Monday, February 28, 2011

Alike, but better!

When I was about to leave for China to adopt Annabel, several people asked if I was going to blog. I had no idea what I was doing but knew I needed a way to journal our journey. It began under a different title, A Sister for Grace. While Grace was in the title, it seems that most of the posts focus on Annabel and the trend has continued on this blog.

But I wanted to take a minute and focus on Grace.

Grace and I are a LOT alike. In fact when I think of Grace as she was at six years old, I realize I think of her looking like I did in the picture above. No, I am not the cute baby on my uncle's lap or the pretty cowgirl on the right, I am the one with short hair, hands in my pocket, chubby cheeks, and short hair, whose body was just about as wide as it was tall.

This is a picture of Grace I received before I adopted her. While it is not a cowgirl suit you might see some similarities.

Our temperament is similar but Grace has an ability that amazes me that I wish I had.

When I was in second or third grade I came home from school with a weaving project we had started in art class. I remember getting so frustrated with it that I tore it up and threw it away!

For Grace, she would meet that as a challenge, a need for her to try and try until she gets it just right.

When she started school, she was in an ESL class whose students were Hispanic. She heard and saw them rolling their r's to pronounce words. I remember her asking me how do you do that??? She would have me do it over and over so she could watch how my tongue worked to make the sound. She would practice and practice until she finally succeeded and even changed her name to Grace, with her r being rolled!

Next came whistling. I have always teased Mom that if she would have encouraged me maybe I could whistle. The only whistle I can do is a shrill sound that our dogs will respond to.

Not Grace.

She would ask everyone she met if they could whistle and have them show her how they held their tongue, shaped their lips, and blow. She worked and worked until she can whistle any tune, beautifully.

When she began to draw, she would get friends to show them how they drew and would watch over and over and practice and practice until she accomplished that, only to move on to the next picture. She drew pages of eyes working to create a perfect depiction of an eye. She would draw one and ask if it looked like a man or a woman's or an animals.

She did the same with the piano. Her teacher would give her a piece to learn and before the day was over, she had mastered it.

Now she is doing the same with the guitar.

When she has a minute, even one, she picks up her guitar and works to perfect the techniques they have taught. She listens carefully to the tuning and even though she has to adjust it with pliers (the knobs on her guitar broke off) she makes the adjustments necessary to make the music more beautiful each time she plays.

She switches just as easily from rock to mariachi and now to a classic like Summertime.

Her favorite expression, which she tortures her sister with, is practice makes perfect.

She amazes me every day.

Groundhog day and me

Have you ever seen the movie, Groundhog Day? In it Bill Murray is this egocentric, condescending newsman sent to cover the festivities of groundhog's day.

For some unexplained reason, each morning his alarm goes off and groundhog day starts all over again. Eventually he learns to make some changes in how he speaks and acts to others and by the end life is great.

Recently I have had the great honor of talking to future parents who are planning to adopt older children. Each time I look out into the audience and am overcome with exhilaration at all the parents who have decided to adopt an older child.

But each time I sit down, I remember exactly what I wanted to say and didn't.

Thankfully, like Bill Murray, I have been given this opportunity several times recently so I continue to make adjustments into what I share.
I start with our background because when I adopted Grace, 6 and 1/2 years ago, I did not know nor could I find anyone else who had adopted an older child. All the parents I knew had adopted babies, most were about one year old, but they were still babies to me.

I explained to the group how I knew a baby would not fit into my lifestyle.

As a single woman who had to work for a living, how could I handle a baby? Who would take care of it during the day? How could I be up at night and still work? I really could not fathom having a baby. Besides I knew babies meant dirty diapers, spit up, bottles! Wow! It seemed like a lot of work that I did not know how to do.

The agency I called mentioned a "waiting child" list they had. The children on the "waiting child" generally were older and some had "special" needs, but not all the "special" needs were disabilities, the needs were very diverse.

This sounded much better to me and the process began.

When I adopted Grace, there was no training provided on dealing with an older child. There really was more unknown than known, so I jumped in confident that I could handle anything because I had experience being an aunt and a teacher.

These are the details I remembered to tell the group today.

What I forgot to tell them was more about actually parenting an older child and what I think is the essential key to adopting an older child, is starting where your child is.

No rocket science.

