Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How much does the first year affect a child?

She was a good, sweet baby. As exhausted as I was, I was still aware of how low-maintenance she was. She didn't cry much, only when hungry or tired. But, she smiled, she smiled a lot.

For the first year of her life, her future was unclear. She was being transported to visitations with her biological parents and we were being visited by case workers who would hold her and talk to her because, well, that was their job. Meanwhile, I died a little inside everytime someone took her away or held her without asking because she wasn't really mine. As anyone who has fostered or adopted knows, it's a strange feeling to care for a child, feel in your heart that they are yours, and then be reminded that you have no rights to her. It sucks.

It also sucked for Lizzie. She was very comfortable with us, but was quick to clam up around others. She was hesitant around other family members and it took her a really long time to warm up to a person.  

I think it can go one of two ways with a child. When a child is exposed to many different people, a child can be comfortable in groups and willing to talk to people. Or you could end up like Lizzie.

Every week when Lizzie would come back from her visit, it was like she was a different child. She wouldn't smile, she wouldn't play, she was like a zombie.  It would take a couple hours before she would start to seem like herself again.  I could be accused of imagining it, but others saw it too. Brian's theory is that she was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and she just shut down and figured if she was just quiet, it would be over soon.

Whatever her reason, it was sad. I worried so much about the effects that the visitations were having on her.  I can't even imagine what it's like for older kids who have more of an understanding of what's going on.  Although, I understood the reason for the visits and respect that there is a system and it needs to be used; I just wanted my baby to be ok.

Now, three years later, 2 years after she officially became ours, I worry that she's not.

When Lizzie turned three this year, we enrolled her in preschool.

Not so sure

We thought it was important to get her socialized. I wasn't worried about her learning her numbers and letters, etc, because, you see, my Lizzie is a genuis. :) But, there is no doubt that she's a genuis who is too shy to talk, too stubborn to talk, and too mistrusting of strangers to talk. I don't know which factor is strongest in her mentaility. All I know is, it's January and I was called into the director's office because the school is worried that she still hasn't made a connection with them and won't use her words. As someone who has been held captive by one of Lizzie's run-on sentences, I know she knows how to use her words. But, it would seem that Brian's theory still holds true. She is in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people so she she just shuts down and figures if she's just quiet, it will be over soon. Of course, she's been going to the school since September with the same teachers and classmates, but apparently that doesn't impress Lizzie much. Because, like I said, she's stuborn.

But, I can see that she's made progress.  She's friendlier to random people in grocery stores because when you have a family like mine, random people in grocery stores talk to you. She's more comfortable with extended family and is clinging to me less when we're at big family functions. She was always comfortabe at home, so her current silly heart status at home remains unchanged.
Making a mess and some sand art

But, send her to school and she zips her lip. There are moments that I would kill for her to zip her lip at home. I'm not sure they are appreciating what they have....;)  

At first, I found it slightly amusing how she would start talking as soon as we got off the school grounds. It is so much like me. I spent most of my school years saving up all my thoughts for my mom. At school, I said nothing, I was painfully shy. Once I got home, I would trap my mom on the couch and share all the thoughts with her that I didn't share all day. My poor mother. But, she was a trooper and sat and listened to them all.

This is why I wasn't too worried about Lizzie at first.   I know from being shy and no one was going to convince me not to be shy unless I was ready, which turned out to be when I was about 33. But, on the flip side, I missed so much and I don't want that for her.

When I talked to the school again, a few days later, I realized that they weren't as concerned that Lizzie wasn't communicating, it was more that they were concerned that Lizzie wasn't communicating because she didn't completely understand.  I was given an example of Lizzie picking up a marker when she asked her to pick up a crayon. Well, I know, without a doubt, that Lizzie knows the difference between a marker and a crayon. And, she probably just preferred a marker. This "out of the box" thinking will help her in the real world, but in school, it will get her in trouble or worse. It could cause people to think she has cognitive issues. I stood there, trying to find the balance between insisting she understands and expressing my appreciation that they are paying attention. Because I really do appreciate it.

So, I spent the weekend with a little girl who knows so many things about the world that I can't even keep up. With a little girl who believes (quite accurately) that she is in charge of all of us. Who laughs a lot. Talks a lot. And, has the silliest heart that I have ever encountered. She is also shy, stubborn, and afraid that bad things can happen if she trusts an adult who is not us. I don't know how to help her. I know that she has improved. I know that she is happy, but I want her to be happier.

