Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Older Adopted Children and Brokenness

Perhaps I felt it coming.

Maybe that is the explanation for the feelings I have had the past week or two.

I didn't realize a full on tornado was coming, and this morning it touched ground.

It all started with Dominick last night, who was quite frustrated and angry when he shared that yesterday evening Olesya had told him "I don't want think."  Yea, we sorta noticed that already.  We had company and I didn't have time, or even the mental space, to work with that at the moment, so I let it pass and planned to deal with that one later.

This morning we were going to get busy with school, and while I showered, picked up my room and got a little laundry going the kids were to get dressed, get breakfast, and be ready with their notebooks.  I come to the table and Olesya is sitting there with a cup of tea, not yet dressed, looking for all the world as if there was no need at all for her to do anything.  Using my best Mom Voice I said "What are you doing?  Why are you not dressed?" and she looked up at me and said "I was getting breakfast."  I asked "Where's your breakfast?" and she said "I don't have it yet, I couldn't figure it out."


Oh yea, I went Mom on her all right..."You mean it took you 45 minutes to get a cup of tea?  Do I have 'stupid' written on my forehead?  What in the world did you do the last 45 minutes??  Do you expect me to believe that took you 45 minutes??"  She hung her head and said "I played with the dog." I sent her off without breakfast to get dressed.  She returned to the table and while we were alone for a few moments I told her I wanted to talk to her.  I began a conversation about her comment to her dad about not wanting to think.  I asked her what she wanted for her future, and I asked her why we could never have a real conversation with her.  She didn't respond, and I could tell I was getting nowhere with her, I wasn't reaching her at all.

I tried a different direction, and I asked her why she thought she was so stupid. She hung her head and I could see the tears well we were getting somewhere.  I asked her again, and she said "I don't know." I then asked her "Who ever made you think you were dumb?  Who was it that told you that you couldn't learn?  Who made you give up on your very good brain??"  Then she really started to cry.  I asked it differently, and I made her look into my eyes across the table.  "Olesya...who ever told you that you were smart?  When was the first time you remember someone complimenting you and telling you that you were good at something?"

That did it.  She totally lost it and started sobbing.  I pressed her to remember, and she looked up at me and said "1st grade I think, one time the teacher said something to me about doing something good in school, and one time in 3rd grade my teacher told me I was a good speller." 

I sat there in dumbfounded silence for a moment, taking that in.  Our daughter was 8 years old before a single person told her she was good at anything.  Here she was at 12, thinking she was too stupid to learn much, thinking she wasn't really good at anything.

Is it any wonder she doesn't want to think?  No one ever told her she was good at it!  Or anything else, for that matter.

The other kids had gathered round the table by this point, and they all were uncertain what to do.  I asked them all to sit down, and then I told them what Olesya said.  I asked them each to tell her what they saw in her, what they saw her acting like.  Every single one of them said in one form or another that they saw her zoning out a lot, that she said nonsensical things just to get attention, and Kenny added that she pulled away from conversations that were important when we were all together in our "family times", and it made him sad and he felt like she didn't care when she did that. 

I told Olesya that a year and a half later, I didn't feel like I knew her all that much better than I did the day she came home, because she never shares her opinion about anything, she always defers to others, and she never shares her heart.  She sat there quietly then, taking it all in.  I then did an experiment to show what I meant.  I asked every one of her siblings to share for 2 minutes about who they are, what they like, etc. and to then answer one quick question for me with their opinion.  Matthew started and shared that he loves history and building things, that he was interested in strategy games and anything having to do with aircraft, that he enjoyed certain kinds of music and time with his family.  I then asked him what he thought about America and he immediately launched into a couple of minutes of what he liked and disliked.  Every one of the other kids did the same thing, rattling off things they enjoy and don't like, what they thought about things, etc.  It was effortless.

