Monday, February 28, 2011

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!

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