A year ago we were in Spaghettia, in 90-degree heat, in the middle of the first week of living with Andrey and Reagan. It was their first week of living with us, with a family, outside the orphanages they grew up in. On this day one year ago I wrote a post that was in Q&A format, but it was mostly just me saying “I don’t know” to a bunch of questions that we all had at that time. At least we knew that we didn’t know very much.
We also knew pretty quickly that we missed the honeymoon stage with them, unless the two-hour car ride from the orphanages to Sofia counts.
We know a little more now than we did then. We are still learning so much, all the time. In many ways we feel light years ahead of where we were a year ago, and in other ways, we feel…discouraged. Just being honest.
So, a year later, I have an armful of questions that some of you have asked and I think I have better answers than I did before. Not necessarily happier answers, but more informed answers, and they all pretty much revolve around this issue of attachment. I’ll start with the easiest ones first.
Question #1: What are their favorite foods?
Answer: Pretty much everything. Andrey loves pizza and will overeat to the point of throwing up (true story). Reagan refused several foods at first but has finally come to terms with chicken and eggs and will now eat anything, including food off someone else’s plate or crumbs from the floor. We keep the cat food out of reach.
Question #2: How are their English skills?
Answer: Really great. Andrey picked up English within the first few months and can speak it very well (though often with a thick accent and grammatically incorrect tenses and such). Reagan can understand it but her speech is still very toddler-ish and garbled. That’s the quick answer. However…
Much of the garbling/poor pronunciation from both of them is intentional. There are many things that we know they can say very clearly but they will often intentionally refuse to say it clearly so that you’ll ask them to repeat themselves. In the same vein, they will also often say “What?” when you speak to them – not because they didn’t hear you, but because they want you to repeat yourself. This is an attachment issue; it is a way for them to try to be in control and also command your attention for longer.
It is also incredibly irritating. (smile)
Question #3: What attachment issues do you face and what are you doing to remedy them?
Questions #4-5: What has been the hardest adjustment for you and Vince as parents? What has been the hardest adjustment for the kids?
Nevermind. Let’s just skip those.
Kidding. But also…(you guys just don’t let up, do you?)
Question #6: How are you finding healing and redemption through the hard times?
And one more, a question we are constantly asking ourselves…
Question #7: When can you come over and play?
I’ve sat here just staring at these questions and I’m not really sure about the best way to answer them. There is living in a fishbowl, and then there is displaying your scars. One speaks of current issues, exposure, and sometimes murky water; the other is survival, victory, and triumph. Both can be ugly, but one bears the comfort and softening that time brings.
There are things I want to tell you that can’t be said in the clear water of a fishbowl yet, so we wait for scar tissue to form before we can show them.
I started writing a post on attachment a couple of months ago, and it’s turned into 3000 words and counting of something I didn’t expect. I’ll be posting it (or parts of it) as a series soon. So without repeating myself too much from the posts in the past or that post to come, let me just say that the biggest thing we are doing is trying to like them.
Because – can we be for real? – it’s not easy to like children that are used to manipulating and lying for survival. It’s very hard to believe the best in children who have learned to be sneaky, false, and deceptive as though their very lives depended on it. The farther we get into this, the more we have learned about behaviors that we did not pick up on even six months ago…and we fight a feeling of continual distrust and jaded skepticism toward them that doesn’t feel healthy.
We want to believe the best. We pray it for them all the time. But we would be utterly foolish and irresponsible to give either Andrey or Reagan the benefit of the doubt on issues of safety, trust, or boundaries.
Andrey and Reagan are learning to trust us, and to some extent, we can tell that we are making progress because they are fighting tooth and nail against it. Against us. They are used to temporary, perfunctory relationships with caregivers and superficial, shallow interaction. This is why they seem to thrive around strangers, acquaintances, and public settings, because the cursory exchange happening on the surface with strangers and acquaintances is all they’ve ever known and it is comfortable for them…like a warm, stinky, full diaper – and equally therapeutic.
Many people still don’t understand the boundaries that Andrey and Reagan need, and we are still learning to communicate their needs and boundaries to others. And, for crying out loud, people are just so nice – which is wonderful – but it turns kiddos with attachment issues into unrecognizable creatures after they get back home, like gremlins who’ve been fed after midnight. This is why we avoid many public settings, and I don’t take the kids anywhere on my own yet…even my closest friends’ homes…because there’s just too much to watch for.
(Partly, this is just me. Vince will take all six kids to Target because he’s a thrill seeker. In contrast, I am a homebody who gets the shakes if I have to be in Walmart for more than an hour, with or without kids.)
Our persistent intimacy in their lives pushes them out of their comfort zone. Often, they would much rather smile at strangers at the store than hold my hand or answer me when I speak to them. Frequently – almost every Sunday, still – they would rather stare at acquaintances than hold eye contact with their parents. We are here for them, for good, forever, and the nasty unhealthy diaper is coming off, however slowly. They fight and kick like a baby who doesn’t want to be changed.
It’s only partly an analogy. I’ll avoid the gory details and suffice it to say that sometimes they purposefully try to be repulsive so as to…repulse us. To push us away.
They need us to like them, though. Just as His kindness leads us to repentance, our favor over them brings out goodness that has been buried. Love isn’t the issue – we know that love is a verb, and we are choosing to love, to clean, to discipline, to smile, to supervise, to hold, to praise, even when we don’t want to.
The real battle is heart-deep, in theirs and ours. Feelings can’t be trusted, but they do matter. It is winning the battle to like them, to enjoy them, to see the beautiful…that makes or breaks us at the end of every day.