It's getting harder and harder to blog these days, with two ball games and two lessons many afternoons. During school time, between spring field trips and planning Jasper and Saffron's birthdays, parties, etc., I barely seem to be getting the dishes done--let alone laundry or blogging. I think I may have to move to blogging just once a week. That may make more sense anyway, because we've passed a milestone: April 30 was our six month anniversary of bringing the girls home. We are passing from a major-adoption-transition phase to a learning-to-go-on-and-function-as-an-ordinary-family phase. Life is beginning to feel different. Maybe it's appropriate that I spend less time noting a major life change, and more time focusing on a sense of normalcy for the family. Just thinking.
I have thought a lot in the past two weeks sbout (ok I really love my iPhone, but why does it NEVER correct 'sbout' to 'about'?? Isn't that pretty obvious??) what a different place we're in now than we were six months ago. I've asked the girls to reflect too, but it's hard to get much detail from them. I say, "what did you think about America when you first got here?" And they say, "good."
Willa did tell me she thought America was warm when she first came. Utah in the winter?? I asked. But she explained that she meant the fire in the floor in the house (heat vents).
One of the most marked differences I see in Willa now verses six months ago is that she talks non-stop. We tease her that she can't stop talking for ten seconds at a time, and she agrees that it's true. She was silent when we first met her! Of course, that changed pretty quickly.
For the first several weeks Saffron was here, holding her hand was like holding a dead fish. She wouldn't respond at all. Now? My goodness--she wants to cling and squeeze and hug whenever she gets the chance. This is symbolic of Saffron's six-month evolution overall. She has gone from fearful, timid and withdrawn to very eager to bond, please and interact--and only sometimes withdrawn. She could still be described as very moody but, as her psychologist said, that's very understandable considering what she's been through. In fact, she's adjusting very quickly and showing very healthy emotional growth. He cautioned us to avoid labeling any parts of her personality or behavior with adult labels because she is still transitioning and changing so much (In fact, he cautioned us about doing that with any child).
As far as Jasper and Ruby are concerned, I take heart in the typical sibling tiffs they have with each other and their sisters, because it all signals normal family life. I remember the first few weeks Jasper and Ruby would come bounding home from school, only to be crestfallen when they saw their sisters waiting at home and remembered their existence. Ruby would say, "I feel happy until I realize life is not the same as it used to be." That may be hard for people to hear, but it's true. That's how kids feel, and how many of us feel when we have to adjust to a major change in life--even if we believe the change will be good for us in the long run. And believe something like that is too much for little kids. They just have to wait until they experience it. Now, Jasper and Ruby seem to have gotten over to the shock to their systems: they no longer wake up in the morning in a bit of shock to remember their new family. Their bodies no longer tense up when their space is invaded by their new sisters.
That's not to say we aren't all experiencing growing pains. Jasper still overreacts to things Saffron does that might only be mildly annoying to him if Ruby did them. Saffron and Willa still get outrageously jealous at many small things they see as injustices around the house. But they all control their reactions better. Willa's biggest problem these days is probably her constant jealously of Ruby. She lashes out at Ruby, or tells others not to speak to Ruby, and catalogues everything Ruby has (including particular colors of shirts) that she doesn't have. But at the same time she LOVES Ruby desperately and wants to be just like her and with her always. This is pretty typical little-sister behavior, except just blown up into an obsession in Willa's case. That's not unusual for the transition she's in.
No matter how much I show her and Saffron that I love them, it seems it will take them a while to believe they are full-fledged members of the family. They still measure my every word: did I say "I love you so much" to Ruby, and only "I love you" to them? They are always on the look-out for such discrepancies. I used to be paranoid, and now just try to be natural and let them see that I will not enable their neediness, but will always love and support them exactly the way I love and support everyone else. For example, I may spend an hour one night listening to them in their room after bedtime, because they suddenly want to tell me stories about Ethiopia. Then, if the next night I read a book with Ruby at bedtime and didn't read one with each of them individually, they will be upset. If I bring up the point that I spent an hour with them just the night before, and we all get our own special time at different times, it won't erase their jealousy. So I usually just go on, hoping that as they test me over and over they will see that though I constantly fail their tests I am still there, the next day, loving them like a mother. That sometimes they get in trouble, and other times Ruby or Jasper does. That it all comes out in the wash.