As I look at her now, watching Antwan play xbox, periodically telling him to press the "b" button with no idea what that might do; I have to believe that she'll be ok. Will she always be shy? I hope not, because it is no fun. Will she always be stubborn? Probably because she's too stubborn not to be. Will she always be mistrustful of strangers? Maybe, but I really hope that gets better.

The same day that I talked to the director, I came home feeling worried and angsty.  Then I heard Lizzie giggling from the kitchen. I looked over and saw her standing there.... mooning me. She laughed and asked "Mommy, do you like my butt?"

One thing is for sure, it's not going to be boring.

Putting together her own outfits!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How important is biology?

Biological. Our life has proved that biology is not the most important thing. My children's biological mother didn't love these children like I do and despite the fact that they tend to have the dog's hair on them and William left this morning with pink (used to be white) socks hidden under his jeans, she didn't take as good care of them as I do. But, when it comes to siblings, the perspective changes and biology matters a lot.

When we adopted the boys, we wanted to keep them connected to their biological siblings, as much as possible. And, we have tried. There is an older sister and two older brothers. Only one brother lives locally with his (adopted) family. We tried to get together, but sadly, life gets in the way and it has been awhile.

When Lizzie was born, she was immediately removed from the biological mother's custody. When we were called, two weeks later, we were stunned and totally unprepared, but we also really wanted to give our boys the chance to grow up with their sister and vice versa. Suddenly, biology was everything. The children are all attached to each other. The boys seem to have the same appreciation for Lizzie that we do. Like they understand that we could've lost her. We tried to shield them from it until the danger was over. But, we talked in what was probably a pitiful code all the time because we were terrified. When we agreed to take Lizzie (twist our arm!), we were told that it was a done deal so the drama that came after, we were totally unprepared for.

Since Antwan and Lizzie were home with me during the day and are only 18 months apart, they quickly formed a special bond. Antwan wanted Lizzie to be a part of everything that he was doing. And, she was happy to oblige. He is extremely protective of her. Lizzie gets shy in public and in crowds, but Antwan is comfortable everywhere. So, she leans on him a lot. My favorite example. We were at a Halloween festival. Lizzie was getting a fake tattoo. As the girl was holding it on Lizzie's arm, Lizzie started to get nervous. Antwan was standing nearby. I watched her reach her hand out without looking, like she was trying to touch him for reassurance. He saw it, too, because he stepped closer and put his arm around her. It was a beautiful moment and one that I am so grateful that I witnessed.

Yesterday, I walked into the room and realized Lizzie had an accident. I could smell it and it was obvious it was her. We've been having trouble with this and really, accident is not the right word, she's just not going to the bathroom when she has to "go to the bathroom." It's no fun. So, I took Lizzie's arm to bring her into the bathroom and as soon as I did, Antwan jumped up and said "It's not Lizzie. It's me! I'm poopy. I have to go." and he rushed to the bathroom and sat on the potty. Of course, it wasn't him, it was Lizzie. He loves her. I was amazed at his determination to keep her out of trouble. I suppose it will be less amazing and more frustrating as they get older. But, today, I'm just gonna revel in the love. :)

It would've been heartbreaking if these kids hadn't grown up together. And, it is heartbreaking that they aren't growing up with their older siblings, but that's out of my control. But, it's not heartbreaking that they are not growing up in their biological home. It was unsafe, dangerous, and unloving. Biology is a funny thing. It means nothing and everything. When I'm rushing my children to school, begging Antwan to brush his teeth, listening to William's never-ending songs that he loves to sing on the way to school, or trying desperately to make Lizzie's hair look presentable; it's not biology. When we go to Grandma and Grandpa's and they have a bag of goodies because "there was a sale," it's not biology. When they spend time with Aunt Monica (my sister) who loved them instantly, it's not biology. But, the kids do have a biological connection to each other and people do tend to ask if they are biologically related. I'm proud to say yes. In a way, does that make them my biological children? Yes? No? Who cares? All answers are right, I suppose.

Biology is not the most important thing, although sometimes it is important. But, the love is the most important thing. (Look, I have a theme!) Although, I'll likely never confirm it, but if there was a biological child in the mix, would they love him less than each other? I don't think so. Would they know he wasn't biological? Well, yeah, everyone would. We would still be a family and we would still be very lucky to have each other.