Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Shattering glass walls

If there's anything that the past 7 months has taught me, it's that it's the hard times- not the good times- that have grow a relationship. But how they make me cringe, even knowing that it's the hard times that will give us roots.

One of the most remarkable things about bonding with an adoptive child are the break-throughs. Each one like shattering a glass wall. One step closer to understanding the heart- both hers and mine.

When people ask how we're doing, I say amazingly well- better than I could have hoped. 

"I can't believe how happy she seems," they say. I agree. 

"She's come out of her shell and seems like a completely different person," they say. I agree.

She has transformed in every possible way. I wouldn't recognize her as the same person from 7 months ago if I were talking to her face-to-face. 

But still there are battles, big and small. And what I think most people don't realize is that it's a million little victories- awkward and seemingly insignificant- that have brought us to where we are.

A couple of weeks ago we fought another battle as I tried to understand some of her seemingly strange habits. She withdrew, I continued to press. She withdrew further into herself, I threw my hands up in frustration.

"Why do you care?" she asked through angry tears.

"Because you're my daughter and this is what a mother does- she tries to understand her children."

"You ask me every day, 'how was school?', 'what's wrong?', 'why are you angry?' In China no one asked me so many questions!"

"So, what did you do if you were sad? What did you do if you had a bad day at school? Who would you talk to?"

"No one," she said angrily.

Equally exasperated, I asked, "And did you like that?" 

"Yes, I did!"

I was incredulous. "Hengxin, I'm sorry, but that's not how it works in a family. In a family we talk about things. We help each other when we're sad." 

"Why?!?"

"Because I want you to be happy! Because I love you."

We ended the evening with our usual embrace, though a bit more stiffly than usual, and I went to bed feeling deeply troubled. I knew I hadn't handled myself as well as I should have. I had almost lost my temper and she knew it.

But for the first time I understood another tiny sliver of my daughter. Revealing her feelings, the ups and downs of her days, the reasons behind her quirky little habits- it was all deeply unsettling for her, leaving her feeling vulnerable and terribly exposed. She had been conditioned to prefer the indifference of others and that left me feeling defeated. My attempts at understanding seemed to only be pushing her away. 

The next morning my resilient little girl greeted me with a smile. The discomfort of the previous evening was done and over with, but even with the frustrated exchange of words from the night before, our relationship took another stair climb. We were one step closer towards understanding. We had shattered another glass wall.

Today we shattered another one. A big glass one- reminding me of the bullet-proof windows that were in the armored car my dad would drive to work when we lived in Bogotá. Her glass walls at times seeming equally impenetrable.

She had asked me early this moring if she could talk to me. Her eyes welled up with tears as she recounted some of the painful memories that were triggered when I asked questions about her past. We agreed on establishing a signal as to when my questions were crossing into dangerous territory, and when they needed to stop.

She said she understood my need to know more about her and asked me to be patient with her as she worked through the difficulty of the emotions. This has been by far one of our biggest battles. With our little girl, almost all emotions register the same. Anger, frustration, sadness, tiredness, loneliness- they all look the same. Exactly the same. And for someone like me, who wears every emotion on my sleeve, this is incredibly difficult to say the least. I work off emotions. That's how I interact with other people- by reacting to their emotions. And when the world's worst poker player (me) meets the world's best poker player (her), it's bound to be a course for collision.

"My emotions may seem strange to you," she typed through Google Translate. "I am not always angry or sad, I just want you to know."

"I know," I said. "I'll try to be more patient. I promise. I'm not the perfect mother. I know that. I am learning how to be a mother just like you are learning how to be a daughter. What you're doing is so difficult, but you are doing so well. I love you so much."

We embraced again. She rested her head on my shoulder and stayed for a moment- no more glass between us.

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