I think Saffron, especially, feels like she gets in trouble more than anybody else. This is probably because she does. I talked to the psychologist about this. Saffron still exhibits a strong air of self-centeredness in her actions, and a real struggle to admit when she's made a mistake, rather than making an excuse. On the other hand, at times she is extremely selfless, wanting to serve others all the time, almost to an annoying degree. I have been losing patience with this. Ruby and Jasper, on the other hand, have both been in very even and helpful phases, and therefore have not been getting in trouble much. I can see why Saffron feels put upon. Her psychologist (who has now given her an extensive battery of tests) explained to me that it's not too unusual for a child of Saffron's background to exhibit such bipolar behaviors. On the one hand, she was treated like a second-class citizen in her home, so she is just discovering how to be an individual whose needs are valued. Therefore, she begins by over-valuing her own needs, and struggling to see the point of view of others, or to see how her behavior affects them. We have to let her go through that, he says, before we can focus on teaching her how to look outside herself. At the same time, one of the only ways she felt valued in her previous life was by doing service for others. So, this is one way she seeks to show her value now as she's seeking her individual identity. She'll bounce back and forth as she figures it out. Yes, you often want to say, "I'd rather have you be nice than do chores for me!" And she'll get that--eventually.
For example, Saffron came to Jasper's birthday dinner very sulky. She was upset to have been late to the dinner, even though I had given her the choice of being late if she wanted to stay for all of dance (she hates leaving dance early). We had discussed it before she left for school, and again before dance, and she chose to stay for dance. Still, by the time I dropped her off for dance she wasn't speaking to me. The day after the dinner, I brought it up and explained to her how if you choose to act really sulky in a situation you are drawing attention to yourself, whether you think you are trying to or not. You do because people are concerned about you. You thereby also succeed in drawing attention away from the birthday person. It's not very kind when it's someone else's special day. "But I was late!" she kept saying. She couldn't admit that she'd had any other option but to act the way she did.
On the other hand, she went out of her way to help me prepare for Jasper's birthday party--to the point that she wasn't happy if I wasn't putting her to work. As I write this I realize most people probably think, "Oh, that just sounds like a typical child." But it's different. I can't explain how well enough, but if you saw it you would understand. As her psychologist said, if Saffron were exhibiting many of these signs and had had a perfectly healthy childhood without a recent shock to her system, he would worry she was depressed. But in view of what she has been through, she is adjusting remarkably, and at lightning speed. It was very helpful to hear from him that I can quit worrying about the seemingly self-centered behaviors. It is not yet any indicator of her future approach to life, he said. We just have to let her figure out how to be her own person before we worry so much about what kind she will be. She's great! he said. She has no learning disabilities or long-term emotional issues that he can see at all. She's smart and aware and, as he says, a real success story. Much of that is due to the loving relationship she had with her mother in the first four or five years of her life, before her mother died.
I realize I talk more about Saffron than Willa. With Willa it's even harder to tell what behaviors are adjustment to shock and change, which ones are age-appropriate, and which ones are her personality. We just treat her as a four-year-old, and discipline her accordingly, and let her feel like life is not fair most of the time. Probably a lot of youngests feel that way. Honestly, I try not to get annoyed by the whininess. She is very accusatory of me, especially accusing me of lying and not fulfilling promises a lot. This is very hard to take sometimes--I'm still not at my best either. I knows she's adorable and cute and sweet and I must let her off the hook for a lot of the other, because she's just learning how to behave in a real family--let alone an American family, and my family. Last night she screamed bloodly murder the whole time we braided her hair. Is that typical, or just Willa? Who knows. The one thing we agree on is that we'll keep it short until she's ready to have it braided more often. She's OK with that. Right now she's complaining to me that she does nothing ever at home, and then has to go to boring preschool. She wants a lot more cuddling and affection and attention than most four-year-olds I know, but I have to remind myself there's nothing wrong with giving in to that sometimes. She missed out on it for much of her life thus far. I wish I could feel more eager to indulge that. I'm adjusting, too, and am selfish too.
Otherwise, I notice that recently they want a lot more attention from Steve. They are now measuring his affections, too. That seems to be an indicator of good progress somehow. He is their dad now--not Ayalew. They are curious about how to relate to this American kind of dad.
I would never want to go back six months. But I would also never want to go back and undo our adoption. I am so grateful to be able to say that. I love our new family. Even Jasper, who's been slow to get on board, has changed his tune. You remember that he used to say he wished his sisters could go back to Ethiopia. We were sad, but knew he had to come along at his own pace. Yesterday I thought he was going to say the same thing, and my heart sank. But he didn't. Instead he said, "I wish Saffron and Willa could go back to being one-year-olds for a year. Then they could learn how to behave, and come back to us knowing how to act their ages and everything would be easier."
"Well," I said. "I think that's sort of what we're doing this year." We're all growing up together.
PS. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!