You MUST learn to parent your child from HIS or HER starting point. Not yours. Not your best friend who has been a parent several times. Not your family, the doctor, the stranger in the grocery store. All have advice. Shoot, I was an authority on raising children BEFORE I became a mom.

But what makes becoming the parent to an older child is realizing, understanding, and accepting that he/she probably does not feel the need for a parent, or they have had so many temporary parents, the idea of a "forever" parent is incomprehensible, and they really do not know how to be a son or daughter, because no one has taken the time to teach them.

When I adopted Grace she was six years old. By the time I came into her life, she had had a biological mother, who abandoned her, at least one foster mother, been moved back and forth to the orphanage quite a few times, was returned to the orphanage for about six months just before the adoption, but was also transported by to foster care for the weekends.

Her life at the orphanage consisted of her caring for her 3 or 4 year old "foster" brother, making sure he was up in the morning, cleaned, dressed, fed, and tended to all day. She was responsible for keeping his clothes washed, his bed made, and any other demands a child that age has.

I know she was asked if she would like to be adopted. I wonder what that word even meant to her, but she did tell them she would like a mom with long yellow hair.

I arrive on the scene with considerably shorter and darker hair and not fitting her image of an American mom, loaded with all the expertise needed to become a mother.

Since my sister Jana and her two daughters traveled with me, I learned quickly that 8:00 was bed time, which was preceded by bath time, reading, and prayers, so that was Grace's routine as well.

For my daughter though, she had never sat in a bathtub, where she could stretch out her legs, she had never had pajamas to change into at night, she had never had her own bed, that was not an metal crib, and no one had been there to kiss her good night and tell her she was loved.

Now kids are resilient and Grace is a quick learner, so she quickly adapted to the routine until I pressed a little too much and she responded by spitting at me.

SHOCK!! This child did not appreciate my skill as a mother???? She wanted to do things her way???

I remember being worried that if I made an error, all would be lost.

It took me months to finally figure out that while my child wanted to please me, there was a limit, there were HUGE pools of information she did not have and could not process without some help. We did not start as mother and daughter from the minute she was born. She had lots of people telling her how to act and react. The discipline she knew was a slap in the face, or hit with a ruler on her hands. She did not understand choices, consequences, and that discipline could be administered with love. And that no matter what, she was my daughter and I would always love her.

This was what I forgot to tell them. I needed these future parents to begin their lives with their children with a clean slate, no frames of reference of how a child should act at their age, or even how it feels to be a parent.

These kids come with baggage, and I don't mean a suitcase full of wonderful things. They come from an environment where survival of the fittest is not a game show, but a way of life.

BUT the very best part and the MOST important part, is that you get to learn together. Watch and listen to your child. See what works and make adjustments, then be prepared to try a different theory the next day and the next, until the two of you can begin to find that place where you both are, where you are working together to make both of your lives the best it can possibly be.

I love my daughters. I love that they were older and that I finally got to be that forever mom for them. No more shifting from place to place.

Thankfully, like Bill Murray, I got a second chance to tell the new parents some of this information. And thankfully, like Bill Murray, I got a second chance of improving and honing this knowledge when I adopted Annabel. BUT that's a whole nother story!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Answers to life's important questions

When I was younger, I was sure there was a magic age where and when I would know everything.

That age initially was 18. At 18 I was sure I would be brilliant and no longer need to ask questions, because, I would have all the answers.

18 came and went and I realized that I knew very little, but was sure that at 25, after graduating from college, that I would then know all the answers.

The closer to 25 I got, the more I knew that was not the magical age.

So I pushed it back, this time until all the way until I was over the hill at 40. I was convinced that by that point I would have achieved the brilliance that would make the rulers of the countries come to me for advice because I would have all the answers.

As you can guess, I did not get all the answers by then.

I began to see a pattern then that I would be allowed only a certain amount of the answers at each age.

Now feast, famine, disease, pestilence, life, and death answers would surely come later in life. A true understanding of all those details would not be granted until at least age 70, but I did expect to finally get some answers by this age.

Now I wasn't sure how the information would come to me, whether it would be a voice mail message, a post on Facebook, a text message, in a dream, or maybe the side of a blimp, I just wasn't sure, but I was open and ready to receive the answer to the questions that are plaguing me.

