Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hanging on for Dear Life

When you adopt a child who has essentially lost over half their life to institutionalization, you are faced with a dilemma that many parents of pre-teens would never understand.

In this world of over-sexualization of our children, where dating begins at 10 and parents brag about how "cute" it is that girls are phoning their sons every night, we have children clinging desperately to the childhood they never got. Sleeping with teddy bears, carrying around baby dolls at 10 years old, learning to play with Legos for the first time and proudly running out to show us the latest car or airplane they built...thankfully we are not yet struggling with the typical issues faced by parents of "tweens".

But I can not begin to tell you just how heartbreaking it is to have your 12 year old daughter literally beg you to think of her as 10. Angela has become almost vehement in her assertion that she is still "malinky", that she is not grown up. Yesterday I finally talked to her seriously about it all, and for the very first time with any of our kids I had deep regrets for her that we did not become her family sooner, and it is a regret I won't easily let go of.

She is really suffering in a way over this, and I think it is that she is finally happy and surrounded with the love and encouragement she always dreamed of, and sees how old she is and how little time she has left. The subject came up as we talked about the "big" birthdays to celebrate, and turning 13 meant you were a teenager. Oh, how she didn't like that one bit! She kept insisting she was only a little girl still, and 13 was too old. She doesn't want to be 13.

Knowing Kenny is fine with it, we talked about how both she and Kenny may be 12 or almost 12, but that they are behind in school and will be home at least a couple more years than other kids would be to finish high school. She said "Me like Kenny, Kenny malinky and me malinky too tall, no 13, me maybe 10!".

We were in a beautiful location for quiet conversation, as I had taken the kids up to the Grand Mesa to explore and show the girls. We were walking through a forested area near a small lake, the other kids had all run ahead of us on the trail. We talked about the smell of pine trees and how it reminded her of the camp they used to go to over the summer back in Kazakhstan. We stopped and found a rock to perch on and I attempted the impossible, I tried to give her what has already been lost.

I told her the best I could with the language we have that her age was just a number, that Daddy and I don't care at all how old she is...that she will forever be our little girl because that is how it is with parents and their children. I offered to her that if she wanted us to view her as 10, we certainly would, but that her age is not important to us. I reassured her once again that she never had to ever leave our home, that she could remain with us for as long as we lived and that being in a family meant never being alone anymore. She asked about college and if she had to go away for school, and I explained to her that there were many ways for her to get a college degree, and that included staying home and doing it on the computer if she wanted or attending a nearby college an hour away. But I also reminded her that she had many years before worrying about that, and the important thing she needed to always know was that this home was permanent, that these people were forever and that love would always be there for her.

"Me stay home I 50 years old?" she asked.

"Forever" I replied "Even if you are 70 years old! But someday you might get married and have a family of your own."

"Me too little, Mama, me no married long long time. Me no boys!" she said.

"Someday, you are a beautiful girl and lots of boys will want to take you out." I said.

Blushing..."Thank you Mama, but me no boys right now, maybe me 18 or 25 years old boys, no boys now."

"Whew! I am so glad to hear that!" I threw out with a chuckle.

" your baby like Matthew and Joshua? Same thing?" she asked, staring off at the lake, not daring to look at me.

I sit there for a moment wishing I knew exactly what I could offer to help her soul feel more at peace. I hear the voices of the other kids as they horse around in the distance, and I put my arm around her shoulder as I too look out at the lake, and I do the only thing I can think of....

I sing to her from our favorite book, softly the words come "I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be..." and it trails off as she lays her head on my shoulder.

"Thank you, Mama."

I say nothing for a few moments, then draw her even closer as I whisper "You have always been my baby, Angela, no matter how big you are. In my heart you are my little girl."

We sat there like that for a bit, leaning into one another, both of us lost as we thought of all we had been cruelly denied by governments and red tape. We live in the here and now, and are so grateful for it, and yet there is all that we can never get back that occasionally creeps in and makes us yearn for the missing years.

Yet I know I would not be the mother I am if it happened any sooner, and the mother I am seems to be the mother she needs.

She is caught, our oldest daughter, in a very tricky place. Where her younger sister can easily slip back into childhood with nary a glance from others, Angela is on the brink of adolescence yet never got her fill of the innocence of childhood. She can not change that she is unable to be very interested in many of the things we long abandon in our "tween" years, and yet she desperately wishes she were young enough to take that step backwards and live in that moment. Hormones and maturity are fighting against her heart and desire, and it creates an unavoidable inner conflict which I wish I could snap my fingers and resolve for her.

So she will hang on for dear life to the thought that she is our baby, beloved and accepted for whoever she may need to be on any given day. And I'll be there to rock her to sleep, if necessary, and to remind her that she will always be Mommy's baby.


Julie and John Wright said...