Then it was Olesya's turn.  The silence was deafening as she struggled to form an identity and put it into words.  She cried within 30 seconds as she realized she had no clue what to say, that she had spent years "not thinking" and that it was so hard for her to reveal herself to us.  I told her "Olesya, this is what we are talking about.  You don't even allow yourself to have an opinion.  You have taught yourself that nothing you say is important, and that leads you to not thinking because there is no point." 

In tears myself, I turned to the other kids and said to the boys "Guys, this is what happens when no one cares about you.  This is what happens when it takes until you are 8 years old to before a single person points out that you are good at anything."  I asked Matthew "How many times did Dad and I tell you that you were good at things before you were 8 years old?  How many times did we tell you that you were smart, handsome, intelligent, that we liked your ideas?".  Matt didn't know how to respond but Olesya did, and she looked up with such pain in her eyes as she said "I know Mama, thousands..." and she dissolved into deep sobs.

Which lead to Angela starting to cry soulfully as well.  Obviously, this hit a nerve for her too.  I told Olesya "The only reason Angela isn't the same way is that she had sports and everyone told her she was good at that" but Angela then choked out "Yea, but no one told me I was smart.  No one showed me I could do things, or ever told me I was pretty. I HATE basketball now!  I don't want to only be good at sports, I want to be good at different things.  Sports isn't for real life helping you, it is only a game."

I sit there, knowing the words I say will long be remembered, if not in actual word but intent.  I begin to speak "You know girls, I can never give you back the years we missed.  I can never, ever go back and spend your first several years telling you all the things you are good at, how beautiful we think you are inside and out, how amazing you are.  I wish I could, but I can't, and I am sorry no one was there to do that for you.  But you can decide to move forward Olesya, you can challenge yourself to use the wonderful brain God gave you and discover all the things that are possible for you.  But you can't be lazy in thinking.  You are one of the hardest working kids I have ever met, but when it comes to thinking you take the easy way out.  You will never prove to yourself just how smart you are if you continue to do that, and it means your future will not be all it could be."

Then I added "I wish for all my kids I could go back in time, that I could be there from the moment you were born and hold you, hug you, and care for you.  But none of us can do that, we can only work together as a family to support one another and encourage one another now.  We don't have to live in what wasn't, we can live in what is."

And as I look across the table, Joshua has tears streaming down his cheeks and his chest is heaving.  "I wish you were there too and that my birth mommy hadn't left me.  I wish I had come from your tummy and not hers!  She was an awful, bad mommy and I don't know why she didn't want me."  He rushes over and into my arms, back to me...for facing me would be too intimate...and he adds "And I want to know my real birthday!  I want to know what my real name would have been.  Why can't I at least know that?" as his body is wracked with sobs at this point and he can not speak further.

At the sight of Joshua's pain, Kenny and the girls all start crying, and even Matthew has a hard time not crying as puts his arm around Angela, who now is really, really losing it...and I realize this is about so much more.  She is almost at the stage she was a year or so ago, beginning to cry in a way that signals she is not really with us at the moment.

Kenny's face is screwed up as he too begins to cry out loud and he says "I know what it feels like to be Olesya.  I wish I had her brain, mine NEVER works right and I just wish it would so bad sometimes.  I would trade with her in a minute.  Sometimes it makes me mad when she doesn't even try to think with her school stuff and I try so hard and never get it right.  Sometimes I think my mom gave me up because she knew I would be stupid."

Angela rushes out of the room, into her bedroom where I hear her muffled howls.  Josh is clinging to me, Kenny is a mess, Olesya has her head on the table and Matthew is sitting there not having a clue what has just happened, looking at me as if to say "Wow...what now??".  I tell Josh I need to go check on Angela, and I find her on the floor of her room, huddled under her blanket which is completely covering her entire body as it shakes.  The kids all follow me down the hall and sit around us as I gently rub Angela's back trying to comfort her.  Josh is in my lap, his head on my arm as the tears are still coming.  Olesya is saying over and over again "I'm sorry Mama, I made this happen, I'm sorry." 

