We’re at the three month mark of meeting Fei; in many ways, it feels like yesterday but it also feels like time has slowed down. We are deep in kairos time right now–I barely watch the clock or know what day it is. Every day is slow, intentional, deliberate. It’s toddler time but in a whole different way than we’ve ever experienced it.
I was texting with a friend from our agency who just brought home her daughter from Shanghai. She wrote that adoption is harder in practice than in theory. That sums it up perfectly.
Fei is sleeping through the night. That fact alone changes almost everything. It is much easier to have compassion on a raging, grieving toddler when I’ve had more than three hours of sleep. Looking back on those first few sleepless weeks, we were brain-addled and beat up.
Her first surgery was last week–tubes in her ears–and she handled it like a champ. Perhaps more importantly, she showed the real mettle of our intense attachment work: a woman whose son was having surgery reached down to pick her up (who does that???) and she struggled to get away from this stranger and back to me. I was thrilled that the little girl who would walk up to anyone knew that I was her mom.
We’ve been working hard on this.
At the same time, there are still so many ways in which she shows how difficult it is to transition from an orphanage to a home. We call her micu, which is Portuguese for those tiny monkeys (the bad guys on Rio) who are famous for grabbing shiny things before you even know they’re there. We’ve found Fei’s stashes under Jonathan’s sink, in my unused purses, behind the couch. We spend hours looking for hair stuff or remotes. She’s wily, our little Chinese chimpanzee.
Two things that we are working on overcoming: Fei’s hyper vigilance and anxious attachment. The hyper vigilance is the cause of the many, many midnight wake-ups. Until I saw her body relax in our home over the last few weeks, I didn’t realize how tense and keyed up she had been. I’m not sure what changed, but she turned a small corner eight weeks after we met her. The difference was subtle but sure–she trusts us more. Not completely, but enough to allow herself to relax with us and sleep through the night.
I’m not sure I can express how grateful we are for that one change.
She is currently in the stage of anxious attachment; adoption experts talk about attachment in ways that are different from the granola movement of attaching to your babies. There is a specific spectrum that children who are from hard places follow (google Karyn Purvis at TCU or The Connected Child–her work is all that has sustained us so far). Anxious attachment is close to secure attachment, what my bio girls have where they’re confident they are trusted and loved.
But close isn’t there yet.
For Fei, anxious attachment means a constant testing of our love and commitment. It means calling out to me hundreds of times a day: “Ma! Ma! Ma!” Said with Chinese inflection and a lot of worry, it’s cute at 8 in the morning but by 8 at night, I’m done. It’s a constant noise in my day. Add to that a whiny dog and two other small children who are not afraid to let their needs be known and you get a small picture of my day. Then add the fact that we’ve had 500 snow days (with no actual snow) this winter and you can see why I sometimes feel totally done.
It’s an intense life we’re leading right now.
There’s no way to fully express the distress, the emotions, the joys and the griefs of these first few weeks. I know because I’ve read everything there is to read on the subject and I still feel woefully unprepared. I feel so sorry for people who stumble into older child adoption for whatever reason; we’ve been preparing for this season for years and years and still it has toppled us like a ton of bricks.
Though it’s getting better slowly, most days I have very few resources left. Everything I have is poured into the love-starved heart of this little girl who needs to know we’re here–RIGHT HERE ALWAYS–and her two sisters who need to know they’re still important to us. Routines take on a weight they never have before. My tone has to be even. I strive every moment to be both kind and firm. My eyes have to convey love when I discipline even when I’m exhausted beyond measure. To do this while still working or cleaning the house or writing thank you notes is more than I can accomplish most days.
It’s a big deal that I get everyone fed, dressed, and out the door on any given morning. And believe me, I totally celebrate if everyone has on socks that match.
To be completely honest, I’ve heard from so many people that it’s like adding a newborn to our home (it’s not–it’s like adding an adopted toddler to our home) or that I just need to let the house go (which means I’d break my feet on all the thousands of small plastic things) or that I just need to embrace this season (I am, but it’s hard and sad too) to the point where I’m pretty done with extra advice. I knew all the answers before we started down this path. Nothing has changed. I know what I need to do.
I’m an expert on the theory behind this sort of intentional parenting.
To do it is something different.
I see it in the tired eyes of fellow adoptive moms sometimes, the whispered comments that you haven’t ruined your family and that life will begin again–that’s the relief and the hope I need right now. I’ll say it up one side and down the other–adoption is not for the faint of heart.
It’s so, so worth it. It really is. When I come out of the room and Fei dances a little jig with excitement that I’m still here, my heart skips a beat out of love for her fat little face.
Or when my girls hug each other casually, like sisters do, while singing along to Frozen covers from youtube, I ache with the realization that we really are making progress.
It’s worth it.
But it is much harder in practice than in theory.