I remember when we first had Altynai come and live with us. She went from being 18 and the principal caregiver and suporter of her large family to being 10 and not able to make a decision. She had to start again and claim back that inocence that had been stolen from her. For a young girl in the system or on the streets in Centrl Asia, life is such a scarey thing. You have likely done this, but maybe along with reinforcing that you will always be there for her, start to discuss cultural norms here in the west. Things like bride nappings are not exceptable practice, and when she does get married, that does not make her a servent to her husbands family... all things that could be worying her as well..
I am so blessed to see the two of you drawing closser..
Blessings John

Lori said...

Bless her heart...I can only imagine that a world where so many little girls (sadly) are DYING to grow up WAY too soon...and society completely allows and encourages that, your sweet one just wants the childhood that every little boy or girl is entitled to.

And then I read what John wrote and thought, "Dear LORD!!! I would not even THINK about having to explain things like bride nappings not being the norm, and yet, that's been her culture and her life!!"

Holy much there.

She's very lucky, though, in that if there's ever a family that will help maintain her innocence and allow her to enjoy her childhood every second she can, it's Team LaJoy!!!

Anonymous said...

I see Angela blossoming--not into adolescence but into a glowing, loving child. I see also that her body is not waiting. Yours is a perfect family for giving her shelter and time to be a child and also to model that even as her body and mind mature, she can still enjoy the closeness of family, the joy of play, the exhiliration of discovery. No you can't give her her childhood, but you can give her most of what she craves and needs now.


Kami said...

I loved this post! There is so much to think about in older child adoptions. We are so happy God blessed your family with those two sweet girls...letting them be who they need to be! We would like to adopt an older child someday, and so reading your thoughts are important and helpful to us. Thank you!

Kelly and Sne said...

That is sweet in a way. I know that while potty training we kept emphasizing what a "big boy" that our son was when he used the potty and after a day or two he said that he didn't want to be a big boy any longer, he wanted to be a little boy. I guess we were over-pressuring him.... Perhaps that is part of the hesitation as Angela has had a lot of responsibility for her sister and with growing up comes more responsibility and pressure (and more stress as there are plenty of days when I wish I could regress to 10 years old too). So perhaps she needs to be without the pressure for awhile or is feeling overwhelmed by it. In any case, I also read that institutionalized children need to be 'regressed' age-wise before they can move on developmentally. Perhaps this is something that you can do with Angela too.... treat her like a younger child for awhile and gradually transition to her real age (or she will probably get tired of it and ask to be treated her age after awhile).

nancy said...

I'm just so thankful that Angela has the language, the courage, and the relationship with you to express her concerns, Cindy. What a blessing!

Yes, we too asked for older kids, but the process robbed us of 3-4 more years with them that didn't need to be taken from all of us. I can't go there. Our older kids share memories or look at albums, while the last two had nor part in that time of our lives. Sad, but we just try to build more new memories for them.

We've adjusted our expectations with our last four kids, while still letting them know that we expect them to go to college, hubby and I know that something else might be needed...more time, other options, etc.

You've been so blessed with the adjustment period with your girls. I never got in on all your struggles with your boys bonding, but you've referred to it, so I know you realize how amazing it is that the girls have so soon, so willingly accepted you as their mom. Though we haven't had very big issues with her, our last daughter has struggled with herself and with me, to accept my role in her life at times. We've come a very long way, but the journey has been challenging at times. No RAD, just stubborn will and all those other things that go into them not believing they deserve it or not wanting to be disloyal to a birth mom she only spent 3hrs with during the adoption process, when she was about 9yrs old (abandonment turned relinquishment), etc. I remind myself of all she has gone through and what thoughts and emotions she must struggle with. We've had many serious conversations about those things, but she is quiet and doesn't offer the information without some prodding.

Bless your sweet little girls! They certain DO have the family they need, to be nurtured "slowly" into the grown women they will one day be. Homeschooling provides you with that extra layer of "protection" that comes with having so much extra time together, rather than having them socialized by peers who, for the most part, are living way too high above their age. Living on the farm is a blessing for our kids, also. Though they attend public school, we also have the "isolation" of being in the country. Three cousins next door help provide plenty of interaction with peers!

Sorry if this is rambling. I need a nap, which became more and more apparent as I began commenting.
Nancy in the Midwest

Thad and Ann said...

oh wow...I had tears in my eyes reading this post. What a sweet little girl, she has a great example in you Cindy, you are an inspiration to me!

Michele said...

What an amazing change from the girl you met in December! Love and security is such a luxury for her that she isn't ready to even imagine it disappearing and how sad is that.

Maybe one way to reassure her that you are not just saying she can say is to rewrite "Love You Forever" as her story. And tell it the way it has happened so far, with the pictures you have of you together and apart and how you loved her then.

And then with the future milestones with drawings of Angela doing the thing (college, dating, marriage, job) but with you and Dominic and the boys also in the picture. It will be a physical and concrete object that may help her to understand that your love and company will be everlasting.

Also, you can spend many pages on the growing up years, from now until she is 'older' seem really short to her today. Put many pages in for from now until she is 20, when she may be academically ready for college, then she can also see the future is a long way away with many birthdays, holidays, trips, and love ahead to be experienced.

I cried so much as I read this entry to think how much the girls need reassurance that love is forever. Thank you for sharing!