I look at her and tell her "Why are you apologizing?  Did you abandon Josh when he was a baby?  Did you tell your mom to use alcohol and kill someone?  You need to stop exactly this, Olesya, you need to not feel responsible for making everone happy and ignoring yourself."  Matthew chimed in at that point "Yea, Olesya, you do that all the time...try to make everyone happy by giving us stuff or doing what you think we want.  What about you?  When you do stuff like that, it doesn't mean anything because it isn't don't really want to show you love someone, you just want to make people like you and you think doing that stuff will make them like you.  Instead, it makes people take advantage of you even if they don't really want make it too easy."  Then he said "We want you to be happy too and to really love us, not pretend."

Kenny added "And we WANT to know what you think about things, we WANT you in our conversations, not acting like you are not interested or are afraid to tell us what you think.  We're never going to think you are stupid."

Angela, in the meantime, is slowly calming a little and she reveals through cries that she doesn't know why, but she was thinking about her grandma the past 3 days and she can't get her out of her head and it scares her.  She wound up again and said "I wish you had gotten me before all that happened!" and I quietly say "I wish I had gotten all of you before anything bad had happened."

And I am so damned helpless.

We all sit there, reflecting on so much that was heavy in the room, wishing we could help Angela and Olesya, Kenny and Joshua...each thinking of their own pain and how it mirrored their sibling's in one way or another.  Matthew sat respectfully through it all and finally said "I am really lucky none of this stuff happened to me, but I wish it hadn't happened to you guys."  I said "Yea, but you have lived through each and every one coming home and all their adjustments, and that hasn't been a piece of cake either."  He smiled over Joshie's head at me and said "Yea Mom, but it was worth it."

Slowly, with more gentle conversation, the room became quieter, and huge sighs were heaved.  Angela scooted over and with her head still under the blanket, rested her head on my knee, her hand held in mine.  Olesya spoke "Mama, I know you are right.  I don't know how to change, but I'll try.  I do like when you tell me all the time how smart I am at things.  I guess I just don't always believe it." and she almost started to cry again, but caught herself, and then I added "And Olesya, don't think I haven't noticed that you don't yet quite feel 100% connected to me.  I feel your hugs, I know they are halfway.  But it is hard to love someone else when you don't fully love yourself.  The day I get a real hug from you will be the day I know you are almost there, that you will be loving yourself."  She looked up at me with the most stunned look on her face, and she said "Mama...I love you...but I think I know what you mean.  How did you know when I didn't?  I do feel like I am not really hugging you all the way but I don't know why."  I said "Someday, you will know.  In the meantime, let's work really hard at being very real and honest with each other...I will never ever give up on you, and I am NOT going to let you get away with not thinking, so now I am going to be harder than ever on you, OK?" and she actually smiled and said "Yea, I know Mama, it's because you love me."

We all sat there on the girl's floor, together as feet touched feet, arms were flung over shoulders, everyone wanting a piece of Mom, who had far too few arms to place around too many children.

This remarkable group of children, whose pain runs so deep, and who so few would ever suspect suffer so deeply over their past.  They appear so whole to the outsider, as if we somehow snapped our fingers with each one and declared them healed from their past. 

It doesn't work that way.  This is pain that will be carried with them forever, there are deficits that last a lifetime.  We do our best to help them, we screw up often, we worry and fret and wonder every single day as their parents.  Are we doing the right thing?  Is this something to let pass or is the time right to work on it?  How much do we press?  How much do we let slide? 

It is fall, and this is Joshua's time to regress, I have been feeling it for a couple of weeks as he has reverted to checking on me around the house, clinging a bit more to me, and now today's breakdown.  We talked about how he may not know his birth name, but Matthew and I shared about how Dominick and I spent two nights trying out names, and what his names might have been.  I told him that our birth dates are important only as symbols of the date we were born, and that he might even have really been born on his birthday as we know the police made an educated guess, and maybe they guessed right.  I asked him if he would like to pick a different day to celebrate, and he said no that he actually liked his birthday.  He just wished he had something that he knew for sure.  I told him he could know for sure that God was with him, that we loved him enough to wait for him and go that far, and that God had put us all together.  He seemed to think about those things for awhile.

