a few things which needed explaining...such as the limied hot water supply and how a septic tank works so we can't take 45 minute showers, that in America toilet paper goes into the toilet and not in the trash can, and we bagan the conversation about school next week and for the first time explained about Matthew being homeschooled and that the girls will likely not be going to school in the fall. We wanted them to understand that starting in middle school with a lack of language skills, their homework load would be unbearable and eliminate much possibility for outside activities, including sports for Angela. Homeschooling is unheard of in Kazakhstan so this is somewhat a foreign concept to them. It was asked about and explained that Matthew loves homeschooling and is able to go at his own pace, which will be very important for them as well as they learn to read and write in English.

Somewhere along the line right as we began the homeschooling discussion, Angela again feigned boredom as I sat beside her and was talking with them through our friends and "fake" yawned and said "Sleepy" so she could get out of talking. I turned to face her and said firmly at 7:30 PM "Stop are not will stay here" and she turned back to the screen less than happy. It is her way of shutting off conversation with me, too intimate for her. She was not "sleepy" when I was in the other room on the phone and Dominick had started the conversation, this sudden onset narcolepsy only hit when I sat down next to her and became involved in the conversation. Her avoidance of the even slightly intimate would be almost comical if it weren't so painful on both sides.

Later on during the Skype call I asked them if they missed their friends, if they missed the Boarding School and that is when both Dominick and our friends noticed that Angela started to tear up, then reigned it in. I was purposely not looking directly at them so didn't see it, as I wanted to make it less uncomfortable to have my direct gaze on them since the intimacy of real conversation is so hard for her. When they replied that they did miss their friends I reassured them that they could write letters anytime and we would try and call the Boarding School every 3 or 4 weeks, explaining that it is expensive to call there but not explaining that we don't want to make it an every day connection as we are wanting them to settle in to their new life and not reach back too far and too often for the old one as that would make it harder. I also have a pile of over 100 photos for them to send that was sitting next to the computer so they know we are not trying to cut them off from their connections.

I then took the laptop to our bedroom to continue the conversation for a bit and evidently Angela decided she was SOOOOOOO sleepy she was going to pull out of the family time and go to bed, again dragging Olesya with her. Dominick didn't allow it and forced Olesya to stay, who must have felt a bit like it was a reprieve. They started playing games of some sort while Angela was in her bed listening to the laughter. Dominick urged Kenny to go check on her after awhile and he convinced Angela to come back out and join the fun, which she did and I heard her giggles while I was still in the bedroom planning strategy for relationship building between our Russian speaking friends and the girls.

At moments right now I am acting loving even when the love is not always present, and when I came out they were all heading for bed. I walked down the hall and in the darkened small bedrooom hiked myself up the ladders of each of their beds and gave Olesya a hug which was returned enthusiastically, then Angela one which was not nearly as enthusiastic but was returned and not rebuffed. I then asked if they were cold as the house was chilly, and Angela said yes, so I retrieved the extra blanket from the top shelf of their closet and climbed back up to spread it over her so she would be warmer.

"Spasiba" she whispered as I leaned over tugging the blanket over her long, lean body.

"You're welcome Angela, that is what Mama's do...they take care of their children." I said.

I walked out the door throwing over my shoulder a quick "Night...Love you" and as I rounded the corner to enter the boys room I heard Angela respond back quietly for the first time "I love you.".

The see sawing is exhausting, I am still not at all myself and not geared up for battle as I should be so it hurts more. This is very hard, my friends. One moment my heart is breaking at the dismissiveness I am being treated with, and the next it is melting drop by drop as we make a little progress. Two steps forward and one backward. These precious children have so much to go through, so much to learn and take in and absorb. The "fairly tale" everyone sees at surface level certainly exists but it is only the participants who know how much heartache goes into the making of the fairy tale.

There are so many things that are new in addition to emotion, and the girls present as so "normal" that it is easy to cast aside their years of institutionalization as they sure are different than Kenny. Until you see at breakfast that they can't handle a knife and fork together because that was unnecessary before. Until you see Olesya walk in front of cars without awareness that typical 10 year old girls have of oncoming traffic. Until you anxiously watch them as they try to figure out how to do something as simple as play. The pretty gift wrapping does not always hint at what lies inside the package, and the girls certainly have pretty gift wrapping and present as normal, well adjusted kids on the outside...and they are struggling, heartbroken, tender and confused on the inside.

