Friday, February 25, 2011

Attachment, Security, Self Esteem, and Hope

Most adoptive families are required to complete a good deal of training and reading during the home study portion of the adoption process.  One of the main topics discussed during training is that of attachment.  Psychologist John Bowlby defines attachment as the lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.  When discussing infant attachment, the general idea is this:  baby has a need (food, assurance, comfort, etc.) and then the mother or primary caregiver meets the need.  This cycle takes about two years to complete and results in a baby with a secure attachment.  A baby with secure attachment is able to separate from her parent, but knows to seek the parent for her needs and concerns.  When this cycle is disrupted, as often happens with adopted children, there can be lasting psychological effects.  

When we received our referral and monthly updates for Sassy, it was clear that her attachment cycle had been disrupted.  Not only was she dealing with the typical security issues of toddlers, but that of a child who had lost everything that was known and safe to her.  We know very little about her past, only that she was about one year old when, for reasons only God knows, her caregiver chose to abandon her.  Every time I play out that scenario in my mind, tears well up.  I cannot imagine what that feels like to a small child.  One day your world is at the very least predictably unpredictable and then next, poof, the person who has been with you all along is gone, never to return.  

Sassy's behavior patterns and mannerisms do suggest that she had formed a bond with someone.  While living in the transition home, she preferred one specific nanny.  Psychologically speaking, this is great news.  Psychologists believe that if a baby has formed a bond with someone, that bond can be transferred.  That does not suggest, however, that the transfer will in any way be seamless.  

What we have witnessed in the short three weeks since we have been home is nothing short of God's amazing grace and His provisions.  Sassy went from being stuck to my hip or hanging on my leg, to slowly taking two steps away, to giggling and letting her guard down, to playing with her siblings (first one at a time, then all at once!), to finally letting her father take her on a walk without me being present and returning home with a big smile on her face repeating, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy."  This is the same little girl who did not smile in a single photo in the six months that lapsed between our referral and her coming home.  The same girl who screamed bloody murder when anyone other than her nanny tried to hold her.  The same girl who was abandoned on the street and only through the power of the Holy Spirit was able to know almost instantly that we were her forever family.  Three.  Short.  Weeks.  So. Much. Progress!!

I have also witnessed how her insecurity initially caused her to freeze.  When scared, she would just scream and freeze up, unable to even take a step. (While our other children, when scared would scream, but run to me.)  It baffled me at first, but one day a light went on.  She never had the chance to explore on her own or build her self esteem.  After coaching her up the staircase one morning and then applauding once she reached the top, she looked at me that biggest smile, as if to say, "I did it!  I didn't know I could do it, but I did."  We have had many of those breakthrough moments.   The more she realizes she is able to accomplish, the more secure she is feeling in herself.  The more we reinforce that we are always going to be here to meet her needs, the more secure she is feeling in her family and home.  

God has proven so faithful.  Even in the most trying circumstances, He is walking with us, comforting us, and providing the wisdom and refreshment we need to handle each and every situation that presents itself.  While we are charting new waters, I am in awe of His complexity and perfectness.  He perfect love for His imperfect children.  His trust, reassurance, provisions.  We have come so far in three weeks,  I can only imagine what our home and life will look like one year down the road.  He is faithful.  

Psalm 89:1  "I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations."  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Battle Scars of Motherhood

During my first pregnancy, I recall being at a routine prenatal checkups and the doctor (smiling), consulting his pregnancy week checklist, and saying something to the effect of, "most women experience hemorrhoids either before, during, or after childbirth."  He again consulted his checklist of likely conditions during pregnancy, moved on the next one, and that was that.  I also read about hemorrhoids in one my gazillion books, magazines, and articles that I honestly though (ha!) were going to prepare me for childbirth and being a mother.  Each of them just breezed over the topic as to say, "No big get it, it goes away, move on."  

Fast forward to delivery and coming home with baby.  I remember being in the worst pain of my life.  Pain worse than childbirth, no doubt!  I thought, "Something must be wrong because there was only one itty-bitty paragraph devoted to this subject in my books and the doctor didn't seem to think it was a big deal."  I got on the horn and called some girlfriends who confirmed that they too have been through this and yes, it is very painful.  Tearfully painful.  What?  Why didn't the doctor or books or ANYONE tell me about this.  I guess people just don't like to discuss tushy boo-boos.  

