I can’t believe it’s already been a month!! We’ve been home four weeks today. I agree with parents who say that it feels like it’s been so much longer even as it feels we are just getting started. This week has been monumental in growth and adjustments. So much has happened.
There has been a lot of positive growth in all three of us. I want to highlight a couple of the things I’ve noticed this week.
DoubleShot’s English usage keeps going up and up. She often echoes back things we say, so we are slowly trying to expand her exposure. This week, we’ve gotten a lot of “Good morning!” “Good night!” “Are you hungry?” “Are you tired?” “Mario! Game over!” Most of her English is short phrases or single words, but last night she voluntarily told me, “I no tired.”
We registered ourselves as homeschoolers on Monday. I made the mistake of researching and filling out the declaration form in front of her. When she saw the school website, she recognized that it was about school. She assumed we were enrolling her in public school and started freaking out. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” Emphatic head shaking. The look on her face was heartbreaking. I quickly reassured her that we are not sending her to school, that she is learning at home with mama (she knew this was the plan before we met her). Throughout the day, she asked several times about school and I had to break out the translator and reassure her. She wanted to know about the registration form so I told her that we are notifying the school that she will not be attending, that we are learning at home. She took the form to the mailbox herself and relaxed after that point. I’m not sure WHY public school here is such a huge fear for her, though I can guess – new people, new language, and she may just not be ready to go back to school. Whatever the reason, I’m so glad that we can give her the safety to learn at home!
Our bonding has strengthened. DoubleShot seems to be moving toward an anxious attachment. We still have a long way to go to reach secure attachment, but at least we’re on the right path. She has now started following me into the bathroom, which is something that would have surprised me had I not read about it happening with other families. When we sit on the couch and watch a movie, if she’s regulated, she has to sit curled up against me. If she’s not regulated, she’s frustrated with me and sits on the other end of the couch… But most of the time she’s curled up against me with her head on my shoulder. Or, she’s sitting pressed up against me. The other night we were watching Wall-E and she was sitting next to me. She kept reaching out two fingers and laying them on my arm. So sweet!! If I let on that I notice, she pulls away. But if I ignore the contact, she quite happily stays glued to me for an entire 90 minute film.
DoubleShot is now voluntarily choosing to play English word games on the computer, two games similar to Boggle. I introduced her to them last week and she didn’t seem interested. But she’s now playing both games at least once a day. She wants one of us to sit with her and show her words that will earn her lots of points. We keep the words simple, using the game to test her knowledge. I will say a word, wait a second to see if she can start spelling it, and then name off the letters one by one. It’s increasing her letter recognition as I can tell she’s getting faster. Sometimes she can spell the words without prompting and sometimes she can find words on her own. She knows how to spell numbers and has found “cat” and “dog” and several other similar words without prompting. I don’t force her to play, just follow her lead when she decides it’s time.
Another positive development this week is that DoubleShot is now telling us when she is hungry and when she is not hungry. She’s very hesitantly opening the fridge or freezer door and pulling something out, looking over to make sure that we are ok with her food choice. It shows that she is gaining confidence to express her needs and desires, reassurance that her food needs are being met, and that we will not punish her when she attempts to meet a need.
As for me, I am re-learning the importance of self-care and the necessity of staying calm, patient, and nearby. I’ve run twice this week and will run again after breakfast. I’m taking 15 minutes or so per day to work on my Chinese studies. I wake up about an hour before DoubleShot and will spend time reading a devotional and then writing emails or a blog post or catching up on Facebook. The days are longer because I’m not getting as much sleep as I used to. I find that I am able to stay calm and regulated myself most of the day but start running out of emotional energy toward the end of the day. I am introvert and it’s hard to be available to a needy child all day long! But I’ve been praying for strength and really do feel God is helping me every day.
We’ve had one massive challenge this week and it is one we were hoping to avoid but, alas… DoubleShot has a Facebook account, one that she signed up for while at her orphanage. We have not allowed her access to it for multiple reasons. I feel that Facebook would be opening a massive can of worms. First, because Facebook has no guaranteed safety from child predators, we would have to monitor her Facebook friends, her time spent using Facebook, and it would be a struggle for me to keep up with what is posted (all in Chinese). Second, she already has a computer/electronics addiction and this would be adding fuel to the fire. Third, we need for her to focus on bonding with us, not her friends. Fourth, the orphanage and her social worker in Taiwan and the agency in Taiwan all told us that they do not want her to have contact with her friends until she’s settled here, until she’s learned how to be part of our family.
