(Written with intention to post on Monday 11/16. Make sure you check out the pics below too.)
That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to tackle the papers and dishes that invade the kitchen, or to take arms against a sea of troubles—and by blogging, rest them.
(I realize it’s cliché, but the “To Be or Not To Be” speech remains my all-time favorite piece of Shakespearean insight. It echoes in my mind at least a couple of times every month. For me it’s the ultimate expression of that question we all must ask ourselves many times each day—whether to face life’s struggles head on, or try to escape them.)
Yesterday was quite a day.
In the morning we had church at 9:00 AM, and I needed to be there early to play the piano. Ruby was supposed to be on time to give the scripture at the beginning of primary. Unfortunately, we did not get off to a good start.
Tinsae did not wake up happy. She refused breakfast, and convinced little B/W to do the same. They did get ready for church, but in an unlucky turn of events, Tinsae put on a favorite dress of Ruby's--her fancy Easter dress. This is understandable--it was hanging in Tinsae and Birhane's closet, where all the girls' dresses hang because that's the only place they fit, and I had indicated that all the dresses were for all the girls to share. Though Ruby knew about this, she apparently never foresaw the possibility of someone else actually choosing her favorite dress. (The "favorite" status of this dress was previously unknown to me.)
I was showering, so Steve handled it. He backed Tinsae up, reminding Ruby of the dress deal. Ruby cried and Tinsae pouted. Soon Tinsae took the Easter dress off and threw it on Ruby’s bed. She then changed into a shirt not long enough to be a dress. We offered her many other options, including said Easter dress, but she wouldn't speak or move. Ruby wouldn't get dressed at all, despite our warnings she would miss her chance to give the scripture. Ahh, mornings. I had to Go!
Steve took me and Willa and Jasper to church, leaving both girls crying and finally thinking maybe we were serious. When Steve got back home a few minutes later, Ruby was struggling into the forbidden dress and Tinsae was still in the shirt. He helped them both into acceptable clothing and dragged them to church. Saffron was screaming but Ruby went willingly, now very worried about her scripture.
Meantime, the opening scripture had come and gone and I had grabbed Willa to fill in for Ruby. She repeated into the mic what I whispered in her ear, having no idea what it meant but relishing the spotlight. Then, during the announcements, Ruby walked in, confidently went up front, and sat in the scripture chair. Her teacher tried to motion her back but she was oblivious. I shimmied out from behind the piano, up to the podium, and whispered a plea to the primary president (in the middle of her announcements) that we should do the scripture again.
She did not miss a beat but said, “and we’re now going to have our scripture again, because it was such a great scripture it’s worth hearing twice.” Ruby came up to the podium, read her scripture perfectly, and happily sat down. Crisis averted—for now.
I then went to get Saffron, who was out in the hall. I coaxed her in with the proposal that she sit by me on the piano bench, rather than with her primary class (the other kids her age). She indicated that she had a stomachache and headache, which is not surprising considering that she hadn’t eaten since the afternoon before. She was pouting and acting miserable (as she probably felt), so I tried sitting with her in the audience so she could watch the action up in front. She began to panic, shaking her legs and fidgeting. I figured she was about to breakdown. I was really losing my patience with the pouting, but didn’t want her to be further embarrassed so I took her to the nursing room off the bathroom, which is comfy and quiet, and shut the curtain. Once again, she sat on my lap and cried. I just stoked her back and let her get it out.
I think it’s important to interject here that I am no superwoman. It is still hard for me to be loving and comforting during these moments sometimes. As I said when I first met the girls, I really look forward to knowing them better and loving them completely, but I think it’s unrealistic and a disservice to adoptive families if we don’t admit that that level of connection takes time. Ruby and Jasper I’ve had for years—cared for for years. If caring for someone is what bonds us to them, then it stands to reason that with less time invested in these girls so far, I’m less bonded to them. I remember a teenage girl named Charity once admitting, “Some people know, some people only believe but want to know, and some people only want to believe. But at least they have begun the desire to believe. I can say that I want to believe.” I have never forgotten that. She may have been referring to religious beliefs, but I think her insight applies to many things. With a new child, even sometimes a biological baby, you pass from a desire to a belief to a knowledge of love. I began with an eager desire to know and love these girls, but with a certain fear and uncertainty. I have passed from desire to confident belief—I really want to feel like their mother and I believe I will eventually. But at the same time, I’m very grateful to the adoptive mother who confided in me that she felt like a babysitter to her adopted Ethiopian baby for the first six months. Now that baby is the light of her life. I have thought of that comment often—depended on it—and wish adoptive families would share these thoughts more often. I believe they help, rather than hurt, the cause of adoption. It is through the struggle that we achieve the fullest measure of happiness, right?
And I should add that I did break my “not-lose-my-temper” streak Saturday night with the grocery store episode. The reason Saffron was pouting in the garage is because I had left her there. She and Ruby were fighting, and Ruby had gotten hurt. I had just invited Saffron to come to the grocery store with me, but then she refused to apologize to Ruby. I said she couldn’t come unless she apologized. She sat there in the car in silence, so I hopped out, slammed my door, walked around the car, flung her door open, picked her up and stood her on the ground. I then jumped back in and pulled out of the garage. This was a bit like my lunchbox throwing episode of a couple days before, when she refused to hold the lunch I had packed for her. I didn’t yell either time, but I did lose my cool and show my exasperation physically.