Angela has suffered true trauma, and it will reappear many times during her childhood, I am certain.  What she witnessed, what she endured, what she haunts her.  Therapy?  Maybe, eventually,  but I have a funny feeling it will get us nowhere more than we are now.  We are making progress in helping her deal with things, she at least is comfortable enough to share it, and in time more and more comes out.  And this is one young lady who will flat out have to feel someone is extremely intuitive and honest before she would ever trust them with her emotions. 

Kenny, he has lasting issues that will forever challenge him.  He is gaining confidence, healing has occurred but still has a long way to go.  Frustration at his inability to have his brain function the way everyone else's does takes it's toll, and at times like today, grieving happens for all that is hard for him and easy for others.

Olesya, dear sweet, people pleasing Olesya.  She is a reminder that sometimes, what is not said or done is more harmful than what is.  The lack of early affirmation has forever altered who she becomes, and we have a very, very long road with her to help her view herself as worthy, to help her learn to tune in and turn on.  I honestly don't know how to do that, but I'll keep trying.

Then there is Matthew, seemingly unscathed emotionally, yet who has witnessed so much as each child has come along, who has remained steady and calm, who has never tried to draw attention to himself in order to keep it from others.  What do we not see there in him?  What ways has all of this affected him which we are not even aware of?

Tonight, the aftermath is that Mom is feeling wrung out and very, very helpless while the kids are all purged for awhile.  Where do I purge?  Here, I guess.  Where do I let go of the guilt of being unable to hold four hurting kids today...of not being able to spread myself that thin?  Where do I turn to teach myself how to help our children work through all that haunts them? 

I do what I can, I let God do what God does, and I recognize that some things may be out of my power to alter.  I almost lost it at choir practice tonight, as we sang "Consecrated, Lord to Thee"...just the beginning lyrics were so true for me, so hard to live...

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
*Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

If I can manage to live this out, if I can let myself be that in tune with God's will for my life, for our life as a family, then somehow I can trust we will all make it.  On days like today, it is all I have to cling to, for it feels as if I can never, ever be what the kids truly need me to be., or even Dominick for that matter.
I am trying very, very hard not to let the feelings of failure that were already on the surface take over.  Tonight, as we all sleep together with kids gathered on the bedroom floor around us needing connection and security, gentle breathing the only noise we hear, maybe I will somehow find peace with everything.  Maybe it'll make sense, maybe I can sort it all out.  If not, I trust that God will somehow use someone or something to help me.
I have to believe that, for THAT is my true salvation...not heaven, not promises of streets of gold...but salvation is making it through the things that feel impossible alone.


Anonymous said...

You are doing such a wonderful job, even in navigating this unchartered territory. I learn so much from you as a parent and am grateful to have found your blog. Although my children are biological, your insight is wonderful for me in helping raise them and approach conversations that could be way more difficult. Thank you and don't ever think of yourself as a failure. God placed these children with you because he knew you and your husband would be the perfect family for them!

Anonymous said...


You are not alone. And you are not a failure. You are doing what we all do -the best that you can, day by day. As you told me not long ago, it's just that some of us have fuller plates than others. Heed your lesson to Olesya, my friend, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself and speak to yourself as if you are one of your children. Give yourself all the kindness and understanding and patience you give them. And, it will sort itself out. It won't be easy, and it won't be fast, but you and Dom are strong enough to see the kids through. Take care - Kelly

Anonymous said...

God gave you the skills He knew you would most
need to care for your family -- maybe not the
ability to easily design the colors for a room, but the
ability to hear the cry of a hurting child in need, to
stop what you are doing, to really listen, counsel,
and love.

