Sunday, December 25, 2016

Finding a place

The dust has settled, like we're finally stumbling out to see the aftermath of what once felt like a terrible storm. In some ways it feels like stitching back together the tattered pieces of a quilt. In other ways it feels like walking out to victory.

Today was our first Christmas with our little girl, who a year ago, was a perfect stranger to us. It was lovely- a distant cry from where we were just a few months ago. The past few weeks I've been thinking about it all- the highs and lows of the roller coaster we've been on.

I'm part of a large online adoption community where I've been following the journeys of several adoptive families. As I read of some of their struggles, I can't help but feel a sense of guilt. For all the challenges we've been through, compared to the challenges of other adoptive families, we've had it easy. Incredibly so. In so many ways I feel like we hit the adoption jackpot. She fits into our family seamlessly, like a glove. It's this realization that makes me feel weaker than I thought I was as I reflect on how much I've struggled. She is a treasure- a priceless one, and I shutter to think what life would be like had we never said yes to bringing her home. But what got us to this point was going blindly down a path with lots of guessing and hoping... hoping that I wasn't screwing things up too badly.


She stood there, staring at me in disbelief and I almost lost my nerve.

No, I told myself, follow through. I motioned again for her to take the backseat.

She narrowed her eyes but obeyed. Her face turned to stone and she clenched her jaw in defiant silence as she turned to look out the backseat window. I took a deep breath and sat in the front seat.

I felt sick and completely unnerved. I looked at Dennis for reassurance and he nodded quietly. She had only been home for a couple of weeks and still struggled with carsickness every time she traveled in a car. We had been having her take the front seat since it helped minimize the nausea, and now I was booting her to the backseat so I could sit in the front. It felt awful because I knew. I knew I had no idea what I was doing, that I was bluffing my way through it.

I had been sensing over the past few days that my attempts at being seen as gentle and understanding were being perceived as being weak and insecure. Bonding and attachment had been taking a steady downhill turn and I couldn't help but wonder if that was why. Our little girl can be quite intimidating when she wants to be, and truth be told, had intimidated me several times up to that point.

We had reached a crux. Either I was to be the perpetual weakling or I was to take my place as the leader of the pack- the alpha- and I was risking a puking kid in my backseat to prove it, but I knew I had to do it.

As she sat staring out the window, I could tell she had completely shut down again and that it would probably last for hours.... and it did. Her shut downs are hard on me. The silence, the emotional distance- it kills me.

But then something unexpected happened. After several hours, she pulled out of it and was different than she was before. Oddly enough, she smiled more that night, laughed more, and seemed strangely content- like an assurance had washed over her.

As the weeks and months went on, I saw this pattern reemerging time and time again. I'd comfortably slide out of alpha role, and bonding and attachment would suffer. We'd struggle through a few days of muck before realizing that I needed to tighten the slack, and our relationship would improve almost immediately. With each episode we'd be better than before. I would have to remember to occasionally fluff my feathers for things to continue to improve. It seemed like the strangest phenomenon.

Sometimes I'd "alpha" over the most trivial of things to pull her out of it- like how far away from me she was allowed to walk when we were in public- but it was too much of an obvious pattern to ignore. The stricter I was- even on the littlest of things- the safer she seemed to feel and the happier she was. I was learning a side of parenting I had neglected to notice with my biological children- that for some children there's a comfortable security that comes with what feels like militaristic parenting.

It isn't easy work for either of us though. At times we've locked horns for hours, sometimes day. There have been tears and frustration, but each time I see her blossom brighter than before. Today she shines brighter than ever before. As I write this, she came in to check on me from working with her dad on her new puzzle. She smiled and patted my shoulder, asking how I was doing and if I needed anything. She is a sweetheart beyond belief.

My little girl has been riding a roller coaster of uncertainty and grief for the past 12 years of her life, and finally there is a seat belt around her little lap, holding her in tight. She can finally be the child and enjoy the ride, letting someone else take care of her for a change, instead of always having to look out for herself. I pray that someday along this ride she'll be able to see with bright eyes what her place in this world really is.

And what a place in this world she has.