Moving ahead a few years, we were once again 'well-prepared' for the arrival of two new Ethiopian bundles.  We took all the precautions, received the vaccines, traveled with our emergency medications, and took proper hygiene measures while in country.  So, when ten days after returning home I noticed what appeared to be a skin infection, I was caught off guard. Hoping it was just an insect bite, I waited two days before scheduling an appointment with our pediatrician.  She laid to rest my worst fear (that we contracted some flesh-eating bacteria that would eventually consume us), but did culture our daughter's dry scalp and pointed out a teeny-tiny rash near our daughter's ear.  She believed it could be a fungal infection, but had never seen anything like it.  (Great...we always love paving the way!  As I learned in the military, you have to lead from the front.)  Our pediatrician believed the rash near our daughter's ear may explain the spider-bite-looking-mark (which was not a spider bite) on my chest.   

I like to think of things like these as small battle scars, a tiny price to pay for the immense blessings we receive from God everyday.  God has watched over, led the way, and continues to walk beside us every step of every day.  The same God who handpicked each child we will parent, will certainly help us get through these minor nuisances.  Hemorrhoids and fungal infections, while uncomfortable to discuss, are nothing compared to the poverty, hunger, and disease that cripple nations and kill tens of thousands each day.  They are certainly nothing compared to the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us.  I have chosen to accept these scars as badges of honor.  A small reminder that God trusted little 'ole normal me to watch over, protect, and parent four of His children.  

By focusing on things out of this world, God puts the things of this world in perspective!  

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Observation Heaven

Considering we doubled the number of children in our home seemingly overnight, and before the addition the oldest child in our home (Larry) was only four, the past two weeks have been extremely joyful and equally challenging.  

The Bible tells us we need to have faith like children.  (Examples can be found in Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, and Luke 18:17.)  Sometimes I am awestruck by the amount of faith our young children exhibit.  When my mother was in her final weeks of life, Larry provided me a great deal of comfort.  I about lost it when one night while praying he leaned over, looked at me, and said, "Mom, it is time for Mom-Mom to go home now.  God has a big book...bigger than any book I have ever seen, and Mom-Mom is on the next page."  Those were his words, the words of a four-year-old, whom I have never talked to about the book of life.  

The same four-year-old and his two-year-old brother, Moe, have exhibited an amazing amount of faith and wisdom during a very stressful time in our home.  Considering our eleven-year-old, Sporty, speaks very little English and has displaced Larry as the oldest child in the home and our eighteen-month-old, Sassy, has a very real (and very loud) fear of being abandoned, everyone in our family would have every right to be stressed beyond measure.  There are certainly moments each day where the stress peaks and everyone is vying for mom's attention, but as a whole, our children are adapting exceedingly well.  They talk about how God brings families together, all of our children call us mommy and daddy (and it seems and feels natural!), and they honestly interact like siblings that have been together for life.   

The way I have chosen to approach the first few weeks of our new family life is do a great deal of observing.  I believe this is especially important due to Sporty's age and Sassy's past experiences.  Instead of assuming I understand the motives behind each child's action, reaction, or behavior, I have been watching various scenarios play out.  (Now, I have also been doing a lot of boundary setting, rule coaching, and helping to establish new and unique roles for each child.)  However, the primary component of these past two weeks has been observation.  By doing so, I have learned a lot about Sporty, Sassy and also about how Larry and Moe are handling this transition.  Instead of jumping in directing the course of action, I have been trying to understand why a particular child chose a specific behavior or action.  Honestly, it has been quite intriguing! When I can see through the chaos and silence the noise, I have been in observation heaven.  

I have observed that in Ethiopia, older children take toys away from younger children and consider this a form of play.  Bigger and older children grab toys, food, etc. away from the younger children and then make a game out of the younger child retrieving the toy.  Sassy understands the 'rules of the game', but it also seems to be a factor in her lack of trust and unhealthy attitude toward food.  Larry and Moe do not understand or enjoy this type of 'play'.   

I have observed that Sporty wants a real and active role in helping out around the house and caring for his siblings.  He wants to be associated with his father, the man of the house, but is also interested in helping me with his younger siblings throughout the day.  

I have learned not to misread nonverbal communication. Rather, I have been visiting local Amharic-speaking community members so that I can have them ask Sporty our questions directly and he can answer them directly.  

I have deduced that Sassy is very loud most likely because that is how she set herself apart at the transition home and received attention.  She is strong-willed, intelligent (is already speaking English and trying to potty-train), and determined to get her way.  

