As an adoptive mama extraordinaire I have felt very protective of my children’s stories. I don’t blog about their beginnings. That’s completely theirs to share. When folks have a hard time understanding this I usually ask them, “how would you feel if you walked into a room full of people and they already knew your most intimate stories?” Weird, right? That is why I choose to protect many details of Liam and Lola’s lives.
I’ve even refrained from writing about the hard parts of older child adoption. Always telling myself that I would start writing when I felt it was time. I’ve benefited from many writer mama-bloggers who have adopted before me and now I feel that it’s time to start sharing our experiences so that others considering adoption can gain some insight from our life.
So let me set the stage here. I am a whole 30 years old. Calvin is the old man coming in at 31. We have lived and done quite a bit in those years God has given us. And to be honest, the lives we call ours aren’t really ours anymore. At some point we surrendered. We gave up on thinking that we could really control or pick and choose what God might have for our family. Today we have a 2 year old, a 4 year old and two five year olds. Elliott would interject at this point and remind me that he turns 6 next week so let’s make that a 2, 4, 5 and 6. We adopted Liam at 9 months old from Ethiopia and Lola from China at 5 1/2 years old. Lola is visually impaired and has REALLY cool blue eyes. We kept birth order with Liam’s adoption, not by choice, it was a policy with our adoption agency. And seriously, as much as I complained about that policy, I could not live without him. I didn’t know that an almost one year old was exactly what I needed. Lola’s adoption blew birth order out of the water, and we did something called artificial twinning. Meaning that she and Elliott are the same age, 3 months apart to be exact. Most social workers would not recommend this and there are tons of studies that also warn parents not to adopt out of birth order. But we did. So there.
Do you see that statement above? That was pretty much my attitude about the whole thing. The circumstances leading us to Lola were pretty miraculous. We didn’t learn about her from our agency, she wasn’t referred to us by our agency and we didn’t see her picture on a waiting child list. She was on the shared list of children available for adoption. No agency was currently advocating for her, but someone named Rebecca was. So as I was searching one night, I was restless about our adoption and knew I needed to find our daughter, I found Rebecca’s blog and I saw Lola for the first time.
Lola’s file simply said, both eyes blind. Thanks China, you really provide some stellar information to adoptive parents. (and what the heck! Is someone watching her? Those scissors are super close to her lips.) As time went on, we began to get a little more information and learned that Lola had some “light sensing ability.”
And finally, Calvin and I got on a plane and went to bring our daughter home. We spent close to two weeks in China with Lola before heading home. We found that while her vision was extremely low due to opaque corneas, vision and blindness were the least of our concerns. Lola’s emotional age was about two years old. Emotional age is very different than intellect. Lola is quite smart, and now that she has the opportunity to really engage on an age appropriate level she is blowing us away. However, emotional age is still in the 2-3 year old category due to institutionalization. This means that she typically enjoys playing with Liam’s toys. She and Liam fight over who gets the truck, or car, or ball or really whatever Liam has that Lola wants or whatever Lola has that Liam wants. She also has a very hard time processing her emotions. Imagine your 2 year old or your friend’s two year old. They want something, a snack at the grocery, scissors on the counter, chocolate… whatever, just something they aren’t supposed to have. Mom says no. 2 year old falls onto the ground and has a complete fit. That’s where we are with Lola.
So… all of you prospective older child adoptive parents are now wondering… what do you do when this happens? There are a series of things we are doing right now to help encourage emotional growth.
1. We communicate expectations ahead of time. Lola, please sit on the bed with your brothers and sisters. We are going to read a book. I expect you to sit on the bed and listen, not wander off and play with something or look for scissors. (Lola loves scissors, like a lot) This is family time, we stay together. We allow each child to turn the page in the book. This keeps her engaged because she looks forward to doing the action. As she remains engaged she is less likely to try to do something she will ultimately get in trouble for.
2. When Lola hits the ground to have a fit, and she will… several times per day. We don’t let the fit go on and on. Typically we will allow her a minute of space to display her emotions and then we intervene. We do this by picking her up and moving her to another area of the house. We verbally express that there are other ways to display feelings and one of us will remain with her until she calms down. Sometimes, if we know exactly what caused the meltdown, we will help her move through the steps prior to the meltdown and assist her in creating a better outcome. Example, she and Charlotte are coloring. She wants Charlotte to give her a red crayon. Instead of using words to tell Charlotte she wants a red crayon Lola skips to melting down because the red crayon is not in her possession. In this instance, we would bring Lola back to the table (still crying) and show her that Charlotte needs to hear words in order to understand Lola’s needs. I will say, Charlotte, Lola would like to use the red crayon. Can you give it to her? Yes. Lola… do you understand that you must ask for the crayon? Please ask Charlotte for the crayon. Great! Very good job using words. Crisis over.
3. We praise Lola. When you are being all strict and setting rules and expectations for a child it’s easy to find yourself saying, “No, Lola, No Lola, please use words, please communicate, you may not kick the wall” more than you say, “wow Lola, you did a great job using your words today.” So I have made it my daily mission to praise Lola. I have started looking for the smallest or biggest (we do have biggest sometimes!) progress and I take the opportunity to show physical affection (hug, kiss) and give verbal praise. She responds SO WELL to verbal praise. Her little shoulders sit high, her eyes shine and that infectious smile spreads across her face when she receives verbal praise.
I am learning so much from Lola. We had some attachment issues with Liam and he had night terrors and pretty much didn’t sleep for a year… but that’s a walk in the park compared to this. We never know when something will trigger a fear or defiance response from her. It’s hard to remain calm ALL THE TIME. But we are getting better at it. I truly have to think everything through before I act or say a word, impulse parenting does not work with Lola. If I don’t take the time to make sure Love is at the front of my response I end up mad at myself for reacting the wrong way. Love has to drive everything. Not the love that made me get on a plane and fly to China. That love was spurred by seeing my daughter in a picture. My daughter who had not yet tested the boundaries of my sanity. This is the love that comes when you step off the plane with your child and thrust yourself into a whirlwind of brokenness and pain that you can’t fully comprehend. But you KNOW because you see the evidence of that brokenness in everything your child does. And that new kind of love leads you to lie down in that mess and dig into that mess so that you can find out who that little girl really is.
We are nowhere near knowing who Lola really is at this point. But I’m starting to catch glimpses of a spunky, spicy girl who loves to dance. And I love her so very much.
Stick with me! I’ve got a lot to unpack!