I hate that much of what we are doing right now seems maybe mean or makes no sense to them either because they don't understand due to language or because they don't understand our parenting technique to help them integrate into the family. For example, the othger night the girls shut their bedroom door before going to sleep when they went to bed very early as they have been doing. Dominick went down the hall and opened it, only to hear foot steps and have ti shut again. He went back and insisted it be left open. Now please, no one comment about the fire hazard of an open bedroom door as we were taught to close them in grade school. The fact is that it is quiet down the hall where their room is, and we don't want them using escape to their bedroom at night as a means of pulling away from the family. We want them to hear the noise, the love, the laughter and not have to participate if they need down time but not to isolate themselves either. Hearing the intimacy of the rest of us is good conditioning for eventually falling in with us. With 2 of them it would be easy for them to drift into their own world together merely existing within our cocoon. We can not allow that, no more than we allow the boys to have a TV or computer in their bedroom for the same pulling away from the family into your own isolated world. Families are for interaction, families are for engagement. We know the girls will need time to themselves to process everything, but we feel it best to not allow complete withdrawal. A step back, certainly, a fortress being built figuratively, no.

Next week things should be working more towards a regular schedule and that might help too. The necessary relaxed down time this week was important for all of us, but no doubt disturbing to the girls whose lives have been regimented for years. As we begin working on some homeschooling tasks and I try and assess where they are at in various areas, we will hopefully create our own schedule each day which will give them some confidence as well.

So I guess I need to get going here, I have to pack my overnight case and clean up the house for our friends who have kindly created a team to help me get through this weekend with child care. Thankfully this is not infants or toddlers, and we simply need someone to come be present should the house burn down. I am not really looking forward to dipping out myself this weekend, but realize that I too might need some down time to get ready to engage in the battles to come next week. I am grateful that for now, the battles are certainly not all out war and there are slivers of reminders that we are making inroads to becoming a family. Someday, with God's grace amongst us, we will look back fondly on this time and laugh over it.

Right now it is often hard not to cry.


Anonymous said...

Cindy -

Use your time to yourself to regroup - rest if you can - and come home ready to do the best you can for your entire family. No one can ask anything more from you.


Dee said...

I know it's exhausting. With both my adoptions I was treading water, it seemed, for weeks after they came home, until the "new normal" kicked in. I hope this weekend will be a good reprieve for you, a time to be with grownups and renew yourself a bit.

The fact Angela's been home less than a week and was able to say "I love you" is a HUGE deal. The fact she is obeying when you reprimand her is great. Some kids won't. She will test you; it's normal. Stand firm but kind and I think it will be OK.

So glad you were able to skype with Russian speaking friends! That's awesome.


Hilary Marquis said...

I know you are tired and discouraged and just plain out of sorts. But, this retreat may end up being very uplifting for you. These fellow believers may be just what God has in mind to help you to decompress and relax a bit :) I am encouraged to see that there are little glimmers appearing in Angela that let you know that you are beginning to chip away some of the ice around her guarded heart. You are going to be teaching much more than english, math, and are teaching much more important subjects, family, love, and childhood. God is certain that you are the one to do it for these precious girls! He will give you all that is required. And on those days that you just want to cry (and eat chocolate by the pound!) He will give you friends to listen.

Laura said...

spend lots of one-on-one time with her.....and make your husband be the disciplinarian.....this helped me!

Carol M said...

I have no international adoption experience, but a few thoughts came to mind... It can be easy for a child Angela's age to convince herself that she is the only one getting reprimanded (even when this isn't true.) If she believes that, she might be more inclined to "pull away." My other thought is that you try keeping a little notebook of all the positive moments that happen between you and Angela. When you are feeling down, read back through the notebook for instant encouragement. Enjoy your retreat. Mothering is a 24 hour a day job and you deserve this opportunity to rest and replenish your spirit.

Kelly and Sne said...