And when I say I’ve had a goal not to lose my temper, it’s not because I’m Supermom. It’s because I’ve done it plenty in the past with Jasper and Ruby. Especially after our baby boy Charles died, in October of 2007, I found myself with a shorter fuse than I’d ever imagined, and yelling at Jasper and Ruby more than I’d ever believed I would. I’ve learned over the past two years how ineffective it is. Your kids may respond and do what you want in that moment, but it doesn’t change their behavior positively for the future. It’s also a real handicap when you turn around later and try to teach them not to yell at each other. This time around, with the girls, I have to teach them from scratch how we act in our family (or try to!), and without using a common language to explain. They are learning solely from our actions. So if I lose my temper and overreact, the consequences are even more dire than they were before. The fact that I have felt relatively calm over the past few weeks is not due to my own special resolve. It’s due to the fact that, one, I want this to work: part of me is treating it in a detached way, like a behavioral study for which I’ve prepared for a long time; my rational brain says that the more I stay calm, choose my actions and reactions, and teach the lessons I want taught, the sooner we will have the well-adjusted family we seek. Second, I have no doubt I have angels on my right side and on my left, to bear me up. There are many moments throughout each day when I think to myself, “I am definitely not alone. I have with me an extra comfort, an extra measure of the spirit all the time, to help me through this. Because I, alone, would not be handling it.” I’ve never thought of it until this moment as I write, but perhaps Charles is finding his own way to help—to act as peacemaker in our home.
Alright. Enough of the sappy stuff! Just trying to show the full picture. Anywho, I barged into the toddlers’ room at church and asked for some snacks for Saffron—I knew she was starving. I told her to come join me at the piano when she finished eating. I went back into primary to discover they’d already started singing time, and I’d failed them on my first day: they’d had to commandeer a pianist from the audience to play for me during my disappearance. I resumed my post, and was soon joined by Saffron. She cuddled up next to me at the piano. But then Ruby returned from her class for singing time . . . DUN, DUN, DUNNNN,
No sooner did she see Saffron up there with me than she marched up to the bench, crying and reminding me that I had said none of the kids could sit by me while I played the piano at church. Argh. Well, true, I said. So why don’t you sit on my other side. She did, and I put my arm around her and gave her a hug. Well. Not OK. As soon as Saffron saw this, she pulled away from me and turned her back. Then she got up and left the room. Keep in mind that I’m trying to accompany songs this whole time, and am up in front of the room where everyone can watch my parenting peril!
As soon as there was a break I went outside and retrieved Saffron from the snowy sidewalk (she had taken her shoes off). I sat her down authoritatively next to a girl she’s met before. Luckily, she didn’t move again.
After primary it was time to head to our last meeting, and Saffron refused to leave her seat. I handed all my books to the other kids, and picked her up, crying. She is the size of an eight-year-old, so this was awkward and her dress came up over her bum. This made her more upset, so I set her down to walk. She collapsed stubbornly to the floor again, so I picked her up again. We all marched into the meeting, which had already started, assuming Steve would have a seat for us. But at my behest, he had gone home to get food for Saffron! So we made quite an entrance before we quickly found a bench. When I sat Saffron down she began muffled cries again. After a few minutes it was clear this would embarrass her, so I took her out of the chapel. She cried and I cuddled some more, then she ran outside again. I grabbed her, saying, “It you want to pout let’s at least do it inside. It’s freezing out here.” Again, not a moment of great sympathy on my part. We eventually went back in, but she would only sit on the armrest of the bench, drawing more attention to us, of course. What good entertainment for everybody on a typical Sunday at church!
But this is where it gets good. This is what does your heart good. About half way through the meeting, Saffron cuddled up to me. She and Ruby were sad about who got to put their head on my lap, so we set ten-minute turns according to the clock. After a while, Saffron whispered to me, “Mom, sorry Ruby.” She wanted to apologize to Ruby! I didn’t realize she was still thinking of her battle with Ruby as the cause of any of this, but I was so impressed she wanted to apologize. Apologies have been a struggle for her. I was really proud of her for this step, after such a difficult day. They apologized to each other (well, OK, with me saying all the words), and made up.
From there, our Sunday went really well. I felt like laughing as we left church. I thought, “All’s well that ends well.” (I know, gospel of Shakespeare again.) I wasn’t embarrassed, having learned long ago that allowing yourself to get embarrassed in public parenting moments only triples your stress, and you usually take it out on your kids. Plus, I have to assume all of our friends at church are pulling for us. I know they are. The kids played great the rest of Sunday and it was a really nice day. Each potential problem was solved pretty easily because the kids were all willing to sort it out and try not to pout. It was really encouraging.
As I write, the kids just came in from school, with Ruby bawling that Saffron had pushed her into the wall. Jasper and Ruby say that she left them and ran home alone, a big no-no, and ended up at the neighbor’s house around the block. Jasper says her teacher told him she was difficult at school, being ornery and refusing to share, and running out as soon as the bell rang. I don’t know what to do this time. I have great sympathy for Saffron’s point of view and all she’s going through. None of her behavior seems so surprising to me, considering where she’s coming from. But I don’t know how to handle it when it happens outside of my house, and in more complex situations. I thought she’d come home from school happy today. These are the times the language barrier really gets in the way—we need to have a good talk and we can’t. Sunday we invited the translator I’ve found and his family over for dinner, for the express purpose of having a good long talk with her, through him, and giving her a chance to air her grievances. But they never showed up. I think that really would have been helpful. She won’t talk to me now, so how will I figure out what to do?