Entry: Yes. It's Different. Sunday, August 10, 2008

One night last week, Julia crawled in bed with me and went to sleep in the crook of my arm, the top of her head nestled under my chin. and her arm resting across my chest.  Keith woke us when he was ready to turn in.  Before I resigned her to the nearby guest room, I stared at her face for several long seconds, soaking in its features and marveling not only at how peaceful she looked, but also how we got here - to a place that Julia would snuggle next to me to sleep.

Keith and I have known lots of adopted people, including some of our dearest friends and family members.  But....they were all adopted as babies.  Infants.  Or - as we continually read the desires of potential adoptive parents on the user boards - "as young as possible."

That is so, so different from adopting a six-year-old.

Rachel, Lois and Hannah never questioned my authority.  When I told them, "Pick up those Legos or I'm throwing them away," they knew I possessed the authority to do what I said (and I pitched the Legos, too, BTW, the morning after I next stepped on one in the dark.)   When I shot a blistering look across a church pew or a restaurant table, they snapped-to or faced the certainty of punishment.  They might not have liked or agreed that they needed that punishment  - but my God-given authority to met it out was never challenged.

Neither did I have to prove my love.  Practically every breath of baby Rachel's was documented, photographed and shared with half of Houston.  I laid on my left side in a hospital bed for 34 days to give Lois that critically-needed time to cook.  During her 37 days in the NICU, I rocked and sang to her for hours daily (Keith said she would know the entire Baptist hymnal before she went home.)  And Hannah - well, Hannah slept on my chest in my old recliner at least half of the nights of her first two years with her near-constant ear troubles.  She would wake and fuss; I would soothe her, medicate her, whatever and we'd both drift back into a too-light sleep.   Rachel, Lois and Hannah have always known that I loved them.  I pray they always will.

But what did Julia know?  She saw two big, funny-talking people coming from somewhere outside of St. Pete to take her away from every person and every thing  she knew.  She was told to call us "Mama" and "Papa," which she did - but what did it really mean?   In retrospect, I think perhaps the bravest act I've witnessed in my life is her walking out of Children's Home #47 wtih us.  She really didn't know what was ahead for her.  But she put on those Old Navy jeans and light-up tennies and out she strode. 

I give major kudos to Buckner (our agency) for insisting we prepare ourselves to adopt a school-age child.  I have spoken and emailed with too many parents whose agencies did nothing to help them prepare.   They read nothing - no books, no magazines, nothing.  They spoke to no one who'd done it - they drew on no other family's wisdom., or asked the magic question, "What do you wish you had done differently?" They didn't join user boards - and I've said all along that we learned as much from the user boards as we did from Buckner.  Their agencies didn't push them to engage an international adoption doctor to evaluate the child.   Their agencies took a check - the couples took a child - Lord love them, now they've got that child.

When I talked to families that had done this, I got to where I could tell in the first two minutes if it was going to be a "yes, it was hard, but we're so glad we have him/her" or "it's been a disaster, it's destroyed our family" story.   I heard plenty of both.  And based on what we heard from those families, and the books, and the magazines, and our social worker, and the user boards - we got as equipped as we could be.  Perfectly equipped?  No.  But equipped.  With the sites on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome bookmarked on our laptop with which we traveled, and with which we sent pictures and video to our chosen International Adoption doctor.  With a blanket we slept with for weeks to leave with Guanna-to-be-Julia on trip #1, so she would remember our smell (which is the most powerful sensual marker for children.)   With toys to measure her skills, and a notebook to trace her feet for the shoes we needed to bring.  With a list of questions to ask the orphanage director and orphanage doctor.

And - most useful - techniques to use to bring her closer to us.  Because we needed them. 

Julia didn't love us when she met us.  Neither did we love her, other than in a sense of agape love.  We loved the idea of her and were confident we could come to truly love her.  But our first two weeks (in Russia) were not easy.  In fact - she totally rejected me.  My authority and my love (fake it till you make it) were forcefully and flagrantly dismissed.  Keith was a man - both a novelty in orphanage life and an authority figure in Russian life.  She took to him right away, including pushing away other children who got too close to him.  But me?  She was used to dealing with women and - as she has shared in bits and pieces - she hadn't always been treated well by them.

Guanna with parents
The day after court - May 11, 2006.  Notice she is totally leaning on Keith.  And away from you-know-who.

Julia wanted nothing to do with me.  It took a 90-minute, screaming, back-arching holding session in the hotel room one afternoon until she would relax against me.  (We knew of holding therapy from the books, and from other parents.)  I sang hymns the entire time, not because they meant anything to her, but because they kept me from getting mad.  At the end of that 90 minutes - when she lay spent in my arms, sweaty, red-faced, totally exhausted - our relationship began to improve. 

Adoption is complete when the judge signs the papers.  Attachment, however, takes time.  The books say about two years for a school-age child.  Keith and I think her attachment really cemented last fall, when she was so sick, after about 16 months home.

I can't speak to attaching to adopted infants, never having done that.  But I can speak to attachment with an older child.  To me, older child attachment is a lot like marriage.  There's the ceremony.  And then comes reality.  Reality is that you're in a relationship with another person, including all their strengths and struggles.  And both of you get to choose.  You can accept each other's position in the family  - or not.  You can love each other - or not.  But both of you get to choose.  No one person has all the power.   You're not Burger King.  You don't get to have it your way.

When Julia leaps onto Keith for a tickle - when she asks Hannah to play a game, or Lois to watch a video, or Rachel to go swimming - and, yes, when she snuggles up against me and goes to sleep - she is choosing.

When I soak in her little face as she sleeps - I see those choices.  And I sleep better, too.


Turtles RULE!
August 18, 2008   11:32 AM PDT
These experiences- so cherishable! - apply in at least equal measure to step-children.

My own son (step is no longer used - Ryan is MY son) took months, if not years, to acclimate to me - and I to him - and I daresay 10 years post facto this process is still not complete.

Wonderful though it is, it is also painful, aggravating, exasperating, upsetting, merciless.....and a set of experiences I would trade for nothing of this Earth!

Congrats Woodworths - ya all did it again!
August 12, 2008   04:53 PM PDT
THAT is being a Mom. Understanding attachment, taking the time and making the effort to learn ALL those things...for a child who will not appreciate it for years--if ever...that's it. And you are so amazingly good at it. You were born to do this. It's truly incredible to watch someone fulfill God's plan. You are such a role model, Becky. You just TRY so hard at life. That's really hard to do. I'm pretty sure it's what counts at the end though.
August 12, 2008   07:16 AM PDT
Julia will read this over and over for the rest of her life.
Kay B
August 10, 2008   09:29 PM PDT
Yes, attachment is a journey, a long journey that we are still walking.
August 10, 2008   07:38 PM PDT
YOU should be required reading! :)

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