I am sure your time off will be soul-lifting in many ways and hopefully will re-energize you all. Especially for a girl entering the "tween" years - too much family time and not enough "friend" time can be distressing. (I'm sure you'll hear from lots of Moms of tween girls who are on the same emotional seesaw!) Hopefully you can find activities that the girls can do locally - sports or something - so they can develop friendships and a social life while being homeschooled. This will probably expedite their language skills as well. Sounds like things are going well, biking and basketball seem to be very appropriate bonding activities with a girl like Angela. Have a good trip!

Anonymous said...

Hi Cindy,

I think you are doing a fantastic job in your adjustment dance with Angela.
Just, please make sure you don't humilliate her, she's probably unhappy enough and struggling a lot.

My kids have set places in the car, it's important for 2 of them and it is OK for us to allow this.
One likes to be close to the window, the other has a pink buster sit she loves and the 3rd doesn't care.
So we arranged it in a way that serves everyone.
The window gets the window, the pink seat goes in the middle, and the other gets another window.
Small things that mean a LOT to them.

Kids need to feel unique, special and loved,it is important to help them develop a healthy self esteem.

Angela is struggling with a life she never knew, do not take everything from her, show her there is a nice life for her out there.
Also, if she is much better in english by fall, maybe she would like the challenge of going to school.

For a battle to happen you need 2 adversaries.
Be careful with the dynamics you create due to your expectations.

Praying for all of you.
Have a nice weekend,

Anonymous said...

You are far ahead of the game already, though you might not be feeling like it, Cindy. You have a lot of wisdom concerning what the girls need, what you should allow, etc. I know the fire hazard rules, too....but we don't shut bedroom doors at night. I don't like the "shut off" feelings that probably stem from my own childhood of being sent to my room. Your reasoning seems right on target, letting the girls choose some down time, away from the expectations and confusion they must feel with all these new relationships and cultural issues. But letting them hear the love and laughter, inviting them always to take part, that's important. Reading your posts brings back those painful feelings in me, having been treated and sometimes still by our newest daughter in particular in that way. You are right, it is certainly an emotional see-saw! We just have to keep on loving them, as love is a verb...even though it takes us just as long as it might take them to "feel the love".

I wish you didn't have to leave the girls so soon, but I can understand also that it might be just what you need to recharge and be encouraged. You have chosen a difficult path. But you are also doing something that has eternal consequences, by loving the girls and giving them family.

Hang in there. Rest. Have fun with your kids and try very hard to remember this is "normal", under the circumstances. You are right about our kids seeming so normal and happy on the outside. People never see the grumps we see at home. They save that just for moms.

Praying God strengthens you and reminds you of your great faith in Him and in His faithfulness to you.

Use my contact information whenever you wish. Been there, done that...still working through some of it.

Nancy in the Midwest

Kathy W said...

Would your local school system be open to allowing Angela to participate in Sports? I know that some school systems do allow that for homeschooled kids. It might give her a wonderful outlet for some of that energy, and help her learn English and get some friends locally.

Kathy W

Anonymous said...

Yes, you should be able to "duo enroll" your kids in a way that would allow them to participate in sports or music. Our local homeschoolers have their kids involved in that way. Check it out in CO.
Nancy in the midwest

Bridget said...


I think Angela is making great strides and you are doing fantastic. Just to share my experience - and I really have no place giving you any advice or thoughts you don't already know - but when I went to a new country to learn the language - the first 3 weeks were so hard on me. I had a major headache from the different sounds and noises and I just could not concentrate at times, and just let the noise go over me. I did unplug at times. I talked to myself in English in the mirror just to hear English. I also needed lots of sleep. Could you ask her if her head hurts?

Best wishes - and I really do think you are the most amazing mother..


Ohiomom2121 said...

Dear Cindy,
I agree with the idea to let Dominick take the lead in discipline when he is home, since she has bonded a bit more quickly to him. This might be hard, since he may have a slower reaction time, but might help your bond with Angela. I also think some time with girlfriends will be very important to both girls. Any church friends with similar age girls who might come over? And, I agree that the school might have a way for them to participate in sports even as home schoolers. We did that, and if it required a couple of classes per day at the school, that might make a useful transition and we even did one class as a math independent study where the teacher tutored using our home school (Saxon) materials. Schools can be quite creative if they are willing to work with home school families...our current school is not nearly so accommodating, however. Sherry

Amy said...

