Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Focus on the Good

Truthfully, I've had a hard time with both Saffron and Willa the past few days. I believe the problem lies mainly with me, and could be due to any number of groundless reasons--including hormonal ones.

So, rather than "get online and whine about my adopted kids," as my social worker says she hates to see adoptive mothers do all the time (except she didn't say "whine"), I'm going to get over myself and acknowledge some of the good progress the girls have made lately.

A couple of days ago, Saffron said,

"What is Alexia's dad making?"

Wow. This sentence stopped me short in my tracks. She didn't say,

"What make Alexia dad?"


"What Alexia dad do?"

She had the "is" and the "'s" and the "ing," and everything all in the right order. This was a perfect English sentence, and I told her so. We're just shy of her six-month anniversary in America, so I was quite impressed with this accomplishment. Without sitting through a grammar class, she has developed her own understanding of sentence structure, and tense, and possessives, and has corrected her own small mistakes until, one day, a complex sentence comes out without a single mistake. She's tempted to give up sometimes because she gets corrected so frequently by so many people (Jasper and Ruby), but she soldiers on. She tries really hard, and it's paying off.

Since starting her new school, Saffron's studies have rocketed forward. I'm relieved and proud to see that. She had some behavioral issues when she first started at the school, but those have really improved, too. For other adoptive parents, let me just say I've found and my social worker has stressed that adoptees often react exactly the opposite of how people would think they would. After having had nothing, no choices or opportunities in life, the swing the other way--to a feeling of entitlement. This can be really hard for adoptive parents to take. For example, at school Saffron thought she could just inform her teacher she was staying in from recess to play a computer game. She didn't understand that no student, INCLUDING her, had a choice about recess. Many little interactions like this add up to a frustrated parent feeling their are dealing with a child who is suddenly spoiled rotten. But the truth is--I must remind myself--they came here knowing even less about choice than they knew about English. They are learning its boundaries, and must be taught when they are outside them. A million choices in school projects, and foods, and clothes, and friends, seem the opposite to them of the idea that respecting your parents and teachers means you really have no choices unless they authorize them. This has got to be one of the hardest lessons for them to understand, and one of the hardest for adoptive parents to weather patiently.

But Saffron's behavior in school has improved tremendously. Another area she has struggled with is wanting me to hide her past from everybody, and taking offense if others asked about it innocently. We've been working hard at changing this. In fact, on Saffron's birthday her teacher asked me to tell the class a little about her at each stage of her life. I had to tell about her history in Ethiopia, because that's all we know. She really didn't want me to, but I reminded her of our feeling that her Ethiopian past is something to shout from the rooftops-something that makes her special. And the more often we ignore it the more we'll start wanting to hide it. So, I told eight things (for eight years) about her life growing up, including baking her own mud dolls to play with, cooking and cleaning and carrying Willa wrapped on her back, tending cows, and even her mom's death. The children were riveted, one teacher cried, and Saffron absolutely beamed. She let herself feel the vibe of the class, and seemed to catch the vision of how good it can feel to be unique. I was really impressed with how well her teachers and classmates responded. It was a real breakthrough for Saffron, and she talked about it for days. Of course, many of the students in this small school have situations that make them feel atypical. They get it. This has really been a good move. (Now I just hope we can find a way to pay for it for a while longer.)

Willa, also at Saffron's new school now, in preschool a few days a week, is finally learning her letters. Clearly, they're doing something right that neither I nor her old preschool were. Honestly, this begins to dispel some concerns I had about her learning abilities. It just goes to show you can never underestimate the effects of a new country, family, and language, and even with the best intentions we often mistake those effects for terminal issues. With Willa I'm no longer thinking they are terminal. I think her struggle to retain learned facts has all been part of her general adaptation to a new life and whole new idea of what learning is.

Willa is jealous of Ruby and tattles on her and whines about her all the time. This really grates on me. But I have to remind myself that Willa is really good at many things--she always wants to go to school, gets ready fast, and bounds in without a word of complaint. And she still goes to sleep like my telling her to is fairy dust. Oh, and she'll eat absolutely anything. Everyone who eats with her is amazed.

So with all the things to love, why don't I always feel IN love with the girls? Well, because it's only been six months--for both of us. We're still newlyweds. We're still getting to know each other. AND, they're still learning the language. Their English has gotten so good I'm shocked at least a couple of times a week to realize how thoroughly they can still misunderstand me. And how little words, like corner, and feel, and behind can still confuse them. I think one of the biggest struggles for parents of foreign adoptees has got to be to realize how little they really understand, even when their English is deceptively good--especially their accents. I often find myself punishing them for something I realize after the fact they truly didn't understand. For example, I say "go to time out and don't come out until I come get you, when your time is up." Well, they always come walking promptly right out of time out. With sentences full of mostly simple words, it's really tempting (especially when I'm at my wit's end!) to see this as outright defiance. And I often have. But, in my calmer moments, I explain better, and find they are confused as to whether they're supposed to stay in, or come out and apologize.

Recently I've adopted the tactic of trying to see them as Etalem (their Ethiopian mom) would see them. I'm sure she'd like to smack me for not seeing their greatness all the time. That's how I'd feel, if I died and someone adopted Jasper and Ruby. In fact, even if I'm frustrated myself, it really upsets me if someone else doesn't realize how amazing the girls are. As my sister points out, that's a good sign that I do feel like their mom. I'm as defensive as a mother bear for them. Be patient, Etalem. I'm working on it. I know I'll get there.

So, how have I done? Is all this talk sufficient to turn me over, flip me up, make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside again? Maybe. Maybe I just need a Coke.


Melissa said...

LOL For sure have the coke, and be pleased with all your positive talking.
You're social worker would be proud.
I'm glad Saffron is doing better at school as well as Willa.

Emily said...

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down..... coke, yes. Positive thinking, double yes. Perspective and approach, priceless.
I need to take a lesson from you to breathe, step back, re-assess and move forward.
Everyone is making great progress when you look at the big picture. I sure love your family. More greatness to come, just watch.

Kristin said...

You're amazing Emily.... and come get me for that Coke!

MsScreensiren said...

I recommend the coke at any rate! I love the description of a marriage...yes you are newlywed and they always say that the first year of marriage is the most difficult.

Brooke said...

That's right, go get a 1/2 and 1/2 on me. I could use one too, now that you mention it. How about a run to Paces? You are a fabulous mother who loves her daughters very much. You take the good with the bad. It's not glamourous, it's motherhood!

mabeybowman said...

YES COKE...ALWAYS! Interestingly, or maybe not, when I was a newlywed I often thought of Dave's dead mother and how she probably wished I looked on his heart more than I did. Seven years later I still think of her but now I think she is wishing I'd clean up the house more! No, that last part is just a joke! :-)

So happy to hear about S and W's progress!