I have learned that Sassy's fear of abandonment is going to take a good deal of time to overcome.  We are going to need a lot of patience and consistency in her routine and surroundings.

I have also observed that Sassy has a very unhealthy relationship with food.  She does not seem to know when she is hungry or full.  If food is within eyesight, she will always want to eat it. 

Mainly, we have learned that we are going to have to choose and prioritize our battles (as parents) so that we work on the most pressing issues right away that will in turn establish the foundation of our new family.  There are so many moving pieces right now that we need to focus on the most important things that will serve as building blocks for everything else.  

While most of us in the adoption world talk about how God perfectly matches children and families, this is no longer a blind faith statement but a living testament.  God knew before the beginning of time that Sporty and Sassy were meant to be in our family and because we stepped out in obedience, we are witnessing with our own eyes how perfectly He worked out the details to bring us together.

Heavenly and gracious God, we praise you as the God of all creation.  The Father to us all, who adopted each one of us as sons and daughters.  We ask that you remove all from our home that does not come from you and continue in each one of us the work that you have started so that we are able to further your kingdom.  Thank you, God for the blessing of our family!  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Voices In My Head

Yesterday, I had to stop and laugh at the craziness that has become our new life and home. With a four-year-old, two-year-old, one-year-old, and an extremely patient eleven-year-old, conversations really can be quite amusing...if I can only see through the insanity to laugh and enjoy it.  

Now, before I describe all that was said in a short five minute window, let me first describe the personalities of the pantry-raiding, always moving, decibel 194 children that God has blessed us with.  

We are the proud parents of Larry, Moe, Sassy, and Sporty.  Larry, our four-year-old, is a bit OCD, just like his  mama.  The best word we have come up with to describe him is intense.  Emotionally intense, physically intense, and, intellectually intense.  His mind goes a mile per minute and his questions never cease.  Moe, our two-year-old, used to be our laid back child.  That is, until two more children entered the home.  Moe is silly, energetic, curious, and a big fan of trains and anything that annoys Larry.  Sassy is our princess stinky pants.  She is eighteen months old, has been in our home a little over one week, and commands attention.  She is loud, opinionated, bright-eyed, inquisitive, silly, eats more than a grown man, and attached to mama..literally.  She has mastered the word 'no' and knows how to defend herself against her brothers.  Sporty is our eleven-year-old achiever.  He is wonderful with his brothers and sister and determined to succeed.  He is artistic, athletic, and very welcoming.  Also being in our home only one week, it seems as if he has always been with us.  

The following conversation, if you can call it that, all occurred yesterday morning before I even had the chance to down my first cup of Ethiopian coffee:

Sporty (while looking at a calender provided by our adoption agency):  Naming all the people he knew in the photos.  When he got to a photo of a little girl from Russia, he asked who she was.

Larry (the gears started turning):  Where is Russia, Mommy?  What happens in Russia?  Do the rush in Russia?

Moe (playing with his food):  I'm in charge, I'm in charge.

Larry (looking irritated):  You are not in charge.  Mommy and Daddy are in charge...they make the rules.

Sassy (downing her second or third bowl of eggs and getting ready to be heard):  Up, up, up, UP!!

Moe (trying to annoy Larry):  I'm in charge (evil smile).

Larry:  NOOOOOOOOO.  Mommy, Moe said he is in charge and he is NOT in charge.

Sporty:  Bike?  Outside?  Soccer?  Mommy, play?  

Me:  I wish I could play...or go to school with you for a few hours. 

Larry (recalling a Pinkerton book about burglars):  Mommy, do burglars live on earth?

Me:  Yes, Larry.  

Larry (getting concerned):  Do burglars live in America?

Me:  Yes, some burglars unfortunately do live in America.

Larry (tears welling up):  Do burglars live in Texas?

Me:  I'm not sure, Larry...but my guess would be yes.  

Larry (now crying, very concerned, and rechecking the wiring in our home security system):  Are the burglars coming to our house?  Mommy, how do we know they are not coming?  I am scared.  

Me:  Trying not to laugh and recalling conversations from the day before about tectonic plates and tornadoes.  

Sporty (went outside to ride his bike)

Moe  (dancing around Larry repeating over and over that he is in charge)

Sassy: Up, up, up! (communicating a sound level that must have gotten her attention while living with twenty other toddlers)

Me (staring at the coffee pot): Recalling Philippians 1:6 which states, "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

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