Well, I think everything you are going through and feeling is right on target. I felt like crying for the first three months. It got better after that and now it is fantastic. I adopted my daughter Karina at age four but she had and still has the stubborness of a teenager so I can relate. I think it is a very good idea that you get away now and try and recharge a bit. I agree with the comment about letting her get some down time because switching languages and hearing just the strange new language can be mentally exhausting. That is how I felt after three weeks in Kazakhstan. I just wanted to hear English. You are making good headway. I also agree that it would be EXTREMELY beneficial if you could get her involved with some kind of sport activity as soon as possible. If not through the school system then the park district. I also think you should not underestimate the speed with which kids learn a new language when they are around and constantly speaking to other kids. As much as I think it would be good to be more one on one with the girls right now that kind of intimacy with no break could be hard for anyone. I think a break like a gymnastics class or basketball lessons for Angela could really work in your benefit. I wish you good luck. I remember how tough the first three to six months were and I wouldn't wish that hard work on anyone...of course the positives that came out of all that hard work have been fantastic and the relationship between my daughter and I now is incredible. You will get there too. Just concnetrate on putting one foot in front of the other for a while and before you know it you will be able to see how far you have come.

Tammy said...

You guys are doing a fantastic job - keep up the good but exhausting work. And yes, it is the never knowing which child you are going to get that is so exhausting. I started my of my blogs with "the roller coaster continues"!! Am I going to get the loving and affectionate child or am I going to get the distant one? It's enough to drive you batty. And while he behaviors may be similar to other preteens, we all know the reasons behind her actions are completely different. You are reading her correctly. And when you are sleep deprived and your body is still adjusting to being back in this time zone, everything is harder. Be gentle with yourself - you are doing a good job!

I am going to disagree with a lot of the other comments about getting the girls involved in outside activities. The girls know how to do that already - what they don't know how to do is be in a family and there is only one way to learn that. I think it is wise to cocoon them for awhile. They already know how to depend on themselves - now they need to learn how to depend on you. They are infants in their attachment and you wouldn't send an infant out into the world - not yet. The way you teach them to depend on you is by being the one and only ones to provide for all of their needs. We tell new AP's to do that with their infants and toddlers - the same principle applies to the older child. I wouldn't allow them to be dependent on anyone else (not even friends for socialization) until they have at learned to be dependent on you guys, even if it is just a little. You need to make sure you are setting yourself apart from everyone else in their lives.

I think this retreat will be good for you. You probably won't get this until you get back but I hope you feel a bit refreshed for the long journey ahead of you guys. And feel free to e-mail or call 920-918-3313 anytime you need someone to vent to.

Anonymous said...

I pray that this time has turned out to be a brief time of refreshment and renewal--also that you have not been tied in knots by the snow. Drive carefully and safely.


Carol said...

Thanks for sharing the difficulties as well as the "good stuff". I think you're doing a fabulous job. The emotional "see sawing" can be really taxing, so I'm glad you're going on the retreat, even though it may feel like a burden at this time. A little time away may be a good and necessary thing.

I see value in what Tammy is suggesting about keeping the girls close to home to foster attachment and family bonding. Hang in there... hope you get some relaxation in this weekend!

smileysk8 said...

Our prayers are still with you! I know this stage is hard on the emotions! God is with you and y'all are awesome parents! God bless!
~Holly <><

Stephanie and Gary said...

I hope you have a wonderful retreat and come back refreshed. I wanted to let you know that I have been following your journey for a long time, long before I started my own adoption. Never consider for a minute that others would not want to know about your life. You are extra - ordinary. The love you share, the team spirit of your family is so inspiring, it transcends the adoption world and is inspiring to me as a mother and person in general. You write your blog for you and your family but you touch so many people around you. You matter and what you do matters so yes, people want to read and people want to cheer you on and people want to be inspired and people want your words to encourage and uplift. And along with you we rejoice your triumphs and offer support for challenging times. You have created one of the greatest families I have ever witnessed. God bless you ...
Brooklyn, NY

Bob; Carrie DeLille said...

I hope your time was wonderful. I read this and you are just doing an incredibly FABULOUS job with the girls. Both of you!! I hope soon Angela can have a good outward cry and bury her sweet face into her mama's shoulder. You're the best!