Peggy in Virginia

Anonymous said...

Life, hands, voice, silver, gold, will, love--the hymn volunteers those to God. So often in our lives we are offering without hearing the response, or we struggle with what to offer, or we aren't even at a place to offer or to believe there is a God to offer anything to.

Olesya may not believe she has anything to offer--to you or to God. You are all helping her find her depth and breadth and value, so that she, one day, will find what she can give--to herself, to others, to God.

Kenny stops my heart at times--standing behind the pulpit, dressed in a suit and tie, handling the responsibilities of liturgist with calm, assurance, and pride. Few know the hours you and he have spent in practice. Kenny, face abeam,reading, reading, reading, when he thought he would never be able to. Kenny, with kind and loving heart.

Matthew has grown strong and tall and wise. Yet, just in his physical pain, facing medical remediation, he has his own reminders of a time before you.

Joshie is such an imp and such a budding scientist. He is still a child before pre-teen, a child who delights in play and creativity and hugs.

Angela grows in size and beauty and developing potentials. She has seen too much, is understanding her past too painfully, and overcoming, or perhaps learning to live with and above, what has happened in her life.

I shudder to think what the fate of these children would have been without you and Dominick. Some would not be alive today. Some would face a grim life on the streets. Some might have made their way to a limited existence.

Neither I nor you know what the future holds for them. But I know that what you have offered to God,life, hands, voice, silver, gold, will, love, and the essence of what you are and Dom is and the strength and depth of your love, all come together to offer hope, opportunity, safety, love to each child. Whatever their future holds, even though it will always be affected by the past, it is filled now with love, compassion, caring, wisdom provided by you, Dom, siblings, friends, prayers, God.

Your prayer for God to use you is being answered every moment of every day.

Love you,

Lindsay said...

Your kids have an incredible strength and the support they intuitively give each other is amazing. But then, they have an amazing mom giving them the example.

The Gobble's (Lanetta) said...

Bawling Cindy.... absolutly BAWLING! Keep on girl... you make me proud and I know the Lord is so pleased with you!!!! I am honored to read your writing and thanks so much for honest and open sharing! Praying as you navigate those waters and I know the Lord is leading you daily.... :) Hugs... and know I'm praying!

Anonymous said...

Hope u r well we r thinking of u and praying for your family.

Mary in Virgina said...

Praying for you !

Anonymous said...

It's like you were writing about my daughter when you wrote about the way yours is. Shocking really how similar, and odd to have it all written out in plain sight like that. Like some one was able to really see my daughter and describe what we see, when everyone else just sees a sweet, conforming, easy to deal with child.

Michele said...

Cindy you are gifted with such clear sight. You were able to see and explain to Olesya what you were seeing and helped your other children share their examples. You helped her to see why she felt dumb.

And in the process allowed the children to each reopen their wounds, purge them for the time being. Their wounds aren`t healed but for now the are cleaner.

How powerful it is for all to hear how you wish you could have been there from the beginning. They aren`t the only ones with that wish.

I know you have the angst of not being able to hold all the children at once, but you have given them the gift of each other. Your children don`t ignore one another`s pain, nor do they reject it. They share it as a family. A true gift.

When things get messy I always think of my late father who would reassure me and say that you can`t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. The house you are reinventing is just like the children`s lives. They could have been left as is and continued to deteriorate. But with gutting you see what is wrong and remove it, it often takes longer and is more involved than it seemed before you started work. But in time and with lots of work the house and the children will shine new and whole both inside and out.

Anonymous said...

I love the analogy of the house and how you saw the potential, gutted it, are working hard to make it into something "new". That's a neat illustration to talk to your kids about. It's taking plenty of hard work, for sure. But in the end, they will all be proud of all the effort they put into making the place "shine".