Another huge reason that we do not allow Facebook has to do with DoubleShot’s past. We will not share that information with others, but it does play into our decisions. An advantage of adopting from Taiwan, rather than China for example, is that we were given a lot of information about DoubleShot’s past. We are still missing very large pieces of her story but we have enough information to help guide her. Facebook falls under the category of “DoubleShot may not understand, other people looking in may not understand, but this is what is best for my daughter and people will have to just trust that we are making decisions for her emotional well-being.”
A quick note here before continuing – I don’t share these things to embarrass my daughter. I share because I decided to blog about our adoption and our parenting experiences in hopes of reaching out to other families who are considering older child adoption. I leave out a lot of the details but the stories are true.
So with all of that said… DoubleShot finally worked up the courage to ask for access to her Facebook account. We have her login information, which I don’t think she has memorized, and her computer usage is completely monitored with one of us sitting with her at all times. I was greatly amused with her way of asking.
“Oh yeah? What are you wanting to buy?”
“No, no computer.”
“No, no cell phone.”
Me – “What do you want a cell phone for?” (I walked into that one, oops!)
“No, no Facebook.”
Before I even had a chance to address this further, she melted down and started whining. She kept asking why. I slowly gave her a few reasons, having to navigate in English, follow up with my attempts at Chinese explanations, and then pulling out the translator and trying to explain further. I told her that Baba and Mama want to keep her safe and that Facebook is not safe. She asked why I am allowed to use Facebook and she is not. I told her that I am an adult and she is a child. I told her that the orphanage will not allow her to contact her friends. She wanted to know why so I told her that they want her to learn English and that they want her to learn how to be a family (they gave us both explanations while we were in Taiwan).
At this point, DoubleShot was no longer regulated and I stopped trying to explain. She is not able to truly hear what I am saying while upset so all I can do is physically and emotionally stay with her. She kept repeating “why???” and “I am 13 years old!” in both English and Chinese. She was laying on our bed during this conversation and had a meltdown. She was kicking our bed and yelling. I laid on the bed with her, close enough that she could feel my presence but far enough away that I wouldn’t get kicked. This is where my Heather Forbes parenting class kicked in (something I may post about later). Because she kept looking over to make sure I was nearby, pausing to evaluate the situation and then going back to her tantrum, I joined in. I told her to tell me how mad she was. I kicked the bed too and that made her giggle. After that, I stayed quiet and calm because she was not allowing herself to calm down.
For almost an hour, she laid on our bed and kept up her tantrum. I internally laughed at the irony. Here she is insisting that she is 13 years old and should thus be allowed on Facebook while throwing a tantrum like a three year old. At some point, she started yelling that she hates me, both in English and Chinese. I responded that I am sorry she feels that way but I love her. Her response? “Yucky.” (We’ve been telling her that we love her for awhile now. At first she would reply “yucky” with emphasis. Now she just listens or will respond “yucky” with no meaning behind it.)
We’ve had two days now of repeated requests for Facebook and repeated tantrums. The “I hate you” only happened during one tantrum, which I am grateful for. I understand that it’s normal for teens and definitely normal for older adopted children to express their frustration in this way. It might be normal and I might have expected it, but it’s a blow. Thankfully I didn’t respond other than to reassure her that I love her even if she hates me.
Overall, I see so many positive signs in these tantrums. She’s stayed near us the entire time. Before this, she would shut down (rather than act out) and retreat to her bedroom or to the other side of the room from us. But she chose to stay on the bed with me. She kept checking to make sure that I was nearby. I’m also happy that DoubleShot now feels safe enough with us to request something and to express her feelings when that request is denied. Yes, we will need to work through healthy forms of expression. But it’s better for her to get her feelings out than for her to keep them bottled inside. She was able to express herself and see that even with her tantrums, she is not beaten or yelled at. Baba and Mama (by the grace of God) have been able to stay calm through each of them and have been able to reassure her that we are safe even when she is angry.
Four weeks home and we see so much growth. DoubleShot is finding her way in our family. She’s learning that she is safe. She is learning that we care about her and that we will meet all of her needs. She’s learning that we have boundaries and how to navigate within those boundaries. I’m really proud of her. We’ve all gone through some growing pains. My husband and I have made mistakes but we’ve also made some really good decisions. We’re growing as individuals and growing as a family. This week has been emotional and while I hope for many calm moments this upcoming week, it’s facing the challenges that we grow the most.