Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas and memories

For those of you just joining us, this is the story of my life, sandwiched between my two daughters, who are 12 and 13, our two dogs, my parents, who live next door, and trying to find my place in the middle.

Oh and to explain, my daughters are both from China. I adopted Grace when she was 6 and is now 12 and Annabel when she was 11, and she is now 13.

So this was Annabel's third Christmas ever. For those who have had Christmas all their lives, I think the wonder of it can get lost in the extra work involved in making it happen. But for Annabel, this was the first time that she really "got it" and I am surprised she had any voice left after screaming over each and every present she unwrapped. She has no inhibitions when she is enjoying herself, especially if it is a stack of presents that come with no "strings" attached.

Annabel is used to working to achieve a goal or a prize, but I think for her to receive that much without prerequisites makes it almost unbelievable! Her number one wish was for a golden retriever puppy. I spent weeks trying to fulfill this wish, but in the end, decided we needed a better time to introduce another dog into our family.

I found puppies, but did not want to stress Annabel with the responsibilities of a puppy. I found older dogs, but she was intent on having one young enough to "train". I found lots of other dogs that were extremely cute but I chose to be realistic about our limitations and have assured her that when the time is right we will add another dog, a golden retriever, but probably not a puppy. My sister called this morning and she had found 2 puppies in the Austin area. They were adorable and I let Annabel check them out. They appeared to be sisters and I think the idea of separating them stopped her.

And of course, I read a lot into what my daughters are thinking, but I really think that for Annabel, what happened last night probably had a lot to do with her decision on not wanting the puppy my sister found.

We got home from a quick trip to San Antonio, which is a whole 'nother post, and enjoyed a tamale dinner with Mom and Dad. On our way out the door, I spotted an envelope that was covered with stamps, which happened to be from China.

It was a letter from Grace's foster family with some pictures of her when she was much younger. I love getting to see her as a toddler. In some ways it is very painful that I missed that part of her life, but it is quite evident that she was loved and well cared for.

While Grace enjoys getting these, it is not as important for her any more. Her life is here. She is my daughter through and through and a typical American pre-teen, with her focus on family, friends, and school. She can't read what they have written since it is in Chinese, and is dependent on Annabel to translate.

This brings us back to Annabel.

This was very traumatic to her and gigantic tears streamed down her cheeks.

After only two years of being adopted, it is still too soon for her not to be effected by news from "home".

Annabel's story is more complicated than Grace's.

While all the records are pretty sketchy, it appears that Grace was moved into her foster family shortly after being "discovered" a polite way to say, "abandoned".

She loved her foster family deeply but is also realistic enough to understand that her life is here now and could not remain in China in that family forever.

Annabel on the other hand, from what I can determine, spent her first two years in the orphanage.

Somewhere around the age of two she was discovered by a group of missionaries, is the best that I can determine, close to death at the orphanage.

The group insisted she receive medical care and afterward was placed in her foster family. Here her foster mother worked hard to provide the care and nutrition needed, that if you looked at her now, you would never know anything about her near death experience.

For both girls, their foster mothers provided the love and support needed to flourish, but also made sure they knew and "appreciated" all they had done for them. Each letter from their foster families have reminded them that they saved their lives.

At first I was put off by this, but the more I know about the Chinese culture, I think this is pretty typical. But when you are 12 and 13 you haven't worked through all of this.

To try to help Annabel's feelings, I suggested she write a letter to her foster family and we would get a friend to translate it for her.

I've never been known for making a story short, but I am finally coming back to the point about the dogs. Promise!

Annabel's questions about the dogs were if they were sisters and were they going to separate them.

When I told her I thought they were sisters and yes they would separate them, she decided not to get one.

She told my sister thank you but she did not feel prepared to house train a dog but I think she was more concerned about how the dogs would feel being separated than the joy she might feel from having one of them. She is acutely aware of anyone who is distressed and prays for them regularly. For her, while having a forever family is great it still does not remove the feelings for her foster family.

And it shouldn't. This family was very instrumental in who she is now and I am grateful to them.

I am also thankful that she got to participate in the foster family system, but one of the things no one talked about prior to adoption was the grief these children experience from losing the only family they have known.

I've struggled with publishing this for the last two days and I finally have figured out why. I think I needed to understand my purpose in writing this.

Because Annabel always seems "together" I'm not sure I have allowed her the time she has needed to transition because she has appeared willing and ready to go for almost any experience. But after seeing the huge tears while remembering her foster family I know the wounds are deep and I must provide more support and patience.

So I think this is written to benefit me, to serve as a reminder of this frail, scared, little girl, who whoops and hollers, laughs, runs, and embraces all of lives challenges, and the strength she needs from me to help her.

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