I was ready to know why after I finally find something that my daughter will eat and cannot keep enough on hand, that when I finally break down and buy the large economy size, she suddenly decides she does not like it and never eats it again leaving the large economy size with only one serving missing, so it cannot be returned?

But I did not get the answer. I listened very hard, but no answers.

So I hoped at least to learn how one daughter can text the Gettysburg Address on a keyboard that is just a little larger than the size of a pin head yet cannot see the stack of laundry that needs to be folded or the pile of clothes surrounding her bed.

Listening even harder, but I did not get the answer.

When those answers were not received, I actually held out hope that I would get a glimmer of an answer to an issue that has become monumental for me - where are the mates to my socks?

Last night I decided that I needed to be the example for my daughters and put up and hang up all my clothes. Part of that was matching up my socks. My usual routine has me digging in the laundry basket to find two that at least come close to being a match. I didn't just take the ones in the current laundry stack. No, I got ALL my socks out so I could organize them in their three color groups, white, black, and brown. Not a lot of choices of colors, just three. There are different lengths, but really not that many.

So I sat down with my socks and started matching. It was like a game and each match was a point. Whew! It was exciting!

But quickly enough, the fun stopped.

I tried to force a few but finally had to give up, defeated, knowing the socks had won. There in front of me were 16 socks with no mates!

I waited patiently, hoping to get the answer to my question, "where are the mates to my socks?".

Nothing!

Evidently I am still too young to know even these answers to these questions. I wonder what age you have to be?

Friday, February 11, 2011

A review of my life

The last couple of weeks have been a bit odd for us. For Dallas to have had one snow day is not that unusual but to have had more than 5 in two weeks is unheard of.

The first night we went to bed with the possibility of school being called off due to icy conditions, it almost felt like Christmas Eve. We were all excited about the rarity of the situation and hopeful that school would be called off.

It was and we enjoyed the first day.

The second day, some of the newness had worn off and we all became quite lazy and I felt that hibernating seemed like a great plan.

By the third day I went back to work and by the time I got home, the girls were wired and sick and tired of being iced in and too cold to do anything outdoors. Homework was now boring, there was nothing good on TV, and the dogs were tired of all the attention.
Even though it was great to do nothing but read, sleep, and eat, something in the back of my mind kept nagging that I had a job that I wanted to do the next time I was home and could not do anything else.

Hmmm. What was it? It seems like I should remember. I took a nap, read some more, and finished off the cookies but I kept thinking there was some task that really needed to be done.

Finally I remembered, the sun porch!

This house was built in 1923 and on the front is a sun porch and in the back was a sleeping porch. The sleeping porch became a bedroom, but the sun porch became a giant closet holding everything that did not seem to have a place to be, which ended up being like a bad episode of the show Hoarders.

When I bought this house, the very idea of a sun porch warmed me. I could just see it with the period wicker furniture, lemonade, giant ferns, a true Southern charm, a place to enjoy! Instead it was where you stored things that did not have any other place to be.

I tried to remember how they did it on the organizing shows on HGTV and started in one corner, hoping to make my way around a fairly small space.

On the way I found the filing cabinet my niece and sister set up while we were in China adopting Annabel. Obviously I am very behind on my filing since I had never looked inside it!

Where these papers came from, I am just not sure, but they included things from elementary, junior, and high school. They went on to cover my first college, first jobs, additional degrees, and every job since. In between were filed all my tax returns and every cancelled check I have ever written.

I had to stop and read through every detail.

What an interesting journey!

Today is my birthday and one of those that are considered milestones. To have sat in review of my life was quite humbling. Memories were flooding the sun room as I recalled people, places, and other details. I have had so many wonderful people as friends, received invaluable experiences in travel, made good and bad decisions on careers. The list goes on and on. I found myself almost melancholy as I recalled bittersweet memories of those who have passed from this life.

Right in the middle of all the history, I found Grace's first list to Santa, then a report card, then papers for adopting Annabel.

I know I have made some bad and some good choices, but the best I have ever made was in adopting my daughters. There is no trace, no shred of any regrets in the life I have established with them.

I am so thankful for the very round about journey that brought me to them. I am sure I had to have all those experiences to truly understand what a blessing they are.

With them, the future always looks bright. There is always something to look forward to. There are new challenges daily, but it is all good.