I too appreciate your blog and your honesty, Cindy. Having brought home our last two daughters at ages 10 1/2yrs and 11yrs, I can relate to the hurt and continuing healing. I can also relate to a daughter who has had a very hard time putting any love into her hugs...into her family. And like you say, from the outside, she appears to be happy and healthy and "settled". After almost 4yrs, I can say she (and I) have come a very long way. Is it the same as our other kids, both bio and adopted? Nope. She is one tough, stubborn cookie. We were told that about her by the director of the orphanage who knew her from the age of 18mo. when she came into care. Bingo...nail on the head right! She is like Oleysia, in that she is quiet and doesn't let us into her heart much. But unlike Oleysia, she does not do things to please others...or at least not within the family, just with friends. All these things can scare me for the future, but I do see much progress. You're not really that far into this with the girls. And in reality, a lifetime won't be far enough into this for them to necessarily ever feel total peace about their past. I just think every conversation we have with them about their past and their hurts will hopefully and prayerfully bring them closer to that peace.

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

Yes, Moms feel much guilt from not ever being enough for our kids, adopted or bio! I've been blessed with eight kids...but sometimes that can mean eight times the guilt, as I see or think of things I did wrong, missed, or didn't know to do at the time. I just can't go there.

I always say, "Adoption doesn't just happen". You can have a baby "accidentally" in the natural way, but not so with adoption. It surely can come as a surprise, but much paperwork and personal information has to be considered/homestudied/etc. So without a doubt, I believe as adoptive parents, we can know that it was God who brought each particular child into each particular family. I know you know and believe that also. God knew what your kids would need and what you and Dominick had to offer. And He enables us to provide those things for our kids.

And though you don't feel you have enough arms to enfold around all your hurting kids, that's why He gave them such accepting, loving siblings. The healing that can go on through the help of all their supportive siblings is just what they needed.

Yes, I know the feelings of not being their for four of my kids, the girls especially, since the boys got to come home at 4yrs and have never really seemed to feel much of the grief/loss from those "missing years." But I remind myself that God could have brought them home to our family sooner, but didn't. (Our four were all in the same orphanage, so that could have been possible, theoretically). For reasons known only to God, He brought them home in the order and times He did. He can take their experiences and use to to great good, as His Word says "He works all things together for good, to those who love God and are called according to His purposes." (from my poor scripture memory reserve)

I know and trust for you, on those days when their pain comes out in "group therapy" and Mom feels overwhelmed, that God will use their histories to make them even more incredibly empathetic and giving adults.

And on your own feelings of inadequacy in carpet and paint selections: I also struggle with those two things in particular (when they come up occasionally). I'm a former art major. The reason I think, is because it's such a large, expensive purchase. Couches and countertops, same thing. If there's a next time, ask a friend along who is very good at interior decorating. Evidently not Lael, from what she says! We can't all be good at everything. God gave you the gifts He knew you would need for your kids...not for redecorating, necessarily.
Nancy in the Midwest

Tammy said...

I too was crying, feeling your children's pain that was so palpable on the other side of this screen.

I agree with some of the previous posters - don't be so hard on yourself. We parents wants to fix everything. To have the exact words needs for comfort, the exact wisdom that will make everything better. But the most powerful thing you can do is simply *being* for your kids. We don't need to have all the long as our kids know our love is unending. One of my favorite sayings is that people will forget what you said and what you did but they will always remember how you made them feel. You, my friend, are making your children feel more loved than they ever had and that is the legacy they will carry with them.

Anonymous said...

I believe that God brings people into our lives very purposefully. Perhaps we need them in our life and didn't even know it, or other times they need us for those same unexplained reasons. Or each one needs the other mutually. God looks into the heart of each of us and knows these things.

It is obvious God brought you and these special and wonderful children together knowing how much you all needed each other and what a great family you would be. God always gets it right! What wonderful parents you and Dominic are, and each of these children are unique and gifted in their own ways.

Richard Bach once wrote:“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life.”

Team LaJoy, God bless you all as you continue your journey together as a true family!

Sue Kurtz